Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Films That I Saw: March 2013

Spring has already started and so far, this has been an extremely good month as far as film-watching is concerned. Recently, I decided to write down a list of what films to see for the month in order to have things planned and not divert myself or figure out what to watch in the coming days. It’s an idea that not only worked but most of the films I chose to watch for March definitely all played to something that was related to the Blind Spot selection I chose. What I didn’t expect was that the films I chose to watch this month were films that really exceeded beyond what I had expected from these films.

In the course of March, I saw a total of 45 films. 32 first-timers and 13 re-watches. The same as last month except in more first-timers and less re-watches yet the number of first-timers I discovered were a different mix of films from the works of Whit Stillman to the cinema of Japan as well as films by other regarded Asian filmmakers. Red Beard was one of the highlights but there were so many films I saw this month that really knocked everything out of the park that it is probably one of the most difficult lists to come up with. Here are the top 10 first-timers of the month:

1. Sansho the Bailiff

2. Metropolitan

3. The Samurai Trilogy

4. Still Walking

5. Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

6. Stoker

7. Lore

8. The Sword of Doom

9. The Last Days of Disco

10. The Life of Oharu

Monthly Mini-Reviews:

Classic Albums: Screamadelica

I do watch the Classic Albums series from time to time whenever it’s on VH1 Classics though it’s often with records I’m not really connected with as it often focuses mostly on albums of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In the case with Screamadelica which is one of my all-time favorite albums, it was something different that stood out from the series. Seeing some of the rare footage of the band before that period when they made the songs from the album and how they became this rock band that got people to dance is just amazing to watch. So good that it made listen to that album which is actually my second favorite Primal Scream album. Vanishing Point is my all-time favorite record from that band.

Croissant de Triomphe

If anyone had grown up watching Mickey Mouse cartoons over the years and seemed content that there wouldn’t be anything new from the iconic Walt Disney character. It was a good surprise to see Mickey Mouse come back in a new adventure where he came out with a look that was old and new but it was obviously him as he’s just trying to deliver French bread and croissants for Minnie’s café in Paris. It’s a really fun cartoon to watch.

Withnail and Us

Withnail and I was definitely one of the highlights of first-timers that I saw last month and so far in the year that I started watching clips of that film on the Internet. I also came across this documentary about the film and why it’s so revered in the world of British cinema and British culture. Some of the surprising facts about the film were quite funny as well as the fact a lot of the comedy were based on some things that really happened. With the recent passing of Richard E. Griffiths, I think it’s time that people should revisit this classic film. Chin-chin dear old Uncle Monty.

Rock of Ages

I don’t really consider myself a fan of 80s classic rock. I find it to be cheesy, lacking substance, and often too sappy for my tastes. Yet, I will take that music over what is hot right now any day. Unfortunately, this film made me detest those songs even more as it was presented in what is undoubtedly one of the worst films I had ever seen. While only Paul Giamatti, Tom Cruise, and Tom Cruise’s monkey were the only things to keep the film from being a total disaster. It wasn’t enough to made me roll my eyes and do face palms as I watched the likes of Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Russell Brand butcher these songs and made them even worse. The leads in Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta were easily the worst thing in the film as neither could sing nor act as Hough makes Britney Spears’ singing voice sound actually sound great while Boneta looks too much of a pretty boy to be a convincing rocker. It’s crap like this that forces me to have no choice but to blast Slayer and destroy all of that lame shit.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Trainspotting

2. Edward Scissorhands

3. The Fifth Element

4. Sense & Sensibility

5. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

6. Swiss Family Robinson

7. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

8. Kurosawa: The Last Emperor

9. See the Sea

10. Kung Fu Panda 2

Well, that is it for March. With some upcoming theatrical film releases to watch in To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, Trance, and maybe Spring Breakers. There will be a slew of films I will see as it relates to the works of female directors like Chantal Akerman, Lena Duhnam, and Andrea Arnold as well as films by Danny Boyle, Baz Luhrmann, Powell and Pressburger and Francois Ozon where I’m still working on creating new reviews of films I had seen previously from him. Along with the next film of the Blind Spots series and whatever it’s related to, the Auteurs piece on Nicole Holofcener will definitely come in some time in the middle of the month. There is also a slight possibility in the return of the Favorite Films series as I’ve definitely figured out what film to write about. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off.

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sansho the Bailiff

Based on a short story by Mori Ogai, Sansho the Bailiff is the story about a governor’s family being torn apart after his exile where the wife is sold into prostitution while her children are sold into slavery under the cruelty of a bailiff. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and screenplay by Fuji Yahiro and Yoshikata Yoda, the film is an exploration of how a woman and her children endure hardships in the wake of a tumultuous period in Japan’s history. Starring Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa, and Eitaro Shindo. Sansho the Bailiff is a harrowing yet powerful drama from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Set during the Heian period in Japan where lawlessness was running rampant among thieves and bandits while slavery was also happening. The film revolves around two kids, whose father was a kind governor, had to endure the cruelty of slavery under a steward known as Sansho the Bailiff (Eitaro Shindo). With their mother sold to prostitution and their father exiled for not giving in to feudal lords, the children become young adults as the son Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) tries to repress himself through work while Anju (Kyoko Kagawa) is clinging to her father’s words for mercy. Yet, it would take something that would finally prompt the children to escape where sacrifices are made but also the chance to set things right in a world ravaged by lawlessness.

The screenplay by Fuji Yahiro and Yoshikata Yoda explores a world where children who live in a refined background have to deal with not just harsh realities but a world where things can be bleak. The story begins with how their father is exiled as it moves back-and-forth where the young Zushio (Naoki Fujima) and Anju (Keiko Enami) are walking with their mother Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their servant Ubatake (Chieko Naniwa) to find shelter. Notably as the flashbacks reveal the words Zushio’s father instills his son words of mercy and kindness so that humans can find hope in a bleak world. Yet, the words of the governor would be put to the test when the family is tricked by a priestess (Kikue Mori) who has the mother taken to an island to become a courtesan while the children are eventually sold to the very brutal Sansho the Bailiff.

Both the young Zushio and Anju realize a world where they have to be beaten if they don’t do their work as only some slaves and Sansho’s son Taro (Akitake Kono) become sympathetic as the latter later leaves his father’s home after giving the two kids words of what they have to endure before the time is right to escape. Still, the words of their father and Taro’s advice would be suppressed by Zushio after ten years of slavery as he loses hope while becoming accepting of Sansho’s rule where he becomes just as cruel towards the slaves. Anju meanwhile, is still clinging to that idea of kindness where it would be a song sung by a slave that would raise Anju’s awareness that her mother is still alive as it would also restore Zushio’s own faith. The third act would be about Zushio’s journey to appeal to a chief advisor about slavery where Zushio would reclaim some prestige but he realizes that it wouldn’t be enough to repair the damage over what happened to his family.

Kenji Mizoguchi’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores a family being splintered by a world where lawlessness is rampant. Mizoguchi’s direction is filled with gorgeous imagery of some of the Japanese locations but also mix it with an air of bleakness for what is happening in that world where people are pushed into slavery. Mizoguchi infuses a lot of wide shots as well as some medium shots and close-ups to capture a world where things are bleak while there is an element of hope somewhere. There is also some melodrama that is played out in the direction for the way the characters deal with their situation where some slaves attempt to escape only to be branded by hot steel as punishment. It’s a world where it’s run by this steward who has connections to the government and is a man with a lot of power.

The direction also has Mizoguchi making statements about this horrific period as he uses the Zushio character to fulfill the role that his father once played for the people in his land. Yet, he would have to endure things where even though he can make a difference for those who are helpless. It isn’t enough since the world is still bound by some lawlessness as well as the fact that there are those who won’t be able to enjoy the happiness of freedom. Even as Zushio is craving for something that is far more valuable than some title as he is still motivated to find his mother. There is nothing heavy-handed that Mizoguchi is saying as he presents it in a simple yet somber manner to reveal something where humanity was losing its way and how those managed to regain some hope. Overall, Mizoguchi creates very heartbreaking yet exhilarating film about humanity and its plea for mercy.

Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture some of the beauty of the Japanese locations including its mountains and beaches along with some chilling interiors in night thanks to some of the lighting by Kenichi Okamoto to play up that mix of hope and despair. Editor Mitsuzo Miyata does excellent work with the editing from the rhythmic cutting in some of the film‘s flashback scenes early in the film to some methodical yet effective cuts for some of the film‘s dramatic moments. Art directors Kisaku Ito and Kozaburo Nakajima, with set decorator Yuichiro Yamamoto, do brilliant work with the set pieces from the house of Sansho the Bailiff to the palaces of the chief advisor and the old house that Zushio and Anju lived as children.

The costumes by Yoshio Ueno and Yoshimi Shima are wonderful for the sense of prestige that the kids had early on in their robes only to then look in tatters as they become slaves. The makeup by Masanori Kobayashi is nice for the way some of the courtesans look in scenes where Tamaki has to look the part to play the role of a prostitute. The sound by Iwao Otani is terrific for the sense of chaos that is displayed in some of scenes where Sansho‘s men try to attack foes as well as a simple sense of intimacy in scenes involving nature. The film’s music by Fumio Hayasaka is just fantastic for its somber yet entrancing score filled with lush orchestral arrangements mixed in with traditional Japanese percussions and string instruments to create a sense of melancholia that is played out for the film.

The film’s cast is marvelous as it features some memorable small roles from Chieko Naniwa as the family servant Ubatake, Kikue Mori as an opportunistic priestess, Akira Shimizu as a slave trader who sells Zushio and Anju to Sansho, Bontaro Miake as Sansho’s lead general Kichiji, Ken Mitsuda as the chief advisor Zushio tries to appeal to, and Masao Shimizu as Anju and Zushio’s father who is a man of great idealism only to be exiled by a world of lawlessness. In the roles of the young Zushio and Anju, Naoki Fujima and Keiko Enami are excellent in their respective roles as siblings dealing with the harsh circumstances they’re put upon. Atikake Kono is superb as Taro, Sansho’s son who is horrified by his father’s cruelty and discovery of who the kids really are as he gives them advice on how to deal with the fate that is put upon them.

Eitaro Shindo is great as the very powerful and terrifying titular role as a man who is always kind to men of power while being very horrific to his slaves where he would make them endure some of the worst punishment known to mankind. Kinuyo Tanaka is wonderful as Zushio and Anju’s mother Tamaki who tries to ensure their father’s words in them as kids only to deal with her own cruelty as a prostitute as she sings a chilling song that would eventually reach them. Finally, there’s the duo of Kyoko Kagawa and Yoshiaki Hanayagi in their respective roles as Anju and Zushio. Kagawa displays a sense of grace to her performance as a young woman clinging to hope as it’s a very intoxicating performance to watch. Hanayagi is remarkable as the older Zushio who has nearly given up hope only when he realizes the opportunity to escape as he tries to come to terms with what he’s lost as well as the desire to make a difference in a terrifying world.

Sansho the Bailiff is an incredible film from Kenji Mizoguchi that explores the horrors of humanity and the desires for a few to instill hope in a world ravaged by evil. Featuring the mesmerizing performances of Eitaro Shindo, Atikake Kono, Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, and Kyoko Kagawa. It’s a film that is quite harrowing and at times can be full of despair but it is balanced with the idea that hope will always come as it’s a film that unveils the power of humanity and how it can endure such cruelty. In the end, Sansho the Bailiff is a phenomenal film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Kenji Mizoguchi Films: (Tokyo March) - (The Water Magician) - (Aizo Toge) - (The Downfall of Osen) - Osaka Elegy - (Sisters of the Gion) - (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums) - The 47 Ronin - (Utamaro and his Five Women) - (The Love of the Actress Sumako) - (Portrait of Madame Yuki) - (Miss Oyu) - (The Lady of Musashino) - The Life of Oharu - Ugetsu - (A Geisha) - (The Woman in the Rumor) - The Crucified Lovers - (Princess Yang Kwei-Fei) - (Tales of Taira Clan) - (Street of Shame)

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Life of Oharu

Based on the stories of Saikaku Ihara, The Life of Oharu is the story of a woman’s struggle to find herself after being a concubine for a territorial lord during the Edo in Japan. Directed by Kenji Mizoguichi and screenplay by Mizoguchi and Yoshikata Yoda. The film explores a woman’s life as she is sold into prostitution by her father as she tries to overcome many obstacles into being defiant against many issues set during a crucial period in Japan’s history. Starring Kinuyo Tanaka, Tsukie Matsuura, Ichiro Sugai, Toshiro Mifune, and Takashi Shimura. The Life of Oharu is an entrancing yet harrowing film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Told in the span of in the span of many years, the film explores a woman’s tumultuous life as she started off as a woman whose father lived as a samurai working for a respected lord only for her and her parents to be banished. Though things seem to look up as she becomes a lord’s concubine and give birth to his child, the fortunes of Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) and her family only go downwards as her father sells her to prostitution to cover his debts. Working at a brothel and then working for a rich couple as a courtesan, Oharu’s life is still troubled despite a few moments in her life that would find her happiness. Yet, she is shamed into a life of cruelty by social classes and the rules of men as she eventually hits bottom. The film is told largely from the perspective of Oharu as it opens with Oharu as an aging prostitute working with a group of aging prostitutes as she’s at a temple reflecting on her life.

The screenplay by Kenji Mizoguchi and Yoshikata Yoda explores the lifestyle of a woman set in 17th Century Japan during its Edo period where women have to play a certain role for men. Yet, it’s a role that is filled with a lot of strict rules and guidelines where falling in love is something a woman who is working under the home of a lord is forbidden to do. It would play to Oharu’s torment as she loses men who want to give her a happy life while she is later banished by a lord’s council for falling for that lord as she and her family receives little compensation.

The cruelty that Oharu would face from her father and other men as well as a rich wife would play to Oharu’s sense of hopelessness. While she would have a few moments of defiance, it would often lead to all sorts of trouble where she endures all these tribulations that lead to her becoming poor and helpless. The third act in the script plays to Oharu finally reaching her bottom as she has endured so much where there would be a glimmer of hope that might actually help her.

Mizoguchi’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores the life of a woman as it is told largely from her perspective as it does sort of begin near the end of the story. Through some interesting compositions filled with some medium shots and a few wide shots, Mizoguchi explores a world where it is dominated by men while women are treated as second-class. While some of the presentation is in the form of a melodrama, there are bits of humor that do play out in the film such as a scene where Oharu exposes a rich wife’s secret after she accused her of having an affair with her husband. Yet, Mizoguchi is more interested in not just exploring the life of this woman and all that she endures but also the system that is preventing her to find happiness. Mizoguchi does play out moments where things seem to go upbeat but always remind the audience that it will only be brief.

By the time the film returns to the temple where Oharu is gazing at statues, it reveals how far this woman has come in all of that cruelty where she gets a chance to find a bit of hope. Yet, there’s compromises that occur for Oharu in the film’s climax where it’s clear that she’s changed a bit in everything she’s been through but the rules haven’t changed. It is in this moment where Mizoguchi employs an act of feminism in the climax though the outcome ends up being far more bleaker than what is expected. Overall, Mizoguchi creates a very fascinating yet haunting film about a woman’s tumultuous life and the cruelty she endures through the unjust system of the times.

Cinematographers Yoshimi Harano and Yoshimi Kono do brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture some of the beauty of the Japanese locations in its exteriors while creating some lighting schemes in the interiors to play out some of the film‘s bleak mood. Editor Toshio Goto does excellent work with the editing by using a few stylish dissolves and fade-outs as transitions along with some rhythmic cuts to play out some of the melodrama. Production designer Hiroshi Mizutani does wonderful work with the set pieces from the look of the home of the lords Oharu serves to the brothel she has to work at in the film‘s second act. The film’s music by Ichiro Saito is fantastic as it is filled with some somber yet intricate music to play out Oharu’s journey of despair as the music largely consists of folk instruments and some intense orchestral cuts to create an air of bombast in the drama.

The film’s cast is incredible as it features an amazing collection of actors for the film. In small roles, there’s Takashi Shimura as an old man who helps out the aging prostitutes, Daisuke Kato as a con man at the brothel, Benkei Shiganoya as a brothel owner, Hiroshi Oizumi as a kind brothel manager, Chieko Higashiyama as an old nun, and Jukichi Uno as the fan maker Yakichi who gives Oharu a sense of hope for a brief period. Other notable small roles include Toshiro Mifune as a retainer who courts Oharu early in the film that led to her banishment, Toshiaki Konoe as Lord Matsudaira who falls for Oharu after giving birth to his son, and Hisako Yamane as the lord’s wife who gets rid of Oharu after the birth. Tsukie Matsuura and Ichiro Sugai are excellent as Oharu’s parents with the former as Oharu’s sympathetic mother and the latter as Oharu’s cruel father.

Finally, there’s Kinuyo Tanaka in a riveting performance as Oharu. Tanaka displays a great sense of humility and anguish to a role of a woman who endures all sorts of horrific treatment in the hands of the system towards women as she tries to live her life. Even as she tries to rebel through small means, she is still ridiculed where Tanaka allows her character to unveil as much pain that she endures in the course of her life as it’s a really unforgettable performance.

The Life of Oharu is a tough yet mesmerizing film from Kenji Mizoguchi that features a brilliant Kinuyo Tanaka. The film is definitely a strong piece of feminism that explores a woman trying to deal with the restrictions of her life during a tense period in Japan. It’s also a film that allows audiences to see how much this woman tries to find happiness in her life while dealing with all of the tribulation she faces. In the end, The Life of Oharu is a captivatingly rich film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Kenji Mizoguchi Films: (Tokyo March) - (The Water Magician) - (Aizo Toge) - (The Downfall of Osen) - Osaka Elegy - (Sisters of the Gion) - (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums) - The 47 Ronin - (Utamaro and his Five Women) - (The Love of the Actress Sumako) - (Portrait of Madame Yuki) - (Miss Oyu) - (The Lady of Musashino) - Ugetsu - (A Geisha) - Sansho the Bailiff - (The Woman in the Rumor) - The Crucified Lovers - (Princess Yang Kwei-Fei) - (Tales of Taira Clan) - (Street of Shame)

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Water Drops on Burning Rocks

Based on a play by the legendary German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder entitled Tropfen auf heisse Steine, Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brulantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks) is the story of a young man who meets an older man as they fall in love only for the relationship becomes complicated as two other women take part in this strange, unconventional relationship driven by this middle-aged man. Written for the screen and directed by Francois Ozon, the film is a look into how a young man and those around him are entangled into the web of a much older man who seems to dominate every aspect of their relationship. Starring Bernard Giraudeau, Malik Zidi, Ludivine Sagnier, and Anna Levine. Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brulantes is a witty yet stylish film from Francois Ozon.

The film is the story about a young man named Franz (Malik Zidi) who meets a middle-aged businessman named Leopold (Bernard Giraurdeau) in Germany as they engage into a romantic relationship. Yet, Leopold’s hold on Franz has left the young man anguished as he later receives a visit from his former fiancee Anna (Ludivine Sagnier) who comforts him until Leopold returns from a business trip with a former lover in Vera (Anna Levine) who was once a man who became a woman. Under Leopold’s sense of control and charm over the women, Franz finds himself disillusioned over Leopold’s idea of love. Told in four acts as if it was in a play as it’s all set inside an apartment in Germany, the film explores this young man’s relationship with a middle-aged businessman where his ideas of love and happiness are met with a world that is dark and cynical.

The screenplay by Francois Ozon explores the world of sexual interplay and romance as it involves a young man’s desire to gain experience under the wing of this older man. Yet, Franz becomes intrigued by Leopold where the two fall in love in the first act as Franz leaves his old life to be with Leopold yet things take a dark turn in the second half once Franz has to deal with Leopold’s compulsive yet controlling behavior while Franz later has his first glimpse of Vera who asks for Leopold though he wasn’t available. The second half when it goes into the third act reveal Franz’s anguish as he tries to find a life outside of Leopold only for things to go wrong until Leopold is out on a business trip and Anna arrives to visit where they re-kindle their love until Leopold’s return who also brings in Vera. There, things get complicated and problematic where Vera reveals to Franz a lot about Leopold and the chaos he brings to the people in his life.

Ozon’s direction is very stylish as he doesn’t spend a lot of time moving the camera around very much yet still maintains an air of beauty in his compositions. Even in the way he frames his actors in a scene while using a lot of repetition in certain scenes of the way he ends each act with the exception of the film’s finale. While Ozon injects some melodrama into the story in the way the characters deal with their situation, it is all told in a style that is similar to a play. While there is a moment in the film where the characters do break out of that sense of staging, it is still about that study of dominance and manipulation. Even as it would lead to dire consequences for some of the characters. Overall, Ozon creates a very provocative and mesmerizing film about love and deceit.

Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie does brilliant work with the film‘s lush photography from some of the look of the main living room with its dark colors and low-key lighting to some of the most gorgeous lighting for some daytime scenes in Leopold‘s bedroom. Editors Laurence Bawedin and Claudine Bouche do terrific work with the film‘s editing as it‘s mostly straightforward in some parts while it uses jump-cuts to create some interesting dramatic montages. Production designer Arnand de Moleron and set decorator Valerie Chemain do amazing work with the film‘s look of the apartments to complement the dark mood of Leopold where it seems comfortable but also chilling.

Costume designer Pascaline Chavanne does nice work with the costumes as it‘s all very stylish in the clothes the men wear as well as the one the women wear. Sound editor Benoit Hillebrant does some very good work with the sound to capture the sense of intimacy that occurs in the scenes at the apartment. The film’s soundtrack contains a mix of music featuring some somber orchestral pieces from Gustav Mahler, Giuseppe Verdi, and George Frideric Handel as well as pop songs by Francoise Hardy and Tony Holiday.

The casting by Antoinette Boulat is superb as it features only four principle actors for this film where Anna Levine is wonderful as the melancholic Vera who is aware of Leopold’s deceit as she couldn’t help herself but be drawn to him. Ludivine Sagnier is excellent as Anna as a young woman who is trying to get Franz back in her life while being charmed by Leopold. Malik Zidi is terrific as Franz as a young man troubled by the relationship he’s taken upon himself in while trying to hold on to the idealism of love that he craves for. Finally, there’s Bernard Giraudeau in a brilliant performance as Leopold as he’s a man that is full of charm and wit but also someone who is quite controlling in his demeanor as he can change behaviors to suit what he craves for.

Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brulantes is a stellar film from Francois Ozon. While it may not have some of the more darker elements of some of his more well-known films. It is still an intriguing one for the way he takes an unreleased play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder to explore the world of sexual dynamics and desire. In the end, Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brulantes is a pretty good film from Francois Ozon.

Francois Ozon Films: See the Sea - Sitcom - Criminal Lovers - Under the Sand - 8 Women - Swimming Pool - 5x2 - Time to Leave - Angel (2007 film) - Ricky - The Refuge - Potiche - In the House - Jeune & Jolie - (The New Girlfriend) - (Frantz (2016 film)) - (Double Lover) - (By the Grace of God) - Summer of 85 - (Everything Went Fine) - (Peter von Kant) - The Auteurs #33: Francois Ozon

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is the story of a hired hitman for the Mafia who lives in a very strict code similar to the ways of the samurai. The film is an exploration of a man trying to do his job with a sense of honor as he becomes pursued by those who feel like he isn’t doing their job. Starring Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Tricia Vessey, Henry Silva, and Isaach de Bankole. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a provocative yet stylish take on the samurai film from Jim Jarmusch.

For those working for the mob, they’re hired to do a job or they get whacked. In the case of this mysterious hitman known as Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), he does things differently as he does a simple job for a man who saved his life when he was a teenager. Yet, Ghost Dog lives in a very strict code that is similar to the ways of the samurai as he does everything in complete secrecy as his only form of contact is through carrier pigeons but only to the man he is loyal to in local mob head Louie (John Tormey). After a hit was delivered, Louie’s bosses decided that Ghost Dog had to be eliminated where Louie informs Ghost Dog of what is to happen.

Jim Jarmusch’s screenplay is definitely engrossing for the way a man lives a very strict lifestyle that has him living by himself with only pigeons to keep him company while he has very few friends. One of which is a Haitian ice-cream man named Raymond (Isaach de Bankole) who only speaks French while he also befriends a young girl named Pearline (Camille Winbush) who loves books. Still, Ghost Dog is a man who operates in a very strict manner where he borrows cars to go somewhere that is beyond walking distance while maintaining a code in a world where honor and loyalty is waning as he’s being pursued by men who are trying to adjust to changing times where honor and loyalty don’t really mean anything. While Ghost Dog uses guns as weapons, he does it in a way that is similar to the ways of the samurai while sparing whoever are innocent including a mob boss’ daughter (Tricia Vessey) whom she let borrows her copy of the book Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa to Ghost Dog who lends it to Pearline.

There are a lot of allusions to the way Jarmusch explores the code of the samurai as he often injects the film with voice-over reading of Ghost Dog reading text from Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s book Hagakure. With the text also present in the film, it plays into the philosophy that Ghost Dog is trying to hold on to in a world that is changing and filled with lots of corruption and violence. While Ghost Dog is a man who kills, he is only doing it to save himself and Louie from harm since he owes Louie for saving his life. While the two men have different memories about the day Louie saved Ghost Dog’s life as a teen, they are drawn to each other as Louie is a man who also works under a code but a different one that is on its way out.

Jarmusch’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of his framing and presentation though there are a lot of tributes to the films that Jarmusch is basing on. Notably samurai movies and Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film Le Samourai that features a similar story about a hitman who lives in a strict code inspired by the samurai. Shot on location in New Jersey, the film has unique look that plays to this world that seems ever-changing where the mob are trying to adjust to these changes. Yet, the Ghost Dog character is a man who only wears dark clothes and rarely interacts with people as he is a real sharp contrast to the people he works for. Still, Jarmusch infuses some humor in the way the Mafia is portrayed as there’s one mob leader who has a love for the music of Public Enemy as he spits out rhymes from their songs.

Another aspect in Jarmusch’s direction that is interesting is the fact that there are many scenes where the mob are watching cartoons that either plays to something that is foreshadowing or to reflect the dark world they live in. Jarmusch’s approach to the violence isn’t very graphic but still confrontational in the way Ghost Dog takes care of his foes. Some of it is done in a clever yet low-key fashion to represent Ghost Dog’s violent style where he does it swiftly and that is it. The scenes where Ghost Dog and Raymond interact where despite the language barrier, the two men do seem to understand each other a bit as it’s part of Jarmusch’s unique approach to some of the film’s humor. Overall, Jarmusch creates a very fascinating yet stylish film about a man maintaining a code of the samurai in the modern world.

Cinematographer Robby Muller does excellent work with the film‘s photography from some of the low-key lighting schemes at night to the more colorful scenes in the daytime interior and exterior settings. Editor Jay Rabinowitz does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylish editing with the use of layered dissolves to express a few flashback scenes and montages along with some jump-cuts and fade-outs to help present some of the text that Ghost Dog is reading. Production designer Ted Berner, with set decorator Ron von Blomberg and art director Mario Ventenilla, does nice work with the look of the apartment that Ghost Dog lives in as well as the ice cream truck that Raymond runs.

Costume designer John A. Dunn does terrific work with the costumes from the street-based clothing of Ghost Dog to the more refined suits the gangsters wear. Sound designer Anthony J. Ciccolini III does wonderful work with the sound to capture the intimacy of some of the film‘s violent scenes as well as low-key yet layered sounds of nature to express the kind of peace that Ghost Dog craves for. The film’s music by RZA is fantastic for its rhythmic yet intoxicating music that fuses hip-hop with low-key electronics to set a mood while its soundtrack is a nice mix of hip-hop and reggae that features music from RZA and some of his cohorts from the Wu-Tang Clan as well as Public Enemy and Willi Williams doing a cover of the Clash’s Armagideon Time.

The casting by Ellen Lewis and Laura Rosenthal is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Richard Portnow as the target Ghost Dog is hired to kill, Gary Farmer as a Native American pigeon farmer the Mafia harasses, RZA as another samurai Ghost Dog meets, and Gene Ruffini as an old consigliere. Other standout small roles include Cliff Gorman as a mob boss who loves Public Enemy and Henry Silva as a mob leader who orders Ghost Dog’s death. Tricia Vessey is very good as the daughter of the mob leader who always find herself in an assassination as she’s often spared. Camille Winbush is wonderful as the young girl Pearline whose interest in books has her befriending Ghost Dog who lends her a book. Isaach de Bankole is excellent as Ghost Dog’s Haitian friend Raymond as he always spout the good attributes of ice cream while often conversing with Raymond about things in life.

John Tormey is superb as Ghost Dog’s retainer Louie who is aware of Ghost Dog’s skills as he tries to save himself from the mob while dealing with all of the chaos that is happening while trying to maintain his own sense of honor. Finally, there’s Forest Whitaker in a riveting performance as Ghost Dog where Whitaker has this very low-key restraint to his performance that allows Ghost Dog to be a man of discipline but also a man full of life as he’s also quite charming as it is definitely one of Whitaker’s finest performances.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is an incredible film from Jim Jarmusch that features a brilliant performance from Forest Whitaker. The film is definitely one of Jarmusch’s more accessible features as well as a great homage to the samurai movies. It’s also a film that explores a man’s desire to find peace and honor in a world ravaged by change and chaos. In the end, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a phenomenal film from Jim Jarmusch.

Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Stranger Than Paradise - Down By Law - Mystery Train - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Coffee & Cigarettes - Broken Flowers - The Limits of Control - Only Lovers Left Alive - Paterson - Gimme Danger - (The Dead Don't Die) - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Curse of the Golden Flower

Directed by Zhang Yimou and screenplay by Yimou, Wu Nan, and Bian Zhihong from a story by Wang Bin, Curse of the Golden Flower is the story of an empress who conspires with her son to lead a revolt against the emperor after learning about the emperor’s desire to get rid of her. The film is an epic set in ancient China that is inspired by Cao Yu’s 1934 play Thunderstorm that explores the dynamic of family and betrayal. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, and Qin Junjie. Curse of the Golden Flower is a lavish yet exhilarating film from Zhang Yimou.

The film revolves around a royal family in ancient China as it prepares for an annual festival to take place. Yet, there is discord in this family led by Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) as he returns from a military campaign with his son Prince Jai (Jay Chou) while Ping has left specific instructions into treating Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) who has been ill as she has to drink a special medicine. Yet, she becomes suspicious about the medicine’s contents as she believes she is being poisoned while is having an affair with her stepson in Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) who is the Emperor’s favorite son. Still, the Empress and Prince Jai conspire to stage a coup against the Emperor for his actions that also involves secrets relating to the Imperial Doctor’s family. With everyone conspiring against one another, there is still the young Prince Yu (Qin Junjie) lurking around as he observes all that is happening.

The film’s screenplay explores the dynamic of this very dysfunctional family where everyone has to serve the Emperor yet they’re being mistreated for his own reasons to maintain his role as Emperor. Prince Jai’s discovery of what is happening to his mother becomes his motivation to rebel against his father in secrecy while there is also a lot that is lurking around in the film’s first half. Notably as Crown Prince Wan is having an affair with the Imperial Doctor’s daughter Jiang Chan (Li Man) as she is hoping to have a life outside of the palace. Another character that plays a key part in the film’s first half is the Imperial Doctor’s wife (Chen Jin) who has a grudge towards the Emperor as she helps out the Empress while is one of the few that knows a dark secret that could impact the entire royal family.

While the first half of the script is all about various people planning the coup as well as its motivations. The film’s second half becomes a much more adventurous feature where there’s revelations unveiled as well as the kind of actions that the Emperor is doing. The third act is about this attempted coup on the night an annual festival that is to take place that involves a golden flower that is a symbol of the family’s coat. Yet, it reveals that Emperor’s words about family harmony are really a façade considering the discord that he created in his family.

Zhang Yimou’s direction is definitely extravagant in the way he presents the film as not just an epic but also a family drama with an air of suspense that looms throughout the film. Utilizing lots of stylish tracking shots with some elaborate crane set-ups and stylish action scenes. Yimou creates a film that is about people conspiring against one another as if it’s a game of who can outwit who. Still, it’s a world where it’s all about people serving the royal family where there’s lots of shots that involve many extras who do their duty where Yimou puts a lot of attention to detail of where they should be in the frame and such. While there are still some intimate moments in the framing, it is all about the drama that is unfolding in these lavish settings. The action sequences are presented with a large degree of style as does the film’s climatic coup that involves a horde of extras and some visual effects to establish the vast power of this rebellion. Overall, Yimou creates a very engaging and mesmerizing film about betrayal and dark secrets.

Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding does excellent work with the film’s very colorful photography from the lighting schemes and atmosphere in some of the film’s interior settings to the broad look of the palace hall exteriors as well as some scenes set in night. Editor Cheng Long does brilliant work with the film‘s editing from some stylish jump-cuts in some of the film‘s action scenes to some stylish rhythmic cuts to play out some of its suspense and dramatic moments. Production designer Huo Tingxiao and supervising art director Zhao Bin do spectacular work with the film‘s presentation of the palace interiors that are colorful and full of style along with some scenes in the palace exterior halls to present its extravagance.

Costume designer Yee Chung Man does amazing work with the costumes from the design of the robes as well as the look of the uniforms of the guards as it all plays to that attention to detail that Yimou wanted. Visual effects supervisors Angela Barson and Frankie Chung do terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects for some scenes involving the weapons of the Emperor‘s secret guards as well as some of the scenes in the film‘s climatic battle scene. Sound designer Tao Jing does superb work with the sound from the way swords clang to some of the smaller moments to play out that sense of atmosphere that occurs in the palace. The film’s music by Shigeru Umebayashi is wonderful for its mixture of intricate Chinese string music to play out the drama that is mixed in with some lush string arrangements while it also features some bombastic moments to play out some of its suspense and drama including the film’s climax.

The film’s cast is incredible as it features a terrific small performance from Ni Dahong as the Imperial Doctor who is unaware of all of this conspiracy. Chen Jin is wonderful as the Imperial Doctor’s wife who comes to the palace in secrecy to unveil something for the Empress as it relates to a grudge she has towards the Emperor. Li Man is very good as the Imperial Doctor’s daughter Chan who is in love with Crown Prince Wan as she deals with all of the chaos that surrounding the conspiracies that is going on. Qin Junjie is excellent as the youngest prince of family in Prince Yu as the one person the family seems to overlook as he lurks in the shadows to find out what is happening as he feels neglected by everyone including his brothers. Liu Ye is superb as Crown Prince Wan as a young man conflicted in his feelings for both the Empress and Chan while dealing with the expectations that is set upon by his father.

Jay Chou is great as Prince Jai who learns about what his father has done as he tries to defend his mother’s honor by helping her stage a coup in order to set things right for the family. Gong Li is amazing as Empress Phoenix as a woman who is slowly losing her sanity due to the medicine she’s drinking as she tries to stage a coup against her husband while carrying dark secrets that could shake up the entire royal family. Finally, there’s Chow Yun-Fat in a brilliant performance as Emperor Ping as a man who is very shady in his façade as he presents himself as a man of honor but is really a much darker individual who wants to maintain control of his empire.

Curse of the Golden Flower is a phenomenal film from Zhang Yimou that features superb performances from Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, and Jay Chou. The film is definitely an epic that lives up to its grand visual style while supporting with a strong story of betrayal and discord. It’s also a film that features some of Yimou’s finest moments in terms of creating a visual spectacle that involves lots of extras and a grand battle scene. In the end, Curse of the Golden Flower is a marvelous film from Zhang Yimou.

Zhang Yimou Films: (Red Sorghum) - (Codename Cougar) - (Ju Dou) - (Raise the Red Lantern) - (The Story of Qiu Ju) - (To Live) - (Shanghai Triad) - (Keep Cool) - Not One Less - (The Road Home) - (Happy Times) - (Hero) - House of Flying Daggers - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles - A Simple Noodle Story - (Under the Hawthorn Tree) - (The Flowers of War) - Coming Home (2014 film) - The Great Wall (2016 film) - (Shadow (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

How to Survive a Plague

Directed by David France and written by France, Todd Woody Richman, and Tyler H. Walk, How to Survive a Plague is a documentary about the formation of ACT UP during the late 1980s to raise awareness for AIDS and to find treatment to fight the drug. The film is a look into the long-decade period in which an entire community came together and fought against the government, religious organizations, and drug companies to get the drugs they needed to fight the disease as well as how those who founded ACT UP would later form the group TAG. The result is an eerie yet provocative film about one of the most crucial periods in American history.

The AIDS epidemic was one of the most haunting periods in the 1980s where gays and lesbians who were suffering from the disease as well as HIV-related illnesses were feeling neglected as nearly half a million people had already died of the disease by 1987. It would take a small group of people to from ACT UP to not only raise awareness but also to confront the people in government as well as many organizations to finally make the drugs available. Director David France unveils this long history that spans to nearly an entire decade that ends in 1996 when a combination of drugs were finally available to the public which helped not only those suffering from the disease but also give them the chance to live longer.

While a lot of the film is based on footage shot by the people who formed ACT UP in the 1980s in New York City during Mayor Ed Koch’s tenure. There are new interviews that are shot through Derek Wiesehahn’s camera while only the founders of ACT UP would finally be unveiled late in the film to reveal how far they’ve come. With the help of editors and co-writers Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk, France is able to collect an array of news footage and personal documentary about the lives of these activists and the meetings they would have that were very passionate and also filled with anger. Through these array of elaborate protests where activists took charge, they were able to get the attention of the media.

Yet, the activists also revealed how some of the founders of ACT UP split to form TAG as well as some of the frustrations that occurred during these protests. Even as they were using drugs that weren’t really working to begin with as they also admitted to feeling naïve about speeding up the process where TAG wanted to slow things down in order for scientists and doctors to carefully do their research. While there are moments in the film that reveal some humor in the way the protestors fought against opponents such as the Catholic Church in New York City. A lot of the film is quite grim considering how many people had already died during this period where million of people had died of the disease by the mid-1990s. Notably a scene where one of ACT UP’s members had died where protestors used his funeral as a protest on the day before the 1992 election to remind George H.W. Bush that this man’s death was Bush’s responsibility for his neglect.

With the help of sound recorders Stuart Deutsch and Topher Reifeiss, France is able to use the interviews both old and new to unveil a lot of what was happening including some quiet moments that included one of the protestor‘s family life. The film’s music by Stuart Bogie is quite evocative for its mixture of ambient and orchestral music to play out some of the dreariness of the film and how some things did go bad. Music supervisors John Carlin, Beco Dranoff and Paul Heck bring in a soundtrack that features a wide mix of music from jazz, show tunes, pop, and dance to capture the energy of the culture.

How to Survive a Plague is a remarkable film from David France. The film is definitely a documentary audiences who are interested in the history of AIDS to see how an entire community came together to get drugs available to the public through protests and venting their anger. It’s also a film that unveils a piece of history that is captivating but also somber for the fact that millions of people had died in this terrible disease which definitely could be defined as a plague. In the end, How to Survive a Plague is a brilliant documentary from David France.

© thevoid99 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Directed by Chan-wook Park and written by Wentworth Miller with additional contributions by Erin Cressida Wilson, Stoker is a teenage girl who gets an unexpected from her uncle following the death of her father. The film is an exploration into the world of family as it goes into very dark places as it relates to a man’s relationship with his teenage niece where it goes into harrowing territory. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermont Mulroney, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Phyllis Somerville, and Jacki Weaver. Stoker is a mesmerizing yet chilling film from Chan-wook Park.

The film is about a young teenage girl named India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) whose life is shaken by the death of her father (Dermont Mulroney) as the only person in her life is her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) whom she doesn’t have much of a relationship with. The arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom India had never known about shake things up even more as he raises a lot of intrigue for both India and Evelyn as the latter clings to Charlie for companionship. Still, something doesn’t feel right for India as mysterious disappearances involve people she knows start to happen while she becomes entranced by Charlie’s charm. After learning more about Charlie, India would also uncover more dark secrets about what really happened to her father as well as why she never heard about Charlie in the first place.

Wentworth Miller’s screenplay does explore the life of this young woman who is quite detached from reality in some ways as she is known to be gifted in art, piano-playing, and being a very skilled hunter. Yet, she’s also a loner as she always wears these schoolgirl shoes since childhood as she is very close to her father but her relationship with her mother hasn’t been easy. Notably as Evelyn is an unstable individual who seems to envy India over her relationship with her father while she has always been lonely. By the time Charlie comes to the house, Evelyn wants to be with him until she learns that Charlie is more interested in India that increases the already troubled relationship between the two women. Once India learns more about Charlie, she is both repulsed and fascinated by his secrets.

Miller’s script allows the mystery to unfold slowly while playing with the tropes of what is expected in a suspense/thriller. There are small characters who only appear briefly as they seem to know more than what India and Evelyn might realize. Yet, it does add to this element of mystery where it gives India a chance to piece things out where the third act has her not only making some realizations about herself but also why her father has never said anything about Charlie. Miller’s script also has some stylish dialogue that includes a few voice-overs and monologues including a very chilling one from Evelyn towards India that reveals a lot of the jealousy a mother has towards her daughter.

Chan-wook Park’s direction is very stylish though not in its look as Park is able to keep some of the visual elements a bit simpler where it’s shot on location in Nashville, Tennessee. Yet, Park is able to infuse a lot of interesting images to present this mixture of family melodrama with some suspense where he plays into the world of death as well as family. Park’s direction does have him using a lot of interesting framing devices to play into the sense of detachment between mother and daughter and how someone like Charlie could be placed in the middle of this lingering tension. Even where Park is intrigued by the mother-daughter tension where not a lot is revealed yet it is clear in the acting that these two women don’t really like each other but they still want something from another.

Park also creates some very interesting images to not just play out the suspense and melodrama but also do with a large degree of style. Notably in the tracking shots where his camera is often moving to capture the sense of movement such as India wandering around the house to observe Charlie. There are also images that play out the sense of style where Park would re-create images to explore India’s mind as she is pondering about her own persona that is dark at times but also girlish. Things do get unveiled in the third act where it goes into very dark territory that does play into Park’s fascination with violence as well as sexuality where it shows India becoming more of a woman to the surprise of her mother that adds more tension between the two. Overall, Park creates a very entrancing yet visceral film about family and the dark secrets that lurk in them.

Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon does excellent work with the film‘s photography to play out some of the beautiful look of some of the location exteriors as well as some beautiful lighting schemes for some of the scenes at the Stoker home including its dark basement. Editor Nicolas de Toth does spectacular with the film‘s very stylized yet seamless editing that is filled with an array of jump-cuts and dissolves including some montages and match cuts that are just exquisite in its imagery and impact. Production designer Therese DePrez, along with set decorator Leslie Morales and art director Wing Lee, does amazing work with the look of the Stoker home as well as some locations around the area including the Stoker garden.

Costume designers Kurt and Bart do brilliant work with the costumes from the clothes that Charlie wears to the stylish yet clean-cut dresses and shoes that India wears to display her transition from teenager to womanhood. Sound designers Chuck Michael and John Morris do superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of some of the exterior locations including some scenes set in the house to play up that air of suspense. The film’s music by Clint Mansell is phenomenal for its eerie yet intoxicating score that is filled evocative piano pieces and brooding orchestral pieces as well as additional piano duets by Philip Glass along with songs by Lee Hazelwood with Nancy Sinatra and Emily Wells.

The film’s cast is just marvelous as it includes some noteworthy appearances from Ralph Brown as a sheriff, Lucas Till as a classmate who constantly harasses India, Alden Ehrenreich as another classmate who is interested in India, Judith Godreche as a doctor, Phyllis Somerville as the Stoker family maid, Dermont Mulroney as India’s father Richard, and Jacki Weaver in a terrific appearance as India’s great aunt Gin who definitely knows a lot about some of the Stoker family secret. Nicole Kidman is great as Evelyn as a woman seemingly trying to put on a façade to deal with her grief as she clings to Charlie for companionship while harboring some resentment towards her own daughter over Charlie and her late husband Richard.

Matthew Goode is superb as Charlie where he has this very clean-cut look where he is handsome and charming but also has a very dark demeanor that is very intoxicating to watch as he later unveils more and more about who he really is. Finally, there’s Mia Wasikowska in a remarkable performance as India Stoker where Wasikowska displays a chilling restraint to her role as well as a low-key dark humor to her role as she just commands every scene she’s in by doing so little while also being quite confrontational as it’s definitely one of Wasikowska’s finest performances.

Stoker is an incredible film from Chan-wook Park that features top-notch performances from Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. While it’s a very stylized thriller with some unique images and themes on family, it’s also an interesting one that plays into some of the dark traits about families. For fans of Chan-wook Park, the film definitely serves as a reminder into why he’s one of the best filmmakers working today where he infuses the film with a lot of exotic imagery and heavy themes. In the end, Stoker is a tremendous film from Chan-wook Park.

Chan-wook Park Films: (The Moon Is… the Sun’s Dream) - (Trio) - Judgment (1999 short film) - JSA: Joint Security Area - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - (If You Were Me-Never Ending Piece and Love) - Oldboy - Three Extremes-Cut - Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - I'm a Cyborg but That's OK - Thirst - (Night Fishing) - (Day Trip) - The Handmaiden - (The Little Drummer Girl (2018 TV Series)) - Decision to Leave

© thevoid99 2013