Tuesday, July 16, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: Gone with the Wind

Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind is the story of a plantation owner’s daughter and her pursuit towards a man only to be pursued by another gentleman who tries to get her to see things differently. Produced by David O. Selznick, directed by Victor Fleming, with additional directing by George Cukor and Sam Wood, and screenplay by Sidney Howard. The film is an epic romantic drama that play into a woman coping with her romantic feelings while dealing with the chaos of the American Civil War. Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Haviland, Leslie Howard, and Hattie McDaniel. Gone with the Wind is a sprawling and monumental film from producer David O. Selznick.

Told in the span of 12 years during the American Civil War and its aftermath, the film follows the life of the daughter of a plantation owner whose infatuation for a man leads her to being pursued by another man as she deals with her own desires and passion amidst the chaos and turmoil of the American Civil War. It’s a film that explore the journey of a woman who has known a life of comfort and luxury in the American South just days before the Civil War began as she would later endure all sorts of trials and tribulations yet would also embark on relationships either for social or financial gain as a way to fill the void for her heart’s desire as she would attract the attention of a man who admires her spirit. Even as she would get a lot of things in her life but her love for this other man who would be married to another woman who would also become a dear friend to her would also play into her undoing.

The film’s screenplay by Sidney Howard, with un-credited contributions from Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, Oliver H.P. Garrett, and John Van Druten, play into the journey that Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) would embark on in her pursuit of longtime family friend Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) hoping to be married to him. However, Wilkes is engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Haviland) which upsets O’Hara as she would continuously pine for Wilkes as well as get the attention of a guest in Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who is intrigued by O’Hara. The first act is about the events before and during the war as O’Hara tries to pursue Wilkes yet would later engage into a couple of marriages that would be doomed with the first marriage to Melanie’s younger brother Charles (Rand Brooks) and then to his sister’s fiancé Frank Kennedy (Carroll Nye) in the film’s second act. It has a unique structure with its first half being about the early years of the war but also Sherman’s march through Georgia that would destroy nearly everything as well as the life that O’Hara and the people that she knew would be gone.

It’s not just in the structure of the script that is crucial to the film with its second half playing into the aftermath of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period but also into some of the development of the characters. While O’Hara would be humbled by the sense of loss she endured including around her family home of Tara, there is still this foolish pursuit of Wilkes who admits to having feelings for her but is still in love with Melanie. Melanie turns out to be a far more interesting character in terms of her gracefulness as well as being a person of reason where she seems to know more of what is going on rather than be oblivious. Then there’s Butler who is a man of charm but also someone who understands what is important as he does whatever he can to help out other people where he would really come into play in the film’s third act as someone who puts duty and family over everything else rather than O’Hara who is concerned with trying to live a lifestyle and pine for Wilkes.

The film’s direction by Victor Fleming is definitely sprawling in terms of its setting and grand visuals. Shot largely on studio and locations in Southern California including the studios in Los Angeles and Ventura County, the film does recreate this world of the American South that is lavish and full of ideals with a thriving economy and such despite the fact that they enjoyed the idea of slavery even though O’Hara and her family actually treat their slaves kinder than others in the maid Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) who would often put O’Hara in her place as well as run the house. With some contributions from George Cukor and Sam Wood during parts of the production, Fleming is able to maintain this atmosphere for much of the film’s early parts of the first act as this serene world yet there is something about that feels false due to the imagery of slavery where it is painted romantically which is far from what really did happen. When the horrors of war would emerge, the fantasy that O’Hara and her fellow Southerners had been living in burned right in front of their faces.

The usage of the wide shots including the grand detail in the crane shots that Fleming uses in a scene where O’Hara tries to find a doctor for Melanie as it’s presented in a small wide shot and then this vast crane to show all of these dead and wounded soldiers. The usage of tracking and dolly shots along with some of the presentation of the action including the scenes of the burning of Atlanta are among some of the finest usage of scenery during the first half of the film. The second act which is about the aftermath and O’Hara’s desire to return to Tara with an ailing Melanie and her baby in tow along with the maid Prissy (Butterfly McQueen). The second half begins with the rebuilding of Tara but also the arrival of the carpetbaggers as it would play into O’Hara trying to create a life similar to what she had despite having to live in Atlanta and at a smaller home. Due to her desire to make more money, she would eventually encounter a shantytown and trouble leading to an incident where it would be Butler that would help her out once again leading to their marriage and the film’s third act.

The third act is definitely the most dramatic as it play into Butler and O’Hara’s marriage and family life as well as what Butler is trying to create in this post-Civil War lifestyle that is sort of similar to the past but with some major differences. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots help play into the drama with some striking compositions as well as moments that are ambiguous. Notably in a scene where Butler would take O’Hara up to their room where even though it’s presented in a romantic tone, it does raises question into the idea of marital rape although Butler is later appalled by his actions. There is that ambiguity as it all play into O’Hara’s foolish pursuit towards Wilkes with Butler feeling spurned by what is happening as he thinks about their daughter as well as Melanie whom he cares for as a friend. Its ending is about not just this air of foolishness for both Butler and O’Hara but also in some serious revelations for both of them. Overall, producer David O. Selznick and director Victor Fleming create a spectacularly rich and majestic film about a Southern gentleman wooing a spoiled plantation daughter during the backdrop of the American Civil War and its aftermath.

Cinematographers Ernest Haller, Lee Garmes, and Ray Rennahan do amazing work with the film’s gorgeous Technicolor cinematography with its usage of colors for some scenes in the sunlight along with its usage of shadows as well as the grand detail into how vibrant the exteriors are in times when it was rich as well as how harrowing it looks following the events of the Civil War. Editors Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom do excellent work with the editing with its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the action and drama as well as letting shots play on for some of the film’s big moments. Production designer William Cameron Menzies, with set decorator Howard Bristol and art director Lyle Wheeler, does amazing work with the look of the mansion and land that is Tara along with some of the lavish homes of the Wilkes and many others as well as some of the ruined places and Atlanta post-Civil War. Costume designer Walter Plunkett does fantastic work with the costumes from the lavish design of the dresses and hats the women wear along with the suits and uniforms the men wore.

The visual effects work of Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin, and Arthur Johns is terrific for some of the backdrops that is created including the scenes during the Fall of Atlanta with its images of fire. Sound recordist Thomas T. Moulton and sound editor Gordon Sawyer do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the parties as well as the sounds of war. The film’s music by Max Steiner is incredible for its soaring and majestic orchestral score with its sweeping string arrangements and lush orchestral themes along with its take on traditional music of the times including Dixie.

The casting by Charles Richards and Fred Schuessler is marvelous for the massive ensemble that is assembled for the film as it feature some notable small roles from Cammie King Conlon as Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter Bonnie, Mickey Kuhn as Ashley and Melanie’s son Beau, Louis Jean Heydt as a Confederate soldier holding the baby Beau, Olin Howland as a carpetbagger businessman, Ward Bond as a Yankee captain trying to find suspects over a shantytown attack, Leona Roberts as Mrs. Meade, Harry Davenport as Dr. Meade, Laura Hopes Crew as Melanie’s Aunt Pittypat Hamilton, Everett Brown as the O’Hara’s field foreman Big Sam who would later save Scarlett at the shantytown, Victor Jory as the field overseer Jonas, Butterfly McQueen as the house servant Prissy who helps Scarlett with Melanie, Paul Hurst as a Yankee deserter trying to rob Tara, Howard Hickman as Ashley’s father John, George Reeves and Fred Crane in their respective roles as Scarlett’s brothers Stuart and Brent, and Ona Munson in a fantastic performance as the brothel madam Belle Watling as a woman who is known for a certain reputation yet is someone far more intriguing as she is a friend of Butler as well as someone Melanie admires.

Rand Brooks and Carroll Nye are terrific in their respective roles as Melanie’s brother Charles and Frank Kennedy as two men who would marry Scarlett in different periods in Scarlett’s life only to be unaware that she doesn’t love either of them. Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford are wonderful in their respective roles as Scarlett’s sisters in Suellen and Carreen with the former as the younger of the two who really hates Scarlett for being bossy. Thomas Mitchell and Barbara O’Neal are superb in their respective roles as Scarlett’s parents in Gerald and Ellen O’Hara with the former being an Irishman trying to hold on to his land and ideals during the dark days of the war. Leslie Howard is excellent as Ashley Wilkes as the object of desire for Scarlett as a gentleman who joins the Confederacy as an officer as he deals with the realities of war while is torn for his love for Melanie but also his own feelings for Scarlett although he’s someone with not much personality.

Hattie McDaniel is brilliant as the housemaid Mammy as a woman who always says what is on her mind and doesn’t take shit from anyone while also running the house as she is sort of the film’s conscience despite being a sort of typical and subservient figure for the O’Hara family. Olivia de Haviland is amazing as Melanie Wilkes as Ashley’s cousin/wife who is a woman of grace and understanding as well as being the smartest person out there as it relates to Scarlett’s feelings for Ashley but also is someone who can bring the best in someone as well as be a sense of warmth for those feeling sad. 

Vivien Leigh is remarkable as Scarlett O’Hara as this spoiled daughter of a plantation owner whose pursuit of Ashley would put her into foolish situations or moments by chance as it is a wild and over-the-top performance of a woman that is so intent on winning Ashley while at times being humbled and forced to swallow her pride. Finally, there’s Clark Gable in a tremendous performance as Rhett Butler as a Southern gentleman from Charleston who charms his way into any situations while being fascinated by Scarlett and her passion as well as being someone that is willing to humble her as well as cope with his own shortcomings including how he’s been unable to try and win over her due to her feelings for Ashley.

Gone with the Wind is an astonishingly rich and sensational film from Victor Fleming and producer David O. Selznick. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a soaring music score, top-notch production values, and a story of love and pursuit during the era of the American Civil War and its aftermath. It’s a film that is grand in its visuals and tone despite some of romanticism towards the time of the American South and its ideas of slavery. In the end, Gone with the Wind is a spectacular film from Victor Fleming and producer David O. Selznick.

© thevoid99 2019

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Super Troopers 2

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and written and starring the Broken Lizard troupe of Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske, Super Troopers 2 is a sequel to the 2001 film that has a group of highway state troopers getting back in the game to deal with a border dispute with Canada over a piece of land. The film is a comedy that follows the five troublemakers who now deal with new problems as well as being out of the job for some time. Also starring Marisa Coughlan, Rob Lowe, Emmanuelle Chirqui, Tyler Labine, Will Sasso, Paul Walter Hauser, Lynda Carter, and Brian Cox returning as Captain John O’Hagen. Super Troopers 2 is an entertaining and wild film from Broken Lizard.

Several years after events from the first film that also involved a tragic incident involving actor Fred Savage, the film follow a group of former highway state troopers who are asked to get back on board to watch over a section of land in Canada that is to be transferred back to the U.S. much to the dismay of the locals. It’s a film that play into five guys who get their old jobs back but have to complete a task to keep the job yet they have to deal with a trio of Canadian Mounties who don’t want to lose their jobs as well as all sorts of shit. The film’s screenplay by the Broken Lizard troupe explore the five men trying to get back on board but also maintain their sense of shenanigans and pranks as they also reunite with Captain John O’Hagen who is leading the task despite issues with the Canadians in this small Quebecois town who really don’t want to become Americans. Adding to the turmoil for the troopers is the discovery of some of narcotics, firearms, and other things where they’re aided by a cultural attaché in Genevieve Aubois (Emmanuelle Chirqui) as well as deal with the town’s mayor Guy Le Franc (Rob Lowe).

Jay Chandrasekhar’s direction is largely straightforward though it opens with this fantasy sequence of the troopers as a rock band on tour and pulling a prank on a couple of troopers. Shot on location in Ware, Massachusetts, Chandrasekhar’s direction play into this area that doesn’t share much difference between America and Canada but there is still this air of culture clash in the post-Barack Obama era of America. While many of Chandrasekhar’s compositions are simple in the wide and medium shots along with some close-ups, Chandrasekhar does maintain a sense of energy into the humor while creating moments that are surreal as it relate to the adventures of the troopers with Farva (Kevin Heffernan) trying to cause trouble and Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar) trying to keep things under control despite his growing addiction to one of the drugs he’s found that’s made him super-sensitive. While the film has a subplot in which Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske) trying to start a relationship with Aubois, Chandrasekhar does maintain a focus on the narrative of the troopers and its eventual climax involving the Mounties as it involves this smuggling ring and the intention of the smugglers. Overall, Chandrasekhar crafts a witty and exciting film about state troopers trying to watch over a land transfer from Canada to America.

Cinematographer Joe Collins does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward with some low-key lighting for some of the interiors set at night including a bordello scene in the film. Editor Spencer Houck does nice work with the editing as it has some stylish cuts including a few montage sequences and some rhythmic cuts to play into the humor. Production designer Cabot McMullen, with set decorator Sophie Carlhian and art director Lawrence Sampson, does fantastic work with the building the troopers station themselves in as well as the interior of the bordello and a restaurant they go to late in the film. Costume designer Debra McGuire does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward including the uniforms the troopers wear.

Special effects makeup artist Rob Fitz does brilliant work with some of the fake gore used in the film’s opening fantasy sequence as well as a surreal sequence involving drugs. Visual effects supervisors Brian Kubovcik and Jason Piccioni do amazing work for a few visual effects scenes that involve drugs including a commercial involving a women’s prescription drug. Sound designer Lawrence Zipf does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the bars and some of the film’s exterior locations. The film’s music by Eagles of Death Metal is wonderful for its mixture of blues and rock as it play into the film’s humor while music supervisor Ann Kline create a soundtrack that is mainly focused on rock, folk, and country music with a few songs from Eagles of Death Metal.

The casting by Venus Kanani and Mary Vernieu is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Fred Savage as himself, Seann William Scott and Damon Wayans Jr. as a couple of troopers, Clifton Collins Jr. as a tour bus driver, Bruce McCullough as a Canadian border officer, and Jim Gaffigan reprising his role as a passenger from the first film who endures the antics of the troopers. Other notable small roles include Paul Walter Hauser as Aubois’ obnoxious boss, Marisa Coughlan as the Spurburry police chief/Foster’s girlfriend Ursula, and Lynda Carter as Governor Jessman who gives the troopers a chance to get their jobs back. The trio of Tyler Labine, Hayes MacArthur, and Will Sasso are terrific in their respective roles as the Canadian Mounties in Sgt. Christopher Bellefuille, Staff Sgt. Major Henri Podigen, and Sgt. Major Roger Archambault who both have legit grudges towards the troopers for taking their jobs as they played a few pranks on the troopers yet aren’t really bad guys because they’re losing their jobs.

Rob Lowe is superb as the mayor/Montreal Canadiens hockey legend Guy “The Halifax Explosion” Le Franc as a man who is trying to show the troopers the town he lives in as well as the fact that the locals don’t like the troopers where he does whatever he can to not help them with the transfer. Emmanuelle Chirqui is fantastic as Genevieve Aubois as a cultural attaché trying to smooth over the transition while having feelings for Rabbit. Brian Cox is excellent as Captain O’Hagan as the troopers’ former chief who is tasked with running the troopers and ensuring that no trouble occur while he would engage in his own idea of shenanigans following a prank from the Mounties.

Finally, there’s the Broken Lizard troupe in brilliant performance with Paul Soter as the reserved yet playful Carl Foster who is trying to work and maintain his relationship with Ursula while Steve Lemme’s performance as the more playful MacIntyre “Mac” Womack is full of energy as someone that likes to play pranks. Erik Stolhanske’s performance as Robbie “Rabbit” Roto as the long-standing rookie of the gang who enjoys pranks while finding himself falling for Aubois. Kevin Heffernan’s performance as Rodney “Rod” Farva is hilarious as this obnoxious, foul-mouth, ill-tempered, and idiotic trooper who gets into a lot of trouble as well as bring trouble to the troopers. Finally, there’s Jay Chandrasekhar as Arcot “Thorny” Ramathorn as the senior trooper who is trying to keep things at bay while becoming addicted to feminine-sensitivity prescriptions.

Super Troopers 2 is a remarkable film from Jay Chandrasekhar and the Broken Lizard troupe. Featuring a great cast, lots of bawdy humor, and themes of political relations between countries and their cultural differences. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously while providing some commentary on U.S. foreign relations post-Barack Obama. In the end, Super Troopers 2 is a marvelous film from Jay Chandrasekhar and Broken Lizard.

Broken Lizard Films: (Puddle Cruiser) – Super Troopers - Club Dread - Beerfest - (The Slammin’ Salmon) – (Broken Lizard Stands Up) – (Freeloaders (2012 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Toy Story 4

Directed by Josh Cooley and screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton from a story by Cooley, Folsom, Stanton, John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Valerie LaPointe, and Martin Hynes, Toy Story 4 is the fourth film of the Toy Story film series in which Woody, Buzz, and the old gang adjust to life under their new owner Bonnie who created a new toy out of a plastic spork she named Forky who deals with his being created and being a toy. The film is an unusual road movie of sorts that has Woody trying to help Forky with his new role in which the film deals with existentialism as well as the other lives of toys including Bo Peep who has lived a new life in the world of carnivals. Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Bonnie Hunt, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Blake Clark, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Carlin, Estelle Harris, and Don Rickles in a posthumous voice appearance as Mr. Potato Head. Toy Story 4 is a majestic and heartwarming film from Josh Cooley and Pixar.

The film is about a group of toys trying to help a newly-created toy made out of a plastic spork named Forky (Tony Hale) adjust to his new role though he considers himself to be trash only for Woody (Tom Hanks) to try and show him the importance of his role to their owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). It’s a film that explores the idea of being a toy where Woody is aware that he’s being phased out unintentionally as he knows that Bonnie is having a hard time adjusting to growing up and going to kindergarten. The film’s screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton explores not just Woody’s anxiety to make sure that Bonnie will be fine through this toy she made in Forky but also to see a world where toys can do so much more. Notably as Woody and the gang go on a road trip with Bonnie and her parents (Jay Hernandez and Lori Alan) where Woody notices Forky’s attempt to kill himself as he still thinks he’s trash. When Forky does escape from the RV and Woody tries to save him, they walk down to the nearest town where Woody discovers an old lamp at an antique store that his previous owner’s sister used to have.

It is in this town he reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) whom he hadn’t seen in nine years after being given away to a new owner along with her three sheep as she has made a comfortable life traveling with a carnival of toys including the Canadian stunt toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a couple of plush toys in Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), and a pocket toy cop named Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) who would help Woody retrieve Forky with Buzz joining to find Woody at the carnival as Forky meets a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who seems like an evil toy but is really an anti-hero as someone who never had a proper voice box nor was ever really played with. Caboom is a toy that believed to have failed his previous owner due to his inability to perform the stunts the commercial claimed the toy could do. It all play into this idea of existence which is quite bold for a film whose target audience is mainly children yet knows how to approach it without being too heavy-handed or complicated.

Josh Cooley’s direction opens with a flashback scene set nine years before the events of the main narrative is when Bo Peep and her sheep along with its lamp is being taken away where Woody has a conversation with Bo before her departure after saving R.C. from being swept down a drain storm. It then shifts into the journey that Woody, Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Slinky the Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), the Pizza Planet aliens (Jeff Pidgeon), and Rex (Wallace Shawn) had taken as they would become part of a new family with Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), and Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) with Bonnie as their owner. With the aid of animation director Aaron J. Hartline, Cooley does broaden the scale more as it relates to the world that Woody and the gang embark on in this road trip while they’re keeping watch on Forky who is convinced he is trash where Cooley’s direction would maintain some intimate compositions in the close-ups and medium shots for conversations between Woody and Forky.

Cooley’s usage of the wide shots play into the scope of the world that Woody and the gang go to which is a traveling carnival along with a nearby antique store where Gabby Gabby and her army of ventriloquist dummies in the Bensons live in. With the aid of cinematographers Patrick Lin and Jean-Claude Kalache, Cooley would maintain a visual atmosphere inside the store including a few places that Bo knows where to go and hide while the exteriors of the carnival at night are among some of the great visual elements of the film. It add to the drama that Woody has to endure upon in his attempt to retrieve Forky where he also has to come to terms with the fact about all toys when they’re being phased out where Bo offers him a world that proves to be just as lively. Even as he would get Forky to understand his role and Buzz to take on a bigger role for Bonnie as it all play into the importance of toys in a child’s development but also what toys can do without their owners and help other toys. Overall, Cooley crafts a touching yet intoxicating film about toys dealing with their roles while helping a hand-crafted toy understand about his identity.

Editor Axel Gedde does excellent work with the editing as it play into some of the humor and drama with its usage of rhythmic cuts as well as a montage of Forky trying to destroy himself. Production designer Bob Pauley and art director Laura Phillips do amazing work with the look of the interior of the antique store as well as the design of the carnival and its rides as it add to the visual splendor of the film. Sound designer Ren Klyce and co-supervising sound editor Coya Elliott do fantastic work with the sound in some of the sound effects that are created as well as the layers of sound in the carnival scenes along with the broken voice box of Gabby Gabby. The film’s music by Randy Newman is brilliant for its mixture of lush orchestral music with a French-inspired theme for Caboom in his flashback and bits of country including a few original songs by Newman where one of them is performed by Chris Stapleton.

The casting by Natalie Lyon and Kevin Reher is incredible as it feature voice appearances from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea as a Duke Caboom commercial announcer, Bill Hader as a carny named Axel, Alan Oppenheimer as a clock known as Old Timer, Mel Brooks as dusty old elephant in Melephant Brooks, Patricia Arquette as the mother of a young girl named Harmony, Carl Reiner as a dusty rhino in Carl Reineroceros, Carol Burnett as a dusty chair named Chairol Burnett, Betty White as a toy named Bitey White, Lila Sage Bromley as a young girl named Harmony, Melissa Villasenor as Bonnie’s kindergarten teacher Karen Beverly, Ricky Henderson as a bobblehead figure of himself, John Morris and Jack McGraw in their respective roles as the older and younger version of Andy, and Laurie Metcalf as Andy’s mom in the flashback scene.

Other noteworthy appearances in voice roles include Jay Hernandez and Lori Alan as Bonnie’s parents, Carl Weathers as miniature versions of the toy Combat Carl, June Squibb as the antiques owner, Emily Davis as the trio of Bo Peep’s sheep, and Steve Purcell as the ventriloquist dummies in the Benson Dummies. Reprising their roles from previous entries, the voice performances of Jeff Garlin as the unicorn Buttercup, Bonnie Hunt as the doll Dolly, Kristen Schaal as the triceratops Trixie, Timothy Dalton as the hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants, Wallace Shawn as the T-rex Rex, Blake Clark as the slinky toy-dog Slinky, John Ratzenberger as the piggy bank Hamm, Joan Cusack as cow-girl Jessie with her horse Bulls-eye, Estelle Harris, as Mrs. Potato Head, and Don Rickles via archival material as Mr. Potato Head as they’re all fantastic with Cusack as the standout as Jessie rallying the toys with Rickles being one of two individuals that includes animator Adam Burke whom the film is dedicated to.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are excellent in their respective roles as the stuffed plush toys Ducky and Bunny as they both provide some great comic relief as two toys who have never been played with as they cause a lot of mayhem. Christina Hendricks is brilliant as the doll Gabby Gabby as a toy who had never been played with due to a faulty talk box as she is eager to have Woody’s talk box in the hope of being played with. Keanu Reeves is incredible as Duke Caboom as a Canadian daredevil toy that is known for his poses but is also filled with doubt as it relates to his inability to live up to expectations for his old owner. Madeleine McGraw is wonderful as Bonnie as a young girl who is dealing with growing pains as she becomes attached to her creation in Forky while becoming worried about his whereabouts. Ally Maki is amazing as the tiny pocket toy Giggle McDimples as a toy who is known for her giggles yet is also Bo Peep’s side kick of sorts as she is funny as well as being cool.

Tony Hale is marvelous as Forky as a spork turned into a toy by Bonnie as he copes with his anxieties and being about being a toy as all he’s known for is trash where he later understands the role of being a toy and his importance in Bonnie’s development as a person. Annie Potts is remarkable as Bo Peep as an old toy of Andy’s who has lived a new life traveling in the world of carnivals where she has found a new purpose to help out toys but also see the world. Tim Allen is sensational as Buzz Lightyear as the space toy who is Woody’s best friend as he deals with his own identity as someone that needs to be a leader and help Bonnie out in her development as he also copes his own identity as a toy. Finally, there’s Tom Hanks in a phenomenal performance as Woody as this cowboy toy who starts to realize that he is being phased out as he tries to help out Forky with his identity as he also tries to maintain his importance only to realize that there is so much out there as it is a great performance from Hanks.

Toy Story 4 is a tremendous film from Josh Cooley and Pixar. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a sumptuous music score, and touching themes on existentialism and growing up. It’s a film that definitely does a lot to explore how much toys mean to children as well as the idea of being a toy in a touching and somber way. In the end, Toy Story 4 is a spectacular film from Josh Cooley and Pixar.

Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters Inc.) – (Finding Nemo) – The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) – (Cars 3) – Coco - The Incredibles 2 - (Onward) – (Soul (2020 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Films That I Saw: June 2019

In the month of June 2019, I saw a total of 28 films in 15 first-timers and 13 re-watches where four of the first-timers were directed by women (three by Kelly Reichardt) as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. One of the highlights this month is my Blind Spot film in In the Realm of the Senses which is a film that I’m glad at least came with a warning label from Criterion as it a film of great extremes. Here are my top 10 first-timers that I saw for June 2019:

1. Toy Story 4

2. Loveless

3. Querelle

4. Alexander Nevsky

5. The Duchess

6. Happy End

7. Medium Cool

8. River of Grass

9. The Lion Has Wings

10. Ode

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Back to the 2015 Future

This fan-made short film about what happened if Marty McFly really went to 2015 and see what it really is as it is this strange tribute to the Back to the Future franchise. Yet, it mainly involves Marty trying to get back to 1985 where he would meet his future son. It’s a funny short as it also feature cameos from a few actors from the franchise as well as a superb performance from the guy playing Marty McFly.

This Magic Moment

An episode from 30 for 30 about the formation and rise of the Orlando Magic in the 1990s is definitely one of the best episodes of the documentary series from ESPN. Notably in how both Shaquille O’Neal and Anferney “Penny” Hardaway took an expansion franchise team from Orlando and made them a big deal. Even as they managed to make it to the finals only a few years after O’Neal and Hardaway were leading the team to prominence only to be swept by the Houston Rockets. It isn’t about what could’ve been with O’Neal and Hardaway but also the fact that for a small moment, the Orlando Magic were one of the hottest teams in basketball.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Thief

2. Moonrise Kingdom

3. Atonement

4. In Her Shoes

5. Taps

6. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

7. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

8. Inside Deep Throat

9. Scent of a Woman

10. Fools Rush In

On 5:59 AM, June 30, 2019, my father Jose Roberto Flores died peacefully in his sleep at Emory. Due to these events, I will be taking a leave of absence for the time being as various projects are postponed. This is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Alexander Nevsky

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev and written by Eisenstein and Pyotor Pavlenko, Alexander Nevsky is the story about the Russian prince who defeated the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire during the Invasion of Novgorod in the 13th Century and his rise to prominence from that battle. The film is an unconventional bio-pic that explore the titular figure as well as his gift for strategy as it’s told through folklore and other unconventional storytelling devices with Nikolai Cherkasov in the titular role. Also starring Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov, Dmitri Orlov, Vasili Novikov, Nikolai Arsky, and Varvara Massalitinova. Alexander Nevsky is a grand and evocative film from Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev.

Set in 13th Century Russia, the film follows the Russian prince who would lead a band of peasants and his own army against the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire from Germany who are trying to invade Russia leading to the Battle of the Ice near Novgorod. It’s a film with a simple premise as it explores Alexander Nevsky and how he was able to defeat the Teutonic Knights but also in trying to bring a sense of pride and honor to the people of Russia. The film’s screenplay by Sergei Eisenstein and Pyotor Pavlenko follows a straightforward narrative where it opens with what was happening with Russia as they were still recovering from a conflict against Mongolia where Nevsky sees some Mongolian warlords passing by while he is with some men fishing on a lake. The warlords offer Nevsky a chance to join them but Nevsky politely declines as a way to not create anymore conflict only to learn about what’s been going on in nearby villages prompting him to take charge as the film’s second act is about him banding the villagers to fight back after the atrocities of what the Teutonic Knights have done.

The film’s direction from Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev is definitely vast in terms of the world that is created as well as provide this sense of a world that is about to be attacked only for its leader to not back down. Shot on field locations for parts of the film along with some shots set inside studio sets, Eisenstein and Vasilyev would use some close-ups and medium shots as it play into the drama including a subplot about two villagers in Vasili Buslaev (Nikolai Okhlopkov) and Gavrilo Oleksich (Andrei Abrikosov) trying to fight for the affections of a maiden in Olga Danilovna (Valentina Ivashova). Yet, Eisenstein and Vasilyev do maintain this air of terror such as the sequence of Teutonic Knights killing men and young boys including children in front of the women as one of the young maidens in Vasilisa (Aleksandra Danilova) to join other peasants in the fight against the Teutonic Knights.

The compositions that Eisenstein and Vasilyev create are striking in the way they create scenes of large processions including what the Teutonic Knights do during a religious meeting. It would establish what these knights want to do and how to instill their ideals into foreign territory which only upsets Nevsky who feel that they’re just asking for trouble. There are some political context into what Eisenstein and Vasilyev is displaying as it relates to some of the religious symbolism between the Russians and the Teutonic Knights with the latter wanting the former to rule under this ideal. The film’s climatic battle sequence which lasts for nearly 30 minutes is among some of the most dazzling images that Eisenstein and Vasilyev would create where its usage of wide shots and depth of field add to the scope as well as what is at stake. The battle aftermath is about Nevsky’s need for Russia to fight for their land and their traditions but also allow foreigners to come in unless they bring trouble. Overall, Eisenstein and Vasilyev craft an exhilarating and rapturous film about a Russian prince leading his people into battle against the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire.

Cinematographer Eduard Tisse does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is filled with rich imagery for many of its exterior scenes and ceremonies along with some amazing coverage of the locations and lighting for some of the scenes in the snow. Editors Sergei Eisenstein and Esfir Tobak do excellent work with the editing as its usage of rhythmic cuts help play into the impact of the action and fighting in the battle sequence along with some straightforward edits for some of the dramatic moments in the film. Production designers Isaac Shipnel and Nikolai Solovyov do amazing work with the look of the hut that Nevsky lived in at the film’s opening scene as well as the design of the Teutonic Knights’ tents and the buildings at the villages.

Costume designer K. Yeliseev is fantastic for the design of the robes that the Teutonic Knights wear with small attention to details in the symbols they sport along with the more ragged look of the Russian peasants. The sound work of Vladimir Popov and Boris Volsky is superb for the sound effects that is created as well as its approach to natural sounds that is captured on actual locations. The film’s music by Sergei Prokofiev with lyrics by Vladimir Lugovski is incredible for its sweeping and bombastic orchestral score with songs that are sung by a large choir that play into the dramatic elements of the film as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Naum Rogozhim as a black-hooded monk for the knights, Lev Fenin as an archbishop for the knights, Sergei Blinnikov as a traitor in Tverdilo, Vladimir Yershov as the Teutonic Knights Grand Master Hermann von Balk, Varvara Massalitinova as Buslaev’s mother, Dmitri Orlov as the master armor Ignat who also joins in the fight, Nikolai Arsky as a boyar for the town that was attacked and Vasili Novikov as Pavsha as a military commander for the fallen town of Pskov who joins Nevsky in the fight against the knights. Valentina Ivashova and Aleksandra Danilova are fantastic in their respective roles as the maids Olga and Vasilisa with the former being the object of affection for two peasants who would fight to win her love while the latter is a young woman who loses her father as she joins the fight to get revenge as she would help succeed.

Nikolai Okhlopkov and Andrei Abrikosov are excellent in their respective roles as the peasants Vasili Buslaev and Gavrilo Oleksich as two men trying to win over the affections of a young maiden as they provide some comic relief to the film while managing to prove themselves in battle. Finally, there’s Nikolai Cherkasov in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as the Russian prince who leads his people to fight against the Teutonic Knights as a man that is wary of those wanting to control Russia who aren’t Russian as Cherkasov displays that air of leadership and grandeur into his performance.

Alexander Nevsky is a spectacular film from Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev that features a grand performance from Nikolai Cherkasov in the titular role. Along with its sweeping visuals, sprawling set designs, exhilarating action and battle scenes, and Sergei Prokofiev’s soaring music score. The film is definitely an epic that lives up to its description as well as being a political allegory into what the Soviet Union is dealing with in the late 1930s just before the start of World War II. In the end, Alexander Nevsky is a tremendous film from Sergei Eistenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev.

Sergei Eisenstein Films: (Glumov’s Diary) – Strike (1925 film) - Battleship Potemkin - (October: Ten Days That Shook the World) – (The General Line) – (Que Viva Mexico) – (Bezhin Meadow) – Ivan the Terrible

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, June 24, 2019

Happy End

Written and directed by Michael Haneke, Happy End is the story of a bourgeoisie family in Calais whose comfortable life is hindered by events relating to them or around them. It’s a film that explores family dysfunction in an upper-class world as they try to deal with their personal lives just as the growing refugee crisis in Europe is happening around them. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Toby Jones. Happy End is a chilling and offbeat film from Michael Haneke.

The film follows a year in the life of a family living in Calais as their personal and professional lives start to unravel by a series of unfortunate events relating to tragedy and other matters. It’s a film that doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s more of an exploration of a family told largely by a 12-year old girl in Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin) who would capture the events of her mother’s drug overdose through her phone as she would later live with her father Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) who shares the family estate with his wife Anais (Laura Verlinden), his sister Anne (Isabelle Huppert), and the family patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

Michael Haneke’s screenplay features an opening sequence where a section of a construction site collapses and a man that was inside a port-a-potty where the section had collapsed as Anne’s firm runs the site. It’s among the moments that play into the film that are dramatic but in a low-key approach as Haneke also uses the European migrant crisis as a backdrop with mentions of it on TV and parts of the film surrounding the characters. Notably as Thomas is chatting with another woman making Eve believe he has a mistress while Anne is also dealing with her adult son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) who is getting into trouble that is increased by his alcoholism due to his role in the construction accident. Georges meanwhile is suffering from dementia and is intent on committing suicide.

Haneke’s direction doesn’t really have much style other than long and gazing shots as well as this air of detachment into the direction. While the film opens with images of Eve filming things on her phone including the moment of her mother’s collapse from a drug overdose. The usage of smartphones and laptops play to the film’s visuals including the video tape footage of the construction accident where a section of the site collapses as it’s shown in a wide shot. Haneke’s usage of the wide shots add to the stark tone of the film as he displays of disconnect and detachment for characters and the world they’re in whether it’s Anne and Pierre investigating the site and area where the collapse happened or a shot of Eve and Thomas in the beach where the former is in the foreground seeing her father in the background smiling and talking on the phone.

There are moments where Haneke uses a few close-ups and medium shots in the film as it does play into characters attempting to connect such as Anne and Georges with Eve including one scene late in the film following some intense moments between Eve and Georges where it is this simple conversation that shows Haneke being at his most tender and knowing when to cut during this conversation. The film does feature a lot of long takes in shots that would last for more than a minute or two as it would also include these moments where the characters struggle to deal with a situation as some of it is happening off screen or from afar. The moment of reality that is away from their quaint world would come to ahead in the film’s final sequence as it relates to what is happening in Europe as it is about how these characters react to what is going on as well as what is happening around them. Overall, Haneke crafts a riveting yet eerie film about a year in the life of a bourgeoisie family dealing with tragedy and other unfortunate events.

Cinematographer Christian Berger does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its vibrant usage of natural colors and lighting for the daytime exterior scenes along with some low-key lights for some scenes set at night. Editor Monika Willi does brilliant work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few stylistic cuts including a few rhythmic cuts for some of the conversations that occur in the film. Production designer Olivier Radot, with set decorator Nathalie Roubaud and art director Anthony Neale, does fantastic work with the look of the home that the Laurent family lives in as well as the home Eve lived with her mother.

Costume designer Catherine Leterrier does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward with the expensive suits that Anne wears or the summer clothes some of the characters wear. Visual effects supervisor Arnaud Fouquet does terrific work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects such as the construction site accident and a few bits of scenes from the phone. The sound work of Guillaume Sciama is superb for its atmospheric sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the emphasis on natural sounds for scenes involving characters from afar though whatever dialogue is spoken is being heard along with the way music sounds on a radio or on a karaoke machine in one scene of the film.

The casting by David El Hakim and Kris Portier de Bellair is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Hassam Ghancy and Nabiha Akkari as a Moroccan couple who live at the Laurent estate in Rachid and Jamila who both work for the family with the former being Georges’ most loyal servant and the latter being the maid that everyone likes. Loubna Abidar is wonderful in her small role as a musician named Claire who is believed to be Thomas’ mistress through chats that Eve would discover. Toby Jones is superb as British businessman Lawrence Bradshaw whom is in a relationship with Anne as he helps her deal with the accident while watch from afar the chaos of Anne’s family life. Laura Verlinden is terrific as Thomas’ wife Anais as a woman that is trying to get to know Eve while raising a baby as she is unaware of what her husband is doing. Franz Rogowski is fantastic as Anne’s troubled adult son Pierre as someone who is unable to deal with the responsibilities of his actions as he gets himself into trouble and begins to act out believing he’s unable to cope with taking over the family firm.

Fantine Harduin is excellent as Eve as a 12-year old girl dealing with her mother’s drug overdose as well as some of the drama that is going on in her family as she films some things on her phone while trying to understand this air of detachment around her family. Mathieu Kassovitz is brilliant as Eve’s father Thomas as a doctor who is trying to make Eve comfortable at his home while hiding a secret about his affair with another woman unaware that Eve knows about it as well as question him about ever loving someone. Isabelle Huppert is amazing as Anne as Georges’ eldest child as a woman trying to run a firm that is under scrutiny as she is also dealing with her son’s alcoholism and all sorts of chaos as well as being someone trying to connect with Eve. Finally, there’s Jean-Louis Trintignant in a remarkable performance as Georges Laurent as an old man dealing with dementia who has a death wish for himself where he is tired of his age and life while eventually bonding with Eve about his own feelings of death.

Happy End is a sensational film from Michael Haneke. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, and a compelling story about a family unraveling amidst the chaos of the European migrant crisis as a backdrop. It’s a film that is a study of a family coping with their surroundings as well as being a different film of sorts from Haneke while maintaining his views on the dark aspects of life that is sprinkled with some humor. In the end, Happy End is an incredible film from Michael Haneke.

Michael Haneke Films: (The Seventh Continent) – (Benny’s Video) – (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) – (The Castle (1997 TV movie) – Funny Games (1997 film) - (Code Unknown) – The Piano Teacher - (Time of the Wolf) – Cache` - Funny Games (2007 film) - The White Ribbon - Amour (2012 film)

© thevoid99 2019

Friday, June 21, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: In the Realm of the Senses

Written and directed by Nagisa Oshima, In the Realm of the Senses is a film based on a real-life incident in 1930s Japan involving a destructive love affair between a man and a woman during a tumultuous time in Japan. The film is an exploration of a torrid affair between a maid and her abusive boss as it turns into a wild experiment of sexual pleasure that later takes on some new extremes. Starring Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri, Kanae Kobayashi, Taiji Tonoyama, and Kyoji Kokonoe. In the Realm of the Senses is an eerie yet provocative film from Nagisa Oshima.

Set in 1936 Tokyo, the film revolves around a real-life incident involving a former prostitute working at a hotel and its owner as their sexual affair becomes a chaotic and toxic relationship that pushes their sexual and emotional yearnings to great extremes. It’s a film that explores two people who are married to other people as they become fascinated with one another and then carry on a secret affair that eventually becomes tumultuous and perverse. Nagisa Oshima’s screenplay doesn’t really much of a plot as its first act is about how Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) meets the hotel owner Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) after watching him having sex with his wife Toku (Aoi Nakajima) while is working as a waitress for the hotel despite having to share rooms with other employees as she works to fulfill a debt her husband is trying to finish off.

Ishida becomes fascinated by Abe as well as see her as another sexual conquest that eventually becomes a secret affair where the film’s second act has them move away from the hotel and somewhere in the middle of Tokyo. The affair would intensify into elements of sadomasochism and other explicit sexual acts that would disturb people working at another inn or hotel. To make money to stay in those places, Abe would return to prostitution where she would find new pleasure in sadomasochism as it would add to greater extremes in her relationship with Ishida where it would become destructive and chaotic.

Oshima’s direction in the film does have bits of style but it is in the way he presents this toxic relationship between Abe and Ishida that is unsettling in terms of what he does as it relates to sex. Shot on various locations in nearby areas of Tokyo, the film does play into this world of growing imperialism where Japan is changing yet its morals are becoming unruly as this affair between Abe and Ishida would later be described as scandalous for its time. Some of Oshima’s compositions are stylish in some of the wide shots along with high and low angles to get a look into a room or a location yet much of his direction is intimate as it’s often set inside a room where there is a claustrophobic element but also a place where Abe and Ishida can isolate themselves from a world that is judgmental but also ever-changing in this emergence of imperialism. Some of the dramatic moments in the film including scenes where Abe and Ishida are walking in the rain showcase a couple having some fun although there is also a sense of danger into what are they doing. Especially as it relates to their sexual relationship as they would continuously push themselves for pleasure to the point of obsession.

Oshima definitely goes into places in his presentation of explicit, non-simulated sexual content that is confrontational but also blurring the line of what can be considered pornography or what is perceived as art. One notable scene of Abe and Ishida having sex in front of a group of young geishas that eventually leads to an orgy is an odd scene where the orgy is happening while an old man is doing a traditional dance to traditional music. It’s among these extravagant set pieces that Oshima creates including moments where Abe would offer herself with Ishida watching and going along with it or Abe having sex with an old man and asking him to slap and pinch her just so she can get off. The act of sex would get shocking as geishas, waitresses, and maids would often be shocked by the sight of Abe giving Ishida oral sex or the couple just having sex with full-on penetration being shown. Even in parts where Oshima would go into extreme close-ups of their genitals including Abe’s vagina at its most extreme.

Oshima’s direction also amps up the sexual content as it would play into the drama and obsession between the two where even something like erotic asphyxiation becomes a regular thing for the two. Oshima definitely raises a lot of question into how this relationship became scandalous during this time where Japan becomes an imperialist nation. The film’s final minutes aren’t just the most shocking aspects of the film but it also shows how fucked up love can be. Overall, Oshima crafts a riveting yet visceral film about an obsessive and chaotic love affair between a hotel manager and one of his maids.

Cinematographer Hideo Ito does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its colorful and vibrant look with some unique lighting schemes by Kenichi Okamoto for many of the film’s interior setting as it add to this air of beauty and chaos in the film. Editors Keiichi Uraoka and Patrick Sauvion do excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and extreme sexual content. Production/costume designer Jusho Toda and co-costume designer Masahiro Kato do amazing work with the look of the sets that Abe and Ishida would live in where it is lavish in some parts but small in some places while the costumes consist of these colorful robes along with bits of clothing that would play into their erotic appetites.

The makeup work of Koji Takemura is fantastic for the look of the geishas and the style of makeup they had to wear. The sound work of Tetsuo Yasuda is superb for its approach to sound effects and setting an atmosphere in the locations as well as in sparse ambient sounds. The film’s music by Minoru Miki is incredible for its usage of traditional Japanese string music that help play into the drama and unsettling tone of the film with its usage of the shamisen string instrument along with a few lush string orchestral pieces in the film as it one of the film’s major highlights.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Kanae Kobayashi as an old geisha who is not shocked by Abe and Ishida’s exploits, Taiji Tonoyama as an old beggar who is eager to get sexual pleasure from Abe, Naomi Shiraishi and Komikichi Hori as a couple of geishas, Kyoji Kokonoe as a schoolteacher whom Abe would sleep with for money, Meika Sera as a hotel maid, Yasuko Matsui as an inn manager, and Aoi Nakajima in a terrific small role as Ishida’s wife Toku. The performances of Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji are phenomenal in their respective roles as Sada Abe and Kichizo Ishida as couple having an affair that becomes intense and chaotic with the former as someone that is eager to have an orgasm better than the last one she had and the latter as a man who is into kinky sexual acts where they both love each other but also grow to get more provocative in their thirst for sexual and emotional pleasure as their performances are daring in terms of what they do to provoke and confront love at its most primal.

In the Realm of the Senses is a tremendous film from Nagisa Oshima that features great performances from Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji. Along with its gorgeous visuals, mesmerizing music score, and an eerie take on a real-life story that explores sexual passion and taboos that would shock people during the time of Imperial Japan. It’s a film that is definitely uneasy to watch in terms of its graphic depiction of sex as well as what two people would do to push themselves to the limit. In the end, In the Realm of the Senses is a spectacular film from Nagisa Oshima.

Nagisa Oshima Films: (Tomorrow’s Sun) - (A Street of Love and Hope) - (Cruel Story of Youth) - (The Sun’s Burial) - (Night and Fog in Japan) - (The Catch) - (The Rebel) - (A Small Child’s First Adventure) - (It’s Me Here, Bellett) - (The Pleasures of the Flesh) - (Yunbogi’s Diary) - (Violence at High Noon) - (Tales of the Ninja/Band of Ninja) - (Sing a Song of Sex (A Treatsie on Japanese Bawdy Songs)) - (Double Suicide: Japanese Summer) - (Death by Hanging) - (Three Resurrected Drunkards) - (Diary of a Shinjuku Thief) - (Boy (1969 film)) - (Man Who Left His Will on Film) - (The Ceremony (1971 film)) - (Dear Summer Sister) – Empire of Passion - (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) - (Max, Mon Amour) - (Taboo (1999 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Period Dramas

For the 25th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We delve into the subject of period dramas as they would take place on a certain period of time as a way to recreate that period or to explore themes during those times. Here are my three picks:

1. Lola Montes

Max Ophuls’ 1955 film about the famed dancer/courtesan who tells her life story in a circus about her numerous affairs in a stylish presentation. Set in the 19th Century, it is this unusual yet rich film that features a radiant performance from Martine Carol as it plays with history but also explore a woman who endured so much as she rose high and then fall into ruin.

2. Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel of the life of an Irishman who would find himself into various situations out of his control and become part of high society only to fall when he takes advantage of being part of that world. Featuring Ryan O’Neal in an understated performance, Kubrick’s film is a high watermark of what a period film should be in terms of visuals and in atmosphere as it remains this fascinating study of a man putting himself into situations that are completely strange to him.

3. Farewell My Queen

Benoit Jacquot’s adaptation of Chantal Thomas’ novel about the final days of Marie Antoinette’s reign as Queen of France is a compelling and gorgeous film that follows those last days told from the perspective of a young maid. With Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette and Virginie Ledoyen as her friend the Duchess of Polignac, it is Lea Seydoux’s performance as the maid Sidonie that really drives the film as someone who is trying to observe everything around her just as this world of palace life is about to come apart.

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, June 17, 2019

Ghost in the Shell (2017 film)

Based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is the story of a cybernetic public-securities agent who goes on the hunt for a mysterious hacker in a futuristic world where humans and cyborgs live together. Directed by Rupert Sanders and screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger, the film is a live-action version of the story that is partially based on the 1995 anime film as it explores a cyborg agent dealing with her humanity as she pursues a mysterious hacker wreaking havoc on the world. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han, and Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet. Ghost in the Shell is a visually-entrancing yet deeply flawed film from Rupert Sanders.

The film revolves around a cyborg public-securities agent who is tasked to hunt a mysterious hacker who is wreaking havoc in futuristic Tokyo where humans and cyborgs coexist with some humans taking on cybernetic parts. It’s a film that play into a world where this agent is dealing with not just her being but also this person who might be the key to unveiling her true identity as it relates to the world of politics and ideals. The film’s screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger does start off nicely in introducing the protagonist Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) who is a top agent for this public securities agency who believe a hacker is killing off people from a top tech company as it relates to past experiments. Major Killian would do assignments with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) as they would make some chilling discoveries that they report to their boss Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) who believes something isn’t right as he finds himself at odds with a CEO tech in Cutter (Peter Ferdinando).

The script’s narrative does establish the relationships that Major Killian have in not just Batou and Chief Aramaki but also a scientist in Dr. Ouelet who created Major Killian by transferring her mind from a person’s body into a cyborg where Major Killian deals with dreams and such. It is among some of the aspects of the script that works but some lame puns in the dialogue as well as not doing enough to establish the stakes of what Major Killian and the securities agency is facing in this hacker that is known as Kuze (Michael Pitt). Though Kuze’s motivations for wreaking havoc are unveiled, things do get messy in the third act in terms of its execution as well as trying to understand what is really going on.

Rupert Sanders’ direction is definitely stylish as it play into the grand visuals of futuristic Tokyo as a world that is vast and dominated by holograms and other big buildings. Shot largely in Wellington, New Zealand with some locations shot in Hong Kong and additional shots in Los Angeles, Sanders does maintain this world that is futuristic but also have this hold on the past where it respects some of the landmarks of the city from the past. The wide shots that Sanders does create do capture so much attention to detail of the city but also in some of the places the characters go to including the opening action sequence where Major Killian tries to save a scientist from a robot. There are moments in Sanders’ direction in the usage of close-ups and medium shots that do play into character interactions along with scenes that play into the suspense.

Yet, for all of the grand visuals and compositions that include scenes that match its source material and Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime film. Sanders is hampered by not just the script’s shortcomings in terms of its plotting and execution but also in trying to create something that would appeal to both audiences of anime and Western film audiences. Notably its third act as it play into some revelations and although there’s some cool moments in the film, it is messy as it relates to alliances and whom Major Killian should trust. Overall, Sanders creates an adventurous but underwhelming film about a cyborg security agent trying to hunt a mysterious hacker.

Cinematographer Jess Hall does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its stylish usage of colors and lights to help set the mood for some of the film’s interior and exterior settings including its usage of neon lights. Editors Neil Smith and Billy Rich do terrific work with the editing despite its reliance on chaotic fast-cutting though there’s moments where they slow down and establish what is going on. Production designer Jan Roelfs and supervising art director Richard L. Johnson do amazing work with the look of the sets including the opening restaurant/building scene and some of the sets that the characters go to. Costume designers Kurt and Bart does fantastic work with the bodysuit that Major Killian wears to be invisible as well as the stylish usage of geisha robes and other stylish clothes to help establish the characters in the film.

Hair/makeup designer Jane O’Kane does nice work with the hairstyles and make-up for the characters including the eyes for Batou. Special effects supervisors Yves De Bono, Steve Ingram, and Brendan O’Dell, along with visual effects supervisors Asregadoo Arundi, Marcus Dryden, John Dykstra, Greg McKneally, Vincent Poitras, Guillaume Rocheron, and Doug Spilatro, do excellent work with the visual effects with its usage of holograms, dazzling lights, and other effects that help play into the futuristic version of Tokyo. Sound editor Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg, with sound designers Odin Benitez, Charlie Campagna, Peter Staubli, Jon Title, and Martyn Zub, do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere as well in some sound effects that add to the suspense and drama.

The film’s music by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is incredible for its mixture of electronic and orchestral music as it help play into the action and suspense that also include these haunting arrangements of traditional Japanese string and percussion textures into the score. The film’s music soundtrack feature an array of music from classical pieces from Claude Debussy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart along with some traditional Japanese music pieces, operatic cuts, and some electronic music pieces.

The casting by Lucy Beavan and Liz Mullane is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Chris Obdi as an African ambassador, Rila Fukushima as a geisha robot, Kaori Momoi as an old woman that Major Killian seems to know, Anamaria Marinca as a tech lab consultant in Dr. Dahlin, Danusia Samuel and Chin Han in their respective roles as fellow agents Ladriya and Togusa, and Michael Wincott in an un-credited performance as a tech ambassador in Dr. Osmond who is one of the first targets of Kuze. Peter Ferdinando is alright as Cutter as a tech CEO who is trying to gain control of all of the technology and gain some political pull as he’s just someone that isn’t interesting as an antagonist.

Michael Pitt is pretty good as Kuze as a mysterious hacker who has a grudge towards the tech company where Pitt does reveal his motivations though he is underwritten as he’s not really given more to do but be mysterious. Pilou Asbaek is fantastic as Batou as Major Killian’s partner as a man who loves stray dogs and is a loyal partner to Major Killian as well as later getting eye implants after Major Killian saves him as Asbaek’s scenes with Johansson is a highlight of the film. Juliette Binoche is excellent as Dr. Ouelet as a designer who cares deeply for Major Killian as a woman who is tasked to create weapons who follow orders yet feels that Major Killian is someone who has a lot more to say as she is willing to protect her.

Takeshi Kitano is brilliant as Chief Daisuke Aramaki as security agents chief who is suspicious of what Cutter is doing as well as protective of Major Killian whom, like Dr. Ouelet, sees her as someone special while Kitano does all of his dialogue in Japanese which makes it much cooler as he’s also a man not to be fucked with. Finally, there’s Scarlett Johansson in an amazing performance as Major Mira Killian as a public-securities agent tasked with hunting down a hacker as Johansson displays that air of restraint and determination in a cyborg that has humanistic qualities as someone that is trying to find herself as it’s one of her finer performances.

Ghost in the Shell is a stellar but messy film from Rupert Sanders that features top-notch performances from Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano, and Pilou Asbaek. While it is hampered by its script and Hollywood aesthetics including the white-washing of Asian characters, it is still a film that is exciting and filled with some great visuals as well as a hypnotic score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe. In the end, Ghost in the Shell is a worthwhile film from Rupert Sanders.

Related: Ghost in the Shell (1995 film)

© thevoid99 2019