Saturday, September 30, 2017

Films That I Saw: September 2017

Well, this has been an interesting yet chaotic year as it is clear how fucked up things are as hurricanes destroyed places like South Florida and Puerto Rico while earthquakes ravaged all over Mexico. These are horrible moments as we as humanity need to do whatever we can to help but we’re also dismayed over the fact that the GWOTUS is more concerned about a bunch of athletes kneeling during the U.S. national anthem and getting rid of Obamacare than what is happening all over the world. It is so frustrating though not surprising considering that the leader of the free world is a narcissistic Nazi who only cares about himself and those who pander to his bullshit. It’s hard to sleep these days as I’ve been spending a lot of late nights watching CNN or looking at anything on what it’s going on and it’s becoming non-stop as well as overwhelming. Even to the point that I can barely wake up and watch films sometimes as it would end up taking me longer than usual to watch a film or to even finish a review.

In the month of September, I saw a total of 37 films in 23 first-timers and 14 re-watches. Slightly up by one film than in the previous month as the highlight of the month is definitely my Blind Spot assignment in A Brighter Summer Day. Here are the top 10 first-timers that I saw for September 2017:

1. Stroszek

2. Anomalisa

3. The Cove

4. Wind River

5. '71

6. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

7. The Confession

8. Creed

9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

10. The Whistleblower

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Happy Birthday

This was a film I watched late one night as it was just this dumb horror comedy about a guy who travels to Mexico with his friend for a birthday trip which goes horribly wrong after meeting two young ladies who kidnap them. It’s an odd film that tries to be a lot of things but it’s never interesting while the humor is just terrible. Plus, there’s this weird appearance from Steven Tyler of all people as a shaman which is just stupid stunt-casting for a film that is real fucking waste of time.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made of

For anyone around the late 90s definitely knew who the Backstreet Boys were as this boy-band that was selling a shitload of albums before the end of the 20th Century. Yet, this documentary which chronicles the group making preparing for their 20th Anniversary tour and a new album in 2013’s In a World Like This is actually very interesting as it follows the group members going back to their hometowns as well as reminisce about the group’s formation and massive success as well as its downside. It’s a very surprising film that shows five men who not only cope with themselves, each other, vocal issues, and aging. Yet, they all do it together and be appreciative that they still have an audience to play for who are loyal. This is a film that fans of the group should see while anyone who aren’t into the Backstreet Boys or pop music will see this as a big surprise considering that they’re just five humble guys still making music that matters.

Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run

The second in a trilogy of short films that serve as a prequel to the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 revolves around the character of Sapper Morton who is portrayed with a sense of restraint by Dave Bautista. Morton is this rogue replicant on the run who would encounter a young girl where he gives her a book and tries to defend her and her mother from a bunch of thugs who were harassing them. It’s a very intriguing short that is helmed by Luke Scott who also did the previous short.

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022

The third and final short film in the trilogy of prequel shorts for Blade Runner 2049 is an anime feature directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame. Featuring a voice cameo from Edward James Olmos reprising his role as Gaff from the original film, the short revolves around a conflict between humans and replicants where the latter are on the hunt. The focus is mainly on a replicant named Trixie who tells her story to another replicant who would recall his own experience at a war just before a major blackout would occur. It is definitely the best of the three shorts due to the rich animation and complex story as it’s a must-see for anyone who loves Blade Runner and the works of Watanabe.

Top 10 Re-Watches (that isn’t Lost in Translation)

1. Ghost World

2. The Dark Knight

3. Fitzcarraldo

4. Duck, You Sucker!

5. The Spy Who Loved Me

6. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

8. The U Part 2

9. Wargames

10. The Man With the Golden Gun

That is it for September 2017 as next month will be devoted almost entirely to horror films as well as films that are off-the-wall as well as some suspenseful films that are dark. Much of it is based on the never-ending DVR list as well as some films I will be checking out from the local library. The only theatrical release that I’m likely to do is Blade Runner 2049 as I’m not sure if there’s other films that will be playing around October. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Whistleblower

Directed by Larysa Kondracki and screenplay by Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan, The Whistleblower is the story of a United Nations peacekeeper who makes a chilling discovery as it relates to sex trafficking forcing her to confront the United Nations and eventually tell her story publicly. The film is based on a true story about Nebraskan police officer Kathryn Bolkovac who went to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999 originally to work for the UN’s peacekeeping work as her discovery would raise concerns over what is happening in the war-torn country as Bolkovac is played by Rachel Weisz. Also starring Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam Cunningham, Anna Anissimova, and Vanessa Redgrave. The Whistleblower is a terrifying yet gripping film from Larysa Kondracki.

Set in 1999 in the aftermath of the war in the Balkans at Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Nebraskan police officer in Kathryn Bolkovac signs up to join the peacekeeping mission for the United Nations in the hope of making some serious money to be near her daughter who is living with her father and his new family. When she is given a new assignment relating to the department of gender affairs, she would make a chilling discovery as it relates to sex trafficking that include those working for the United Nations. The film’s screenplay by Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan opens in Kiev, Ukraine where two young women make plans to make money and travel the world unaware that they’ve been sold to Bosnia and Herzegovina for prostitution as it then cuts to Bolkovac working in Lincoln, Nebraska as a cop awaiting a transfer to be near her daughter.

In taking this job for the United Nations to help out in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina for financial reasons, Bolkovac would get the attention of the revered Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave), who is the head of the Human Rights Commission for the United Nations, after Bolkovac aided a Muslim woman over domestic violence charges and have something done about it. Bolkovac would see the job as a major opportunity until she participates in a raid at some nightclub where she makes a discovery that has her questioning what is happening as she sees men who work as part of the UN’s police force participating in these lewd events as she takes pictures and passports as evidence. She would confront those who work in that force but also have a realization of how big things are when she talks to women who had been taken from their homes for sex trafficking as well as try to help a couple of young prostitutes including a young Ukrainian girl in Raya (Roxana Condurache).

Yet, there are complications when there are those including local Bosnian police forces that want to keep it quiet prompting Bolkovac to turn to Rees for help who brings in internal affairs specialist Peter Ward (David Strathairn) for help. Even a human rights organization executive in Laura Leviani (Monica Bellucci) tries to help by talking directly to Raya’s mother despite the corporate pressures to not discuss what had been found. Still, it urges Bolkovac to find out more as the few allies she has do whatever they can to help her but there is so many obstacles for Bolkovac that would she would have to face all the way to top official at the United Nations.

Kondracki’s direction is very straightforward in terms of the compositions that she creates while much of the film is shot mainly near Bucharest, Romania as Bosnia and Herzegovina with some interior scenes of the UN buildings shot in Toronto. While there are some wide shots of the locations, Kondracki’s direction is mainly intimate to play into the suspense and drama while displaying an air of realism into the subject matter. Most notably a scene in which Raya has been captured and raped in front of other girls to see what would happen to her if she told anyone what they’re doing. It’s among one of the most horrifying scenes in the film as much of Kondracki’s direction emphasize on hand-held cameras that include a chase scene involving Bolkovac running after a young prostitute who had been taken and was found near the Serbian border.

While there is a lot of moments of suspense with some action, much of Kondracki’s direction emphasizes on the dramatic stakes of what Bolkovac wants to do as the drama would intensify once she is dealing with various officials in the United Nations as well as private contractors working with the government for their own interest. Especially when she’s asked to take a leave which she knew would only cause more problems prompting her to take action and gather whatever evidence she has that could expose everything. Even if it means having to lose her job and never see her daughter again as she is aware of what is at stake and what to do to make sure that young women wouldn’t have to be taken for sex trafficking ever again. Overall, Kondracki creates a gritty yet evocative film about a United Nations peacekeeper who discovers the practice of sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Cinematographer Kieran McGuigan does excellent work with the film’s cinematography to capture some of the dark yet colorful look of some of the interior scenes set at night in the clubs and sanctuary for some of the women who are hiding from criminals. Editor Julian Clarke does brilliant work with the editing in creating some unique rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and some of the action while maintaining something straightforward for the dramatic moments in the film. Production designer Caroline Foellmer, with set decorator Andreea Popa and art director Vlad Vieru, does fantastic work with the look of the interior of the UN offices as well as the look of the nightclub where the young women are forced to work at.

Costume designer Gersha Phillips does nice work with the costumes as it is mainly straightforward with the exception of the skimpy clothing the young girls are forced to wear. Sound editors Mark Gingras and John Laing does superb work with the sound with the way some of array of sounds in various locations are presented as well as some of the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Mychael Dyanna music is terrific for its usage of low-key orchestral music to play into the drama and suspense while music supervisor David Hayman provide a mixture of traditional Eastern European music with some contemporary music of the late 90s.

The casting by Sara Jay and Jenny Lewis is great as it feature some notable small roles from David Hewlett and William Hope as a couple of UN peacekeeping officers involved in the sex trafficking, Stuart Graham as a top UN official who tries to dismiss Bolkovac from her investigation, Benedict Cumberbatch as a UN security officer that befriends Bolkovac, Paula Schramm as a young Ukrainian woman in Luba who would convince Raya to travel outside of the Ukraine only to realize what she’s done, Rayisa Kondracki as a young prostitute in Ikra who wanted to testify only to be taken and later saved by Bolkovac, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Bolkovac’s daughter Erin, Alexandru Potocean as a corrupt Bosnian officer, and Liam Cunningham in a superb performance as the head of the private security company Bill Haynes who wants to cover up all of these reports on sex trafficking.

Monica Bellucci is terrific as Laura Leviani as a human rights organization executive trying to help Bolkovac as well as Raya’s mother despite the corporate pressures from her superiors to not be involved. Roxana Condurache is excellent as Raya as a young woman who is convinced by a friend to travel only to endure abuse of the worst kind as a prostitute which includes a scene of her being raped in the most gruesome of ways. Anna Anissimova is fantastic as Raya’s mother Zoe as a woman who wonders where her daughter is as she travels to Bosnia to meet with Leviani as she would learn some awful truths about what happened as well as the people who put her daughter in this mess. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is brilliant as Jan as a Bosnian UN official who is one of Bolkovac’s few allies as he tries to help Raya and other girls only to deal with Bosnian criminals.

Vanessa Redgrave is amazing as Madeleine Rees as the famed human rights commission head for the United Nations who hires Bolkovac to help her in gender affairs as she would learn what is going on as she also becomes disgusted over the fact that the United Nations is involved with sex trafficking. David Strathairn is incredible as Pete Ward as an internal affairs specialist who would help Bolkovac in finding more evidence about sex trafficking as he would make some discoveries that would get him in trouble as he does whatever he can to give it to Bolkovac and expose it to the world. Finally, there’s Rachel Weisz in a magnificent performance as Kathryn Bolkovac as this cop from Nebraska who takes a job for the United Nations peacekeeping force only to get a better job with more money but also revelations about what she would discover in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina prompting her to do something where Weisz has this air of humility and determination to do the right thing as well as displaying that anguish over what is happening to these girls as it’s one of her best performances.

The Whistleblower is a phenomenal film from Larysa Kondracki that features a tremendous performance from Rachel Weisz. Along with its strong ensemble cast, eerie visuals, and gripping take on a universal subject matter that is uneasy to deal with. It is definitely a suspense-drama that showcases some of the troubling aftermaths of war and what some will do to not just protect their image but also make money out of it forcing a woman to stop all of that for the good of the world. In the end, The Whistleblower is a sensational film from Larysa Kondracki.

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): Families

For the fourth and final week of September 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We venture into the world of TV that focuses on families. Shows that revolve around the family unit whether they’re dysfunctional or normal. Here are my three picks:

1. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

One of the finest TV shows of the 90s that would serve as a stepping stone for then-rapper Will Smith into superstardom is this show about a young man who is sent to the posh Bel-Air to live with his rich relatives after getting in trouble in West Philadelphia. While it is known for Smith to do some funny things, it is about a family who deal with social standings, racism, and all sorts of issues that are serious yet they all come together as a family. Still, the show should be known for one character who is cooler than Will. Carlton Banks.

2. The Sopranos

One of the greatest shows to ever emerge on television is a show about family. A mob family but with problems. Underneath all of that toughness and bravado, Tony Soprano is a man with problems as he goes to a shrink for help as he also deals with his own dysfunctional family as well as the people working for him in the mob. It’s also got all of these great characters and sometimes it’s sad to see them get whacked or moments that are shocking. It is a reason why people still love that show.

3. Gilmore Girls

For about five-and-a-half seasons, this was one of the finest shows to emerge in the fledgling WB network as it’s about a woman who gave birth to a girl at age 16 and then fled her posh family life to raise her daughter alone as Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are friends first and mother/daughter second. Lorelai would reluctantly re-establish relationship with her parents for Rory to be given tuition to a prestigious prep school where in return, she and Rory would see them on Fridays for dinner. It’s a show that is fun as it explores life in a small town in New England with all sorts of hilarity, fast-talking dialogue, and pop culture references and then it kind of stumbled in the middle of the sixth season and faltered big time in the seventh as it relates to Lorelai’s love life. Then there’s the recent revival on Netflix that is ultimately one of the most disappointing revivals for a TV show.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Pope of Greenwich Village

Based on the novel by Vincent Patrick, The Pope of Greenwich Village is the story of two cousins who decide to go into crime to help fund their dreams of owning and running a restaurant. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and screenplay by Vincent Patrick, the film is an unconventional crime-drama that follows two men trying to do whatever they can to get money as well as go head-on into the world of crime. Starring Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Darryl Hannah, Geraldine Page, Kenneth McMillan, Frank Vincent, M. Emmet Walsh, and Burt Young. The Pope of Greenwich Village is a witty and exhilarating film from Stuart Rosenberg.

The film follows two Italian-American cousins working and living at the Greenwich Village area of New York City as they dream of being successful and run their own restaurant where they go into the world to crime to fund that dream. It’s a film that is about two guys trying to do what they can yet they deal with so much adversity as well as the fact that one of them is a total screw-up and the other is cautious with a lot to deal with. Vincent Patrick’s screenplay explores the unique dynamic between Charlie (Mickey Rourke) and Paulie (Eric Roberts) as these two cousins who both want to succeed yet Charlie is someone that is trying to work hard and do things the right way. Paulie is a guy that likes to scheme and often put Charlie in trouble as the film begins with Charlie working as a maître d’ at a restaurant where Paulie is the waiter who gets Charlie in trouble and they both lose their job.

Paulie gets a tip about money stashed in a safe as he coerces Charlie to be involved as they’re joined by a locksmith/clock repairman in Barney (Kenneth McMillan) as their safecracker. The job succeeds except for an encounter with an undercover policeman (Jack Kehoe) that went wrong as Charlie then learns who the money belongs to which causes even more trouble. Adding to Charlie’s problems is that he is paying alimony to his ex-wife as they have a son and his girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah) is pregnant with his child as he is trying to do good things for her. Still, Charlie has a loyalty to Paulie which irks Diane since she knows that Paulie is an idiot and always find a way to mess things up. Even as Paulie would be confronted by hoods who work for the mobster Bed Bug Eddie (Burt Young) including Paulie’s Uncle Pete (Tony Musante) forcing Charlie to settle the matter.

Stuart Rosenberg’s direction does have bits of style yet much of it is straightforward as it is shot on location in New York City and in the Greenwich Village area with some of it shot in New Jersey. While Rosenberg would use a lot of wide shots that would create some unique compositions of the characters on a roof with certain city landmarks in the background. Much of the compositions Rosenberg creates are intimate with its close-ups and medium shots that includes a key meeting between detectives and the mother of the dead undercover officer as it’s a very chilling moment due to what happened to the undercover officer and his mother’s reaction. There are scenes of humor in the film yet much of it is dramatic with some stylish dialogue as it play into the environment of the film. Rosenberg’s direction also play into this world of the streets where it has its own rules and idea of justice as it’s something Charlie is fully aware of while Paulie is sort of ignorant about it thinking he can charm or bullshit his way out of a situation. The third act revolves around Paulie dealing with the consequences of who he stole the money from and the fallout of those consequences in which Charlie realizes what he has to do. Yet, there is a sense of conflict in Charlie in whether to help out someone that is family or to save himself. Overall, Rosenberg crafts a lively and engaging film about two cousins going to crime to fund their dream.

Cinematographer John Bailey does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with the richness of some of the daytime exterior scenes as well as the usage of low-key lights for Bed Bug’s hideout in its interiors and the usage of lights for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Robert Brown does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward to play into the drama and the few moments of suspense such as Paulie being confronted by his uncle. Production designer Paul Sylbert and set decorator George DeTitta Sr. do fantastic work with the look of the restaurant Charlie and Paulie work at in the film’s opening sequence as well as the former’s apartment and the place where Bed Bug works at.

Costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi does nice work with the costumes from the stylish suits that Charlie wears to some of the stylish clothes that Paulie wears. Sound mixer James Sabat does terrific work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of some of the locations. The film’s music by Dave Grusin does amazing work with the film’s soundtrack as it’s a mixture of jazz and pop to play into the energy of Greenwich Village while music supervisor Harry V. Lojewski provide a fun soundtrack that mixes pop and jazz that include music from Frank Sinatra.

The casting by Bonnie Timmerman is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Joe Grifasi as Jimmy the Cheese Man, Philip Bosco as Paulie’s father, Val Avery and M. Emmet Walsh as a couple of detectives, Tony Musante as Paulie’s Uncle Pete, Jack Kehoe as the undercover detective Bunky, and Frank Vincent as Bed Bug’s crew chief. Geraldine Page is incredible in her brief two-scene performance as Bunky’s mother Mrs. Ritter as a woman who is wondering what her son is doing and later cope with the aftermath as it’s just a very powerful performance. Burt Young is fantastic as Bed Bug Eddie as a local mob hood who is trying to maintain some power in his turf while wanting to find out who stole his money. Kenneth McMillan is excellent as Barney as locksmith/clock repairman who helps Charlie and Paulie as their safecracker where he understand what is going on as well as becoming uneasy about who the money belonged to where he knows something is about to go wrong.

Daryl Hannah is brilliant as Diane as Charlie’s girlfriend who is concerned about what Charlie is doing as well as seeing if he can provide a future for both of them and their child that is on the way. Finally, there’s the duo of Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as the cousins Charlie and Paulie. Rourke provides a performance that is grounded while also having moments of anger and frustration into the obstacles he is given relating to his dreams of running his own restaurant and his relationship with Diane. Roberts’ performance is filled with charm and an energy that is insatiable to watch as someone that is often upbeat but also naïve about the ways of the world as Roberts is always fun to watch. Rourke and Roberts together have this chemistry that is powerful as well as having this sense of brotherhood as two guys who depend on each other no matter how fucked up one of them is.

The Pope of Greenwich Village is a remarkable film from Stuart Rosenberg that feature top-notch performances from Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. Along with its great supporting cast, riveting story, dazzling visuals, and a fun soundtrack, it’s a film that explore the folly of ambition and crime as well as two cousins trying to do whatever they can to reach their dream. In the end, The Pope of Greenwich Village is a sensational film from Stuart Rosenberg.

Stuart Rosenberg Films: (Murder Inc.) – (Question 7) – Cool Hand Luke - (The April Fools) – (Move (1970 film)) – (WUSA) – (Pocket Money) – (The Laughing Policeman) – (The Drowning Pool) – (Voyage of the Damned) – (Love and Bullets) – (The Amityville Horror) – (Brubaker) – (Let’s Get Harry) – (My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys)

© thevoid99 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Cove (2009 film)

Directed by Louie Psihoyos and written by Mark Monroe, The Cove is a documentary film about dolphin hunting in Japan and the controversy it has caused in the country over its practices. The film explores the whaling industry in the country and why dolphins and porpoises have been targeted prompting Psihoyos to confront those about the practice. The result is a chilling yet evocative film from Louis Psihoyos.

The film follows a group of individuals led by famed dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry who go to the small fishing town of Taiji in Japan to uncover the practice of dolphin hunting to ensure Japan’s role in the dying whaling and fishing industry. With director Louie Psihoyos, who is a co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society, as well as several other individuals, O’Barry wants to show what is going on as he also cope with his own role in capturing dolphins for the TV show Flipper that led to the development of marine parks such as SeaWorld. Yet, O’Barry would spend much of his time studying dolphins as well as keeping one as a pet where he had some serious revelations about dolphins prompting him to become an activist. That activism would have O’Barry be in hot water with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) who don’t want to hear what he has to say with some in denial about dolphins being killed.

O’Barry’s plea to save dolphins would get the attention of several environmentalists including free-divers Mandy-Rae Cruickshank and Kirk Krack who would travel to Taiji where they witness a dolphin die in captivity as they would participate in helping O’Barry uncover the truth. There is also footage of surfer Dave Rastovich who traveled to Taiji with actresses Hayden Panettiere and Isabel Lucas to protest dolphin killing only to be arrested where Rastovich talked about the relationship between humans and dolphins in the art of surfing. The film does have a structure in which the first half is about human’s relationship with dolphins and how fragile dolphins are while it would intercut with Psihoyos and O’Barry turning to the people of ILM to create high-definition cameras they would use to capture what is going on in this lagoon at Taiji including a nearby cove that is a very restricted area.

With the aid of cinematographer Brook Aitken and effects people in creating rocks and such to put the hidden cameras in some of the area, Cruickshank and Krack would swim at night to put a mic underwater at the lagoon to hear what the dolphins are saying. Much of the film’s second half is about setting up the cameras and the microphones underwater as well as doing it as if it’s a heist film. With the usage of night-vision cameras, it play into what these people would do to show the truth with editor Geoffrey Richman capturing every sense of movement as well as wonder who is watching them. Richman would also inter-cut these events of the planning to put cameras in the cove with meetings at the IWC as the Japanese consulate try to get whale hunting back on board by getting smaller countries to support them. There is also footage of O’Barry and Psihoyos talking to ordinary Japanese people from various cities about the idea of eating dolphin as many don’t want to think about as it also show that dolphin meat carry bits of mercury which is fatal to humans. It’s something that a couple of local officials from Taiji is aware of as they try to stop the sale of dolphin meat as well as giving them away for free to children.

Sound editor Glenfield Payne would provide some excellent work in capturing the array of sounds that dolphins make as it play into what they’re feeling and such as well as what sounds would scare them. The film’s music by J. Ralph is a mixture of ambient and orchestral music with some traditional Japanese music while music supervisor Liz Gallacher provide a mixture of music from Nat King Cole, Fort Knox Five, and David Bowie to play into the power of activism.

The Cove is a tremendous film from Louie Psihoyos. It’s a film that captures a terrifying event that was happening in Japan and is probably still going on as it shows the horrible atrocities of what is happening for dolphins. Especially as it showcase what some will do to get whale hunting back on board as well as the harm of what dolphin meat will do for the fishing industry as well as reasons into why marine parks are terrible. In the end, The Cove is a phenomenal film from Louis Psihoyos.

© thevoid99 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: A Brighter Summer Day

Directed by Edward Yang and screenplay by Yang, Hung Hung, Lai Ming-Tang, and Alex Yang, A Brighter Summer Day is the story of a boy living in 1960 Taiwan as he becomes infatuated with street gang violence, rock n’ roll, romance, and other things during a tumultuous time in the country. The film is a look into a period of time in the course of four years where innocence is lost as well as the emergence of Western culture into Taiwan and how it would affect the youth of the country as it is partially based on a real-life incident that would haunt the country for many years. Starring Chang Chen, Lisa Yang, Chang Kuo-Chu, Elaine Jin, Wang Chuan, Chang Han, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Wong Chi-Zan, Lawrence Ko, Tan Chih-Kang, Chang Ming-Hsin, Jung Chun-Lung, Zhou Hui-Guo, Tang Hisao-Tsui, Lin Hong-Ming, Bosen Wang, Chen Hung-Yu, Hsu Ming, and Cho Ming. A Brighter Summer Day is a majestic and evocative film from Edward Yang.

Set more than a decade after the Chinese Civil War, the film revolves the life of a teenage boy in 1960 Taiwan as he finds himself in the middle of a gang war over social and political differences while dealing with his first crush and the chaos in his family life. The film takes place in the course of an entire school year for this young boy as he deals with not just growing pains but also this crisis in identity at a time when many young kids and teenagers are trying to find their place in the world in this island wondering if they’re going to return to China or just settle in Taiwan for good. For their adult-parents and relatives, it’s not just wondering if they’re going to return to China but also the future of their own children whether they would remain in Taiwan or return to China.

The film’s screenplay that is written by Edward and Alex Yang with Hung Hung and Lai Ming-Tang follows a lot of different storyline and characters throughout the film yet the main narrative revolves around Xiao S’ir (Chang Chen) who is a fourteen year old boy who was once a bright and hard-working student as he’s first seen in this scene set in 1959 where his father (Chang Kuo-Chu) is pleading with an administrator to keep him in school forcing S’ir to attend night school with other juvenile delinquents. In this school, S’ir would befriend several students who are part of two different street gangs that come from different social circles. The Little Park kids are boys whose families work for the government while the 217 gang are children of military personnel as it causes some tension with S’ir leaning toward the Little Park kids as his father works for the government as well. He also befriends a few kids from the 217 faction as well as have his first major crush on a young girl named Ming (Lisa Yang) who he sees at the school.

The storyline relating S’ir is the main narrative as there’s also little subplots as it relates to his older brother Lao Er (Chang Han) who has been going to pool halls at night where he owes money to local hoods forcing him to steal family heirlooms where his older sister (Wang Chuan) is suspicious as it’s already creating problems for a family that is starting to crack due to financial issues and Mr. Xiao’s problems with the way things are working within the government which would get him in trouble with the authorities. The script also shows the sense of tension between the two factions which would intensify when the Little Parks’ leader Honey (Lin Hong-Ming) return when he hears that the two factions are making a deal which only causes more trouble. It would change things in the second half from this story about gangs in Taipei to the troubling aftermath involving violence and S’ir dealing with growing pains as well as the chaos in his family when his father is away. It would lead him to explore ideas of love and sex but also things he is unprepared for as it leads to a very eerie third act.

Edward Yang’s direction is truly entrancing for not just some of the compositions he creates but also for the setting and emphasis on what is happening during this time in Taiwan. Shot on location various locations in and around Taipei and other parts of Taiwan, the film is presented with this tone of something that is changing where everyone is still attached to the old ideas of pre-civil war China but it’s become less important as the reality of what Taiwan would become is evident. Yang would use a lot of wide shots to play into these rural locations as well as the different places these characters would go to such as an ice cream parlor or the home of a few posh kids who also attend the school that S’ir goes to. Yang would use some crane shots for a few of the wide shots while he would maintain an air of intimacy with his approach to close-ups and medium shots.

Yang’s direction also have these brief but intense moments of violence such as a gang attack during the second act where it’s more about the element of surprise and the intensity of the violence with S’ir watching very closely. It’s a moment that would play into his growth as a person where he is dealing with so much at a young age while still wanting to retain some idea of innocence by listening to Elvis Presley records with friends or play sports like baseball and basketball. The third act begins with the arrest of Mr. Xiao as it would set the tone for his own revelation about his own connections in the government. It would also play into S’ir as he would deal with jealousy, heartbreak, and the realities of his own upbringing as he lives in a rural area of Taipei while a few of his friends live in posh houses and have all of the freedoms that he couldn’t have. All of which would lead to something horrific as it would affect not just families but also kids forcing to come to terms with themselves in this small island they might live in forever. Overall, Yang crafts an intoxicating and rapturous film about the year in the life of a young boy coming of age in 1960s Taiwan.

Cinematographers Chang Hui-Kung and Li Long-Yu do amazing work with the film’s cinematography in the way it captures the gorgeous colors of some of the trees and mountain-field locations as well as the usage of lighting for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Bowen Chen does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward for much of the film with the exception of the gang attack scene with its swift and frenetic editing that play into the action as well as sense of terror. Production designer Yu Wei-Yen and set decorator Edward Yang do brilliant work with the look of the home of the Xiao family as well as the ice cream parlor where they have a rock n’ roll band play every once in a while as well as some of the buildings at the town.

Costume designer Wu Le-Chin does fantastic work with the costumes from the khaki-like uniforms of the students as well as some of the clothes that was prevalent during the late 1950s/early 1960s including denim blue jeans in which a young girl is wearing. The sound work of Tu Duu-Chih is superb for the way it captures the atmosphere of live music as well as some of the natural sounds on a certain location. The film’s soundtrack consists a mixture of traditional Chinese and Japanese music as well as some rock n’ roll to play into the cultural divide between the old and new generation as much of the rock n’ roll music consists of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Cho Ming as the local store owner Uncle Fat, Tang Hsiao-Tsui as a young girl named Jade who would go out with Sly and later Ma, Bosen Wang and Zhou Hui-Guo as a couple of students in Deuce and Tiger respectively, Hsu Ming as a government official named Wang who is a friend of Mr. Xiao, Chang Ming-Hsin and Jung Chun-Lung as a couple of other students at the school who are in gangs in Underpants and Sex Bomb respectively, Stephanie Lai as S’ir’s youngest sister, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung as S’ir’s older middle sister who is religious, Lin Hong-Ming as a former gang leader in Honey who deals with his disappearance and disillusionment with gangs, and Lawrence Ko as one of S’ir’s close friends in Airplane who has an interest in girls and rock n’ roll like S’ir. Tan Chih-Kang is terrific as the rich delinquent Ma as a teenager that has managed to get a lot of girls while Chen Hung-Yu is superb as Sly as a member of the 217 gang whose father has connections to get people to play at venues he owns.

Wang Chuan is fantastic as S’ir’s eldest sister who knows how to speak English and can transcribe lyrics while eager to go to college in America. Chang Han is wonderful as S’ir’s eldest brother Lao Er as a young man who finds himself dealing with a gambling debt as well as trying to redeem himself only to be tempted back to that world of gambling. Wong Chi-Zan is brilliant as Cat as a young delinquent who befriends S’ir as he aspires to be a singer to express his love for Elvis. Elaine Jin is excellent as S’ir’s mother who copes with the financial struggles with the family as well as her concern for S’ir in his education. Chang Kuo-Chu is amazing as S’ir’s father as this government official that is eager to try and get his son back to day school as well as doing what he can to support his family only to become a suspect of espionage relating to his connection with Chinese officials. Lisa Yang is remarkable as Ming as a young teenager who is dating a gang leader as she struggles with her own family issues but also her identity as she becomes close to S’ir. Finally, there’s Chang Chen in a phenomenal performance as Xiao S’ir as a teenage boy who deals with growing pains as well as his own identity and role in the world while coping with love, rock n’ roll, and other things as it’s a very restrained as well as displaying that anguish and confusion into what teenagers go through.

A Brighter Summer Day is an outstanding film from Edward Yang. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a riveting story of identity and growing up, and its setting during a crucial period in Taiwan’s history. It’s a film that offers so much in a story that is complex as well as displaying an intimate look into the life of a young boy in 1960s Taiwan. In the end, A Brighter Summer Day is a magnificent film from Edward Yang.

Edward Yang Films: (In Our Time-Desires/Expectations) – (That Day, on the Beach) – Taipei Story – (The Terrorizers) – (A Confucian Confusion) – (Mahjong) – Yi Yi

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Shine a Light

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Shine a Light is a concert-documentary film that chronicles the band’s performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2006 during the Bigger Bang tour as it includes archival footage from other films and backstage footage. The film showcases the band celebrating their longevity as they’re joined by special guests in Jack White of the White Stripes, Christina Aguilera, and blues legend Buddy Guy. The result is an enthralling and lively film from Martin Scorsese.

On October 29 and November 1, 2006, the Rolling Stones played two shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York City as the second show was filmed by Martin Scorsese who wants to present the ultimate concert film of one of his all-time favorite bands. While it is mainly a film that shows the band playing some of their hits as well as some beloved album cuts, it does show footage behind the scenes where the band and Scorsese talk about how to film the concert as well as including footage from the past as it relates to the band’s notoriety. Scorsese would appear early in the film through black-and-white footage of scenes backstage about the staging and how to light the show as he and cinematographer Robert Richardson discuss what to do.

Much of the concert footage is shot on digital with Richardson leading the way with an array of esteemed cinematographers as camera operators such as Emmanuel Lubezki, Ellen Kuras, and John Toll as well as filmmaker Albert Maysles being an onstage cameraman. There is an air of excitement in the performances with vocalist Mick Jagger displaying a ferocity in how he moves which is astonishing for someone who was in his 60s during the performance. Guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood are also displaying a sense of energy into their performance while drummer Charlie Watts remains this strong force on the drums. Aided by other musicians such as keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Daryl Jones, saxophonist Bobby Keys, backing vocalists Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, and a few others. The Stones prove that they still have that sense of power as their music is aided by the masterful sound mixing of Bob Clearmountain who is aided by sound editors Fred Rosenberg and Philip Stockton for the audio cuts to mix in with some of the archival footage.

The guest performances from Jack White on Loving Cup, Buddy Guy on Champagne & Reefer, and Christina Aguilera on Live with Me are among some of the highlights while the film also features an appearance from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, his wife Hilary, and family who had the two shows used as a benefit for Clinton’s charity in the Clinton Foundation as they’re joined by Poland’s then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski for the concerts.

Editor David Tideschi does excellent work in capturing the energy of the shows while allowing the chance to not delve too much into some fast-cutting style that is common with music videos in order to get a sense of what is happening on the stage. The visual effects work of Sam Khorshid does nice work on the lone visual effects which are these crane shots towards the exterior of the Beacon Theatre and out for the ending which features the Stones’ logo as the moon.

Shine a Light is a spectacular concert film from Martin Scorsese. Not only is it an entertaining film with great music and performances but it also captures the Rolling Stones still managing to play incredible music at a time when many artists in their age group would’ve retired or slow themselves down. In the end, Shine a Light is a phenomenal film from Martin Scorsese.

Related: Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One) - Gimme Shelter - The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus - Crossfire Hurricane

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) – (Street Scenes) – Boxcar Bertha – (Mean Streets) – ItalianamericanAlice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - New York, New YorkAmerican Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) – Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After HoursThe Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - GoodfellasCape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence (1993 film) - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) – (Casino) – (Kundun) – (My Voyage to Italy) – Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) – Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) – No Direction HomeThe Departed - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) – (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo (2011 film) - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) – Silence (2016 film) – (The Irishman (2019 film)) - Killers of the Flower Moon - (An Afternoon with SCTV)

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Daddy's Home

Directed by Sean Anders and screenplay by Anders, Brian Burns, and John Morris from a story by Burns, Daddy’s Home is the story of a mild-mannered man who finds himself having to compete for the attention of his step-children once their father appears to try and put himself into their relationship. The film is a comedy that pits father against stepfather all to try and see who can be the best father. Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Bobby Cannavale, Hannibal Burress, and Thomas Haden Church. Daddy’s Home is a funny and exciting film from Sean Anders.

The film is a simple story of a man who works as an executive at a smooth-jazz radio station as he had been a stepfather to a couple of kids for years as he is trying whatever he can to help them when that all changes when his wife’s former husband arrives for a visit and all hell breaks loose. What happens is that it becomes this kind of mental competition and one-upmanship between two men who both want to become the best father to these two kids. The film’s screenplay by Sean Anders, Brian Burns, and John Morris doesn’t just explore the two different men in this scenario in the mild-mannered and sensitive Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) and the more macho and adventurous Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) in how they deal with each other but also in their idea of raising kids. Watching all of this is Brad’s wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) who married Dusty many years ago but divorced due to his immaturity and lack of commitment to family as she isn’t sure if Dusty is really there for noble reasons. Even though Brad finds Dusty intimidating physically and mentally, Dusty would see what Brad can bring to the table as it would force him to raise his gain but also deal with the challenges in being a full-time father.

Sean Anders’ direction is very straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates as well as emphasizing on a few stylish moments in the film such as a skateboarding sequence with the usage of the GoPro camera. Still, Anders just goes for something simple as the film is shot mainly in and around New Orleans as it does have a few wide shots though Anders would favor medium shots and close-ups to focus on the characters and the comedic moments. Some of these moments involve Brad trying to upstage Dusty by doing crazy stunts only for it to go wrong as it does deliver. Anders would wisely know not to emphasize too much on gags in order to focus on Brad and Dusty to get an understanding on fatherhood as it would it add a common goal for these two men. Notably a scene where Brad and Dusty help the latter’s son Dylan (Owen Wilder Vaccaro) in dealing with a bully as well as wanting to dance with Dusty’s daughter Megan (Scarlett Estevez) for an upcoming father-daughter dance at her school shows that these two men do bring the best in each other. Overall, Anders creates a charming and hilarious film about a stepfather competing with a father for the affection of their children.

Cinematographer Julio Macat does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it’s straightforward for many of the daytime exterior/interior scenes with some lights for the scenes at night. Editors Eric Kissack and Brad Wilhite do nice work with the editing as it has elements of style with some of the rhythmic cuts to play into the humor as well as some of the gags. Production designer Clayton Hartley, with set decorator Jan Pascale and Elliott Glick, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Brad and Sara live with the children as well as the look of the few places they go to. Costume designer Carol Ramsey does terrific work with the costumes as it is mostly casual from the sweater vest look of Brad to the more rugged look of Dusty.

Visual effects supervisor Paul Linden does very good work with some of the film’s visual effects as it relate to a few of the big gags in the film as it relates to Brad trying to one-up Dusty. Sound editors Andrew DeCristofaro and Michael Payne does superb work with the sound as it if straightforward to play into the atmosphere of some of the locations including a basketball arena and other locations for the activities Brad does with the kids. The film’s music by Michael Andrews is wonderful for its mixture of jazz and light-hearted orchestral music to play into the film’s humor while music supervisors Dave Jordan and Jojo Villanueva create a fun soundtrack that features an array of music from the Pixies, AC/DC, Metallica, the Hives, Jay-Z, the Offspring, the Commodores, T.I. with Rihanna, the Temptations, and Leo Sayer.

The casting by Allison Jones is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Paul Scheer as a basketball radio DJ, Chris Henchy as a smooth jazz DJ, Hannibal Burress as a handyman named Griff who would be at the house due to befriending Dusty, and Bobby Cannavale in a funny performance as Dr. Emilio Fernandez as the famed fertility doctor who checks on Brad as he also knows Dusty. Owen Wilder Vacarro and Scarlett Estevez are fantastic in their respective roles as Dylan and Megan Mayron as two kids who aren’t fond of Brad as they’re excited to have their father around as they go to both of them for advice. Thomas Haden Church is excellent as Brad’s boss Leo Holt who gives Brad some bad advice as well as tell some hilarious stories of his own failures in the marriages he had been in.

Linda Cardellini is brilliant as Sara Whitaker as Brad’s wife/Dusty’s ex-wife who isn’t initially fond of having Dusty around though she realizes that he is trying to prove to be a good father while wanting to have another child despite the fact Brad might not be able to. Mark Wahlberg is incredible as Dusty Mayron as a rugged guy who does all sorts of things that makes him popular as he tries to do whatever he can to win back his children by playing mind games with Brad while dealing with his own faults as a father. Finally, there’s Will Ferrell in a marvelous as Brad Whitaker as a radio executive who is trying to win over Dylan and Megan as well as understanding them where he feels threatened by Dusty forcing to try all sorts of things where it’s a manic and wild performance from Ferrell.

Daddy’s Home is a remarkable film from Sean Anders that features great performances from Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Along with its supporting cast, engaging story, and some very funny moments, it’s a film that isn’t just enjoyable for families but also a comedy that is edgy but also sensible for children. In the end, Daddy’s Home is an amazing film from Sean Anders.

© thevoid99 2017