Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: The Band



In the 38th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of the band. Films about a music band just trying to create music or a band that is just coming to an end. Whether it’s real or fiction. Here are my three picks:

1. Trances


Unless you are familiar with Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, this film from Ahmed El Maanoui is considered a gem on world cinema as it explores the music of the Moroccan folk band Nass El Ghiwane. Made during a tumultuous time in the country, the film explores this band making music that expresses a lot of the political and social turmoil of the time with a focus on the country itself. It’s a film that is told in different styles with live performances, interviews, stock footage, and profiles on the five band members including insight into the Moroccan theatre scene of the 1960s.

2. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco


One of the great American bands to emerge from mid-1990s as an alt-country band born from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo to becoming this experimental rock band with touches of alt-country, indie, and such. Wilco is a band that may not have a lot of mainstream success but a devoted following that has continued to thrive. The 2002 documentary by Sam Jones explore the making of the band’s landmark 2001 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as it showcases a band dealing with recent departures, issues with their record label Reprise Records following a change in leadership, tension between vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett that lead to the latter’s departure after the album’s completion as it showcases a band trying to make an album and without any compromise during a tumultuous time in the music industry.

3. Iron Maiden: Flight 666


One of the most popular and seminal bands of the heavy metal genre, Iron Maiden remains one of the most vital bands in heavy metal as the 2009 documentary film by Scot McFayden and Sam Dunn explore the band’s 2008 Somewhere Back in Time world tour. What makes the documentary unique isn’t just the fact that the band did this world tour in 5 continents on Boeing 757 named Ed Force One but also for the fact that it’s co-piloted by their vocalist Bruce Dickinson. The tour itself is unique as the band play in countries that rarely had any major worldwide acts arrive in their country. Especially in countries in Latin America where Iron Maiden’s following is immense with stops in Bogota, Colombia, and San Jose, Costa Rica in big stadiums. The latter of which almost never happened due to a bruise that drummer Nicko McBrain received when he played golf as the idea of a band like Iron Maiden playing in a third-world country like Costa Rica is surprising. It’s a film that also showcases a band who are humble and proud of their success while being surrounded by personnel and family who contribute to their success.

© thevoid99 2020

Monday, September 14, 2020

Teorema



Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Teorema is the story of a wealthy family whose upper-class lifestyle is turned upside down when they invite a stranger into their home. The film is a study of a family from Milan who endure some serious revelations upon inviting this man into their home as they cope with their identities and their environment. Starring Terence Stamp, Laura Betti, Silvana Mangano, Massimo Girotti, Anne Wiazemsky, and Ninetto Davoli. Teorema is a majestic and surreal film from Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Set in the bourgeoisie world of Milan, the film revolves around a wealthy family who invite a mysterious visitor to their home for a brief stay as his presence would turn their world upside down. It is a film with a simple premise as it play into a family who spent much of their lives living in the bourgeoisie society as they’re not fully aware of what the world around them. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s script doesn’t feature a conventional plot, despite featuring a straightforward narrative, nor does it feature a lot of dialogue in favor of characters reacting to this mysterious and unnamed visitor (Terence Stamp). The visitor’s presence would create a reaction to this family including its maid Emilia (Laura Betti) who is suffering from depression as her encounter with the visitor has her facing many things. The visitor’s time at this home is only for the film’s first half but his impact would play a major key role in the film’s second half as it relates to the family.

Pasolini’s direction is largely straightforward in its compositions yet it does contain an element of surrealism as it relates to the world of this bourgeoisie family as it is also shot on location in and around Milan. There are some wide and medium shots of the locations as well as the home of this family yet Pasolini also uses it to convey the sense of isolation this family lives in as it is clear that their lack of interaction outside of their environment has made them too comfortable. Here in this strange visitor, the bubble that this family is living in proves to full of faults and fallacies as the visitor is someone who would inspire each member of the family in some way. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots add an intimacy to what Pasolini is conveying in how each of the family members and the maid deal with this visitor.

While much of the film’s first half is straightforward, there are elements that are surreal that would include recurring images of gray and dusty landscapes. The second half of the film is where Pasolini brings in a lot of these surreal moments as they’re more about these revelations of this family and their own individual needs and wants. Pasolini also play into the idea of spirituality as well as some of the harsh realism of the modern world since the family patriarch Paolo (Massimo Girotti) runs a factory as he is already troubled by some of the growing tension between factory workers and those in charge. By the film’s third act where Paolo and his film start to unravel in different ways, it all play into these ideas of existentialism as well as identity. Notably as it features Paolo and the recurring images of the gray landscape that he’s been thinking about as well as the lack of depth in the bubble he had lived in for many years with his family. Overall, Pasolini crafts an entrancing and eerie film about a mysterious visitor’s time at the home of a Milanese bourgeoisie family and its aftermath.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Ruzzolini does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography to capture the lush colors of the locations within the family home that is a direct contrast to the more realistic look of the locations in and outside of Milan with the opening shots of the film presented in a sepia-like filter. Editor Nino Baragli does amazing work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts for the recurring images of gray landscape that appear every now and then as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Art director Luciano Puccini does excellent work with the look of the family home with its stylish rooms that play into the personality of the characters.

Costume designers Roberto Capucci and Marcella De Marchis do fantastic work with the costumes with Capucci creating lavish and stylish clothes for the family matriarch to wear with De Marchis creating clothes for the other characters that are posh but casual. The sound work of Bernardino Fronzetti is superb for its atmosphere of the locations at the home where it’s tranquil in comparison to the noisier world of industrial-driven Milan. The film’s music by Ennio Morricone is tremendous for its mixture of lush orchestral music mixed in with elements of jazz that is driven by horns as well as a bit of rock n roll while its soundtrack features a classical piece from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Ninetto Davoli as the postman Angelino, Adele Cambria as a maid also named Emilia, Alfonso Gatto as a doctor, Susanna Pasolini as an old peasant, and Laura Betti as the family maid in Emilia whose encounter with the visitor has her dealing with ideas of spirituality. Andres Jose Cruz Soublette is superb as the young man Pietro who rooms with the visitor as he would later cope with his identity as well as the world he lives in. Anne Wiazemsky is fantastic as the family daughter Odetta who is a young woman of innocence as someone who cares for her father as her meeting with the visitor has her thinking about men in a sexual way as it becomes an emotional revelation for her.

Massimo Girotti is excellent as the family patriarch Paolo as a man who owns and runs a factory who becomes ill as he also copes with the world of industrialization and social turmoil as well as dreams of a land where his encounters with the visitor forces him to see things differently. Silvana Mangano is amazing as Lucia as the family matriarch whose encounter with the visitor awakens her own sexual desires as she deals with the trappings of her own surroundings where she would go into an existential journey of her own. Finally, there’s Terence Stamp in a sensational performance as the visitor as this mysterious young man who is a guest at this home where he doesn’t do much other than just read books, play with a dog, and other casual activities as he is also someone that doesn’t reveal exactly who he is as Stamp just plays it straight in an understated yet ravishing performance.

Teorema is a spectacular film from Pier Paolo Pasolini. Featuring a great cast, lush visuals, a riveting music score by Ennio Morricone, and a study of identity and lifestyle. The film is a provocative and rapturous film that explores the life of a bourgeoisie family as their world goes upside down following a strange visit from a mysterious young man as it play into the many faults of the upper-class and their disconnection with the rest of the world. In the end, Teorema is a phenomenal film from Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Pier Paolo Pasolini Films: (Accattone) – (La Rabbia) - Mamma Roma - (Location Hunting in Palestine) – (The Gospel According to Matthew) – (Love Meetings) – (The Hawks and the Sparrows) – (Oedipus Rex) – (Porcile) – (Medea (1969 film)) – (Appunti per un film sull’India) – (Notes Towards an African Orestes) – The Decameron - The Canterbury Tales - Arabian Nights - Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Non English-Language Movies




In the 37th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We return to the subject of non-English language films as it’s often been a common subject with Thursday Movie Picks for the past few years. It’s often where everyone discovers something from another country to show that we’re not alone in whatever people are dealing with. With South Korea being a major force in the film industry due to the fact that Parasite won a shitload of awards including the Palme d’Or and multiple Academy Awards including Best Picture. Here are my three picks of gems from South Korea:

1. The Housemaid



The film by Kim Ki-young is widely considered to be the film that paved the way for modern-day Korean cinema dating back to 1960. It is a film about a young woman who becomes a housemaid for a middle-class family where she would create chaos and do things that would be troubling. Especially as the patriarch who is a music teacher for a factory begins an affair with the maid and it eventually becomes torrid and torturous to the point that the family dynamic unravels.

2. The Way Home



Lee Jeong-hyang’s family film is a strangely accessible drama about a young boy from the city who is forced to live with his mute grandmother in a rural village while his mother goes to the city to find work. The boy is spoiled and doesn’t know life in a small village as there’s a scene of him wanting fried chicken but the grandmother only knows how to make chicken a certain way. Yet, the bond between grandson and grandmother does strengthen as it helps the boy find ways to communicate with his grandmother and speak for her in the small village.

3. Treeless Mountain



From So Yong Kim is this family drama about two young girls who are forced to fend for themselves after their mother left to find their estranged father while they live with their aunt who is an irresponsible person. It also showcases these two girls who lived in the city and then move to a small town as the changes in their environment is shocking yet they find a way to get things done. It isn’t an easy film to find yet it engaging for its exploration of two young girls bonding as well as try to find hope during troubled times.

© thevoid99 2020

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

White Dog



Based on the novel by Romain Gary, White Dog is the story of a dog trainer who helps a young actress retrain a stray dog that was trained to kill black people in an examination of racism. Directed by Samuel Fuller and screenplay by Fuller and Curtis Hanson, the film is an exploration of a black man dealing with a dog that kills black people as he tries to retrain it and tame him with the help of a young white actress as they deal with what had happened to this dog. Starring Paul Winfield, Kristy McNichol, Jameson Parker, Parley Baer, and Burl Ives. White Dog is a chilling and provocative film from Samuel Fuller.

A young actress finds a stray dog that she hit one night as she would take care of it unaware that it’s a white German Shepard who has been trained to kill black people where a series of incidents forces her to seek help where a black dog trainer tries to tame the dog. It’s a film with a simple premise as it plays into this young woman who finds a dog unaware of where it came from as she would see what this dog does first-hand during a film set where she was working where the dog attacked a black actress. The film’s screenplay by Samuel Fuller and Curtis Hanson is straightforward in its narrative yet it is more about this dog that the actress Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) found where she took to a vet and pondered about taking it to a dog pound yet chooses to take care of it much to the dismay of her boyfriend Roland (Jameson Parker) who suspects something isn’t right about the dog.

Notably when the dog comes home one day with blood all over himself and following an incident on-set during a film shoot. She turns to the animal trainer Carruthers (Burl Ives) who sees what the dog does as does the black animal trainer Keys (Paul Winfield) who decides to take the dog in and hope to tame him. Yet, it would prove to be difficult as it play into the idea of race and what this dog had been trained to do where Julie learns first-hand about what this dog did as she isn’t sure if she made the right decision.

Fuller’s direction is largely straightforward with the exception of the scenes involving the dog attacking African-American victims. Shot on location in Los Angeles, Fuller presents a world where racism is still around but not in the most expected places as Sawyer lives in the Hollywood Hills trying to get work as an actress while Roland is a screenwriter. While Fuller does use some wide shots to establish some of the locations including the scope of the animal shelter where Carruthers and Keys train animals for film projects where they treat animals humanely and with care. Much of the direction has Fuller use close-ups and medium shots with some striking compositions that play into the interaction between human and dog. With the aid of Karl Lewis Miller of Animal Action, the dog is a major character in the film as he is portrayed by five different white German Shepard as Fuller’s close-ups of the dog in the way he looks at a black person showcases this sense of dread and what is to come.

Fuller also knows when to subvert some of the suspense during the film’s second act where the dog escapes as there’s a shot of the dog sniffing for food while there’s a young black child in the background as it adds to the air of discomfort. Keys is someone who would try and tame this dog as he has this hope that trying to show this dog kindness and compassion yet remains unsure of how a dog would act towards other people since dogs can only see black and white. Even as he is patient towards the dog to gain its trust but there is also this air of uncertainty into how a dog that had been trained to kill black people would react to society and a world that is complicated. Overall, Fuller crafts an eerie and visceral film about a white German Shepard who kills black people raising questions about the idea of racism.

Cinematographer Bruce Surtees does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward with some low-key lighting for some of the interior scenes at night as well as the usage of spotlight during a break-out scene at night. Editor Bernard Gibble does amazing work with the editing as its usage of slow-motion to play into the suspense as well as the stylish fast-cutting to showcase the dog’s attacks help play into the film’s suspense. Production designer Brian Eatwell and set decorator Barbara Krieger do fantastic work with the look of Sawyer’s home as well as the animal shelter that Carruthers and Keys run. Sound mixers Don Cahn, Jim Cook, Robert Gravenor, and Robert L. Harman do brilliant work with the film’s sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations and how animals sound from afar. The film’s music by Ennio Morricone is incredible for its usage of somber piano and lush strings to play into the drama as well as soaring string arrangements for some of the film’s suspenseful moments.

The casting by Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton is superb as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Samuel Fuller as Sawyer’s agent, Paul Bartel as a cinematographer during a film shoot, Dick Miller as an animal trainer, Vernon Weddle as a veterinarian, Christa Lang-Fuller as a nurse, Marshall Thompson as the director of the film shoot, Lynne Moody as the actress the dog attacks, Bob Minor as a black animal trainer, and Parley Baer as a mysterious man who appears late in the film. Jameson Parker is fantastic as Sawyer’s screenwriter boyfriend Roland who is wary of the dog as he believes something isn’t right about that dog. Burl Ives is incredible as Carruthers as a semi-retired animal trainer/animal shelter owner who worked in movies as he has concerns about the dog while also watches closely at what Keys does believing it is working.

Kristy McNichol is amazing as Julie Sawyer as an actress who finds the dog and would take care of it but becomes troubled by his actions during a film shoot as she later realizes what kind of dog it is as she is unsure if she made the right decision. Finally, there’s Paul Winfield in a phenomenal performance as Keys as a black animal trainer who sees this dog as a challenge as he is eager to help this dog while is aware that he’s doing something impossible while he would find ways to get the dog to trust him yet has concerns about how this dog would react to society.

White Dog is a tremendous film from Samuel Fuller. Featuring a great cast, striking visuals, Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, and its study of racism and how animals are brainwashed to do horrific things. It is an unsettling film that explores the actions of a white German Shepard and a man’s attempt to try and cure the dog while dealing with the harsh realities of racism at its most rotten. In the end, White Dog is a sensational film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) – House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill's Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) – The Big Red One - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Domestic Thrillers




In the 36th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of domestic thrillers as it explore events that occur inside someone’s home and all things get scary. Here are my three picks:

1. Straw Dogs



Sam Peckinpah’s bloody film about an American mathematician moving to Britain with his wife where they encounter some local hoods who want to cause trouble is indeed a thriller. Anyone who had seen Peckinpah’s films would be aware of the uncompromising violence in the film as it play into a hood who once had a relationship with Dustin Hoffman’s wife as it leads to trouble and then things worsen when Hoffman protects a mentally-challenged person who gets into trouble leading this air of invasion by these men who want to kill Hoffman and his wife.

2. Desperate Hours



A remake of William Wyler’s 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March that was adapted from a novel/play by Joseph Hayes, the 1990 remake is a deeply flawed film yet it does have some moments of suspense as it play into an escaped criminal who hides into the home of a family with two other criminals. What makes the film more unusual is that it’s directed by Michael Cimino which is odd since much of the film takes place inside a house as he’s known more filming gorgeous exterior settings though he is able to get some decent performances from Anthony Hopkins, Mickey Rourke, Mimi Rogers, and Lindsay Crouse.

3. Hard Candy



The film that introduced indie film audiences to the force that Ellen Page is this stylish drama where Page plays a teenage girl who gets the attention of a much older man in Patrick Wilson who invites her into his home and things become dark. Especially with Page taking control as it has this element of revenge as much of the action takes place at Wilson’s home. It is never afraid to go dark while it also play into the world of pedophilia and revenge.

© thevoid99 2020

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Da 5 Bloods


***In Memory of Chadwick Boseman (1976-2020) Rest in Power***


Directed by Spike Lee and screenplay by Lee, Kevin Willmott, Danny Bilson, and Paul De Meo from a story by Bilson and De Meo, Da 5 Bloods is the story of four Vietnam War veterans who return to the country to find the remains of their fallen leader as well as treasure they buried during the war. The film is an adventure-action story of sorts where a group of men return to Vietnam as they reflect on their time in the war as well as what was gained and wasn’t gained in their service as well as deal with demons from the past. Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Melanie Thierry, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman as Norman Earl “Stormin’ Norman” Holloway. Da 5 Bloods is a gripping and evocative film from Spike Lee.

The film is the story of four men who served in the Vietnam War as they return to the country to retrieve the remains of their fallen leader as well as gold they had buried many years ago in the hopes of regaining it. It is a film with a simple premise as these four men who fought in the war as they are aware of the dark history of what African-American soldiers had endured as they hope to use the gold for something bigger than themselves. Yet, they return to Vietnam as older men who saw a country that has changed into something different but the past still looms in them. The film’s screenplay by Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott does follow a traditional narrative yet it does have elements of flashbacks and insight about the war and the many different perspectives from those who were involved as well as how the world saw it. At the center of the story are these four men in Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to Vietnam hoping to get the gold this time for themselves and whoever they felt need it.

Joining the four men is Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) who is concerned about his father’s state of mind since Paul suffers from PTSD as well as spouting rhetoric that his fellow Bloods don’t follow as they’re also disturbed by the fact that he wears a MAGA cap. Otis’ return to Vietnam is more personal as it relates to a former lover he has in Tien (Le Y Lan) who gives Otis connections on where the gold is with the aid of a French smuggler in Desroche (Jean Reno) who wants a cut of the gold as an offer to get it out of Vietnam. The second act is about the journey to the jungle with the aid of a guide named Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen) who stays behind at a rendezvous point once they finish their journey. Yet, things become complicated as it relates to Paul but also for Otis, Eddie, and Melvin as they’re aware that they’re getting older as the trip back would be even more difficult. Even as they meet a landmine clearing organization group who have put themselves in trouble leading to all sorts of chaos relating to Paul’s paranoia.

Spike Lee’s direction does bear element of style in not just its visuals but also in the way he presents modern-day Vietnam as well as Vietnam in the past. Shot on location in Ho Chi Minh City as well as locations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Lee does present a world that has changed yet there is still some lingering resentment from the Vietnamese over the war such as a scene where a young man on a boat tries to sell some fruit only to upset Paul leading some harsh racial words and such. Even as Lee showcases that there are those who are trying to be respectful yet Paul is someone on the verge of going apeshit due to his PTSD as well as some harboring secrets he is carrying. Lee’s compositions are straightforward but also with some stylish compositions where he does use a lot of wide shots to not just establish the locations but also to get a scope of where the characters are at as the jungle itself is a character in the film as it is unforgiving and intense. Especially as there’s areas involving landmines where the people at LAMB come into play despite the fact that David had met them earlier.

Lee’s usage of close-ups and medium shots also play into the drama and exchanges between characters as much of the scenes in present-day Vietnam is shot on digital while the flashback scenes involving Stormin’ Norman is shot on 16mm film stock with a different aspect ratio that allows Lee to bring an air of realism as well as distinctive look of those times. Lee also uses stock footage and such about the Vietnam War including pictures of those who had fallen including African-American soldiers as it relates to the racial inequality that these men endured. Lee also doesn’t shy away from using film references where both Apocalypse Now and Treasure of the Sierra Madre are referenced as it does play into the story. Notably as things do intensify in its third act as it play into this showdown between Da Bloods and these Vietnamese gunmen over the gold the former had found though it the gold also has this history of why it played a part in the war in the first place. Even as it forces these four old veterans to deal with other forces as it all play into the fallacy of greed. Overall, Lee crafts a riveting and intoxicating film about four former Vietnam veterans returning to the country to find gold and the remains of their fallen leader.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for some scenes set at night along with the usage of filters for the nighttime scenes in the jungle along with the stylish usage of grainy 16mm film stock for the flashback scenes. Editor Adam Gough does excellent work with the editing as it does have some stylish cuts while maintaining unique rhythms to play into the emotions as well as letting shots linger on for nearly a minute to play into the drama. Production designer Wynn Thomas, with set decorator Jeanette Scott plus art directors Truong Trung Dao, Anusorn “Sorn” Musicabutr, and Jeremy Woolsey, does amazing work with the look of a club where the Da Bloods go to upon their arrival in Ho Chi Minh City as well as a hotel the four men plus David stay where they meet the people from LAMB. Costume designer Donna Berwick does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the personality of the characters as well as the design of the uniforms the soldiers wore back in the 60s.

Special effects supervisor Herbert Blank and visual effects supervisor Richard Baker do fantastic work with some of the film’s action scenes as well as a few visual effects involving the flashbacks without the need to de-age the actors with the exception of a picture for the film’s ending. Sound editor Philip Stockton does superb work with the sound as it plays into the atmosphere of the jungles as well as the sounds of gunfire and explosions that occur in some of the action scenes. The film’s music by Terence Blanchard is incredible for its orchestral based score filled with heavy string arrangements that play into the action and drama as well as low-key somber pieces for the emotional moments of the film while music supervisor Rochelle Claerbaut creates a soundtrack that largely features the music of Marvin Gaye including six songs from his 1971 album What’s Going On as the soundtrack also feature a famed classical piece from Richard Wagner and music by Curtis Mayfield, Freda Payne, the Spinners, and the Chamber Brothers.

The casting by Kim Coleman is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Veronica Ngo as the Vietcong radio broadcaster Hanoi Hannah, Sandy Huong Pham as Tien’s daughter Michon, Nguyen Ngoc Lam as a leader of a gang of gunmen wanting the gold, Le Y Tien as Otis’ former Vietnamese girlfriend Tien, Jasper Paakkonen as a member of LAMB in Seppo, and Paul Walter Hauser as an American member of LAMB in Simon. Jean Reno is superb as the slimy smuggler Desroche as a Frenchman who offers to help Da Bloods in getting the gold out with a price only to make things worse during its third act. Melanie Thierry is fantastic as Hedy Bouvier as a LAMB leader whom David meets as she is a woman who uses her own wealth to clear landmines and wants to do something good for the world. Johnny Tri Nguyen is excellent as the Vietnamese guide Vinh who helps Da Blood go through the country and into the jungle while also having to deal with the gunmen as he would prove his worth to the team. Jonathan Major is brilliant as Paul’s son David as a man who joins the Da Bloods in the journey as he is concerned for his father’s PTSD as well as doing what he can to help everyone else as he would have a near-death encounter with a landmine.

Chadwick Boseman is amazing as “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway as the leader of Da Bloods who was a warrior as he would get the men to try and do the right thing despite being killed in battle as he would also appear in a vision during a dramatically-intense moment in the film. Norm Lewis is incredible as Eddie as a car salesman who helps fund the whole thing to find Norman’s body while he copes with his own issues as he also laments over the journey involving the gold. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is remarkable as Melvin as the one former soldier who is trying get everyone on check while also trying to do what is right as he is kind of the conscience of the group. Clarke Peters is marvelous as Otis as a soldier who is close to everyone as well as David’s godfather where he is concerned for Paul but is also forced to defend himself as it relates to his relationship with Tien. Finally, there’s Delroy Lindo in a phenomenal as Paul as a war veteran with PTSD and lots of emotional baggage while wearing a MAGA hat as he spouts racial rhetoric that makes everyone uncomfortable as Lindo provides that air of anguish and torment into his character as a man that is lost in his guilt.

Da 5 Bloods is a spectacular film from Spike Lee. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, sprawling visuals, a compelling story of greed, guilt, and loss, Terence Blanchard’s soaring music score, and strong commentary about African-Americans’ role in the Vietnam War. It is definitely a film that isn’t just this reflective war movie but also a film that explores four men dealing with loss and wanting to bring some good to the world despite the complications they endure with the world. In the end, Da 5 Bloods is a sensational film from Spike Lee.

Spike Lee Films: (She’s Gotta Have It) – (School Daze) – Do the Right Thing - Mo' Better Blues - Jungle Fever - (Malcolm X) – Crooklyn - (Clockers) – (Girl 6) – (Get on the Bus) – 4 Little Girls - (He Got Game) – John Leguizamo's Freak - Summer of Sam - (The Original Kings of Comedy) – (Bamboozled) – (A Huey P. Newton Story) – 25th Hour - (Jim Brown: All-American) – (She Hate Me) – (Inside Man) – (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) – (Miracle at St. Anna) – (Kobe Doin’ Work) – (Passing Strange) – (If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise) – (Red Hook Summer) – Bad 25 - Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth - (Oldboy (2013 film)) – (Da Blood of Jesus) – (Chiraq) – Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall - BlackKklansman - (American Utopia)

© thevoid99 2020

Monday, August 31, 2020

Films That I Saw: August 2020



Dear 2020,

Fuck you.

I’m sure that is what everyone had to say about this fucking shithole of a year. I mean wow. As if things couldn’t get bad enough, alas things get worse. Police become more unruly as they shoot and kill innocent African-Americans while a 17-year old white kid decides to kill a few protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin and is on Tucker Carlson who thought the kid did the right thing. All of which during coverage of national conventions for the Republican Party where everyone kisses Dookie Tank’s shit-stained ass. People ranging from those rich neighbors holding guns wanting to kill protestors to a once-revered college football legend in Georgia all say things about their president ignoring the fact that more than 185,000 people have died in this pandemic, unemployment has gone up, and everything else has gone to shit while people are dying to attend dumbass parties rented by Tik-Tok celebrities or at a motorcycle rally in Sturgis where they decide to go see fucking Smash Mouth.

The lack of real activity here has gotten to me as I’ve kind of lost the motivation to do anything as I’m spending much of my time taking care of my nephew with my mother as my sister has gone back to work while her husband just got a new job. I don’t have much time to watch anything and I’m often tired as I’m now feeling pain in my neck, my knees, and my back. I think some of it is mental as I’m wondering if this is a sign of me going back to the stages of depression which is something I hope not to endure again. Even as I learned that a few longtime family friends and relatives (not the leeches from my father’s side of the family nor do I care if they have COVID or not) had come into contact with COVID though I’m glad they’re doing OK.


In the month of August 2020, I saw a total of 27 films in 14 first-timers and 13 re-watches with 3 first-timers directed by women as part of my 52 Films by Women pledge. A solid month where the highlight of the month is my Blind Spot in Grave of the Fireflies. Here are the top 10 first-timers that I saw for August 2020:

1. Da Five Bloods


2. Leave No Trace


3. Insignificance


4. Underworld U.S.A.



5. Loop


6. Out


7. Wind


8. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


9. The Go-Go’s


10. Pay Day


Monthly Mini-Reviews

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


This was actually really good and better than I thought it would be as I think a lot of it has to do with the involvement of David Leitch who is definitely becoming a top-tier mainstream filmmaker that doesn’t just do action sequences well but also knows when to break from the action in favor of telling a story. Starring Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham reprising their titular roles, it is a film about these two guys who are forced to team up to save the latter’s sister who is carrying a deadly virus that a man wants. Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s sister and Idris Elba as the main antagonist in the terrorist Brixton Lore are solid as are the appearances of Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mother, Eiza Gonzalez as a former lover of Shaw, Eddie Marsan as a scientist, Cliff Curtis as Hobbs’ estranged older brother, and WWE star Joe “Roman Reigns” Anoa’i as a brother of Hobbs. It’s a fun film that not only delivers on the action, suspense, and humor but also does give us characters we care about as I’ll be on board for the sequel as I’m waiting for Meryl Streep to join the franchise.

Wind


One of three short films from Pixar’s SparkShorts series that I watched on Disney+ is a short about a boy and his grandmother stuck inside a strange cave where everything around them is floating as they’re trying to gather scraps to create a rocket. It is a touching short film that explores the relationship between a boy and his grandmother as they struggle to get out of this mysterious cave with their ideas and face setbacks along the way.

Loop


The second of three shorts from SparkShorts is definitely the best of the three that I’ve seen so far as well as one of the best films of the year so far. It revolves around a talkative boy who is part of a canoeing project as his partner is an autistic girl whom he’s having a hard time communicating with. Yet, he does find a way as it relates to their surroundings as it is actually a touching and engaging short that does a lot to show how people can communicate and see things in a different way.

Out


The third and final SparkShorts that I saw on Disney+ revolves around a young man who has moved into his new home with his partner but learns that his parents are coming as he hasn’t told them he’s gay. Then he becomes a dog for some strange reason as it adds to the adventure as it is a short film that manages to do a lot more about coming out as well as the idea of masculinity as it is told in a stylish manner.

The Castle


I had this recorded on my DVR (the cable box right now is not working for the time being) as I wanted to see this obscure 1997 TV movie by Michael Haneke that is based on this unfinished novel by Franz Kakfa. It is about this mapmaker who arrives in this strange village inside a castle as he is trying to get the permit to do his work but has to deal with all of this bureaucratic system to do his job as it’s a film where nothing really happens. It just goes on and on as I was disappointed and frustrated by the whole thing as I would say this is my least favorite film by Haneke so far.

The Go-Go’s


Premiering on ShowTime is a documentary film about the popular all-women’s rock band that emerged from the Los Angeles punk rock scene of the late 70s and eventually evolved into something more melodic and pop-driven as they would become one of the most successful bands of the early 1980s. Yet, they were also a band that was notorious for their own excesses and such as drummer Gina Schock talked about guitarist Charlotte Caffey’s drug use where it was so bad. Ozzy Osbourne of all people kicked her out of his dressing room in 1985 during the Rock in Rio music festival. All five key members plus various original members, the group’s former manager, Stewart Copeland of the Police, members of the Specials and Madness, and others talk about the band’s impact as well as questions into why they’re still not in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame which is a fucking sham.

Top 10 Re-watches

1. Rocco and His Brothers


2. A Fish Called Wanda


3. Little Women


4. Flags of Our Fathers


5. Stripes


6. Boomerang


7. The Princess and the Frog


8. Beverly Hills Ninja


9. My Week with Marilyn


10. Dream #7


Well, that is it for August as I’m not sure what I’m going to do at the moment other than the films I still have in my DVR as well as a few films that I have on DVD and in my laptop including the films of Kelly Reichardt. There are the films of A24 that I can watch on demand while I’m extremely doubtful that I will go back to the movie theaters to see any new films such as Tenet as I prefer to stay home and be safe. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off and given these darkest of times. I’ll let the King of Pop and Spike Lee have the final word into what is being said all along.




© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, August 27, 2020

2020 Blind Spot Series: Grave of the Fireflies



Based on the semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is the story of two siblings trying to survive and fend for themselves during the final days of World War II in Japan that includes the chilling encounter of the firebombing of Kobe. Written for the screen and directed by Isao Takahata, the film is a coming-of-age story set amidst the final days of Japan’s time in World War II as they deal with the war and the lack of humanity they endure. Grave of the Fireflies is a ravishing yet heart-wrenching film from Isao Takahata.

Set during the final days of World War II in the small Japanese town of Kobe during its firebombing, the film revolves around a young boy and his little sister trying to survive the war as their father is away on war and their mother horribly injured from the firebombing leading them to fend for themselves. It’s a film with a simple story though Isao Takahata’s screenplay has an offbeat narrative largely due to the fact that it doesn’t have a conventional beginning nor its ending as it’s told largely by the character of Seita (voice of Tsutomu Tatsumi) about what he and his little sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi) would endure during the firebombing of Kobe and its aftermath. Yet, much of its narrative is straightforward as it play into the Seita and Setsuko dealing with air raids and the firebombing as they would live briefly with their aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi) who isn’t fond of having them around and becomes resentful towards them due to their lack of contributions at her home.

Takahata’s direction is full of wondrous imagery as well as images of war that are disturbing such as the images of American planes dropping firebombs as the attention to detail is immense. With the aid of animation director/character designer Yoshifumi Kondo, Takahata does open the film with bleak images set in the aftermath of the war where it is as if the world is starting to rebuild but not everyone is thriving. The presentation of 1945 Kobe as this small town with farmland nearby and all sorts of things as Takahata shows something that is idyllic yet it feels off by this idea of nationalism during a time when Japan was losing the war. Much of Takahata’s compositions are full of gorgeous imagery of that city yet when the aftermath of the destruction of war is one of the most startling images shown on film with some unique lighting by cinematographer Nobuo Koyama and the art direction Nizo Yamamoto. Notably in the scenes involving fireflies as they are this source of innocence and wonder for both Seita and Setsuko during the most trying of times.

Takahata’s direction also has these compositions and images that do play into this air of innocence during its second act where both Seita and Setsuko leave their aunt’s home to live in this cave where it seemed like things would be great. Yet, there is that reality of war that still looms but also this disconnect into what Seita has yet to know about what is going on. Even where he learns about what happened in the third act as it would definitely impact the struggle that Seita would endure as well as food shortage and illness for himself and Setsuko. It would play into this air of hopelessness and despair given the circumstances of what happened to Japan at the end of World War II but also the growing sense of inhumanity that Seita encounters. Its ending is surreal as it play into more into the aftermath of war and the peace that would emerge with Seita and Setsuko watching from afar at this new world. Overall, Takahata creates a majestic yet visceral film about two young Japanese kids dealing with the chaos of war and trying to find a decent life in the darkest of times.

Editor Takeshi Seyama does brilliant work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in playing up to some of the war scenes as well as some of the drama and light-hearted moments. Sound designer Yasuo Uragami does excellent work with the sound in the way bombs sound as well as the sounds of planes and other sound effects such as the natural sounds of nature are presented as it is a major highlight of the film. The film’s music by Michio Mamiya is amazing for its orchestral music core that does feature some upbeat themes in some of the lighter moments but also somber ones with its usage of woodwinds and lush strings as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s fantastic voice cast feature some notable small contributions from Tadashi Nakamura in various voice roles in the film, Akemi Yamaguchi as Seita and Setsuko’s resentful aunt, and Yoshiko Shinohara as Seita and Setsuko’s mother. Finally, there’s the incredible voice performances of Tsutomu Tatsumi and Ayano Shiraishi in their respective roles as Seita and Setsuko as two young kids dealing the chaos of war and their need to find some good in the world and to have a decent life despite the cruelty of their aunt and the lack of humanity they endure as the voice roles contain some anguish but also an air of innocence.

Grave of the Fireflies is an audacious film from Isao Takahata. Featuring a great voice cast, eerie yet gorgeous images, a sumptuous music score, rich animation, and an unflinching look of life during wartime. The film is an immense yet wondrous film from Studio Ghibli in its simple story of two children trying to live and survive during the final days of World War II. In the end, Grave of the Fireflies is an outstanding film from Isao Takahata.

Isao Takahata Films: (The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun) – (Panda! Go, Panda!) – (Heidi, Girl of the Alps) – (3000 Leagues in Search of Mother) – (Jarinko Chie) – (Anne of Green Gables (1979 animated TV film) – (Gauche the Cellist) – (The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals) – (Only Yesterday) – (Pom Poko) – (My Neighbors the Yamadas) – (The Tale of Princess Kaguya)

© thevoid99 2020

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Leave No Trace



Based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace is the story of a PTSD war veteran who lives in the woods with his teenage daughter as they hide from society until they’re found as they struggle to adjust with the modern world. Directed by Debra Granik and screenplay by Granik and Anne Rosellini, the film is an exploration of a father trying to protect his daughter from the horrors of modern-day society as well as trying to find a place they can call home. Starring Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeff Kober, and Dale Dickey. Leave No Trace is a rapturous and somber film from Debra Granik.

The film is the simple story of a PTSD war veteran who lives in seclusion in the woods with his daughter as they are eventually found and taken into the modern world as the man struggles with his new surroundings though his daughter is intrigued by it. It’s a film with a simple premise as screenwriters Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini as there isn’t a lot of heavy dialogue in favor of its main protagonists in Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) just living their life in the woods as the first act is about their life in the woods and how Will makes money to get supplies as it involves him and Tom going into the city where Will gets meds and sell them to the other troubled veterans. When Tom is accidentally discovered by a hiker, everything changes as the second act has the two evaluated and given a home where Will begrudgingly works for a Christmas tree farmer. It is there where Will and Tom’s relationship changes as the latter slowly befriends people and finds a community but Will’s own troubles forces them to flee as uncertainty becomes the norm. Even as Will and Tom struggle to find a new home despite the latter’s need for stability.

Granik’s direction is entrancing for not just the visuals she creates but also in the atmosphere she maintains in this battle of nature vs. the modern world as a backdrop between the relationship between father and daughter. Shot largely on location in Oregon with Portland being the city, the film does use a lot of wide shots not just to establish the locations but also in creating some unique compositions as it relates to the disconnect between Will and Tom and their own encounter with society. Even as it play into the growing separation between father and daughter as it relates to their encounter with the world. Granik also brings some intimacy into the medium shots and close-ups as the latter help play into the sense of fear and uncertainty that Will and Tom would face. Even as they also try to adjust to living at home where Will becomes uneasy with his new surroundings that includes a shot of a helicopter flying above him carrying trees.

Granik also maintains that atmosphere during the second act where Will and Tom return to their old home only to realize it’s gone while other people who were living nearby also lose their homes. Granik maintains that realism into the struggle to find a home within the woods away from modern society and cities but there is also this uncertainty into what they will find. The film’s third act has Granik showcase an alternative where Will and Tom don’t have to be in society but also a place that is stable and with a community of its own. It is a community that does feel like it isn’t totally disconnected from the modern world but offers a haven for someone like Will who continues to struggle with PTSD. Yet, Granik focuses on this father/daughter relationship that is trying to stay together but there are things that Will is unable to handle while Tom is eager to be part of something as its ending is about a father and daughter making a decision about the future and salvation for both of them. Overall, Granik crafts a heart-wrenching yet riveting film about a father-and-daughter trying to live their life away from the trappings of modern society.

Cinematographer Michael McDonough does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its approach to natural lighting for many of the daytime exterior scenes with a few filters for some of the scenes set in the rain along with low-key lighting for some of the interior scenes. Editor Jane Rizzo does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few jump-cuts for dramatic purposes as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the reaction of the characters. Production designer Chad Keith, with set decorator Vanessa Knoll and art director Jonathan Guggenheim, does amazing work with the look of the home that Will and Tom lived in at the woods as well as the house they would briefly stay in as it play into the contrast of the two worlds they encounter.

Costume designer Erin Aldridge Orr does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward with casual clothes including knitted clothing and hats that both Will and Tom wear. Sound editor Damian Volpe does superb work with the sound to maintain that air of natural atmosphere of the locations in the woods as well as the chaotic sounds of the city. The film’s music by Dickon Hinchliffe is incredible for its rich mixture of folk and ambient music as it play into the air of uncertainty and drama that Will and Tom endure in their journey while music supervisor Susan Jacobs provide a soundtrack that features elements of folk and indie that feature contributions from Michael Hurley and Marisa Anderson who both appear in the film as musicians in the film’s third act and Kendra Smith with a song that appears in the film’s final credits.

The casting by Kerry Barden, Simon Max Hill, and Paul Schnee is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Isiah Stone as a teenage farm boy that Tom befriends, Derek John Drescher as a homeless veteran Will does business with, Michael Prosser as Will’s social worker, Dana Millican as Tom’s social worker, David M. Pittman as a former Army medic in the film’s third act that helps Will, Jeff Kober as a tree farm owner, and Dale Dickey in a terrific small role as a trailer park owner in the film’s third act who helps Will and Tom find a new home as well as a stable lifestyle. Finally, there’s the duo of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Will and Tom. Foster brings that ragged tone to his character that is full of anguish and regret as a man that is trying to live away from society as he is unable to handle with a lot of the things that hurts him. McKenzie’s performance is the most revelatory as this young woman who had little encounter with the outside world and society yet finds some of its value as it relates to community and a sense of belonging. Even as she manages to be natural in her reaction to things while she has a great rapport with Foster as it adds to the understated tone of her performance.

Leave No Trace is a magnificent film from Debra Granik that features tremendous performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, minimalist story, a somber music score, and a study of a father/daughter relationship against the ideas of the modern world. It’s a film that explore two people living away from the trappings of society as they later cope with the modern world and what it would offer with one struggling to be part of and another wanting to be part of it. In the end, Leave No Trace is an outstanding film from Debra Granik.

Debra Granik Films: Down to the Bone - Winter's Bone - (Stray Dog (2014 film))

© thevoid99 2020