Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Films That I Saw: March 2020

Well, this year absolutely, totally fucking sucks. I never thought I would see the day that a pandemic would emerge around the world and now that reality has happened and it really fucking sucks. I thought a lot about what my dad would’ve thought of this as the idea of him staying at home not doing anything. Not watching sports and not being able to go anywhere would really fuck him up as I’m glad he’s not around to live through this. Now I may not consider myself to be an out-going person as I don’t go out much except to the movie theaters, get groceries, buy a few things every now and then, and drive my mother to whatever she needs. Yet, having to be stuck at home with my mother even though we haven’t been infected with the coronavirus isn’t really that fun. The only time we go out is for groceries and stock up on supplies but that is really it. Other than that, we can’t really do anything and the worst part about is that I can’t see my nephew in person though my mother is fortunate to speak to my sister, her husband, and her grandson through her iPhone.

Being in quarantine with my mother hasn’t made things easy for the both of us as we’re bored and not really doing much other than do some cleaning around the house though Netflix has been a good distraction of sorts as we binge-watched the show Gentefied while my mom has been watching a lot of stuff on YouTube which she loves. For me, watching films hasn’t gotten any easier due to the fact that there’s a lot happening as the only other thing me and my mother watch is CNN and the local news on what is going on. So far here in Georgia, there’s been nearly 4000 cases with nearly 230 cases here in Cobb County. Things haven’t been good here in Georgia but around the country is really fucking bad and it’s hard to think about those who are dying as this country has more cases than anyone at over 180,000 cases with the state of New York at nearly 75,000 cases. I do think things aren’t going to get better and I’m not really surprised considering that we have our idiotic human septic-tank of a dictator who cares more about getting the economy going than saving lives as he insults governors, journalists, and others while not really giving a shit about what is going on.

It’s not just here that I’m looking on as I think about what is happening in Italy, Spain, and the rest of the world as this pandemic has really been a fucking kick in the balls. My mother talks to one of her friends who is stuck in Panama while her husband is stuck in Venezuela as they’re both in stay-at-home-orders while they have family in Spain and Italy who are also in quarantine. My mom would sometimes talk to friends/relatives late at night as we can’t really sleep considering what is going on as waking up in the early or mid-afternoon is starting to be regular. Things are getting bad as there’s no point in having anything happen. Sporting events, social gatherings, and all of that is not what should be done as we all need to distance ourselves and to try and get things better. I don’t see the point of just trying to get things back to normal at the moment as our moronic dictator wants to re-open everything by Easter as that is the day my nephew’s first birthday is going to happen but it’s very unlikely that things will get better as me and my mom won’t be there to celebrate as it really fucking sucks.

I’m doing whatever I can to just live and focus on writing as I’ve started on the fifth part of my MCU is Cinema series but I’ve now started to question about going forward with other projects as I’ve decided to push the Auteurs series on Kelly Reichardt until after I finished the MCU project. Then there’s the Cannes marathon as I cancelled it last year because of my dad and now I’m not sure if I want to do one this year as the festival has been postponed from somewhere around June or July but I don’t know if I want to do the marathon around that time. It wouldn’t feel right to do it at that that time and with the way things are. I don’t think doing a marathon would be the right thing. I’d rather just focus on being safe and stay home while working on my other projects.

In the month of March, I saw a total of 26 films in 10 first-timers and 16 re-watches with three of those first-timers being films directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. Considering the circumstances, it’s not bad as the highlight of the month has been my Blind Spot Series choice in A Place in the Sun. Here are the top 5 first-timers that I saw for March 2020:

1. At Eternity's Gate

2. Shallow Grave

3. Closely Watched Trains

4. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

5. Blinded by the Light

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Johnny English Strikes Again

If there’s one film franchise that I’m willing to defend despite the poor reviews and bad Rotten Tomatoes scores, it’s the Johnny English franchise. Why? It’s because it never takes itself seriously and it plays into the strengths of Rowan Atkinson and this film is no exception. In fact, it was really damn funny as it plays into English trying to understand the modern world of technology as a tech guru tries to get the world to go with his security system. With Emma Thompson as the British prime minister and Olga Kurylenko as a Russian spy trying to thwart English only to later team up with him, the film is just a whole lot of fun with Atkinson always finding a way to bring in the laughs as he is one of the finest comedy actors ever.

Women of Troy

From HBO Sports is a documentary about the USC Trojans women’s basketball team where they were the not just the crown jewel of college women’s basketball but also the pioneers who would help pave the way for future women players to become pro and become the prototype players of the WNBA. In the spotlight is Cheryl Miller as many said women’s basketball can be sum up into two periods, before and after Cheryl Miller as women’s basketball wasn’t taken seriously until the early 1980s when the first NCAA women’s tournament emerged with Louisiana Tech starting to show what can be done until the Trojans would arrive lead by Miller. After Miller came the Tennessee Lady Volunteers under the tutelage of the legendary Pat Summit as Miller never went pro though some of her teammates did and eventually play in the WNBA as it is something sports fans should see.

Blinded by the Light

From Gurinder Chadha comes a film that is way better than it should’ve been in this adaptation of Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir about the life of a young British-Pakistani man during the late 1980s amidst the era of Margaret Thatcher, unemployment, and the National Front as he would discover the music of Bruce Springsteen. I consider myself a casual admirer of Springsteen as I like some of his music but this film made love the music a lot more than ever. Notably as it play into the plight of this young student who feels lost in the small British town of Luton and how he was able to connect with Springsteen’s music in ways that he never expected. Viviek Kaira’s performance is full of heart as this young kid that wants to be a writer yet has to contend with his father’s traditional values and such as it also feature great supporting performances from Kulvinder Ghir as the father and Hayley Atwell as Kaira’s writing teacher who saw promise in his work. It’s a film that is inspirational and touching as the music really says a lot of what this young man is going through and what he would become as it is a real gem.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Having enjoyed both the original and David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was skeptical about this film since it’s not based on the original trilogy by its original writer. Still, I wanted to see it as it’s an alright film but too conventional for my taste. It does play into Lisbeth Salander becoming a vigilante until dark secrets from her past emerges in the form of her sister. Claire Foy is solid as Salander with Sylvia Hoeks being the major standout as Salander’s long-lost sister Camilla who is just chilling. There are some nice thrills though the casting of Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist is uninspiring.

Top 10 Re-Watches

1. Avengers: Endgame

2. Black Panther

3. Avengers: Infinity War

4. Thor: Ragnarok

5. Little Miss Sunshine

6. Arthur

7. Aquaman

8. Happy Death Day

9. Enemy at the Gates

10. Miami Vice

Well, that is it for March as other than my MCU project that I hope to continue and finish. I have no idea what I’m going to do other than watch films from my never-ending DVR list as it will include the Lone Wolf & Cub film series. I’m just going to stay home with my mother and be safe only to go out for groceries and supplies and that is it. This is a strange time as it’s not just me and my family that I’m concerned about but also many others as I hope everyone stays safe and be well. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2020

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

Directed and edited by Pamela B. Green and written by Green and Joan Simon with narration by Jodie Foster, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a film about the life and career of one of cinema’s early pioneers who was also considered to be one of the first real auteurs who also owned and ran her own studio. The film showcases the woman’s career as well as the films she created as well as why she was often overlooked during her career and the re-discovery of her work. The result is an engrossing and wondrous film from Pamela B. Green.

In 1895, a secretary for engineer/industrialist Leon Gaumont attended a private screening of a film entitled Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory by Auguste and Louis Lumiere. The secretary that is Alice Guy saw a new medium as from 1896 to 1920, she made hundreds of films that would not just pioneer cinema as an art form but also would create techniques and ideas that would be the basis of cinema itself. Like the Lumiere Brothers, Georges Melies, and Edwin Porter, they would create short films that would showcase cinema’s tool in the world of storytelling yet it would be Guy that would take the format much further prompting others including Melies to step up their game. In 1907, Guy married Englishman Herbert Blache as he would be Gaumont’s production manager in the U.S. until 1910 when she and Blache formed the Solax Company to make their own films as she would use the slogan “be natural” to those who worked at the studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

One of Guy-Blache’s innovations in filmmaking was the creation of the Gaumont Chronophone system that allowed her actors to lip-sync to pre-recorded music and use the music to sync up to the film footage as it was the early ideas of sound heard in film. Guy was also ambitious as she made a 25-part series of shorts relating to Jesus Christ as it was quite bold for its time. Another form of innovation that she did during her time in New Jersey was make a film with an entirely black cast in A Fool and His Money as it was made because white actors didn’t want to work with black actors prompting Guy-Blache to just hire an all-black cast regardless of prejudice. She also made films that had gender roles reversed as well as tackle subject matters that not many were willing to go into.

Then came World War I as business started to hurt Guy-Blache’s studio but also this emergence of businessmen wanting to take over the world of cinema including Thomas Edison prompting many studios to move to California rather than work with Edison who wanted to have a lot of control on the world of film through his own equipment and such. Herbert Blache would also move to California due to his affairs with other women leading to the two to divorce in 1922 as she returned to France with their children never making films again. Especially as she wouldn’t receive the proper credit for her work with Gaumont becoming more of a businessman in running his own studio as things would get tougher during the Great Depression and World War II though Gaumont would try to rectify his faults in giving her proper credit despite people around him telling him not to.

The documentary also has Pamela B. Green who also serves as the film’s editor not just trying to find out more about Guy-Blache and her films but also asking many other filmmakers, historians, actors, and such including Julie Taymor, Peter Bogdanovich, Evan Rachel Wood, Ava Duvernay, Peter Farrelly, Andy Samberg, Julie Delpy, Lake Bell, Gillian Armstrong, cinematographer John Bailey, and many others about Guy-Blache as many of them admit to never having heard of her. There is also the story of Green not just trying to find information about her films and her life but also meeting those who knew someone who knew Guy-Blache including descendants of Guy-Blache such as her great-great granddaughter as well as descendants of Leon Gaumont as there’s a scene where the descendants of Guy-Blache and Gaumont would go to various locations where Guy-Blache made some of her films. Much of Green’s direction and editing is straightforward with a few montages of film archivists finding some of Guy-Blache’s work while also going into the difficulty of restoring her work.

The film also features archival interviews from Guy-Blache from the late 1950s and early 1960s with narration by Jodie Foster who reads some of Guy-Blache’s comments and letters with a rare audio interview between Guy-Blache and a film historian in Brussels who wonders why she isn’t credited for her work. Notably as historians dating back to the 1940s would often omit her as some claim there was a lot of resentment towards her because she was a woman as some even question the validity of her claims in the mid-1970s after she had died in 1968. It would be Guy-Blache’s daughter Simone and other historians that would keep Guy-Blache’s name alive while Green would also talk to relatives who found old letters, photos, and notebooks that lead to many clues that show proof of Guy-Blache’s claims. Upon discovering the shorts of Guy-Blache, cinematographer John Bailey and others at the Academy Arts and Science would try to recreate one of her shorts with comedy actors Chris Kattan and Horatio Sanz with the same camera that Guy-Blache used.

Sound editors Casey Langfelder and Daniel Saxlid, along with sound designers Marcello Dubaz and Kent Sparling, do superb work in providing many of the audio archives from Guy-Blache’s interview with the Belgian film historian that his grandson had kept all of these years while also capturing all of the people who are interviewed for the film as they all talk about discovering Guy-Blache and her importance in film history. The film’s music by Peter G. Adams is terrific for its mixture of low-key electronic music and ambient pieces as it play into the search for Guy-Blache’s films and everything about her. Even as Green showcases old photos of the studio she created in New Jersey as well as visual recreation of the studio itself and where filming took place in the studio.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a phenomenal film from Pamela B. Green. It’s a film that anyone interested in film history or film itself must see as it not only does some correcting into some of the real stories about cinema’s birth but also in showcasing one of its pioneers and her innovative work. Especially as it showcases the woman’s work and her brief yet illustrious career that proved how influential she was. In the end, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a sensational film from Pamela B. Green.

Related: The Short Films of Alice Guy-Blache Vol. 1

© thevoid99 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

2020 Blind Spot Series: A Place in the Sun

Based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser and its adapted play by playwright Patrick Kearney, A Place in the Sun is the story of a young man who is love with two women including a socialite while the other is a woman whose uncle he works for as it leads to trouble. Directed by George Stevens and screenplay by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, the film is inspired on a real-life story of love gone wrong that lead to murder as it plays into a young man caught up in a torrid love triangle. Starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere, and Raymond Burr. A Place in the Sun is an evocative and haunting film from George Stevens.

The film is the simple story of a young man who is given a job at his uncle’s factory where he dates a co-worker, despite rules against dating co-workers at the factory, while finds himself falling for a heiress where the love triangle leads to trouble. It’s a film that explores a man who arrives into a small town where his uncle is rich and gives him a job in the hope he can stay out of trouble and work hard. Yet, he befriends a co-worker as they start to date but he would fall for this heiress who represents a life that he might want with all of the splendors that it offers. The film’s screenplay by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown opens with George Eastman’s arrival into this small town where his uncle Charles (Herbert Hayes) is a rich industrialist who met George back in Chicago when George was a bellhop as he decide to give him a job working at his factory.

While he meets his posh relatives, George is aware that he’s an outsider to the family as he’s more concerned with just wanting to do good for his uncle. Upon working at the factory, he meets Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) whom he would date despite a rule in the factory for co-workers to not date each other. Yet, Alice intrigues George due to the fact that they both come from similar backgrounds with George not really wanting to be part of his relatives’ world of luxury and parties. That is until he formally meets the society girl Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) whom he had seen at his uncle’s home and much earlier when he was hitchhiking. Vickers is a completely different person from the more introverted Alice as she’s lively and often enjoying party while she finds George intriguing as the two fall in love but George cares for Alice as things become complicated when she becomes pregnant. Even as she confides in a shrink about what to do just as she learns that George is with Vickers leading to a lot of trouble all in the film’s first half.

George Stevens’ direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates yet he does manage to play into some of the dramatic tension that occurs throughout the film. Shot on various locations around Lake Tahoe, Echo Lake, and Cascade Lake in California as well as interiors at Paramount Studios, Stevens showcased a world that has this air of social divide where George lived in a small apartment while his uncle and Vickers lived in spacious homes. Stevens would create some unique wide shots to play into the spacious homes but also in some of the locations including the lakes where some of the characters go to. Stevens’ direction is also intimate in its approach to close-ups and medium shots in the way he would shoot certain scenes that include some gazing shots that goes on for a few minutes to play into a conversation. Especially during a moment where George meets Alice at his apartment for a dinner as he arrived late as it is about the lack of space and where the camera is placed as he shoots them from behind.

Much of the its first act has Stevens establishing the characters and setting while its second act is where the drama intensifies as it relates to this love triangle between George, Alice, and Vickers as both Alice and Vickers would never meet each other during the course of the film. It is also where George deals with his own internal conflicts as it relates to what he wants as it leads to this eerie third act in relation to the aftermath of what he got himself involved in. Stevens’ direction definitely intensify not just this air of anguish and guilt but also this social divide as it relates to George being somewhat in the middle. Even as it relates to this tragedy where there are sides yet not everyone is willing to hear George’s story despite his involvement in what happened. Overall, Stevens crafts a rapturous and mesmerizing film about a young man caught in a love triangle that leads to trouble and tragedy.

Cinematographer William C. Mellor does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography at it helps set a mood for some of the film’s dramatic scenes with its usage of available light and shadows for scenes set at night as well as the way some of the daytime interiors/exteriors are presented as it helps heighten the world of Vickers and her friends. Editor William Hornbeck does excellent work with the editing with its stylish usage of dissolves and transition wipes as well as some rhythmic cutting to help play into some of the dramatic tension that occurs in the film. Art directors Hans Dreier and Walter H. Tyler, with set decorator Emile Kuri, do brilliant work with the look of the mansions George’s uncle and the Vickers family lived in as well as the small and cramped apartment he lives in.

Costume designer Edith Head does fantastic work with the costumes from the design of the dresses that Alice wears to the stylish gowns that Vickers wears. Sound recordists Gene Garvin and Gene Merritt do terrific work with the sound in the atmosphere of the parties as well as some quiet scenes in the film including scenes that involve a bird that would frighten George. The film’s music by Franz Waxman, with un-credited work by Daniele Amfitheatrof, is wonderful for its usage of lush orchestral textures in the strings as well as the usage of bombastic percussions to help maintain a tense atmosphere in the suspense.

The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Kathleen Freeman as a factory worker who testified in court, Ian Wolfe as the psychiatrist Dr. Wolfe, Sheppard Strudwick and Frieda Inescort as Vickers’ parents, Kathryn Givney as George’s aunt Louise, Keefe Brasselle as George’s cousin Earl, Walter Sande as George’s attorney, Fred Clark as a defense attorney, and Herbert Heyes as George’s uncle Charles Eastman who gives George the chance to make something of himself. Anne Revere is superb as George’s mother who lives in the Midwest as she hopes that her son would succeed and stay away from trouble. Raymond Burr is fantastic as District Attorney R. Frank Marlowe as a man who investigates the aftermath of the tragedy as he believes that George did create trouble and is guilty.

Shelley Winters is amazing as Alice Tripp as a poor factory worker that George befriends and would date despite rules from the factory as she is fascinated by George but questions about the validity of their relationship as she becomes pregnant and learns about his time with Vickers. Elizabeth Taylor is brilliant as Angela Vickers as a young heiress who is often the center of attention as she is always at parties where she takes an interest in George whom she sees as someone different but also a man who has a lot of value in introducing her to the world outside of her posh existence. Finally, there’s Montgomery Clift in a phenomenal performance as George Eastman as a man trying to not to get into trouble by working at his uncle’s factory and make something of himself only to be involved in a love triangle as well as two different lifestyles that offer a lot as he becomes tormented by his world as it is a haunting yet intense performance from Clift.

A Place in the Sun is a tremendous film from George Stevens that features great performances from Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, evocative music score, and its study of love and desire. It is a film that explore a man’s own torment and anguish that lead to tragedy due to not just the love triangle he involved himself in but also two different world that play into the social divide and their respective lifestyles. In the end, A Place in the Sun is a spectacular film from George Stevens.

George Stevens Films: (The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble) – (Kentucky Kernals) – (Bachelor Bait) – (Laddie) – (The Nitwits) – (Alice Adams) – (Annie Oakley) - Swing Time - (Quality Street) – (A Damsel in Distress (1937 film)) – (Vivacious Lady) – (Gunga Din) – (Vigil in the Night) – (Penny Serenade) – (Woman of the Year) – (The Talk of the Town (1942 film)) – (The More the Merrier) – (That Justice Be Done) – (On Our Merry Way) – (I Remember Mama) – (Something to Live for) – Shane - Giant (1956 film) - (The Diary of Anne Frank) – (The Greatest Story Ever Told) – (The Only Game in Town)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): Documentary Series

In the 13th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the world of TV in the form of documentary series. TV programs that focuses on certain subjects and such that are often compelling as well as provide insight into the world that is more about facts as well as what can be seen as fiction. Here are my three picks:

1. Behind the Music

From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, VH1 (remember when they used to play middle-of-the-road music before they showed crap reality TV?) created a channel that profiled many artists, musicians, and bands through their many ups and downs. Eventually as the show wore on as it featured artists ranging from Milli Vanilli, Leif Garrett, Fleetwood Mac, Quiet Riot, and many others. Many of the stories ended up feeling like the same though some episodes stood out while others ended up being quite terrible. The show ran its course though it did prove to be an inspired choice in portraying the Ghost of Christmas Future in the VH1 made-for-TV movie A Diva’s Christmas Carol starring Vanessa Williams.

2. 30 for 30

Created in the mid-late 2000s from ESPN comes a series that explore the world of sports as it was originally meant to be 30 stories to celebrate the channel’s thirty years. Yet, it would prove to be far more interesting than its creators sought out to be as it ranged from all sorts of topics about the short-lived football league the USFL, Len Bias, the Buffalo Bills and their straight-losses at the Super Bowl, Jimmy Connors’ brief comeback, and many other subjects. Often ranging into different sports and subjects that included a brief spin-off devoted to the Title IX referendum for women’s sports in Nine for IX. The ESPN documentary series continues to delve into many subject matters often for fun or to talk about something serious.

3. Dark Side of the Ring

A documentary series from VICE that premiered last year and has just started its second season with a two-part series on the life of professional wrestler Chris Benoit and the unforgivable act he committed when he killed his wife and son and then killed himself in 2007. This series revolves around some of the dark elements into the world of professional wrestling from the murder of Bruiser Brody in the hands of Jose Gonzalez and its subsequent cover-up, the curse of the Von Erichs, the Montreal Screw-job in 1997, the death of Gino Hernandez, the tumultuous relationship between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, and the life of the Fabulous Moolah. That was all in the first season as each of these stories brought up a lot of discussion about some of these characters as the second season will also include stories about the careers of wrestlers such as New Jack, David Schultz, and the Road Warriors as well as the tragic death of Owen Hart, the mysterious death of Dino Bravo, the infamous Brawl for All of 1998, Superfly Jimmy Snuka and the murder he committed and got away from, and Herb Abrams’ UWF organization and its notoriety.

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Bad Boys

In the 12th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the simple subject of bad boys. Boys who don’t play by the rules nor do they do things that good boys do. After all, good girls like bad boys. Here are my three picks of three cinematic bad boys from the MCU!!!!!!:

1. Loki-Thor: The Dark World

If there’s one bad boy that the ladies already love, it’s Loki. The ultimate anti-hero and God of Mischief is definitely a misunderstood character who did bad things but looks cool doing it. In the second Thor film, Loki steals the show as he reluctantly help his adopted older brother in defeating the Dark Elves but also do some funny moments such as the montage of him putting on different disguises through his illusions including one as Captain America. Yet, the adventure he would have with Thor would inspire the great Norse mythology play that is The Tragedy of Loki of Asgard starring Matt Damon as Loki, Luke Hemsworth as Thor, and Sam Neill as Odin that has received much acclaim except from Thor who had a mixed reaction towards the play.

2. Flash Thompson-Spider-Man: Homecoming

Though the character is known largely in comics and previous film adaptations as a physical bully to Peter Parker before Parker became Spider-Man, the new version that is created through the new film series is largely different as he’s more a social bully. Tony Revolori brings a new personality to Flash as he’s more of a dick that thinks he’s cool and can drive a fancy car while is also smart. Yet, he’s not meant to be taken seriously as Parker as Spider-Man was able to scare him making Flash respect the guy and says to his classmates that Spider-Man wants to make him a better person before he sees Parker and says “what up dick-wad?” It’s a funnier version of the character who does get his comeuppance but also manages to do some good.

3. M’Baku-Black Panther

Though he is portrayed in the comics and in a previous animated TV show version as a villain, M’Baku isn’t really an antagonist as he’s really just someone that doesn’t share T’Challa’s idea of technology in favor of something more traditional. M’Baku is first seen as a tribe leader wanting to challenge for the throne of Wakanda as he did it with honor and managed to get some nice shots at T’Challa before accepting defeat. He’s also someone who is full of humor as he is just someone that is full of sarcasm and pride about the fact that he prefers to not be involved in other people’s messes. Yet, when Wakanda is in danger. He will be on the battlefield kicking ass as he does love a good fight and he's a vegetarian.

© thevoid99 2020

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

At Eternity's Gate

Directed by Julian Schnabel and written by Schnabel, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Louise Kugelberg, At Eternity’s Gate is the story about the final years of painter Vincent van Gogh. Based on theories by van Gogh biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, the film dramatizes the events of van Gogh’s final years as well as his eventual death as the painter struggles to get attention and recognition for his work as van Gogh is portrayed by Willem Dafoe. Also starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rupert Friend, Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Oscar Isaac, and Niels Arestrup. At Eternity’s Gate is a rapturous and riveting film from Julian Schnabel.

Set during the final two years of the life of Vincent van Gogh, the film follows the painter as he struggles to make a name for himself while wanting to express himself artistically as well as questioning himself about his art and the divine. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it doesn’t play into a straightforward approach expected in films about real figures. Instead, it is a study of a man trying to find himself through his art as he also begins to question his being and worth as an artist and as a man while he would meet various people in his journey. The film’s script by Julian Schnabel, Louise Kugelberg, and Jean-Claude Carriere follows van Gogh in that journey where he often walks around landscapes in France as he would often paint what he sees as those who would see his paintings are convinced that he’s no good. Upon meeting the artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) in Paris as they both share their thoughts on art, van Gogh goes to Arles in the South of France to find inspiration in the landscape but is ridiculed by some locals for his aesthetics while a visit from Gauguin only adds to his emotional turmoil.

The film’s second half revolves around the events in which van Gogh had cut off his left ear as the narrative also feature voiceover narration from van Gogh through letters he would write to his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who would fund his art. It is at this time that van Gogh would be sent to an asylum as he ponders about his art and such but also the beauty of nature and the divine. Even as he would continue to paint to the day he dies as the script also showcases the man’s delusions and episodes of mental illness as well as ideas of what might’ve happened on the day of his death.

Schnabel’s direction is definitely dream-like in some of the imagery he creates as he would also shoot the film on actual locations in Arles as well as additional locations in Bouches-du-Rhone, and Auvers-sur-Oise in France. Schnabel’s usage of the wide and medium shots add to the beauty that van Gogh was seeking but also something that is almost indescribable in trying to find the actual look of it which is why he paints fast. The attention to detail in the painting as well as what van Gogh sees adds to the beauty while some of the framing that Schnabel creates in the medium shots do match up to some of the paintings that van Gogh has created. Even in the close-ups as it help play into the sense of despair and torment that van Gogh endures with Schnabel often shooting scenes with hand-held cameras where the camera often glides or gets a point-of-view shot of van Gogh walking. The usage of the hand-held cameras would also play into the wonders of nature and the surroundings that van Gogh would encounter.

Also serving as editor with co-writer Louise Kugelberg, Schnabel’s usage of jump-cuts and dissolves add to some of the film’s emotional moments as well as play into van Gogh’s troubled mental state. Notably in scenes during the third act where van Gogh is in an asylum as it returns to the film’s opening scene where it is shown in a different context. It adds to this sense of despair and uncertainty in van Gogh where he meets a sympathetic priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who gets a look at one of his paintings and does express his opinion yet doesn’t think that van Gogh is a terrible painter. The third act also has Schnabel play into things that play into events relating to his work including a sketchbook that would be lost until 2016 and what happened to him on the day he died. Yet, Schnabel showcases a man that is driven by the beauty of his surroundings and hoping to capture it the way he and possibly God sees it. Overall, Schnabel crafts an intoxicating and enchanting film about the final years in the life of Vincent van Gogh.

Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lush colors and dream-like photography add to the films’ beauty as well as its usage of blurry lenses and some black-and-white shots that showcases the depths of van Gogh’s psyche. Production designer Stephane Cressend, with set decorators Sonia Gloaguen and Cecile Vatelot plus art director Loic Chavanon, does brilliant work with the look of the places that van Gogh would go to and stay at as well as a tavern he would frequent at and the asylum where he spent some time during his illness. Costume designer Karen Muller Serreau does fantastic work with the ragged clothes that van Gogh wears as well as some of the clothes the other characters wear.

Special makeup effects artist Jean-Christophe Spadaccini and special effects makeup designer Mark Wotton do terrific work with the look of a few characters including van Gogh after he had cut off his left ear. Visual effects supervisor Arthur Lemaitre does nice work with the visual effects as it is largely minimal in presenting van Gogh without his left ear and a few bits of set dressing. Sound editor Thomas Desjonqueres does excellent work with the film’s sound in the way it repeats lines of dialogues to play into van Gogh’s delusions as well as capturing natural sounds as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Tatiana Lisovskaya is amazing for its lush and somber piano sonatas and low-key orchestral touches that play into the film’s melancholic tone as well as the sense of wonderment that van Gogh endures.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Anne Consigny as a schoolteacher who is disgusted by what van Gogh is painting, Louis Garrel as the voice of an article by an art critic, Lolita Chammah as a young woman van Gogh meets at the film’s beginning, Vincent Perez as an art gallery director, Amira Casar as Theo’s wife Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Vladimir Consigny as an asylum doctor, and Niels Arestrup as a madman van Gogh converses with at the asylum about insanity. Mads Mikkelsen is superb in his one-scene performance as a priest who converses with Van Gogh about art and the divine as it is a low-key performance from Mikkelsen who provides a sense of warmth to the character. Mathieu Almaric is fantastic in his small role as Dr. Paul Gachet as a man who is a subject of one of van Gogh’s paintings as well as be someone who would be with him on the last day of van Gogh’s life.

Emmanuelle Seigner is excellent in a dual role as the woman from Arles who becomes a subject of one of Van Gogh’s paintings as she would give him a place to stay while other role as Madam Ginoux is brief as the woman who would unknowingly have van Gogh’s sketchbook and put in a place that she would forget about. Oscar Isaac is brilliant as Paul Gauguin as an artist who shares van Gogh’s ideas about aesthetics yet becomes baffled by what van Gogh is trying to find through art believing that van Gogh would never get any attention. Rupert Friend is amazing as van Gogh’s brother Theo as a man who is also funds van Gogh’s work as he becomes concerned about his brother’s emotional and mental well-being. Finally, there’s Willem Dafoe in a performance for the ages as Vincent van Gogh as this tormented artist who is trying to create art that means something while dealing with rejection, criticism, and himself as Dafoe play into this man’s struggle as well as wanting to create something that he believes is closer to what God would see as it is a towering performance from Dafoe.

At Eternity’s Gate is an outstanding film from Julian Schnabel that features a career-defining performance from Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh. Along with its ensemble cast, Benoit Delhomme’s ravishing cinematography, Tatiana Lisovskaya’s somber score, and its exploration of an artist trying to create art that is divine. The film is an unconventional yet enthralling film that doesn’t play into the traditional schematics of a bio-pic in favor of studying a man trying to capture nature at its most pure. In the end, At Eternity’s Gate is a magnificent film from Julian Schnabel.

Julian Schnabel Films: Basquiat - Before Night Falls - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Lou Reed-Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse - Miral

Related: (Lust for Life) – (Vincent & Theo) – (Dreams (1990 film)) – (Loving Vincent) - The Auteurs #43: Julian Schnabel

© thevoid99 2020

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Shallow Grave

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by John Lodge, Shallow Grave is the story of three flat mates who take in a mysterious lodger who dies of an overdose and has a suitcase full of money as things get out of control due to money. The film is a dark comedy that play into three roommates from Edinburgh who deal with this suitcase full of money as well as succumb to the ideas of greed. Starring Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, and Peter Mullan. Shallow Grave is a witty yet eerie film from Danny Boyle.

Three flat mates in Edinburgh are looking for a fourth person to live with them as they accept a mysterious man who is later found dead of a drug overdose and a suitcase full of money leading to all sorts of trouble. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into people who find this suitcase full of money and figure out what to do with it but also with the body of their dead flat mate as it would lead to trouble. John Lodge’s screenplay takes the simple premise of these three different people in the accountant David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), the physician Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), and a low-level journalist in Alex Law (Ewan McGregor) as they live together in this flat in Edinburgh as they’re looking for a fourth flat mate to share the rent as a mysterious man named Hugo (Keith Allen) is interviewed by Juliet and gets the room. When they find him dead and his suitcase of money, Alex and Juliet are eager to use that money but David is reluctant knowing that it has to be from somewhere.

Lodge’s script has a great structure that play into the evolution of these three characters who aren’t likeable people but at least do have some value with David becoming troubled by the idea of where the money came from as he becomes more introverted to the point that he would stay in the attic which adds to his increasing paranoia. Alex and Juliet are oblivious as they spend time having fun until reality appears in the form of two mysterious men where the tone of the film changes as it play into this sense of morality, guilt, and greed. Especially in the third act when a couple of detectives start to ask questions with Alex staring to get worried, Juliet becoming secretive, and David starting to take control of the situation as it would lead to this combustible climax.

Danny Boyle’s direction does have elements of style in the film’s opening sequence but also in the atmosphere he creates for much of the film. Shot on location in Glasgow as Edinburgh, the film uses its location as a character including the nearby forest and areas that would play into the secrecy of Alex, Juliet, and David once they get rid of Hugo’s body as it would also add to the film’s dark tone as well as this growing sense of dread that would emerge. Boyle would create some unique wide and medium shots to get a look into the apartment flat the trio share including the attic where David would stay as it would this eerie atmosphere that would match David’s increasingly paranoid mood with shots from above that add to the suspense. Notably as he watches both Alex and Juliet from the attic due to the holes he drilled as it adds to the sense of unsettlement in his behavior. Boyle’s direction also has some unique close-ups in the way he captures some of the humor and some of the dramatic moments in the film. Even as it play into Alex and Juliet’s growing attraction towards one another but also the fear they endure following an encounter with two mysterious men.

Boyle would also create these amazing tracking shots that add to the film’s unique tone that includes a speedy point-of-view shot driving through Edinburgh as well as moments that play into a character at work as they’re driven by an event they went through. Boyle also adds to the air of suspense in its third act as it play into David’s paranoia, Alex’s own frustration and growing fear, and Juliet becoming secretive and silent. Even to the point that they no longer trust each other as its climax is all about this suitcase full of money and three people who started off asking questions and making fun of potential tenants where they enjoy each other suddenly start to not like each other. Overall, Boyle crafts an intoxicating yet visceral film about three flat mates who succumbs to greed after finding a suitcase full of money from their newly-dead tenant.

Cinematographer Brian Tufano does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lighting schemes and shadows for the scenes in the attic as well as some of the stylish moods and colors he creates for scenes at night gives the film one of its major highlights. Editor Masahiro Hirakubo does excellent work with the editing as it has some nice usage of jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts to play into the film’s dark humor and suspense. Production designer Kave Quinn, with set decorator Karen Wakefield and art director Zoe MacLeod, does amazing work with the look of the flat Alex, David, and Juliet stay in as well as the attic and the bedrooms they sleep in.

Costume designer Kate Carin does fantastic work with the costumes as it help flesh out the personalities with Alex having a looser and modern look, David wearing suits and more straight-casual, and Juliet wearing a bit of both. Sound editor Nigel Galt does superb work with the sound as it help play into the suspense and in some of the film’s dark humor to play into the paranoia and chaos that would occur. The film’s music by Simon Boswell is incredible for its eerie yet somber piano-based orchestral score that help play into the drama as well as the suspenseful moments in the film while music supervisor Gemma Dempsey creates a soundtrack that a wide array of music from electronic pieces by Leftfield and a couple of songs from Nina Simone and Andy Williams.

The film’s casting by Sarah Trevis is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from screenwriter John Lodge as Detective Constable Mitchell who often writes notes, Victoria Nairn and Gary Lewis as a couple of potential flat mates, Jean Marie Coffey as a Goth potential flat mate, and Colin McCredie as a potential flat mate that is interviewed as a source of humiliation by Alex whom he would see again at a party. Leonard O’Malley and Peter Mullan are terrific in their small roles as a couple of thugs who are looking for Hugo and the suitcase full of money as they use brutal tactics to get answers. Keith Allen is superb in his brief role as the mysterious Hugo who becomes a new flat mate while carrying a suitcase and is then found dead from a drug overdose. Ken Stott is fantastic as Detective Inspector McCall as key figure in the film’s third act as he investigates various disappearances where he also begins to believe that something isn’t right with Alex, David, and Juliet in their stories.

Ewan McGregor is excellent as Alex Law as a low-level journalist who spends much of his time not doing much and goofing around as he enjoys the idea of spending lots of money until some violent encounters forces him to see the reality of what is going on as he tries to get out of the situation. Christopher Eccleston is brilliant as David Stephens as an introverted accountant who is the most reluctant to want any involvement with the suitcase of money as he becomes unhinged and paranoid to the point that he would become violent as well take control of the situation. Finally, there’s Kerry Fox in an amazing performance as Juliet Miller as a physician who is often caught in the middle as she is excited by the prospects of spending lots of money but is also filled with dread following a violent encounter where she becomes more secretive and starts to think about herself.

Shallow Grave is a phenomenal film from Danny Boyle that features great performances from Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, and Ewan McGregor. Along with Simon Boswell’s haunting score, Brian Tufano’s gorgeous photography, its study of greed and temptation, and inventive mixture of humor, suspense, and drama. The film is definitely an engaging yet witty dark-comedy that explore the idea of greed and how it changes people to the point that they will lose sight of what is important. In the end, Shallow Grave is a sensational film from Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle Films: Trainspotting - A Life Less Ordinary - The Beach - 28 Days Later - Millions - Sunshine - Slumdog Millionaire - 127 Hours - Trance - Steve Jobs (2015 film) - T2 Trainspotting - (Yesterday (2019 film))

© thevoid99 2020

Friday, March 13, 2020

Closely Watched Trains

Based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, Closely Watched Trains is the story of a young man working at a train station desperate to fall in love amidst the chaos of war and a growing resistance around him. Directed by Jiri Menzel and screenplay by Menzel and Hrabal, the film is a coming-of-age drama of sorts set during a tumultuous time in Czechoslovakia where a young man doesn’t just deal with his new job but also his own emotional and sexual desires. Starring Vaclav Neckar, Jitka Bendova, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodsky, and Vladimir Valenta. Closely Watched Trains is an engrossing and riveting film from Jiri Menzel.

The film follows the life of a newly-trained station guard who works at a train station during World War II German-occupied Czechoslovakia as he hopes to get laid as well as not endure real work amidst the chaos of the war that is miles and miles away from where he is. It’s a film that explore a young man trying to escape the realities of the world but is also hoping to experience love as he has a crush on a young conductor while he is surrounded by an eccentric group of people working at the station and other things happening around him. The film’s screenplay by Jiri Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal that is based on the latter’s novel does explore the world that Milos Hrma (Vaclav Neckar) is in as his boss (Vladimir Valenta) is hoping to be promoted but his station is filled with misfits including the dispatcher Hubicka (Josef Somr) who often surrounds himself with beautiful women as he would try to help Hrma in winning over the ladies. Yet, Hrma also copes with trying to impress the young conductor Masha (Jitka Bendova) but his job eventually starts to be demanding due to the plans of Nazi-sympathizer in the train company councilor Zednicek (Vlastimil Brodsky).

Menzel’s direction is largely straightforward in its compositions while it does have some flair of style as it is shot largely in Lodenice area in the Czech Republic. While there are some wide shots to establish the locations and the train station where Hrma works at, much of Menzel’s direction is intimate in its usage of close-ups and medium shots. Notably in the way Hrma would interact with various people coming and going at the station including the women that Hubicka would have for himself and other people at the station. Notably as Menzel captures the lack of activity that goes on at a station where the stationmaster tends to his pigeons than the station while everyone else is messing around including Hubicka imprinting rubber stamps on the station’s telegraphist Zdenicka (Jitka Zelenohorska) in an act of mutual flirtation. It is among some of the humorous moments in the film though there are also some dramatic moments as it play into Hrma’s sexual awakening and his desire to get laid.

Especially as Menzel maintains this eerie tone about what is happening as it relates to the war and Hrma’s lack of involvement as he comes from a family of misfits with his father preferring to lay on a sofa than work. Even as there’s a scene of a bomb falling nearby where he’s sleeping as he and another station employee deal with what is happening as Hubicka suggests about doing something as it relates to the growing tension between the Czechs and Nazis. The third act doesn’t just play into Hrma’s reluctant involvement in the Czech resistance but also his chance for manhood upon meeting a resistance agent as it would force him to understand who he is and find meaning in his life. Overall, Menzel crafts an engaging and whimsical film about the misadventures of a young train station guard in Nazi Germany-occupied Czechoslovakia.

Cinematographer Jaromir Sofr does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it play into the gorgeous look of the daytime locations along with some stylish shots for a scene following a bombing and some interior low-key lighting for scenes set at night. Editor Jirina Lukesova does excellent work with the editing as it has some jump-cuts as well as straight cuts to play into the drama and some of the film’s humor. Art director Oldrich Bosak and set decorator Jiri Cvrcek do fantastic work with the look of the station as well as the home of the station master and the places that Hrma goes to.

Costume designer Olga Dimitrovova does nice work with the costumes including the uniform that Hrma wears as well as the ragged clothes including the prestigious uniform that the station manager is eager to wear. The sound work of Jiri Pavlik does superb work with the sound as it play into the sound of trains and some of the film’s natural moments as well as the sounds of bombs and explosions. The film’s music by Jiri Sust is wonderful for its orchestral-based score as it has some playful themes but also some lush string arrangements for some of the film’s somber moments.

The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles from director Jiri Menzel as a doctor diagnosing Hrma’s problems, Libuse Haveloka as the stationmaster’s wife, Nad’a Urbankova as a Czech resistance fighter, and Jitka Zelenohorska as the telegraphist Zdenicka whom Hubicka playfully flirts with as she enjoys his flirtation approach. Vladimir Valenta is superb as the stationmaster who is trying to run his station and hope to get a promotion while he tends to his pigeons. Jitka Bendova is fantastic as the conductor Masa as the object of affection for Hrma as she is eager to start a relationship with him while also doing her work.

Josef Somr is excellent as the train dispatcher Hubicka as a mischievous man who cares more about women than his work as he likes to have fun while guiding Hrma on how to woo women as well as wanting to stand up to the Nazis. Vlastimil Brodsky is brilliant as councilor Zednicek as a Nazi sympathizer who checks on the station as he sees great plans for the Germans but also puts down his own people as being inferior and need to improve themselves. Finally, there’s Vaclav Neckar in an amazing performance as Milos Hrma as a young man who becomes a train station guard as he deals with the boredom of his job and his growing appetite for sex as he’s eager to get laid while Neckar displays some of the uncertainty but also a growing awareness of what is happening around him.

Closely Watched Trains is an incredible film from Jiri Menzel. Featuring a great cast, a vibrant presentation, themes of growing up and understanding the idea of manhood, and a somber music score. It’s a fascinating coming-of-age film that explores the life of a young man working at a train station as he deals with not just his own sexual desires but also the world around him during a chaotic moment in time. In the end, Closely Watched Trains is a phenomenal film from Jiri Menzel.

Jiri Menzel Films: (Pearls of the Deep-The Death of Mr. Balthazar) – (Crime in a Music Hall) – (Capricious Summer) – (Larks on a String) – (Who Looks for Gold?) – (Seclusion Near a Forest) – (Those Wonderful Movie Cranks) – (Cutting It Short) – (The Snowdrop Festival) – (Chocolate Cop) – (My Sweet Little Village) – (End of Old Times) – (Beggar’s Opera) – (Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin) – (I Served the King of England) – (The Don Juans)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Spoofs, Satires, & Mockumentaries

In the 11th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of spoofs, satires, and mockumentaries. A genre that’s been a dying art of late thanks in part to unfunny comedians and no-talent cum-buckets in Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer who not only destroyed the spoof film genre but also catered to the lowest form of civilization. Fortunately, there are films of the past that reminds audiences of what is funny though recent films in other genres have manage to border into the realm of parody by following certain plot clichés and such. Here are my three picks all based on the music genre:

1. The Rutles: All You Need is Cash

From Monty Python co-founder Eric Idle and the late Python cohort Neil Innes is a spoof film based on the career of the Beatles with Idle playing multiple roles as the film’s narrator, a professor of applied narcotics, and a parody of Paul McCartney in Dirk McQuickly with Innes as the John Lennon parody in Ron Nasty. Along with John Halsey as the Ringo Starr parody in Barry Wom and Ricky Fataar as the George Harrison parody in Stig O’Hara. The film is an inventive spoof that play into the many journey of the Rutles with appearances from Bill Murray, John Belushi, Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Bianca Jagger, Michael Palin, Paul Simon, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and George Harrison as a TV reporter. It’s a hilarious tribute of sorts to the Beatles as Harrison’s cameo just adds to the fun while it should be noted that during the moment where the cast were shooting the spoof of the Abbey Road album cover. The actors were mistaken to be the Beatles by on-lookers while George Harrison is laughing from afar with fans unaware of his presence.

2. This is Spinal Tap

Rob Reiner’s groundbreaking film that marks as the mother of mockumentaries revolves around a British rock n’ roll band called Spinal Tap who started off as a skiffle group and then evolve into what was cool at the time before settling themselves into the world of heavy metal as they’re promoting their new album Smell the Glove. The tour is filled with all sorts of hijinks that weren’t just inspired by events and such that real-life rock n’ roll bands endured but also things that acts would deal with after the film’s release. Getting lost in an arena, having to change a controversial album cover, awful two-word reviews, stage mishaps, catering mishaps, technical issues, and badly-measured stage props one of which includes Stonehenge. Yet, there are also some amazing songs such as very touching Sex Farm which was a major hit song in Japan.

3. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

From director Jake Kasdan and co-writer Judd Apatow comes a film that definitely was spot-on about how clichéd the music bio-pic had become and every other music bio-pic that followed would play into. Starring John C. Reilly as the titular character who accidentally cut his brother in half in a machete fight, here’s a guy who would endure so many things that every other musician has done. He’s been in multiple marriages, did all kinds of drugs, went through many musical phases, and broke a lot of sinks. Yet, there’s some great music in the film while the cameo appearances from many others including Jack White as Elvis Presley yet the best cameo is in who play the Beatles with Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Justin Long as George Harrison, Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr, and Jack Black as Paul McCartney as they all take some LSD and become trippy cartoons.

© thevoid99 2020