Friday, July 23, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: 24 Frames

 

(Played in Special 70th Anniversary Events Section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, 24 Frames is an experimental film that bridges Kiarostami’s love of film and photography into one explore the images he had captured for much of his life. The film is a look into Kiarostami as an artist as the man himself showcases the work that gives him life in what is the filmmaker’s final film which was completed after his death in July of 2016 with the aid of his son Ahmad. The result is an evocative and exquisite film from Abbas Kiarostami.

The film is essentially 24 stills based on the photographs of Abbas Kiarostami where it showcases what happens before and after where each shot is presented for four-and-a-half minutes as they come to life. It is a film that takes a simple premise of Kiarostami’s love of photography and digital filmmaker as it meshes into one where these 24 shots play into that love as if the photos come to life. With the exception of the first shot of the film in a recreation of Pieter Brueghel the Eldger’s painting Hunters in the Snow, the 23 other shots in the film are all recreations of sorts of Kiarostami’s own photographs through animation and visual effects. The recreation of Hunters in the Snow shows exactly what to expect as flurries of snow emerged with animals in the painting starting to move, smoke coming out of chimneys, and a dog is sniffing around the tree. Many of the images that Kiarostami presents are essentially landscapes set either in the snow, the ocean, or on a rainy day.

With the aid of cinematographers Dariush Gorji Zadeh, Peyman Solhi, Delaram Delashob, and Yousef Khoshnaghsh as well as the work of visual effects supervisor Ali Kamali, Kiarostami creates these scenes of nature with some hand-drawn animation of animals or in digital animation where it helps play into the beauty of what one does in taking a photograph. There are also actors that would appear such as a shot of a family looking at the Eiffel Tower as they would stand still while people are walking in the foreground including a musician singing a song. The sound work of Ensieh Maleki adds to the atmosphere of these images as it play off on natural soundscapes in those environments as well as the way animals sound. There are some music that is played as the soundtrack largely consists of classical and operatic pieces along with a folk piece for the Eiffel Tower section.

The emphasis on minimalism and simplicity is what makes the film interesting to watch as each shot ends in a fade-to-black with the exception of sorts for the final shot of the film. It all play into Kiarostami’s idea of what he sees in a photograph or in an image and how much life it has. Even in something like a group of sheep huddling together around a tree or cows walking on the beach while one of them is lying on the sand. Much of the shots are presented in black-and-white with a few in color as it adds to the beauty of the visuals but also ideas about the simplicity of life. Even in something that could be considered banal but for four-and-a-half-minutes of these 24 frames, Kiarostami creates something that is fitting about his views on life and tells it with such grace and beauty.

24 Frames is a sensational film from Abbas Kiarostami. It is a film that doesn’t try to be anything but a straightforward experimental film that plays into the meshing of film and photography to display about the joys and simplicity of life. As a final piece of work for Kiarostami, it is a fitting way for the filmmaker to go out on his own terms and in a somber and graceful manner. In the end, 24 Frames is an incredible film from Abbas Kiarostami.

Abbas Kiarostami Films: (The Experience) – The Traveler (1974 film) - (A Wedding) – The Report (1977 film) - (First Case, Second Case) – (Fellow Citizens) – (First Graders) – Where is the Friend's House? - Homework (1989 film) - Close-Up - Life, and Nothing More... - Through the Olive Trees - Taste of Cherry - (The Wind Will Carry Us) – (ABC Africa) – (Ten (2002 film)) – (Five (2003 film)) – (10 on Ten) – (Shirin) – Certified Copy - Like Someone in Love

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Summer Break

 

For the 29th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the theme of summer break as summer is the time for family vacations and a need to get away from the insanity of life. Here are my three picks:

1. Summer Rental
From the late yet great Carl Reiner and starring the much-missed and legendary John Candy is a 1980s comedy that is widely considered essential when it comes to genre. Starring Candy as an overworked air traffic controller who takes his family on a vacation to Florida, the film has Candy deal with a smug sailing champion who often puts Candy and his family into bad living situations by renting a decrepit home while Candy endures a leg injury and later befriending a band of misfits to challenge that smug piece of shit sailing champion to at least get free rental and such. It is an entertaining and fun film that does feature amazing supporting work from the late Rip Torn as a local restaurant owner and the late Richard Crenna as that asshole sailing champion who tries to fuck Candy over and over again.

2. One Crazy Summer
Savage Steve Holland’s summer comedy starring John Cusack, Demi Moore, Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray, Curtis Armstrong, William Hickey, Joe Flaherty, Mark Metcalf, Rich Little, and Jeremy Piven is a hilarious comedy about a high school graduate, his buddy, his buddy’s little sister, and her injured dog go to Nantucket where they meet a struggling musician trying to save her grandfather’s house from a bunch of rich assholes. Sailing is once again in the mix for the film’s climax yet it is a film with funny scenes but also some notable life lessons. One, never bury yourself in a sand or else some fat guy eating chili is going to sit above you and fart on your face. Two, when you’re trying to win money in a radio contest. Make sure you have a cordless phone but if that guy fucks you over for money. Get the bazooka. Three, if you’re some rich kid who likes to bully people and hit some mischief’s little brother. Boy, you’re going to fucked as you will have no idea what that man will do to your fucking car.

3. White Water Summer
A lesser-known 80s summer film that was shot by the legendary John Alcott who would unfortunately pass before the film’s release stars Kevin Bacon as a wilderness survival guide who convinces rich parents to send their teenage son in Sean Astin to go to the woods and have a wilderness trip. Yet, danger and hilarity ensue where Astin gets a harsh dose of reality but also proves to be a challenge to Bacon’s character as he tries to get other young kids to tough it out in the woods. It is an underrated film with some intense moments but also some notable moments that showcase the unique chemistry between Bacon and Astin.

© thevoid99 2021

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: American Honey

 

(Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, American Honey is the story of a teenage girl who joins a crew of traveling sales people on a road trip through America as she encounters love, chaos, and life lessons. The film is a road movie set in the American Midwest where a troubled teen from a dysfunctional family joins this group of misfits hoping to find some adventure in her life. Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, and Riley Keough. American Honey is a riveting and compelling film from Andrea Arnold.

The film revolves around the journey of an 18-year old woman who lives in a poor and dysfunctional family with kids whom she isn’t related to until she meets a young and charismatic salesman who is part of a gang of misfits selling magazines to people all over the country as she joins them on the road. It is a film with a simple premise as it explores this young woman from a poor and abusive environment who takes this job to go on the road and sell magazines with a band of misfits who are also from poor environments as a way to make money and have a good time. Andrea Arnold’s screenplay, which is based on a New York Times article by Ian Urbania, explores this culture where these kids are dropped off in sections of rich neighborhoods trying to sell magazines and make some money while displaying their sales to a boss who is only concerned with making money.

The main character named Star (Sasha Lane) is someone that lives in a home with two kids who are her half-siblings to a father who is sexually abusive as they barely can live through scraps. During a dumpster dive to find food and get a few things at a nearby Kmart, Star encounters this group of young kids wreaking havoc as they’re lead by this young man named Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who offers Star a chance to go on the road with him. She meets an assortment of people as she rides on a van where they’re taken to a destination and running the whole thing is Krystal (Riley Keough) who oversees all of the sales and slips as she has Jake take Star under his wing to train her. Yet, an attraction between Star and Jake start to unfold due to the former’s approach to getting a lot of money made yet Krystal is wary about this relationship as it starts to affect the work of the latter. The script also play into these locations that is the American Midwest and areas that are rich and poor where Star is selling magazines as she would make money through her own ways but also do things that would create tension between her, Jake, and Krystal.

Arnold’s direction is entrancing for the way she captures the world of the American Midwest as it is shot on various locations in Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and North Dakota with some of its cities such as Kansas City and Omaha being major locations in the film. Shot on the 4:3 full-frame aspect ratio, Arnold maintains intimacy through the framing while playing to the visual splendor of these different locations that these characters are venturing into. The usage of hand-held cameras is prevalent throughout the film while Arnold knows when to use wide and medium shots for these scenes set in certain locations. The aspect ratio also plays into the claustrophobic and cramped tone of the van’s interior where many of the young kids including Star often ride in from location to location as there is an air of excitement of this next location as kids sing along to songs that is on the radio and such. Arnold’s direction also has this sense of looseness through the usage of hand-held cameras as well as a realism as everything is done on the fly in the way Star would interact with people and how she would get a sale made.

Some of which would involve having her do things she’s not comfortable with but there are moments that prove to be heartfelt where she converses with a truck driver (Bruce Gregory) as it shows that Star isn’t willing to compromise her humanity to make a sale like everyone else has to do. Despite the money she makes, she still gets disapproving looks from Krystal while Jake becomes possessive towards her as some revelations occur during the film’s third act as it relates to Jake’s role that makes Star uneasy. It all plays into a cycle for these young kids who all play a role for a young woman who does what she can to make money as the third act also show how low Krystal would push her crew to make sales. Its ending is an open-ended one as it play into not just Star’s future but also these kids who don’t know what is going to happen to them as they all do what they can to just live. Overall, Arnold crafts a rapturous and intoxicating film about an 18-year old girl joining a band of misfits on a road trip to sell magazines and much more to live the American dream.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its emphasis on natural lighting and using available light for scenes at night add to the film’s realistic tone while maintaining a sense of beauty into the photography. Editor Joe Bini does amazing work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts to play into the energy of some of the music heard on location as well as play into the chaos of the lifestyle of these kids. Production designer Kelly McGehee, with set decorator Graham Wichman and art director Lance Mitchell, does excellent work with the look of the van as well as some of the motels and homes the kids would live in as well as the homes of some of the people they try to deal with. Costume designer Alex Bovaird does fantastic work with the costumes as it has a sense of style that play into the lives of these young kids as they largely wear baggy or skimpy clothing depending on how they present themselves to the people they’re trying to sell magazines to.

Makeup designer Anouck Sullivan does nice work with the look of Star and Krystal with the former looking natural and sometimes putting stickers on her face while the latter is often seen sporting lots of makeup as a form of power play. Sound editor Nicolas Becker does brilliant work in capturing much of the recorded material as well as the way conversations would sound inside the van or how music is played on location. Music supervisor Simon Astall does superb work with the film’s music soundtrack as it largely features a lot of the music of the late 2010s that kids listen to ranging from hip-hop and country as it features music from Juicy J featuring Wale and Trey Songz, Quigley, Rhianna with Calvin Harris, MadeinTYO, Sam Hunt, Lee Brice, Kevin Gates, Jeremih, E-40, Ciara featuring Ludacris, Rae Sremmund, Carnage featuring Migos, Lapsley, OG Maco, Raury, and Lady A as well as pieces from Steve Earle, Mazzy Star, Bruce Springsteen, and the Raveonettes.

The casting by Lucy Pardee and Jennifer Venditti is marvelous as it features an ensemble cast of non-actors, unknowns, and up-and-comers in some notable small roles that include Johnny Pierce II as Star’s sexually-abusive father Nathan, Brody and Summer Hunsaker in their respective roles as Star’s step-siblings Rubin and Kelsey, Chastity Hunsaker as Rubin and Kelsey’s neglectful stepmother, Bruce Gregory as a truck driver that Star befriends and sings a Suicide song covered by Bruce Springsteen, Laura Kirk as a Christian housewife whose daughter is doing sexually-provocative dance moves in front of Jake and Star during a sale, and Will Patton as a man that Star wins over to buy her magazines. The performances of the following in Veronnikah Ezell, Christopher David Wright, Shawna Rae Moseley, Dakota Powers, Isaiah Stone, Raymond Coalson, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Garry Howell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Crystal B. Ice, McCaul Lombardi, and Arielle Holmes are incredible as these young kids who become friends with Star as they have this charisma and energy about them as it adds to the realism of their performances as they are a highlight of the film.

Riley Keough is excellent as Krystal as the business manager and organizer of this rag-tag group of kids trying to sell magazines as she is someone that knows a lot on what to do but is also cruel in what she does to the young kids at times with a bigger disdain towards Star who she sees as a threat in getting Jake’s attention. Shia LaBeouf is brilliant as Jake as a veteran salesman with a rattail hairstyle that play into his unconventional presentation yet is someone that has charisma but also a dark side to him in the way he becomes possessive towards Star as well as be someone that is immoral at times in the way he tries to sell magazines to people. Finally, there’s Sasha Lane in a phenomenal performance as Star as an 18-year old kid from the white trash area of Oklahoma trying to find herself and meaning in her young life as she goes on the road with this band of misfits where she learns how to be salesperson but also find ways to make some good money but also maintain some morality and dignity. Lane also maintains this air of tenderness but also someone that is always having fun but also can do so much when she doesn’t say anything as it is a tremendous breakthrough performance from Lane.

American Honey is a tremendous film from Andrea Arnold that features an incredible discovery in Sasha Lane. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, an emphasis on realism and grit, an eclectic music soundtrack, and its themes of trying to find identity and hope in the idea of the American dream. The film is truly an astonishing portrait of the American life as it explore a group of people who live on the fringes of society trying to do things their own way but also deal with this sense of the unknown in a world that is often ever-changing. In the end, American Honey is a magnificent film from Andrea Arnold.

Andrea Arnold Films: Red Road - Fish Tank - Wuthering Heights (2011 film) - (Cow (2021 film)) – The Auteurs #31: Andrea Arnold

© thevoid99 2021

Saturday, July 17, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

 

(Winner of the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay Prize to Celine Sciamma at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Celine Sciamma, Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) is the story of an 18th Century painter who arrives to create a portrait for a woman that is to be wedded to a man only for the painter and woman to have a taboo affair. The film is a period drama between two women who fall for each other in an isolated seaside estate as they deal with their feelings for one another and what they must not do. Starring Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, and Valeria Golino. Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is a majestic and rapturous film from Celine Sciamma.

Set towards the end of the 18th Century, the film revolves around a painter who is taken to a remote island in France to paint a portrait of a woman that is to be wedded only for the two to embark on a secretive relationship. It’s a film with a simple premise as it plays into the ideas of art and temptation as well as this sense of longing and sisterhood in a world where men often is at the control of fates. Celine Sciamma’s screenplay opens with the painter Marianne (Noemie Merlant) at an art school teaching her students as she talks about one of her famed paintings where the film’s title refers to her time at the island of Brittany where she’s asked to paint a portrait for a countess (Valeria Golino) whose daughter Heloise (Adele Haenel) is to be married to nobleman from Milan. Upon her arrival to the island, Marianne notices that Heloise is very resistant to marrying a man she doesn’t know as there’s a lot of revelations into why this marriage has been arranged and Marianne is another of a series of painters to come in and try to paint a portrait of Heloise. Marianne understands what happened in those many attempts while understanding Heloise’s own feelings about being painted and what she wants.

Sciamma’s direction is definitely entrancing as it play into this idea of what art is and what it means for someone including the person that is to be painted. Shot on location at Saint-Pierre-Quiberon at the island of Brittany as well as locations in the La Chapelle-Gauthier at Seine-et-Marne, Sciamma makes the locations a character in the film as it plays into this world of isolation as the island is remote while the rare moment of Marianne and Heloise going out of the chateau with the house maid Sophie (Luana Bajrami) where they would encounter a group of women at a bonfire. It is in that moment where Marianne would get the idea for her famed painting as the film goes into great detail into Marianne’s methods and how she sketches things and then turn it into a painting. The usage of close-ups into the way Marianne paints show Sciamma’s approach to who Marianne is as an artist that includes creating a small sketch of Heloise as the two begin their affair. Sciamma’s direction also has this unique approach to framing and compositions through the wide and medium shots as if she’s creating a painting on her own in where the characters are as well as a certain piece of furniture.

There are also these amazing shots during scenes in the beach involving Marianne, Heloise, and Sophie as they’re trying to find plants as it relates to a subplot of Sophie learning that she’s pregnant as it is a moment in the film that has these women bonding. Sciamma also showcases some straightforward compositions in the way she positions the camera to get coverage of her actors without doing a lot of movement in some scenes as well as maintain this air of intrigue into what is not being shown. Sciamma also creates this air of tension about the final painting of Heloise’s portrait as a lot of the painting is done by Helene Delmaire who also did all of the other paintings in the film as it says a lot of what Marianne is feeling. Even towards the end as it play into the inevitable but also an aftermath that returns to the film’s opening scene and what would follow as it relates to the ways of the world then and how its final shot of the film just says so much about the cruelty of the world. Overall, Sciamma crafts a ravishing and intoxicating film about a painter who falls for her subject in a woman who is reluctant to become a portrait for a man she doesn’t want to marry.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon does incredible work with the film’s lush and colorful cinematography as it is a highlight of the film in terms of the attention to detail of the landscapes with the way the beaches look as well as the cliffs along with the usage of candle lights for the interior scenes at night. Editor Julien Lacheray does brilliant work with the editing where it has a sense of rhythm to play into the drama as well as bits of humor while often knowing when to let a shot linger as it doesn’t aim for anything stylish. Production designer Thomas Grezaud does amazing work with the look of the chateau’s interiors as well as the look of the living room with its fireplace and the studio where Marianne creates Heloise’s portrait. Costume designer Dorothee Guiraud does excellent work with the costumes in the dresses from the dark-red dress that Marianne wears, the dark-blue/black dresses of Heloise and the countess wears, and the green dress that Heloise wears for her portrait.

Special effects supervisor Benoit Talenton, with visual effects supervisors Alain Carsoux and Jeremie Leroux, does terrific work with a few of the film’s special effects as it relates to an image that Marianne would see as it foreshadows the reality of what she has to deal with. The sound work of Julien Sicart, Valerie Deloof, and Daniel Sobrino is superb in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound of heels walking on wooden floors as it adds to the film’s quiet yet hypnotic tone. The film’s music by Jean-Baptiste de Laubier and Arthur Simoni is fantastic as it only features one score piece during the bonfire scene of a group of women sing and clap as it is this haunting music piece that adds to the dramatic tension while the only other music piece in the film are variations of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that appears twice.

The film’s casting by Christel Baras is wonderful as it feature some notable small appearances from Armande Boulanger as a student of Marianne in the film’s opening scene, Guy Delamarche as an art gallery enthusiast late in the film, and Clement Bouyssou as Heloise’s future husband late in the film. Valeria Golino is brilliant as the Countess as Heloise’s mother who hires Marianne for the job while being someone who understands her daughter’s reluctance but also is hopeful that her daughter will find happiness despite the tragedy they’ve both endured. Luana Bajrami is incredible as the housemaid Sophie as a young woman who becomes pregnant as she becomes this figure that helps Marianne and Heloise bond while assisting the former with the portrait as she proves to be a competent ally for both women.

Finally, there’s the duo of Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Marianne and Heloise. Merlant brings a realism to a woman that has been in society while also understands what it takes to create great art as she feels challenged by Heloise as well as entranced by her while coping with what is inevitable. Haenel’s performance is restrained in her approach to melodrama as a woman that is expressing her anger and sadness in the role she is to play yet Haenel also provides this aura that adds to her complexity as a woman that is afraid to reveal her true identity. Merlant and Haenel together are just exquisite to watch in the way they play off each other and then express their own longing for one another as they are a massive highlight to the film.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is a magnificent film from Celine Sciamma. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, a gripping and entrancing screenplay, incredible art direction and paintings, and a haunting music soundtrack piece. The film is definitely an evocative and wondrous film that explore a woman tasked to create a portrait of a woman that doesn’t want to marry as it play into many taboos but also a need to create art, sisterhood, and companionship in a world that refuses to change its way. In the end, Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is an outstanding film from Celine Sciamma.

Celine Sciamma Films: (Water Lillies) – (Pauline (2010 film)) - (Tomboy (2011 film)) – Girlhood - (Petite Maman)

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, July 15, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: Mahler

 

(Winner of the Technical Grand Prize at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Ken Russell, Mahler is a bio-pic about the life and works of the Austrian-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler. The film is an unconventional bio-pic that explores a man as he reflects on his life while being on a train with his wife as they deal with their crumbling marriage with Robert Powell and Georgina Hale respectively playing the roles of Gustav and Alma Mahler. Also starring Lee Montague, Gary Rich, Dana Gillespie, Miriam Karlin, Rosalie Crutchley, and Richard Morant. Mahler is a whimsical yet fascinating film from Ken Russell.

The film is an unconventional bio-pic about the life of Gustav Mahler as he’s on a train to Vienna upon his return to Europe from America as he’s joined by his wife as he reflects on his life as well as his marriage that is crumbling. It’s a film that explores a man and the events of his life as he looks back but also have these dreams and nightmares that play into his life and the music that created. Ken Russell’s screenplay has a back-and-forth narrative as it play into Mahler’s life and his marriage to Alma as it often showcase his neglect towards Alma and her talents but also the struggle to achieve greatness while also having strained relationships with his family. Even as Alma is having an affair with another man who is also on the train where Mahler is dealing with illness and issues as he loses interest in this homecoming where he would meet the people from his home.

Russell’s direction is lavish as it opens with a hut being burned with rock carvings of Mahler’s head and a woman freeing herself in a cocoon as it sets up the tone of what Russell would create in this mixture of a dramatic bio-pic with elements of surrealism. Shot on location in Austria and Britain, Russell maintains this air of style as the scenes at the train are largely straightforward where he plays into the claustrophobic tone of it through its close-ups and medium shots with some bits of Mahler looking out that includes this riff on Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice early in the film where Mahler looks at that film’s main character gazing upon a young boy with Mahler being disgusted. There are moments of humor and absurdity in the scenes in the train yet Russell chooses to keep it restrained and dramatic as it play into Mahler’s own frustration about his return as he looks back on his life.

Some of the film’s flashback sequences are a bit straightforward as it plays into Mahler’s own childhood yet much of it emphasize a lot on surrealism and extravagance such as Mahler’s own dream about his wife dancing on his tombstone while her lover Max (Richard Morant) looks on with glee as he’s wearing a Nazi uniform. Much of these sequences are shot in a wide or medium shot with these elaborate presentation including statues, lavish costumes, and set pieces that play into Mahler’s own Jewish background as well as a metaphorical dream about him rejecting his Jewish background and convert to Catholicism. Russell also bring in some elements of anachronisms as it relates to Nazi imagery as it all play into how Mahler’s music is used while there’s scenes at the hut on the lake that are intimate but also full of style as it plays into Mahler’s own isolation and growing neglect towards his family and his wife’s own talents where Russell also showcase a man just wracked with regret and uncertainty. Yet, its ending is about Mahler just making sense of his life and work upon his arrival to his home country. Overall, Russell crafts a wondrous and exhilarating film about the life and work of one of classical music’s great composers.

Cinematographer Dick Bush does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its naturalistic imagery for the scenes in and out of the train as well as some unique lighting for some of the fantasy scenes as it adds to the visual splendor of the film. Editor Michael Bradsell does excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with some montages, jump-cuts, and other stylish fast-cuts to play into the manic dreams that Mahler would have. Art director Ian Whittaker does incredible work with the look of the train compartments the Mahlers would stay in as well as the hut on the lake, their home in Austria, and some of the design of the statues and places that Mahler would dream about. Costume designer Shirley Russell does amazing work with the costumes from the early turn of the century clothes the Mahlers wearing on the train to the lavish clothes that Mahler sees others wear in his dreams including some stylish Nazi uniforms.

Hairdresser James Joyce and makeup artist Peter Robb-King do fantastic work with the look of the characters including the different looks of Alma in the flashbacks and in some of the dream sequences. The special effects work of John Richardson is terrific for some of the film’s dream sequences including the film’s opening scene. Sound recordist Iain Bruce does superb work with the way sound is used on location including the scenes on the train as well as in some of the dream sequences. The film’s music soundtrack features not just the music of Gustav Mahler but also Richard Wagner is used wonderfully as it help play into the many of the dramatic elements of the film as well as moments of suspense as the pieces also provide an interpretation into what Mahler is dealing with when he created a certain piece of music.

The film’s marvelous casting feature some notable small roles and appearances from Elaine Delmar as a princess riding the train, David Collings as the rival composer Hugo Wolf, Claire McClellan as the sculptor Glucki, Otto Diamant as Professor Sladsky who realizes how gifted the young Mahler is, Peter Eyre as Mahler’s troubled brother Otto who also aspires to be a composer, Dana Gillespie as the opera singer Anna von Mildenburg, Andrew Faulds as a doctor on a train, Miriam Karlin as Mahler’s aunt Rosa, Angela Down as Mahler’s sister Justine, Arnold Yarrow as Mahler’s grandfather, Gary Rich as the young Mahler, and an un-credited cameo appearance from Oliver Reed as station master on the train. Ronald Pickup is terrific as Nick as a musician who watches over the young Mahler as he realizes the boy’s gift for music while also helping him broaden his gifts. Lee Montague and Rosalie Crutchley are excellent as Mahler’s parents in their respective roles as Bernhard and Marie Mahler with the former being a man who brews beer for a living as he’s upset by his son’s academic shortcomings while the latter is more supportive towards the young Gustav.

Richard Morant is superb as Alma’s lover Max as a military officer who boards on the train to resume their affair while also appearing in Mahler’s dreams as this man trying to rid of Mahler and claim Alma to himself. Antonia Ellis is fantastic as Cosima Wagner as the wife of Richard Wagner who appears in one of Mahler’s dreams to get him to become a Catholic as she dances around in Nazi uniforms and helmets as it is this memorable appearance. Georgina Hale is amazing as Alma Mahler as Gustav’s wife who struggles with the role of being a housewife and mother to their children as she’s eager to express her own artistic interests while also having an affair with another man that is already having problems. Finally, there’s Robert Powell in a brilliant performance as Gustav Mahler as the famed Austrian composer who copes with his impending homecoming while having dreams, flashbacks, and nightmares about his life and work while dealing with a strained marriage, illness, and disappointments in his own life.

Mahler is a spectacular film from Ken Russell. Featuring a great cast, lavish art direction, its unconventional yet entrancing screenplay, and its offbeat approach to classical music. The film is an unusual yet extravagant film that doesn’t play by the rules on the bio-pic as it prefers to celebrate the life and work of one of the great visionaries in classical music. In the end, Mahler is a sensational film from Ken Russell.

Ken Russell Films: (Peep Show (1956 short film) – (Amelia and the Angel) - (John Betjeman: A Poet in London) – (Gordon Jacob) – (A House in Bayswater) – (Pop Goes the Easel) – (Elgar) – (Watch the Birdie) – (Bartok) – (French Dressing) – (The Dotty World of James Lloyd) – (The Debussy Films) – (Always on Sunday) – (Don’t Shoot the Composer) – (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World) – (Billion Dollar Brain) – (Dante’s Inferno) – (Song of Summer) – (Women in Love) – (Dance of the Seven Veils) – (The Music Lovers) – (The Devils (1971 film)) – (The Boy Friend) – (Savage Messiah) – (Tommy) – (Listzomania) – (William and Dorothy) – (Valentino) – (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) – (Altered States) – (The Planets (1983 film)) – (Vaughn Williams: A Symphonic Portrait) - (Crimes of Passion) – (Gothic (1986 film)) – (Aria-Nessun Dorma) – (Ken Russell’s ABC of British Music) – (Salome’s Last Dance) – (The Lair of the White Worm) – (The Rainbow (1989 film)) – (Women & Men: Stories of Seduction) – (The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner) – (Whore (1991 film)) – (Prisoner of Honor (1991 TV film)) – (The Mystery of Dr. Martinu) – (The Secret Life of Arnold Bax) – (The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch) – (Lady Chatterley (1993 TV film)) – (Alice in Russialand) – (Mindbender) – (Ken Russell’s Treasure Island) – (Dogboys (1998 TV film)) – (The Lion’s Mouth) – (Elgar: Fantasy of a Composer on a Bicycle) – (The Fall of the Louse of Usher) – (Trapped Ashes) – (A Kitten for Hitler)

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Non-English Language Films

 

For the 28th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the recurring subject of non-English language films as it’s something that English-speaking audiences don’t go into often as it’s easy forget (if you’re living in a rock) that there’s other places in the world. Especially as films would say something that someone in America might relate to even though it’s in a different language. Here are my three picks as they’re all directed by women:

1. Wings
Larisa Sheptiko’s debut film is an evocative story about a former World War II pilot who becomes a flight school headmistress as she deals with her past that revolved around her glory days as a heroic pilot. It’s a unique character study that explores a woman who is dealing with a life that doesn’t have much excitement as well as being estranged to her daughter. It is a film that explore generational differences as it all play into a woman dealing with the past and the lack of future she has.

2. Love and Anarchy
From Lina Wertmuller is a film about an anarchist who stays at a brothel in a plan to kill Benito Mussolini in 1930s Fascist Italy. It is a film that doesn’t just explore social and sexual politics but also a man who finds himself in a world that he knows little about as he’s from the country and he’s in the city. Starring Giancarlo Giannini in one of his quintessential collaborations with Wertmuller, the film is this study of a man trying to serve a cause for a friend only to fall in love with a prostitute as he deals with the many inequalities around him including how women are treated during the time of Fascism.

3. Raw
Julia Ducournau’s feature film debut is certainly one for the ages as it explores a young veterinary student entering school as she is a vegan who is forced to eat meat for the first time. It is a body-horror film of sorts yet one that plays into a young woman enduring this week-long hazing ritual that her older sister went through as she participates in hazing her sister as it also has some revelations about their own identities and why they’ve become attracted towards human flesh. It is an insane film but one that is definitely original as fans of body horror should see this.

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, July 12, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: All My Compatriots

 

(Winner of the Best Director Award to Vojtech Jasny and Special Mention for Technical Grand Prize at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Vojtech Jasny, Vsichni dobri rodaci (All My Compatriots or All My Good Countrymen) is the story of life in a Czech village from the aftermath of World War II where a group of people deal with the changes of their land as well as what to do next upon the emergence of the modern world. The film is an exploration of a group of people living through the turbulence that was emerging in the now former Czechoslovakia. Starring Vlastimil Brodsky, Radoslav Brzobohaty, Vera Galatikova, Vladimir Mensik, and Waldemar Matuska. Vsichni dobri rodaci is a somber and majestic film from Vojtech Jasny.

Told in the span of nearly 15 to 20 years following the end of World War II, the film revolves life in a small village as they go from this idyllic land of farmers and locals to a town that would be ravaged by communist ideals and leadership to the point of near-ruin. It’s a film that explores a village and the people living in this town adjust to these newfound changes but also to try and find some hope and joy no matter how dire things are. Vojtech Jasny’s screenplay is episodic in some respect as it breaks down from 1945 to 1958 with an epilogue set years later as it play into a village’s evolution and its outcome as it would venture into the modern world. Notably as the focus are on a group of people including farmers, locals, and those who would be these simple village people who gain power by joining the Communist party. The farmer Frantisek (Radoslav Brzobohaty) is one of several characters who encounter these changes as he’s just a simple man that likes to do his job and raise his family but the arrival of the Communist regime in 1948 starts this slow change for everyone. Notably as the lives of some of the villagers go through changes where deaths become more recurring as well as the growing disdain towards officials of the Communist party.

Jasny’s direction is definitely filled with rapturous imagery of the locations in Czechoslovakia in its farm land and rural areas as it plays into this world that is idyllic as the first chapter of the film presents this post-war world where peace is emerging despite the fact that two young boys find handguns and shoot at an old man with real bullets though he doesn’t get hit. It does play into this sense of foreshadowing of a world that is about to be undone by politics as farmers have to adjust to rules but also giving up their land to these political officials. Jasny uses a lot of wide and medium shots to play into the landscape in the different seasons they’re set in as each season and period play into a different mood but there are also these stylish slow-motion images that play into this sense of dread or death that is to come. There would be close-ups in some shots that Jasny uses as it relates to the widow Machacova (Drahomira Hofmanova) and the many relationships she has been in. The film’s third act play into the growing tension between Frantisek and the Communist officials as it shows the people also standing by Frantisek including the elderly.

Jasny does emphasize this sense of community as he’s always shooting crowds whether it’s at a gathering, a town meeting, or a funeral as they would get smaller when the film progresses. Even towards the end and its epilogue where the church’s old organist Ocenas (Vlastimil Brodsky) returns following a period of exile to see what had happened as he’s sort of the film’s narrator to see a village’s evolution. Notably in what it had become but also what was lost but also the people who lived in the village and those who remain. Overall, Jasny crafts a compelling and melancholic film about life in Czech village following the aftermath of World War II and the emergence of communism.

Cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting for many of the exterior scenes along with some low-key lighting for the interior scenes at night. Editor Miroslav Hajek does terrific work with the editing as it has some style in some slow-motion work in some bits of the film but also some jump-cuts to play into some of the action and humor. Production designer Karel Lier does brilliant work with the look of the homes of some of the villagers as well as the town hall building and the church where many of the villagers go to as it would evolve to showcase who are still here in the ongoing years.

Costume designer Ester Krumbachova does nice work with the costumes as it play into the evolution of the dresses the young women wear but also the suits of the Communist officials. The sound work of Dobroslav Sramek is superb as it play into the location and the way folk is played on location as its emphasis on naturalism is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Svatopluk Havelka is amazing for its mixture of folk and orchestral music as it help play into the drama and humor as its soundtrack also feature waltzes and folk themes to play into the small town environment.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Pavel Pavlovsky as a postman who becomes an official only to cause the ire of the locals, Josef Hlinomaz as a painter who likes to paint art including portraits of the locals, Ilja Prachar as the photographer Josef Plecmera who becomes a political official, Vaclav Lohnisky as a Communist party member who betrays his community, Vaclav Babka as a tailor who loses his business to the party, and Drahomira Hofmanova as the widow Machacova as a woman of immense beauty who marries multiple times only for the marriages to end tragically.

Vera Galatikova is fantastic as Frantisek’s wife who observes much of the chaos in communism as well as her husband’s struggle to maintain their farm. Waldemar Matsuka is superb as the peasant Zasinek as a man who copes with the death of wife back in World War II as well as the emergence of communism as he tries to hold on to his faith. Vladimir Mensik is excellent as the thief Jorka Pyrk who deals with the changing times that forces him to steal but also deals with the chaos of communism. Vlastimil Brodsky is brilliant as the church organist Ocenas as a man who leaves his role in the church to become an official only to exile himself from the village as he would return for the epilogue to see what the village had become. Finally, there’s Radoslav Brzobohaty as Frantisek as a farmer who is wary of communist rule as he deals with its drawbacks while defying them despite the tactics of the party towards other farmers as he also copes with the decisions he has to make to help them.

Vsichni dobri rodaci is a marvelous film from Vojtech Jasny. Featuring a great cast, lush visuals, a terrific music score, and its study of life in a village following the aftermath of World War II and into communist rule. The film is a captivating look into a period in the life of a village and its people as they deal with changing times as well as the outcome of its changes into the modern world. In the end, Vsichni dobri rodaci is a remarkable film from Vojtech Jasny.

© thevoid99 2021

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Black Widow (2021 film)

 

Based on the Marvel Comics series by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck, Black Widow is the story of a Russian-born assassin who becomes a fugitive as she returns to her home country to confront her past and reunite with those who were the family that raised her. Directed by Cate Shortland and screenplay by Eric Pearson from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, the film takes place between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War where Natasha Romanoff tries to settle personal business as well as reunite with a fellow assassin and two of her mentors as they go to war against the organization that broke them apart as Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Romanoff/Black Widow. Also starring Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz. Black Widow is an exhilarating and captivating film from Cate Shortland.

The film revolves around the Russian-born assassin who goes into hiding after violating the Sokovia Accords where she receives a mysterious package from her adopted younger sister as it relates to the Black Widow program and their training facility in the Red Room as the two reunite to destroy the Red Room with the help of the spies who were their adoptive parents. It’s a film that has Natasha Romanoff not just deal with demons from her past but also dealing with the mysterious figure known as the Taskmaster who is from the Red Room and can mimic the fighting moves of everyone including Romanoff and her fellow Avengers. Adding to the turmoil is a figure from her past whom she believed she had killed prior to joining the Avengers as he has an army of Black Widows under his control with a chemical that can free them from his control.

The film’s screenplay by Eric Pearson is largely straightforward yet it opens in Ohio 1995 where a young Romanoff (Ever Anderson) and her young sister Yelena Belova (Violet McGraw) are living with a seemingly-normal American couple when really they’re Russian spies in Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) as the former is a super-soldier figure known as the Red Guardian who was also the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. When the family becomes separated with Romanoff and Belova trained to be Black Widows, Romanoff would eventually go on her own as it leads to her becoming a fugitive following events that lead her violating the Sokovia Accords as she has been hiding in Norway with an old S.H.I.E.L.D. ally in Mason (O-T Fagbenle) helping her out. Yet, it would be a package from Belova (Florence Pugh) that would get Romanoff out of hiding as she meets Belova in Budapest as they deal with other Black Widows.

The script isn’t just about this story of revenge and redemption but it’s really a film about a woman reuniting with the family who raised her when she was young. It’s also about the fact that these two women who were raised as sisters when they were young were both taken away, trained, and tortured to be assassins yet Romanoff begins to realize that she should’ve taken Belova with her. Yet, Belova’s time as an assassin showed a woman that was lost and under control by a mysterious substance until she attacked a former Black Widow carrying vials of another substance in Red Dust that got Belova out of the control of the Red Room but made her a target of its leader including its mysterious soldier known as the Taskmaster. A major revelation for Romanoff involves a past assignment that lead to her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D. involved killing the Red Room leader Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who is alive and continues to run the Red Room. This forces Belova and Romanoff to break Shostakov out of prison as well as find Vostokoff for a tense family reunion filled with more revelations about their false family life in Ohio.

Cate Shortland’s direction is grand as it play into the world that Romanoff has been in and trying to run away from yet realizes she has to go back and destroy it once and for all. Shot on various locations including Norway, Budapest, and Surrey, England with studio shots in Georgia including parts of Atlanta and Macon, Shortland creates a film where Romanoff is on the run from the U.S. Secretary of State in Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who created the Sokovia Accords. The film’s opening sequence set in Ohio play into this world that has the young Romanoff and Belova playing as if they’re normal children yet it is followed by a chase from the authorities including a ride on a small plane as it showcase a world that Romanoff and Belova have to deal with as adults. Shortland’s usage of wide and medium shots to play into not just the locations but also these intense action set pieces such as Shostakov’s prison break that is full of action and humor with the character of Shostakov providing the latter as a man who has gained weight but also still sees himself as an iconic figure.

Shortland also maintains an intimacy and knows when to break from the action for character interaction where Romanoff and Belova both try to figure out what to do with Belova revealing that she didn’t have much of a life or anything under the control of the Red Room. The scene where Romanoff, Belova, and Shostakov reunite with Vostokoff who is a scientist for the Red Room is one filled with tension with its usage of close-ups but also humor as it plays into Shostakov trying to reconnect with his family where he sings a song that the young Belova loved. The film’s third act isn’t just about the unveiling of the identity of the Taskmaster but also revelations about Romanoff’s own past as it relates to her identity but also the events in Ohio that tore her family apart. While the film is focused largely on Romanoff, it does also focus on Belova who was robbed of having a normal life as well as a life that Romanoff had as its post-credit scene is about her and her future. Overall, Shortland crafts a thrilling and compelling film about an assassin who reunites with her adoptive family to take down the organization that tore them apart.

Cinematographer Gabriel Bernstein does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural low-key lighting for a few exterior scenes at night along with some stylish lighting for scenes in the Red Room building. Editors Matthew Schmidt and Leigh Folsom Boyd do excellent work with the editing as it does some stylish fast-cuts to play into the rhythm of some of the fighting along with some inventive montage work for the prison break scene. Production designers Clint Wallace and Charles Wood, with set decorators John Bush and Jess Royal plus supervising art director Thomas Brown, do amazing work with the look of the Red Room building along with Vostokoff’s secret home and the trailer that Romanoff was living in Norway. Costume designers Lisa Lovaas and Jany Temime do fantastic work with the look of the suits that the Black Widows wear including a vest that Belova likes to wear as well as Shostakov’s costume as the Red Guardian.

Hair/makeup designer Paul Gooch does nice work with the look of Romanoff’s hair but also the look of Shostakov from his prime in the mid-90s to the many tattoos he would have during his time in prison. Special effects supervisor Paul Corbould, along with visual effects supervisors Geoffrey Bauman, Varuna Darensbourg, Gerard Diefenthal, and Sean Noel Walker, does incredible work with the visual effects from the design of the Red Room’s exteriors as well as the special effects in some of the action scenes that has an air of realism through the usage of practical effects in some scenes. Sound designer Nia Hansen and sound editor Daniel Laurie do superb work with the sound in the sound effects in some of the weapons used as well as its emphasis on natural sounds for some scenes on location. The film’s music by Lorne Balfe is wonderful for its bombastic orchestral score that help play into the suspense and action along with somber pieces for the dramatic moments while music supervisor Dave Jordan provides a soundtrack that includes pieces from SIA, Don McLean, and a cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit by Thing Up Anger with Malia J.

The casting by Badr Balafrej, Victoria Beattie, Fouad Chaairi, Leo Davis, Sarah Finn, and Redouane Meftah is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Olivier Richters as an inmate of Shostakov, the trio of Liani Samuel, Michelle Lee, and Nanna Blondell as Black Widow assassins, Ever Anderson and Violet McGraw in their respective roles as the young Romanoff and Belova who both deal with the chaos of their true identities, and Olga Kurylenko as a Red Room official. O-T Fagbenle is terrific as Mason as a former S.H.I.E.L.D. official who helps Romanoff in getting supplies as well as being a comic relief of sorts since he and Romanoff used to be an item. William Hurt is superb in his small role as Thaddeus Ross as the U.S. Secretary of State trying to find Romanoff and bring her to justice for violating the Sokovia Accords.

Ray Winstone is fantastic as Dreykov as the head of the Red Room who controls everything as he hopes to maintain control in secrecy while also wanting to get Romanoff back in the fold so that he can have an Avenger on his side. Rachel Weisz is excellent as Melina Vostokoff as a maternal figure for Romanoff and Belova as well as a scientist for the Red Room who is reluctant to help out her family due to her work while also lamenting over the past and how it affected her as Weisz provides a sense of grace into the role. David Harbour is incredible as Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian as a former Soviet super hero who breaks out of prison following a betrayal from Dreykov as he is eager to reconnect with his adoptive daughters where he provides a lot of humor in his attempts to reclaim his glory days but also some warmth as a man in conflict of his fraternal role as well as the role of an icon.

Finally, there’s the duo of Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova. Johansson’s performance as Romanoff is grounded in a woman trying to evade the authorities but also trying to deal with her demons as there’s a bit of humor in the performance but it is largely straightforward as a woman filled with regrets as well as trying to do things right. Pugh’s performance as Belova is a major scene-stealer as someone who has awoken from the Red Room’s control as she deals with being abandoned as well as trying to find some meaning where Pugh not only has some funny one-liners but also proves to be tough and powerful. Johansson and Pugh together are a delight to watch in the way they play as sisters where they get to banter a bit but also display a bond that keeps them both sane and full of heart as they’re a massive highlight of the film.

Black Widow is a remarkable film from Cate Shortland that features great performances from Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh. Along with its supporting cast, study of family and identity, dazzling visuals, intense action set pieces, and a gripping music score. The film isn’t just this sprawling and grand super-hero action/adventure film but also a film about redemption and family where a woman tries to mend the broken pieces of her family by going after the forces that tore them apart. In the end, Black Widow is a marvelous film from Cate Shortland.

Cate Shortland Films: Somersault - (The Silence 2006 TV film) – Lore - (Berlin Syndrome)


Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers


Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man

Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man and the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame

Phase Four: (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) – (Eternals) – (Spider-Man: No Way Home) – (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (The Marvels) – (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, July 08, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: Okja

 

(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho and screenplay by Joon-ho and Jon Ronson from a story by Joon-ho, Okja is the story of a young girl who tries to retrieve a massive animal from a corporation that wants to kill it for profit as she’s aided by an animal activist group. The film is an exploration of a young girl whose grandfather raised the animal for farming until this corporation come in to kill it for a big celebration to end world hunger. Starring Ahn Seo-hyun, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun, Byun Hee-bong, Yoon Je-moon, Devon Bostick, Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson, and Tilda Swinton. Okja is a riveting and whimsical film from Bong Joon-ho.

The film revolves around an environmentalist who becomes the new CEO of a beef manufacturing company as she announces the breeding of a new super-pig where 26 specimens are sent to various places all over the world and to see what would be the outcome of those pigs in 10 years in the hope to end world hunger. Yet, the film is more about the bond between a young girl and a pig living in the mountains in South Korea as the pig Okja is discovered by this corporation hoping to use it for a special presentation and then kill it for profit. It is a film that explores not just animal rights but also a corporate CEO wanting to do something right despite the fact that she’s doing the wrong thing in covering up lies with the aid of a zoologist/TV show host who has become emotionally and mentally unstable. Add a group of animal activists and other corporate interests as this young girl is pulled in different directions over her beloved Okja.

The film’s screenplay by Bong Joon-ho and Jon Ronson explore the many complexities of the cattle industry and its war with animal rights activists with this pig in the middle and a young girl in Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) just trying to save it and bring it back home. Still, the characters that Joon-Ho and Ronson create aren’t typical of what is expected as the CEO of the Mirando corporation in Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) is trying to clean up the company’s image and to make it do good despite the fact that she’s covering up lies and remove the troubled legacy that her father and twin sister Nancy have created. The corporate face of the company in zoologist/TV host in Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a wacky eccentric who has become troubled as well as guilt-ridden for the role he’s playing when Mirando makes some drastic decisions. The animal rights activist group known as ALF lead by Jay (Paul Dano) is trying to maintain some dignity in helping Mija but also doesn’t want to lie to her even though one of his fellow activist in K (Steven Yeun) lies in order to get the mission to save Okja when the pig is sent to New York City for this presentation with Mija also being an unwilling participant from the Mirando corporation.

Joon-ho’s direction is quite grand in the way he presents this world of corporate interests and their need to exploit an animal for profit as it is set in New York City and nearby areas as well as Seoul, South Korea and mountains near the city though much of the film is shot in parts of Seoul and Vancouver. The film opens with a scene in a factory where Lucy Mirando is trying to get people to see that her family’s past is going to be removed for a new future as it is presented in grand fashion with wide and medium shots. Still, Joon-ho maintains a simplicity in the scenes set in the mountains with its small ponds, waterfalls, and forests that Mija and Okja like to play in as it is this world of peace while they live with Mija’s grandfather in this simple home though they have access to TV and internet. When Okja is given to the corporation with Mija’s grandfather given a big payout for raising the super-pig, Joon-ho showcases Mija’s determination to retrieve Okja in Seoul as it has these unique tracking shots in some elaborate chase scenes inside a building, an underground mall next to a subway, and in a highway are among these moments where Joon-ho infuses action, suspense, and humor.

With the character of Okja being a major sense of importance to the film thanks in part to work of one of the film’s visual effects supervisors in Erik de Boer, who did the character design, where the actors not only get to interact with this creature but also play into the stakes of the film. Notably where Joon-ho brings the character to New York City as there’s a chilling scene with Okja and Dr. Wilcox at a lab that is disturbing with ALF watching in another location as it play into Dr. Wilcox’s guilt in the corporate role he plays but also in how disturbed he is in doing his job. There is also this sense of disconnect that Joon-ho showcases as it relates to Lucy Mirando about how she approaches business and how her sister Nancy did thinks as the latter is all about money and getting shit done while the former is about image. The sense of humanity also comes into play into its third act with Okja and Mija in the middle as it play into Lucy’s own desire for hope despite the lies she’s hidden yet is followed by a much darker reality that is closer to Nancy’s vision. Yet, there is something hopeful through Mija’s own simple actions but also her own understand about how the world works. Overall, Joon-ho crafts a witty yet heartfelt film about a farm girl trying to save her super-pig from a corporation that wants to kill it for profit.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of naturalistic lighting and lush colors for the scenes in the mountain with low-key lights for the scenes at night while aiming for something a little bit more stylish for the scenes set in New York City in terms of its lighting including the scenes at the factory at night. Editor Yang Jin-mo does excellent work with the editing as it does have some unique fast-cuts for some of the chase and action scenes while also being straightforward in its approach to drama and suspense. Production designers Ha-jun Lee and Kevin Thompson, with art directors Jung-yoon Bae, Deborah Jensen, and Gwendolyn Margetson plus set decorators Susan Bode, Won-Woo Cho, Louise Roper, Yeonghee Seo, and Suk-ki Song, do amazing work with the look of the places in New York City including the Mirando logo and the factory where the super-pigs are forced to stay in the third act as well as the little home Mija and her grandfather live in. Costume designers Se-yeon Choi and Catherine George do fantastic work with the stylish clothes that Lucy Mirando wears as well as the wacky clothing of Dr. Wilcox, the guerilla-inspired gear of ALF, and the simplistic look of Mija.

Hair/makeup designers Hyunkyu Hwang and Sharon Martin do nice work with the look of Lucy Mirando in her quirky presentation from the braces on her teeth in the first scene to her hairstyle that is different from the look of her sister. Special effects supervisor Kyung-soo Park, along with visual effects supervisors Erik de Boer, Angela Ji, Jun Hyoung Kim, and Jeon Hyoung Lee, do terrific work with not just the design of Okja but also some set-dressing for some scenes in the film as well as the presentation of the chase sequence. Sound editor Tae-young Choi and sound designer Dave Whitehead do superb work with the sound in the way Okja sounds, with voice work from Lee Jeong-eun, as well as how certain objects sound including the cattle prod. The film’s music by Jaeil Jung is incredible for its unique mixture of flamenco, classical, and electronic pieces as it adds to the suspense and drama while music supervisor Jemma Burns cultivates a fun soundtrack that features music from the Isley Brothers, John Denver, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Osvaldo Pugliese.

The casting by Jenny Jue is phenomenal as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Lee Jeong-eun as the voice of Okja and a woman in a wheelchair, Lee Bong-ryun as a Mirando receptionist at the Seoul office building, Choi Woo-shik as an indifferent Mirando driver in Seoul, Yoon Je-moon as a Mirando representative who checks on Okja’s health, Byun Hee-bong as Mija’s well-meaning grandfather who is reluctant to give Okja away, Devon Bostick and Daniel Henshall as two activists for ALF in their respective names in Silver and Blond, and Shirley Henderson in a funny performance as Lucy’s assistant Jennifer who oversees some of the publicity detail involving Mija and Lucy for the big event. Giancarlo Esposito is superb as a Mirando executive in Frank Dawson who keeps an eye on Lucy for Nancy while trying to understand what she’s trying to do as well as see if she can succeed. Steven Yeun and Lily Collins are fantastic in their respective roles as ALF activists K and Red with the former being a tech genius who is also Korean as he helps translate for Mija while the latter is a weapon experts of sorts though she has no intentions in harming anyone while also having some funny things to say.

Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as the wacky Dr. Johnny Wilcox as a zoologist/TV host who is the face of Mirando as someone who speaks in a somewhat high-pitched voice as he is also disturbed in his love for animals to the point that he becomes consumed with guilt and troubling behavior. Paul Dano is brilliant as Jay as a leader of ALF who is trying to do things the right way and help Mija while not wanting to make her uncomfortable as he’s a well-meaning activist that is aware of the compromises that he has to make. Tilda Swinton is amazing in a dual role as twin sisters Lucy and Nancy Mirando as she provides a lot of quirks and upbeat energy into the former as someone trying to reinvent the company’s image while the latter is only seen briefly as someone that is more of a pessimist and a better understanding of business. Finally, there’s Ahn Seo-hyun in an incredible performance as Mija as a young farm girl who cares for this massive super-pig as she deals with Mirando’s intentions for the pig as she does what she can to save him as it is this understated and somber performance from Seo-hyun who provides a lot of the heart in the film.

Okja is a phenomenal film from Bong Joon-ho. Featuring an incredible ensemble cast, themes of activism and animal rights, dazzling visuals, a sumptuous music score, and mixture of genres. The film is definitely a witty and compelling film that explores a young girl trying to retrieve her pet and her understanding about a world that is just trying to clean itself up despite their dirty methods. In the end, Okja is a sensational film from Bong Joon-ho.

Bong Joon-ho Films: Barking Dogs Never Bite - Memories of Murder - The Host (2006 film) - Tokyo!-Shaking Tokyo - Mother (2009 film) - Snowpiercer - Parasite - The Auteurs #44: Bong Joon-ho

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Female Athletes

 

For the 27th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of female athletes as professional women’s sports in basketball and futbol (soccer for you stupid Americans) has been getting more popular in recent years. Even as it proves that not only could girls play sports are also better than some of the guys. Here are my three picks:

1. Love & Basketball
Gina Prince-Blythewood’s feature film debut remains one of the great first-feature films ever made and it’s about a man and a woman who grew up as neighbors since they were kids yet they have a love for the game of basketball. Both would endure many journeys involving the game but also love for each other as well as for the game. Starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan that includes an incredible supporting cast in Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Regina Hall, Harry J. Lennix, Gabrielle Union, and Tyra Banks. It’s a film that says about what the game does as well as how it can bring people together whether it’s for fun or in competition.

2. Whip It
Drew Barrymore’s sole directorial feature so far in the world of roller-derby is a film about a young woman trying to find herself as she falls for the world of roller-derby while trying to win the approval of her mother who insists on putting her in beauty pageants despite her unconventional look. Starring a winning Elliot Page (then-Ellen) as this young woman who would become a star in the roller derby world, it is a film that is a lot of fun and wit with Barrymore taking on a supporting role and getting one hell of an ensemble cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Alia Shawkat, Jimmy Fallon, Andrew Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Eve, and Zoe Bell as it’s just a film full of heart and lots of violence.

3. I, Tonya
Craig Gillespie’s unconventional bio-pic on the unfairly disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding is this unique study of a woman who had the skills to be this great figure skater but lacks the look and the idea of what America wants in a figure skating champion. Starring Margot Robbie as Harding, the film is unconventional where it plays with the elements of the documentary as well as breaking the fourth wall a bit on what really happened and what is fiction. It’s a film that breaks a lot of rules yet it works with Robbie giving a career-defining performance that includes great supporting performances from Sebastian Stan, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, and Allison Janney in a much-deserving award-winning performance as Harding’s abusive mother.

© thevoid99 2021

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

2021 Cannes Marathon: Pain & Glory

 

(Winner of the Best Actor Prize to Antonio Banderas and Best Soundtrack Award to Alberto Iglesias at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory) is the story of a filmmaker who reunites with old friends, family, and colleagues as he copes with a declining film career and ailing health. The film is a study of a man as he looks back at events from his life as well as the remaining years of his life. Starring Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Cecilia Roth, and Penelope Cruz. Dolor y gloria is a majestically-rich and somber film from Pedro Almodovar.

The film revolves around a filmmaker at the twilight of his film career as he is coping with severe back pain as he learned that one of his older films has been restored where he reunites with an actor from that film while reflecting on his childhood. It’s a film that is a look into a man that is dealing with a lot as well as the fact that he is going through writer’s block, regrets, loss, and severe physical pain. Pedro Almodovar’s screenplay explores the life of filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) as he receives word that one of his old films had been remastered and restored for a special screening where he bumps into an old friend who gives him the number and address of an actor from that film whom he hadn’t spoken to in more than 30 years. Upon his reunion with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the two discuss the past while Salvador tries heroin for the first time as it forces him to think about his time as a child (Asier Flores) where he and his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) move into a cave house that his father bought.

It is where the young Salvador teaches a young laborer/draughtsman in Eduardo (Cesar Vicente) to read and write while he would later be sent to a school where he would learn a lot about art and cinema. Still, Salvador feels like he hasn’t done enough as it relates to his mother while he is also dealing with the severe physical pain that has him choking often at times where he uses heroin to cope with the pain. Another unlikely reunion in a former lover in Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) would also force him to realize what is going on as he reflects on the last days with his mother (Julieta Serrano) before her passing while turning to his longtime assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas) for help as she believes something else isn’t right.

Almodovar’s direction does have its flair of style that he’s known for in his compositions yet it opens with Salvador in a pool as he’s underwater as it is this metaphorical image of a man that is believing he’s about to encounter his final days. Shot on location in Madrid as well as the province of Valencia with Paterna being a major location of the film as it plays into the life of the young Salvador. Almodovar’s compositions are largely straightforward yet he knows when to create something that is striking and evocative in a simple shot. Whether it’s in some of the wide shots of the Paterna exteriors or certain locations in Madrid to the more intimate shots at a small theater or Salvador’s apartment home with its medium shots and close-ups. Notably in the way he stages a one-man performance Alberto does where Federico watches as it play into this key moment for Salvador even though he doesn’t watch Alberto’s performance.

Almodovar’s direction would include these somber scenes that revolves around Salvador’s childhood that are presented with an intimacy in the cave home which is claustrophobic at times yet there is also a moment that also play into events that would affect Salvador’s sexuality as well his own sense of nostalgia as an adult. Almodovar would also infuse some voice-over narration from Salvador that includes an animation sequence by Juan Gatti that explores Salvador’s journey as a filmmaker and his fascination with science and geography that would inspire much of Salvador’s work. The film’s third act plays into Salvador’s faults as well as the realization that he’s been shielding himself from his past including his childhood along with his own desperation to rid the physical pain he’s enduring. Overall, Almodovar crafts an intoxicating and touching film about a filmmaker dealing with his past, regrets, and the twilight of his life and career.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does brilliant work with the film’s lush and colorful cinematography with a naturalistic look for many of the film’s daytime scenes as well as the interior scenes at the cave-house along with some stylish lighting for some of the interior scenes set in Madrid. Editor Teresa Font does excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with its fast-cuts and montages for some parts while also being straightforward for much of the film in playing up the drama. Production designer Antxon Gomez, with set decorator Vicent Diaz and art director Maria Claria Notari, does amazing work with the look of the cave-house as well as Salvador’s apartment with so much attention to detail from his collection of paintings to his bedroom. Costume designer Paola Torres does fantastic work with the colorful clothes that the characters wear including a few stylish suits that Salvador wears to the ragged look of Alberto as well as the dresses the young Jacinta wears.

Makeup designer Ana Lozano does terrific work with the look of the characters from the bearded look of Salvador as well as the look of the older Jacinta. Sound designer Pelayo Gutierrez does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as how music is played on a boom box to maintain that sense of realism. The film’s music by Alberto Iglesias is incredible for its lush and rapturous orchestral score that play into some of the film’s melodrama as well as the air of nostalgia for the past as it is a major highlight of the film with a soundtrack that features folk and pop music of the time period that the characters live in.

The casting by Eva Leira and Yolanda Serrano is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from producer Augustin Almodovar as a priest, Luis Calero as the music teacher for young Salvador, the trio of Marisol Muriel, Paqui Horcajo, and the Spanish pop singer Rosalia as women washing clothes with the young Jacinta early in the film, Pedro Casablanc as Dr. Galindo who expresses concerns for Salvador’s health, Julian Lopez as a movie theater presenter wanting to interview Salvador and Alberto, Susi Sanchez as a family friend of Jacinta in Beata, Sara Sierra as a young village woman in Conchita, Raul Arevalo as Salvador’s father Venancio, and Cecilia Roth in a terrific one-scene performance as an old friend of Salvador in Zulema who gives him Alberto’s address.

Cesar Vicente is superb as a young laborer/painter in Eduardo whom the young Salvador teaches to read and writer as he is proven to be a gifted painter that helps the young Salvador and young Jacinta. Asier Flores is fantastic as the young Salvador as a young boy who is fascinated by cinema and books while is unsure about going to this prestigious school fearing he would never see his family again. Nora Navas is excellent as Salvador’s personal assistant Mercedes as a woman who is aware of Salvador’s ailing health and growing depression as she does what she can to help him but also aware of what is the cause of his physical pain. Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano are amazing in their respective performances as the younger and older versions of Salvador’s mother Jacinta with Cruz providing this sense of warmth expected in a maternal role but also frustrations over her new living situation and what her son wants. Serrano’s performance as the older version of Jacinta is more restrained as a woman just frustrated that she is on her way out as she also laments over Salvador’s choices in life and in his career while maintaining that maternal warmth.

Leonardo Sbaraglia is brilliant as an old lover of Salvador in Federico as a man from Salvador’s past who makes a brief visit to Madrid from Buenos Aires as he watches Alberto’s one-man show that prompts him to visit Salvador where they reminisce the past. Asier Etxeandia is incredible as Alberto Crespo as an actor who worked with Salvador in their greatest collaboration together as he hadn’t seen Alberto in more than 30 years where they re-establish their friendship and talk about past issues Etxeandia provides a charisma and charm to a man that is an admitted heroin addict but also a man of control. Finally, there’s Antonio Banderas in a tremendous performance as Salvador Mallo as a once-revered filmmaker who is at the twilight of his career as he deals with immense physical and emotional pain as he thinks about his past as well as the idea that he might not have much time left. Banderas also provides this physicality in the way he struggles in getting out of a car or to express the physical pain he’s in as it is this performance full of restraint and dark humor as he showcases a man struggling with himself as well as trying to find some hope in the end as it is a performance for the ages.

Dolor y gloria is a magnificent film from Pedro Almodovar featuring a phenomenal leading performance from Antonio Banderas. Along with its ensemble supporting cast, ravishing visuals, somber themes of nostalgia and uncertainty, and a luscious music score by Alberto Iglesias. The film isn’t just this fascinating story of an artist dealing with the possible end of his life and career but also reflecting on his roots and the events that shaped his life. In the end, Dolor y gloria is an outstanding film from Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - High Heels - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Bad Education - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I'm So Excited! - Julieta - (The Human Voice (2020 short film)) – (Parallel Mothers)

The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar: Pt. 1 Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2021