Monday, August 31, 2015

The Films That I Saw: August 2015

Summer is coming to an end and thank goodness. Honestly, I thought this summer sucked on a personal level as I struggled to maintain finances as I was unable to see films in the theaters or really go anywhere. At the same time, I’ve been overwhelmed with a lot of things around me which prevented me from watching films as it relates to what is happening at home. That is why I haven’t been watching a lot of films as of late and many projects that I’ve been doing have taken longer than I thought. Most notably my Twin Peaks marathon which I will expand into the fall which will coincide with a project related to the marathon.

With election year coming up, it is clear that things are getting crazy as everyone wants to be the new president of the United States. I don’t consider myself political as I don’t like politics as there’s too many assholes claiming they’ll do this and they’ll do that and never do what they say. I may lean towards liberalist views, I refuse to define myself as a Democrat or as a Republican. I’m an independent and I haven’t voted since the 2000 election as anyone who follows history knows exactly what happened. I stayed away out of pure disdain for the electoral process and all of the messiness that goes on. Now, there’s one person that is bringing me back and the reasons are much bigger than myself. I won’t say that person’s name because I think he’s a Fascist asshole so let’s just call him the Fascist Asshole. He talks a lot of bullshit and he says very disgusting things about pretty much everyone. Yet, it astounds me that he has his supporters as this incident is the kicker.

As someone who is Hispanic and whose parents are from Honduras that came to this country legally. Having the Fascist Asshole say these horrific things like “anchor babies” and such really pissed me off. It becomes clear that if he becomes president, America is fucked. While I was born in the U.S. and my parents have lived here for more then 30 years and maintained their residency. If Fascist Asshole wins, it’s likely that I’ll be kicked out of this country and so will my parents and people in their family because of who we are. I ain’t going to stand for that and you can make damn sure if he’s running. He will not get my vote and I hope that fucking pendejo gets his ass out of the country and for good.

In the month of August, I saw a total of 31 films in 20 first-timers and 11 re-watches. Kind of surprising in a way though much of it was short films relating to Gaspar Noe. The highlight of the month was definitely my Blind Spot assignment in The Human Condition Trilogy. Here are the top 10 first-timers that I saw for August 2015:

1. Hiroshima mon Amour

2. Red Desert

3. Cria Cuervos...

4. Intolerance

5. Trafic

6. Scandal

7. The Magician

8. We Fuck Alone


10. Eva

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Back on Board: Greg Louganis

I’m a sucker for HBO sports documentaries as they’re just well-crafted docs that keep things engaging for someone who isn’t into sports. This one was no exception as it plays into the life and career of one of the greatest divers ever. It’s a film where Louganis would talk about his post-Olympic career and how he struggled with prejudice early in his career for being gay and how he became HIV-positive. It’s a very compelling doc that showcases one of the finest icons in sports who is now becoming a mentor to new divers while showing that he still can deliver on the diving board.

Veronica Mars

I haven’t seen the series though I have heard some good things about it. Yet, I saw the film as it had been playing on HBO for months as I thought it was really damn good. Notably Kristen Bell as the titular character who returns to her hometown as she tries to help an old friend who has been accused of murder. It’s a film that isn’t just an intriguing suspense-thriller but also with some humor as Bell is really the star of this film as she makes Mars a very fun and enjoyable character which is probably key to the success of the show. Plus, it’s got a very fun supporting cast that includes Gaby Hoffman, Krysten Ritter, Enrico Colantoni, Tina Majorino, and Jason Dohring.

Playing It Cool

I thought this was a pretty clever rom-com that plays into the world of a writer who falls in love with an engaged woman as he gets to know her but has trouble reconciling with his own ideas of love. With Chris Evans in the lead role and Michelle Monaghan as the love interest, it’s a film that deviates from conventions of sorts where there are moments that are very funny as well as blur the lines between reality and fiction. Add a strong supporting cast in Topher Grace, Martin Starr, Aubrey Plaza, Luke Wilson, and Philip Baker Hall. The result is a very solid and enjoyable romantic comedy.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This was a pretty funny family film about a family who experiences probably one of the worst days ever and on the 12th birthday of their son who made a wish for his family to experience all of the bad days he had been through. Helmed by Miguel Arteta, the result is a family movie that is pretty crazy as it throws everything and the kitchen sink where it is a film with some slapstick comedy. Led by Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as the parents, this film had a lot where Carell nearly burns his clothes, Garner talks about penises, and a mini-van getting destroyed. Oh, and there’s a hilarious scene where the eldest son’s junior prom is a disaster as his date is forced to listen to his family making music with their mouths because the radio died.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Foxcatcher

2. Frantic

3. Dallas Buyers Club

4. V for Vendetta

5. Three Men and a Baby

6. Kung Pow! Enter the Fist

7. Fanboys

8. Charlie St. Cloud

9. Pootie Tang

10. Cool World

Well, that is it for August. Next month, my next Auteurs piece will be on Jacques Tati as I will do a thing about his short films while I will also review films by Akira Kurosawa, Jacques Demy, David Lean, Mike Leigh, Roberto Rossellini, and several others. The Twin Peaks marathon will return as there will also be an announcement that will relate to the 50th subject of my Auteurs series as I will do a piece about the series as it reaches its fifth anniversary. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Summer of Star Wars: Fanboys

Directed by Kyle Newman and screenplay by Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg from a story by Cline and Dan Pulick, Fanboys is the story of a group of friends who go on a road trip from Ohio to California to try and watch a rough version of The Phantom Menace to fulfill a dying friend’s wish. The film is an exploration into the world of geek culture in the late 1990s where friends who are Star Wars fans try to break into Skywalker Ranch as they would contend with all sorts of people including Trekkies. Starring Sam Huntington, Dan Fogler, Christopher Marquette, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, and Seth Rogen. Fanboys is a silly but fun film from Kyle Newman.

Set in late 1998, the film revolves a group of friends who go on a road trip to see a rough cut of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for a friend who is dying of a terminal illness. Though it is a simple story involving four guys who love Star Wars, it is a film where these guys decide to embark on an adventure for their friend while they cope with the expectations of growing up as one of them is trying to mend fences with his ailing friend. The film’s script does play into a traditional structure where its first act is about the motivations for this road trip and its planning as its second act is about the trip where hilarity ensues where the gang decide to upset a group of Star Trek fans that nearly goes out of control. The trip would also involve numerous references to the world of geek culture and other things as it plays into a world that is just about to be on the cusp of the mainstream. Though some aspects of the script involving some of its characters aren’t that great as well as some lame jokes. The story is still engaging and does get it point across where it is thoroughly entertaining.

Kyle Newman’s direction is quite simple where he pays tribute to not just the Star Wars franchise but also the world of geek culture from comic book stores to sci-fi conventions. Shot on various locations, the film does have the feel of a road comedy fused in with some low-brow humor as Newman keeps many of the compositions simple while putting in as many references to Star Wars just as a tongue-in-cheek tribute that fans of the franchise will know. Newman’s usage of wide shots are evident in many of the road scenes as well a few location spots while he would create framing devices that are similar to what is evident in Star Wars with some moments that includes a Mexican standoff involving memorabilia of films created by George Lucas. All of which plays into how much these geeks have a love for not just this franchise but also what it means to them as friends where they would help a dying friend fulfill a final wish. Overall, Newman creates a very funny and witty comedy about a group of geeks trying to go see a rough cut of The Phantom Menace and piss off some Trekkies.

Cinematographer Lukas Ettin does nice work with the cinematography from the interior look of some of the places such as a bar the guys go to as well as the interiors of Skywalker Ranch. Editors James Thomas and Seth Flaun do excellent work with the editing as it features some transition wipes as well as some rhythmic cutting for the action and comedic moments. Production designer Cory Lorenzen and set decorator Kimberly Wannop do fantastic work with the look of some of the places the characters go to including the Skywalker Ranch where the gang sees all of the film memorabilia. Costume designer Johanna Argan does terrific work with the costumes as most of it is casual with the exception of the Star Wars and Star Trek costumes.

Visual effects supervisors David A. Davidson and Kevin O’Neill do superb work with the visual effects for a sequence where one of the characters get stoned as well as moments that serve as a homage to Star Wars. Sound designer David Acord, with sound editors Michael Kirschberger and Matthew Wood, does brilliant work with the sound in the sound effects for some of the objects the characters have as well as effects that pay homage to Star Wars. The film’s music by Mark Mothersbaugh is wonderful as it‘s a mixture of kitsch jazz with some orchestral bombast to play into the world of sci-fi while music supervisor Michelle Kuznetsky creates a soundtrack filled with music from the late 90s such as Spacehog, the Presidents of the United States of America, Tag Team, Chumbawumba, Black Sheep, Liz Phair, Remy Zero, the Smashing Pumpkins, and the Dandy Warhols plus cuts from John Williams, Menudo, and Rush.

The casting by Anne McCarthy and Jay Scully is amazing as it’s filled with many cameo appearances from such character actors, sci-fi icons, and indie stars like Lou Taylor Pucci and Noah Segan as a couple of Boba Fett fans, Jaime King and Pell James as a couple of escorts, Joe Lo Truglio as a jailhouse cop, Danny Trejo as a mysterious man known as the Chief, Will Forte and Craig Robinson as a couple of Skywalker ranch security guards, and Ray Park as another Skywalker ranch security guard who says a line in reference to a Star Wars character he plays. Other notable small roles include Ethan Suplee as the famed film buff Harry Knowles, David Denham as Eric’s older brother Chaz, and Christopher McDonald as Eric’s father Big Chuck. In a trio of roles, Seth Rogen plays an alien in a surreal scene, a nerdy Trekkie who calls Han Solo a bitch, and a pimp named Roach who is a Star Wars fan.

Kristen Bell is fantastic as Zoe as a friend of the gang who later joins them on the trip as she is lone girl who is quite tough and just as geeky in her love of comics and sci-fi. Jay Baruchel is excellent as Windows as a nerd who has fallen for a mysterious person online as he is clueless about women. Dan Fogler is superb as Hutch as a brash fan who likes to be perverse and crass in everything he does. Christopher Marquette is brilliant as Linus as the guy suffering from cancer as he deals with his illness as he is eager to see The Phantom Menace before its release. Finally, there’s Sam Huntington in a remarkable performance as Eric as the mature one of the group who tries to mend his friendship with Linus after a falling out as he copes with his own attempts to grow up despite his talent in creating his own comic figures.

Fanboys is a pretty good film from Kyle Newman. With an excellent cast and an engaging premise, the film is definitely something sci-fi geeks will definitely relate to as well as get a chance to laugh at how ridiculous fan boy obsessions are. In the end, Fanboys is a superb film from Kyle Newman.

Star Wars Films: Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens - The Last Jedi - The Rise of Skywalker

Related: The Star Wars Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - The Clone Wars - The People vs. George Lucas

Star Wars Anthology Films: Rogue One - Solo: A Star Wars Story - (Untitled Star Wars Anthology Film)

George Lucas Films: THX 1138 - (American Graffiti)

© thevoid99 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Auteurs #48: Gaspar Noe

Among one of the most controversial filmmakers to emerge from the world of New French Extremity, Gaspar Noe is someone who isn’t afraid to push buttons nor afraid to push the limits of what to say in cinema. Though he doesn’t make films frequently due to the fact that few are willing to fund his films which are graphic and provocative. Even as he is willing to go into great detail into displaying explicit and, sometimes, realistic sex into films but also say something more about the world at its ugliest. At the same time, Noe is also willing to push the boundaries of cinema on a technical scale that shows that there’s a lot more to him than his persona as an enfant terrible.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 27, 1963, Noe was the son of one of Argentina’s most artistic figures in Luis Felipe Noe who was a famous writer, intellect, and artist. Through his father, Noe would discover all forms of art as cinema became his first love after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of 7. Noe would discover many films and filmmakers growing up as he would go to France to attend the Louis Lumiere College as he discovered a lot of films during that time. Among them was an Austrian serial killer film called Angst by Gerald Kargl where its usage of violence and terror excited Noe. After graduating from college, Noe would spend much of the mid-to-late 80s honing his craft as a filmmaker while working as an assistant director projects based in France and Argentina.

More can be seen here at Cinema Axis.

© thevoid99 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Directed by Dave Filoni and written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy, Star Wars: The Clone Wars revolves a conflict between the Galactic Republic and a Separatist movement where the Jedi aid the Republic unaware of who is behind everything. Told in 3-D computer animation, the film plays into Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi leading a troop of clone Stormtroopers to fight against an army of robots as the former has to retrieve the son of Jabba the Hutt from the clutches of the Seperatists. Featuring the voices of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Christopher Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson. Star Wars: The Clones Wars is just a very badly-animated and clunky film from Dave Filoni.

Set between the events in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the film revolves around the conflict between the Galactic Republic and a Separatist faction as the latter led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) has conspired to capture the infant son of Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) in an attempt to make a deal with the Hutts over the usage of space routes that the Republic wants. Upon learning what had happened, the Jedi council appoints Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) to retrieve Jabba’s son with the aid of his new Padawan learner Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) as Anakin is reluctant to take her in for the mission. While it has a simple story, it’s a film that has a lot that is going as the result is very messy as there’s a subplot that relates to Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) trying to deal with Jabba and fight off some robots with his clone army.

The screenplay tries to do so much as the main story involving Anakin, Ahsoka, and this baby Hutt gets lost in favor of these conflicts that are happening all over the film. Even as it features some very atrocious dialogue which often has Ahsoka annoying the crap out of Anakin. Other aspects of the script that is very confusing is the conspiracy tactics of Count Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) where they will do this and then change things where it would be confusing for younger viewers. At the same time, there are these other subplots which relates to Padme Amidala (Catherine Taber) who would later learn what is happening as she would try to appeal to Jabba’s uncle Ziro (Corey Burton) where she would be the one to uncover the conspiracy.

Dave Filoni’s direction does have a few interesting moments in the way he composes some of the battle scenes and lightsaber duels but the presentation as a whole is just horrible. With the aid of animation directors Kevin Jong and Jesse Yeh and visual effects supervisor Matthew Gidney, the look of the characters and spaceships all look wooden and very clunky where it does become a major distraction. With the messy script, Filoni isn’t able to keep things steady as the direction is often bogged down by a lot that happens and whenever there is time to slow things down. It only happens very briefly so it can go for another major sequence with conflicts and such where it becomes repetitive and loses steam. Especially as Filoni is obviously a work-for-hire guy who is doing what producer George Lucas wants as it is more about bringing something for kids to sell merchandise rather than make something decent. Overall, Filoni creates a very chaotic and un-engaging film about a Jedi warrior and his Padawan trying to save a baby Hutt in a bargain during a war.

Editor Jason Tucker does OK work with the editing in terms of the transition wipes but succumbs to the fast-cutting style that makes the film very incoherent to watch at times. Sound designer David Acord and sound editor Matthew Wood do some fine work with the sound in the sound effects of the droids and in the action scenes. The film’s music by Kevin Kiner has its moments in terms of its string-based orchestra and bombastic themes though it’s really just generic variations of what John Williams has done.

The film’s voice cast does have their moments with Matthew Wood providing many of the voices of the droids as there’s some small contributions from Kevin Michael Richardson as Jabba the Hutt, Corey Burton as Jabba’s uncle Ziro, Ian Abercrombie as Chancellor Palpatine, Dee Bradley Baker in multiple voice roles as clone soldiers, Tom Kane as Yoda and narrates early sections of the film, and Catherine Taber as Padme Amidala. Other notable voice roles include Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO as they’re merely just cameo appearances.

Nika Futterman is alright as Dooku’s apprentice Asajj Ventress who tries to battle the Jedi in the plan for the Separatists while James Arnold Taylor has his moments as Obi-Wan Kenobi though both of them are hampered by the horrific dialogue they’re given. Finally, there’s the duo of Matt Lanter and Ashley Eckstein in their respective roles as Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano as neither of them really do anything to flesh out their characters as they spend half of the time bickering or showing off to each other.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a terrible film from Dave Filoni and Lucasfilms. It’s an animated film that had the chance to be something as an accompanying piece for Star Wars fans but it is extremely messy and has some horrible animation that kids wouldn’t even enjoy. In the end, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a shitty film from Dave Filoni.

Star Wars Films: Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens - The Last Jedi - The Rise of Skywalker

Related: The Star Wars Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - Fanboys - The People vs. George Lucas

Star Wars Anthology Films: Rogue One - Solo: A Star Wars Story - (Untitled Star Wars Anthology Film)

George Lucas Films: THX 1138 - (American Graffiti)

© thevoid99 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Scandal (1950 film)

Directed and edited by Akira Kurosawa and written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima, Shubun (Scandal) is the story of a painter’s supposed affair with a famous singer becomes scandal as he tries to fight the press in court where he deals with a lawyer who is forced to play both sides. The film is an exploration of the growing moral decline that is surrounding Japan in the early post-war years as a man tries to fight for his honor with an attorney pulled in two different directions to find justice. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Shirley Yamaguchi, and Noriko Sengoku. Shubun is a compelling and touching film from Akira Kurosawa.

A painter’s encounter with a famous singer prompts a tabloid magazine to make claims that the two are having an affair where the painter sues the magazine for telling lies as he hires a weak-willed lawyer who finds himself being coerced by the magazine’s editor. It’s a film that explores the world of post-war Japan where a painter and a singer find themselves caught in a lie made by a popular tabloid magazine as the painter wanted an apology. When the painter hires this aging lawyer who is known for having a lot of bad luck and has an ailing daughter, things get troubled when the lawyer finds himself being tempted by what the magazine’s editor would offer as a way to kill the lawsuit.

The film’s screenplay explores this growing sense of immorality as the painter only met the singer on a mountain road because she missed her bus and was going into the hotel the two were stating. They had a conversation where a photographer and a journalist would create a story and chaos ensues. Even where this attorney named Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) thinks he can help the artist Ichiro Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) but a meeting with the magazine editor Asai (Shinichi Himori) would create trouble by bribing the already unlucky Hiruta. Once Aoye discovers what kind of man Hiruta is as well as know about Hiruta’s family life which would prompt Aoye to see that Hiruta could do good no matter who severe his life is.

Akira Kurosawa’s direction is quite simple in terms of the compositions he creates as well as the intimacy he would maintain for much of the dramatic moments in the film. While much of it is shot in Tokyo and areas outside of the city, it plays into something that feels modern where Japan is caught up in the world of celebrity. Kurosawa’s usage of close-ups and medium shots help play into the drama as well as scenes set in the magazine office where the editor and his staff conspire to make money as it plays into this growing sense of immorality in Japan. Also serving as the film’s editor, Kurosawa’s stylish approach to transition wipes and a mesmerizing dissolve montage would play into this sense of cultural change where everyone is up in arms about reading Aoye’s supposed affair with the singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi). The film’s climax revolves around this trial where it is clear that there is a circus atmosphere that plays into this sense of changing times but there is still a place where the old rules can make a difference as it plays into what Hiruta is dealing with. Overall, Kurosawa creates a fascinating and engaging drama about two men fighting for the truth in a world where morality is lost.

Cinematographer Toshiro Ubukata does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into the growing sense of modernism in Japan as well as some unique lighting schemes for scenes set at night where it has elements of film noir in some of the images. Art director Tatsuo Hamada does fantastic work with the look of the magazine offices as well as the dilapidated place where Hiruta does his work. Costume designer Bunjiro Suzuki does nice work with the costumes from the ragged look of Hiruta to the stylish suits that Asai wears. The sound work of Saburo Omura is terrific to play into the sounds of the city as the quieter moments in Aoye‘s meeting with Saijo at the hotel. The film’s music by Fumio Hayasaka is amazing for its score as it features some somber string-based orchestral music to elements of sweeping themes to play into the drama and sense of modernism in the film.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small roles from Fumiko Okamura as Saijo’s mother, Masao Shimizu as the trial judge, Bokuzen Hidari as a drunk Aoye and Hiruta meet at a bar, Sugisaku Aoyama as Asai’s lawyer, Noriko Sengoku as Aoye’s assistant/model Sumie, Shinichi Himori as the smug and vile magazine editor Asai, and Yoko Katsuragi in a wonderful performance as Hiruta’s ailing daughter Masako who is dealing with tuberculosis as she looks for her father to do something good. Shirley Yamaguchi is terrific as the famous singer Miyako Saijo who is someone that wants privacy as a simple picture would cause some trouble to her career as she would befriend Aoye and Hiruta’s family. Toshiro Mifune is brilliant as Ichiro Aoye as a painter who finds himself in a scandal as he fights for the truth while coping with his reputation and honor. Finally, there’s Takashi Shimura in a phenomenal performance as Hiruta as a down-on-his-luck attorney who is assigned to help Aoye as he struggles with his own debts where he is coerced by Asai to drop the suit for money as well as his daughter’s illness where he struggles with his own conscious to do what is right.

Shubun is a remarkable film from Akira Kurosawa that features great performances from Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. It’s a film that explores the growing sense of immorality during the early post-war years in Japan in a world driven by tabloids and greed. Especially when two men are forced to fight against this new world order to maintain some decency that is left from the old world. In the end, Shubun is a sensational film from Akira Kurosawa.

Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Pt. 2) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) - No Regrets for Our Youth - (Those Who Make Tomorrow) - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)

© thevoid99 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Magician (1958 film)

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Ansiktet (The Magician) is the story of a traveling magician who arrives into a small town where he and his troupe are asked to perform a sample of their tricks to disprove suspicions of the supernatural. The film is an exploration into a man who wants to perform magic as he copes with those who believe that he’s up to no good. Starring Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Naima Wifstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Andersson, and Erland Josephson. Ansiktet is a whimsical and mesmerizing film from Ingmar Bergman.

Set in the mid-19th Century in Sweden, the film revolves a traveling magician and his troupe who arrive in a small town where they have to contend with a group of town officials who want to prove that their so-called magic is nothing but a ruse. It’s a film that plays into the idea of what is real against what is fantasy as it is told in the span of an entire day where this magician has to prove to these men of science and facts to see that he is not a fraud as he is given a night to prepare for what he does. It’s a film with a simple plot where it is about the people living in this lavish townhouse in the middle of this small town as this magician named Albert Vogler (Max von Sydow) observes a lot of what is around him as he remains silent despite the attempts of intellectual doctors who think he’s faking it.

Much of the film’s two acts revolves around the preparation of the act as a preview while members of the troupe socialize with maids and cooks along with the people in the house. Its third act isn’t just about the performance but also the aftermath where it plays into this reality vs. fantasy idea and how science sometimes can’t prove what is real. Ingmar Bergman’s script also plays into the characters and the roles they play as Vogler is a very ambiguous character whose assistant Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin) is really a woman in disguise while those who want to discredit them include the house’s host Consul Egerman (Erland Josephson) and Dr. Vergarus (Gunnar Bjornstrand). All of which are playing into this game of who can outwit who.

Bergman’s direction is quite simple in terms of his compositions yet manages to find ways to inject elements of humor, drama, and horror into an entire film. Notably as he maintains something intimate for scenes set at the carriage or inside the house where there is a lot of things that are going on. Even as some of the comical moments involve one of the troupe members in Tubal (Ake Fridell) who spends his time flirting with women or somber moment where Egerman’s wife (Gertrud Fridh) is trying to seduce Vogler. Bergman’s usage of medium shots do play into Vogler’s stage performance as well as the approach to comedy and intrigue while horror would come later in the film to play into the idea of fantasy vs. reality. Overall, Bergman crafts a very delightful and mesmerizing film about a magician going into a battle of wits against a group of intellectual scientist and town leaders. 

Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from his usage of shades and shadows for scenes at night including some rich interior shots with its usage of natural light as it is among one of the film‘s highlights. Editor Oscar Rosander does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s suspenseful moments along with its comedic moments. Production designer P.A. Lundgren does fantastic work with the look of the carriage as well as the rooms in the house where many of the characters converge to.

Costume designers Greta Johansson and Manne Lindholm do brilliant work with the costumes that play into the period of the 1840s from the clothes the men wear to the dresses of the women. The sound work of Ake Hansson and Aaby Wedin is superb for the sound effects that are created for some of the film‘s eerie and suspenseful moments as it plays into what Vogler is able to do as a magician. The film’s music by Erik Nordgren is wonderful for its array of music scores from whimsical numbers to more somber, string-based pieces to play into the drama as it is among one of the highlights of the film.

The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Axel Duberg and Oscar Ljung as a couple of servants where the latter would contribute to a trick, Ulla Sjoblom as a police superintendent’s wife who succumbs to a magic trick, Toivo Pawlo as the police superintendent, Sif Ruud as the house cook Sofia, Bengt Ekerot as a drunken actor named Johan Spegel Vogler would pick up early in the film, Naima Wifstrand as Vogler’s very brash and outspoken grandmother, Lars Ekborg as the troupe’s stagecoach driver, Ake Fridell as the troupe’s charismatic spokesman, and Bibi Andersson as a young maid named Sara who would fall for the stagecoach driver. Gertrud Fridh is fantastic as a consul’s wife who goes to Vogler as she is still reeling from the loss of her child while Erland Josephson is excellent as Consul Egerman who wants to discredit and disprove Vogler’s tricks.

Gunnar Bjornstrand is amazing as Dr. Vergerus as a minister of health official who wants to see if he can discredit Vogler while he attempts to seduce Mr. Aman knowing that Aman is a woman. Ingrid Thulin is brilliant as Mr. Aman as a woman posing as Vogler’s assistant in order to maintain a role that she doesn’t want to reveal while being Vogler’s conscious of sorts. Finally, there’s Max von Sydow in a remarkable performance as Albert Emanuel Vogler where it’s a very restrained performance von Sydow doesn’t say a word for most of the film as he presents someone that seems tormented and overwhelmed in what he needs to prove to these men who are skeptical of his work.

Ansiktet is a sensational film from Ingmar Bergman that features an incredible performance from Max von Sydow. While it is a film that mixes all sorts of genres as well as play into Bergman’s own views on skepticism vs. faith in the form of entertainment. It is also a film that has Bergman pay tribute of sorts to the world of magic and what it could be for those that just want a bit of escape. In the end, Ansiktet is an extraordinary film from Ingmar Bergman.

Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music of Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Virgin Spring - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Simulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (Karin’s Face) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband

© thevoid99 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: The Human Condition Trilogy

Based on the novel series by Junpei Gomikawa, The Human Condition is a film trilogy that explores the life of a young man with socialist and pacifist views of the world who endures oppression and terror during the era of World War II Japan. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and screenplay by Kobayahi and Zenzo Matsuyama, the film is set into three parts that plays into the journey of a young man who goes from labor camp supervisor to serving as part of the Imperial army in World War II and becoming a POW for the Soviet Union as he questions the journey of his life. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Iseko Ariama, Chikage Awashima, Keiji Sada, Taketoshi Naito, Minoru Chiaki, Yusuke Kawazu, Tamao Nakamura, Chishu Ryu, and Hideko Takamine. The Human Condition is an astonishing and tremendous study of humanity in the era of war from Masaki Kobayashi.

The film is a three-part story told in the span of nearly three years from 1943 Japan to early 1946 as a man named Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) would endure a series of events and moments that would shape his view of humanity as he tries to hold on to his views of socialism and pacifism thinking that there’s some good in the world of war. Since it is a three-part movie with a total running time of 574-minutes (nine-hours and forty-seven minutes without intermission), it is a film that plays into Kaji’s view on the world from trying to change things and then be pushed to the edge over how the world works. In the first film, he starts out serving as labor camp supervisor in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in China where he is challenged by corrupt men who want to punish and rule over the Chinese. Due to his actions in trying to maintain some peace and civility, he would be punished into becoming a soldier in the second film where he endures brutality in his training and later tension with soldiers as he tries to train older recruits.

The third film would have Kaji trying to survive once his platoon has been overwhelmed where he is eventually captured by Soviet forces as he contends with everything he endures and encounters. The screenplays by Masaki Kobayashi and Zenzo Matsuyama explore not just Kaji’s evolution as a man trying to find some kind of hope and humanity during a horrific period of war. In the first film, Kaji starts out as a man of great intelligence as he is exempted from military service where he would take a job in Manchuria as a labor camp supervisor where he brings his new bride Michiko (Michiyo Aratama) as she tries to understand the work that Kaji is trying to do in his work where he has to deal with corrupt officials despite the support of a camp officer in Okishima (So Yamamura) and a young Chinese officer in Chen (Akira Ishihama). While he tries to appease prisoners including a few troublesome Chinese prisoners like Kao (Shinji Nanbara) as well as offering prostitutes to ease their troubles.

Things don’t go right because of the way the Japanese wants to control things and to ensure the increase production in ore as trouble would ensue where Kaji’s actions into helping the Chinese and ensure that they’re treated humanly would lead to his path in the second film. By being forced to serve in the military as punishment where there are those watching over him, Kaji would survive training though he longs to be with his wife. Yet, some of the tactics of veteran soldiers and such would create trouble and tragedy where Kaji tries to make things right as his actions would get the attention of his old friend Kageyama (Keiji Sada) who would have Kaji train older recruits during the final moments of war. Yet, his attempts to make things easier and deal with things behind the scenes only trouble him as Soviet forces would arrive. The third film would be about Kaji’s attempt to survive with the few allies he has left as he would encounter a group of lost refugees, soldiers without leaders, and eventual capture by the Soviets. All of which leads to him trying to comprehend the idea of war and what it means to live.

It’s not just the development of Kaji that is important but also in the environment and people he encounter in his journey from being this idealist pacifist with socialist views on the world to a soldier who saw a world that is very troubled and dark in the days of war. In some ways, it is an anti-war film that is being told but one that plays into a man trying to hold into the idea that there is good in the world of war as he ponders if the enemy are just as humane as he is. While there are those who are baffled by his idealism and determination, they would admire him for sticking to his beliefs as he would be tested. Even in moments where Kaji would be forced to see people who are good be harmed either by their own selfishness or by some event as it add to Kaji questioning his own ideals as his capture by the Soviet would only create more confusion from within.

Kobayashi’s direction is nothing short of grand in terms of its visuals as well as the length to tell the story with such ambition. For the first film entitled No Greater Love and its subsequent films, Kobayashi does maintain compositions and images that do play into Kaji’s struggle with the world that often include slanted camera angles as if Kaji is either walking up or down a hill or a mountain. Shot on location in northern Japan (due to strained Chinese-Japanese relations at the time), Kobayashi’s usage of mountains and barren landscapes play into the world of the labor camps where the Chinese are imprisoned along with these intricate usage of tracking shots that would become a prominent factor for much of trilogy. Notably for scenes in the second film Road to Eternity where Kobayashi would use these intricate tracking shots to play into the sense of tension that emerges in the training camps and at the barracks where soldiers sleep as it makes things uneasy.

The direction also Kobayashi maintain a sense of intimacy through his usage of close-ups and medium shots for scenes at the camp and brothels in No Greater Love and at the camps in Road to Eternity. Much of it would play into not just Kaji’s sense of longing but also his struggle to hold on to his beliefs and the semblance of humanity around him. The close-ups wouldn’t just play into Kaji’s own state of mind but also in the characters who would become attached to him as the final days of the war is emerging. In the second half of Road to Eternity where Kaji and his platoon would have to battle it out with the Soviets. It does become a very different film where Kaji is in the middle of a battlefield knowing that he might die but manages to survive but its aftermath would play into a growing sense of disillusionment. It then leads to the third and final film of the trilogy in A Soldier’s Prayer where Kaji and a few soldiers he had befriend are fighting to survive where they would encounter refugees and others on their way back to Manchuria. The third film does become much broader in terms of its visuals and in its suspense as well as the sense of drama where Kaji is trying to maintain some dignity despite the fact that he knows that Japan has been defeated.

Kaji’s encounter with different types of refugees would play into his own resolve where Kobayashi’s direction is quite vast in its compositions that include some very wide shots of the farmland where Chinese militia farmers are taking watch. By the time the film moves into the Soviet camps, it does become more grim where Kaji would endure labor work as punishment but also a sense of disillusionment in the way he sees the Soviet as who they really are from their view of socialism. It’s in these moments where Kobayashi would definitely heighten the tension and drama for an ending where Kaji and everything he had encountered would force him to make a decision for what is right in the world. Overall, Kobayashi creates what is truly an astronomical and gripping trilogy of films about a humanist dealing with war and inhumanity during one of the most horrific periods in world history.

Cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima does brilliant work with the black-and-white cinematography for all three films where he infuses a lot of unique images and lighting schemes with Takaskhi Kato providing some harsh lights for a rainy scene in the first film while Akira Aomatsu does some of the lights for scenes at night and in the interiors for the second and third film as well as some naturalistic images for the latter for scenes set in the woods as the photography is among one of the film‘s highlights. Editor Keiichi Uraoka does amazing work with the editing in not just creating rhythmic cuts for some of the dramatic and active moments in the film but also some dissolves and stylish cuts to play into the drama including the usage of flashbacks and freeze-frames for the third film.

Production designer Kazue Hirakata, with set designers Yoji Maru (for the first film) and Takamasi Kobayashi (for the second and third films) and set decorators Kyoji Sasaki (for the first film) and Seiji Ishikawa (for the second and third films), does fantastic work with the set design from the look of the Manchurian villages where Kaji and Michiko would live to the labor camps, training camps, and other places that Kaji would encounter throughout his journey. Sound recorder Hideo Nishizaki does excellent work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the labor camps and ore mines in the first film as well as the scenes set in the training camps, battlefields, and at the Soviet prison to play into the world that Kaji is at. The film’s music by Chuji Kinoshita is great as it features an array of compositions from somber string arrangements to play into the drama to bombastic orchestral numbers that add to the tone of war as well as cadence drum arrangements to play into that world of the military.

The casting for all three films are incredible as it is a large yet well-crafted ensemble in the many roles that were assembled for the film. From No Greater Love, there’s notable small roles from Nobuo Nakamura as labor camp manager, Akitake Kono as a camp captain, Eitaro Ozawa as a brutish camp official in Okazaki, Masao Mishima as the camp manager Kuroki, Seiji Mizoguchi as the prisoner Wang Heng Li, Shinji Nanbara as the prisoner Kao, Koji Mitsui as the abusive camp officer Furya, Ineko Arima as the prostitute Yang Chun Lan who falls for Kao, Akira Ishihama as the Chinese officer Chen, So Yamamura as the sympathetic officer Okimshima, and Chikage Awashima as the brothel madam Jin Tung Fu whom Chen would fall for.

From Road to Eternity, there’s small roles from Kokini Katsura and Jun Tatara as a couple of first-class privates, Michio Minami as the abusive private first-class Yoshida, Fumio Watanabe and Shoji Yasui as a couple of officers at the camp, and Susumu Fujita as an older recruit Kaji is training. From A Soldier’s Prayer, there’s noteworthy small roles from Tamao Nakamura as a refugee Kaji and his fellow soldiers encounter, Ed Keene and Ronald Self as a couple of Soviet officers, Koji Kiyoumura and Keijiro Morozumi as a couple of soldiers, Kyoko Kishida as a prostitute refugee that Koji meets, Reiko Hitomi as a young woman who joins the soldiers on a journey, Hideko Takamine as a woman in a refugee camp, and Chishu Ryu as an old man in the refugee camp.

From the second film, Kei Sato is terrific as the veteran recruit Shinjo who would make a drastic attempt to escape the military while Kunie Tanaka is superb as the poor-sighted and cowardly Obara who would endure horrific abuse in the hands of supervisors. Keiji Sada is excellent as Kaji’s old friend Kageyama who appears in the first and second film where he becomes a lieutenant in the latter who would appoint Kaji to train a group of older officers. Taketoshi Naito and Yusuke Kawazu are brilliant in their respective roles as the soldiers Tange and Terada who both admire Kaji for his determination with the former being the cynic and the latter being a young man. Nobuo Kaneko is fantastic as the corrupt officer Kirihara who would also be captured by the Soviets where he is able to sway things in their favor much to Kaji’s disgust.

Michiyo Aratama is amazing as Kaji’s wife Michiyo who copes with her husband’s activities and his absences as she would visit him during his training as a soldier while becoming an object of determination in the third film where she would appear as an apparition of other women to remind him what he needs to return to. Finally, there’s Tatsuya Nakadai in a performance for the ages as Kaji as an idealistic young man who would endure some of the most horrific events in history. It’s a performance where Nakadai maintains a sense of humility and drive into his performance where he starts off as determined to make a difference in a world that is very cruel only to be pushed and pushed to face the harsher side of reality. Even as he contends with some of the actions he had caused and his attempts to do good during the time of war as it is a very haunting yet exhilarating performance from Nakadai.

The 2009 four-disc Region 1 DVD set from the Criterion Collection presents the films in their 2:35:1 theatrical aspect ratio on an enhanced 16x9 widescreen format with 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono sound as both sound and image are remastered for this release. Three discs contain the three different films in the trilogy as well as a fourth disc of special features. The first is a fourteen-minute excerpt of a rare 1993 interview with Masaki Kobayashi by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda made for the Japanese Director’s Guild. Kobayashi talks about his collaboration with cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima and their methods as well as aspects on the production along with the first film’s initial reception, despite winning an award at the Venice Film Festival, where it wasn’t well-received.

The 18-minute interview Tatsuya Nakadai has the actor talking about the film and his performance where he was just a newcomer who had worked with Kobayashi prior to making the trilogy. Nakadai also talks about the production as it was a tough one that spanned over three years as only he and Kobayashi were the only ones that didn’t get sick throughout the production. Nakadai also talks about how some of his performance was based on Kobayashi’s own experience as a POW which he added into the film as well as talking about seeing the film over the years which he is proud of as he also thinks it’s one of the finest anti-war films ever made.

The 25-minute appreciation video about the film and Kobayashi by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda has the filmmaker discussing a lot of the film’s themes and how it would relate to the films Kobayashi would make throughout his career. Shinoda also talks about Kobayashi’s life as a POW which would reflect on some of the scenes shown on the film where Kobayashi wanted a realistic depiction of what it was like. Shinoda also talks about the novelist of the stories who, like Kobayashi, was also part of the military that refused to serve as an officer where the two both shared their own experiences of war which would play into the film. Shinoda also talks about the romantic elements in the film that he felt was overlooked as he revealed much of the influence of late 1930s French cinema that had an impact on Kobayashi as a filmmaker.

The DVD set includes the trailers for all three films which displays its sense of ambition and importance to the Japanese cinema. The DVD set also includes an essay by film historian Philip Kemp entitled The Prisoner where Kemp talks about Kobayashi’s film career but also the state of Japan during the time the film was made. One of which where Japan was struggling with the actions it caused as well as be in denial about what they did where the film’s release did spark some controversy despite the international acclaim it would receive. Kemp also talks about the film and its narrative along with some of its irony as it concerns Kaji’s socialist views which would add to Kaji’s own downfall and disillusionment. It’s a very compelling essay that serves as a fine accompaniment to a towering trilogy.

The Human Condition trilogy is truly an outstanding achievement from Masaki Kobayashi that features a spectacular performance from Tatsuya Nakadai. While each film do stand out on their own, it is far more powerful and exhilarating as one entire piece thanks to a great ensemble cast and amazing technical work. It is also an intriguing study about humanity at a point in time where human kindness and decency are swayed away by something as senseless as war. In the end, The Human Condition trilogy is a magnificent trilogy of films by Masaki Kobayashi.

Masaki Kobayashi Films: (Black River) - Harakiri - Kwaidan - Samurai Rebellion - (Hymn to a Tired Man) - (The Fossil) - (Tokyo Trial)

© thevoid99 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Against the Crowd Blog-a-Thon

Wendell of Dell on Movies has created a blog-a-thon that is very controversial as it relates to films that are beloved by critics that not many people like and those that are panned by critics that audiences do love. It is essentially a me-against-the-world mentality in what Wendell has created based on the following rules:

1. Pick one movie that "everyone" loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that "everyone" hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the tomato meter scores of both movies.

4. Use one of the banners in this post, or feel free to create your own.

That’s not so hard. OK, here is what I’m offering.

I was one of those that never really warmed up to The Hangover. When I first saw it, I thought it was OK but not a big deal. Subsequent viewings however made me realize that everyone who thinks this movie is great is fucking wrong! How can anyone root for an immature man-child in Zach Galifianakis’ Alan who not only causes a lot of trouble but does stupid things as if people think it’s funny? Plus, you have Bradley Cooper acting like a smug asshole and Ed Helms as the moron who sings about the troubles they’re in and people think this is funny?

Can I also mention into how much I fucking dislike Ken Jeong? His Chow character is among one of the most horrific and loathsome stereotypes ever created. What is so funny about this effeminate psychopath who likes to sport around naked just so he can show off his tiny dick? The jokes aren’t funny while Heather Graham just appears as an excuse to show off one of her tits to breastfeed a baby. The fact that this film grossed a lot of money and won some awards while getting two very awful sequels is just mind-boggling.

OK, I understand that this is sort of a cult film that didn’t get its due when it first came out. Sure, it was a box office hit though anything the Wayans did afterwards weren’t that great. It is still a film that audiences watch and quote. While it is a very lowbrow and idiotic film, it is one that is still funny as it makes fun of stereotypes in the right way while the idea of two African-American FBI agents pretending to be young white women is gold. Especially in the Keenan Ivory Wayans portrays it with his brothers Shaun and Marlon playing the lead roles.

Yet, it’s not just the Wayans that stand out as Busy Phillips, Jennifer Carpenter, Jaime King, Brittany Daniel, and John Heard that get to have their moments. The MVP of this film is Terry Crews. A character like that on paper wouldn’t work but Crews manages to do so much with his charisma and extremely hilarious performance. Plus, how can anyone not like these moments… 

© thevoid99 2015