Saturday, June 30, 2018

Films That I Saw: June 2018

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus 1883

The words that is on the bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty that was erected in 1903 was a call for those wanting a new life and a chance to live a good life in this new land was a beacon of hope for many who call themselves immigrants. As the child of an immigrant, it means something to myself and to my parents as they’re immigrants themselves and have managed to make a decent life for themselves. Now it’s more than 100 years since those words have been erected and it no longer means a fucking thing to this inhuman, vile piece of shit in the White House who has committed sin after sin more than a year since he stepped office and the image on TIME magazine says it all about what America has become.

Yet, there’s more to this growing sense of Fascism that has emerged in America where it’s not just about children being separated from their parents who have crossed the border for asylum and shelter. It’s also the press that is now being silent for wanting to tell the truth. What happened a few days ago in Annapolis is an example of this new emergence of Fascist America. A world where if you don’t say anything good about our leader and demand answers from him that he refuses to answer. You’re going to get fucking shot and killed. It does feel like a world is falling apart and it’s hard to try and escape knowing that there’s so much shit going on while some asshole on TV goes “whomp-whomp” over a crying child which angered another person that was talking about what is happening. If it had been me in that room with that asshole, I’d deck him and make sure he doesn’t get up.

This is another crazy month as there’s more family drama with my relatives trying to scheme one another as I’m just glad I have no involvement with them. Aside from watching films and re-listening to the entire NIN discography as part of my marathon while getting familiar with the new album (review coming in August, hopefully). I’ve been spending much of the past few weeks watching the World Cup. I know it’s in Russia and it is strange seeing how beautiful it is knowing that it’s corrupt yet you’re distracted by what is happening in the soccer field. It’s been an exciting World Cup so far as there’s been a lot of good teams and such while the teams I’m rooting for just as the round of 16 has just started as I’m rooting for England, Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico. I also hope someone knocks out Portugal. I’m sad that Lionel Messi won’t get that chance to be the best to get the World Cup trophy but I’m happy that Cristiano Ronaldo won’t get it either as I think Ronaldo is an overrated piece of shit who only cares about himself.

In the month of June 2018, I saw a total of 28 films 15 first-timers and 13 re-watches with one film directed by a woman as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. Definitely a downer this month due to the World Cup as I spent more time watching soccer than watching films. Still, I needed some time away from it every once in a while as the highlights of the month are definitely my Blind Spots for this month in Jan Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land. Here are my top 10 first-timers that I saw for June 2018:

1. Tokyo Drifter

2. Bao

3. I fidanzati

4. Lady Macbeth

5. Incredibles 2

6. Brewster McCloud

7. How to Talk to Girls at Parties

8. Dior: Lady Grey London

9. Dior: L.A.dy Dior

10. Dior: Dior Homme Sport

Monthly Mini-Reviews

How to Be a Latin Lover

This had been on ePIX for months as I first parts of it in February as the first scene that involved a man crashing into his house with his big truck and then the trucking blowing up made me laugh hard as I accidentally spat out my own food. It’s a film that never takes itself seriously as it’s managed to make me laugh as I really think Eugenio Derbez is a really funny guy when he’s left to his own devices and not be seen in Adam Sandler films. Especially as he plays someone that is forced to endure some humility as well as prove that there is good in him despite the fact that he’s selfish at times. Derbez’s scenes with Salma Hayek as his younger sister are gold in the way they talk to each other in Spanish as they just have a natural chemistry in their approach to comedy as I think it’s a film that doesn’t deserve the scorn it gets from critics. After all, it made my parents laugh so I think it did what it needed to do.


Another film that hasn’t been a favorite with the critics though I could see why as it is a flawed film. Yet, I was engaged by it as it is about this playboy from a rich family who works as a janitor at a mental hospital who takes this sheltered patient to his family as his date to his brother’s wedding. What makes the film so compelling is Evan Rachel Wood's performance as this mental patient who has lived a sheltered life and hasn't experienced much of the outside world as she is a joy to watch as it's an underrated performance that has a lot to offer.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Room

2. National Lampoon's Vacation

3. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

4. The Princess and the Frog

5. Star Trek

6. The Jane Austen Book Club

7. Mr. Mom

8. Lost River

9. The Prince of Tides

10. Yankee Doodle Daffy

Well, that is it for June. In July, I’m definitely going to focus largely on American films including westerns and some crime films based on the never-ending DVR list that include films by Michael Mann and John Ford. The only theatrical release I’m interesting in seeing is Ant-Man and the Wasp as I can’t think of anything else other than watching a couple of films by James Gray for the Auteurs piece on him. Other than Gray, my next Blind Spot, and the NIN marathon that I’m currently doing. That’s all that is happening for July. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing of…

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Tokyo Drifter

Directed by Seijun Suzuki and written by Kouhan Kawauchi, Tokyo nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter) is the story of a hitman whose attempt to give up a life of crime has made him a target against rival gangs and crime syndicates to try and kill him. The film is a crime film that follows a man dealing with his own troubles as he tries to avoid it only for chaos to follow him. Starring Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawaji, Ryuji Kita, Hideaki Nitani, Eiji Go, Tomoko Hamakawa, Takeshi Yoshida, and Isao Tamagawa. Tokyo nagaremono is an exhilarating and enthralling film from Seijun Suzuki.

The film is the simple story of a hitman whose gang has just been disbanded where he finds himself being targeted by rival gangs who want him dead as a yakuza boss is trying to make a deal with his old boss. It plays into a man wanting to go straight and start a new life with his singer girlfriend yet he is often pursued by rival gang members including those working for a yakuza boss to get rid of him in a play for power. Kouhan Kawauchi’s screenplay opens with Tetsuya Hondo (Tetsuya Watari) who is known by some as Phoenix Tetsu for his skills being beaten up by rival gang members as he refuses to fight back as a way to show that he’s given up the world of crime. Reporting to his now former boss Kurata (Ryuji Kita), Hondo is hoping not to be involved despite being pursued by the yakuza boss Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi) to join the gang but Hondo refuses.

It would lead to trouble as Otsuka is taking part of a real estate scam and knew that Hondo’s presence would be troubling forcing him to try and eliminate Hondo as well as get Kurata to cooperate. Even as Otsuka hires the hitman Tatsuzo (Tamio Kawaji) who is known as Viper who is eager to get rid of Hondo yet another hitman in Kenji Aizawa (Hideaki Nitani) is aware that Otsuka is in for some trouble. Adding to Hondo’s trouble are these rival gangs with those wanting to kill him no matter what for not just money but the honor of being the one to kill Phoenix Tetsu. For Tetsuya, he would embark on the life of being a drifter with little contact with his previous life as it would be a struggle as he still longs for his singer girlfriend Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) who has no clue of where he is and she would be in trouble if she finds out.

Seijun Suzuki’s direction is definitely stylish in every composition and framing device he aims for including the film’s opening sequence as it is shot in black-and-white with bits of color as it relates to Hondo’s desire to leave behind the world of crime. Shot on various locations in Japan including Tokyo as well as on soundstages in the city, Suzuki would use the locations to play into this emergence of modern-day, post-war Tokyo that is vibrant and full of life with the yakuza operating everything behind the scenes. The usage of close-ups and medium shots would play into the meetings as well as some key scenes in the dramatic elements while Suzuki’s wide shots capture so much in some of the fight scenes as well as the way characters confront each other. There is also elements of the musical as Hondo would often sing something to create a sense of unease to his enemies while Chiharu would have a few musical numbers in the nightclub she sings at where it has something that play into the idea of fantasy.

Suzuki’s blend of genres in a yakuza crime film help play into this frenzied world that Hondo is in where he is eager for this normal life but he is pulled into the world of crime that he wants out of. Yet, there is also the life of a drifter that would allow him certain amounts of freedom but it would come with some sacrifices. Even as the film’s climax with its stylish compositions and set pieces play into this collision of reality and fantasy for Hondo who copes with the myth that has been looming over him as well as who he really is. Overall, Suzuki crafts an exciting and majestic film about a hitman trying to go straight and evade former enemies.

Cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is filled with dazzling colors to help create moods in the lighting as well as play into the beauty of some of the exteriors and for the scenes set at night. Editor Chikaya Inoue does excellent work with the editing as its emphasis on style with its usage of transition wipes, jump-cuts, and other stylish cuts to play into its frenzied energy and lively action. Production designer Takeo Kimura does amazing work with the look of the nightclubs and some of the places that Hondo would go to including the places outside of Tokyo. The sound work of Yoshinobu Akino is superb for its sound effects and the way it captures some of the chaotic moments in the film such as a brawl at a bar with American naval officers. The film’s music by Hajime Kaburagi is fantastic for its jazz-like score with elements of pop and rock n’ roll to play into this feel of a new Japan as it is lively and fun as the soundtrack includes a theme song by Tetsuya Watari that play into his own plight.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Eiji Go as the businessman Tanaka, Tomoko Hamakawa as Kurata’s secretary Mutsuko, Isao Tamagawa as a club-owner/hitman in Umetani who copes with the changes of the rules for the gangster, Takeshi Yoshida as the piano player Keiichi, and Hideaki Esumi as the yakuza boss Otsuka who wants to take control in order to profit on a real estate scam. Tamio Kawaji is fantastic as Otsuka’s hitman Tatsuzo as a man eager to try and kill Hondo as he would pursue any way he can. Hideaki Nitani is excellent as Kenji Aizawa as a hitman who is also onboard for the reward but is really has his own motives to find Hondo as he isn’t fond of what Otsuka is doing. 

Ryuji Kita is brilliant as Hondo’s old boss Kurata as a man who is trying to move forward but finds himself in a bind with Otsuka where he would get himself into serious trouble. Chieko Matsubara is amazing as Chiharu as Hondo’s girlfriend who is a nightclub singer that is eager to have a normal life with Hondo while being aware of the target he has on his back. Finally, there’s Tetsuya Watari in an incredible performance as Tetsuya Hondo as a revered hitman who is trying to go straight where he deals with not just others trying to kill him but also the impossibility of going straight as well as pursuing a life free from danger but with some major sacrifices.

Tokyo nagaremono is a phenomenal film from Seijun Suzuki. Featuring a great cast, dazzling visuals, a thrilling score, and an engaging premise. It’s a film that never plays into the rules of what is expected in a crime film while infusing other genres to make it lively and maintain its own identity. In the end, Tokyo nagaremono is a spectacular film from Seijun Suzuki.

Seijun Suzuki Films: (Victory is Mine) – (Eight Hours of Terror) – (The Naked Woman and the Gun) – (Underworld Beauty) – (Young Breasts) – (Voice Without a Shadow) – (Take Aim at the Police Van) – (Everything Goes Wrong) – (Go to Hell, Hoodlums!) – (Man with a Shotgun) – (Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!) – (Youth of the Beast) – (The Bastard (1963 film)) – (Kanto Wanderer) – (The Flower and the Angry Waves) – (Gate of Flesh) – (Our Blood Will Not Forgive) – (Story of a Prostitute) – (Story of Bastards: Born Under a Bad Star) – (Tattooed Life) – (Carmen from Kawachi) – (Fighting Elegy) – Branded to Kill – (A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness) – (Zigeunerweisen) – (Kagero-za) – (Capone Cries a Lot) – (Legend of the Gold of Babylon) – (Yumeji) – (Pistol Opera) – (Princess Raccoon)

© thevoid99 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): TV Spin-Offs

For the 26th week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. We venture into the world of television with the TV spinoffs. Shows that came from other successful shows where it allows a certain character to be seen more where it can lead to moments of success or moments of failure. This list is based on the latter so here are my three picks:

1. Top of the Heap

I love Married… with Children. I miss that show for all of its politically incorrect humor as well as the fact that it featured gorgeous women in that show including Peggy and Kelly Bundy. This spin-off involved a friend of the Bundys in the Verduccis starring the late, great Joseph Bologna and pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc as a father-son duo trying to embark on quick-rich schemes that never works out. While it would have guest appearances from Al, Bud, and Kelly Bundy and also featured Rita Moreno as a love interest for Bologna and Joey Lauren Adams as a cute neighbor with a thing for LeBlanc. It never really clicked as it only lasted seven episodes and produced another lame spin-off in Vinnie & Bobby (I never saw it).

2. Models Inc.

Anyone who lived through the 90s must’ve seen Beverly Hills 90210 and its spin-off Melrose Place as the latter was just a fun, overly-dramatic show with lots of gorgeous women and other crazy shit. Then there was its spin-off as it was based on Heather Locklear’s mother played by Linda Gray who runs a modeling agency. While it featured pre-fame Carrie-Ann Moss and Garcelle Beauvais in key roles and would later include Emma Samms. It was not a good show as some of the actresses who played the models can’t act for shit. Some of the dramatic storylines was fucking stupid and it thankfully got cancelled before it got to its ending which was aired years later as it was clear Aaron Spelling just gave up on and put a bullet in its fucking head.

3. Baywatch Nights

Any straight male who watched Baywatch obviously watched that show for two big reasons. Sure, David Hasselhoff was cool but it was about those two big reasons. Then there was its spin-off which had Hasselhoff’s character who was a lifeguard by day but a private detective at night. Wow, it was lame. Sure, Baywatch wasn’t high-brow television but it at least served a purpose for those who weren’t old enough to watch porn. This show with all of its attempt in suspense and mystery, despite featuring a pre-fame Angie Harmon and the velvety-smooth Lou Rawls, was just total shit. It tried to take itself seriously which is not what Baywatch is. Baywatch is about… well…

© thevoid99 2018

Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: The New Land

Based on the novels The Settlers and The Last Letter Home from The Emigrants novel series by Vilhelm Morberg, Nybyggarna (The New Land) is the sequel to the 1971 film The Emigrants that follows a Swedish family’s arrival in America where they hope to start a new life just as the country they arrived in is embarking into their own turmoil. Directed, shot, and edited by Jan Troell and screenplay by Troell and Bengt Forslund, the film is the second part of a two-part film series that follows a family trying to start anew in their new home. Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Pierre Lindstedt, Monica Zetterlund, Hans Alfredson, Allan Edwall, and Peter Lindgren. Nybyggarna is an evocative and enchanting film from Jan Troell.

Picking up where the previous film left off in 1850 near the Chisago Lake in Minnesota, the film is about the life of a Swedish family settling in their new home as they deal with not just creating their new home but also maintaining their roots though ever-changing times. It plays into this family that is trying to start this new life in Minnesota having left Sweden years ago as they endure not just establishing their home but also deal with people changing and other circumstances. The film’s screenplay by Jan Troell and Bengt Forslund does follow the three-act structure yet there is so much that is happening as it play into the evolution of the Nilsson family led by Karl Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow) and his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann). They would start off living in a shack with their children and Karl Oskar’s brother Robert (Eddie Axberg) where they struggle with the winter and other things including American currency which confuses Karl Oskar at first. The first act is about the family settling and Robert eventually leaving with his friend Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) to go to California to find gold.

The second act is about the formation of a parish with Danjel (Allan Edwall) as more settlers from Sweden are coming as the Nilsson would have a slew of Swedish neighbors. Though it would be welcoming at first, it would later cause trouble in the third act as it would relate to the natives in a scene where Karl Oskar meets his old friend Jonas Peter (Hans Alfredson) who warns him about the natives. The second act is about Robert’s return after a two-year journey to California and back where he doesn’t exactly reveal what happened to him as it would play into what he had encountered as well as revelations about a world that is darker than he imagined. The second act also include Karl Oskar’s desire to wanting to be an American yet Kristina believes it will rob him of his identity just as their family is growing despite its risk for Kristina’s health. The third act is about not just this sense of change but also the emergence of hostile natives lurking as well as Karl Oskar coping with mortality.

Troell’s direction is engaging for the way it presents the world of mid-19th Century Minnesota as some of it is shot in areas in Sweden including Stockholm, Smaland, and Skane as well as some locations in America in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado for some scenes in the desert. It does play into this sense of emergence of a world that is starting for the Nilsson family in the way Troell uses hand-held cameras to get their point of view of their environment as well as how homes were built back then. The scenes in the home are shot with close-ups and medium shots to maintain that air of intimacy as well as wide shots for its exteriors and its surroundings that would play into the confusion that Karl Oskar and Kristina would encounter when they go to a nearby town where the latter’s friend Ulrika (Monica Zetterlund) lives in as she would marry the preacher (Tom C. Fouts) whom she had met years ago when he helped them find their way to town.

Also serving as the film’s editor and cinematographer, Troell would maintain something that is natural such as the sequence involving Robert’s journey to California which includes a scene at night where he and Arvid try to find a mule that had gotten loose. The sequence would have Troell use some stylish jump-cuts and montages to play into the chaos that Robert encountered as well as other dizzying cuts for a scene late in the film as it relates to the Dakota War of 1862 that involved settlers in Minnesota and nearby states. Troell would also play into the sense of change that emerges as he would provide little hints of what Karl Oskar and Kristina would face as well as its ending that play into not just what Karl Oskar and Kristina’s children have become but also a sense of loss relating to where they came from in this journey that their parents endured. Overall, Troell crafts a majestic yet rapturous film about Swedish settlers making a new home as well as try to maintain their roots in the New World.

Art director P.A. Lundgren does brilliant work with the look of the home that Karl Oskar would build for his family and the evolution of what it would become as well as the look of the small town they live nearby as well as the desert town that Robert would go to in his journey. Costume designer Ulla-Britt Soderlund does excellent work with the costumes from the lavish hat that Ulrika would wear after her marriage to simpler clothes of the settlers that would evolve during the course of time. The sound work of Eddie Axberg and Sten Norlen do superb work with the sound in capturing the sounds of nature in its different locations as well as play into moments of suspense as it relates to the natives. The film’s music by Bengt Ernryd is amazing for its rich score filled with lush strings and some organ music to play into the sense of drama and spiritualism that looms throughout the film while Georg Oddner creates an unsettling yet eerie theme to accompany Robert’s journey to California with lots of percussive instruments to play into the dark aspects of his journey.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Per Oscarsson as Pastor Torner as a traveling Swede who arrives to Minnesota to lead a congregation, Tom C. Fouts as the American pastor Jackson whom Ulrika would marry as he would help everyone get settled, Agneta Prytz as the old woman Fina Kajsa who would live with her son who had emigrated many years earlier, Peter Lindgren as Kajsa’s son Samuel Nojd who deals with alcoholism to cope with his attempts to tend to his land, Halvar Bjork as another settler in Anders Mansson who helps out the Nilsson family, Pierre Lindstedt as Robert’s friend Arvid who joins him on the journey to California, and Hans Alfredson as the settler Jonas Petter as a settler who marries a native only to deal with the chaos that involves the natives warning Nilsson about what is to come. Allan Edwall is fantastic as Danjel Andreasson as a former preacher who has started a new life nearby the Nilsson though a falling out with Ulrika would complicate his relationship with Kristina.

Monica Zetterlund is excellent as Ulrika as a former prostitute who marries an American preacher as she would help out Kristina in finding things as well as to save money while being her own woman. Eddie Axberg is brilliant as Robert Nilsson as Karl Oskar’s younger brother who tries to forge his own path in life by going to California in the search for gold only to return to Minnesota a broken young man who encountered some of the darkest aspects of humanity and environments that would nearly kill him. Liv Ullmann is incredible as Kristina as Karl Oskar’s wife who finds some happiness in her new home as she also deals with her longing for Sweden while being worried about losing her roots and who she is where she turns to God for answers. Finally, there’s Max von Sydow in a phenomenal performance as Karl Oskar Nilsson as a man who has finally found his new home where he is determined to create a new life but he’s tempted to conform to the ideas of America only to struggle with some of its realities and later dealing with loss and his own struggles with faith.

Nybyggarna is a tremendous film from Jan Troell. Featuring a great ensemble cast, beautiful visuals, a mesmerizing music score, and stories of a family settling into their new home as well as try to maintain their identity. It’s a film that explores what a family from another country tries to do to find their place in the world but also struggling to adapt to this new world that they’re unsure if it belongs to them. In the end, Nybyggarna is a spectacular film from Jan Troell.

Jan Troell Films: (Here is Your Life) – (Who Saw Him Die?) – The Emigrants - (Zandy’s Bride) – (Bang!) – (Hurricane (1979 film)) – (Flight of the Eagle) – (Land of Dreams) – (Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem) – (Hamsun) – (A Frozen Dream) – (As White as in Snow) – (Everlasting Moments) – (The Last Sentence)

© thevoid99 2018

Saturday, June 23, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: The Emigrants

Based on the novel by Vilhelm Morberg, Utvandrarna (The Emigrants) is the story of a poor Swedish farming family who travel from a small village in Sweden to America in the hopes of finding a new life in a new world. Directed, shot, and edited by Jan Troell and screenplay by Troell and Bengt Forslund, the film is the first of a two-part film series that explore the life of a family who deal with the hardships of their homeland and the need to find something new. Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Allan Edwall, Pierre Lindstedt, Hans Alfredson, Sven-Olof Bern, Aina Alfredsson, Ulla Smidje, Eva-Lena Zetterlund, and Monica Zetterlund. Utvandrarna is a rapturous and evocative film from Jan Troell.

Set in 1844 Sweden, the film revolves around a family of farmers who live in a small village as they decide to move to America in the state of Minnesota in the hopes of a new start. During the course of their long and arduous journey, they deal with so much that would challenge any kind of family in the course of a long period of time as well as this seaside journey from Sweden to America. The film’s screenplay by Jan Troell and Bengt Forslund does have this unique structure that play into the journey that Karl Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow) and his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann) would take starting off in the Swedish province of Smaland in a small village where they try to tend the farm and its land that Nilsson got from his father which is unfortunately filled with large stones. Much of the first act is set in Sweden where the Nilsson family that include Karl Oskar’s younger brother Robert (Eddie Axberg) deal with not just the land of their family but also this sense of oppression among their authority figures including those who lead this strict idea of faith.

This idea of Lutheran faith and its rule would force Kristina’s uncle Danjel Andreasson (Allan Edwall) to leave town as he would join Nilsson and his family to go to America with a young farmhand in Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) whom Robert met when they worked for a cruel farmer. The second act is set on the ship from Sweden to America as there is so much the passengers endure ranging from seasickness, bad food, horrible weather, and death. There is also question about whether the decision to leave Sweden was the right one as the third act is set in America where there is a sense of confusion over what to expect as well as the fact that they have to take another journey to the state of Minnesota where an old woman’s son is living at.

Troell’s direction is mesmerizing in the way he captures mid-19th Century life in Smaland as well as the way America looked in that time. While much of the film was shot in Sweden with the scenes in America shot at Lake Krageholm in Scania, Troell uses the location to showcase not just the sense of wonderment that is America but also the struggle that Nilsson and his family would endure early on. The first shot of Nilsson’s father Nils (Sven-Olof Bern) trying to pull a big stone out of the ground on a rainy day is an example of the kind of troubles Karl Oskar would endure as there’s something mythical into this ongoing struggle where all of these stones are in the family’s fields. Troell’s usage of the wide shots play into the scope of the landscape as well as the sense of struggle that Nilsson has to cope with in relation to his land as well as providing for his family. Even as Robert would be forced to work for a cruel farmer as Troell showcases not just the day-to-day grind but also the lack of appreciation Robert and Arvid would get as Troell would shoot them in close-ups as well as medium shots to show their cramped living quarters.

Also serving as the film’s cinematographer and editor, Troell aims for a naturalistic look into the film in not just the landscapes but also the scenes on the ship. With much of the direction emphasizes on hand-held cameras to get that air of realism, Troell would shoot the scenes on the ship as if he was a passenger to get an idea of the danger of that journey. His approach as an editor isn’t just using dissolves and jump-cuts but also some fade-outs to help transition parts of the story that is grand not just in its 190-minute length but also to play into the struggle these characters endure. Even in the third act where they arrive in America as the confusion is shown in the editing where it is like a fish out of water but also in their attempts to communicate with Americans for direction as they still have trouble trying to speak English. The film’s ending has Troell play into the possibilities as well as the end of this journey that Nilsson takes over his desire for a new start. Overall, Troell crafts an intoxicating and riveting film about a Swedish family going to America to start over.

Art director P.A. Lundgren does brilliant work with the look of the homes the Nilsson family lived as well as the interiors of the ship they would board on to America and some of the locations in America. Costume designer Ulla-Britt Soderlund does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the period of the times where there isn’t a lot of color into the clothes that the characters wear that include the wooden clogs they would wear in Sweden. Sound mixers Eddie Axberg and Sten Norlen do superb work with the sound in capturing the sounds of the different locations in the film including the scenes on the ship as well as the natural sounds of nature. The film’s music by Erik Nordgren is wonderful for its orchestral-based score that appear in some parts of the film as it play into the drama with its soft strings as well as some intense musical moments that help add to the drama.

The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles from Tom C. Fouts as an American pastor who helps out Nilsson and his entourage find their destination, Ake Fridell as the cruel farmer Aron who severely hits Robert’s left ear, Gustaf Faringborg as the local vicar Brusander who feels threatened by Andreasson’s teachings, Aina Andersson as Nilsson’s young daughter Marta, Bruno Sorwing as the local sheriff whom Nilsson has to deal with in relation to Robert’s issues with Aron, Eva-Lena Zetterlund as Ulrika’s daughter Elin who befriends Robert on the way to America, Ulla Smidje as Andreasson’s wife Inga-Lena who copes with the journey on ship, Hans Alfredson as a fellow traveling Swede in Jonas Petter, and Sven-Olof Bern as Nilsson’s father Nils who copes with the injury that would cripple him as well as realize the lack of future for his sons and their families in Sweden. Monica Zetterlund is fantastic as Ulrika as a former prostitute with an awful reputation who joins the journey as she is someone that Kristina isn’t fond of until she proves her worth as well as being someone that is helpful. Pierre Lindstedt is superb as Arvid as a farmhand that Robert meets as he’s a simpleton who is aware of the cruelty he’s dealing with as he’s eager to want something more as he joins Robert on the journey to America.

Allan Edwall is excellent as Daniel Andreasson as a preacher whose ideas of faith gets him in trouble with the local vicar as he decides to go America with his family where he deals with his own tests of faith through the circumstances he endures. Eddie Axberg is brilliant as Robert Nilsson as a Karl Oskar’s younger brother who likes to read and is more fascinated by science and social ideals rather than farming as he is eager to go to America in the hope of doing something that matters. Liv Ullmann is incredible as Kristina as a woman who endures a lot in her journey hoping for something good as she is also a God-fearing woman that believes God will bring something as she later copes with her own challenges towards faith. Finally, there’s Max von Sydow in a remarkable performance as Karl Oskar Nilsson as a man who is given his father’s farm to tend only to deal with the same struggles of his father prompting him to go to America with his family as a way to start all over as he would also cope with the wonderment and confusion of his encounter with America.

Utvandrarna is a phenomenal film from Jan Troell that features great performances from Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, and a gripping yet somber story about a family’s journey from Sweden to America in the mid-19th Century. It’s a film that captures a moment in time of a family dealing with uncertainty in their homeland as well as wanting to see if they can find something new in what was then known as the New World. In the end, Utvandrarna is a tremendous film from Jan Troell.

Jan Troell Films: (Here is Your Life) – (Who Saw Him Die?) – The New Land – (Zandy’s Bride) – (Bang!) – (Hurricane (1979 film)) – (Flight of the Eagle) – (Land of Dreams) – (Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem) – (Hamsun) – (A Frozen Dream) – (As White as in Snow) – (Everlasting Moments) – (The Last Sentence)

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Auteurs #66: John Cameron Mitchell

Among one of the current figures in American independent cinema who makes film that doesn’t play by the rules, John Cameron Mitchell is a figure in cinema and television who is interested in telling stories about those who struggle with being part of conventional society. Being openly gay, Mitchell started off as a voice for LGBT audiences only to broaden himself even more in making films and projects that also appeal to straight audiences but without giving in towards the conventional ideas of cinema. While he would also work as an actor in various projects to get funding for films that studios wouldn’t want to take on. His independent spirit has made him a vital voice for filmmakers who like to think outside the box.

Born on April 21, 1963 in El Paso, Texas, John Cameron Mitchell was the son of a U.S. Army general as he and his brother Colin along with their Scottish-born schoolteacher mother moved around the world as Mitchell and his brother Colin grew up on different army bases in West Germany, Scotland, and in various parts of the U.S. During that time when he was living Scotland, he attended the Benedictine boarding school where he discovered theatre as he would play the Virgin Mary for a Nativity musical at the age of 11. Through his love for acting and theatre, Mitchell would later attend Northwestern University in Illinois in 1981 where he attended the school for four years studying drama as he would also learn about film. On the year he graduated from Northwestern in 1985, he also came out of the closest to friends and family knowing that homosexuality was still considered taboo in America.

Living in Chicago following his college graduation, Mitchell got the role of Huckleberry Finn for a stage play in the city’s Goodman Theatre as it got the attention of theatre agents in New York City as he played Finn once again in a stage version of Big River. Mitchell would also get work in television, commercials, movies, and theatre for the course of more than a decade as he played different kind of roles. It was also around this time that he also learned the craft of directing theatre where he founded the Drama Department Theatre Company in the mid-1990s as he directed a version of Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth that would star Cynthia Nixon and Peter Sarsgaard. It was around this time that Mitchell met musician Stephen Trask through various punk rock clubs in New York City. The two shared an interest for music as they both loved David Bowie and 1970s glam rock as they decided to collaborate on a theatre project that would get the attention of the world of theatre.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch

In 1998, Mitchell and Trask staged their off-Broadway play about a German androgynous rock singer with a botched sex change operation who is touring with his band as they’re following a more popular singer that used to be the lover of the titular character. The character was partially inspired by Mitchell’s German babysitter when he was living in Junction City, Kansas as well as other luminaries in 70s glam rock like Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. The play would have a two-year run off-Broadway as it grew a lot of attention including the endorsement of David Bowie and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell who invited Mitchell and Trask to perform a song on her show. The success of the play would inspire Mitchell to do his own film version of the play as he would co-write, direct, and star in the film with Trask also co-starring and co-writing the film’s script.

With a budget of $6 million that was aided by famed independent film producer Christine Vachon who would produce the film, Mitchell would be given the chance to create his own film version of the story he created rather than have big Hollywood studios adapt it and make it more mainstream. With Mitchell playing the role of Hedwig as he did onstage and Trask as one of the band members, the film’s cast would include Miriam Shor who would reprise her role as Hedwig’s husband/back-up singer Yitzhak, Andrea Martin as Hedwig’s manager, and then-newcomer Michael Pitt as Hedwig’s former lover Tommy Gnosis who had become a popular singer that had taken the songs he and Hedwig had written. Mitchell would gain the support of cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco to shoot the film as he would be a recurring collaborator of Mitchell for much of his film as DeMarco would create visuals to play into Mitchell’s ambition.

Knowing that musicals often are made with large budgets that was one of the reasons the genre had phased out in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as attempts to revive the genre in the coming decades haven’t been well-received. Mitchell knew that he didn’t want to fall into the traps of creating spectacles as he used the film’s $6 million budget to his advantage to create something that has elements of spectacles but not be afraid to play into its low budget aesthetics. At the same time, Mitchell wanted to create that air of excitement into the fact that his musical is largely based on rock n’ roll rather than the typical idea of show-tunes as the songs he and Trask created definitely had an edge as it play into Hedwig’s own faults and anger towards his protégé whom he felt had used him for his own success.

The film made its premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival in January of that year as it won the festival’s Audience prize as well as a directing prize for Mitchell. The film would also make its European premiere a month later at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the festival’s Teddy Award as it appealed to the LGBT audience. The film’s success through film festivals lead to a limited theatrical release in the U.S. later that summer. Despite its immense critical success, the film only made $3.6 million which wasn’t enough to cover its $6 million budget though the film would eventually become a cult film since its release. Mitchell would also garner a large amount of critical support as he would win the L.A. Film Critics Association New Generation prize as well as Best Debut Director from the National Board of Review in the U.S. and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a comedy/musical.

Bright Eyes-First Day of My Life (music video)/Scissor Sisters-Filthy/Gorgeous (music video)

The critical and cult success of Hedwig & the Angry Inch would give Mitchell the chance to do other work as well as be a host for the Independent Film Channel’s Escape from Hollywood film series in showcasing revered independent films to a wide audience for two years. While trying to get money in developing a new film project, Mitchell would also take the time to direct a couple of music videos during this break between film projects. The first of which is a video for the indie folk group Bright Eyes as it was a simple video of various people on a couch as they listen to the song on headphones as it play into the idea of love. The video would help Bright Eyes become a viable act in the indie scene as Mitchell would make another video for the American dance band Scissor Sisters that would be extremely controversial as it is set at a sex club though Mitchell didn’t want to make it totally explicit. Still, the video in an edited version and its uncensored version was considered too controversial to be aired on MTV or any mainstream music outlet.


Wanting to make his next feature film something completely different and use non-professional actors, unknowns, and some obscure actors, Mitchell and producer Howard Gertler decided to get people to answer a casting call on participating in a film project about sex. The film would revolve around a group of people in New York City coping with their sexuality and what it would mean to them as it include a subplot in which a sex therapist deals with her lack of orgasm in her sexual life. Many people would send thousands of confessional tapes and such for Mitchell and Gertler to watch as one of the tapes came from Jonathan Caouette whose confession lead to Mitchell finding him and eventually fund Caouette’s own documentary Tarnation that was released through film festivals in 2004 to rave reviews. Nine people were eventually chosen including Canadian radio personality Sook-Yin Lee who had appeared in a small role in Hedwig & the Angry Inch as they would all take part in a workshop to develop ideas for the film and its characters.

Three people would leave the workshop while Lee’s involvement in the film would nearly have her fired by her bosses until several people such as filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Bart Freundlich along with actress Julianne Moore and musician Moby stepped in to save Lee’s job. Mitchell would take the workshop to Los Angeles to find more actors as he would succeed as well as get the $2 million he needed for the film along with distribution in THINKfilm. The film was finally shot in the summer of 2005 as Mitchell brought along his collaborators that include sound designer Benjamin Cheah, animator John Bair for some visual effects, production designer Judy Asnes, and costume designers Bart Mueller and Kurt Swanson for the production. Much of the cast of non-professional actors and amateurs would take part in sexually explicit acts but Mitchell knew he didn’t want to make a film that many thought would be pornography.

For an orgy scene, Mitchell decided to take part in the scene as an act of solidarity with the other actors taking part in the orgy as he and a cameraman were both naked for the scene. Even as there’s moments in the film where real orgasm and real sex occurred where during a shoot where Mitchell and his crew were finishing up the shoot that night. Actors involved in an orgy were still having sex that made Mitchell and crew members restless into having the people finish things up as Mitchell would also have another crew film the making of the orgy scene. Actors would get tested for STDs in case something goes wrong though fortunately no one had any STDs as Mitchell was able to get what he wanted.

The film made its premiere in May of 2006 at the Cannes Film Festival in France where it received a rousing reception in its screening as it was released a few months later by THINKfilm in the U.S. in a limited release due to its sexually explicit content as Mitchell refused to do further cuts by the MPAA and chose to release the film unrated. Despite its lack of commercial appeal and receiving mixed reviews from critics, the film did manage to make more than $5.4 million in its limited theatrical release against its $2 million budget. The film would also play in film festivals around the world where it received some accolades giving Mitchell some clout in the industry. A year after its release, the film was banned from South Korea for its release though it would still play in film festivals in the country that did help the ban get lifted for the film two years to be seen publicly in its unrated presentation.

Rabbit Hole

Following a break between films in which Mitchell was trying to develop other projects, he went to see David Lindsay-Abaire’s play about a couple dealing with the loss of their child as it would play into their disintegrating marriage where they each go into separate paths to cope with their grief. The play’s 2006 premiere on Broadway that featured Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery in the lead roles was a major hit as Mitchell met Lindsay-Abaire about the play as the two decided collaborated on turning the play into a feature film project. With Lindsay-Abaire winning the Pulitizer Prize for its play, he agreed to work with Mitchell due to their experiences in theater as they also wanted to stray from the conventional ideas of Hollywood as it relate to hit plays becoming mainstream films that often don’t deliver.

Knowing that the film would mark a major departure for Mitchell from his more raucous stories of sexuality, the film would have Mitchell play it straight but also go further into the way a couple deals with grief. With the exception of longtime cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco and sound designer Benjamin Cheah, Mitchell took on an entire new crew for the production during its development as he and Lindsay-Abaire got the attention of Nicole Kidman who is interested in doing the film. Kidman who dropped out of a film project for Woody Allen agreed to do the film in the role of Becca as she would also serve as one of its producers to keep the film’s budget low. For the role of Becca’s husband Howie, Aaron Eckhart accepted the role as he would go into his own research into the idea of grief by attending meetings for parents who had lost their children.

The ensemble would include Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, then-newcomer Miles Teller, and Dianne Wiest as Becca’s mother as the shooting began in late 2009/early 2010 for a 28-day shoot in the boroughs of Queens in New York City with the small budget of $3.2 million. Mitchell wanted to maintain the same kind of intimacy that the play had while shooting the film on various locations in Queens such as an arcade where Howie and Sandra Oh’s character Gabby decide to skip a grief counseling meeting to just hang out and have fun. It would play into Becca and Howie’s disintegrating marriage as Becca would find herself spending time with the character of Jason, played by Miles Teller, who accidentally killed their son as he feels guilty over what he did giving Becca a chance to cope with her own loss as well as learning her sister is pregnant. Mitchell chooses not to over-embellish nor underplay the drama in order to play with these ideas of grief giving the actors a chance to take the characters into places that most films wouldn’t go into.

The film made its premiere in September 2010 at the Toronto Film Festival where it was well-received as it was later distributed by Lions Gate which gave the film a limited release later in December for its Oscar consideration. The film received rave reviews from critics while managing to do well in its box office making more than $5 million against its $3.2 million budget while it would give Kidman an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Though there were some who were critical of the changes Mitchell and Lindsay-Abaire made from the play into the film. Mitchell and Lindsay-Abaire were still proud of what they did as it would help the former become more visible in Hollywood despite his reluctance to play into their world preferring to remain independent.

Dior: L.A.dy Dior/Dior: Lady Grey London/Dior: Dior Homme Sport

After the release of Rabbit Hole, Mitchell chose to take on a few small projects as he was asked by Dior to direct a few ads for the fashion company. A couple of these ads/shorts would star French actress Marion Cotillard as the first short involved her as a movie star in Los Angeles that is tired of the photoshoots and such as the overwhelming pressure in being a star finally gets to her as she acts out. The second short set in London which also starred Ian McKellan and Russell Tovey in which Cotillard played a mysterious stage performer who entrances both a crippled McKellan and Tovey as an artist as it is a mixture of cabaret and melodrama. A third short film Mitchell did for Dior would star Jude Law as a man driving to Paris to the South of France to meet a woman as it is told through the Rolling Stones’ song Paint It Black where Mitchell infuses it with a sense of style and Law’s sense of cool.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

During a long break between films in which Mitchell directed an episode of Showtime’s medical comedy-drama Nurse Jackie in 2013 as well as appearing in a recurring role for the HBO comedy series Girls from 2013 to 2014 and later appearing as Andy Warhol two years later in another HBO series in Vinyl. Mitchell’s foray into television was brief as he shot an unaired pilot of another Showtime comedy series in Happyish that never got off the ground since the pilot featured one of the final acting performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman who died in early 2014. It was around in 2015 when Mitchell was approached in helming a film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s short story about a young punk rocker who meets and falls in love with a young woman who is believed to be an alien as it’s set during the late 70s punk movement in Britain.

Mitchell collaborated with Philippa Goslett in adapting the script as they were able to get the film shot in Sheffield instead of London due to the fact that certain locations in London didn’t look like what they did back in 1977. Along with longtime collaborators in Frank G. DeMarco and Benjamin Cheah, Mitchell would get the services of famed costume designer Sandy Powell in creating costumes just as Mitchell also got Nicole Kidman on board to play the role of punk rock leader Queen Boadicea. Mitchell wanted Marion Cotillard to do a cameo appearance in the film but Cotillard was unable to take part due to scheduling conflicts as the cameo was scrapped where Mitchell focused on getting the right actors for the lead roles. It was in British theater actor Alex Sharp who would get the role of Enn while American actress Elle Fanning played the role of the mysterious alien Zan.

The ensemble cast would include Matt Lucas and Ruth Wilson as colony leaders as shooting began in November 2015 on a $3.8 million budget for the film. Being familiar with the world of punk culture, Mitchell wanted to maintain that air of authenticity as well as writing original songs for the film that Zan and Enn would sing to play into their growing union. It added to this energy that Mitchell wanted while he wanted the scenes involving the aliens to be filled with some comical absurdity as idealists who have an agenda yet would be confronted by the punks who reveal the major flaws into their ideals. All of which would lead to Enn, who is an artist trying to find his own artistic voice, to write up his own experiences similar to what Gaiman had experienced in the time of punk rock.

The film made its premiere in May of 2017 at the Cannes Film Festival in France where it played out of competition where it got a mixed reception. The film was eventually released in theaters a year later in Britain and in the U.S. where some praised the film for its energy though some felt the blending of different genres hurt the film. The polarizing reaction did hamper the film’s limited release in the U.S. even though Mitchell remains confident over the film and his vision.

While he’s only made four feature films so far and doesn’t make films very often due to his reluctance to work with Hollywood. John Cameron Mitchell is still an important figure for American independent and LGBT cinema as he would be a champion for both movements as well as maintain that need to not be pigeonholed like other filmmakers known for doing certain types of films. It is why cinema should be grateful in having someone like John Cameron Mitchell to be the voice for stories that Hollywood wouldn’t dare touch.

© thevoid99 2018