Sunday, September 22, 2019

King of New York

Directed by Abel Ferrara and written by Nicholas St. John, King of New York is the story of a drug lord who has returned from prison to wipe out all of his competitors and become a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts much to the dismay of his competitors and the NYPD. The film is about a man who saw what his empire has become as he decides to make some changes but also take in some new extremes to get rid of his competitors. Starring Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Victor Argo, Steve Buscemi, and Giancarlo Esposito. King of New York is an evocative and intense film from Abel Ferrara.

The film revolves around a drug lord who has just been released from prison to find that the drug trade and its culture has gotten ugly forcing him to get rid of other dealers and use the money he makes from selling drugs to help the poor in New York City. It’s a simple scenario that definitely recalls the idea of Robin Hood yet the character of Frank White (Christopher Walken) is not really a Robin Hood character. He kills people and he does what he can to ensure that New York City can prosper and give hope to people in the ghettos and other poor areas so they can live good and decent lives. Nicholas St. John’s screenplay opens with White in his prison cell walking out as he is ready to be released while a couple of dealers are being killed with one of them from White’s henchman Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne) doing the job as he hadn’t seen White in years. Though White doesn’t reveal his intentions as it relates to crime lords and such, he does see what New York City has become and realizes that so much can be done without trying to destroy things and act as a businessman by making money off of drugs to fund things such as children’s hospitals and to help the poor.

By getting rid of his competitors including those who have done more harm than good to those in their home turf, White does believe he is trying to do good though some of his actions through murder and intimidation says otherwise. Most notably the NYPD who still hold a grudge towards White as they see him as a criminal as they try to go after his associates. Yet, it is two of the cops in Dennis Gilley (David Caruso) and Thomas Flanigan (Wesley Snipes) who believe that they should take the law into their own hands much to the dismay of Roy Bishop (Victor Argo) who thinks they’re getting themselves into some serious trouble.

Abel Ferrara’s direction is stylish in some of the compositions he creates yet he also would use New York City and its various locations as characters in the film including the Plaza Hotel where White and his gang would stay. While there are some unique wide and medium shots to get a scope of the locations including some key suspenseful moments late in the film, much of Ferrara’s direction emphasizes more on characters and their settings. Even in the usage of medium shots and close-ups with some shots that involve multiple characters as it play into a world that is unruly and in total despair. Ferrara’s direction for the dramatic moments are simple as it include some long gazing shots of White looking at his city and hoping to make some changes along with a visit to a children’s hospital that is in dire need of repairs where he hopes to help that place and ensure that those kids will be fine. It’s among these small moments in the film that showcase White’s intentions despite his methods where he does kill off some rivals and such in very violent means.

The violence is intense as well as some confrontational scenes where a notable one where a few thugs try to rob White and end up working for him as they would prove their loyalty to him. While what White and his crew do other gang members were violent, it is nothing compared to what Gilley and Flanigan would do to try and stop him as they would prove to be even worse than what White did. Even in the film’s third act where the two cops would show how extreme they can be yet it would come at a great price where Ferrara shows the fallacy of not just White’s intentions but also the police and their inability to see the world and what it was becoming. Even as it play into White seeing that the idea of change is much harder to do when those in power try to be involved and not get any reward. Overall, Ferrara crafts an intoxicating yet intense film about a drug lord who uses his power to try and help the unfortunate in New York City.

Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of dreamy and low-key lights for many of the exterior scenes at night as well as a low-key yet sunny look for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editor Anthony Redman does excellent work with the editing as it has some stylish rhythmic cuts to play into the action and some of the dark humor while much of it is straightforward. Production designer Alex Tavoularis, with set decorator Sonja Roth and art director Stephanie Ziemer, does fantastic work with the look of some of the interiors in the places including a few interiors in some of the places in the city.

Costume designer Carol Ramsey does terrific work with the costumes from the stylish black suit that White wears along with the street clothes that Jump wears. Sound editor Greg Sheldon does superb work with the sound in the way gunfire is presented as well as the sound of a few parties and other places in the city. The film’s music by Joe Delia is wonderful for its somber ambient-based synthesizer score that play into some of the film’s melancholic moments while the music soundtrack mainly features hip-hop tracks featuring cuts from Schooly-D and Party Posse as well as a jazz cut from Freddy Jackson.

The casting by Randy Sabusawa is terrific as it feature some notable small roles from Harold Perrineau as a young thug who robs White only to end up working for him, Frank Gio as the Italian crime boss Arty Clay, Ernest Abuba as a dealer named King Tito, Gerard Murphy as a young cop named Mulligan, Alonna Shaw as Mulligan’s bride, Ariane and Pete Hamill as themselves who are dinner guests at a restaurant where White visits them, Joey Chin as a triad leader in Larry Wong, Carrie Nygren as a lover of White in Melanie, Roger Guenveur Smith as a local politician, Theresa Randle as one of White’s female companions/henchwomen in Raye, Steve Buscemi as a drug tester in Test Tube, Freddy Jackson as himself performing for a benefit dinner, Giancarlo Esposito as a henchman in Lance, Janet Julian as White’s attorney/former lover in Jennifer, and Paul Calderon as a handler of White in Joey Dalesio who serves as a mediator between White and other dealers only to later put White into trouble.

Wesley Snipes and David Caruso are fantastic in their respective roles as the detectives Thomas Flanigan and Dennis Gilley as two young detectives who decide to take the law into their own hands with Flanigan having issues with White’s henchman Jump and Gilley taking the lead believing that White is disrespecting the law. Victor Argo is brilliant as Roy Bishop as a detective who is a more by-the-book figure that wants to bring White down the right way while trying to understand what White is trying to do as he would eventually face him in a way that he feels is ideal to him. Laurence Fishburne is excellent as White’s henchman Jimmy Jump as a man who does a lot of the killing but is also someone who understands what White is trying to do where he also wants to help out other people where Fishburne displays a lot of charm and energy into his performance. Finally, there’s Christopher Walken in a magnificent performance as Frank White as a drug lord who has been released from prison as he sees what his city has become as it’s a performance that has elements of charisma but also in some restraint as he tries to change the city and do good as it’s one of Walken’s great performances.

King of New York is a phenomenal film from Abel Ferrara that features a tremendous performance from Christopher Walken. Along with its ensemble cast, eerie visuals, study of law and order, and an exhilarating music soundtrack. It’s a film that doesn’t play into the many tropes expected in a crime drama as it’s more of a study of a man trying to use his knowledge of the criminal underworld and to create change in the hope that he can help the unfortunate in New York City. In the end, King of New York is a spectacular film from Abel Ferrara.

Abel Ferrara Films: (9 Lives of a Wet Pussy) – (The Driller Killer) – (Ms. 45) – (Fear City) – (The Gladiator (1986 TV film)) – (China Girl) – (The Loner) – (Cat Chaser) – (Bad Lieutenant) – (Body Snatchers (1993 film)) – (Dangerous Game) – (The Addiction (1995 film)) – (The Funeral (1996 film)) – (The Blackout (1997 film)) – (New Rose Hotel) – (‘R Xmas) – (Mary (2005 film)) – (Go Go Tales) – (Chelsea on the Rocks) – (Napoli, Napoli, Napoli) – (4:44 Last Day on Earth) – (Welcome to New York) – (Pasolini) – (Tomasso)

© thevoid99 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Police Story 2

Directed and starring Jackie Chan and written by Chan and Edward Tang, Police Story 2 is the sequel to the 1985 film that has a Hong Kong detective demoted to traffic duty as he eventually goes rogue to go against a gang of serial bombers who is believed to be working for a drug lord’s henchman. The film has Chan reprise the role of “Kevin” Chan Ka-kui as he deals with his unorthodox methods in taking down criminals while trying to adjust to his new role as a traffic cop and his relationship with his girlfriend May as she is reprised by Maggie Cheung. Also starring Bill Tung, Charlie Cho, Lam Kwok-Hung, and Chor Yuen reprising his role as the drug lord Chu Tao. Police Story 2 is a sprawling and gripping film from Jackie Chan.

The is set months after the events of the first film in which Chan Ka-kui has amassed a lot of heavy damage to the places he’s in during his attempted captures of the drug lord Chu Tao as he is demoted to traffic duty. Yet, it’s a film that has him torn between being a cop but also being a good boyfriend to his longtime girlfriend May just as a gang of serial bombers are creating havoc around Hong Kong and extorting a group of rich businessman through threats. Even as Chan has to lead a surveillance team that forces him to break-up with May so he can try and prevent from other bombings from happening after he and May were fortunate to escape a bombing attempt. The film’s screenplay by Jackie Chan and Edward Tang mixes ideas of comedy, romance, drama, action, and suspense as it play into Chan Ka-kui’s struggle to be a good cop yet often gets himself into trouble whether he is targeted by Tao’s right-hand man John Ko (Charlie Cho) and his goons or through these mysterious bombers who are making threats and destroying places.

Notably in the film’s second act where Chan leads the surveillance team as they also record conversations from the corporate bosses who are being extorted. It serves as a break from the action and humor as it emphasizes on suspense with Chan taking the lead and allowing his team to be more involved. Yet, it also play into this sense of discord over social classes where the unveiling of the bombers come into play for its third act as well as why they’re so mysterious. Chan and Tang do manage to put in a lot of things in the script as it relates to the personal life of Chan and his relationship with May as she questions about whether he’s fully committed as he’s often tested by his duties and those trying to intimidate him.

Chan’s direction is definitely grand in term of the set pieces he created though the opening sequence involving these moving trucks is big but it’s really a set-up for what his character is doing right now as it’s a step down from the mayhem that he created in the previous film. Yet, it does have elements of comedy as it play into the sense of humility that Chan Ka-kui has to endure but it at least makes May happy that he’s not engaged in trouble for a while as Ko tries to intimidate him after Chan learns that Tao has been released from prison due to a terminal illness he is suffering from. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the film does use many of its locations not just as characters but also to play into this growing rest of uncertainty as it relates to the serial bombers and their actions. The usage of the wide and medium shots help capture the scope of the locations as well as in some of the film’s action set pieces that include a fight in a playground between Chan and Ko’s gang. Serving as the film’s action director/choreographer, Chan ensures that there is a rhythm to the stunts and action that include a scene of three female cops interrogating the explosives supplier.

Chan’s approach to the comedy is partially physical but it also play into some elaborate set pieces where an extremely upset May chases Chan to the men’s locker room and shower as he tries to hide from her. Chan’s approach to creating set pieces that include the film’s third act where the identity of the bombers and its creator named Dummy (Benny Lai) who is also a dangerous fighter. The sequence that includes a chase sequence and Chan’s character jumping on a truck and then onto a bus and then jump into a glass pane as it is told through a tracking wide shot showcase the intricate attention to detail he puts into the stunt work. Even in the film’s climatic showdown against the bombers as the attention to detail in the fighting and in the set pieces add to the stakes of what is happening as well as providing a few comical moments in that scene. Overall, Chan crafts a riveting yet exhilarating film about a cop trying to stop a group of serial bombers from wreaking havoc in Hong Kong.

Cinematographers Cheung Yiu-Jo and Lee Yau-Tong do excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its straightforward look for many of the daytime exterior and interior scenes with some stylish lighting for some scenes set at night including the playground fight scene. Editors Peter Cheung Yui-Chung, Keung Chuen-Tak, and Sek Chi-Kong do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the action and humor that include some fluid cutting in some of the fighting with a lot of emphasis on showing what is going on. Production designer Oliver Wong does brilliant work with the design of the police station interiors including the locker room/shower as well as the interiors of the factory where the bombers hide out in the film’s third act. Costume designer Shirley Chan does fantastic work with the costumes from some of the casual clothes Chan and other characters wear to the stylish clothes that some of his members of his surveillance team wear to play undercover.

The special effects work of Ng Kwok-Wa is terrific for the creation of some of the set pieces including the explosives that are created including some big ones in a couple of key scenes. Sound recordist Shao Lung Chou and mixer John Ross do superb work with the sound in capturing some of the sound in some of the film’s locations as well as the way fists and kicks are presented. The film’s music by Michael Lai is incredible for its electronic-based score as it has some bombastic pieces for the action along with some low-key and somber pieces for the drama while the theme song with lyrics by James Wong is once again sung by Chan as it play into his character’s adventures.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Isabella Wong as the secretary to Fung in Miss Wong, Shan Kwan as a corporate president leader in Fung, the quartet of Crystal Kwok, Anglie Leung Wan-Yui, Ann Mui, and Candice Tai as female undercover police officers who interrogate the explosives supplier, John Cheung as the explosives supplier known as Polar Bear, Andy Tai Chi-Wai as one of the bombers, and Benny Lai as the deaf explosive maker who is also a fierce fighter. Charlie Cho and Chor Yuen are superb in their respective roles as the thug John Ko and the crime boss Chu Tao with the former trying to make Chan’s life a living hell through intimidation while the latter is dying through an illness where he orders Ko to harass Chan. Lam Kwok-Hung is fantastic as Superintendent Raymond Li as Chan’s station boss who deals with some of the chaos as he eventually reinstate Chan to detective work while dealing with other superiors. Bill Tung is excellent as Inspector “Uncle Bill” Wong as a superior officer who often serves as mediator between Li and Chan while embarking on a comical moment in relation to bad food he ate.

Maggie Cheung is amazing as May as Chan’s longtime girlfriend who has to endure his duties while their planned vacation to Bali is cancelled where Cheung displays a lot of humor in her anger while also doing some serious stunts as it relates to the film’s climatic factory sequence as it is one of Cheung’s finest performances. Finally, there’s Jackie Chan in a phenomenal performance as Chan “Kevin” Ka-kui as a detective who is demoted to traffic duty until a series of events has him reinstated to detective as Chan displays that sense of determination in his job but also cope with the fact that is devotion to his work is troubling his relationship with May where Chan displays humor and humility into his performance while also doing some crazy stunts in some of the action as it’s another quintessential performance from Chan.

Police Story 2 is a sensational film from Jackie Chan that features an incredible supporting performance from Maggie Cheung. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling set pieces, high-octane action, intense stunt work, a riveting music soundtrack, and its balance to blend all sorts of genres and tones into one film. It’s a film that does more than just be an action-suspense-comedy but also serves as a film that does a lot more than just be entertaining while being a study of what a cop tries to do on and off duty. In the end, Police Story 2 is a spectacular film from Jackie Chan.

Jackie Chan Films: (The Fearless Hyena) – (The Young Master) – (Dragon Lord) – (Project A) – Police Story - (Armour of God) – (Project A Part II) – (Miracles (1988 film)) – (Armour of God II: Operation Condor) – (Drunken Master) – (Who Am I?) – (Jackie Chan: My Stunts) – (1911) – (CZ12)

Related: (Supercop) – (Once A Cop) – (Crime Story) – (Police Story 4: First Strike) – (New Police Story) – (Police Story 2013)

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Break-Ups

For the 38th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the subject of break-ups. Films that explore couples just calling it quits as it’s something that is seen very often as it play into relationships that just fizzled out. Here are my three picks:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Michel Gondry’s strange romantic sci-fi comedy from a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman is definitely one of the best films of the 2000s. It revolves around a man who had just broken up with his girlfriend as he learns she erased all of her memories of him as he decides to do the same but it eventually leads to problems. It’s a film that explore a relationship and how much that relationship meant to someone and some of the flaws of these individuals throughout the course of the film as they wondered if erasing memories of former spouses was the right thing to do.

2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

From Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel is a great break-up comedy where a TV show music composer whose relationship with the star of that same TV show is shattered when she decides to leave him for a rock star and he wallows in his misery. Wanting to recover from the break-up, he goes to Hawaii only to find that his ex-girlfriend is there with her new rock star boyfriend and he gets more miserable only to get sympathy and a new lease on life from the lively hotel concierge and other hotel staff members including Paul Rudd as a stoner surf instructor.

3. (500) Days of Summer

A film that explores a relationship that lasted 500 days and how it all fell apart as it is told in non-linear narrative. It’s a unique take of the romantic-comedy as its opening sequence involves Chloe Grace Moretz riding her bike to the city to find her older brother breaking dishes as he had just broken up with his girlfriend. It’s a film that play into the many ups and downs of a relationship yet it explore how it can all fall apart and the harsh realities of love. Most notably the reality/expectations sequence of what a man is hoping to have but is also dealing with what is really happening as it is a real punch to the gut.

© thevoid99 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mysterious Object at Noon

Directed, shot, and co-edited by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Mysterious Object at Noon is an experimental documentary film about a group of people being interviewed as part of a party game with the usage of the exquisite corpse concept with individuals taking part of the game. It’s a documentary film that explore what people can come up with this game as the story becomes more surreal as it goes on as does the players involved in the story as they try to act it out. The result is a mesmerizing and evocative film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

The film that was shot in black-and-white and in the span of nearly 2 years in 35mm and 16mm film stock play into a director asking ordinary people in Thailand a story involving a crippled young boy, his teacher, and a mysterious object that came out of the teacher in the form of another boy. All played through the party game concept of the exquisite corpse, various people would add ideas to the story as it gets weirder and more surreal as it goes on not just blurring the ideas of reality and fiction but also the people involved acting out in the story. Told in a documentary style, Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates a film that does blur the idea of what is fiction and what is reality while allowing those he encounter to bring ideas to the story where the mysterious object would become the teacher and then go on a series of adventures where things get weirder.

With the aid of co-cinematographers Prasong Klimborron and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Weerasethakul would shoot everything in black-and-white as there’s an element of grain in the photography while Weerasethakul doesn’t dwell too much into shooting everything in hand-held cameras where he would go for a dolly tracking shot or to create a simple composition. Weerasethakul and co-editor Mingmongkol Sonakul would create sequences that blur the idea of reality and fantasy such as a sequence where a traditional Thai dance troupe is telling the story that is intercut with actors playing out the role in another scene as it add to the film’s offbeat narrative. The sound work of Sirote Tulsook Paisit is superb in gathering the audio from the various people Weerasethakul would meet and encounter though Weerasethakul doesn’t put himself on camera. It all play into the art of storytelling though Weerasethakul’s method can be confusing at times in what is going on. Still, Weerasethakul does maintain a tone that is simple as well as showcase what ordinary people can bring to a strange story based on a concept.

Mysterious Object at Noon is an incredible film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s a strange yet fascinating hybrid of documentary and fiction that is told in a simplistic yet offbeat style that explores the art of storytelling. It is also a film that is daring in its approach to being experimental as well as see how a story can be created out of a few ideas. In the end, Mysterious Object at Noon is a sensational film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Films: (Blissfully Yours) – (The Adventure of Iron Pussy) – (Tropical Malady) – (Syndromes and a Century) – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - (Mekong Hotel) – (Cemetery of Splendour) – (Ten Years Thailand) – (Memoria)

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Non-English Language Movies

For the 37th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the subject of non-English language films as it’s a subject discussed many times in this series. Yet, I’m going to go into a different route considering there aren’t a lot of women filmmakers explored as much as I’m going with a theme within a theme in this as here are my three picks:

1. Hotel Monterey

Chantal Akerman’s documentary about a hotel in New York City where many of its inhabitants are an odd assortment of people. A film that mixes the documentary style with other forms of experimental filmmaking, Akerman’s film displays the idea of how to tell a story without certain tricks such as sound while keeping the camera gazing through various long shots to explore this hotel that was once unique for its time in the 1970s.

2. The Ascent

The second of two films that Larisa Shepitko made in her lifetime, this World War II film set in the snowy woods of Belarus involving two soldiers split for their regiment as they struggle to get back with them as well as survive the unforgiving cold weather. It’s a strange war film that is more about many of its fallacies as these two men would encounter a woman with three children and German soldiers as the latter are also struggling with their surroundings as well as their own sense of faith about everything they’re doing in this war.

3. La Cienaga

Lucrecia Martel’s 2001 feature-length debut is part of a thematic trilogy set in the Salta area of Argentina explores the life of an upper-class family living in their country home with various relatives as it would lead to chaos. It’s a film that doesn’t have much plot as it’s more about a family trying to deal with boredom as well as growing tension among relatives over class and what is important in life. It is told in a very minimalist yet effective style that makes a great case for why Martel is one of the best filmmakers working today.

© thevoid99 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Liv & Ingmar

Directed by Dheeraj Akolar and written by Akolar and Ragnhild Lund, Liv & Ingmar is a film about the collaboration and relationship between actress Liv Ullmann and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman that lasted for 42 years. The film is a documentary about one of the most revered collaborations between filmmaker and actor as well as the relationship they had when they’re not making films. The result is a fascinating film from Dheeraj Akolar on one of cinema’s great collaborative relationships.

Considered one of the finest actor/director collaborations, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann and Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman had made a total of 10 films together from 1966’s Persona to 2003’s Saraband along with two films Ullmann had directed with scripts written by Bergman. The two also had a personal relationship that went on for 42 years where five of those years from 1965 to 1970 lead to an intimate one that would include the addition of a daughter in writer Linn Ullmann. The film is about that relationship through good and bad times with Liv Ullmann talking about her time with Bergman from the moment they met to his final days towards his death on July 30, 2007. While the film focuses mainly on their personal relationship rather than their collaboration which is interesting but it tends to meander as it doesn’t dwell more on their work together on a film set.

Dheeraj Akolar’s direction is largely straightforward in the way he films Ullmann discussing her time with Bergman as well as the films they made where it’s broken into chapters by certain themes of their relationship and its evolution. Even as Ullmann travels to Faro Island where Bergman lived for much of his life with some insight about his marriage at the time they had met as she didn’t say anything about his wife at the time feeling it would be disrespectful. With the help of cinematographer Hallvard Braein, Akolar would film many of those locations as well as Ullmann’s native home country of Norway as it would also feature drawings that Bergman made along with shots of letters Bergman wrote with Samuel Froler providing the voice of Bergman for those letters.

Akolar would capture the atmosphere of some of those locations with the aid of sound designers Amrit Pritam Dutta and Resul Pookutty along with the sound of Bergman’s voice and some of Ullmann’s narration while editor Tushar Ghogale would compile a lot of archival and rare footage to play into Ullmann’s rise to stardom including her brief time in Hollywood during the mid-to-late 1970s. Even the behind-the-scenes footage of the films that Ullmann and Bergman did together along with clips from those films appear. Accompanying some of the scenes and interviews feature a piano score music by Stefan Nilsson who provides a somber tone to the piano as it play into some of the drama that occurred in Ullmann’s relationship with Bergman but also in those final years in how close they were.

Liv & Ingmar is a stellar film from Dheeraj Akolar. While it’s a documentary that fans of Ingmar Bergman’s work would be interested in, it is flawed due to its emphasis on Bergman’s personal life with Liv Ullmann rather than their filmmaking collaboration. Still, it does provide some insight into Bergman as an artist as well as why Ullmann was considered one of his great collaborators. In the end, Liv & Ingmar is a terrific film from Dheeraj Akolar.

Related: Bergman Island

© thevoid99 2019

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Based on the DC Comics series by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, Aquaman is the story of a half-human, half-Atlantean who reluctantly goes into the underwater world of Atlantis to stop his younger half-brother from uniting the seven kingdoms to wage war against the surface world. Directed by James Wan and screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall from a story by Wan, Beall, and Geoff Johns, the film is a part-origin story and an adventure story where Arthur Curry deals with his mother’s disappearance and the destiny he has to take on to save the world from destruction as he is played by Jason Momoa. Also starring Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Temeura Morrison, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna. Aquaman is a grand and exhilarating film from James Wan.

Set several months after a confrontation with an evil force where he is part of the Justice League, the film is about Arthur Curry/Aquaman dealing with his past but also a new threat in the former of his younger half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who wants to wage war on the surface world and become king of Atlantis. It’s a film that has a simple premise that is expected with films about superheroes but it’s more of a study of a man reluctant to take on what is rightfully is as he also deals with the fact that he’s half-human and it lead to the disappearance and death of his mother Queen Atlanna. The film’s screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall opens with how Atlanna met lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temeura Morrison) in 1985 and fell in love that lead to the conception of Arthur as their tranquil life was disrupted by Atlantan forces who want Atlanna to return as she reluctantly leaves Thomas and Arthur to protect them.

The script would showcase some flashbacks of Arthur growing up to understand his powers to communicate with aquatic creatures but also be trained by Atlanna’s advisor Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) who would teach Arthur many things as he would later become Orm’s advisor only to get uneasy about Orm’s ambition as he chooses to help Arthur in secrecy. Also helping Curry with this growing conflict is Princess Mera of Xebel (Amber Heard) whose father King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) had aligned himself with Orm after an attack from a Russian submarine. Yet, Orm has also made a secret alliance with a pirate in David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to set-up the attack as he wants to find Arthur following a confrontation at a submarine that lead to the death of Kane’s father Jesse (Michael Beach) during an attempted hijack on that sub. Though the script does have a few clunky moments in the dialogue, it does succeed in establishing the characters and the stakes with the first act being about Orm’s desire to attack and Arthur reluctantly trying to stop him while its second act is about their first duel that nearly kills Arthur and his escape with Mera as they try to find an ancient artifact that relates to a trident that belonged to Atlantis’ true king in Atlan as the person who holds it is Atlantis’ true heir.

James Wan’s direction is definitely grand in terms of the visual scope he presents of the underwater world that is Atlantis but also ground it with some realism for some scenes on the surface. Shot largely in Australia and at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia with additional locations shot in parts of Italy, Canada, and Morocco, Wan does create a world that is vast not just above the sea but also under the sea. Particularly on the latter as the world of Atlantis is enchanting as well as wondrous while it also feature an array of beings, creatures, and human-like figures known as Atlanteans who live and breathe underwater while they can converse underwater as they also have powers. Yet, Wan also showcases the sense of prejudice towards Arthur yet there are a few that are willing to give him a chance despite their issues with civilization at the surface. Wan’s usage of the wide shots in how he presents Atlantis as well as the film’s climatic battle scene definitely capture a lot of coverage and establishes it in what is going on.

Wan’s direction also knows when to break away from the action in favor of character development and interaction that include scenes of Arthur and Mera on Earth traveling through the Sahara and later going to Sicily to find clues of the trident’s whereabouts. Wan keeps things smooth and help bring some nuances to the story including Arthur and Mera’s growing relationship while they have to fight off Orm’s personal guards, sea creatures, and David Kane wearing a suit as he’s called Black Manta. Wan’s approach to action and suspense add to the stakes that occur including the sequence in the third act where Arthur and Mera face off against monsters in this wormhole known as the Trench that leads to a mysterious land where Atlan’s trident is located. Wan does allow shots to linger for a bit including a few fights including Atlanna’s fights against a royal guard early in the film as it is shot in one entire take with tracking shots and other camera effects. The film’s climatic battle sequence display an air of grandeur and importance where Wan does establish what is going on as well as what is at stake as it play into Arthur stepping into his role as King of Atlantis. Overall, Wan crafts an intoxicating yet exhilarating film about half-man, half-Atlantean who comes to term with who he is and his destiny.

Cinematographer Don Burgess does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its colorful and vibrant look for many of the exterior scenes shot in the day in some of the film’s different locations along with the usage of low-key and blue-green colors for some of the scenes under the sea. Editor Kirk Morri does nice work with the editing as it does play into conventional fast-cutting with some of the action but does stray from chaotic editing to establish what is happening as it also include some stylish cuts for the humorous moments in the film. Production designer Bill Brezki, with set decorators Danielle Berman and Beverley Dunn plus supervising art director Richard Hobbs, does amazing work with the look of Atlantis as well as the home of Thomas Curry, the bar Arthur and Thomas go to, the palace in the Sahara, and other locations including some in Sicily. Costume designer Kym Barrett does fantastic work with the suit that Mera wears under the sea as well as the clothes that other Atlanteans wear along with the more casual look of Arthur and the eventual suit that he would wear in its third act.

Hair/makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt and special makeup effects/creature designer Justin Raleigh do brilliant work with the look of some of the characters as well as how hair moves underwater as it’s a highlight of the film. Special effects supervisors Mark R. Byers and Brian Cox, plus visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander, Jay Barton, Bryan Hirota, Sebastian Moreau, David Nelson, Craig Wentworth, and Jeff White, do incredible work with the visual effects as it is a major highlight of the film with the design of Atlantis, the creatures of Atlantis, and some of the underwater effects as they’re top notch and they have this air of grandeur that the film needed. Sound designers Harry Cohen, Eliot Connors, Joe Dzuban, and Stephen P. Robinson, along with sound editor Peter Brown, do superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well the sound effects of some of the Atlantean weapons that are used.

The film’s music by Rupert Gregson-Williams is wonderful for its mixture of bombastic orchestral score with some electronic flourishes as it help play into the massive scope of the film as well as some soaring pieces with lush string arrangements while music supervisor Michelle Silverman creates a fun soundtrack that features an original piece by Skylar Grey as well as some inspired usage of music from Roy Orbison and Depeche Mode though the track from Pitbull with Rhea is just dumb.

The casting by Anne McCarthy and Kellie Roy is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Andrew Crawford providing the motion capture performances of the Brine King and King Richou of the Fisherman with John Rhys-Davies and Djimon Hounsou respectively providing the voices, Leigh Whannell as a cargo pilot, Julie Andrews as the voice of a mysterious creature guarding King Atlan’s trident, Ludi Lin as Atlantis’ front-line army commander Captain Murk, Graham McTavish as King Atlan via flashbacks, and Randall Park in a small performance as the marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin who is trying to prove to everyone that Atlantis is real. In the roles of the young Arthur, Tainu and Tamor Kirkwood as the three-year old Arthur, Kaan Guldur as the nine-year old Arthur, Otis Dhanji as the 13-year old Arthur, and Kekoa Kekumano as the 16-year old Arthur are terrific in displaying the character’s growth and understanding of his powers through Vulko’s guidance. Michael Beach is superb as David’s father Jesse Kane as a leader of pirates who would confront Arthur only to be bested and urge his son to avenge him.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is fantastic as David Kane/Black Manta as a pirate who seeks to find and kill Arthur in an act of revenge while conspiring with Orm to help start a war with the surface people in exchange for weapons to hunt Arthur. Dolph Lundgren is excellent as King Nereus of the Xebel tribe who is Mera’s father as he also helps Orm with an upcoming war unaware of the truth of Orm’s intentions. Temeura Morrison is brilliant as Thomas Curry as a lighthouse keeper who meets and fall for Atlanna as he is also someone who is aware of his son’s gifts and powers but also knows about the danger that his son will face. Nicole Kidman is amazing in her small role as Queen Atlanna as a descendant of King Atlan who meets and falls for Thomas Curry as she reluctantly leaves Thomas and Arthur only to be punished for her actions leading to her possible execution. Willem Dafoe is remarkable as Nuidis Vulko as Atlanna’s former advisor who would teach Arthur about his powers while also being a reluctant advisor to Orm as he becomes suspicious of Orm’s intentions leading him to help Arthur.

Amber Heard is incredible as Mera as King Nereus’ daughter with telepathic and hydrokinetic powers that helps Arthur in his journey as she is also someone who knows a lot about the underwater world but not much about the surface as she does provide some funny moments. Patrick Wilson is great as Orm as Arthur’s younger half-brother who is the king of Atlantis who hopes to unite the seven kingdoms but also wants to start a war on the surface world as he’s not really an antagonist but someone who despises Arthur for what happened to their mother. Finally, there’s Jason Momoa in a phenomenal performance as Arthur Curry/Aquaman as a half-man, half-Atlantean who possesses some incredible powers to converse with sea creatures as well as being strong but he’s also someone that isn’t sure about ruling Atlantis knowing about its prejudices where Momoa displays some humor and charm but also a weariness as someone who is grounded and knows how to do the right thing as it’s a true breakout performance for Momoa.

Aquaman is a spectacular film from James Wan that features an incredible performance from Jason Momoa in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling visual effects, bombastic music score, and story of identity and family, it’s a blockbuster superhero film manages to be so much more as well as be adventurous and fun. Even as it explores a man coming to terms with who he is but also the role he chooses for an entire world. In the end, Aquaman is a sensational film from James Wan.

James Wan Films: (Saw) – (Dead Silence) – (Death Sentence) – (Insidious) – (The Conjuring) – (Insidious: Chapter 2) – (Furious 7) – (The Conjuring 2)

DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Suicide Squad - Wonder Woman - Justice League - (Shazam!) – (Birds of Prey) – (Wonder Woman 1984)

© thevoid99 2019

Sunday, September 08, 2019

A Star is Born (1937 film)

Produced by David O. Selznick, directed by William A. Wellman, and screenplay by Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell from a story by Wellman and Carson, A Star is Born is the story of a farm girl from North Dakota who goes to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a movie star where she meets an actor whose career is on his way down as he helps her become a star only to see her rise big while he continues to spiral. The film is a romantic drama that explores the different trajectories between two people who meet and fall for each other only for their fates in their professional lives to change drastically. Starring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander, and Owen Moore. A Star is Born is a majestic and rich film from producer David O. Selznick and director William A. Wellman.

The film is the simple story of the rise of a young farm girl who meets a movie star at a dinner party in Hollywood as she would become an actress of her own right while the movie star she meets and marries would endure a fall of his own just as hers is on the rise. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into the different paths two people endure upon their initial meeting as one dreams of making while the other has made it but has become burned out by stardom. The film’s screenplay, which feature additional contributions from producer David O. Selznick, Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner Jr., John Lee Mahin, Budd Schulberg, and Adela Rogers St. Johns, opens with the young woman Esther Victoria Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) coming home from a movie theater in her small North Dakota home having seen a film starring Norman Maine (Fredric March) as she hopes to be an actress in the movies as she is encouraged by her grandmother Lettie (May Robson) to follow her dreams.

While Blodgett struggles to get work, she meets an unemployed assistant director in Danny McGuire (Andy Devine) as they both live in the same boarding house as he would get her a job working as a server at a Hollywood party where she meets Maine properly after she and McGuire saw him days earlier at the Hollywood Bowl drunk. At the party, she and Maine become friends as the latter is impressed by her charms as he believes she can be an actress as he would introduce her to producer Oliver Niles (Adolph Menjou) who sees her potential as he would put her and Maine into a film that would be successful while Blodgett would get a new name in Vicki Lester as she and Maine would later marry. The script has a unique structure with the first act being about Blodgett’s early struggles and her meeting with Maine while the second act is about her rise and her marriage to Maine that also interacts with Maine’s struggle to be sober. The third act is about his fall and attempts to revive his already troubled career as he’s known more as Lester’s husband with Blodgett trying to help him.

William A. Wellman’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates while it also play into some of the romanticism about the one in hundred thousand chance of someone making it in Hollywood as the film is shot on location in studio lots in Hollywood and locations nearby. With additional yet un-credited direction from Jack Conway, Wellman does maintain this world that is enchanting of what Hollywood is where there are some wide and medium shots to capture the beauty of it but there’s also some realism into what Blodgett has to face. The medium shots also play into the way characters interact as well as the relationship between Blodgett and Maine as there is something special in their growing love for one another. Wellman also maintains that sense of grandeur of the world that is Hollywood but also infuse that realism into its third act as it relates to Maine’s downward spiral as he struggles to stay sober and get his act together only to deal with adversity and disdain with some calling him a has-been. Overall, Wellman crafts a mesmerizing and wondrous film about a woman’s rise to stardom as she also witness her husband’s fall from grace.

Cinematographer W. Howard Greene does brilliant work with the film’s Technicolor cinematography in one of its early usage of the format where it does capture the beauty in some of the colors including the dresses that Blodgett would wear but also the locations that she and Maine would go to as it’s a highlight of the film. Editors James E. Newcom and Anson Stevenson do some excellent work with the film’s editing as it has bits of style in a few transitions while also playing into the frenzy of Blodgett’s rise and the slow burn through some straightforward editing in Maine’s fall. Production designer Lansing C. Holden and art director Lyle R. Wheeler do amazing work with the look of the house where Maine and Blodgett meet as well as some of the places including the small camper they used for their honeymoon.

Costume designer Omar Kiam does fantastic work with the design of the many dresses that Blodgett would wear along with the stylish clothes that the other women would wear in the film. The film’s special effects by Jack Cosgrove is terrific to help play with some of the visuals including a scene involving the camper. Sound recordist Oscar Lagerstrom does superb work with the sound in the way certain objects sound on location including the scene involving the camper and at the Academy Award ceremony where Maine makes a spectacle of himself. The film’s music by Max Steiner is wonderful for its soaring orchestral score that has elements of bombast with its strings and percussions while it also feature themes that are serene and somber to play into the drama.

The casting by Charles Richards is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from J.C. Nugent as Blodgett’s father, Clara Blandick as Blodgett’s aunt, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as a posture coach, Jonathan Hale as a night court judge, Elizabeth Jenns as a fellow actress/former girlfriend of Maine, Edgar Kennedy as the boarding house landlord Pop Randall, Peggy Wood as a Hollywood secretary in Miss Phillips, and Owen Moore as the film director Casey Burke. Andy Devine is superb as Danny McGuire as an unemployed assistant director who would get Blodgett the job as a server at a party as he would be part of Blodgett’s circle of friends as a way to ground her and to get himself some work. Lionel Stander is fantastic as the press agent Matt Libby as a man who does publicity for the studio while is also someone that isn’t fond of Maine due to his troubles as well as say things that are uncalled for. May Robson is excellent as Blodgett’s grandmother Lettie as a woman who encourages Blodgett to go after her dreams as well as arrive late in the film for a pep talk as well as be someone who is full of spunk and will.

Adolphe Menjou is brilliant as producer Oliver Niles as a man who is a friend of Maine who takes notice of Blodgett’s talents as he is also protective of both of them as well as wanting what is best for both of them. Finally, there’s the duo of Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in sensational performances in their respective roles as Norman Maine and Esther Victoria Blodgett/Vicki Lester. March’s performance as the tormented and troubled Maine showcases a man who had it all as well as a lot of problems as he helps Blodgett become a star but deals with the decline of his career as some of it is attributed to himself. Gaynor’s performance as Blodgett is one of grace and charm but also a woman who is grounded in her humble beginnings as she is happy to be noticed but also wants to protect her husband. March and Gaynor radiate with the chemistry as the capture the sense of joy and tragedy they would endure as well as the idea of stardom as they represent those two different trajectories.

A Star is Born is a remarkable film from William C. Wellman and producer David O. Selznick with great performances from Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Along with top-notch supporting performances from Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Lionel Stander, and Andy Devine as well as a sumptuous music score and gorgeous early usage of the Technicolor film format. The film is definitely a touching and riveting romantic drama that play into a lot of conventional ideas expected of the times but also with an intriguing study of fortunes between two people. In the end, A Star is Born is a marvelous film from William C. Wellman and producer David O. Selznick.

Related: (A Star is Born (1954 film)) – (A Star is Born (1976 film)) – (A Star is Born (2018 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Hostage

For the 36th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the simple subject of hostage where it’s often told in a suspense thriller where someone has to save someone who has been taken hostage and all sorts of things. Here are my three picks:

1. High and Low

Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Ed McBain’s novel King’s Ransom is probably one of his finest films during his glory period from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. It’s a film that explores a businessman who learns that his son has been kidnapped only to realize that it’s the son of his chauffeur that’s actually been kidnapped as he copes with having to save the boy’s life by giving away money that was meant to start a new life for him. It’s a film that play into all sorts of morality into a man wanting to do what is right but it also questions the sacrifices he had to make as it features great performances from Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai where the latter plays the detective trying to capture the kidnapper.

2. Nick of Time

Johnny Depp is a mild-mannered accountant who is forced by Christopher Walken to kill a governor as part of an assassination while he would take Depp’s daughter hostage. If things go wrong, Depp’s daughter dies forcing Depp to carry on with the mission as he is aided by a disabled war veteran in Charles S. Dutton to get him out of the jam. It’s an unusual yet underrated film that is told in real-time as it is something unlikely that was expected from Hollywood at the time yet it somehow manages to work.

3. Cellular

A film that is underrated in terms of its premise, it revolves around a young man getting a phone call from his cellphone as he tries to save her and find the cops but there’s trouble that involves dirty cops and Jason Statham as the mastermind trying to get money. It’s a film that doesn’t scream a lot of substance but with Kim Basinger as a hostage and the person who receives her call is Chris Evans and it ends up being a better film than it’s supposed to be. Especially as the film is really a preview for Evans’ physicality and earnestness that would make him the right choice to be America’s Ass.

© thevoid99 2019

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody

Directed by Bryan Singer and screenplay by Anthony McCarten from a screen story by McCarten and Peter Morgan, Bohemian Rhapsody is the story about the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury from the formation of the band Queen to their legendary performance at Live Aid in July of 1985. The film is bio-pic that play into a man’s rise into becoming a star only for him and the band to become big while dealing with the many trappings of fame as Mercury is portrayed by Rami Malek. Also starring Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, and Tom Hollander. Bohemian Rhapsody is a drab and un-exciting film about one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century told in such poor style by Bryan Singer.

The story of Queen is probably one of the finest stories ever told in the history of rock n’ roll as a band that featured a flamboyant vocalist in Freddie Mercury along with the soaring guitar work of Brian May (Gwilym Lee), the bass work of John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and the thunderous drumming of Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) as they fused glam rock, hard rock, and progressive rock early in their career. Then in 1975, the band released A Night at the Opera that included the song Bohemian Rhapsody as they would become massive superstars in their native Britain and around the world while would spend the rest of the 70s and early 1980s reaching a worldwide audience and continue to do so until Mercury’s death in November 24, 1991 of bronchial pneumonia due to the cause of AIDS just 24 hours after he announced to the world he had AIDS. While the band’s story would be tailor made for a feature film to showcase the band’s early struggles and their many rise and falls that they would endure, this film unfortunately manages to play by the numbers and schematics expected into a bio-pic which is the opposite of what Queen are.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay focuses mainly on Mercury from the time he was working as a baggage handler at Heathrow while following a band called Smile that would feature May and Taylor in 1970 to the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985. It plays into the traditional schematics of a wannabe singer with dreams of being a band, meet the people he would form the band, fall in love with a girl or a guy, they become successful, egos become inflated, one wants to make a solo record, break-up, everything goes to shit, and the eventual reunion/redemption. Queen doesn’t follow that formula but McCarten’s script not only relies on that schematic but would also make Mercury’s life story dull and take away some of the edges that he was known for in his personal life as many of sexual exploits are only hinted superficially and not any further. At the same time, McCarten’s script seems lost in what story to tell as it relates to Mercury’s personal life and the people whom he’s close with whether it’s longtime on/off girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) whom Mercury would meet at a party as he sees Mercury for who he really is.

Then there’s Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) who was Mercury’s personal manager/assistant as he is a figure that would be a source of conflict between Mercury, the band, and those close to Mercury though he is first presented as an assistant to the band’s first manager John Reid (Aiden Gillen). Prenter is someone who is an enabler to Mercury’s vices as he would also do things to drive the wedge between Mercury and the band whether it’s through creative issues or lifestyle issues. It’s a dramatic crutch that loses sight of the real story that relates to Queen’s continuous rise but the script doesn’t dwell on the early struggles while taking some dramatic liberties into the conflict within the band over creativity. There are also moments that are baffling as it relates to historical inaccuracies and a lot of anachronisms.

If the script is a mess in its inability to find a focus on what part of the story to tell, it is nothing compared to the chaos that is in Bryan Singer’s direction. Shot mainly in Britain, the film tries to capture the spirit of the band in terms of its flamboyance and over-the-top presentation which they were known for but in all of the wrong places. Notably in the fact that Singer doesn’t do enough to make the film be dangerous as he’s confined by the PG-13 rating which is too tame for a band like Queen while he also makes some bad visual choices and dramatic moments that never felt genuine. As great as those songs are, Singer unfortunately create moments of how they create this song or that song where it felt more like sketches rather than real scenes as an excuse for those songs to be played. Even in a sequence in the creation of the film’s titular song as it is played for humor that never felt funny and instead is portrayed as awkward.

Due the chaotic presentation of the film and its inability to be unconventional, the film would have some tonal issues in the presentation where it wants to be entertaining and dramatic. Part of the reason for its tonal inconsistencies is due to the fact that Bryan Singer was fired just weeks before principal photography was finished and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher who seemed to try and create a film that is at least engaging. Unfortunately, Fletcher couldn’t clean up much of the film’s stench in some of the compositions that Singer created that includes the sequence where Queen meets with John Reid for the first time with Prenter also at the meeting. The usage of medium shots, wide shots, and close-ups in that fast-cutting style is a key scene of how bad the presentation is as it is clear Singer is trying to create something fast and to the point but it felt so wrong. Especially for the fact that the scene is set in the early 1970s just as the band had released their first album when in reality, Queen wouldn’t meet Reid until 1975 around the time they were making A Night at the Opera while Mercury and Queen wouldn’t meet Prenter until 1977 as he was part of the band’s circle until 1986 when Mercury got rid of him for good.

It’s these historical inaccuracies that really irks anyone who is familiar with Queen as Singer, Fletcher, and those involved in the post-production definitely play it safe and suggest that Queen was a success in the early years following the release of their hit single Killer Queen in 1974. That’s not exactly true as Queen didn’t become a big deal in the U.S. until a year later due to the fact that their early U.S. appearances had them opening for Mott the Hoople which was cut short due to illnesses in the band. In that sequence of them playing in the U.S., the song Fat Bottomed Girls is being played even though the song wasn’t created until 1978. The anachronisms and historical inaccuracies, which includes claims that the band broke up in 1984 which was false though they took a hiatus the year before to do other projects, definitely kill the film’s enjoyment yet it’s nothing compared to the climatic performance in Live Aid as it is extremely underwhelming in its entire presentation.

Famous for its 20-minute set of six songs, a sea of arms filling out Wembley Stadium as they clap in unison to Radio Ga-Ga. Only four of the six songs are presented while the scene which is shot in an air force base, as Wembley Stadium is no more, feels very small. Plus, its emphasis to get the perspective of the audience in the stadium, pubs, and at the homes of several people including Mercury’s family makes it an awkward experience. Overall, Singer, Fletcher, producer Graham King, producer/Queen manager Jim Beach, and 20th Century Fox create a poor and inconsequential film about the life of one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel does some fine work with the film’s cinematography in creating some of the lighting for some of the shows performed in arenas as well as some low-key lighting for a few dramatic scenes in the film. Editor/music composer John Ottman does terrible work with the film’s editing as it plays too much into chaotic editing styles where you get a few seconds of a shot rather than let a shot play out for more than 10-15 seconds including that scene of Queen meeting John Reid as it’s an example of what not to do while Ottman’s music score is mainly a collage of music from Queen as it is never memorable nor does it stick out. Production designer Aaron Haye, along with set decorators Anna Lynch-Robinson, Sarah White, and Sarah Whittle plus art directors David Hindle and Stuart Kearns, does excellent work with the look of the clubs and some of the places the characters go to including Mercury’s homes in London and Munich. Costume designer Julian Day does fantastic work with the design of some of the clothes that Mercury wear to sport his evolving fashion from the flamboyant to the leather look he would have in the early 80s.

Hair/makeup supervisor Rebecca Cole does terrific work with the evolving hairstyle and look of Mercury from the 1970s to the 1980s though the prosthetic overbite teeth that Malek has to wear as Mercury at times is visually distracting for the wrong reasons. Special effects supervisor Manex Efrem, along with visual effects supervisors Ana Grgic and Paul Norris, does some OK work with pyro for some of the stage performances though the visual effects for the crowd and the recreation of Wembley Stadium doesn’t feel right as it’s not as big to play into the magnitude of Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid. Sound editor John Warhurst has some good moments in the sound in some of the non-musical scenes yet the way the music is mixed with the live audience never feels right nor does it feel like a live sound as it really hurts the film. Music supervisor Becky Bentham does decent work with the film’s soundtrack as it feature a bit of music from May/Taylor’s pre-Queen band Smile along with some of the music at the times though the usage of Rick James’ Super Freak at a party scene set during the late 70s when the song hadn’t even been made yet just adds to the jarring tone of the film.

The casting by Susie Figgis is wonderful in some spots as it feature some small appearances from Michelle Duncan as a journalist asking Mercury some personal questions during a press conference, Neil Fox-Roberts as Mary Austin’s deaf father, Max Bennett as Austin’s boyfriend late in the film, Jack Roth as Smile vocalist/bassist Tim Staffell, Dermot Murphy as Live Aid co-organizer Bob Geldof, Tim Plester as music producer Roy Thomas Baker, Dickie Beau as BBC radio DJ/future comedy legend Kenny Everett, Priya Blackburn as Mercury’s sister Kashmira Bulsara, Meneka Das and Ace Bhatti as in their respective roles as Mercury’s parents in Jer and Bomi Bulsara, and current Queen vocalist Adam Lambert in a lame cameo as an American trucker Mercury meets in the U.S. with all sorts of horrific beard, mustache, and trucker looker as he looks so unconvincing to play a trucker.

Mike Myers’ cameo as EMI music executive Ray Foster is one that is just distracting as he is just there to give Queen a lot of shit and be used as a plot device to motivate them to release Bohemian Rhapsody with a reference to the film Wayne’s World as it never works and only feels like useless cameo. Aaron McCusker is pretty good as Mercury’s life-partner in his final years in Jim Hutton though only appears in two scenes such as their lone meeting during the second act at the aftermath of the party and just before the film’s climax at Live Aid. Allen Leech is OK as Paul Prenter as an assistant to manager Jim Reid who would become Mercury’s personal assistant/lover who would also be Mercury’s enabler as he’s someone who is never really defined as a true person but rather a caricature that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. Aiden Gillen is terrific as Queen’s first manager Jim Reid as someone who would help them be successful though he is underused. Tom Hollander is superb as Jim “Miami” Beech as the band’s second and permanent manager who started off handling the band’s financial, legal, and other business issues and later help them deal with conflicts and such.

Lucy Boynton is fantastic as Mary Austin as Mercury’s on-off girlfriend/muse as someone who was supportive of Mercury and helped him find himself through fashion while also being the one person to try and ground Mercury later in the film. Joseph Mazzello and Ben Hardy are excellent in their respective roles as bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor with Mazzello as the more reserved Deacon who shares Mercury in his love for funk while Hardy displays the energy of Taylor but also someone who isn’t afraid to show his opinions on things. Gwilym Lee is brilliant as guitarist Brian May who is shown as someone a bit reserved but also has some things to say as he also tries to maintain some order in the band despite some of the issues they have. Finally, there’s Rami Malek in an amazing performance as Freddie Mercury as the Queen vocalist who is a man of charisma and grandeur as Malek is able to capture all of those nuances of Mercury performance-wise but is hampered by the script in the way Mercury is presented behind the scenes at never gets the essence of who he is as it’s a flawed performance only because of the script and the shortcomings of the direction despite Malek’s effort to make Mercury interesting.

Despite some of the performances of the cast and the music of Queen that is presented, Bohemian Rhapsody is a film that is a total disservice and a major slap in the face to the legacy of Queen and its late singer in Freddie Mercury. It’s a film that plays way too by the book to create any standout moments while never doing enough to go into the edges and some of the funnier and seedier stories of the band. Plus, it’s a film that die-hard fans of Queen no question will be insulted by for its inaccuracies and dramatic liberties as it tries to do so many things only to end up being quite boring in some parts. In the end, Bohemian Rhapsody is just a tremendously horrible and insulting film from Bryan Singer and everyone else who had a hand in creating another lame bio-pic.

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, September 02, 2019

Police Story

Directed and starring Jackie Chan and written by Chan and Edward Tang, Police Story is the story of a detective who is tasked to protect a witness following a drug bust only for things to get complicated as it relates to corruption and bureaucracy. The film is an action-comedy that follows a detective trying to stop a drug lord while enduring all sorts of chaos in his life as a detective and in his personal life as Chan play the role of Inspector Chan Ka-Kui. Also starring Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Chor Yuen, and Charlie Cho. Police Story is an exhilarating and outlandish film from Jackie Chan.

The film follows a police detective who successfully captures a drug lord as he is later tasked to protect the drug lord’s secretary as a potential witness who might have information to bring the drug syndicate down. It’s a film with a simple premise as writers Jackie Chan and Edward Tang play into the world of a Hong Kong detective who took part in an undercover sting operation as he would become the police force’s poster boy much to the dismay of the drug lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen) who tries to avoid a prison sentence and salvage his drug operating business. Much of the film’s narrative emphasizes on Inspector Chan Ka-Kui being tasked to protect Tao’s secretary Selina Fong (Brigitte Lin) who is reluctant to become a witness against Tao but a series of unfortunate events makes her question her loyalty to Tao while she would also endure some awkward moments with Chan’s girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) who believes Chan is cheating on her.

It’s among some of the funny storylines in the film yet it does play largely into Chan’s discovery about the corruption within the police force and their ties to Tao as well as how bureaucratic ideals from the police’s superintendent Raymond Li (Lam Kwok-Hung) is trying to do things by the book much to dismay of some of the cops. Even as Chan has an ally in Inspector Chou/”Uncle” Bill Wong (Bill Tung) who is more about instinct than doing things by the book. The film’s third act doesn’t just play into Tao’s corruptive influence but also how far he is willing to go to protect his empire with Chan being the key target.

Chan’s direction is definitely grand in terms of some of the action set pieces he creates but he also balances it with smaller moments that allow him to display his approach to physical comedy. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the direction allows Chan to use the city as a key character in the film as well as help play into some of the film’s grand set pieces such as the opening sequence at the shanty town where Chan’s character is part of a task force where everyone is undercover and trying not to be seen. Chan’s attention to detail in the wide and medium shots of the locations add to the suspense as well as the close-ups where Chan makes sure that these little details add to what is to come in this extravagant and massive action sequence involving a car trying to chase another through the shanty town that is later followed by Chan’s character chasing a double-decker bus by using an umbrella to hold on to it and later walk down a hill to get in front of it. While Chan knows how to set-up and create these intricate and lavish action sequences, he knows when to break away from the action in order to explore his character and his duties that has him playing up some humor that includes a sequence of his character watching over a small station as he’s trying to cook some ramen and answer the phone numerous times as it’s a comical moment that showcases his mastery in physical comedy.

Chan’s direction also play into intimate and touching moments that has his characters interacting with other characters where he knows how to play up the humor as well as moments that has his character trying to reason with May or Selina where it would involve some comical stunt work. Yet, the film does remain this action-comedy with elements of suspense that includes the climatic mall sequence where Selina uncover files from Tao as his goons try to go after her with Chan’s character trying to protect her. The physicality of the action as well as how each shot is presented has an element where Chan can give the audience an idea of what will happen next in the upcoming shot but also allow so much attention to detail in the action. He also isn’t afraid to repeat a certain stunt but show it in different perspectives as it adds to the stakes of what his character is trying to do. Serving as the film’s action choreographer, Chan maintains a certain rhythm where he and others doing the stunts including his actors get a sense of what is happening as well as play into the dangerous physicality they endure. Overall, Chan crafts a majestic and astonishing film about a Hong Kong detective trying to take down a drug lord.

Cinematographer Cheung Yiu-Jo does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it play into some of the natural look for some of the exterior scenes in the day along with stylish usage of lights for some interior/exterior scenes at night to get an idea of what is happening. Editor Peter Cheung Yui-Chung does phenomenal work with the editing as it is an immense highlight of the film largely due to its usage of rhythmic cuts, slow-motion cutting, and other stylish cuts to create long sequences for some of the humor but also a rhythm in the action where the editing does a lot to establish what is going on and know when it’s time to cut as there is a poetic element to the editing which is crucial to the film’s presentation. Production designer Oliver Wong does amazing work with the look of the police station base as well as a smaller one and Chan’s apartment as well as Tao’s office in the mall.

Costume designer Ginger Fung does nice work with the costumes from the stylish and posh clothes that Selina wears early in the film to the more casual look that Chan wears. The special effects work of Ng Kwok-Wa does fantastic work with the special effects in helping to create some of the set pieces and in some of the stunts that are created. Sound recordist Shao Lung Chou do superb work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the realism of the way fists and kicks are presented during some of the fight scenes. The film’s music by Michael Lai is excellent for its mixture of bombastic orchestral music for the action as well as some woodwind-inspired themes for some of the comedy as it also has bits of rock and electronic while Lai co-writes the theme song with lyrics by James Wong which is sung by Chan.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Tai Po and Wan Fat as a couple of goons working for Tao, Lau Chi-wing as a prosecutor, Kent Tong as a rookie detective in Tak who is frightened by his first assignment in the attempted bust on Tao, Kam Hing Yin as a police inspector Chan doesn’t get along with, Charlie Cho as a gangster named John Ko, and Fung Hark-On as Tao’s lead henchman Danny Chu Ko who tries to stop Chan from going after Tao and leads the attempted attacks on Selina. Lam Kwok-Hung is terrific as superintendent Raymond Li as a police official who runs the Hong Kong police force as he is someone by the book that is trying to make sure things go right as he has to answer to superiors who expect a lot from him. Bill Tung is superb as Inspector Chou/Uncle Bill as a top police official who is an opposite of sorts for Li as he is more about instinct and action yet also knows how to get things done as he acts a mediator between the police and Li.

Chor Yuen is fantastic as the drug lord Chu Tao as a man trying to run an empire in Hong Kong as he hopes to expand and gain power yet finds himself in trouble as he has to deal with Chan as well as Selina whom he believes he can no longer trust after she got arrested. Maggie Cheung is excellent as Chan’s girlfriend May as a young woman who puts herself in moments that are awkward as she thinks Chan is cheating on her while she would also later help him trying to find Selina and to stop Tao as she also does some unique stunt work. Brigitte Lin is brilliant as Selina Fong as Tao’s secretary who reluctantly becomes a witness against him as she tries to continue working for Tao until she realizes that she is in greater danger where she decides to help Chan in getting Chao arrested for good as she also endure some intense stunt work.

Finally, there’s Jackie Chan in an incredible performance as Sgt. “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui as it’s a performance filled with charisma, intensity, and humility as it has Chan displaying his many gifts for combining action and comedy where he can put himself in funny and dangerous situations while also prove that his character is someone that is trying not to get into fights but is forced to defend himself and win. It is a quintessential performance from Chan who provides the archetype of what an action hero should be but also one that can do comedy that owes a lot to the silent film stars of the past and make something new out of it as it is a performance for the ages.

Police Story is a magnificent film from Jackie Chan. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, top-notch set pieces and stunt work, incredible editing from Peter Cheung Yui-Chung, an engrossing music soundtrack, and Chan himself doing all sorts of crazy stunts and comedic moments. The film isn’t just a standard bearer of what action-comedy should be but also a film that never takes itself seriously while being a showcase for one of cinema’s great film stars in Jackie Chan. In the end, Police Story is an outstanding film from Jackie Chan.

Jackie Chan Films: (The Fearless Hyena) – (The Young Master) – (Dragon Lord) – (Project A) – (Armour of God) – (Project A Part II) – Police Story 2 – (Miracles (1988 film)) – (Armour of God II: Operation Condor) – (Drunken Master) – (Who Am I?) – (Jackie Chan: My Stunts) – (1911) – (CZ12)

Related: (Supercop) – (Once A Cop) – (Crime Story) – (Police Story 4: First Strike) – (New Police Story) – (Police Story 2013)

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