Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Films That I Saw: February 2015

Thank goodness the Oscar season was over as I’ve kind of felt it was underwhelming and not very diverse. Plus, the choice of winners were predictable as it was the big reason why I decided to skip it this year and why I didn’t finish my predictions list. I usually get excited during that time but this year I wasn’t as there were a lot of great films that I felt got overlooked along with performances which made the whole thing feel dull. I’m not surprised by its poor ratings this year which I think was a factor into how uninspiring it was as they really need to do better next year.

Thank you Ring of Honor for getting me excited all over again about wrestling as a six-man tag match between ACH, Cedric Alexander, and Matt Sydal (formerly known as WWE superstar Evan Bourne) vs. AJ Styles and the Young Bucks, representing the Bullet Club, was without question one of the best matches I had ever seen in years. It is wrestling at its purest form as I was happy to see Albert del Rio be in Ring of Honor where he looks happier there as it’s reported he’s also got a thing at Lucha Underground where he won’t need the WWE anymore. There was a recent article I read about a month ago about this growing renaissance that is emerging in professional wrestling as it relates to what is going on outside of the WWE and, to a lesser extent, TNA as it relates to wrestling fans wanting something different and more simpler where it’s less about entertainment and more about wrestling.

It’s something that Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, and New Japan has been offering to American audiences as they just want to give them their monies worth. That’s all that it needs to be as it’s helped maintain this growing detachment between myself and the WWE as I’m definitely not looking forward to this year’s WrestleMania. The one match I might see is Sting vs. Triple H but that’s it. All of this frustration with the WWE and their ideas has given me an idea of fantasy booking as it relates to not just how out of touch Vince McMahon is but also how WWE wants to perceive itself as sports entertainment rather than pro wrestling which adds to this growing disconnect between itself and real wrestling fans. I like to call myself a wrestling fan. Not a member of the fucking WWE Universe.

I don’t want to call the WWE wrestlers Superstars or Divas as I think it’s fucking stupid. To the WWE, wrestling is a dirty word as I have an idea about this growing disconnect where a group of wrestlers decide to form an anti-sports entertainment faction where their sole mission is to oust Vince and the Authority from the WWE. It’s not just about saving the WWE from becoming even worse than it already is but also the idea of what happens if the WWE is gone for good as it might say something about the future of professional wrestling in America. I have come up with a lot of ideas for this storyline as it’s not just inspired by the New World Order faction in WCW but it’s about something much more than just taking over a company. It’s about the future of the WWE as I don’t think wrestling fans are interested in seeing John Cena be the WWE champion for the 40th time.

Now back to the world of films as in the month of February, I saw a total of 35 films in 20 first-timers and 15 re-watches. Slightly down from last month but reasonable though I took some time into watching these films as I decided to not watch films every day. The highlight of the month was obviously my Blind Spot assignment in Singin' in the Rain as it was the best film I saw in February and in the year so far. Here are my top 10 first-timers for February 2015:

1. Patton

2. My Life as a Dog

3. Senna

4. The Earrings of Madame de...

5. Tess

6. I Killed My Mother

7. Citizenfour

8. Sweet Smell of Success

9. Ben-Hur

10. Belle

Monthly Mini-Reviews


This film was on HBO for some time as I decided to see what the fuss was about. It’s alright as I do like Shailene Woodley as she does play an excellent character. It’s just that it’s a film that it feels very typical of the trend of most young adult novel adaptations in terms of its sense of adventure and chaos though it still has some unique moments. Especially with Kate Winslet in the role of the antagonist while it does have some unique ideas on dystopia and individuality. It’s good for what it is though it just feels familiar in comparison to other films like The Hunger Games series.


I’m not a fan of Jerusha and Jared Hess as I’m one of those that didn’t like Napoleon Dynamite while I absolutely loathed Gentleman Broncos as I think it’s one of the stupidest films ever made. This film however, as it’s the directorial debut of Jerusha, is actually quite charming as it definitely has something for Jane Austen fans. The highlight of the film is Keri Russell as this hardcore Jane Austen fan who travels to Britain to give in towards her idea of what life would be like in the world of Austen as it doesn’t exactly go well. It’s quite funny as it plays into reality vs. fiction over what is expected as Russell’s character is looking for love. It’s a harmless film but a fun one.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Unforgiven

2. Die Hard

3. Moulin Rouge!

4. Natural Born Killers

5. Atonement

6. Commando

7. The Place Beyond the Pines

8. Idiocracy

9. About a Boy

10. That Thing You Do!

Well, that is all for February. Next month, I’m going to be watching a lot of French films as my focus will be on the works of Eric Rohmer and Louis Malle along with Auteurs-related pieces by Xavier Dolan and Bong-joon Ho as well as the next Auteurs subject in Julian Schnabel. The only theatrical release that I’m likely to do is The Gunman as there’s not much happening at this point for March while I’m going to re-start work on The Story of Film series as I hope to complete it before May as I’ve gotten a tentative line-up for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival marathon that will happen in May. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Godfather Part III

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and written by Coppola and Mario Puzo that is based on Puzo’s The Godfather novel series, The Godfather Part III is the story of Michael Corleone’s attempt to gain legitimacy away from the world of the Mafia as he makes a deal with the Vatican bank only for things to go wrong as it involves an illegitimate nephew who wants to help Corleone in getting rid of his enemies. The third and final part of The Godfather trilogy, the film is an exploration of Michael Corleone’s attempt to find redemption as he also copes with guilt over his past actions as Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael Corleone as he’s joined by Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Richard Bright, and Al Martino reprising their famed roles from previous films. Also starring Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, John Savage, Donal Donnelly, Helmut Berger, and Eli Wallach. The Godfather Part III is a compelling yet flawed film from Francis Ford Coppola.

Set in the late 1970s, the film revolves around Michael Corleone’s attempt to detach himself from the criminal world as he had reinvented himself as a philanthropist while leaving his other business to other people where it begins to fall apart. When an opportunity arises to buy shares from one of the world’s biggest banks in the Vatican’s Immobiliare, Corleone sees it as a chance to become a fully-legitimized businessman. Still, elements of his past dealings with the Mafia come back to haunt him as his enforcer Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) has been running Corleone’s territory into ruins forcing an illegitimate nephew of Corleone in Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) to wanting to get control back. Once it becomes clear that there are those trying to get rid of Corleone not just over the deal but for other reasons, Corleone decides to have Vincent take over but with Vincent to disconnect himself with his cousin in Corleone’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola).

The film’s screenplay plays into not just Michael Corleone’s attempt to be part of society and make himself legitimate but also carry the guilt over the way he rose into power. Especially as the demons of his past would return in ways he didn’t expect as he is facing new enemies who play by different rules as well as those whom he thought were his friends. The chaos that emerges in Corleone’s life forces him to look towards Vincent for help as well as the advice of his sister Connie (Talia Shire) and longtime bodyguard Al Neri (Richard Bright). It is around the same time that Michael makes amend with his estranged ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton) after pushing her away from his dealings just as Michael is seeking redemption for his past actions and sins. Still, Corleone copes with issues regarding the Immobiliare as well as the involvement of his old family friend Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) who is the most interesting character in the film. An old man that may seem weak and frail but it’s just a front for who he really is.

It’s among the interesting aspects of the script but there’s elements in that script that involves real-life events such as the death of Pope John Paul I as well as the Papal banking scandal of the early 80s definitely becomes too overwhelming and not as fleshed it for the main story which relates to Michael Corleone’s attempt for legitimacy and redemption. Another aspect of the script that doesn’t work involves the relationship between Mary and Vincent where it does border into the world of incest since the two are related to the Corleone family as Vincent was the illegitimate son of Michael’s eldest brother Sonny as Vincent bears reminders of the father he never really knew. It’s among some of the weak aspects of the script as well as the missed presence of a major character in the series in Tom Hagen, whose character is revealed to have died, as the only connection that is presented in the film is his son Andrew (John Savage) who is a priest that helps Michael in dealing with the Immobiliare.

Francis Ford Coppola’s direction is quite interesting as it’s set in three different places such as Rome, New York City, and Palermo, Sicily as it plays into a world that is changing but things are far more ruthless as they when Michael was ruling the Corleone family. Yet, Coppola retains the look of its predecessors while aiming for something that is rich but also play into a world that is changing where Michael Corleone is unaware that he is on his way out. Coppola’s compositions are still potent in the way he frames some of the drama as well as play into some of the film’s violence which is quite brutal in the way characters are killed and such. Some of the drama has Coppola use some unique medium shots and close-ups as it includes a very mesmerizing scene where Michael makes his first confession in many years to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone) who is one of the few good men in the world. It’s a scene where Michael Corleone finally reveal his sins as it is also this brief moment where the man could find redemption.

It’s among these very keen moments in the film that works while some of the elements in the film as it relates to Vincent’s attraction towards Mary are among some of the things in the film that doesn’t work. Even as Coppola isn’t able to really do anything new as the film’s climax at an opera house does have an air of theatricality in a montage that does play as a homage to elements of films of the past. Yet, it’s aftermath does have an air of tragedy as it plays to not just the sins of Michael Corleone but also the fact that all of his attempts to get those closest to him away from that dark world aren’t exempt. Especially as he realizes that the world of legitimacy that he thought he was going into is a far more treacherous world than the world of crime. Overall, Coppola creates a very captivating though very uneven film about a mobster’s attempt to find redemption and atone for his sins.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its approach to low-key lights for the scenes at night while maintaining a sepia-drenched visual style that plays to the film’s interior looks for the scenes in day and night as well as maintaining something natural and low-key for the scenes set in Sicily. Editors Walter Murch, Lisa Fruchtman, and Barry Malkin do excellent work with the editing as it does have an air of style in some of the film‘s violent moments while creating some montages as well as some stylish dissolves to play into the drama. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and art director Alex Tavoularis do fantastic work with the set pieces from the New York City penthouse that Michael lives in as well as the look of Little Italy and the home of the Corleone family in Sicily.

Costume designer Milena Canonero does brilliant work with the costumes from the party dress that Mary wore at the opening party scene as well as the suits and dresses the characters wear in some of the posh events at the film. Sound designer Richard Beggs and sound editor Gloria S. Borders do superb work with the film‘s sound to play into some of the violence that includes the chilling helicopter attack scene as well as the moments in the opera house. The film’s music by Carmine Coppola is wonderful as his approach to lush string arrangements and somber horns play into the sense of melancholia that looms over the film along with some very offbeat cuts such as the use of the Jew-harp that serves as a theme for Don Altobello.

The casting by Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, and Roger Mussenden is terrific as it features small yet notable appearances from Catherine Scorsese as an old lady who likes Vincent, Raf Vallone as Cardinal Lamberto, Enzo Robutti as the an old-school mob leader in Don Luchessi, Vittorio Duse as the old Corleone ally Don Tommasino, Mario Donatone as the assassin Mosca, Helmut Berger as an Immobiliare accountant Frederick Keinszig, John Savage as Father Andrew Hagen who would help Michael with dealings of the Immobiliare, and Al Martino who makes a wonderful appearance as the singer Johnny Fontaine for the film’s opening party scene. Performances from George Hamilton as Michael’s attorney B.J. Harrison isn’t inspiring as Hamilton really does nothing to make his performance memorable while Bridget Fonda is wasted as a photojournalist in Grace Hamilton who sleeps with Vincent as she is nearly killed for that moment. Other small roles from Richard Bright as Michael’s longtime bodyguard Al Neri, Franc D’Ambrosio as Michael’s son Anthony, and Donal Donnelly as Archbishop Gilday are pretty good as they do serve purpose for the story.

Sofia Coppola isn’t as bad that many has said about her performance as Mary Corleone but it is still quite terrible as she is unable to sell the dramatic elements of her performance as she and Andy Garcia don’t really have any chemistry. Joe Mantegna is excellent as Joey Zasa as a Corleone enforcer who has caused trouble for the Corleone crime empire forcing Vincent to take action. Talia Shire is fantastic as Connie Corleone as she becomes more involved in the Corleone family business as she would encourage Vincent to take action. Andy Garcia is superb as Vincent Mancini as the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone who attained his father’s fiery attitude as he becomes Michael’s protégé as he later copes with the role he is given as well as breaking off a relationship with his cousin Mary.

Eli Wallach is phenomenal as Don Altobello as an old family friend of the Corleone family who is a truly complex and fun character as this old man that seems like a harmless person but he’s really one of the most deceitful and cunning antagonists ever presented on film as Wallach is a major highlight of the film. Diane Keaton is brilliant as Kay Adams as Michael’s estranged ex-wife who returns to plea for Michael to let Anthony go while coping with his illness and attempts to find redemption. Finally, there’s Al Pacino in a remarkable performance as Michael Corleone as he brings a lot of charm but also a weight of melancholia to the role as a man who copes with the guilt of his actions as he tries to become a legitimate businessman only to realize how corrupt it is as he searches for redemption and atonement for his sins.

The Godfather Part III is a stellar yet underwhelming film from Francis Ford Coppola. While it does feature excellent performance from Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Joe Mantegna, and Eli Wallach along with some fine technical contributions. It’s a film that has some unique elements in its theme of redemption but is boggled down by some uninspired storylines and other things that really hinders the film though it is still an engaging one. In the end, The Godfather Part III is a superb film from Francis Ford Coppola.

Francis Ford Coppola Films: (Tonight for Sure) - (The Bellboy and the Playgirls) - Dementia 13 - (You’re a Big Boy Now) - (Finian’s Rainbow) - (The Rain People) - The Godfather - The Conversation - The Godfather Part II - Apocalypse Now/Apocalyse Now Redux - One from the Heart - The Outsiders - Rumble Fish - The Cotton Club - (Peggy Sue Got Married) - (Captain EO) - (Heart of Stone) - (Tucker: The Man and His Dreams) - New York Stories-Life Without Zoe - Bram Stoker's Dracula - (Jack) - (The Rainmaker) - (Youth Without Youth) - Tetro - (Twixt)

© thevoid99 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Directed and co-shot by Laura Poitras, Citizenfour is a documentary about Poitras meeting with Edward Snowden and his involvement with the NSA spying scandal in which he became the whistleblower as he and others he was interviewed by get into trouble. The third part in a post-9/11 trilogy about the world is an exploration into security and what the American government was willing to do to keep tabs on its own people. The result is a fascinating yet frightening film about the world being watched as their privacy is being taken away.

In 2013, news emerged about the actions of the National Security Agency where they would spy on not just Americans in their home country but also in various places in Europe came to the forefront of the public eye. The world began to question not just the American government over their actions but also into how it threatens the idea of liberty and self-liberty. All of which was exposed by a former NSA contractor in Edward Snowden who was in hiding when all of this happened as filmmaker/journalist Laura Poitras would receive emails about the actions of the NSA as she was contacted by Snowden under an alias where the two would eventually meet in Hong Kong with journalist Glenn Greenwald of the U.S. edition of The Guardian and another journalist from that same publication in Ewen McAskill.

In the course of eight days, Poitras would capture these interviews between Snowden, Greenwald, and McAskill as questions begin to emerge about the actions of the NSA as it relates to keeping tabs on everyone in America as if they’re suspects for any upcoming terrorist actions in the wake of 9/11. Through what Snowden reveals to Greenwald and McAskill, the two journalists would reveal to the world what is going on as the NSA becomes questioned into their actions as many wondered why is the ordinary citizen being spied on by its own government. It is there that George Orwell’s ideas of a dystopian future that he wrote in the book 1984 not only starts to come true but also in some of the most unexpected ways. Once it is revealed that it was Snowden who revealed these actions, that’s when things become dangerous as Snowden knows he will be targeted by the American government.

Shot in various locations such as Hong Kong, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, London, and other locations in the world along with some shots in the U.S. in 2011/2012, Laura Poitras does aim for a style that is reminiscent of cinema verite where she stays in the background filming these interviews. Especially as Poitras herself had been a target of the American government over her criticism of their actions from previous films that she did. Her encounters with Snowden through encrypted chats, which are presented through the visual effects work of Killian Manning, play into the secrecy of these meetings. Even as both she and Snowden are targeted where she would return to Berlin while Snowden is charged for his actions as he couldn’t stay in Hong Kong for very long. It plays into a man who was trying to do what was right only to anger Big Brother in such a way that Big Brother wants this little whistleblower in prison.

With the help of co-cinematographers Kirsten Johnson, Katy Scoggin, and Trevor Paglen, Poitras captures not just the beauty of these locations but also maintain something that feels real in its look as well as impact over what is happening during the filming of these interviews. Along with the work of editor Mathilde Bonnefoy and sound designer Frank Kruse, the interviews are presented in a straightforward fashion while also featuring sound clips including Poitras reading her own emails and correspondence with Snowden. For the film’s music, two cuts from Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album Ghosts I-IV appear as it plays into the sense of drama as well as a world that is starting to wake up as they realized that their own personal freedom is being taken away by the people that is supposed to protect them.

Citizenfour is a riveting and harrowing film from Laura Poitras. It’s a documentary that not only captures a world that is losing its own freedom but also explore the man who would unveil this new formation of Big Brother to the public as he’s being punished by the people that is supposed to protect him. Especially as it showcases what the world has become where it’s driven by fear rather than understanding where Edward Snowden was just someone who needed to tell the world that Big Brother is taking away our freedom. In the end, Citizenfour is a sensational film from Laura Poitras.

© thevoid99 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ben-Hur (1959 film)

Based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur is the story of a Jewish prince from Jerusalem who is enslaved by the Romans following an accusation over an assassination attempt. Directed by William Wyler and screenplay by Karl Tunberg (with additional contributions by Gore Vidal, Maxwell Anderson, Christopher Fry, and S.N. Behrman), the film is a sprawling epic that explores a man trying to defy those who enslaved him and become a champion of the people as the titular character of Judah Ben-Hur is played by Charlton Heston. Also starring Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, and Haya Harareet. Ben-Hur is a tremendously rich and intense film from William Wyler.

The film revolves a Jewish prince from Jerusalem who is betrayed by a friend who is a Roman tribune where an accident involving a Roman governor has him and his family become slaves forcing the man to try and seek vengeance against his old friend. It’s a film that explores not just a man who would suffer because of a simple accident his sister made but also to see if he can do anything to help his people as well as those who have been oppressed by the Roman empire. At the same time, he watches from afar as he sees the journey that Jesus Christ would take as the two men would have paralleling storylines. Especially where Judah Ben-Hur would have encounters with Jesus Christ as questions about faith would emerge in Ben-Hur’s own journey as he tries to find his mother and sister.

The film’s screenplay starts off with Jesus Christ’s birth and minor events that preceded it as it relates to the rule of the Roman Empire. It then plays into the paralleling story of Christ doing his own duties for the world while Ben-Hur is inviting an old friend in Messala (Stephen Boyd), who has become a tribune for the Roman council, as he asks Ben-Hur about any Jews that have spoken against the empire. Ben-Hur refuses to name names where a parade in welcoming a new Roman governor ends with a simple accident when Ben-Hur’s sister Tirzah (Cathy O’Donnell) was looking from the roof as some tiles slipped and fell on the governor’s head. Tirzah and her mother Miriam (Martha Scott) would be sent away somewhere else while Ben-Hur is sold to slavery under Messala’s orders. Upon working as a rower at a galley for a Roman consul member, Ben-Hur copes with betrayal and suffering until the ship is attacked where he would save that member in Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) who would reward Ben-Hur by giving him his freedom and the chance to be adopted by Arrius.

While the journey that Ben-Hur would take from slavery and freedom would be fulfilling, there is still that conflict about who he is and his own faith which would prompt him to leave Arrius on amicable terms to try and return home. Even as Ben-Hur is more concerned with wondering what happened to his mother and sister as he would encounter more individuals such as Balthasar (Finlay Currie) and Sheik Ilderim (Hugh Griffith) as the latter learns of Ben-Hur’s reputation as a chariot racer who wants him to challenge Messala in an upcoming race. For Ben-Hur, it’s a moment of temptation to get revenge yet a reunion with an old servant’s daughter in Esther (Haya Harareet) would prompt him to think about what happened to his mother and sister as it leads to a climatic confrontation as well as an aftermath involving Jesus Christ. It is there that Ben-Hur not only copes with his faith but also in his questions into what God wants from him.

William Wyler’s direction is truly spectacular in terms of not just the scope of the presentation but also in how big the film is in its approach to the story. Shot partially on location in Rome’s Cinecitta Studios with additional locations in Libya and North Africa, Wyler goes for something that plays into a period of time where it is this conflict between the power of the Roman Empire and a simple community of Jews and Arabs. Much of the direction is presented in a very vast and wide canvas to play into how big the world was in those times where the sets of the cities such as Jerusalem and Rome are part of a world that is very unique. Wyler’s approach to wide shots help play into how vast it is. Even in some of the interiors of the sets where Wyler’s use of medium shots help play into how big things were including the galley ship where Ben-Hur was a rower for Arrius.

The direction does have some unique ideas of close-ups as it relates to the drama such as Ben-Hur’s love for his family as well as the growing attraction between himself and Esther. Yet, it’s in these extravagant sequences such as the film’s climatic chariot race scene that is among one of the film’s major highlights. Especially into what is at stake where the camera is capturing all of these moments as it features some second-unit work from Sergio Leone. It is a sequence that is very gripping where it’s also very dangerous into what Ben-Hur is trying to do. Yet, it is followed by events that play into not just what Ben-Hur was trying to look for but also some truths as it relates to his faith and what he had lost in his enslavement. Even as he would have more encounters with Jesus Christ as Wyler never shows that man’s face but rather as a mere presence that plays into Ben-Hur’s own journey to find himself and his questions of faith. Overall, Wyler creates a very sensational and enthralling film about a man who endures suffering as he tries to find a sense of hope through his devotion towards his faith.

Cinematographer Robert L. Surtees does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography that is filled with gorgeous colors for some of its exteriors in day and night as well as the interiors including some low-key lights for scenes where Ben-Hur returns to his house in its decayed form. Editors John D. Dunning and Ralph E. Winters does excellent work with the editing with its approach to fast-cutting for the film‘s chariot scenes along with other dazzling rhythmic cuts for some of its intense moments such as the battle on the sea. Art directors Edward C. Carfagno and William A. Horning, with set decorator Hugh Hunt, do brilliant work with the set pieces from the look of Ben-Hur‘s family home as well as the Roman prison and its palaces along with the vastness of the chariot stadium.

Costume designer Elizabeth Haffenden does fantastic work with the period costumes from the uniforms that the Roman soldiers wear to the robes that both the men and women wore at the time. The special effects work of A. Arnold Gillespie, Robert MacDonald, and Milo Lory is pretty good for some of the background effects for the scenes such as the naval battle and a few scenes that involve the opening sequence of Jesus Christ‘s birth. The sound work of Franklin Milton is terrific for the sound effects that are created as well as capturing some of the moments in the chariot race sequence. The film’s music by Miklos Rozsa is phenomenal for its bombastic and soaring orchestral score to play into the sense of adventure and action along with lush, string-based themes for some of the film’s dramatic moments as it’s a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Irene Howard is marvelous as it features notable small roles from George Relph as the Roman emperor Tiberius, Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate, Sam Jaffe as Esther’s father Simonides who is a loyal servant to the Ben-Hur family, Claude Heater in an un-credited appearance as Jesus Christ, and Finlay Currie in a terrific performance as Balthasar and the film’s narrator for its opening sequence. Martha Scott and Cathy O’Donnell are wonderful in their respective roles as Ben-Hur’s mother Miriam and sister Tirzah as two women whom Ben-Hur cares for as they were victims of a simple accident caused by Tirzah. Jack Hawkins is excellent as Quintus Arrius as a Roman consul who was intrigued by Ben-Hur’s appearance in his ship as he is later saved by the man whom he generously thanked while being one of the rare Romans that Ben-Hur cares for.

Hugh Griffith is amazing as Sheik Ilderim as a comical figure of sorts who invites Ben-Hur to his camp and support him in the chariot race as he is also a caring figure who wants to create an alliance between the Arabs and Jews. Stephen Boyd is fantastic as Messala as an old friend of Ben-Hur who later betrays him as he becomes a man devoted to the Roman Empire and later challenges him in the chariot race. Haya Harareet is brilliant as Esther as a former servant who had always been in love with Ben-Hur as she hopes to help him after his return as she also helps find out what happened to his mother and sister. Finally, there’s Charlton Heston in an incredible performance as the titular character as Heston brings a lot of intensity and humility to his role as a man who is betrayed and sold to slavery as he later tries to maintain his sense of faith in a trouble world as it’s one of his iconic performances.

Ben-Hur is a sensational film from William Wyler that features a towering performance from Charlton Heston. Along with a great supporting cast and amazing technical features, the film is truly an epic that lives up to its name and more. Even as it manages to do much more as it tells very compelling stories about faith and a man being tested for his devotion. In the end, Ben-Hur is a magnificent film from William Wyler.

William Wyler Films: (Straight Shootin’) - (Anybody Here Seen Kelly?) - (The Shakedown) - (Hell’s Heroes) - (A House Divided (1931 film)) - (Tom Brown of Culver) - (Counsellor at Law) - (Glamour (1934 film)) - (The Good Fairy) - (The Gay Deception) - (These Three) - (Dodsworth) - (Come and Get It) - (Dead End (1937 film)) - (Jezebel) - (Wuthering Heights (1939 film)) - (The Westerner) - (The Letter) - (The Little Foxes) - (Mrs. Miniver) - (Memphis Belle: A Story of Flying Fortress) - The Best Years of Our Lives - (Thunderbolt!) - (The Heiress) - (Detective Story (1951 film)) - (Carrie (1952 film)) - Roman Holiday - (The Desperate Hours) - Friendly Persuasion - (The Big Country) - (The Children’s Hour) - (The Collector (1965 film)) - (How to Steal a Million) - (Funny Girl) - (The Liberation of L.B. Jones)

© thevoid99 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Auteurs #42: Julie Taymor

One of the daring visionaries in the world of film and theatre, there is definitely no one like Julie Taymor who is someone that is known for extravagance as well as creating unique re-interpretations of famous stories. While she’s only made a small number of films so far, they have managed to be quite extraordinary in terms of not just her approach to sprawling set designs and lavish visuals. It’s also in the stories she tell as it often plays into individuals and artists trying to cope with their work and surroundings. While much of film work hasn’t been commercially successful, Taymor’s willingness to not compromise her vision has made her one of the few women in films that has managed to make a name for herself in an industry dominated by men.

Born on December 15, 1952 in Newton Massachusetts, Julie Taymor was the daughter of a political science teacher and a gynecologist as the world of theater came early in her life as she staged plays early in her life as she became part of the Boston Children Theatre company at age 10 as she would discover Julie Portman’s Theatre Workshop a year later. After spending much of teens traveling around the world with the Experiment in International Living and graduating high school at the age of 16. Taymor went to Paris to study at the L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq where she studied mime as well as be introduced to the world of international cinema through the works of Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa. Taymor would spend much of the 1970s honing her craft in the world of theater as a performer as well as designing masks and costumes for various theatre companies where she received the Watson Fellowship in 1974 that allowed to travel to Asia to continue her studies.

More can be read here at Cinema Axis.

© thevoid99 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Happy Endings (2005 film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/5/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Written and directed by Don Roos, Happy Endings is a multi-layered film that revolves around many characters as they not only cope with changes in their lives but also the search for happiness while they deal with themselves. The film explores many different storylines that features characters who are connected with one another as they all involve themselves into very different situations. Starring Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Laura Dern, Tom Arnold, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Bradford, David Sutcliffe, Sarah Clarke, Jason Ritter, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Happy Endings is an offbeat yet whimsical film from Don Roos.

Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) lives a nice, carefree life with her masseuse lover Javier (Bobby Cannavale) while her British stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) runs a restaurant he inherited from their late parents. Charley is leading a family life with his boyfriend Gil (David Sutcliffe) who enjoys being an uncle to the son of his oldest friend Pam (Laura Dern) and her lover Diane (Sarah Clarke). Working in Charley's restaurant is Otis (Jason Ritter) who has a crush on Charley but denies that he is gay while he meets up with a mysterious woman named Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who he invites to sing for his band who rehearses in the garage of his father Frank (Tom Arnold). One day, Mamie receives a note about the whereabouts of her long-lost son from a friend of her son in Nicky (Jesse Bradford) who is an aspiring filmmaker. Mamie isn't sure as she and Javier wants to know what's going on as they break into Nicky's apartment only to be caught as Mamie makes a deal to make a documentary about Javier’s work as a masseuse. Charley meanwhile, tries to wonder if Gil is the father of Pam’s son as he tries to investigate the whole thing. Jude joins Otis' band as she wonders about his sexuality as she confronts him sexually while he continues to deny that he's gay, especially from his millionaire father.

When Frank learns that Otis broke up with Jude claiming he's with another girl, Frank takes a shining to Jude as the two become attracted to each other. Charley's investigation meanwhile gets out of control as he tells Pam that Gil is suffering from a disease but once the truth is revealed, everything starts to fall apart. Mamie helps Nicky with his documentary on Javier where they learn more about him and each other. Especially since Mamie knows who the father of her child is which she gave up for adoption several years ago. After a series of legal battles, Pam confesses to Charley's accusations only to reveal a shocking secret that crumbles his relationship with Gil. With Jude being engaged to Frank, Otis become uncomfortable as he wonders what Jude's intentions are, especially with being pregnant all of a sudden. Mamie learns more about Javier after an encounter with a woman named Shauna (Tamara Davies) and all hell breaks loose as she and Nicky fall out. With everyone learning about their own secrets within the coming months of their lives, everyone tries to figure out about their own happy endings.

Don Roos' interest towards not just sex and morals not only showcase some of its downside but also the sense of curiosity over how it can be used for bad reasons. Nothing is safe within the subject matter of the film where he explores everything about homosexual family life, gold-diggers, misogyny, and everything else. While the film's script is structured in a non-linear format, it doesn't miss a beat in its idiosyncratic rhythm as well its use of inter-card titles that keeps popping up during the film that gives the characters a bit of a background or the idea of what the audience could be thinking. It's a very confrontational piece of writing and it's one that is bold and honest with a nice, healthy dose of humor.

Roos' ability as a writer shines while he goes into the world of handheld camera works to bring a realism to the film. Roos brings in strange camera movements that work where at times, it seems like everything is stilled but there’s something behind the shots to look at with the inter-cards just popping up into what might happen. Even with the third act of the film that just keeps on shocking, including a brutal scene that opens with the film that is revealed near the end. Overall, Roos crafts a very witty yet compelling film about people lost in their own rules and what they want in life.

Helping Roos with his strange, handheld vision is cinematographer J. Clark Mathis who uses that shaky movement and natural lighting that gives the film a realistic, beautiful look. Production designer Richard Sherman and art director Lorin Flemming help give the film a very suburban, bohemian-like look on some of the production leaving most of the film's location just as it is. Even costume designer Peggy A. Schnitzer plays to that realism in its look with Jesse Bradford sporting old hard rock t-shirts. Editor David Codron helps bringing in that off-kilter rhythm to the film with a nice, solid editing style, even with the inter-card titles that pop up during the film. The film itself has a strange mix of music with cuts from Calexio, Dirty Three, Black Heart Procession, Hugh Burns, and Asturd Gilberto along with a few karaoke cuts in the film with some original songs sung by Maggie Gyllenhaal herself, who has a wonderful singing voice.

For an ensemble film like this, you need a great cast and Don Roos delivers with some nice small performances from Halle Hirsh, Eric Jungman, Roos regular Johnny Galecki, Tamara Davies, and Sarah Clarke. David Sutcliffe is excellent in his role as confused Gil who becomes an innocent victim in a bad scheme made by his lover Charley while Laura Dern shines in the more emotional part of her story with Charley in a masterful, complex performance. Tom Arnold is a real surprise in the film where he brings a restraint to his comedic performance with a sense of charm and warmth to the role as he brings in some great chemistry with Gyllenhaal and Jason Ritter. Jason Ritter is also good in his role as the sexually-confused Otis with light-hearted performance that brings reminder of the same kind of sympathy and humor that his late father John had brought as this role serves a fine breakthrough.

Bobby Cannavale is very funny in his role as Mexican-born masseuse Javier who steals the scene every time he’s in front of the documentary camera while revealing a strange dark side that gives him more edge into his performance. Jesse Bradford gives probably his finest and most abrasive performance to date as a scruffy-looking wannabe filmmaker with his artistic drive and surefire attitude. Bradford really gives the film not just a comic edge but also a brooding tone as he shines in his scenes with Cannavale and Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow also steals the show in her best performance to date as the cautious, secretive Mamie as she just brings a bit of humor but shows more range in her ability in drama as she really brings the emotional center of the film with Bradford as her confrontational partner.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a fantastic, dark performance as a malcontent bohemian who is looking for ways to break things down. Gyllenhaal uses her sassiness, sexiness, and demeanor to give her character an angst that is needed for the film. The film's best performance overall goes to Steve Coogan as the openly-gay but troublesome Charley who tries to be opportunistic but fails. Coogan uses his British, slapstick-comedy style in classy ways for lighthearted humor while delivering some of his best dramatic work in heart-punching scenes as his character represents the flaws and foolishness of all the characters in this film.

Happy Endings is a phenomenal film from Don Roos. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan, Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, Bobby Cannavale, and Jesse Bradford. It's a film that explores people trying to find elements of happiness in a world where sex and morals often drive their motivations or confuse them. In the end, Happy Endings is a remarkable film from Don Roos.

© thevoid99 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/20/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the novel by Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the story of a Czech surgeon who deals with two relationships involving an innocent photographer and an artist as they both represent different ideas of what he wants. Directed by Philip Kaufuman and screenplay by Kaufman, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Saul Zaentz, the film is an exploration into a love triangle that occurs during the 1960s where they also endure political and social changes in the former Czechoslovakia. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Derek de Lint, Donald Moffat, Pavel Landovsky, Erland Josephson, and Stellan Skarsgard. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a harrowing yet mesmerizing film from Philip Kaufman.

It's 1968 in Prague, Czechoslovakia as a surgeon named Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) spends his life flirting and sleeping with other woman including a nurse named Katja (Pascale Kalensky). Tomas also has a mistress named Sabina (Lena Olin) who works as an artist as she is the only real friend he has and understands him better than anyone. Then one day as Tomas goes to a country spa town to perform surgery, he catches the eye of a waitress named Tereza (Juliette Binoche) who shares his love for books and such. She had dreamed of going to Prague to make it as a photographer as she joins him. Knowing that Sabina has connections with the art world, she manages to give Tereza a job working for the press which she was happy though she noticed the chemistry between Sabina and Tomas. Thanks to Sabina, Tereza's work as a photographer makes her a success as they go to a party where Tereza makes Tomas jealous when he dances with his colleague Jiri (Tomek Bork) while making speeches about morality and insults towards the Russian politicians. During that night, they're at a club with the politicians where one of them told the band to play the Russian anthem that then becomes a rock n' roll number.

When Tomas writes an article to the press about the Russians, it unfortunately attracted the attention of the Russians. Despite just being married to Tereza, Tereza's knowledge of Tomas' love of sex and women makes her insecure as she tries to walk out only to catch a glimpse of the Russian tanks arriving.The Russian invasion in Prague is captured by Tereza’s camera as she sees Sabina leave for Switzerland. The two later join when Tereza has been caught photographing the event, even when she sends film rolls to foreigners. In Switzerland, Sabina caught the attention of a university professor named Franz (Derek de Lint). The two fall in love as they have their own affair that is great except for the fact that he's married. Tomas and Tereza arrive as Tomas gets a new job though Tereza finds that her love of photography is being stifled by having to do nude photographs for money and attention.  She contacts Sabina for some nude photography and vice versa as for a moment, they briefly bonded until Franz's arrival to tell Sabina the news that he's leaving his wife. Sabina, unsure of wanting a relationship with Franz since she also adores Tomas and Tereza, chose to leave Switzerland and Franz. Tereza also leaves the country to return to Prague with their dog Karenin as Tomas realizes he needs her as he returns to Czechoslovakia but with his passport now confiscated. 

Now in a new Czechoslovakia, Tomas tries to get his old job but his boss (Donald Moffat) told him that he couldn't unless he sign documents over the article he wrote. After an Interior Ministry official (Daniel Olbrychski) tries to get him to sign, Tomas ends up cleaning windows for a living while Tereza becomes a waitress at a bar. Befriending an engineer (Stellan Skarsgard), Tereza finds herself increasingly insecure with Tomas returning to old habits with women. In response, she meets with the engineer but suspects something is wrong. Turning to a former ambassador (Erland Josephson) about what had happened, Tereza's guilt forces she and Tomas to leave Prague for good to live in the country with their friend Pavel (Pavel Landovsky) his pig Mephisto, and his nephew (Pavel Slaby). It is there Tomas is forced to confront his demons, his life with Tereza, and his old affairs with Sabina.

While it's obvious that Kaufman, co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, and producer Saul Zaentz made some changes from the book in their adaptation to add eroticism to the story. The result is a fascinating drama about a doctor whose life and love for two women collide with his own reality in the backdrop of the Russian invasion in 1968. The film is really about a love triangle where all three characters love each other yet have troubling sharing one another. It's also the heart of film and story where they all have trouble sharing each other yet one when two bonds with one forced to watch, there's a sense of jealousy and confusion. It's the characters of Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina that drive the story.

The script by Kaufman and Carriere works in its structure and how the relationships are perceived. The first act is really about Sabina and Tomas with Tereza having to watch while marrying Tomas in a relationship where sex is something mysterious to her. In the second act, there's a scene that's really about Sabina and Tereza and their brief bond. Yet, with Tomas not really aware of what's going on, another observer appears in the form of Franz who doesn't really understand Sabina's role in the love triangle she appears in with Tomas and Tereza. When the third act arrives, Sabina is gone as the film becomes more about the fragile yet tender relationship of Tomas and Tereza and all of their faults. Essentially, the film is about relationships and how fragile they are with each character carrying a different trait.

Tomas is a man filled with charm and bravado who succumbs to habits with women that makes him unfulfilled emotionally. Tereza is a woman who is essentially a woman filled with innocence as she offers love but when it comes to sex, she doesn't really know anything while not wanting to expose herself physically. When she is forced to confront those demons, she becomes confused forcing Tomas to confront his own flaws. Then there's Sabina, she kind of represents the observer of the entire relationship. She’s the only one who understands Tomas' desire for women and Tereza’s insecurities as she tries to help her be confident. Yet, when she is confronted with things like love and security in the form of Franz, it's a world she's not used to since she prefers her own individuality. Therefore, she doesn't appear much in the third act until the end of the film.

Kaufman’s direction is top-notch for its observation and subtle approach towards the film's erotic moments. Whereas nudity is used to titillate or shock the audience, Kaufman does it with emotions where the most erotic moment doesn't have to be a naked woman but rather other body parts like the eyes or what's going on in that scene. In the more politically-driven scenes, the recreation of the invasion isn't shot in Czechoslovakia (due to its political climate at the time) but in France. Yet, the mix of stock footage and real-life footage shot in black-and-white almost made the film documentary-like. While a lot of the film was shot on location in France along with French soundstages and parts of Geneva, Switzerland. The film managed to give that feeling of oppression both physically and psychologically. Credit must go to Kaufman for not overplaying or under-emphasize the drama. Instead, he brings the characters to life and the story itself in what is definitely one of his strongest efforts.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist brings some gorgeously shot sequences with his mastery craft with wonderful interior shots done with great intimacy. The exteriors are also notable from the lively look of Lyon as Prague in the first act along with the countryside that includes a shot on magic-hour in the third act.  Editor Walter Murch also brings his mastery with his wonderful cutting style that plays like a camera capturing the action. Murch's use of stock footage mixed in with recreated shots of the Russian invasion is also genius to convey the chaos as Murch's work is brilliant.  Production designer Pierre Guffroy definitely creates wonderful interior designs for the film including his recreation of Prague in the soundstages. Featuring paintings by another artist and a look that is very spacious yet intimate in the first half of the film, the look definitely changes to something more claustrophobic until in the later part of the third act where everything's natural. 

Costume designer Ann Roth helps with the film's differing look with the dark clothes that Tomas wears to the exotic lingerie Sabina wears, and the country-like dresses and city-like clothes that Tereza wears. Sound designer Alan Splet does wonderful work with the sound, notably the Russian invasion sequence to bring the layering of sounds from sirens, tanks, and everything that goes on. Music composer Mark Adler brings a soft film score to convey the drama of the Russian Invasion. The rest of the music is flourishing, lyrical piano music by Janacek that soars throughout the entire film.

Then there's the film's cast that is wonderfully superb with small performances from Anne Lonnberg as a Swiss photographer, Clovis Cornillac as a young man who harasses Tereza at a bar, Pascale Kalensky as Nurse Katja, Pavel Slaby as Pavel's nephew, and Bruce Myers as a Czech editor. Other minor performances from Tomek Bork, Daniel Olbrychski, and Erland Josephson as the ambassador are very memorable including Stellan Skarsgard as a shady yet charming engineer and Donald Moffat as the chief surgeon. Pavel Landovsky is excellent as Tomas' friend Pavel, a man who loves his pet pig Mephisto while giving Tomas and Tereza a home late in the film as he muses on the changing times. Derek de Lint is great as a Franz, a university professor who falls for Sabina but isn't sure about her quirks as he doesn't realize what kind of life she leads.

In her first American film, Swedish actress Lena Olin gives a magnificent, sensual performance as Sabina. Though her character is kind of a sexpot of sorts, Olin brings depth to the character as some of her more seductive appearance isn’t what she's not wearing but rather what she's showing. It's a brilliant performance from the actress who is truly a joy to watch. Juliette Binoche is amazing as the more introverted Tereza. Binoche displays an innocence and fragility to the character that is unsure about love and sex while being forced to confront her own failures and her relationship with Tomas. Binoche's performance is very strong and engaging while her scene with Olin with the camera is truly one of the most seductive and jaw-dropping for their emotional responses. Daniel Day-Lewis is in great form as Tomas, a charming, womanizing surgeon who seems to love women more than anything. It's also his downfall yet Day-Lewis brings a lot of wit and a sly face to the character that is a joy to watch. His scenes with Binoche and Olin, whether separate or together, are amazing to watch in how he manages to act with them. Even using a Czech accent, Day-Lewis brings a lot of authenticity to the character while remaining witty in his situations.

The 2006 2-disc, Region 1 DVD from Warner Brothers presents the film with a new, superior transfer that is an improvement over its previous DVD releases including the 1999 Criterion DVD. Presented on widescreen and newly superior sound. The only real negative of the DVD is that due to the remastering and superior film transfer, the three-hour film is split in two. After the first two hours are in the first disc. The film ends in a fade-out with the third hour opening very abruptly. Despite that huge flaw, the film definitely works to its original theatrical presentation. The audio commentary track by director Philip Kaufman, co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, Lena Olin, and Walter Murch is the same commentary from the original 1999 Criterion DVD. While all the tracks are done separately, they're all very informative. Kaufman, who dedicates his commentary to sound designer Alan Splet who died a few years prior, discusses a lot of the film's themes, the difficulty of trying to be faithful to the book while fawning over Juliette Binoche's performance. Jean-Claude Carriere discusses his friendship with Milan Kundera, the themes of the book, and the difficulty of the adaptation.

Olin's commentary is often on many of her scenes as she talks about some of the costumes, her friendship with cinematographer Sven Nykvist and the brief scenes that Erland Josephson had whom she had worked with in a couple of films for Ingmar Bergman. Walter Murch discusses a lot of the film's more technical pointers as he reveals he never goes to a film set during production and some of the editing techniques he did for the film in using two different editing machines before the age of computers. Along with the film's theatrical trailer in the 2nd disc, a 30-minute featurette entitled Emotional History: The Making of The Unbearable Lightness of Being features interviews with Philip Kaufman, Jean-Claude Carriere, Walter Murch, and producer Saul Zaentz. Kaufman talks about discovering the novel in 1984 and turning to Saul Zaentz to make it into a project. Bringing Jean-Claude Carriere to help write the script where they added some more erotic elements to the story with Kundera's permission.

Murch discusses the editing of stock footage intercut with recreated footage shot during production. He would later talk briefly about his friendship with Kaufman whom he knew during the early days of American Zoetrope in the early 70s with founders George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Zaentz discusses the film's release in 1988 where in the U.S., it did OK despite rave reviews from critics while it was a bigger hit in Europe. Particularly a screening in Russia at the time Communism fell down where Kaufman is convinced the film took a small role in helping end Communism in Eastern Europe.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a phenomenal film from Philip Kaufman that features great performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin. Armed with a great supporting cast as well as some amazing technical work, the film is truly an intriguing and compelling film about a love triangle that occurred during some intense moments involving events in history. In the end, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an exquisitely rich and sensational film from Philip Kaufman.

Philip Kaufman Films: (Goldstein) - (Fearless Frank) - (The Great Northfield Raid) - (The White Dawn) - (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 film)) - (The Wanderers) - (The Right Stuff) - (Henry & June) - (Rising Sun) - (Quills) - (Twisted (2004 film)) - (Hemingway & Gellhorn)

© thevoid99 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tess (1979 film)

Based on Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess is the story of a young peasant girl who learns that she might be connected to an aristocratic family in the hopes of inheriting some of their fortune only to endure humiliation and betrayal. Directed by Roman Polanski and screenplay by Polanski, Gerard Bach, and John Brownjohn, the film is an exploration into the world of a young woman who copes with all sorts of challenges as she tries to see if she can get a better life as the titular character is played by Nastassja Kinski. Also starring Peter Firth, Leigh Lawson, John Collin, Rosemary Martin, and Richard Pearson. Tess is a ravishing yet evocative film from Roman Polanski.

Set in the 19th Century in Britain, the film explores a young woman who learns that her family might actually be related to an aristocratic family where her attempts to get the family fortune would have in ruins as she succumbs to shame and despair despite being cared and adored by a preacher’s son. It’s a film that plays into a woman who would go through many trials and tribulations as she copes with being raped by a man who claims to be her cousin and then carry that shame with her as she tries to move on with her life. All of which plays into the name she believed that belongs to her and her family only to be ruined in many ways all because of that cursed named.

The film’s screenplay has a unique yet complex structure as it plays into Tess’ journey from innocence to ruin. The first act revolves around Tess’ meeting with the d’Urberville family that is led by Alec d’Urberville (Leigh Lawson) as she arrives to confirm rumors that her family surname might actually be d’Urberville after her father (John Collin) runs into a parson (Tony Church) who called him Sir d’Urberville setting up the chain of events. Tess is someone that comes from a simple world as she is also very strong-willed as she isn’t really interested in inheriting a fortune but rather help out her family. When Alec takes a personal interest in Tess, Tess is bewildered as the encounter ends up being one of humiliation and shame as it’s followed by tragic circumstances which would force her to leave her family.

Upon taking a job as a milkmaid for a farm, Tess would meet an idealistic preacher’s son named Angel Clare (Peter Firth) whom she had previously encountered very early in the film from afar. It is there that the film’s second act begins where Tess finds not just hope and happiness in Angel but also a life that feels much more familiar than the one before the encounter with Alec. Yet, she is haunted by her time with Alec as she wants to tell Angel her past where it would later cause many problems where the film’s third act is about Tess devolving into a state of ruin and despair as she refuses Alec’s help while being estranged from Angel who would eventually make his own return. All of which plays into exactly what Tess wants but also in how far deep she has gone into a state of unhappiness all because of the name she thought was supposed to be hers and her family.

Roman Polanski’s direction is truly intoxicating in not just the way he creates something that feels like a moment in time where things were much simpler. It’s also in how he is able to make a story about a woman’s shame and the troubles that she would go through into something that feels quite modern. Much of the film is shot on location in France through many of its different countryside locations to play as Britain during the Victorian era. Polanski’s use of soft lenses, wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups are key to the film’s first act where it feels warm and rapturous in its look as it plays to the life that Tess could have as well as a life with Angel that is very simple. Yet, there’s many constraints about what is expected for women that would play into the film’s second half where Tess is still coping with the sense of shame over her encounter with Alec.

There is a looseness to the way the camera acts for scenes shot on carriages or in the rain as it becomes much tighter in its second half. The look itself is also very bleak where it plays into Tess own state of despair. The camera isn’t as shaky in some parts while the compositions are much broader to showcase how detached Tess is with herself and the help that she needed as it sort of plays into how stubborn she is. Even as she would reluctantly meet Alec in its third act as it plays into what she needs but also in what her family needs in the wake of everything they’ve been through. The film’s ending which also involves Angel plays into not just Tess’ desire for happiness but also all of the trouble she had encounter all because of the d’Urberville name as well as the role that is expected for women in those times. Overall, Polanski creates a very mesmerizing yet harrowing film about a woman’s troubled journey over a family name that she was connected with.

Cinematographers Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet do incredible work with the film‘s very gorgeous and ravishing cinematography where Unsworth‘s work is spent on much of the film‘s exterior scenes in the fields to play into its beauty as well as the scenes at the d‘Urberville estate while Cloquet goes for more low-key looks and natural settings for much of the film‘s interiors as well as the exterior scenes in the film‘s second half as the photography of Unsworth and Cloquet is a major highlight of the film. Editors Alistair McIntyre and Tom Priestley do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward in some parts while creating some unique jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the drama as well as some of the intense moments in the film. Production designer Pierre Guffoy and art director Jack Stephens do amazing work with the look of the d’Urberville estate and its other features as well as the look of the places that Tess and Angel would encounter including the house where they would spend their wedding night.

Costume designer Anthony Powell does brilliant work with the dresses that Tess would wear in her journey from the simple yet plain dresses early in the film to something more lavish as it progresses with elements of wear and tear to play into her despair. Sound editors Herve de Luze and Peter Horrocks do superb work with the sound to capture the sparse textures in the way the carriage sounds as well as some key moments into the machines that are emerging during those times. The film’s music by Philippe Sarde is fantastic for its lush, orchestral score that plays into the many emotions that Tess would go through in her journey as it has elements of somber strings and woodwinds to help create a sense of emotion throughout the film.

The casting of Mary Sewell is great as it features some notable small roles from Suzanna Hamilton as a milkmaid who pines for Angel, Tony Church as the parson who would inform Tess’ father of his namesake, Sylvia Coleridge as Alec’s mother, Arielle Dombasle as Sunday school teacher that Angel knew, Caroline Embling as another milkmaid Tess meets in Retty, David Markham and Pascale de Boysson as Angel’s parents, and Richard Pearson as a local vicar who tried to help out Tess following a tragic event but is constrained by his own laws. Rosemary Martin and John Collin are excellent as Tess’ parents with Martin as the more sensible mother and Collin as the father who is desperate to gain something from the family he’s related to.

Leigh Lawson is brilliant as Alec d’Urberville as a man who lives a privileged life despite not really owning up to everything he has as he tries to take control of Tess and buy her off as well as her family as he represents a symbol of capitalism and entitlement that Tess despises. Peter Firth is amazing as Angel Clare as a preacher’s son who is fascinated by Tess as he falls for her while later coping with her past as he tries to erase it only to go into his own foolish journey which would lead him back to Tess. Finally, there’s Nastassja Kinski in a remarkable performance as the titular character as a young peasant girl who would endure an incredible journey of growth and awareness about herself and the world as it’s truly intoxicating to watch as it’s a real breakthrough performance for Kinski.

Tess is an exquisitely glorious film from Roman Polanski that features a radiant performance from Nastassja Kinski. The film is definitely one of Polanski’s finest films in the way he explores morals and destinies as it relates to a young woman in the 19th Century as she is constrained by them. Armed with a great ensemble cast, gorgeous photography, sublime music, and all sorts of amazing technical work. The film is truly one of the finest and most compelling films about a woman who deals with rules and what is expected of her as she is shamed into ruin. In the end, Tess is a magnificent film from Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski Films: Knife in the Water - Repulsion - Cul-de-Sac - The Fearless Vampire Killers - Rosemary's Baby - Macbeth (1971) - (What?) - Chinatown - The Tenant - (Pirates) - Frantic - Bitter Moon - Death and the Maiden - The Ninth Gate - The Pianist - Oliver Twist (2005 film) - The Ghost Writer - Carnage - (Venus in Fur) - (Based on a True Story) - (An Officer and a Spy) - (The Palace)

© thevoid99 2015