Thursday, April 30, 2020

Films That I Saw: April 2020

It’s almost the end of the month and since February, things have gotten scary and now that there’s more than a million of cases here in the U.S. which is a third of the cases around the world and over 60,000 deaths in the U.S. out of 217,000 around the world. For a country that’s supposed to have the best of everything and to have all of things needed like this, there is really only question I have to ask those at the White House. Better yet, I’ll let William Hurt ask the question:

This country is supposed to be at top of everything despite its flaws. George W. Bush read a book about the 1918 Spanish flu and had thoughts about creating a pandemic task force despite the people he had around him. Say what you want about Bush as a president and he was a terrible president but he at least would’ve taken some action and do something about this. Barack Obama would’ve handled this immediately. Now, we have a human septic tank as our dictator who suggests “hey, eat a Tide pod, swallow disinfectants, go have a tan outside, and you’ll feel better.” Of course, he claims he was being sarcastic but he also says this and claims that he’s smarter than all of us. My one-year old nephew is learning to walk and he knows how to bend down on his knees and does it with much patient and he’s a hell of a lot smarter than this shit sandwich.

It’s not just the White House where things are just awful but also here in Georgia as our shit-for-brains governor recently decided for business, restaurants, bowling alleys, and gyms to be re-opened. It makes living here in Smyrna less safe now as my mother and I recently went to the supermarket a couple of days ago and it was a very depressing feeling there. Everyone looked down and almost zombie-like as if this pandemic had really sucked the life out of everyone. It wasn’t fun. Having to stay home and be safe does get to you as the only time me and my mom went out is either for groceries or take out. The only exception was going to my sister’s house for my nephew’s first birthday as it’s going to take more than a pandemic to stop me from celebrating Mateo’s first birthday with his family.

I can understand having cabin fever and the need to go out even though my mother, myself, my sister, her husband, and their son haven’t been sick. We still have to stay home and be safe. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the program as there’s protests in various states and such about re-opening the country and all of that bullshit. Well, if they get sick and die. That’s their fucking fault. Bitch all you want, you want to live? Stay the fuck home! With some states wanting re-open including another dumb-fuck state that is Florida with its dumb-fuck governor who considers WWE “essential” all because Meekmahan and his cunt-wife paid $18.5 million to PAC and got the OK from their governor while laying off a bunch of people in WWE including longtime referee Mike Chioda and some of my favorites like Zack Ryder, Rusev, and fuckin’ Kurt Angle.

At least there’s some places in the U.S. that are trying to do something and people such as Dr. Anthony Fauci who is trying to help us anyway he can. He’s a good dude and deserves to be listened more. I also want to give praise to New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo and California’s governor Gavin Newsom for at least having the balls to try and do something while taking some responsibility for whatever faults they have in testing and such. That is what leaders are made of. The ones who have the balls and fortitude to take action and responsibility. Not human septic-tanks who blame others for his own fuck-ups.

In the month of April 2020, I saw a total of 42 films 20 first-timers and 22 re-watches with 13 of these first-timers being directed or co-directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. The highlight of the month was definitely my Blind Spot Series assignment in One Sings, the Other Doesn't. Here are my top 10 first-timers of April 2020:

1. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

2. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

3. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

5. Molly's Game

6. The Birth, the Life, and Death of Christ

7. Zombieland 2: Double Tap

8. Matrimony's Speed Limit

9. Shadowed

10. The Ocean Waif

Monthly Mini-Reviews

Hit It Hard

From 30 to 30 is a documentary about the rollercoaster journey of John Daly who emerged in the early 1990s as an unknown who managed to steal the show at a PGA tournament and became a favorite among the people. The film features an interview with Daly as he wasn’t some rich kid that played the game as he was from a poor background that played golf as a caddie and just managed to get good at the game. Yet, success definitely had its downside for Daly who struggled with it until he got sober and other issues sorted out as he remains a favorite as it is a fun episode of the series.

Shadowed/Good Enough: Making Shadowed

From David F. Sandberg and his wife Lotta Losten comes a three-minute horror short film the two made while under quarantine as it is about a woman whose house loses power due to a storm and she is being haunted by a shadow as she wondered what is going on. Given the circumstances that is made for this short, it is an inventive and chilling horror short that proves that limitations can inspire people to make something great in a matter of a few minutes. The film was accompanied by a making-of documentary about how he and Losten made this short in their home and with the equipment they had as Sandberg shot and edited the film himself as it’s a must for anyone who is interested in the art of filmmaking. Especially as it proves that even though Sandberg has made some big feature films including Shazam! It doesn’t mean that he still has a lot to offer while also finding ways to be creative in these trying times.

Zombieland 2: Double Tap

This made it to Starz recently as I began to watch sporadically for the month as it’s a fun sequel as it has the four main characters on the previous film returning after a decade as they remain a somewhat dysfunctional family who kill zombies. Yet, it is about these four people killing zombies as one of them in Little Rock breaks away from the pack as she stills feel that she is being treated like a child by Tallahassee leading to the gang to find and this place called Babylon where they run into Zoey Deutch who steals the show as the dumb blonde Madison. It’s got lots of violence but it’s also funny as it’s just a fun film to watch.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2. Yellow Submarine

3. The Ten Commandments

4. David Bowie: The Last Five Years

5. Captain America: The First Avenger

6. Spider-Man 2

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

9. Searching for Bobby Fischer

10. The Wedding Singer

Well, that is it for April. Other than finishing the Lone Wolf and Cub film series and films on my never-ending DVR list. I am not sure what I’m going to do as I’ve already decided that I’m not going to do the Cannes marathon this year as I will hopefully do it next year if things get to normal. I did stop work on my MCU is Cinema series as I hope get back on writing the fifth part as I often just spend my time playing computer games, do puzzles, watch the HBO documentary series on the Atlanta Child Murders, and listen to a few new records by NIN, Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam, and the Strokes as I recommend those records. I just hope everyone stays home and stay safe as we need to be safe and not worry about going back to the movie theaters until there’s a vaccine. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): Game Shows

In the 18th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the world of television in game shows. Shows where people try to win money and prizes but also endure all sorts of humiliating moments. Here are my three picks as they’re game shows from the 1980s/1990s that appeared on Nickelodeon or as today’s kids call it, Nick:

1. Double Dare

For anyone that grew up during the 80s and 90s would remember this show as it consisted of two teams as one would feature two kids each or a family and in one case, a celebrity teaming up with a kid. They would answer trivia questions for points and endure some messy physical challenges. The winning team would make it to the obstacle course to find a red flag through a barrage of messy food and all sorts of stuff. When all red flags are captured, the team wins a butt-load of prizes.

2. Nick Arcade

A show that lasted for two seasons yet it was ahead of its time in relating to the world of video game culture as it was a simple game of two team of two kids answering video game related trivia and then play a game to reach a certain high score for points. The winning team would then take part in a virtual game with all sorts of physicality as if they’re in a game and if they get a number of objects or fix something. They win a bunch of prizes.

3. Legends of the Hidden Temple

Another short-lived game show from the 1990s is definitely one of the most interesting game shows of its time where six teams of two people compete in various physical and mental challenges that involve trivia, water sports, and all sorts of things. There’s four stages in the game as the first game involves the moat, the remaining four teams take part in the second stage as it involves trivia, two teams remain for the third round in a trilogy of physical challenges to get pendants they need for the fourth and final round which the winning team has to compete in. It is often interesting to see who wins and do they win in the final challenge as it’s a game show that is set to return for Quibi but for adults.

© thevoid99 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

2020 Blind Spot Series: One Sings, the Other Doesn't

Written and directed by Agnes Varda, L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) is the story of two women in the early 1960s who help each other as one aspires to be a singer while the other is a pregnant country girl as they would reunite a decade later during a demonstration as it relates to the women’s liberation movement. The film is a genre-bender that mixes elements of the musical with political drama as it explore the lives of two women who both experience a lot while maintaining their friendship. Starring Valerie Mairesse, Therese Liotard, Ali Raffi, Robert Dadies, and Jean-Pierre Pellegrin. L’une chante, l’autre pas is a rapturous and captivating film from Agnes Varda.

Told in the span of nearly 14 years, the film revolves around the friendship between two different women as they embark on different paths as well as endure different trials and tribulations into finding themselves as one of them becomes a singer while the other is a country girl with two kids who later runs a family planning clinic in Hyeres. It’s a film that play into the world of feminism as well as two women who bond through their different encounters of turmoil as well as trying to be themselves as well as wonder if they can be attached to a man in their lives. Agnes Varda’s screenplay is uniquely structured in the way it tells the friendship between these two different women who first meet in 1962 and then meet again a decade later as they would correspond each other through postcards and letters to maintain their friendship.

The first act is set in 1962 where Pauline (Valerie Mairesse) is a 17-year old student who sings at a choir as she goes into a photo shop where she sees a picture of a young woman she knows in Suzanne (Therese Liotard) who has two children and a third on the way as they’re all from an affair with the photo shop owner Jerome (Robert Dadies) where Suzanne wants an abortion. Tragedy occurs forcing Pauline and Suzanne to abruptly part ways until a decade later in the film’s second act where Pauline has called herself Pomme (apple in French) as she’s part of a feminist folk group and in a relationship with an Iranian named Darius (Ali Raffi) while Suzanne lives in Hyeres with her two children as she runs a family planning clinic. It is in the second act where the two meet again as they would correspond through letters as they’re both fascinated by their different lives with Pomme often traveling and going to Iran where she marries Darius and have a child yet things become troubling while Suzanne ponders her own desires to be with a man. It all play into Varda’s study of identity as a woman as well as what these women want as Varda also serves as the film’s narrator.

Varda’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions she creates yet there are elements of the film that do play into some semblance of style. Shot on various locations in France including parts of Paris and Hyeres as well as additional locations in Amsterdam and Iran. Varda creates a film that does rely on melodrama as it relates to the plight of women in their role in society starting in the 1960s as Pauline sings for a school choir while is hoping to make it in the world of music. Much of the first act that is shot in Paris play into Pauline and Suzanne trying to find themselves as Varda maintains an intimacy as well as show the different backgrounds of the two women with the latter from a middle-class environment and the latter from the poor country as she is treated with disdain by her parents upon her return to the country. Varda would open up the scope of the film more in its second act with some wide shots but also in its usage of music. Though it’s largely pre-recorded, there is a liveliness to the musical performances as well as the staging that includes a silent theatrical performance of women’s role in society.

With Pomme accompanied by the real feminist-folk band Orchidee as well as Francois Wertheimer playing a traveling hippie-musician with a son, much of the music is straightforward with a few theatrical elements courtesy of Varda’s contributions as a lyricist while Wertheimer would also create a somber string orchestral score for some of the dramatic moments in the film. The scenes in Amsterdam and Iran play into the sense of wonderment for Pomme as she is constantly traveling often telling Suzanne about her adventures as it does play into a woman who is from a conventional background wanting an unconventional life. That is balanced by Suzanne whose life is unconventional despite being a single mother of two kids wanting a somewhat conventional life despite her resistance of being in a relationship again. Varda’s usage of the wide shots do play into the wondrous world of Iran and Hyeres as it display Pomme’s growing disconnect in the former and Suzanne’s growing comfort in the latter. Still, Varda does find a way for these two friends to maintain their identity as women but also as people with goals in their lives and love for each other. Overall, Varda crafts a mesmerizing and touching film about the friendship of two women trying to find themselves in the span of 14 years.

Cinematographer Charlie Van Damme does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is showcases not just unique color moods into the some of the locations but also in tone as much of the first act showcase dark and grayish colors while the scenes in Iran, Amsterdam, and Hyeres are far more colorful with its natural approach to lighting as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Joele Van Effenterre does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into drama including some montages that play into the corresponding letters. Art director/costume designer Frankie Diago does amazing work with the look of some of the stage sets and clothes for some of Pomme’s performances as well as the look of the places she and Suzanne go to with the more casual look of Suzanne that is in contrast to Pomme’s more hippie-like look. The sound work of Henri Morelle is fantastic for its natural approach to sound in the way music is presented live as well as the atmosphere in some of the film’s different locations.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Mona Mairesse and Francis Lemaire as Pauline’s parents, the trio of Isabelle Eduards, Dominique Ducros, and Rosalie Varda in their respective roles as the 3-year old, 13-year old, and teenage version of Suzanne’s daughter Marie, Francois Courbin, Frederic Boyot, and Laurent Plagne in their respective roles as the baby, adolescent, and teenage version of Suzanne’s son Mathieu, Francois Werthemier as a traveling hippie musician that Pomme and her band meets, Mathieu Demy as the traveling hippie’s son Zorro, the trio of Joelle Papineau, Micou Papineau, and Doudou Greffier as the band Orchidee who are part of Pomme’s group, and Jean-Pierre Pellegrin in a terrific performance as Dr. Pierre Aubanel whom Suzanne meets in the film’s third act as someone she isn’t sure about being in a relationship with since he is married.

Robert Dadies and Ali Raffi are superb in their respective roles as Jerome and Darius with the former being Suzanne’s married photographer/lover who is desperate to sell his photos while the latter is Pomme’s future Iranian husband whom she meets in Amsterdam as they fall in love and have a child only for him to be more traditionalist in Iran. Finally, there’s the duo of Valerie Mairesse and Therese Liotard in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Pauline/Pomme and Suzanne. Mairesse brings a liveliness as Pomme whenever she’s performing her music or acting in a play though she’s more timid early in the film as Pauline while displaying some restraint in her scenes set in Iran. Liotard is the more reserved of the two as she displays that air of grace and humility in a woman who struggled so much as she tries to make something of herself where she does find happiness. Mairesse and Liotard together have a radiance to their scenes together as they often bring the best in each other as they’re a major highlight of the film.

The 2019 Region 1/Region DVD/Blu-Ray release from the Criterion Collection presents in the film in a new 2K digital restoration supervised by Agnes Varda and cinematographer Charlie Van Damme from its 2015 restored edition in its 1:66:1 aspect ratio and mono French soundtrack (uncompressed in its Blu-Ray release) with new English subtitle translation. Among the special features in the DVD/Blu-Ray set include the film’s theatrical trailer, a making-of documentary, and two shorts films by Varda.

The making-of documentary entitled Women are Naturally Creative: Agnes Varda by Katja Raganelli is a 47-minute film that explores Varda during the production of L’une chante, l’autre pas on its final day of shooting with interviews with its lead actresses and Varda herself. Raganelli would talk with Varda about her views on filmmaking and what does she do but also her views on feminism and the film she makes. She admits that not all women likes her films as she’s fine with that while a lot of what she does play into the roles of women as well as breaking down stereotypes. The film also showcases a brief glimpse into her life outside of the world of film as she is a mother and wife to another filmmaker in Jacques Demy though the two never collaborate on their respective films since they both have different ideas of the films they want to make though both of them are supportive of one another. It’s a fascinating documentary that explores Varda’s approach to filmmaking as well as the kind of films she wants to make.

The 9-minute short Reponse de femmes is a film where Varda asks this question. What is a woman? The 1975 short film commissioned by the French TV channel Antenne 2 asked seven women filmmakers this question as Varda’s short have women answer the question in different ways. Some show themselves naked and pregnant, others just remain clothed, and they all bring different ideas. Some want to be mothers and some don’t. It’s a short that really offers so many ideas while there is also a shot of a group of men sitting and standing in disapproval to this growing feminist movement that was happening in the 1970s yet Varda makes it about the women as they prove that they don’t need a man.

The six-and-a-half minute short Plasir d’amour en Iran starring Valerie Mairesse and Ali Raffi that was made in 1976 and shot on location in Isfahan, Iran. Narrated by Therese Liotard, the film features an Iranian man and a French woman as they’re at a Persian palace and ancient drawings relating to love. It’s a simple yet ravishing short film that showcases two people falling in love and expressing their love through poetry in an exotic land.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also feature two booklets as one booklet features excerpts from the film’s original press book that featured tidbits about the actors, Varda, the film, notes on the film with comments from the actors and Varda along with sheet music to some of the original songs created for the film. The booklet for the film features an essay by Varda written in 2016 for a screening of the film at that year’s Cannes Film Festival in its 2015 restoration as she discuss the film and what it aimed to do in the times as well as what hasn’t changed since its release back in 1977. The booklet also features an essay from film critic/historian Amy Taubin entitled Bodies and Selves. Taubin’s essay touches upon Varda’s contribution to the French New Wave and her continued independence in doing things her own way and how the feminist movement of the 1970s inspired her to make this film. Even as the scene set in an abortion trial where Pomme and Suzanne reunite is based on a real-life event while Taubin talks about the film and what the characters go through as well as Varda’s approach to the story as it mixes elements of reality with this fictional narrative as it’s a wonderful essay by Taubin.

L’une chante, l’autre pas is a tremendous film by Agnes Varda that features sensational leading performances from Valerie Mairesse and Therese Liotard. Along with its gorgeous visuals, themes of gender identity, and a whimsical music soundtrack. The film is definitely one of Varda’s finest films as well as a compelling and thoughtful study of womanhood and their rights to be something more. In the end, L’une chante, l’autre pas is a spectacular film from Agnes Varda.

Agnes Varda Films: Diary of a Pregnant Woman - Du cote de la cote - La Pointe Courte - Cleo from 5 to 7 - Le Bonheur - (Les Creatures) – (Far from Vietnam) – (Lions Love) – (Daguerreotypes) – (Murals Murals) – (Documenteur) - Vagabond - (Jane B. by Agnes V.) – ((Le Petit Amour) – (Jacquot de Nantes) – (The Young Girls Turn 25) – (One Hundred and One Nights) – The World of Jacques Demy - The Gleaners & I - (The Gleaners & I: Two Years Later) – (Cinevardaphoto) – (Some Windows of Noirmoutier) - (The Beaches of Agnes) – (Faces Places) – (Varda by Agnes)

© thevoid99 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is the third film of the series in which the father/son duo who continue their journey through Japan as the former saves a prostitute from humiliation after killing her client as he would do a job for the yakuza to kill a governor. Directed by Kenji Misumi and screenplay by Kazuo Koike, the film explore the father/son duo as they deal with an unruly world as well as a growing sense of corruption that would involve the Yakuza and other factions as Itto Ogami/Lone Wolf and Daigoro/Cub are reprised respectively by Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa. Also starring Go Kato, Yuko Hama, Isao Yamagata, and Michitaro Mizushima. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a ravishing and evocative film from Kenji Misumi.

The film follows a father-son duo as they continue their journey through Edo-era Japan as they remain in pursuit of the clan who had disgraced him as he would encounter a lowly group of samurai warriors and later a yakuza who was about to punish a prostitute for killing a client as he is later asked by the yakuza leader to kill a power-hungry governor. It’s a film that play into Itto Ogami and his son Daigoro as they encounter a sense of unruliness around them as the lowly group of samurai warriors would rape a couple of women only to be taken care of by their leader Kanbei (Go Kato) who is revealed to be a man with a sense of honor. This idea of code and honor would continue after Ogami chooses to protect a prostitute he and Daigoro met on a boat early in the film as the yakuza leader in Torizo (Yuko Hama) is amazed by taking all sorts of physical and mental torture for this prostitute as she learns about his true identity. Kazuo Koike’s script is largely straightforward while it does feature some flashbacks as it relates to the governor Sawatari Genba (Isao Yamagata) who is eager to win the favor of Ogami’s enemies.

Kenji Misumi’s direction does maintain a sense of style from its previous films while he also restrains some of the violence though images of dismembered body parts, blood sprays, and such still are shown in the film. Yet, Misumi does showcase this air of chaos and discontent in the way a young woman and her mother are raped by a gang of lowly samurai warriors or how the prostitute is mistreated by her client. Shot in various rural locations in Japan, Misumi does use the locations as characters in the film from the bamboo forest early in the film where Ogami disposes a trio of ninjas while the scene in the desert hill serves as the climax between Ogami and the governor’s army. The usage of the wide shots don’t just play into the scope of the locations but also in how Daigoro would place himself on a spot to get someone’s attention or just to get a view of what he’s seeing whenever his father is about to attack.

With the aid of fight choreographer Eiichi Kusumoto, Misumi’s approach to the fighting is more restrained as it’s more about who makes the first move as well as a sense of respect during duels as it’s something both Torizo and Kanbei have believing there’s still some semblance of honor despite the former’s lack of belief towards codes with her yakuza. Misumi’s close-ups and medium shots help play into the drama and air of suspense as well as these stylish flashbacks as it relates to the governor that Ogami is hired to kill. Its climax doesn’t just play into this growing disconnect over thirst of power and honor but also the idea of what a samurai really is as it’s something both Ogami and Kanbei are asking. Overall, Misumi crafts a rapturous yet chilling film about a father-son duo who trek through Japan as they encounter unruliness in their path.

Cinematographer Chikashi Makiura does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its gorgeous usage of natural lights for many of the daytime exteriors while the nighttime scenes feature lighting by Hiroshi Mima who help provide a low-key look to the film along with the flashbacks which were shot in black-and-white. Editor Toshio Taniguchi does excellent work with the editing as its emphasis on style in the jump-cuts, dissolves, and other stylish cuts help play into the action as well as the suspense and drama where things do slow down to play more into emotional reactions than action. Production designer Yoshinobu Nishioka does amazing work with the look of the yakuza’s main base including an inn that they run as well as the lavish home of the governor. The makeup work of Hideo Yumoto and Toshio Tanaka do terrific work with the look of a few characters from the one-armed man hiding in Torizo’s closet to the ragged look of Kanbei’s gang.

The special stunt effects by Daizen Shishido is amazing for some of the action that occurs including scenes that involve aerial attacks from ninjas and samurais as it help play into the action. The sound work of Tsuchitaro Hayashi, with sound effects by Toru Kurashima, is superb for the atmosphere of the locations as well as sounds of gunfire, swords, and arrows that occur during battle. The film’s music by Hideaki Sakurai is phenomenal for its array of themes from a Western-like theme for the main characters with its guitars and strings as well as percussive-based music for its suspense and sounds of strings and warbling synthesizers for the film’s climatic battle.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Jun Hamamura as the one-armed retainer that Torizo had been hiding that Ogami knew, Sayoko Kato as the prostitute that Ogami and Daigoro protects, Michitaro Mizushima as a former aide of Governor Genba from the film’s flashbacks, and Isao Yamagata as the power-hungry Sawatari Genba who is hoping to gain the favor of the shogunate and his clan upon learning about Ogami whom he realizes is a threat. Yuko Hamada is excellent as the yakuza leader Torizo as a woman who learns about Ogami’s true identity as she sees someone that she respects as well as asking for help as it relates to the governor whom she despises. Go Kato is amazing as Kanbei as a leader of a ragged group of lowly samurai warriors who encounters Ogami early in the film as he is aware of who he is as they would later meet where Kanbei is a man of respect and honor as he is trying to answer the question of identity and being a true samurai.

Finally, there’s the duo of Akihiro Tomikawa and Tomisaburo Wakayama in their respective roles as Diagoro and Ogami Itto with the former as the young boy who observes everything around him while often luring warriors into traps as well as be the one to bring kindness to the prostitute. The latter showcases more restraint as a man still haunted by loss yet is still keen on his path towards Hell where he deals with a sense of unruliness around him while surprised to find that there are those who do have some kind of honor as it is a rapturous performance from Wakayama.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a sensational film from Kenji Misumi. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, stylish action sequences, and a chilling music score, the film is definitely an exhilarating samurai-adventure film that isn’t just filled with lots of action but also drama and suspense. In the end, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a phenomenal film from Kenji Misumi.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance - Baby Cart at the River Styx - Baby Cart in PerilBaby Cart in the Land of DemonsWhite Heaven in Hell

© thevoid99 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is the second film of the series in which an assassin-for-hire continues his journey through Edo-period Japan where he battle a group of female assassins hired by the clan who killed his wife and disgraced his name. Directed Kenji Misumi and screenplay by Kazuo Koike, the film explores a man continuing his path to find redemption as he well as seeking justice for the loss of his wife while accompanying his young son his path as the role of Itto Ogami and his son Daigoro are reprised by Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa. Also starring Kayo Matsuko, Akji Kobayashi, Minoru Ohki, and Shin Kishida. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is a majestic yet exhilarating film from Kenji Misumi.

The film follows the duo of Lone Wolf and Cub as they trek through Japan seeking whatever work Itto Ogami can do as an assassin as they’re eventually hired by a clan to kill a clan leader for disrupting their business while Ogami is being pursued by samurai warriors including a group of female assassins working for the man who disgraced Ogami. It’s a film with a simple premise that manga co-writer Kazuo Koike creates as it play into Ogami and Daigoro going on this journey as they’re eventually hired by a clan who is known for making indigo dye and have a monopoly on it but someone had betrayed them and is willing to share their secret method to a shogun whom Ogami is in conflict with. Ogami agrees to do the job yet the shogun’s own ninja clan team up with a clan of female assassins to try and eliminate Ogami for good. There isn’t much of a plot yet it is more about Ogami and Daigoro continuing on their path and the forces he face as they’re forced to deal with Ogami. Among them are a trio of brothers known as the Hidaris who are fierce warriors with iron-like weapons as they’re hoping to protect the man who had stolen the indigo dye methods.

Kenji Misumi’s direction is stylish not just in its compositions and settings but also its emphasis on suspense and drama. Most notably as Daigoro is given more to do and actually take part in a bit of the action including a scene where he tends to his ailing father after a scuffle that left him wounded for a bit. Shot on various locations in Japan, Misumi does use some wide shots for not just a scope of the locations including a gorgeous scene shot in a greenish forest. It’s also in the compositions he creates in some extreme close-ups and medium shots with the latter used for meetings between Ogami and the indigo dye clan or the group of people conspiring to kill Ogami. Misumi also creates images that do play into the beauty of Ogami’s journey despite the claims that Ogami and Daigoro are walking towards the River Styx on their way to Hell.

With the aid of fight choreographer Eiichi Kusumoto, Misumi’s approach to the sword fights, battles, and duels do play into this air of urgency of whenever Ogami has to attack. Even in a scene on a boat where he meets the Hidari brothers and sees what they’re able to do while he stays in the room with them as it showcases an act of respect between warriors. Ogami’s first confrontation with Akari Yagyu clan leader Sayaka (Kayo Matsuo) does have an air of style as well as some strange moments that occur after their first confrontation ends. The film’s third act that takes place in sand dunes do showcase this air of style in its setting where the Hidari brothers are confronted by members of the indigo dye clan as the violence remains stylized with limbs cut off and blood being sprayed as it is just a taste of what is to come upon meeting Ogami. Overall, Misumi crafts a ravishing and enchanting film about an assassin-for-hire and his young son trekking through Japan while dealing with a horde of new enemies.

Cinematographer Chikashi Makiura does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it features some gorgeous natural lighting and colors for some of the daytime exterior scenes including shots in the forest while the scenes at night with lighting by Hiroshi Mima add to the low-key yet somber beauty of the film as it is a major highlight of the film. Editor Toshio Taniguchi does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style in its jump-cuts, stylish dissolves, and other cuts that help play into the action, drama, and suspense. Production designer Akira Naito does fantastic work with the look of the hut that Ogami and Daigoro stay at for a bit, some of the homes of the clans, and the boat where Ogami meets the Hidari brothers. Costume designer Yoshio Ueno does nice work with the costumes in the robes that Sayaka wears as well as the clothes that the Hidari brothers wear.

Special stunt effects by Daizen Shishido is amazing for some of the action including characters jumping in the air with mechanical effects by Shin-Ei Art Workshop adding to the film’s visual effects. The sound work of Tsuchitaro Hayashi, along with sound effects by Toru Kurashima, do superb work with the sound in the creation of some of the sound effects as well as . The film’s music by Hideaki Sakurai is incredible for its array of dissonant and eerie music score filled with offbeat percussive music that help build up the suspense as well as traditional Japanese string instruments that play into the drama as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Akiji Kobayashi as the leader of the Kurokuwa group in Ozuno who conspires with Sayaka to kill Ogami, the quartet of Izumi Ayukawa, Reiko Kasahara, Yukiji Ikeda, and Yuriko Mishima as four of Sayaka’s assassins, the trio of Minoru Ohki, Shin Kishida, and Shogen Nitta as the Hidari brothers, and Kayo Matsuo in a fantastic performance as Sayaka as a clan leader loyal to the lead shogun as she hopes to kill Ogami for her master only for her confrontations with Ogami leading to many revelations for her. Finally, there’s the duo of Akihiro Tomikawa and Tomisaburo Wakayama in their respective roles as Ogami Daigoro and Ogami Itto as the son-father duo with the former being a three-year old boy who is aware of what is happening around him yet proves to be formidable whenever danger is around. Wakayama’s performance as the latter is more restrained in terms of someone who is in total control but is also aware that he has a big target on his back and is always ready while he ponders if the path he’s chosen for himself and his son is the right one.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is a spectacular film from Kenji Misumi. Featuring a great ensemble cast, intoxicating visuals, evocative music, and a simple yet thrilling premise, the film is an exhilarating samurai film with lots of action, suspense, and drama as it plays into a father-and-son duo trekking through Japan as they encounter enemies and such during their path. In the end, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is a tremendous film from Kenji Misumi.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance - Baby Cart to HadesBaby Cart in PerilBaby Cart in the Land of DemonsWhite Heaven in Hell

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Verbal Altercations

In the 17th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the subject of verbal altercations where two people go at each other verbally as they argue and sometimes lead to really intense moments. Here are my three picks as they’re all from documentary films:

1. Year of the Horse

Jim Jarmusch’s documentary about Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse during their 1996 tour with footage of their past shows and tours in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. It’s a film that showcases the highs and lows of touring and collaboration where they can have fun at times but there are also times when things aren’t fun as Jarmusch uses archival footage to show the band in some bad moments. Notably a scene in the 1980s where Young and bassist Billy Talbot have an argument over an arrangement that wasn’t played as it’s intense but shows that brotherhood among band members can get shaky as Young’s backing band do stand their ground as they continue to play on-and-off since.

2. My Best Fiend

Considered among one of the greatest collaborations in the history of film, the relationship between filmmaker Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski is also one of the most intense as there’s a love-hate relationship between the two in the five films they’ve made from 1972’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God to 1987’s Cobra Verde. Herzog’s 1999 documentary film about this collaboration showcases the relationship that at times can be fruitful but most of the time is often intense and chaotic. Most notably during an infamous scene during the making of the 1982 film Fitzcarraldo where Kinski is having an argument with one of the production figures on the film as it’s shot by documentary filmmaker Les Blank for his own documentary on the making of the film entitled Burden of Dreams. For anyone who had seen various meltdowns and arguments that occur during film shoots will realize that no one holds a candle to the ferocity and terror that is Klaus Kinski.

3. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s 2004 documentary film about the making of Metallica’s eighth full-length studio album St. Anger is a sobering documentary about a band trying to make a comeback after a period of immense commercial success but also fan backlash over claims that they’ve sold out as well as their fight against the music file-sharing program Napster that made them lose favor with a lot of fans. Also adding to the turmoil was the departure of longtime bassist Jason Newstead as the band tried to make the album with longtime producer Bob Rock who fills in on bass as the film features moments where its two co-founders in vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and drummers Lars Ulrich argue constantly. Most notably a scene early in the film where Hetfield is in a bad mood as he doesn’t like what’s been recorded and he gets into a serious argument with Ulrich as he would walk out of the band for nearly a year to undergo treatment for alcoholism. Yet, the fighting didn’t stop as there’s another famous argument during a therapy session where Ulrich is upset over Hetfield as it looks like he wants to kill him.

© thevoid99 2020

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Molly's Game

Based on the memoir by Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game is the story about a mogul skier who decides to run an underground poker empire that makes her rich until she gets the attention of the FBI. Written for the screen and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film is a dramatic telling of Molly Bloom’s life story as she is a woman struggling to re-define herself after her dreams of being an Olympic skier fell apart while hoping to retain the new life that she created for herself as Bloom is portrayed by Jessica Chastain. Also starring Idris Elba, Jeremy Strong, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Joe Keery, Bill Camp, Brian D’Arcy James, and Kevin Costner. Molly’s Game is an intoxicating and chilling film from Aaron Sorkin.

Following a failed attempt to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics as a mogul skier due to an unfortunate accident, Molly Bloom would reinvent herself in running an underground poker empire after working for an unsuccessful real estate dealer in planning his underground poker games and making something of herself until she gets the attention of the FBI. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into a woman trying to create a new life for herself as she is driven to become successful on her own terms yet would put herself in dangerous when her gambling business include Russian mobsters that would attract unwanted attention as she turns to an attorney who tries to understand her as well as read her just-released memoir. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t exactly follow a traditional narrative as sort of moves back-and-forth into the life of Molly Bloom from when she’s running her poker enterprise as well as awaiting trial for the crimes she’s being accused of.

Notably as Bloom is someone who had wanted to become an Olympic skier as she was trained and motivated by her psychiatrist father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner) whom she has a tense relationship with as she would rarely speak with him after her Olympic career ended. Though she was meant to go to law school, she instead moved to Los Angeles and took a year off where she was a bottle service waitress and then working for a real estate dealer who often had underground poker games that would feature various people including top poker players, major athletes, and a movie star in Player X (Michael Cera). Though she is successful in Los Angeles as she would forge her own career, things do get complicated where Sorkin’s script reveal what forced Bloom to move to New York City as well as exploring her own downfall as it relates to the people she would meet and their connection to the Russian mafia. Sorkin also reveal some of Bloom’s own motivations and her own growing sense of disdain towards men of power while turning to high-priced attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) for counsel as he’s to defend her in court yet he is someone that would get to know her and wonder what she is all about.

Sorkin’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions as it is shot on various locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and parts of Canada including Toronto with the last of the three locations playing into Bloom’s early life and her time trying to become an Olympic skier. While Sorkin does create some unique wide shots to establish some of the locations, much of his direction is intimate in its usage of medium shots and close-ups to get an interaction into the characters as well as in the framing where the poker players are in the foreground playing while Bloom is in the background looking at her laptop and observing the game. Sorkin’s direction also play into the world of underground poker and how it’s a game of wit and control as Bloom is someone who likes to be in control of everything. Notably in the film’s first half that is set in Los Angeles where Bloom has gained control and lots of money until she sees a player completely lose it as well as learn about Player X’s activities when it comes to recruiting players.

The second half set in New York City that moves back-and-forth into Bloom’s meetings with Jaffey as well as her activities in the city as she had games in expensive hotel suites and a richer clientele but would also take some money from the games that would end up being illegal. Even as it involves a drunken Irish-American businessman in Douglas Downey (Chris O’Dowd) who would introduce Bloom to the Russians as Sorkin’s direction showcases this craziness that would occur. Notably in the third act as it relates to a client in Los Angeles who played at her games as well as many other things where Sorkin shows a woman who has been trying to do things her way in a man’s world yet finds herself going into this air of uncertainty about what to do next as she faces serious trouble despite Jaffey’s help. Overall, Sorkin crafts an evocative and compelling film about a woman running an underground poker empire that would eventually fall apart.

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward with some stylish lighting for the nighttime interiors to help set the mood of the poker games as well as some of the exterior scenes at night. Editors Alan Baumgarten, Josh Schaeffer, and Elliot Graham do fantastic work with the editing as it has some elements of style in its usage of montages, jump-cuts, and stylish fade-outs to play into the drama in the film. Production designer David Wasco, with set decorator Patricia Larman and art director Brandt Gordon, does brilliant work with the look of the hotel suites, bars, and such where some of the poker games occur as well as the New York apartment Bloom lived in and Jaffey’s office. Costume designer Susan Lyall does nice work with the costumes that include a lot of the stylish and cleavage-revealing dresses that Bloom wears when she’s at work as well as the casual clothes she would wear off-work.

Hair stylist Carol Hartwick and makeup artist Alastair Muir do amazing work with the look that Bloom would take in the years of making herself look presentable for her empire. Visual effects supervisor Aaron Weintraub does terrific work with the film’s minimal visual effects that include a few bits of set dressing including scenes during Bloom’s time as a skier. Sound editors Michael J. Benavente and David McCallum, along with sound designer Todd Toon, do superb work with the film’s sound in the atmosphere of intimate card games as well as some of the sounds that occur in poker houses and some of the quieter moments in Bloom’s home and Jaffey’s office. The film’s music by Daniel Pemberton is wonderful for its low-key electronic score that play into the drama as well as some of the darker moments in the film while music supervisors Carlton Kaller and Sean Mulligan provide a soundtrack of music that is diverse ranging from artists/bands such as Thenewno2, Temple of the Dogs, Thunderpussy, the Raveonettes, Sly and the Family Stone, Alexander McCabe, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tommy James.

The casting by Francine Maisler is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Piper Howell and Samantha Isler in their respective roles as the adolescent and teenage Bloom, Jon Bass as famous guy who tries to sell a Bloom a famous painting as collateral for a game, Claire Rankin as Bloom’s mother, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley as a trio of former Playboy Playmates who work for Bloom in recruiting the players in New York City, Joe Keery as a trust fund guy named Cole, Angela Gots as a poker dealer named B who would give Bloom the idea to take a percentage of large pots, Justin Kirk as a NYC player named Jay, Whitney Peak as Jaffey’s teenage daughter Stella that Bloom befriends, J.C. MacKenzie as a federal prosecutor in Harrison Wellman who deals with Jaffey over Bloom’s case, and Graham Greene in a small yet effective performance as the judge in Bloom’s trial.

Bill Camp is terrific as a card shark in Harlan Eustice who is a skilled player that collapses after losing a game while Brian d’Arcy James is superb as a hedge fund manager in Brad who is one of the game’s worst players. Chris O’Dowd is fantastic as Douglas Downey as an Irish-American businessman that introduces Bloom to the Russians while Jeremy Strong is excellent as Bloom’s real estate developer boss who would introduce her to the world of underground poker and have her plan it only to realize that she does a better job than he does. Michael Cera is brilliant as Player X as a famous movie star who would help Bloom recruit players while doing things that make Bloom uncomfortable in Los Angeles. Kevin Costner is amazing as Bloom’s father Larry who was also her coach and a psychiatrist who had become estranged with Bloom due to their tumultuous relationship as he would appear in the third act not just to make amends with her but also understand why she is in such trouble.

Idris Elba is sensational as Charlie Jaffey as an attorney who takes Bloom’s case as he would also read her memoir where he asks some questions while trying to figure out as it is one of Elba’s finest performances including a scene where he defends Bloom as he realizes that she is really a good person despite the crimes she committed. Finally, there’s Jessica Chastain in a phenomenal performance as Molly Bloom as a woman who is driven to succeed though her hopes to be an Olympic skier is dashed forcing her to find other means yet becomes cunning in her pursuit. Chastain has this ferocity in her performance as someone that doesn’t quit but it’s also a flaw when she doesn’t know when it’s time to quit as it’s a role that has Chastain be part of some bad things but try to find an understanding of why she is driven to run an underground gambling empire that is often dominated by men.

Molly’s Game is an incredible film from Aaron Sorkin that features a great leading performance from Jessica Chastain. Along with a superb ensemble cast led by an amazing supporting performance from Idris Elba as well as Sorkin’s inventive and intriguing script that is filled with unique aspects of character study. The film is definitely a fascinating drama that explore a woman trying to succeed on her own terms in the world of underground poker that is often dominated by men. In the end, Molly’s Game is a sensational film from Aaron Sorkin.

(The Trial of the Chicago 7)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Numbers in Titles (Not Part of a Franchise)

In the 16th week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of numbers in titles but not part of any franchise. Movies that have a certain number in these title that says something but could also mean other things. Here are my three picks:

1. The Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa’s sprawling epic about seven samurai warriors hired to protect a village from a group of bandits remains one of the touchstones of 20th Century cinema. A film that would inspire countless remakes takes a simple premise of poor farmers trying to hire warriors to protect them play into these seven samurai warriors finding a reason to help people and fight against these bandits. When it comes to Akira Kurosawa, there is no film that is the best place to start with than this one as it showcases Kurosawa’s approach to action and drama but also in setting as Kurosawa knows where to put the camera as well as place importance in parts of those locations.

2. 12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam’s dystopian remake of Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee is a strange sci-fi film that revolves around a man dreaming about an image of what he saw as a child. He is sent into a world and then tries to figure out what is going on as well as meet an assortment of odd characters including Brad Pitt as the son of a revered scientist who also leads an underground movement. It’s a film that is quite timely considering that Bruce Willis’ character is trying to find the source of a virus that wipes out the human race with only 1% of humanity actually surviving.

3. 8 Women

An adaptation of Robert Thomas’ play is this strange mystery that is Agatha Christie meets Douglas Sirk with French pop songs. Francois Ozon’s film is definitely a murder mystery where a family patriarch is murdered and the eight women in the house that includes the wife, his two daughters, his sister, his sister-in-law, his mother-in-law, and two maids all try to figure out what is going on while they all get the chance to sing a song.

© thevoid99 2020