Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Films That I Saw: May 2016
The summer is coming as a lot of things are heating up in a world as I’ve feel more at odds and out of step with what is going on. I have stated about my opinions towards Donald Trump but now, I found myself feeling lost as I’m not sure what to do. I’m definitely not voting for Trump as I think he’s an evil person. I don’t know if I want to vote for Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders as I don’t know if they really mean what they say. All of the stuff about Clinton’s emails and all sorts of stuff has me suspicious while Sanders have amassed supporters who have become just as extreme as Trump’s supporters. If this is what it’s going to become, I don’t think I want to be a part of this anymore as I think all of this has become a circus. It’s likely Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and it’s made me uneasy. If I’m at the point of voting for her as she’s the lesser evil of Trump and the country gets fucked up. I’ll blame myself for voting for her but I’ll live with that guilt.
Things at home aren’t going great either as my water heater just went dead and it’s going to cost nearly a thousand dollars to get a new one and for the installation. At the same time, other financial issues forced my parents to switch to another digital cable provider from U-Verse to Direct TV. I find myself baffled for some strange reasons as the last time this happened where we were supposed to switch from Dish Network to ATT U-Verse. There was a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder film that I had recorded and was hoping to see. Instead, the switch forced me not to see that film along with several others that was in the Dish Network DVR hard drive. Now this has happened again where this time around, two more Fassbinder films that appeared on TCM had been recorded and it’s likely that I’m not going to watch them. All because of money. I really think it’s one of the most evil things that has ever existed as people will do things for a dollar.
In the month of May, I saw a total of 41 films in 29 first-timers and 12 re-watches. Definitely a few films up from last month as it was a good month as one of the highlights I saw this month is my Blind Spot assignment in Yi Yi. Here are the top 10 First-Timers of May 2016:
1. Love & Mercy
2. Fight Club
3. Love and Anarchy
4. The Dance of Reality
5. Salaam Bombay!
6. Captain America: Civil War
9. The Hunt
10. The Salt of the Earth
A 2006 film that is the first feature film Eddie Redmayne is in is an ok thriller due to the performances of Redmayne and Toni Collette where the latter plays a criminal psychologist that is trying to help Redmayne. They’re good in the film as it has some intriguing aspects of death and resurrection but some of it eventually becomes silly as it also features Tom Sturridge as a creepy student as his performance is just fucking crap.
Prince: A Purple Reign
Given the fact that Prince’s passing is still fresh on a lot of people’s minds. I was fortunate to see a BBC documentary on YouTube about Prince’s life and career from the beginning to the mid-2000s of when the doc was made. It features interviews from a few associates including Jill Jones and Dez Dickerson but also tell a lot of insight into his career including his battle with Warner Brothers in the 1990s. It’s a must-see any fan of Prince though it is flawed as let’s hope someone would make a definitive documentary on the man who wowed us all.
Now this is not as bad as many people claim to be as I don’t think this is one of the worst films ever made. Yet, that is the only good thing I can say about it as it is still pretty fucking bad as it actually made the two previous ones look decent at best. It’s not just that the script fell short where not only do the actors aren’t given much to work with. It’s also the fact that the film tried too hard to be something different and gritty only to lose sight of what it is about. Four kids who accidentally are given powers as they cope with it and work together. It’s obvious there was a lot of post-production tinkering and other things that prevented the film in being decent as the result is just downright terrible. I think it’s time for Marvel to get the rights of the characters back and for fuck’s sake. Put some fucking pants on the Thing.
I’m usually not fond of trends as I could care less about this wave of young adult adaptations but this one however was actually pretty good. Notably because of Nat Wolff who managed to sell the confusion and determination of his character who goes on a trip to find the girl that he loves as he used to be friends with her since they were kids. It’s got a good soundtrack as well as moments that are fun though it does play into many of the clichés that goes on in high school. Still, I think it is worth checking out no matter how flawed it is.
I used to be a fan of the show as I enjoyed its exploration into the world of Hollywood and what actors had to do to survive as well as needing the support of its friends. Then at the end of the fifth season just as it was going into territory that explored failure and teasing a dissolution between friends. They dropped the ball and the show hadn’t been good since. The film isn’t just like much of the silliness and overblown aspects of the final season but it’s also far worse where it is a bunch of guys dealing with egos, how many girls they can sleep with, status, money, cars, and all of that bullshit. Not only did I not begin to care about these characters but I really found myself being aghast over everything and everyone. I also wanted to pummel Haley Joel Osment to a bloody pulp as this investor’s son who wants to go for the ride and sleep with Emily Ratajkowski. I hate this film, I really fucking hated it. It is truly one of the worst films that I had ever seen and now wish that fucking show never existed. Fuck this movie!
Top 10 Re-Watches:
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Monsters Inc.
4. Road House
5. Seduced and Abandoned
6. John Leguizamo: Ghetto Klown
8. American Pie 2
9. The Cowboy Way
10. Only You
Well, that is all for May. Aside from a few films in my DVR that I might get a chance to see before I change cable providers. I’m not sure what I want to do as the only theatrical releases that I really want to see are Love & Friendship and The Neon Demon. Other than a couple of films by Bob Fosse for the upcoming Auteurs piece on him, that is pretty much it. In my music blog, I hope to listen to more albums as well as finish my list on all of Prince’s albums ranked as I took a break on it as it was overwhelming. That will be the first of a series of lists I hope to do as I’ve already decided on the second one to be on the Cure whom I hope to see later in June. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…
© thevoid99 2016
Monday, May 30, 2016
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is the story of a troubled white-collar corporate worker who meets a mysterious man where the two form a fight club as an outlet for their rage. Directed by David Fincher and screenplay by Jim Uhls, the film is a study of a man becoming discontent with his world as he turns to violence as a way to act out only for things to get more complicated. Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Jared Leto, and Meat Loaf Aday. Fight Club is a gripping and intense film from David Fincher.
The film is an exploration of a man whose life as a white-collar corporate worker has made him unhappy until he meets a mysterious man where they form a secret fight club where the two and several other men engaging in fights under a bar. There, they live this life in secrecy where it would eventually morph into something bigger that would make the film’s unnamed protagonist (Edward Norton) uneasy. It’s a film that isn’t just about this growing discontent with a world that has become corporate but also filled with ads and the need to consume products where this man who is also its narrator. It’s also about a man’s reaction where he would get the help of this mysterious man named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) who is this very odd yet intelligent figure that represents this idea of anarchy and nihilism that the narrator needs in a world that has stifled him.
Jim Uhls’ screenplay has this unique approach to not just the narration in how the narrator doesn’t just react to his situation but also deal with the fact that he lives in this ultra-consumerist world which is nearly soul-crushing and also unsatisfying. The first act is about the narrator’s life and how he got himself into these group meetings with people suffering cancer and all sorts of disease where he would also see this woman named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) doing the same as the two reluctantly make a deal. Singer would be this character that would pop up in the narrator’s life as she would later be integral to the film’s second act as she sleeps around with Durden and then wonder what these two guys are doing. The second act isn’t just about the formation of fight club but also its evolution into something that becomes this haven for men who are disgusted with this ultra-corporate and ultra-consumerist world where they fight as well as antagonize the status quo.
There is also a lot of ambiguity that occurs as it relates to the narrator’s friendship with Durden where it does start off as two men dissatisfied with the ways of the world but Durden is the one who is doing something. It’s that sense of action that intrigues the narrator who needs something as he had lost his home in a fire and starts to act out against his own boss (Zach Grenier). The film’s third act isn’t just about the fight club’s evolution but also in Durden’s view of the world as it evolved into something bigger in an act against the world of capitalism. The result would lead to a lot of things but a view that has made the narrator uneasy as well as deal with these men who had become this community that are all about chaos.
David Fincher’s direction is quite stylish but also very daring for the fact that he’s making a Hollywood studio picture that is about anarchy and anti-corporatism, anti-capitalism, and anti-consumerism. The film opens with Durden putting a gun into the narrator’s mouth as much of the film is told in a reflective narrative of sorts where it plays into the narrator coping with his life and what it had become. Shot on location in Los Angeles, the film plays into this world that is very modern as well as very consumerist where it is overwhelming in how ads and products are being shown to create something that is scary. Fincher’s usage of wide and medium shots help play into the world while he would also create some unique camera angles and movements to play into some of the chaotic elements including the fights.
The fights do have this air of brutality but also a beauty that is presented underneath its ugliness and graphic violence. There are also scenes that are quite surreal as it relates to some sex scenes involving the narrator and Marla where the former isn’t sure if he really had sex with her. One key moment during the second act is where the narrator sees the many jobs that Durden does including being a film projector where there is a moment where the fourth wall is broken. There’s also these little moments early in the film that serves as a sense of foreshadow where there’s a strange object that emerges on a frame as it plays into the narrator’s growing disdain towards his environment. The film’s third act is quite intense but also displays a lot into aspects of surrealism into the world that the narrator is in and what Durden is about to do forcing the two to have a showdown. Overall, Fincher creates a rapturous yet haunting film about a man’s disdain with the world of consumerism and capitalism that forces him to team with another man and form a fight club.
Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth does amazing work with the film‘s very stylized yet somewhat de-colored cinematography the intentionally bland look of the narrator‘s life in his semi-posh condo and the office he works at to the more grimy look for many of the interior/exterior scenes at night as well as the home that he shares with Durden. Editor James Haygood does fantastic work with the editing in not just creating some unique rhythmic cuts and stylish usages of jump-cuts and slow-motion cuts but also in the way these mysterious objects would pop up early in the film. Production designer Alex McDowell, with set decorator Jay Hart and art director Chris Gorack, does brilliant work with the look of the condo that the narrator lived in to the dilapidated and decayed home that Durden lives in as well as the basement in the bar where many of the fights at the fight club happens. Costume designer Michael Kaplan does nice work with the costumes from the bland look of the narrator early in the film to the stylish clothes that Durden and Marla wear to play into their anti-conformist attitude
Special makeup effects supervisor Rob Bottin does excellent work with some of the makeup from the design of the big breasts that one of the narrator‘s friends in Bob sports to look of some of the people that are beaten up at fight club. Visual effects supervisors Kevin Tod Haug and Kevin Mack do superb work with some of the visual effects in not just some of the set dressing but also in some eerie scenes at relates to how soap is made and other surreal moments in the film. Sound designer Ren Klyce and sound editor Richard Hymns do incredible work with the sound in the way some objects sound as well as the atmosphere in the fight club. The film’s music by John King and Mike Simpson, aka the Dust Brothers, is phenomenal for its mixture of drone-heavy electronic music with some industrial and ambient textures to play into the drama and violence while the soundtrack features music from Tom Waits, Marlene Dietrich, and the Pixies.
The casting by Laray Mayfield is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Zach Grenier as the narrator’s boss, Rachel Singer as a cancer-stricken women at a group meeting, Peter Iacangelo as the bar owner who is from the mob that isn’t keen on having the fight club in his basement, Thom Gossom Jr. as a detective who investigates the arson of the narrator’s apartment, Pat McNamara as the police commissioner, Joon Kim as a convenience store cashier Durden threatens to kill, and Jared Leto in a small yet terrific performance as a fight club member whom Durden takes a liking to late in the film. Meat Loaf Aday is excellent as Bob as a man with massive man-breasts who deals with the loss of his testicles as the narrator befriends him during a meeting as he would also become part of the fight club.
Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as Marla Singer as a troubled woman who attends to a lot of group meetings for strange reasons as well as be someone who is also an addict as she befriends Durden while somewhat antagonize the narrator. Brad Pitt is remarkable as Tyler Durden as this mysterious soap maker who is the embodiment of complete and absolute anarchy where is he also quite intelligent about the ways of the world and how consumerism has ruined the world as Pitt just owns the part with his charm and the ability to be cool. Finally, there’s Edward Norton in a tremendous performance as this unnamed narrator as this white-collar corporate worker for an automobile corporation who suffers from insomnia and depression who finds himself taking part in a world where he gets into fights and stands up for himself only to deal with the severity of what he and Durden created as it’s a very grounded and visceral performance from Norton.
Fight Club is a magnificent film from David Fincher that features incredible performances from Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. Featuring an inventive script, dazzling visuals, and an eerie score, the film is truly a dark yet intense film that explores anarchy and nihilism at its most profane. It is also a film that manages to critique this world of corporate and consumerist culture that has take hold of humanity in the worst ways. In the end, Fight Club is an outstanding film from David Fincher.
David Fincher Films: Alien 3 - Se7en - The Game - Panic Room - Zodiac - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - The Social Network - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 film) - Gone Girl
Related: 15 Essential Videos by David Fincher - The Auteurs #61: David Fincher
© thevoid99 2016
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Heart of a Dog (2015 film)
Directed by Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog is a documentary film of sorts in which avant-garde performance artist Laurie Anderson creates a film about her rat terrier dog named Lolabelle while reflecting on life and death including the passing of her dog as well as others in her life. Presented in a reflective yet imaginative fashion, the film is an unconventional film that plays into Anderson looking into her childhood as well as the love she has for her dog. The result is a fascinating and touching film from Laurie Anderson.
Set largely in post-9/11 New York, the film revolves around Laurie Anderson’s relationship with her pet rat terrier named Lolabelle whom she had adopted and love until its death in 2011. Presented in a mixture of super 8mm film from Anderson’s childhood, old camera footage when Lolabelle was alive and in her prime, and a mixture of drawing and animations by Anderson. The film play into Anderson’s relationship with the dog and what Lolabelle was able to do in her final years with the aid of Lolabelle’s trainer Elisabeth Weiss. Especially as Lolabelle learned to paint and also play keyboards where the dog would give a few concerts despite becoming blind. Since Anderson is a Buddhist, she also talks about how grief is presented where Anderson would also talk about the death of her mother whom she admits to have a strained relationship with.
The film would also have these unique scenes where Anderson talks about parts of her own childhood including a time where she injured her back when she tried to do a flip off of a diving board. Some of it is told with humor but also with a sense of sadness as it relate to the loss that Anderson experiences that includes a glimpse of her husband in the legendary musician Lou Reed who died in 2013 as the film is dedicated to him. With the aid of co-cinematographers Toshiaki Ozawa and Joshua Zucker-Pluda, Anderson would do some of her own shooting as it relates to what dogs see as well as look into post-9/11 New York City where everyone is being filmed to play Anderson’s own view about the craziness and paranoia that occurs with everyone being surveyed. With the aid of editors Melody London and Katherine Nolfi in compiling some of the Super 8mm film stock as well as some of the video footage Anderson was able to get as it plays into the dark aspects of the modern world.
Sound mixing by Skip Lievsay, Mario McNulty, and Paul Urmson help play into what dogs hear but also in the way some of the voices are mixed during Anderson’s narration. The film’s music largely consists of score pieces by Anderson that is played with her violin and some ambient textures while the film ends with a song by Lou Reed.
Heart of a Dog is a remarkable film from Laurie Anderson. While it is a very strange and unconventional documentary film, it is still an engaging film that explores loss as well as how special pets are to people. In the end, Heart of a Dog is a marvelous film from Laurie Anderson.
© thevoid99 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
The Auteurs #55: Ramin Bahrani
Among one of the new crop of filmmakers to emerge in the 2000s, Ramin Bahrani is among a group of new filmmakers who doesn’t just explore the struggles that people go through everyday but also for the fact that he showcases a sense of realism that isn’t seen often in American cinema. While he is from an Iranian background, the man exemplifies not just immigrants and those who aren’t part of American society but also working-class Americans struggling to adapt to the new world. With five feature films under his belt, Bahrani becomes an unlikely voice not just for Americans but also display films that audiences around the world can relate to.
Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on March 20, 1975, Ramin Bahrani was the son of Iranian parents who had immigrated to the country in the 1970s. Like many Iranians who had come to America looking for a better life, they would contend with prejudice as it would intensify during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Bahrani would also see the struggle of not just the way immigrants struggle to adapt to a new world but also in surviving as it wasn’t just his parents where he saw that struggle but also in other immigrants living in the South. In his discovery of cinema, Bahrani would be intrigued by not just the post-war neo-realist films of Italy but also the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Bahrani would attend Columbia University in New York City in the early and mid-1990s where he would learn about film and eventually receive his BA there. From the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bahrani would create short films to hone his craft.
Man Push Cart
Inspired by his surroundings around New York City as well as Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, Bahrani decides to make a film about the immigrant experience as it would revolve around a Pakistani musician who drags his food kiosk all over New York City. The idea itself has an air of realism as it was the kind of film that Hollywood wouldn’t tell as Bahrani chose to produce, write, edit, and direct the film as he would get independent funding for the film. Since he would shoot the film on location in the city with the aid of cinematographer Michael Simmonds who would find ways to shoot the film with hidden cameras to create something as if it was a fly-on-the-wall point of view. With Simmonds and others to be part of a small crew, Bahrani would get Ahmad Razvi in the lead role of Ahmad as this once-popular musician in his native Pakistan who is in America struggling to make ends meet and pay child support as his son is living with the family of his late wife.
The cast would also include Leticia Dolera and Charles Daniel Sandoval in key roles that Ahmad would encounter. The script would play a lot into Ahmad’s attempt to survive and find hope despite working on a kiosk where he would be given false promises by a Pakistani yuppie and memories about his late wife and the life he once had. Bahrani also asks big question about Ahmad’s life as he struggles to make money where he also sells bootleg DVDs on the side. Especially as its third act would have Ahmad take a journey of his own where it plays into the elements of neorealist aesthetics of post-war Italian cinema. Yet, Bahrani would add something that also play into the experience of the immigrant living in America as it shows that not all of them play by the rules such as the yuppie character that Ahmad meets who is really Americanized for all of the wrong reasons. It says a lot into not just Ahmad’s own alienation but also for the fact that he couldn’t rely on fellow countrymen in a world that is very harsh.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September of 2005 as it drew rave reviews as it would later receive the FIPRESCI prize later that year at the London Film Festival. Following its U.S. film festival premiere in January of 2006 at the Sundance Film Festival, the film would finally be given a limited theatrical release in the fall of 2006 where it was championed by the famed film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert’s praise would help give the film more attention as did Bahrani himself who would receive lots of acclaim for his work.
The critical success of his debut film gave Bahrani the attention of studios and producers who wanted to work with him as he would receive funding and support from various independent film producers for his next project. With the aid of co-writer and friend Bahareh Azimi, the film would once again be set in New York City but in the area of Queens as it relates to a young boy working at a local chop shop in the hopes of doing something good for himself and his older sister. Re-teaming with Michael Simmonds to shoot the film, Bahrani receives the service of production designer Richard A. Wright who was known for his work with David Gordon Green. For the casting, Bahrani would once again go for lesser-known/unknown actors or non-actors for the role in the same tradition of one of his influences in Robert Bresson.
Shooting on location in Queens, Bresson wouldn’t just cover the world of chop shops but also a boy’s desire to create a future for himself despite the fact that he is forced to forgo his childhood to survive. It begins with a simple dream where Bahrani would cast Alejandro Polancano in the lead role of Ale despite his lack of experience. The lack of experience would help add to the realism of the performance where Bahrani would also bring in Ahmad Razvi to play a small role who would be crucial for not just Ale’s development but also to come face to face with the real world at hand. A reality for a 12-year old boy trying to live in Queens, where everyone who doesn’t fit into a certain demographic that is defined as American, is something that he would have to live with. Especially in the decisions that his sister would make that just add to a growing wound he would endure.
The film would make its premiere in late May of 2007 at the Cannes Film Festival in France playing at the Director’s Fortnight section to great acclaim as it’s festival run in Toronto in the fall of 2007 and another major festival showing at the Berlin Film Festival in early 2008 added to the film’s growing critical reputation. The film would receive a limited theatrical release in late February of 2008 where it receive great reviews including another rave from Roger Ebert who would later include the film in a top ten list of the best films of the 2000s. A year later, the film would be nominated for 3 Independent Spirit Awards where Bahrani won the Someone to Watch prize.
Having already accumulated two back-to-back critical successes and praise in the film festival circuit, Bahrani decides to return home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for his next feature film that wouldn’t just cover similar themes from his previous films but also play into aspects of mysticism. The film would revolve around a Senegalese cab driver who is asked by an old man to take him to the mysterious Blowing Rock peak in the mountain in North Carolina where he plans to kill himself on a specific day. Along the way, the two become friends where they learn about each other despite the old man’s reluctance. Collaborating with Chop Shop co-write Bahareh Azimi for the script, the film would be a study of not just the idea of optimism and cynicism but also the ideas of the real world where this Senegalese man tries to do his best in his desire to become a flight attendant so he can provide for his family.
Once again teaming with cinematographer Michael Simmonds for the project and going for that approach in casting unknowns and non-actors that would include Soulemayne Sy Savane in the lead role of Solo. Bahrani would take a major risk in getting famed character actor Red West for the role of the old man William. Inspired by the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Bahrani wanted to go for something that is loose in terms of the narrative while the filmmaking would be less restrained for more controlled shots as opposed to some of the handheld work of his previous films. Another aspect that was becoming common with his film was not going for any film score to be added in the post-production by just capturing whatever is played where Bahrani wanted to capture much of the realism in Winston-Salem. Especially as it’s a city that is this mixture of people ranging from Africans, African-Americans, Arabs, Anglo-Americans, Hispanic, and all sorts of people in a city that is a cross between the modern world and old America.
The film made its premiere on September 2008 at the Venice Film Festival as it won the FRIPRESCI prize by critics as it would become a festival hit in the following weeks as it was a hit at the Toronto Film Festival during the same month. The film would later receive a limited theatrical release in the March of 2009 in the U.S. as it drew raves from many critics including Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott of the New York Times. While the film did modestly well in its limited, art-house release in the U.S., it did bring a lot of attention to Bahrani as one of the best kept secrets in American independent cinema.
Having attained a wave of critical support as well as a small following among audiences in the world of art-house films and independent cinema. Bahrani was approached by Independent Television Service to create a short film as Bahrani wrote the short with Jenni Jenkins as it would revolve around the travels of a plastic bag. Featuring the same team who worked on his last film, Bahrani would also receive the services of the legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog who would voice the titular character. With his team of collaborators, Bahrani went for something that is very simple but also take a look into the myth that is the Pacific Trash Vortex where some of the plastic bags go to.
The film would make its premiere at the 2009 Venice Film Festival in September of that year where it would also play at other film festivals around the same time such as Telluride and Toronto. After its festival run that features a screening at the 2010 South by Southwest film festival, Bahrani briefly put the film for download on his website free of charge so that audiences can get a glimpse of it.
At Any Price
Having already attained a wealth of major critical support and a devoted cult following for his work, Bahrani knew it was time to make some changes as he wanted to maintain his sense of independence but also try to appeal to a wider audience. In meeting the renowned producer Christine Vachon, Bahrani would get the chance to make his most ambitious film to date as it revolved around a father and son at odds with each other over the former’s ambition in expanding his family’s farming empire in the age of modern agriculture. Writing the project with Hallie Elizabeth Newton, the film wouldn’t just be about the fallacy of ambition but also how pride can nearly blind people.
Having worked with mostly non-professional actors in the past, Bahrani was given the chance to work with some of Hollywood’s big names such as Dennis Quaid as the family patriarch Henry Whipple, Zac Efron as Henry’s son Dean, Kim Dickens as Henry’s wife Irene, then-newcomer Maika Monroe as Dean’s girlfriend Cadence, and Heather Graham as Henry’s mistress Meredith. With Red West also playing a small role as Henry’s father, the film would feature several of Bahrani’s collaborators while he also gained the services of renowned editor Affonso Gonclaves to edit the film. Shot on location in Dekalb, Illinois as Iowa, Bahrani doesn’t just want to explore the world of modern farming but also in the ugly aspects of farmers having to compete with one another and keep up with the world of modernism.
With expectation high, the film made its premiere on August 30, 2012 at the Venice Film Festival where it got a good reception as it would receive screenings weeks later in film festivals in Telluride and Toronto. The film would be given a limited theatrical release by Sony Picture Classics in April 2013 where the film received mixed reviews from critics. Despite another rave from Roger Ebert as well as some for its exploration on the world of modern farming, many critics didn’t enjoy some of the dramatic aspects of the film as it related to the father-son relationship. While it only made less than half-a-million in the box office against the millions of dollars it cost to make. The film did prove that Bahrani still provided a voice as it relates to the trials and tribulations that Americans face no matter who they are.
Bahrani’s most recent feature film isn’t just another exploration of the realities of American life but also what some will do to survive. Starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern, the film revolves around a young man who has been evicted from his home where he makes a shady deal to keep his home by working with the man who evicted him and evict others from their homes. The film would be another ambitious feature of sorts where Bahrani made the film on a $8 million budget yet would be well-received following its premiere at the 2014 Venice Film Festival in late August and a limited release in October of 2015 where the film drew rave reviews.
Having already made five films and with the support of critics and audiences wanting films that says a lot about America that Hollywood doesn’t want to cover. Ramin Bahrani has a unique place in the world of American cinema as a man who tells stories not just about Americans but those trying to capture some aspect of the myth that is the American Dream. Whether or not that myth exists, Bahrani is a filmmaker that is willing to ask if it does exist as his films do display some kind of hope no matter how bleak his films can be.
© thevoid99 2016
Friday, May 27, 2016
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Directed by Adam Benzine, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is a documentary short film that chronicles the life of filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and the 12-year journey he took into making the landmark 1985 documentary film Shoah. The film also explores aspects of his life as well as outtakes that didn’t make it to the final version of Shoah. The result is an eerie yet fascinating film from Adam Benzine.
In 1973, journalist/filmmaker Claude Lanzmann was asked to make a documentary about the Holocaust as he said yes unaware that it would take twelve years to make the film. The resulting film would become a near-10 hour documentary film called Shoah that explored not just the Holocaust but also recollection from its survivors and those who were involved in these atrocities. The documentary short that Adam Benzine isn’t just about the making of the film but also Lanzmann himself as he talks about parts of his own past including a friendship with the famed French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his romance with the writer Simone de Beauvoir. With Lanzmann being interviewed, he talks about the experience of making the film as well as reveal footage that didn’t make it to the final cut.
Among these rare footage include interviews with former Nazi officers where Lanzmann revealed that he had to shoot their interviews with hidden cameras as one of these attempts landed him in the hospital because an officer’s wife became suspicious and all sorts of crazy things happened. With the aid of cinematographer Alex Ordanis in shooting the interviews with Lanzmann as well as filmmaker Marcel Ophuls and film critic Richard Brody who both provide commentary on Lanzmann and Shoah with sound recordist Daniel Hewitt helping to record many of the interviews and edit many of Lanzmann’s commentary on the world. With some of the rare footage compiled by editor Tiffany Beaudin and a somber piano-based score by Joel Goodman and Benjamin Krause.
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is a riveting film from Adam Benzine. It’s a documentary short that doesn’t just explore the man who would make one of the finest documentary films ever but also the journey it took to make that film as well as the other films he would make from his journey. In the end, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is a phenomenal film from Adam Benzine.
© thevoid99 2016
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Love & Mercy
Directed by Bill Polhad and screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner from a story by Lerner, Love & Mercy is the story of the Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson told in two parallel narrative that focuses on Wilson in the mid-1960s where he was considered an eccentric but gifted music genius and in the late 1980s as a shell of his former self under the abusive of his therapist until a Cadillac saleswoman saves him. The film is an unconventional bio-pic that explores Wilson’s rise and descent into madness and mental illness and later be saved when he is at his most vulnerable as Paul Dano and John Cusack play the role of Wilson in the 60s and 80s, respectively,. Also starring Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti. Love & Mercy is ravishing and touching film from Bill Polhad.
The name Brian Wilson isn’t just synonymous with not music that would stand for eons but a man who was gifted yet troubled where he would succumb to mental illness and depression only to re-emerge a survivor and an icon. The film is about not just Wilson’s time in the mid-1960s where he would create the landmark album Pet Sounds as well as his attempts to make the album Smile. It’s also about the man 20 years later as he is under the control of therapist until he falls for a Cadillac saleswoman in Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who would later become his savior. All of which is told in a parallel, back-and-forth narrative style that reflects on Wilson’s mental descent in the 1960s as well as emerging out of that dark cloud of abuse and confusion in the 1980s.
The film’s screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner create this narrative that plays into the highs and lows that Wilson would endure as a co-founder of the surf rock band the Beach Boys who were considered the American rivals to the Beatles in terms of creating top-notch pop songs. The film does give a brief insight into the Beach Boys’ rise where the bulk of the 1960s narrative begins with Wilson’s breakdown in an airplane that would ultimately keep him out of the road. Being grounded, Wilson would find a sanctuary at the studio where he would have all of the time in the world to create songs at his own pace while would wait for the band to return from touring to contribute vocals. That strand in the narrative shows not just the exuberance that Wilson had but also the emergence of his mental descent which was due to a lot of things such as drugs as well as his strained relationship with his father Murry (Bill Camp). The script also reveals the tension between Wilson and the band that ultimately led to the shelving of Smile.
The 1980s narrative which would inter-cut with the 60s narrative shows Wilson as a middle-aged man where it begins with him looking for a car to buy where he would meet Ledbetter who has no clue the man she was talking to is Brian Wilson. Yet, she somehow finds herself going out with Wilson, despite the presence of his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), where she gets to know the man and see someone who is a good person but also in need of help. Especially as he had been disconnected from his family including two daughters, his ex-wife, his mother, and his band that includes his brother Carl and cousin Mike Love under Landy’s supervision as Ledbetter gets to know more of the real Wilson but also observe what Landy does. One key scene involves Ledbetter coming to Wilson’s home to bring food where she hears Landy screaming at a heavily-medicated Wilson during a songwriting session as Ledbetter learns from Wilson’s maid Gloria (Diana Maria Riviera) about the extent of Landy’s abuse. It’s a key sequence in the film that would have Ledbetter take a stand no matter what kind of dirt Landy could dig up on her. Though there are a few dramatic liberties that Moverman and Lerner do for dramatic reasons, they don’t stray too far from the real story nor do anything to exaggerate things other than show a very fragile man in need of saving.
Bill Polhad’s direction definitely has an air of style as it play into not just the world Brian Wilson was in but also in somewhat Hellish-existence he was living in under Dr. Landy’s abuse. Due to the film’s complex narrative, Polhad definitely aims for different visual styles as it relates to tone of the times as well as Wilson’s own state of mind. The 1960s narrative definitely owes a lot to style in terms of its usage of different film stock which help play into the Beach Boys rise and Wilson coming into his own as a producer and songwriter. Many of the compositions are quite simple in its usage of close-ups and medium shots where it would play into what Wilson is doing as he hears ideas in his head that would unfortunately morph into voices of doubt from his father and cousin Mike (Jake Abel). There is a bit of usage in the hand-held cameras yet Polhad prefers to keep things simple while also create elements that play into Wilson’s encounter with psychedelic drugs that were helpful at first only to turn on him towards his mental descent. The 1980s narrative has Polhad go for something much simpler but also with a look that is a bit more polished as it play into a world that is sort of modern but one that Wilson seems detached from.
While many of the compositions are a bit more detached in some aspects as it relates to Wilson’s mental state, it does play into a man trying to get back into the world through Ledbetter. One sequence in which Ledbetter spends the night with Wilson has this unique tracking shot where Wilson becomes paranoid that someone is watching as he begs Ledbetter to leave but still be with him as it is a heartbreaking scene that shows how scared Wilson is. Another sequence in the film’s third act is this strange montage that has the older Wilson confront his past in flashbacks and hallucinations as it relates to the voices in his head where the two Wilsons do see each other as it play into what he lost and what he could gain. Overall, Polhad crafts a mesmerizing and riveting film about the life of Brian Wilson through all of its trials and tribulations in two different time periods.
Cinematographer Robert Yeomen does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way many of the Californian location exteriors look to play into that sunny environment that inspired the music of the Beach Boys to some of the lush interiors inside the recording studios and the look of Wilson‘s two homes in the 80s that has this very lovely but unsettling look. Editor Dino Jonsater does brilliant work with the editing as it does play into the film‘s unique narrative style with its smooth transition cuts as well as some stylish montages and other cutting styles to play into some of the exuberance and dark moments in the film. Production designer Keith P. Cunningham, along with art directors Andrew Max Cahn and Luke Freeborn and set decorator Maggie Martin, does fantastic work with the home Wilson had in the 60s with its piano on top of a sandbox and the recording studios as well as the homes he had in the 1980s that are very sparse but also empty. Costume designer Danny Glicker does wonderful work with the costumes from the look of the 1960s clothes that many wear to the more casual look of the 1980s with the exception of the clothes that Ledbetter wore.
Makeup effects designer Tony Gardner does nice work with the look of some of the characters in the way they evolved in the 1960s as well as the comical yet terrifying look of Dr. Landy. Visual effects supervisor Luke T. DiTommaso does terrific work with some of the film‘s visual effects as it relates to Wilson‘s first acid trip that play into his desire for a new sound and some of its purity as well as a flashback sequence that relates to the story about how his father damaged his right ear. Sound designer Eugene Gearty and sound editor Nicholas Renbeck do excellent work with the sound in the way Wilson would hear things including a dinner sequence that would scare him as well as the more sparse moments during the scenes in the 80s where Wilson tries to deal with his mental state. The film’s music by Atticus Ross is incredible as it is largely a mixture of ambient sound textures as well as a collage of the music of the Beach Boys as their music is prominently featured along with a new song by Brian Wilson and other music that is played on the film from Dusty Springfield, the Moody Blues, Kenny G, and Heart.
The casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is great as it features some notable small roles from Oliver Polhad as the adolescent Brian Wilson in the flashback sequence, Morgan Phillips as Dr. Landy’s son Evan who watches over Wilson and Ledbetter during a boat trip, Erik Eidem as one of Wilson’s caretakers in Doug who becomes concerned of Dr. Landy’s treatment of Wilson, Joanna Going as Wilson’s mother Audree in the film’s flashbacks, and Diana Maria Riviera in a terrific role as Wilson’s maid Gloria who would help Ledbetter in saving Wilson. Other noteworthy small roles as members of the Wrecking Crew session players in Teresa Cowles as bassist Carole Kaye, Gary Griffin as keyboardist Al de Lory, and Johnny Sneed as drummer Hal Blaine along with Mark Linett as engineer Chuck Britz, Jeff Meacham as Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher, and Mark Schneider as Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks as they play into the people who are in awe of Wilson’s gift as an artist.
Nick Gehlfuss and Graham Rogers are terrific in their respective roles as Beach Boys members Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine who both express a bit of reservation into what Wilson is doing. Bill Camp is excellent as Wilson’s father Murry who isn’t keen on what his son doing feeling it is straying from the formula as well as being this domineering figure that would continuously haunt Wilson for much of his life. Brett Davern is superb as Wilson’s younger brother Carl as one of the few who likes what his brother is doing while becoming concerned for his mental state of mind. Kenny Wormald is fantastic as Wilson’s youngest brother Dennis who likes what Wilson is doing while having a few reservations about its commercial prospects. Erin Darke is wonderful as Wilson’s first wife Marilyn who expresses concern about her husband’s mental state as well as trying to form the family that he would unfortunately become estranged to.
Jake Abel is amazing as Wilson’s cousin/Beach Boys vocalist Mike Love who expresses concern of not just what Wilson is doing musically but also for the fact that Wilson is straying from what made their music so popular. Paul Giamatti is marvelous as Dr. Eugene Landy as Wilson’s therapist during the 1980s who is trying to take care of him but his methods become abusive where he would even try to threaten Ledbetter as it’s a monstrous performance. Elizabeth Banks is phenomenal as Melinda Ledbetter as the woman who would become Wilson’s second wife as this former model-turned Cadillac saleswoman who befriends Wilson only to fall for him where she would also be the person that would save him and get back in touch with what was good in the world.
Finally, there’s John Cusack and Paul Dano in outstanding performances as Brian Wilson where both men provide unique aspects to the man. As the middle-aged Wilson in the 1980s, Cusack displays that sense of confusion and anguish into a man lost in a haze of medication as well as trying to find some good despite the paranoia he carries as it relates to Landy. As the young Wilson in the 1960s, Dano provides the exuberance to someone who realizes the power of his creativity as well as an innocence that he would eventually lose due to drugs and demons. Both Cusack and Dano create something that allows so many layers to the Brian Wilson myth but also ground it with a humanity and fragility that nearly destroyed the man.
Love & Mercy is an incredible from Bill Polhad that features the amazing dual performances of John Cusack and Paul Dano as Brian Wilson. Featuring an inventive narrative by screenwriters Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman, a ravishing score by Atticus Ross, and Elizabeth Banks’ graceful performance as Melinda Ledbetter-Wilson. It’s a film that doesn’t play by the rules of the bio-pic genre while creating a unique study of a man/artist struggling with demons and his desire to create great music. In the end, Love & Mercy is a magnificent film from Bill Polhad.
© thevoid99 2016
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
The Auteurs #54: Spike Jonze
Among the small group of filmmakers who successfully built their careers from the world of music videos to feature films, Spike Jonze is someone that hasn’t just successfully put his own stamp into the world of films from his experience in music videos. He is also someone that is able to create stories that are very weird and strange yet manage to find them appealing to a wide audience. From his collaboration with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman to the more personal films he had been creating that ranges from the world of skateboard culture to mediations on loneliness. Jonze has managed to find a sense of innocence in a world that is often misunderstood or to complicated to some.
Born Adam Spiegel on October 22, 1969 in Rockville, Maryland, Jonze was the son of Arthur H. Spielgel III who was related to the famed Spiegel family who were famous for Spiegel clothing brand and its catalog. While the family would earn money from the brand, Jonze’s family that would include his brother Sam and sister Julia would forge their own paths like their parents did as their father was a consultant manager and their mother Sandra L. Granzow was a communications consultant for developing countries as one of many jobs she had. At the age of 18, Jonze moved to San Francisco to attend its art institute where he immersed himself into the world of skating and BMX culture serving as a photographer. It was around that time he was given the name Spike Jonze as a pun of sorts to the famed bandleader Spike Jones.
Jonze started making music videos in the early 1990s for bands like Wax and Sonic Youth. His approach to the videos he directed were different from a lot of the mainstream music videos of the time. His style quickly gained a following and he found himself working with The Beastie Boys, The Breeders, Weezer, Dinosaur Jr., R.E.M., Bjork, Fatboy Slim, Elastica, the Pharcyde, and Daft Punk, to name a few.
How They Get There/Amarillo Morning/Torrance Rises
While honing his craft with music videos, Jonze made three distinct short films. where he spent much of the late 90s creating a trio of different shorts. The first one, How They Get There, was a simple comedy about a man who begins to mimic the movements of the woman he sees across the street. As the pair copies each other, the film evolves into something that is both tragic and funny. The other two short film saw Spike Jonze try his hand at documentary filmmaking. One film was Amarillo Morning, which followed two teenagers, who wanted to be cowboys, around for the afternoon. Shot on video, the film showed how the teens’ desire to be cowboys was not always reflected in the music they listened to.
The third short, Torrance Rises found the director collaborating with Lance Bangs on a mockumentary about the dance troupe who appeared in the Fatboy Slim video Praise You, which Jonze also directed with his then brother-in-law Roman Coppola. The humorous film focused on the group’s rehearsals for their appearance at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. Torrance Rises ended up being a cult hit and helped Jonze to get noticed by many prominent figures within the film industry.
Being John Malkovich
Around the time Spike Jonze was making short films, he received the script for Being John Malkovich from his then father-in-law, and renowned filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola that was written by a TV writer named Charlie Kaufman. The odd script revolved around a puppeteer who takes a job on a mysterious floor of a building only to discover a portal that leads into the mind of actor John Malkovich. Jonze worked closely with Kaufman to develop the film, and brought in a couple of collaborators, cinematographer Lance Acord and editor Eric Zumbrunnen, who had worked on his music videos and short films. Aided by David Fincher’s production company, Propaganda Films, and a production company co-founded by R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe, Jonze received the funding he needed for the quirky film.
With Malkovich on board to play himself, the primary cast included John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener along with supporting roles from Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, and Charlie Sheen as himself. With a $10 million budget, shooting began in July 1998. With K.K. Barrett handling the production design duties, Jonze also brought in Philip Huber to provide some crucial puppetry work. The puppetry was key to the film as it emphasized the power struggle the magical realism in the film.
Being John Malkovich premiered in the U.S. in late October of 1999 and was given a limited release by USA Films (later Focus Features). The film received rave reviews from critics for its originality and did modestly well at the box office in the U.S. before eventually getting a worldwide release. Receiving three Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay to Kaufman, Best Supporting Actress to Keener, and a Best Director nod to Jonze, the film’s success surprised some as many studios had not realized the film’s potential when they passed on it years earlier.
Having struck up a friendship with Charlie Kaufman, Jonze next film, Adaptation, explored Kaufman’s own troubled experience while trying to adapt Susan Orleans’ The Orchid Thief into a film for Jonathan Demme. Kaufman’s script not only touched on his writing process, but also in how he had written himself and his fictional twin brother Donald into the story. With Nicolas Cage playing both Charlie and Donald Kaufman, rest of the principle cast included Meryl Streep, playing Susan Orleans, and Chris Cooper, as the horticulturalist John Laroche. The supporting roles were filled out by Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cara Seymour, and Brian Cox.
The film itself took place during the production of Being John Malkovich, with members of that film’s cast making cameo appearances, which gave Adaptation a unique sense of surrealism to the proceedings. Jonze further added to this by bringing in filmmakers Curtis Hanson and David O. Russell to play fictional characters. These moments helped to emphasize the struggles that come when attempting to make art. Frequently blurring the lines between fiction and reality, Adaptation, once again showed that Jonze could masterfully create films that were both inventive and playful, while still connecting with audiences on an emotional level.
Though originally scheduled for a late 2001 release, Adaptation was delayed due to the amount of post-production work need. The film finally came out in late 2002 to excellent reviews and a healthy showing at the box office. Chris Cooper won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film, while Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep received Oscar nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Charlie Kaufman also received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, which he shared with his fictional twin brother. While the film was a success, Jonze’s personal was unraveling as he split with wife Sofia Coppola in December of 2003. Taking time to get his personal life in order, Jonze spent the next several years producing projects including the MTV show Jackass.
Where the Wild Things Are
During his long hiatus from films, where made music videos, commercials, skateboard videos, and shot a concert film for the post-punk band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jonze produced films for director Tarsem Singh and Charlie Kaufman’s debut film Synedoche, New York. It was in this time, he was approached by writer Maurice Sendak about helming a live-action adaptation of his famed children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. The story focused on a boy who retreats into an imaginary world where he becomes king. Receiving support from actor Tom Hanks and producer Gary Goetzman, Jonze was able to raise the funds needed to get the film into production.
Working with budget of $100 million, Where the Wild Things Are was Jonze’s most expensive film to date. Shooting began in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia with production designer K.K. Barrett and cinematographer Lance Acord helping to bring the fantastical world to life. Max Records was cast to play the lead role of Max with Catherine Keener playing Max’s mother. The supporting cast was a who’s who of talent. Mark Ruffalo had in a small role as the boyfriend to Keener’s character, while Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and James Gandolfini all provided the voices for the monsters Max encounters.
During the post production, while Jonze worked on the film’s score music with Carter Burwell, he asked Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ vocalist Karen O to contribute some originals for the film. Where the Wild Things Are was finally released in the fall of 2009, where it was well-received by critics, but just barely recovered its $100 million budget. Despite its disappointing commercial reaction, Jonze felt proud of the excellent response he received from children who were able to connect with the film.
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak
While trying to get Where the Wild Things Are developed, Jonze’s frequent meetings with Sendak prompted him to make a documentary with the aid of friend Lance Bangs. Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak was shot sporadically over the course of five years, and featured Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener interviewing Sendak about his work and views on the world. In the conversations Sendak opened up about his own personal life as well as memories he had as a child. Memories that were very influential work, and explained why he refused to cater to trends in the world of children’s literature.
I’m Here/To Die By Your Side
After the release of Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze once again embarked into a series of small projects, including a few music videos and a short film called Once We Were a Fairytale with rapper/producer Kanye West. Another short Jonze made, I’m Here, was funded by Absolut Vodka and told the of about two robots in a futuristic Los Angeles society where humans and robots co-exists. Featuring the voice work of Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory, the short film featured costume work from Alterian Inc. who were famous for designing the suits worn by the French electronic duo Daft Punk. The short was well-received when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2010. The short can be seen here.
Inspired by his recent shorts, Spike Jonze wrote Her, a story about a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligent operating system named Samantha. The film explored the themes of loneliness and love in an age where technology governs connections. To bring his $23 million budget bring his sci-fi romance to life, Jonze casted Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role of Theodore Twombly and filled out the ensemble with Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara.
Samantha Morton was initially cast as the voice of Samantha, and was brought in to interact with Phoenix in certain scenes. However, Morton was replaced in post-production by Scarlett Johansson whose voice and performance was more in tune with what Jonze had envisioned for the character. Jonze also brought in the Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema to shoot the film, which aided in the film’s futuristic feel.
Another key aspect to the film was the music. Jonze asked the Canadian art-rock band Arcade Fire and experimental artist/occasional Arcade Fire contributor Owen Pallett to create a score. Karen O also helped out by writing the original song Twombly and Samantha sing. Her made its premiere at the 2013 New York Film Festival and was a smash hit. The film went on to gross $47 million worldwide and drew rave reviews from critics. Her ended up receiving Oscar nominations for its score, original song, K.K. Barrett’s production design, and Best Picture. The film also garnered Spike Jonze his first Academy Award as he won for Best Original Screenplay.
With four films, a handful of shorts, and several acclaimed music videos under his belt, Spike Jonze is a figure in cinema that consistently thinks outside of the box. Whether it’s about exploring the world of oddballs, artists, or children, Jonze manages to find something in them that audiences can relate to. Spike Jonze is a unique individual in American cinema who is not afraid to find the beauty and emotion in the oddities of life.
Related: The 25 Essential Videos of Spike Jonze
Very Special Thanks to Courtney Small for his editing on this piece
© thevoid99 2016
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