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 UnknownThe 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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Lion Has Wings

Directed by Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst, Alexander Korda, and Michael Powell and written by Hurst and E.V.H. Emmett from a story by Ian Dalrympe, The Lion Has Wings is a British documentary-propaganda film made just after the start of World War II. It’s a film that showcases what Britain has to do in light of the recent events as they had to prepare for war. Starring Merle Oberon, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez and narration by E.V.H. Emmett. The Lion Has Wings is a compelling and engaging film from producer Alexander Korda.

Released two months after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany that officially started World War II, the film is a call to arms to remind Britons on what is at stake for the war. It’s a film that is part-drama and part-documentary under the supervision of producer Alexander Korda as is one of four directors in this project that is ensure the British public about the life they were having just after the Great Depression and before the war and why they must fight to keep all of those things despite the claims in the narration that poverty and unemployment is being eradicated. Through the works of Korda, Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst, and Michael Powell, the direction is largely straightforward in the way it dramatizes certain events and ideas of what officers and others go through with Ralph Richardson playing the role of a top officer and Merle Oberon as his wife.

Much of the dramatic elements of the film with this story of the officer, his wife, and many others including a dramatic re-creation of an early aerial battle have the directors use simple compositions of close-ups and medium shots to play into this idea of realism that is a little far-fetched in some spots of the film. Notably in some of the documentary footage as it play into how Britain could defeat the Germans and such even though some of the strategy they use including a dramatic recreation of an attempted invasion by the Spanish armada from the past was able to be thwarted by villagers from a scene from the film Fire Over England by William K. Howard and produced by Korda. The usage of that film as well as footage from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will does play into this idea of what Britain is trying to show itself against the Germans in their militaristic persona. Even as the film showcases what Britain must do and make claims that they have the best weapons in the world though they were ready for the Germans despite what they would face. Overall, Korda crafts an entertaining film that helps Britons get ready for war.

Cinematographers Osmond Borradaile, Bernard Browne, and Harry Stradling Sr. do excellent work with the film’s black-and-white photography as well as maintain that blur of dramatization and reality into the footage they capture including scenes of the Royal Air Force in the air. Editors Henry Cornelius, Charles Frend, Hugh Stewart, and Derek N. Twist do terrific work with the editing with its stylish usage of transition wipes as well as gathering all sorts of stock footage and such to play into the dangers the British forces might deal with. Art director Vincent Korda does fantastic work with the look of the home of one of the officers as well as a base where they watch over an attempted bombing invasion from the Germans. The sound work of John W. Mitchell and A.W. Watkins is superb for its sound effects as well as how engines sound and the sounds of factories. The film’s music by Richard Addinsell is brilliant for its musical score as it play into the beauty of Britain with some heavy themes that play into the serious elements of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth I from Fire Over England and June Duprez as a young woman who is a friend of the officer’s wife. Ralph Richardson and Merle Oberon are amazing in their respective roles as Wing Commander Richardson and Mrs. Richardson with the former being a RAF officer trying to strategize things with the latter being the wife at home who would also be a nurse.

The Lion Has Wings is a marvelous film from producer Alexander Korda as well as co-directors Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst, and Michael Powell. While it is a film of its time and is a propaganda film for Britain in the early days of World War II. It is still a fascinating piece of history that explores what the British government and film industry wanted to show to its people and what is at stake despite the lack of realism they would endure later on in the war. In the end, The Lion Has Wings is a remarkable film from producer Alexander Korda.

© thevoid99 2019

Friday, June 14, 2019

Medium Cool

Written, directed, and shot by Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool is the story of a TV news cameraman who goes right into the center of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as he deals with what to film making him question about what to tell where news media becomes more scripted. The film is a dramatic interpretation of the events of 1968 in Chicago as it showcases a world that is unraveling as it’s told in an in-your-face cinematic style to comment about what is shown and what isn’t shown. Starring Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Marianna Hill, and Harold Blankenship. Medium Cool is a gripping and evocative film from Haskell Wexler.

The film follows a cameraman trying to get some good stories to tell in Chicago just months before the Democratic National Convention where he deals with the chaos of the year including assassinations, the Vietnam War, race riots, and all sorts of shit. It’s a film that play into the world of media coverage where a cameraman is trying to find some meaning through what he sees yet he finds himself being told what to shoot and create an angle just as the world is going into disarray. Haskell Wexler’s script is loose in its presentation as it blurs the line between fantasy and reality where the main narrative revolves around the cameraman John Catselas (Robert Forster) as a man just trying to find some idea of what is really going on as he’s joined by his soundman Gus (Peter Bonerz).

During this time to search for compelling stories including one about a cab driver who found an envelope with $10,000, Catselas finds himself at odds with bosses over what to tell as they’re interested in gathering footage and sources for the FBI. It adds to Catselas’ own emotional turmoil as his relationships with some people falter just as he’s befriend a woman named Eileen (Verna Bloom) who had just moved from West Virginia to Chicago with her son Harold (Harold Blankenship) while her husband is away at Vietnam. Eileen represents someone who had lived in a part of the world that is sort of disconnected from the chaos of what is happening right now as she has trouble adjusting to her new environment.

Wexler’s direction is engaging and confrontational in its blur of reality and fiction where it aims for this hand-held documentary style in capturing real events that are unfolding throughout the film but also with the dramatic narrative. Shot on location in Chicago, Wexler who serves as the film’s cinematographer and one of many camera operators aims for this realistic approach to this story of a man trying to find meaning in the news just as the news itself is becoming compromised and scripted. While there’s some wide shots in the film, much of the direction is intimate with its usage of close-ups and medium shots as it play into the action that is going on while Wexler also use audio and video clips of the events that are unfolding in 1968 playing into this air of chaos that is on the rise. The direction also has this loose tone where Wexler showcases the life that Catselas had before meeting Eileen and questioning his role as a cameraman as the film opens with him and Gus on a highway where they find a wounded woman lying out of her car following an accident.

Wexler’s direction and photography maintains an air of realism in the visuals including scenes at a night club where Catselas and Eileen watch a band play as well as dance to the music. It would culminate with the real-life events in and out of the Democratic National Convention where Wexler and his team of camera operators just film what is going on while Eileen is walking around trying to find her son. The sense of chaos, violence, and danger add to this air of realism where reality and fiction would blur as it play into these events where some news outlets refuse to report this riot but others realize there is something important happening as it relates to what Catselas is trying to do as a news cameraman. Overall, Wexler crafts a riveting and haunting film about a news cameraman trying to find a story for the world to know in a media that’s been compromised.

Editor Verna Fields does excellent work with the editing in its usage of jump-cuts and some montages to capture the action and chaos that occur throughout the film. Art director Leon Erickson does nice work with the look of the apartment that Eileen lives that is a total contrast to the more spacious apartment loft that Catselas lives in. Sound editor Kay Rose does fantastic work with the sound in capturing all of the sound clips from news reports as well as the chaos that is happening outside of the Democratic National Convention. The film’s music by Mike Bloomfield is amazing for its mixture of folk and rock that play into some of the dark humor of the film with some instrumental pieces by the Mothers of Invention and Love.

The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from Peter Boyle as a gun clinic manager, Christine Bergstrom as a news staff member/lover of Catselas in Dede, and Charles Geary as Harold’s father in flashback scenes. Marianna Hill is wonderful as Catselas’ lover Ruth who spends time at his loft while questioning about his ideals towards the news. Harold Blankenship is fantastic as Harold as Eileen’s son who is dealing with his dreary situation as well as wondering when his dad is going to come back home. Peter Bonerz is terrific as Gus as Catselas’ sound man who accompany him to the assignment as he is also concerned about where the news media is going. Verna Bloom is brilliant as Eileen as a former schoolteacher from West Virginia who has moved to Chicago as she deals with her new surroundings while befriending Catselas as she ponders about her husband who is in Vietnam. Finally, there’s Robert Forster in an amazing performance as John Catselas as a news cameraman who is dealing with the growing turmoil in the news media as he wants to capture real stories that mean something as it starts to affect his personal life as he finds solace in Eileen.

Medium Cool is a sensational film from Haskell Wexler. Featuring a great cast, a commentary about news media in the late 1960s, haunting visuals, and a riveting music soundtrack. It’s a film that explore a moment in time that would prove to be not just a turning point in American history but also its exploration of a man wanting to capture the truth and be part of it despite the compromise he has to endure in his line of work. In the end, Medium Cool is a spectacular film from Haskell Wexler.

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Undercover

For the 24th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We delve into the subject of undercover as it gives people a chance to be somebody else all for the good of the law as well as explore some form of corruption from within. Here are my three picks:

1. New Jack City

Mario Van Peebles’ 1990 film is one of the most quotable films of that decade as it explores a renegade detective who teams with another hot-shot detective to bust a drug lord roaming the streets of New York City. Featuring an incredible performance from Wesley Snipes as the drug lord Nino Brown, Ice-T steals the show as Furious Styles as the man who goes undercover to Brown’s drug syndicate in the hopes of taking him down not just to stop drugs from going into the streets but also for personal reasons. “This isn’t business, this is personal. I wanna shoot you so bad, my dick’s hard”.

2. Undercover Brother

Malcolm D. Lee’s cop-comedy is an ode 1970s Blaxploitation as well as spoofing popular culture and race relations. Starring Eddie Griffin in the titular role, it’s a film that has the character don a few disguises including having to act white to infiltrate the man’s world of capitalism and turning the world white. Yet, Undercover Brother has to endure wearing corduroys, eat mayonnaise, and sleep with white women which doesn’t make black women very happy. Add the antics of Dave Chappelle and Neil Patrick Harris as the white intern in a black spy syndicate. It’s one of the funniest films of the 2000s.

3. BlackKklansman

Spike Lee’s 2018 film isn’t just a return to form narrative film for Lee following a period of lackluster-received films but it’s also a film that feels right for the times as it tells the true story of an African-American police officer who goes undercover and infiltrate a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his Jewish partner as the face of his persona. Starring John David Washington as Ron Stallsworth, it’s a film that showcases some of the dark aspects of racism as well as a man who goes deep inside into the world of one of the biggest hate groups around the world and makes a fool out of them.

© thevoid99 2019

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Loveless (2017 film)

Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev and written by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, Loveless is the story of a disillusioned couple who are forced to work together after their son had disappeared over anger due to his parents’ hostile relationship towards one another. The film is an exploration of a loveless couple whose bitterness over their marriage force them to deal with the neglect of their son as they try to find him as he had gone missing. Starring Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva, and Andris Keiss. Loveless is a haunting and riveting film from Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Set in 2012 near Leningrad, the film follows a divorcing couple whose hatred for one another lead to the disappearance of their 12-year old son as they’re forced to work together to find him as it leads to more trouble between the two. It’s a film that explore two people who hate each other and want nothing to do each other only to focus on the fact that their only child has disappeared with the two confronting each other and themselves about their neglect towards him. The film’s screenplay by Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin has a unique structure that plays into a family just coming apart with a young boy stuck in the middle of this nasty divorce between two people who really don’t give a fuck about the boy’s feelings over this divorce nor what they want to do with him once the divorce is final.

The first act is about this extremely dysfunctional family where Zhenya (Maryna Spivak) is selling the apartment she shares with her future ex-husband Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and their 12-year old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) as she and Boris fights while they both lead different lives with their respective lovers in the middle-aged Anton (Andris Keiss) and Masha (Marina Vasilyeva) as the latter is pregnant with Boris’ child. The second act is about the realization that Alyosha hasn’t returned home as Zhenya reports his disappearance to the police where a detective (Sergey Borisov) and a search and rescue team leader named Ivan (Alexey Fateev) both lead the investigation. Yet, the search for Alyosha would also lead to more tension and revelations about Zhenya and Boris and why they got married in the first place that just adds to the drama and growing sense of loss for the two.

Zvyagintsev’s direction doesn’t go for anything stylistic other than in maintaining some simplistic compositions as well as images that do play into this air of mystique and ambiguity over the situation that is happening throughout the film. Shot on location in areas near Moscow, Zvyagintsev does use wide shots to not get a scope of the world that is Russia but also use close-ups to get so much attention to detail as it relates to a few things that might play into the mystery and suspense into what happened to Alyosha. The usage of close-ups and medium shots also add to the dramatic tension whenever Boris and Zhenya are in a room together while theirs is that one shot where they’re in the background on a wide shot and in another room in a medium shot is Alyosha crying as it displays exactly what he’s going through. It is a moment that play into this air of neglect where Zvyagintsev shows Alyosha’s parents being more concerned with their own lives than Alyosha as examples include Zhenya with Anton or often looking at her phone in some parts of the film. Boris would either be at work or with Masha not really thinking about Alyosha either though and Zhenya would talk about him to their lovers as if he was mistake and are uncertain about what to do with him.

Zvyagintsev also create these mesmerizing images in the compositions where he would put the actors into a certain spot for the shot but it also in displaying this air of realism such as the scene of Boris and Zhenya meeting the detective who name numerous possibilities about the kid while observing the both of them as he reveals to be a tough yet fair individual who is willing to get to the bottom of Alyosha’s disappearance. One scene that is chilling and disturbing is when Boris, Zhenya, and a police officer go to the home of Zhenya’s mother (Natalya Potapova) as she represents this old idea of what Russia was as she blames her daughter and Boris for Alyosha’s disappearance where Zvyagintsev definitely display some political and social metaphors as it relates to what had happened as well as this disconnect from morality in modern-day Russia. Overall, Zvyagintsev crafts a gripping and eerie film about a divorcing couple dealing with the disappearance of their 12-year old son.

Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its stark and desolate look with its usage of white, grey, and other colorless imagery for many of the exterior scenes while using some low-key lighting and such for the scenes set at night. Editor Anna Mass does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward that allow shots to linger for more than a minute with a few rhythmic cuts for dramatic purposes. Production designer Andrey Ponkratov does fantastic work with the interior of the family apartment including Alyosha’s room as well as the apartments that Anton and Masha live in. Sound designer Andrey Dergachev does superb work with the sound as it help play into the intense atmosphere of some of the locations including the sparse sounds of nature and sirens heard from afar. The film’s music by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine is wonderful for its low-key piano-based ambient score that appear briefly in parts of the film while the soundtrack include a classical piece from Avro Part and a music appearance from Bring on the Horizon on Boris’ car radio.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Vavara Shmykova as a police officer who help Boris and Zhenya break into the home of Zhenya’s mother and Natalya Potapova as Zhenya’s mother who is this cold and cruel woman who wants nothing to do with her daughter or her grandson believing they are a burden to her. Sergey Borisov and Alexey Fateev are superb in their respective roles as the detective and the search/rescue leader Ivan as two men who are both good at their jobs while also going through numerous possibilities about Alyosha as well as do whatever they can to find the boy. Marina Vasilyeva and Andris Keiss are fantastic in their respective roles as Boris’ pregnant lover Masha and Zhenya’s middle-aged lover Anton as two people who are concerned with what is happening as Masha believes she is being neglected while Anton becomes concerned about Zhenya though has no real issues with Boris. Matvei Novikov is excellent as Alyosha as the 12-year old son of Boris and Zhenya who is dealing with his parents’ divorce as well as them fighting and saying things about him that would eventually lead to a breakdown and the idea that he ran away.

Aleksey Rozin is brilliant as Boris as a businessman that is concerned with keeping his job while dealing with the chaos of his marriage and the new life he wants to have with Masha as he also copes with Alyosha’s disappearance as well as being unsure about what to do with him once the divorced is finalized. Finally there’s Maryana Spivak in an amazing performance as Zhenya as a mother who is trying to get started on her new life while filled with a lot of bitterness about her marriage to Boris as she deals with what happened to Alyosha as she is in denial that she is at fault for what happened to him.

Loveless is a tremendous film from Andrey Zvyagintsev. Featuring a great cast, its themes of neglect and family, and stark visuals, it’s a film that explore a divorcing couple who try to find their son as well as deal with themselves as it also serves as a metaphor for the declining sense of morality in modern-day Russia. In the end, Loveless is a spectacular film from Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Andrey Zvyagintsev Films: (The Return) – (The Banishment) – (Elena (2011 film) – Leviathan (2014 film)

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

River of Grass

Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt from a story by Reichardt and Jesse Hartman, River of Grass is the story of a couple who find themselves involved in a shooting incident as they try to flee South Florida but deal with the lack of funds to do so. It’s a film that explore a bad night where two people with an incident that they may or may not have been involved in as they also deal with their own issues in their lives that stop them from fleeing trouble. Starring Lisa Bowman, Larry Fessenden, Michael Buscemi, Greg Schroeder, Santo Fazio, Dick Russell, and Sheila Korsi. River of Grass is an offbeat yet compelling film from Kelly Reichardt.

A married woman with children meets a man at a bar as he had recently gained a lost gun where they go to someone’s home to swim in that person’s pool only to accidentally shoot the gun as they believe they had killed someone. It’s a film that has this simple premise with not much of a plot as it play into two directionless individuals who find a gun and then try to leave South Florida after they believed they had killed someone. Yet, leaving South Florida with little money and lack of direction is part of the problem as Kelly Reichardt doesn’t aim for a traditional narrative as it play into this air of uncertainty for these two people. Notably as Cozy (Lisa Bowman) is a woman with children she has no emotional attachment to while her husband is often away at work where much of the film is told from her perspective through voice-over narration. Upon meeting Lee (Larry Fessenden) at a bar, they drink and have fun until they go to someone’s house with a gun that Lee found. What neither of them know is that the gun belonged to Cozy’s father Jimmy (Dick Russell) who had lost it after chasing someone at another bar.

Reichardt’s direction is largely low-key while it does have bits of style in the film in terms of the compositions that she creates. Shot on location in small towns in both Broward and Dade County in Florida including parts of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, Reichardt definitely play into this air of realism into the locations while it also add to the suspense and drama that Cozy and Lee are going through. Even as they don’t have a lot of money and do whatever they can to get money where Lee would go to his grandmother’s house and steal things including records and his mother’s shoes only to get nothing. Reichardt would use some wide shots of the film’s locations though it is shot on a 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio where Reichardt uses the format to play into the intimacy between the characters in the close-ups and medium shots including scenes inside the car.

Reichardt’s direction also goes into great detail of the locations of where the gun is first found as well as certain places the characters go to where even though South Florida is quite vast with its cities and beaches including glimpses of the Everglades. The fact that characters would encounter each other without knowing who they are or not see them properly as it add to the intrigue of Jimmy’s search for the missing gun as well as who accidentally shot a gun. Reichardt’s direction also play into this air of uncertainty as it relates to the realism of what Cozy and Lee are going through that include this climatic scene at the tollbooth where it is about finding a quarter to pay the toll. That air of realism but also a sense of loss about how life never turns out the way some wanted it to be adds to the heaviness of the drama where Reichardt doesn’t make it heavy-handed. Instead, she reveals the severity of their situation and their inability to deal with the real world and take both the good and bad in what they have. Overall, Reichardt crafts a mesmerizing yet unconventional road drama about a couple who get into trouble and escape South Florida.

Cinematographer Jim Denault does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it has this sort of grainy look in the photography yet maintains something that is natural in the daytime exteriors and usage of available light for some of the interiors at night. Sound designer/editor Larry Fessenden does terrific work with the editing and sound as the former is presented in a straightforward manner with a few jump cuts while the latter is also presented in a straight approach with some sparse sounds of the locations including how music is presented. Production designer David Doernberg does nice work with the look of Lee’s room at his grandmother’s house as well as the home that Cozy lives in. Costume designer Sara Jane Slotnick does wonderful work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the summer heat of Florida. The film’s music by John Hill is brilliant for its usage of jazz music as well as a soundtrack that features an array of music from jazz, alternative rock, and country music.

The film’s superb cast feature notable small roles and appearances from Sheila Korsi as a depressed woman at a bar, Greg Schroeder as Jimmy’s detective friend Bobby, Santo Fazio as Jimmy’s dickhead superior, Michael Buscemi as Lee’s friend Doug, and Stan Kaplan as Cozy’s husband J.C. Dick Russell is fantastic as Cozy’s father Jimmy as a jazz musician who works as a detective as he laments over his lost gun and Cozy’s sudden disappearance where he focuses on a case relating to a shooting accident. Larry Fessenden is excellent as Lee as this guy who copes with being unemployed and uncertain about his life as he is locked out of his grandmother’s home only to find a gun but has no clue what to do where he and Cozy go on the run as he struggles to figure out what to do. Finally, there’s Lisa Bowman in an amazing performance as Cozy as a mother/housewife who feels disconnected from her family life as she is eager to get out upon meeting Lee as it leads to trouble but also this need to make a new life but deal with the harsh realities of their situation.

River of Grass is a marvelous film from Kelly Reichardt. Featuring a great cast, superb images, a wild music soundtrack, and themes of trouble and wanting a new life but unable to deal with reality. It’s a film that play into a couple who get into trouble unaware of what happened and then panic over their inability to escape due to their lack of resources. In the end, River of Grass is a remarkable film from Kelly Reichardt.

Kelly Reichardt Films: Old Joy - Wendy & Lucy - Meek's Cutoff - Night Moves (2013 film) - Certain Women - First CowShowing Up - The Auteurs #72: Kelly Reichardt

© thevoid99 2019