Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Films That I Saw: January 2017

Well, this has certainly been a very interesting start to a year that is likely to be pretty bad. With the passing of John Hurt, Emmanuelle Riva, and Mary Tyler Moore, it has been a strange month as we Americans get a new president in the form of Il Duce. Yet, it’s been a real fucking mess considering that not a lot of people showed up at the inauguration while Michelle Obama gave the new president the death stare. The next day was fun as there were a lot of people protesting the whole thing and stand up for women’s rights. Right on ladies!!!! Then we got the Muslim ban which hasn’t been good but there has been protests yet again. I’d say that it’s time for those that have the idea of what is good in the world to make things very difficult for Il Duce.

In the month of January, I saw a total of 37 films in 23 first-timers and 14 re-watches which is a good start so far for the new year. One of the highlights this month was my Blind Spot assignment in Swing Time as it helped kick off the Blind Spot series with a bang. Here are the top 10 first-timers I saw for January 2017:

1. Zabriskie Point

2. La La Land

3. Lady Snowblood

4. Postcards from the Edge

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

6. Giant

7. High Anxiety

8. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

9. Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance

10. David Bowie: The Last Five Years

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Catholics vs. Convicts

In the first of three entries of the 30 for 30 series that I saw, one of the newer entries to emerge revolves around the famed rivalry between Notre Dame and the Miami Hurricanes in the 1980s. The documentary revolved around the legendary 1988 game between the two where an infamous t-shirt only fueled the fire of the rivalry as it feature interviews from the individuals and fans of those teams. It’s a great entry of the series as well as showcase how a t-shirt can cause a whole lot of trouble.

The ‘85 Bears

Who is the greatest football team that ever lived? Many believe it’s the 1985 Chicago Bears led by coach Mike Ditka, defense coordinator Buddy Ryan, quarterback Jim McMahon, and other legendary names such as Walter Payton, William “the Refrigerator” Perry, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, and many others. It can be debated but can’t be denied into the impact that team had in popular culture as well as the 46 Defense created by Ryan. It is also a very somber documentary considering that some of the players are suffering from the after-effects of the game with McMahon dealing with early-dementia as the film also shows some of the final footage of Ryan in his final days.

I Hate Christian Laettner

The Duke college basketball team is definitely the most polarizing team in college basketball yet none was as divisive as its star player in the early 1990s in Christian Laettner. While he’s perceived as someone who is privileged and has everything coming to him, the film shows that isn’t exactly the case but it also display that he is a bully and can be arrogant. Still, he doesn’t apologize for it as it helped make his teammates better as several of them including coach Mike Krzyzewski talk about his methods and skills on the court. The film also feature comments from rivals and fans including pro wrestling legend Ric Flair as well as his detractors as they state every reason why he’s hated as it’s all narrated with such style by actor Rob Lowe.

Top 10 Re-Watches

1. The Squid & the Whale

2. Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars

3. Galaxy Quest

4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

5. What We Do in the Shadows

6. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

7. Hail, Caesar!

8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

9. The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?

10. Run, Fatboy, Run

Well, that is all for January as the Oscars is coming as I hope to see a few of the films that are nominated as well as some new releases if I ever get to see them. There’s also the Super Bowl as it’s big deal as I hope the Atlanta Falcons beat the New England Patriots. Based on my DVR list, there will be some films I’ll be watching as well as try to finish Twin Peaks as I’m currently re-watching the first season. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance

Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is the sequel to 1973’s Lady Snowblood in which the titular character is being forced to kill for the government after being captured by the authorities. Directed by Toshiya Fujita and screenplay by Kiyohide Ohara and Norio Osada, the film follows a woman being forced to kill for those she despises as she tries to find a way to fight back as Meiko Kaji reprises the titular role. Also starring Juzo Itami, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Yoshio Harada, Shin Kishida, and Toru Abe. Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is a gripping and mesmerizing film from Toshiya Fujita.

Set a decade after the events of the first film to 1906 following the Russo-Japanese war the year before, the film follows Lady Snowblood who has been captured by authorities where a secret police official orders her to kill an anarchist who has documents that would threaten Japanese society and expose the corruption of the government. While the film’s screenplay is more straightforward than its predecessor in terms of its narrative, it is more about the political and social landscape that Lady Snowblood has encountered as her years of killing and thirst for vengeance has forced to see what Japan has become in the final years of Meiji’s reign as Japan’s emperor.

There is a lot of layers in the script where it play into that period and Lady Snowblood kind of being taken aback by these changes that has not done much for the poor who are forced to live in slums. While Lady Snowblood would reluctantly work undercover for the government in order to get immunity by pretending to be a maid for the anarchist. She would realize what is at stake as she is forced to get a closer look into what is going on as the fate of so much is in her hands. Especially with those involved in the anarchist movement whom the government want to silence as their backs are being pushed against the wall.

Toshiya Fujita’s direction definitely bears some stylistic elements yet it is more restrained visually in favor of playing up the political tone of the film. Notably as much of the film is shot in rural areas including slums and streets where the middle class and poor live though it’s all shot on soundstages and locations recreated to look poor. While there are some wide shots in the film, Fujita would favor more intimate shots with its close-ups and medium shots that includes a lot of usage in the former in some dramatic moments including a love-making scene involving the anarchist and his wife. The usage of hand-held cameras and some long tracking shots help play into some of the action where Fujita, with the aid of sword choreographer Kunishiro Hayashi, would shoot things from Lady Snowblood’s perspective in the way the fighting is presented. There are also moments that are quite chilling and somber as it relates to the plight of the less fortunate including a sequence that would serve as the catalyst for the film’s bloody and intense climax. Overall, Fujita creates a compelling yet exhilarating film about a woman being forced to kill for an evil government.

Cinematographer Tatsuo Suzuki does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography that play into the beauty of the locations around the forest and oceans as well as some of the scenes set at night with its usage of low-key lights and shadows. Editor Osamu Inoue does brilliant work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts play into the action as well as some of the suspense. Production designer Yukio Higuchi does fantastic work with the look of the lavish homes of the government official as well as the more quaint home of the anarchist and the ragged home of a farmer who would meet Lady Snowblood early in the film. The sound work of Noboru Kamikura is superb for some of the sound effects in the fighting as well as the way guns sound and the scenes set in the slums to play into its horrific state. The film’s music by Kenjiro Hirose is amazing for its mixture of traditional Japanese woodwind music and orchestral flourishes with some 70s style rock to play into the action and some of the drama.

The film’s phenomenal cast include Rinichi Yamamoto as a police inspector trying to nab Lady Snowblood for her crimes and Koji Nanbara as a bodyguard for one of the government officials. Toru Abe is terrific as a government minister in Terauichi Kendo as a man that has a lot of power as he tries to maintain some aspect of the status quo while Shin Kashida is fantastic as the secret police leader Seishiro Kikui who would force Lady Snowblood to do an assignment in exchange for immunity as a way to maintain his role in the government. Yoshio Harada is superb as Shusuke as a farmer who would find and heal Lady Snowblood early in the film as he would later reveal a much bigger role in the second half of the film as someone who is quite radical with his own disdain for the government.

Kazuko Yoshiyuki is wonderful as Aya Tokunaga as the anarchist’s wife who tries to maintain some stability in her home as she also carries a secret relating to her role in the movement. Juzo Itami is amazing as Ransui Tokunaga as a famed anarchist who has seen a lot of chaos in Japan as he has evidence that could topple the government as he also copes with the severity of what could happen to him. Finally, there’s Meiko Kaji in an incredible performance as the titular character as a woman lost in her journey of vengeance where she is captured and forced to carry an assignment as she finds herself in a new surrounding that is unfamiliar where Kaji really maintains that restraint but also a gracefulness in the way she deals with her enemies.

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is a phenomenal film from Toshiya Fujita that features a remarkable performance from Meiko Kaji in the titular role. Along with a great supporting cast and a riveting screenplay, the film is a fascinating action-thriller that play into a woman dealing with the status quo trying to impose their own new ideas in a chaotic world. In the end, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is a sensational film from Toshiya Fujita.

Toshiya Fujita Films: (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo) - Lady Snowblood - (Kaerazaru hibi) - (The Miracle of Joe Petrel)

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Lady Snowblood

Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura, Lady Snowblood is the story of a woman who goes on a quest for vengeance by going after those who had raped and killed her mother and her family. Directed by Toshiya Fujita and screenplay by Norio Osada, the film is a simple revenge action-thriller set in late 19th Century Japan with Meiko Kaji in the titular role. Also starring Toshio Kurasawa, Masaaki Daimon, and Miyoko Akaza. Lady Snowblood is a gorgeous yet intense film from Toshiya Fujita.

Set in the Meija-era of 19th Century Japan where the country is in a state of transition from embracing the modernism of the West, the film is a revenge story of a young woman named Lady Snowblood who had lost her mother in childbirth as she goes after the three men and a woman who had killed her mother’s husband and son and raped her mother. It’s a film that doesn’t just play into this woman’s journey for vengeance but also watching Japan adjust to change where it’s the poor that is suffering from the changes while they’re being swindled by criminals taking advantage of the poor. Norio Osada’s screenplay begins with the birth of Yuki who would be raised by a cellmate of her mother’s and be trained by a priest in Dokai (Ko Nishimura). Though the narrative is straightforward as it’s told in four chapters, it does have a lot of usage of flashbacks.

It’s not just the usage of the flashbacks that help explain Yuki’s motivation as Lady Snowblood but also the narration would play into Japan’s history under the rule of Meija. It showcases a period that is dark where Japan would become modernized but allow itself to rid of the things that were known for. The flashback that showcases the four who would kill the son and husband of Yuki’s mother as the latter is mistaken for a rich man that is part of Japan’s elite because he’s wearing a white suit. Once the story goes into the main narrative where Lady Snowblood is trying to find and kill three of the four people, as her mother killed one of them before going to prison, that destroyed her family. There is that sense of restraint in Yuki where she is trying to figure out what happens if she does succeeds as there are also moments that would be challenging to her about what happens if her quest for vengeance isn’t fulfilled.

Toshia Fujita’s direction is definitely stylish not just for the visuals but also in the presentation of the violence which is quite gory but also has a beauty to it. Shot in various rural locations in Japan as well as in some sound stages, Fujita does maintain some unique imagery in the way he frames some of the locations but also how it play into Yuki’s own view of the world. While Fujita would use some wide shots to establish the locations, it’s in the medium shots and close-ups that help tell the story that include the opening scene set in the women’s prison where Yuki’s mother Sayo (Miyoko Akaza) is giving birth as it is then followed by a sequence of Yuki as Lady Snowblood killing a renowned mob leader. There are a lot of stylistic touches in some of the dramatic moments as well as in the presentation of some of the historical context where Fujita uses the actual pages from the manga series to help tell the story which also included animated recreations.

Fujita’s approach to the violence definitely contains a lot of blood that often sprayed out in body parts where it has this macabre tone to it where it’s funny in a dark way. Aided by sword choreographer Kunishiro Hayashi, Fujita’s usage of hand-held cameras doesn’t just play into the action but also the gracefulness of the way Lady Snowblood moves. Even in how she would conduct herself before an attack where she is carrying a purple umbrella with a katana inside as she comes in when one least suspects it. There are also moments that do play into some of the drama as it relates to the fallacy of vengeance as well as life after vengeance. The film’s climax is set in a lavish party scene that play into the emergence of modern Japan where it’s old and new ideas collide with Lady Snowblood representing the old rules. Overall, Fujita creates a ravishing yet gripping film about a young woman’s journey for vengeance.

Cinematographer Masaki Tamura does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography with its gorgeous usage of color for not just some of the daytime exterior settings in the oceans and fields but also in some of the interiors and scenes at night including the scenes in the snow. Editor Osamu Inoue does amazing work with the editing with its usage of superimposed dissolves, jump-cuts, and other stylish cuts to play into the usage of the flashbacks as well as the way some of the violence is presented. Production designer Kazuo Satsuya does fantastic work with the design of the lavish house for the climatic party scene, some of the homes of the characters including the villages, and the gambling house where Lady Snowblood meets her first target.

The sound work of Noboru Kamikura is superb for the way it captures the way a sword is thrown or other weapons are used as well as the atmosphere in some of the locations and sets. The film’s music by Masaaki Hirao is incredible for its mixture of 70s style rock with some classical textures as well as pop balladry which include a few songs that play into Lady Snowblood’s journey.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Masaaki Daimon as Sayo’s husband, Hitoshi Takagi as a village leader in Matsuemon, Takeo Chii as one of the four criminals that raped Sayo in Tokuichi, Akemi Negishi as Yuki’s caretaker, and Mayumi Maemura as the young Yuki would be given brutal training in her quest for vengeance. Sanae Nakahura is excellent as the female crime boss Kitahama Okuno as a woman of corruption who took part in killing Sayo’s family while Noburo Nakaya is superb as Takemura Banzo as a former criminal who has become a gambling drunk that is filled with guilt. Yoshiko Nakada is terrific as Banzo’s daughter Kobue as a woman who is forced to become a prostitute due to her father’s debts as she would meet Yuki unaware of her intentions. Miyoko Akaza is fantastic as Yuki’s mother Sayo as a woman who would be raped and humiliated into the worst ways as she craves for vengeance for the loss of her husband and son while passing it to her baby Yuki.

Eiji Okada is brilliant as Gishiro Tsukamoto as one of the four criminals who raped Sayo as he is the most mysterious of the four as he is the one Yuki is looking for. Ko Nishimura is amazing as Priest Dokai as Yuki’s trainer who would give Yuki the tools and discipline in her quest for vengeance. Toshio Kurosawa is marvelous as Ryurei Ashio as a writer who is interested in Yuki’s story where he would publish it to the people as it would get him in a lot of trouble. Finally, there’s Meiko Kaji in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this woman who is driven to avenge the death of her mother and her mother’s family as it is presented with great restraint but also with a cunning determination that is just riveting to watch.

Lady Snowblood is a tremendous film from Toshiya Fujita that features an incredible performance from Meiko Kaji in the titular role. Along with a great supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, a fantastic score, and gripping story on vengeance. It’s a film that has a sense of beauty in its presentation of violence as well as being a revenge film told in an evocative way. In the end, Lady Snowblood is a spectacular film from Toshiya Fujita.

Toshiya Fujita Films: (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo) - Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance - (Kaerazaru hibi) - (The Miracle of Joe Petrel)

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

Lumiere's First Picture Show

From Turner Classic Movies and producer David Shepard, Lumiere’s First Picture Shows is a collection of films made by Louis and Auguste Lumiere as they are considered the creators of cinema. The thirty-five minute film is a collection of 30 surviving films that were saved and remastered in the 1970s that showcases some of the earliest forms of what is film and the potential of what it could be dating back to 1895. Featuring a new score performed by Robert Israel, the result is a fascinating look of film at its most earliest and majestic.

In 1895, two French brothers in Auguste and Louis Lumiere created a camera that would project images based on techniques creates by Emile Reynaud and Leon Guillaume Bouly as they finally unveiled their first series of short films ranging from a minute at the most of moving images. Shorts such as Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, Baby’s Breakfast, Arrival of a Train at a Station, and several others shown in this collection showcase these early forms of film. The shorts themselves are quite mesmerizing where it does capture something extraordinary in the ordinary whether it’s a gardener trying to water plants and be a victim of a prank or a card game happening.

The shorts also showcase the Lumiere Brothers first experiment with color on film which were hand-painted as one notable short in a woman dancing as her dress would change colors throughout. The collection also capture the very first time a U.S. Presidential inauguration commenced in William C. McKinley dating back to 1897. The shorts also feature the emergence of life in New York City through horse-pulled wagons, trolleys, and such as it helped express the idea of what film could be. By 1901, the brothers had copyrighted nearly 1300 films as the thirty films shown from 1895 to 1898 are considered some of their finest. Yet, the brothers didn’t see the full potential of cinema as they ended it 1905 thinking the medium, which had wowed the public in many events, would be just another novelty. However, these short films showcase something that is just incredible and immense as the music provided by Robert Israel help play into the music that was often accompanied to during the days of silent cinema.

Lumiere’s First Picture Shows is a phenomenal collection of short films by the Lumiere Brothers. It’s a collection that anyone who is interested in the history of cinema must see as it display some of the early examples of cinema at its most primal as well as what it aimed to do from the very beginning. In the end, Lumiere’s First Picture Shows is a tremendous collection of short films by Louis and Auguste Lumiere.

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): Sci-Fi

For the fourth edition of the Thursday Movie Picks 2017 hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We step away from the big screen to the smaller screen in television as well as sci-fi TV. Now honestly, I don’t watch a lot of TV shows and I haven’t seen a lot of sci-fi TV shows so I’ll just try to make the best of it. Plus, I’ve never seen Star Trek but have seen the movies starring its original cast.

1. Firefly

From Joss Whedon comes one of the greatest shows that should’ve had more than one season but the fuck-heads at FOX didn’t know what they had. For those who had seen it know how special it is as it’s just a nice good old space western set in a futuristic world involving a couple of war veterans, a dinosaur-loving pilot, a geisha/mistress, a weapons-loving mercenary, a wholesome mechanic, a wise shepherd, a gifted surgeon, and his troubled yet brilliant little sister. It’s a show full of diverse characters and situations largely in space in a somewhat dystopian universe where this group of people struggle to survive while making some money and kill some people along the way.

2. Lab Rats/Lab Rats Elite Force

This is a recent discovery of made thanks in part to Disney XD as it’s fit’s the bill though it bends all sorts of genres from teen-comedies and the superhero films as it’s about this kid whose mother marries a billionaire who has created three bionic teens with some super powers as they all cope with being in high school and growing up. The show lasted four seasons leading to a spin-off crossover with another Disney XD show in Mighty Meds where three of its kids with superpowers team up with two kids from Lab Rats to form a superhero/bionic force team as it’s quite enjoyable while also being funny without trying to be forceful.

3. Westworld

Definitely the best new show of last year which is based on a film by Michael Crichton as it is reinvented into something grander and more vicious. Recreated by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the show is definitely this strange blend that defies genres from the western, dramas, suspense, and sci-fi though it is set in a futuristic world that feels modern. It’s not just the premise of the show about a group of people going into a fantasy world pretending to be heroes or villains while doing all of the things with robots that is intriguing. It’s the ensemble cast led by Evan Rachel Wood in a career-defining performance as a robotic host named Dolores as a killer music score that really makes the show such a joy to watch.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Giant (1956 film)

Based on the novel by Edna Farber, Giant is the story of a ranching family in Texas who endure changing times to protect their land while dealing with an ambitious ranch hand who strikes it rich with oil. Directed by George Stevens and screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat, the film is a sprawling tale of the life of a family who endure many different things including social, racial, and personal issues that would shape their fortune. Starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas, and Earl Holliman. Giant is a grand yet evocative film from George Stevens.

The film follows the life a family of ranchers in Texas from the early 1920s to the mid-1950s where a rancher marries a woman from Maryland and brings her home where she copes with her new life and her own ideals while they both deal with an ambitious ranch hand who inherits land that is filled with oil. It’s a film that is about not just ambition but also the definition of success and how a rancher is trying to maintain his own ideas and morals for many years as he also contend with changing times and fortunes. The film’s screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat is definitely sprawling in terms of the way the times are set as it begins around the early 20th Century in Maryland where Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) goes to the state to buy a new horse. He ends up returning to Texas with a new wife in Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) who falls for Bick in their initial meeting as she adjust to her new environment as well as try to fit in with the new world.

The script does have a simple three-act structure as the first act is about Leslie in her new environment where she has to contend with Bick’s sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), the way things are in Texas as well as the role of women, and the racial divide between the rich, white ranchers and the poor Mexican-Americans who live near by in near-poverty. The second act is about the growth of Bick and Leslie’s family but also what Bick’s former ranch hand in Jett Rink (James Dean) would discover from land he inherits from Luz as he would become rich and later overwhelm the Benedicts with his oil empire. It’s around the same time that Bick’s morals and his ideas of what he wants would come to ahead in changes as his son Jordan II (Dennis Hopper) doesn’t want to take over the family business. The third act is about the decisions that Bick and Leslie’s children would take such as daughters Judy (Fran Bennett) and the youngest in Luz II (Carroll Baker) would take but also tragedy relating to the family and the decision Jordan II would make in marrying a Mexican-American in Juana (Elsa Cardenas).

George Stevens’ direction is definitely vast in not just the setting of the locations in Marfa, Texas but also for the length of the story that spans nearly four decades. With the scenes in Maryland shot in Virginia, the house interiors and the airport/parade scenes near Burbank, California, the film explores a world that starts off as simple with old ideas and old morals as they work no matter how imperfect they are. Stevens’ usage of wide shots are gorgeous in capturing vast depth of field that is the Benedict land with its horde of cattle which represents this old kind of empire that was the source of income for Texas. There is an intimacy in some of the close-ups and medium shots but also in how Leslie would encounter the new world she’s in as it’s very different the quaint and more colorful world of Maryland. There are moments that would foreshadow certain things including moments of tragedy and sadness but also little things that Leslie does that would shape the fortunes of the less fortunate as it showcases her grace. It is in sharp contrast to the old order that Bick stands for where he doesn’t want Leslie to be involved in conversations he’s having with other men including Uncle Bawley (Chill Wills) who adores Leslie.

The moments of foreshadowing would be prevalent towards its second act once Bick and Leslie become parents as they cope with the fact that Bick’s ideas and plans for his children don’t go as planned. Adding to the trouble is Jett and his emerging oil empire where it play into this sense of change that Bick has trouble adjusting to but also refusing to have Jett drill oil in his land. Stevens’ direction would play into these changes as the scenes of the oil wells and emergence of modern transport play into the falling fortunes of Bick and his reluctance to be part of the oil industry just to survive. Yet, it would all climax in an event that would celebrate Jett’s success as Stevens gives it a grand presentation that is quite large but there’s something about it that is off. Especially as it relates to Jett and what he’s achieved but there’s a sadness to it. Notably as it would also involve something that Bick is forced to see and come to terms with in who he is and be forced to accept. Overall, Stevens creates a riveting and enthralling film about the life of a rancher, his wife, and a ranch hand through many years in Texas.

Cinematographer William C. Mellor does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography in capturing the yellow and sunny desert look of the locations around the Benedict ranch and some of the locations in Texas well as some unique lighting in the interior scenes including the climatic scenes at the Jett hotel. Editors Phil Anderson, Fred Bohanan, and William Hornbeck do excellent work with the editing as its usage of transitional dissolves and fade-outs help play into structure of the film as well as rhythmic cuts to help intensify some of the dramatic moments. Production designer Boris Levin and set decorator Ralph S. Hurst do amazing work with the design of the Benedict home and its interiors as well as the design of the shantytowns that Benedict‘s Mexican workers live in and the hotel that Jett would open including its lavish dining hall. Costume designers Moss Mabry and Marjorie Best do fantastic work with the costumes with the design of the clothes the men wear as well as the dresses with Mabry designing the many clothes that Leslie would wear.

Makeup supervisor Gordon Bau does some fine work with some of the aging makeup in some of the characters though the way Jett looks when he‘s older is just bad as is some of the look of the Mexicans where it looks ridiculously bad. Special visual effects by Jack Cosgrove does some fine work with the minimal visual effects which are just some rear projection shots for a few scenes in the film. The sound work of Earl Crain Sr. is superb for the way some of the parties are held including some of the quieter moments at the Benedict home and the scenes during the work at the ranch and in the oil wells. The film’s music by Dimitri Timokin is wonderful for its soaring orchestral score that play into the drama with some elements of country-western music to play into the world of Texas that also include some traditional songs.

The casting by Hoyt Bowers is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Mickey Simpson as a racist diner owner, Noreen Nash as a film star, Paul Fix and Judith Evelyn as Leslie’s parents, Carolyn Craig as Leslie’s sister Lacy, Rod Taylor as Leslie’s then-beau Sir David Karfey, Maurice Jara as Dr. Guerra, Charles Watts as family friend Judge Whiteside, Earl Holliman as Judy’s husband Bob who wants a life of his own like his wife, and Sal Mineo as Angel Obregon II as a ranch hand son who is a childhood friend of the Benedict children as well as someone that Leslie is fond of as she helped him get better when he was a baby. Elsa Cardenas is wonderful as Jordy’s wife Juana who is a Mexican-American that Jordy loves as Bick would eventually become fond of late in the film. Jane Withers and Robert Nichols are terrific as Bick’s neighbors in Vashti and Pinky, respectively, as family friends who help the Benedicts cope with changes as well as try to maintain some old ideas.

Chill Wills is fantastic as Uncle Bawley as Bick’s uncle who is the family advisor as well as someone that is willing to hear what Leslie thinks as well as display a tenderness that isn’t seen very often. Fran Bennett is superb as Bick and Leslie’s eldest daughter Judy as a woman who is determined to find her own life as well as go for something that is more down-home rather than what Leslie wants from her. Mercedes McCambridge is brilliant as Bick’s sister Luz as a headstrong woman who finds herself butting heads with Leslie on who should run the house while being the business manager who is fond of Jett. Carroll Baker is excellent as Luz II as the youngest daughter of Bick and Leslie who is a typical young woman that would have a crush on Jett as she becomes confused in her loyalty towards her family. Dennis Hopper is amazing as Jordan “Jordy” Benedict II as Bick and Leslie’s son who is trying to find his own path as a doctor as well as marry a Mexican-American where he faces some prejudice as he tries to stand up for himself and defend his wife’s honor against Jett.

In his final performance, James Dean is incredible as Jett Rink as a ranch hand who would inherit land from Luz that would prove to be prosperous with his discovery of oil where Dean explores someone that was to make something of himself but there’s an emptiness that is quite sad as it show the fallacy of success. Rock Hudson is great as Jordan “Bick” Benedict II as a rancher that meets and falls for a woman from Maryland as he brings her home to Texas where he tries to show her the world that he lives in as he copes with changes of ideals and other things as well as his own immorality that he’s been carrying for so many years. Finally, there’s Elizabeth Taylor in a phenomenal performance as Leslie Benedict as Bick’s new wife who is trying to adjust to her new surroundings while maintaining her own sense of being in a world where women don’t have much say in things as it is Taylor that has this sense of command and grace into her performance while having great rapport with both Hudson and Dean.

Giant is a sensational film from George Stevens. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a soaring music score, and a captivating story of changing times, ambition, and ideals. It’s a film that definitely lives up to its definition of the epic while also containing a few flaws. In the end, Giant is an incredible film from George Stevens.

George Stevens Films: (The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble) - (Kentucky Kernals) - (Bachelor Bait) - (Laddie) - (The Nitwits) - (Alice Adams) - (Annie Oakley) - Swing Time - (Quality Street) - (A Damsel in Distress (1937 film)) - (Vivacious Lady) - (Gunga Din) - (Vigil in the Night) - (Penny Serenade) - (Woman of the Year) - (The Talk of the Town (1942 film)) - (The More the Merrier) - (That Justice Be Done) - (On Our Merry Way) - (I Remember Mama) - A Place in the Sun - (Something to Live For) - Shane - (The Diary of Anne Frank) - (The Greatest Story Ever Told) - (The Only Game in Town)

© thevoid99 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Demolition (2015 film)

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Bryan Sipes, Demolition is the story of an investment banker whose life unravels following his wife‘s death as he copes through destruction and chaos while meeting a single mother who answered his complaint letter. The film is an exploration of grief as well as how someone copes with loss at its most unexpected. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind, Polly Draper, Debra Monk, C.J. Wilson, and Chris Cooper. Demolition is a mesmerizing yet offbeat film from Jean-Marc Vallee.

After a car accident that left his wife dead, an investment banker becomes numb where an incident involving a vending machine forces him to write a complaint letter that reveals a lot as it’s answered by a single mother who is intrigued by this complaint. While coping with this loss, the man would vent his numbness and uncertainty if he ever loved his wife through dismantling certain things around him as it becomes a metaphor for his loss. Bryan Sipes’ screenplay doesn’t just explore the lack of grief that Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is feeling for his late wife Julia (Heather Lind) but also questions about himself and what he’s done with his life. By writing these letters of complaints over a vending machine that refused to give him some candy, he would notice things he never paid attention as well as deconstruct things in his home to see what made them work.

When he meets Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who answered one of his complaint letters, he would become friends with her as she struggles with raising a teenage son in Chris (Judah Lewis) as well as parts of her own life. Davis would help Karen deal with Chris where a conventional script would’ve had them fall in love but Sipes would go for something else where it’s more platonic as Karen is already in a relationship with someone. Still, Davis finds some fulfillment in his time with Karen and Chris which is in sharp contrast to his own meetings with his father-in-law Phil Eastwood (Chris Cooper) whom he also works for. Phil never thought Davis was good enough for his daughter at first but comes to care for him but becomes bewildered by Davis’ odd behavior. Even as some revelations about Julia come to ahead where Phil wants to set up a scholarship and foundation in her name but Davis isn’t sure if it’s a good idea.

Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction is quite simple for the intimacy that he creates throughout the film as it begins with the fatal accident that would leaves Davis unharmed but Julia dead. Shot on location in New York City and areas near the city, the film play into this world where it has this strange schism of class structure of upper class and middle class where Davis is part of the former and Karen is part of the latter. While there’s some wide shots in the film, Vallee would go for close-ups and medium shots to create something that is simple as well as some bits of hand-held cameras. Vallee would also create paralleling images as it relates to Davis’ own reflections of his time with his wife on certain locations or memories as it play into the search for his own feeling for his wife. It adds to this sense of wandering in the film as it can be comical at times or dramatic. Though there’s a few moments in the third act where it does a go a bit overboard in the dramatic aspects of the film. Vallee does manage to find a way to not let it overwhelm the story as well as provide something that is fitting to Davis’ journey through grief. Overall, Vallee creates an engaging and somber film about a man going through grief through destruction and opening himself to new worlds.

Cinematographer Yves Belanger does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the naturalistic daytime exterior scenes as well as the usage of low-key lights for some scenes at night as well as some stylized looks for some of the interior scenes. Editor Jay M. Glen does excellent work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts and flashback montages as well as in some of the slow-motion moments in the film. Production designer John Paino, with set decorator Robert Covelman and art director Javiera Varas, does amazing work with the look of the home that Phil and his wife live in as well as the very shiny home of Davis and Julia which is sharp contrast to the more quaint and colorful home of Karen and Chris. Costume designer Leah Katznelson does wonderful work with the costumes from the mid-upper class posh look of Julia, her parents, and Davis along with the more stylish and casual look of Chris and Karen with the former embracing a more ambiguous look.

Visual effects supervisor Marc Cote does nice work with some of the minimal visual effects which consists mainly of set-dressing for a few scenes including the film‘s opening sequence. Sound editor Martin Pinsonnault does superb work with the sound from the way music is heard on location or some of the sound effects at a party or in scenes where Davis is destroying something. Music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a wonderful soundtrack that consists a mixture of classical music as well as some rock songs with the latter often being a driving force for Davis as he starts to take on a new lease on life.

The casting by Jessica Kelly and Suzanne Smith is remarkable as it feature some notable small roles from Malachy Cleary and Debra Monk as Davis’ parents, Polly Draper as Julia’s mother Margot, C.J. Wilson as Karen’s boss/boyfriend Carl whom Chris isn’t fond of, and Julia Lind in a wonderful performance as Davis’ wife Julia who often appears in flashbacks as someone that did love Davis. Judah Lewis is excellent as Chris as a 15-year old kid that is struggling to find himself as well as deal with the lack of a strong fraternal figure in the family. Chris Cooper is brilliant as Phil Eastwood as Julia’s father that is trying to cope with the loss of his daughter while being baffled by Davis’ odd behavior which only creates some anger towards him.

Naomi Watts is amazing as Karen Moreno as a customer service person who reads Davis’ letters as she is intrigued by him while befriending him as she deal with her troubled life involving her son and things in her own life. Finally, there’s Jake Gyllenhaal in an incredible performance as Davis Mitchell as an investment banker whose life unravels after his wife’s death where he begins to deconstruct and destroy things where it’s a performance filled with some humor and charm but also a sense of restraint in his approach to grief as it’s one of Gyllenhaal’s finest performances.

Demolition is a marvelous film from Jean-Marc Vallee that features great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts. It’s an odd yet compelling film that explores grief and how a man tries to cope with loss while finding some aspect of life he can connect to. In the end, Demolition is a remarkable film from Jean-Marc Vallee.

Jean-Marc Vallee Films: (Black List) - (Los Locos) - (Loser Love) - (C.R.A.Z.Y.) - The Young Victoria - (Café de Flore) - Dallas Buyers Club - Wild (2014 film) - (Big Little Lies (TV miniseries))

© thevoid99 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Postcards from the Edge

Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Carrie Fisher that is based on her autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge is the story of a recovering drug-addicted actress who is forced to move back in with her boozy mother, who is also an entertainer, as she copes with her own troubled life and her turbulent relationship with her mother. The film is a fictionalized-take on Fisher’s own real-life relationship with her own mother Debbie Reynolds as well as her own substance abuse. Starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Quaid, Richard Dreyfuss, Simon Callow, Annette Bening, Rob Reiner, and Gene Hackman. Postcards from the Edge is a witty and delightful film from Mike Nichols.

The film follows the turbulent love-hate relationship between a troubled actress and her boozy mother as the former has just recovered from a drug overdose where she is forced to move back home with her mother for insurance reasons or else she couldn’t work again. It’s a film that play into this troubled mother-daughter relationship between two women in the world of entertainment as the singer/actress/entertainer Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine) is a woman that has a lot of connections and such but is in denial over her alcoholism. Doris’ daughter Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) is an actress that has been trying to step out of her mother’s shadow but has become a liability due to her drug abuse. Carrie Fisher’s screenplay doesn’t just play into the turmoil over this relationship but also two women who do care for each other but often bring the worst in each other.

Fisher’s script isn’t just filled with some witty dialogue that are quite memorable but also in the way Suzanne and Doris deal with their own situations. Much of the film is about Suzanne as it opens with her on a film set obviously under the influence and then the next morning be seen overdosing on a mixture of pills and drugs as she is dropped off by a one-night stand. It sets the course of Suzanne being forced into rehab as she tries to embrace sobriety yet she realizes what she has to do while also starring in a low-budget film just so that she can keep working. It become a series of humiliations that she has to endure though she would find some solace in dating a producer named Jack Faulkner (Dennis Quaid) but Doris doesn’t think he’s good news. Doris is just as interesting as she’s from the old school but has very little clue of what she does to Suzanne as it is clear she wants the attention but it only makes Suzanne very insecure.

Mike Nichols’ direction is quite simple in some respects yet it does have some elements of style starting with the film’s opening tracking shot that is essentially part of a film shoot that Suzanne is in as it goes on for a few minutes. Shot largely in Los Angeles and at some studio lots, the film does play into the high-octane world of Hollywood where there is so much expectations out there. While Nichols’ usage of close-ups and medium shots help play into moments that are intimate as well as in some of the dramatic moments. Nichols’ wide shots do play into that world of Hollywood from Suzanne’s homecoming party to what goes on at a film set and some of the scenes set on certain locations such as Faulkner’s lavish home. Nichols’ approach to comedy is quite low-key yet he always finds a way to keep things lively whether it’s in a few musical numbers or moments that has Suzanne in a humiliating moment and reacting to her situation. The dramatic moments are just as important as it play into Suzanne trying to make sense of why she’s so screwed up as well as confronting her mother about who she is and such. Overall, Nichols creates a riveting and engaging film about the tumultuous relationship between an entertainer and her recovering daughter.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s largely straightforward for many of the daytime interior/exterior scenes with some lighting for some of the studio interior shots and for the scenes at night. Editor Sam O’Steen does brilliant work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cutting to play into the comedy and some of the drama. Production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, with set decorator Chris Butler and art director Kandy Stern, does fantastic work with the design of some of the Hollywood sets and how fake they look in low-budget films as well as the home where Doris lives in. Costume designer Ann Roth does nice work with the costumes from the posh clothing of Doris to the more casual look of Suzanne which both play into their personalities.

Hair stylist/makeup artist J. Roy Helland, with additional work by Greg Cannom does terrific work with the look of some of the characters with Cannom doing personal work for the character of Doris. Sound editor Stan Bochner does superb work with the sound as it play into the world of film as well as the moments in Suzanne‘s homecoming party. The film’s music by Carly Simon is wonderful as it‘s a mixture of low-key piano and orchestral music while music supervisor Howard Shore help provide a few score pieces of his own as well a selection of tunes that include a couple of standards as well as a song for the film’s ending.

The casting by Ellen Lewis and Juliet Taylor is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Dana Ivey as a wardrobe mistress, C.C.H. Pounder as a rehab supervisor, Robin Bartlett as Suzanne’s roommate in rehab, Oliver Platt as an associate producer who is concerned about Suzanne’s performance, Rob Reiner as a film producer who tells Suzanne that she needs to prove that she’s sober, Gary Morton as a studio executive who tells Suzanne that she needs to live with her mother for duration of the film shoot, Simon Callow as Suzanne’s new filmmaker who isn’t sure if Suzanne will be reliable, and Richard Dreyfuss in a superb small role as a doctor who would save Suzanne’s life after her overdose. Conrad Bain and Mary Wickes are fantastic as Doris’ parents with Wickes being hilarious as the mother who says some very funny shit throughout the film.

Annette Bening is wonderful in her one-scene performance as an actress co-starring in Suzanne’s film who would reveal some startling information relating to Faulkner. Gene Hackman is excellent as filmmaker Lowell Kolchek as a director who works with Suzanne early in the film as he is someone that cares about her but knows she is messed up where he is more sympathetic to her plight. Dennis Quaid is brilliant as Jack Faulkner as a film producer who is the one-night stand that Suzanne was with but doesn’t know as he is a guy full of charm but there is something off about him that only Doris knows. Finally, there’s the duo of Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Suzanne Vale and Doris Mann. Streep provides that sense of fragility and humility into her performance as a woman who is really fucked-up and is trying to recover but is having a hard time trying to find the root of her issues. MacLaine’s performance as Doris is someone that exudes charisma as well as be someone that likes to over-talk and such. Streep and MacLaine together are a marvel to watch in the way they deal with other from the arguments to trying to one-up each other.

Postcards from the Edge is an incredible film from Mike Nichols that features sensational performances from Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Along with Carrie Fisher’s intense screenplay, a fantastic supporting cast, and some very funny moments. It’s a film that doesn’t just play into the dysfunctions of a mother-daughter relationship but also dealing with expectations and identity. In the end, Postcards from the Edge is a spectacular film from Mike Nichols.

Mike Nichols Films: (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) - (The Graduate) - (Catch-22) - Carnal Knowledge - (The Day of the Dolphin) - (The Fortune) - (Gilda Live) - (Silkwood) - (Heartburn) - (Biloxi Blues) - Working Girl - (Regarding Henry) - (Wolf (1994 film)) - The Birdcage - (Primary Colors) - (What Planet Are You From?) - (Wit) - (Angels in America) - Closer (2004 film) - (Charlie Wilson’s War)

© thevoid99 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Legend (2015 film)

Based on the novel The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Legend is the story of twin brothers who become infamous criminals in the 1950s/1960s as they would rise big and later fall. Written for the screen and directed by Brian Helgeland, the film is a look into the rise and fall of the twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were infamous for their exploits in the world of crime as they’re both portrayed by Tom Hardy. Also starring Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Duffy, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald, and Chazz Palminteri. Legend is a gripping yet stylish film from Brian Helgeland.

Set mainly in 1960s London, the film is the simple story of the rise and fall of the twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were the most dangerous and richest gangsters in all of London as they ran casinos and clubs to great heights. Yet, it is told by someone who knew the Krays in their rise as she would eventually become Reggie’s wife in Frances Shea (Emily Browning) where she would also see their fall in the late 1960s. Brian Helgeland’s screenplay is quite straightforward though it is largely told from Frances’ perspective in her voiceover narration yet it play into the Krays who may look alike and have violent tendencies but they’re both very different. Reggie is more organized as he also craves for a simpler and more straight life driven by his love for Frances while Ronnie is the more unstable of the two as he is mentally-ill and unpredictable as well as be openly-gay.

The script also play into the conflict where Frances often find herself in the middle as she represents the one person that can give Reggie a life away from crime which is something Ronnie doesn’t want. Ronnie wants to be a full-time criminal and stick to anyone that goes against them yet Reggie wants to maintain some control and make some money. Once their rise progresses, Reggie would eventually realize that Ronnie is a liability as he struggles to be a husband to Frances but also to watch over his brother. Still, Reggie wouldn’t expect how far Ronnie would play into their downfall.

Helgeland’s direction is simple at times but also quite stylish in some respects as it definitely captures the world of 1960s London where it is shot on location in the city as well as part of the East End area of the city. Much of Helgeland’s compositions in the wide and medium shots are simple to establish the locations yet he doesn’t shy away from how brutal some of the violence was back then. Helgeland would also create some element of style such as a sequence where Reggie has his first date with Frances where he would create this long tracking shot sequence in one take where Reggie would go to the back of a club to deal with business and then return to Frances. It is an inventive moment while there are elements of style that play into the world of 1960s club world where the people of power, wealth, and celebrity would hang out with gangsters as there is a sense of cool in that. When the film reaches its third act where it begins with a chilling moment of violence, it does play into this fall where it’s not just about a lack of control for Reggie but also Ronnie becoming more unruly as the film becomes more grim with the inevitable finally coming into play. Overall, Helgeland creates a mesmerizing and stylish film about the rise and fall of the Kray brothers.

Cinematographer Dick Pope does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the way some of the daytime exteriors look as well as the lighting for many of the interior scenes set in the day at the pubs or at night for the clubs. Editor Peter McNulty does nice work with the editing as it is stylish with its rhythmic cuts to play into some of the action and violence while providing moments that doesn‘t stray into conventional fast-cutting. Production designer Tom Conroy, with set decorator Crispian Sallis and supervising art director Patrick Rolfe, does fantastic work with the design of the sets from the look of the clubs as well as the pubs and the homes that the characters live in. Costume designer Caroline Harris does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes of the men to the stylish dresses that Frances wears.

Hair/makeup designer Christine Blundell does terrific work with the hairstyles that the men had at the time as well as the array of hairstyles that Frances had. Visual effects supervisor Adam Rowland does some fine work with the visual effects which is mainly bits of set dressing and a few moments in the violence. Sound editor Dominic Gibbs and sound designer Ben Meecham do superb work with the sound from the way some of the violence is presented as well as the atmosphere of the clubs and social places the characters go to. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is wonderful for its mixture of lush orchestral music with some 60s style pop and rock music while music supervisors Liz Gallacher and Kirsten Lane create a fun soundtrack that feature a lot of the music of the times from Booker T. and the M.G.s, the Meters, Herbie Hancock, the Rockin’ Berries, Herman’s Hermits, Billy Preston, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, and Duffy.

The casting by Lucinda Syson is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from John Sessions as a British lord that Ronnie would befriend, Aneurin Barnard as the famed photographer David Bailey, Sam Spruell as the incompetent associate of the brothers in Jack McVitie, Adam Fogerty as the Krays’ muscle Big Pat, Kevin McNally as the then-British prime minister Harold Wilson who has a problem with the Krays, Jane Wood and Jon McKenna as the parents of the Krays, Paul Anderson as Reggie’s lieutenant Albert, and Tara Fitzgerald in a wonderful small roles as Frances and Frank’s mother who doesn’t like the Krays. Colin Morgan is terrific as Frances’ brother Frank who is also a driver for the Krays while Paul Bettany is superb in a small role as a rival gang leader from South London in Charlie Richardson.

Chazz Palminteri is excellent as American mob figure Angelo Bruno who makes a deal with the Krays while giving Reggie some advice about laying low as well as what to do when family becomes a liability. Taron Egerton is fantastic as Ronnie’s right-hand man Mad Teddy who could possibly be Ronnie’s lover as he is quite psychotic but also prove to be loyal to the Krays. Christopher Eccleston is brilliant as Leonard “Nipper” Read as a detective hell-bent on nabbing the Krays any way he can while he would also deal with humility and the need for redemption. David Thewlis is amazing as Leslie Payne as the Krays’ business manager who tries to assure them what they can do and can’t do while making Ronnie paranoid.

Emily Browning is remarkable as Frances Shea as a woman who meets and falls for Reggie Kray as she understands what he does but still loves him know he can do good but becomes overwhelmed by his focus on the business and Ronnie’s behavior. Finally, there’s Tom Hardy in a phenomenal dual performance as the twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray where Hardy provides some distinctive ideas for the characters. In Reggie, Hardy is more restrained and charming but also can be quite brutal at times where Hardy plays it cool. As Ronnie, Hardy puts on a more warped physicality to his performance as well as wear glasses and have more of an accent than Reggie as he is very dangerous but also quite comical as it’s really a tour-de-force performance for Hardy.

Legend is a sensational film from Brian Helgeland that features an incredible performance from Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Along with a fantastic supporting cast, cool music soundtrack, and a fascinating premise, it’s a film that explores the world of the British gangsters in the 1960s and the struggle between two brothers in their own different ambitions. In the end, Legend is a marvelous film from Brian Helgeland.

Brian Helgeland Films: (Payback) - A Knight's Tale - (The Order) - (42)

© thevoid99 2017