Sunday, January 31, 2021

Films That I Saw: January 2021

 

Well, this year certainly kicked off with a bang and for all of the wrong reasons. I knew something like what happened on January 6 was going to come but I didn’t expect to see it in my own lifetime. Yet, I shouldn’t be surprised considering that it was a bunch of stupid people who were willing to do the bidding of a dip-shit dumb-fuck of a dictator who couldn’t accept the fact that he lost the election last year so he, his dumbass son, that perverted Rudy Giuliani, and a couple of Senators rallied this base to storm the U.S. Capitol building. While it is obvious that there’s people in the American government that aren’t popular including Vice President Mike Pence but the fact that his boss put his life in danger as well as several other colleagues is proof that Dookie Tank went way too far. After everything that had happened, Pence made the decision to get everyone back on board and certified the results that Joe Biden had won the 2020 U.S. Presidential election as think it was a decision he made out of spite and as a big “fuck you” to Dookie Tank.



George Carlin is right, never underestimate the power of stupid people and look what happened. Five people are dead for stupid reasons while it also noting that it was largely white people who stormed the Capitol. If it was a large number of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and anyone who isn’t white, you know the death toll would be bigger and it would be an act of racism. The fact that these retarded morons would do this not just because they didn’t like the results of the election and the fact that their leader didn’t win and getting away with being inside Congress and all sorts of shit is proof that Americans are indeed a bunch of stupid-ass motherfuckers. Sure, it lead to Dookie Tank’s second impeachment but it was too little and too late though it should’ve been done a long time ago.

Now that Joe Biden is our new president, it must suck for the fact that he has to clean up this mess though I will give him credit for not wasting time and just go straight to work to actually do something. Even as there’s nearly half a million people who have died from COVID as he is trying to make sure we all get vaccinated but it’s not over yet. There’s still people in denial about this pandemic while there is also this uncertainty that it might be a while longer for the whole thing to end.
In the month of January 2021, I saw a total of 32 films in 10 first-timers and 22 re-watches with two of those first-timers being films directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. A highlight of the month has been my Blind Spot Series assignment in A Streetcar Named Desire. Here are my top 5 first-timers for January 2021:

1. Soul
2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
3. Krisha
4. Burrow
5. Elvis Presley: The Searcher
Monthly Mini-Reviews

Burrow
A short film that I saw on Disney+ with my nephew, it’s a charming little story about a bunny rabbit trying to create her new home underground but has a hard time trying to create it though other creatures offer to help out. Yet, she is reluctant to ask for help and things get worse yet it is a touching story but also funny. There’s a richness to the animation as it is one of the best shorts from the Pixar Sparkshort series.

Elvis Presley: The Searcher
This two-part documentary series from HBO about the life and career of Elvis Presley that I watched on Elvis Bowie day (Elvis and David Bowie’s birthdays) is this fascinating film that explore not just about his upbringing but also his desire to be more than just a singer. Featuring audio commentary from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Priscilla Presley, the late Tom Petty, and many others including historians, music critics, and others. The film goes into great depth into who Elvis is and why he means so much to many fans and musicians as well as the struggles he went through as an artist. Even in some of awful films he did and his own issues later in his life as he’s trying to be this iconic figure when he wanted to be just a normal person.

Tiger
Another two-part documentary series from HBO that is about the rise, fall, and epic comeback of Tiger Woods is an engrossing documentary that showcases not just this man who would become this incredible athlete who broke barriers in the world of golf but also the complex relationship he had with his father Earl. Especially in how Earl made him focus on just being a golfer and a brand rather than a human being as it would eventually lead to his own downfall. Though Woods isn’t interviewed in the film, many colleagues, family friends, a former high school girlfriend, one of the women he had an affair with, the asshole who runs the National Enquirer, and many others are among those interviewed. Even as it showcases someone who didn’t just lose some of his humanity but also his love of playing golf as there were also some racist disdain towards him from those in the world of golf following his extramarital affairs. Yet, the film does have a happy ending as he would not just get his family, friends, and love for golf back but also his self-respect that culminated with his victory at the 2019 Masters.

Krisha



Having seen the 2015 film by Trey Edwards Shults and was fortunate to learn that the 2014 short film that the film is based on is available on YouTube. I had to see what Shults did in the short that he would later expand into his feature film version. Though it is essentially the same story but shortened while it does have shots that Shults would copy in the feature film but it does remain to be really haunting as it’s something that fans of the feature film should see.

On the TV/Streaming Services

Cobra Kai Season 3
If anyone was born in the 80s obviously have seen The Karate Kid movies as I grew up on those films and I enjoyed this spin-off series that takes place 30 years plus after the events of those films. This new season I would say is the best one so far not just in its character and narrative development but also for the fact that we get to know more about a few characters such as John Kreese and why he’s become this evil sensei that wants to create chaos. He is a true villain who manipulates as well as take advantage of any situation that benefits him. Yet, the season does play into the fallout of what happened at the second season finale where Miguel Diaz was kicked and then fell into a guard rail as it looked like he wasn’t going to recover or survive. Thankfully, this is why Johnny Lawrence is there for him and would help Diaz not just walk again through unconventional means but also give this kid some hope.

The narrative arcs for the characters such as Samantha LaRusso, Hawk, Demetri, Tory, and Robby are much stronger as Samantha has to deal with her own fears and PTSD while Hawk becomes confused by Kreese’s methods and Tory being more vengeful as she wants to destroy Samantha. Yet, Demetri is the show’s breakout character as his asshole speech in the final episode where he brings the former students of Cobra Kai and the currents in Miyagi-Do to come together and see the bigger picture as it culminates into this big showdown. The show also has some great development for Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso as the latter returns to Okinawa where he doesn’t reunite with his old flame Kumiko but also sees his old rival Chozen as the latter proves to be a joy to watch as someone who has found redemption and helps LaRusso see what must be done in extreme situations. Elisabeth Shue’s return as Lawrence and LaRusso’s former flame in Ali for the last two episodes is fun to watch as she does bring closure for the two characters who realize how similar they are and why they need to work together against Kreese.

Pixar Popcorn
This collection of shorts from Pixar that is on Disney+ was something I discovered as it’s really these small short films all based on characters from the films at Pixar. I watched them with my nephew as he enjoyed what we watched as it picks up on where the characters from the Toy Story movies, the Incredibles, Coco, Cars, and Soul are doing after the films. My favorites involve the Parr family fighting over a cookie as well as what is going in the day of the life of the dead in the afterlife in Coco. It is fun to watch as it’s only 11 minutes in total as it’s something that everyone can enjoy.

WandaVision (first 4 episodes)
After a year and a half of no new content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even though this show wasn’t supposed to be the start of the Phase 4 period of the MCU. Yet, four episodes in so far and it’s a hell of a start where it leaves you wanting more. It is definitely the strangest thing the MCU has created so far as the first three episodes mirror the sitcoms of the 1950s through the 1970s and with some strange commercials in between those episodes. It revolves around Wanda Maximoff and Vision living their new life post-Infinity War as if they’re in a sitcom yet something isn’t right as well as questions into why the latter is alive. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany do bring a lot of charm and humor in their respective roles while Kathryn Hahn is a total delight as their neighbor Agnes.

The fourth episode is a break from the format as it is more about the world outside of Wanda’s sitcom illusion as it well as revealing that the character Geraldine is really Monica Rambeau played with such wit by Teyonnah Parris who had disappeared during the Blip as she wakes up learning a horrifying secret. She is then revealed to be an agent of an organization her mother founded in S.W.O.R.D. as she is asked to uncover this strange event. The episode also re-introduces a couple of key supporting players of the MCU in Randall Park’s FBI Agent Jimmy Woo and Kat Dennings’ Dr. Darcy Lewis who both prove to be fun to watch in not just being reliable and smarter than most of the people trying to figure out what is going on but also watch this strange show we’re all watching as it is definitely a crowning achievement from Marvel Studios so far.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. The Lobster
2. Trading Places
3. Shazam!
4. The Last Dragon
5. Working Girl
6. Moana
7. About a Boy
8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9. Ruby Sparks
10. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Well, that is all for January. Next month, I will focus largely on African-American and African films based on my never-ending DVR list including a few films directed by women and hopefully some of the films I have in my laptop hard drive of 2020 releases that I want to catch up on. Even as I hope to go into my A Little Something Extra list for some ideas. Other than that and my next Blind Spot which will be Daughters of the Dust, that’s all I have planned for next month. In closing, since the year before was a tough year as far as deaths related to COVID and un-related. I want to express my condolences to the families and friends of the true major league home run king in Hank Aaron as well as Larry King, Cloris Leachman, Cicely Tyson, Tanya Roberts, and Julie Strain. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2021

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Krisha (2015 film)

 

Written, edited, co-starring, and directed by Trey Edward Shults that is based on a short film that he wrote and directed, Krisha is the story of a woman who returns to spend Thanksgiving with her estranged family as she copes with demons and her own substance abuse issues. The film is a study of a woman who is trying to stay clean and keep out of trouble yet her own issues start to threaten this event in the hope that she can reconcile with her family as the titular character is portrayed by Shults’ real-life aunt Krisha Fairchild. Also starring Robyn Fairchild and Bill Wise. Krisha is an eerie yet mesmerizing film from Trey Edward Shultz.

It’s Thanksgiving as a woman in her 60s arrive to the house having not seen her family in nearly a decade as she hopes to reconcile with them including her son whom she’s been estranged with while is coping with demons including her own past as an alcoholic and drug addict. It’s a film with a simple premise as it takes place mainly in the span of an entire day from Krisha’s arrival to the house in the day to the chaos expected in Thanksgiving at night. Trey Edward Shults’ screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s more of a character study of Krisha as she is trying to make amends with the family including her son Trey (Trey Edward Shults) whom she remains estranged with as she is seeking to reconcile with him though Trey is resistant as he remains close to his aunt Robyn (Robyn Fairchild).

Adding to the turmoil of the day is her brother-in-law Doyle (Bill Wise) who is skeptical about Krisha being sober and hoping she doesn’t cause trouble. As the day goes on, Krisha struggles with the chaos as well as meeting her dementia-stricken mother Billie (Billie Fairchild) as the script showcases a family trying to enjoy themselves yet there is this dark shadow that is lurking in the form of Krisha and how she might ruin the day.

Shults’ direction does have elements of style in its presentation as well as choosing different aspect ratios in the film to play into Krisha’s state of mind. Yet, Shults does maintain an intimacy throughout the film as it is shot on location at the home of Shults’ parents in Texas. The film’s second shot that has Krisha arriving on a truck and trying to find the front door of this big house as it is this long tracking shot that is shot in 1:85:1 aspect ratio that opens wide and gets closer into a medium shot as it help sets the tone for the film’s first half. Notably in the way Shults’ usage of hand-held cameras and his approach to close-ups and medium shots play into a style similar to cinema verite where it feels real at times while there are also these moments that play into the activity of family members goofing around or cooking in these sort of gliding camera shots.

Also serving as the editor, Shults provides some unique jump-cuts and some stylish montages as it play into some of the craziness that occurs as it would build into Krisha’s own state of mind as well as the difficulty to maintain her sanity. The film’s second half opens with a new aspect ratio in the 2:35:1 aspect ratio as it would play into the demons that is happening around Krisha as it has this dizzying presentation where it looks like something is about to break where Shults’ direction play into this whirlwind of chaos. The film’s opening shot and its last 20-30 minutes is presented in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio as its focus is on Krisha and all of the drama that is to occur but also a woman who knows she is fragile and ponders whether she made the mistake of attending this dinner. Shults would use close-ups to play into her plight as well the opening shot of the film mirrors the final shot as it focuses on this intense night for a woman whose demons may have not have gone away. Overall, Shults crafts a gripping and unsettling film about a woman’s attempt to reconnect with her family on a tense and troubled Thanksgiving.

Cinematographer Drew Daniels does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its naturalistic look as well as using available light to maintain something that feels real but also gorgeous in its look. Sound designer Tim Rakoczy does amazing work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the noises at the home as well as some of the sparse chaos that occur. The film’s music by Brian McOmber is incredible for its haunting and eerie music score that is filled with some ambient and electronic textures that include a key scene of loops and soundscapes for a dizzying sequence in the film’s first half as well as low-key ambient cuts to play into the drama while the lone non-score piece is a song performed by Nina Simone that is played on a record player.

The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from an ensemble of mainly non-actors that include some of Shults’ relatives and friends in Bryan Casserly and Olivia Grace Applegate as the young couple in Logan and Briana respectively, Rose Nelson and Chase Joilet as a couple of relatives, Atheena and Augustine as a couple of twin women, Chris Doubeck as Robyn’s husband, and Billie Fairchild as Krisha’s dementia-stricken mother. Robyn Fairchild is excellent as Krisha’s sister Robyn as a woman who invited her to Thanksgiving as she is hoping that Krisha would be fine only to realize that Krisha might not all be well.

Trey Edward Shults is fantastic as Krisha’s estranged son Trey as someone who is close to Robyn and the family but is wary of his mother despite her attempts to reconnect with him as it’s a restrained performance from Shults who plays a man who is probably not ready to talk to her. Bill Wise is brilliant as Krisha’s brother-in-law Doyle as a relative who converses with Krisha yet isn’t sure that Krisha is telling the truth as he is suspicious about her sobriety making him antagonistic towards her. Finally, there’s Krisha Fairchild in a tremendous performance as the titular character as a woman who is hoping to reconnect with her family including her son following a near-decade of cleaning herself up as she contends with old demons and other events as it’s just this chilling and entrancing performance where Fairchild displays a woman who might crack at any point as well as is someone who knows how fragile she is as it is definitely a performance that needs to be seen.

Krisha is a tremendous film from Trey Edward Shults that features a phenomenal performance from Krisha Fairchild. Along with its supporting cast, realistic imagery, themes of reconciliation and substance abuse, and its offbeat and haunting score. The film is definitely an unconventional yet unsettling drama that play into a woman’s attempt to redeem herself only to deal with some unresolved issues and demons that might destroy this one night of gathering. In the end, Krisha is a spectacular film from Trey Edward Shults.

Trey Edward Shults Films: (It Comes at Night) – Waves (2019 film)

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, January 25, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: A Streetcar Named Desire

 

Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire is the story of a woman who leaves her aristocratic world to live in New Orleans with her sister and brutish brother-in-law in a dilapidated apartment as her life starts to crumble. Directed by Elia Kazan and screenplay by Williams and Oscar Saul, the film is an exploration of a woman who wants to be something special but has a hard time dealing with the new world she’s in as well as the man who treats her terribly. Starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. A Streetcar Named Desire is a rich yet intense film from Elia Kazan.

Set in New Orleans, the film revolves around a woman who arrives to the city to live with her sister and brother-in-law in the hopes to regain her aristocratic lifestyle after some major losses in her life though her brother-in-law becomes troubled by her presence as he treats her cruelly. It is a film that explores a woman trying to maintain this illusion of being a Southern Belle as she left her hometown to find riches and such in New Orleans but she has to contend with this force of nature that is her brother-in-law. The film’s screenplay by Tennessee Williams that is based on his own play with contributions from Oscar Saul play into the plight that Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is enduring as she hopes to retain this identity even though she lost a lot as she had quit her job as an English middle school teacher. Blanche’s arrival at the apartment home of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) would have Blanche deal with the fact that Stella lives in this dilapidated apartment with her husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando).

The script also includes Kowalski’s friend Mitch (Karl Malden) who takes a liking to Blanche where he even considers marrying her so that neither of them would be lonely yet Kowalski thinks the relationship is a bad idea as he has suspicions about Blanche though his brutish behavior towards her doesn’t help matters. Even as Blanche is critical towards both him and Stella as it adds discord to their relationship where some of Williams’ dialogue do play into these emotions but also into Blanche’s own disconnection with reality as if she is imagining about the world she wants to be in. Notably as it adds to this contrast to the world that Kowalski and Stella live in that is lively but also simple where not everyone has everything.

Elia Kazan’s direction definitely has this theatrical presentation as it is set largely in this apartment complex in the middle of the French Quarter in New Orleans with part of that area and other nearby places are shot. While there’s a few wide shots in the film to get a scope of the location as well as the apartment in its cramped and claustrophobic feel as it does serve as a character in the film. Kazan’s direction is focused more on intimacy with the usage of close-ups and medium shots as the latter is used to play into the tension between Blanche and Kowalski. It’s not just this claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the drama but also in how it plays into Blanche’s own mental state as the walls would close in around her as it play into her refusal to accept the reality of her situation. Even as she wears these stylish and glamourous clothing that is a total contrast to the simpler yet ragged look of Kowalski as the latter is this symbol of sexual ferocity. Kazan also uses the location as well as heat as this intense atmosphere that adds to the drama including some of the tension between Blanche and Kowalski.

One key scene outside of the apartment is a party scene where it’s focused on this conversation between Blanche and Mitch where the latter gets to hear her story as it play into the former’s old life but also her past as Mitch would fall for her unaware that of her troubled mental state. Kazan’s compositions and usage of long shots play into the drama as well as scenes of Blanche trying to play up this fa├žade of a world where everything is lit a certain way and everything has to be glamourous yet she still has to contend with this more cynical reality that is Kowalski. Even as the tension would boil into the third act as even Stella becomes tired of both of them as she is caught in the middle yet she loves both her husband and sister. The climax that relates to this boiling tension of Blanche’s fantasy and the harsh reality of Kowalski would finally collide as it lead to some harsh revelations as well as a real sense of loss for everyone. Overall, Kazan crafts a riveting and exhilarating film about a fallen Southern Belle trying to start a new life only to collide with the dark reality that is her brutish brother-in-law.

Cinematographer Harry Stradling does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its stylish usage of shadows and lights for many of the interior scenes to help set the mood as well as play into Blanche’s refusal to see the reality of the world and who she really is. Editor David Weisbart does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the dramatic suspense. Art directors Richard Day and Bertram Tuttle, with set decorator George Hopkins, do amazing work with the look of the apartment as well as some of its exteriors as it help play into the atmosphere of the film as well as the claustrophobic tone whenever Blanche deals with reality. Costume designer Lucinda Ballard does fantastic work with the ragged look of Kowalski including his ripped t-shirts as well as some of the more glamourous look of Blanche that would become more ragged as the film progresses.

Makeup artist Gordon Bau does nice work with the look of Blanche from this attempt at a clean and refined hairstyle as well as the makeup to make herself look younger as it only play into this idea of a fantasy that she wants to hold on to. The sound work of Nathan Levinson and C.A. Riggs is superb for the atmosphere that it creates as it help play into the dramatic tension that occurs in the film that also includes sparse sounds of what is happening outside of the apartment. The film’s music by Alex North is incredible for its rich and eerie orchestral score that includes this theme for Blanche that is only heard by her as it’s chilling and offbeat while the rest of the music is soaring with its string arrangements that is mixed in with bits of New Orleans jazz.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from August Kuhn as a sailor Blanche meets upon her arrival to New Orleans, Richard Garrick as a doctor who appears late in the film, Ann Dere as a mysterious matron that only Blanche sees, Wright King as a young collector that Blanche meets in the middle of the film, Rudy Bond and Nick Dennis in their respective roles as Kowalski and Mitch’s poker buddies Steve and Pablo, and Peg Hillas in an excellent performance as the apartment complex landlady Eunice who often takes Stella in whenever Kowalski gets intense as well as someone who doesn’t like him much at all. Karl Malden is brilliant as Mitch as a friend of Kowalski who served in the war with him as he becomes fascinated by Blanche as he hopes to be with her as it’s a role that has Malden display some vulnerability and sensitivity but also someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone although he’s unaware of the trouble he’s in when it comes to Blanche.

Kim Hunter is amazing as Stella Kowalski as Blanche’s sister who finds herself in the middle of this conflict as she deeply loves both her sister and her husband while also dealing with her impending pregnancy and the chaos at her home. Vivien Leigh is phenomenal as Blanche DuBois as this former English middle-school teacher who was once this revered Southern Belle as she is trying to retain whatever glory she had as she has trouble dealing with her new reality where Leigh displays this air of charm but also anguish in a complex and dangerous performance. Finally, there’s Marlon Brando in an outstanding performance as Stanley Kowalski as this force of nature who doesn’t just exude raw sexuality in his appearance but also a rage of a man who feels threatened by Blanche as he would treat her with cruelty and disdain. It is this performance that is intense where Brando and Leigh do display a great sense of rapport in this performance as well as bringing in two different ideas into their performances that makes them a highlight to watch.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a sensational film from Elia Kazan that features tremendous performances from Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden as well as a breakthrough performance from Marlon Brando. Along with its claustrophobic setting, themes of fantasy vs. reality, its intense yet dark approach to melodrama, and Alex North’s exhilarating music score. It is a film that explore two different people having to live together as it explore some of the darkest aspects of human nature but also loss at its most extreme. In the end, A Streetcar Named Desire is an incredible film from Elia Kazan.

Elia Kazan Films: (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) – (The Sea of Grass) – (Boomerang!) – (Gentleman’s Agreement) – (Pinky) – (Panic in the Streets) – (Viva Zapata!) – (Man on a Tightrope) – On the Waterfront - (East of Eden) – (Baby Doll) – (A Face in the Crowd) – (Wild River) – (Splendor in the Grass) – (America America) – (The Arrangement) – (The Visitors (1972 film)) – (The Last Tycoon)

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Police Detective

 

For the third week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of police detective movies as it play into police detectives trying to uphold the law as well as keep people safe from harm. Here are my three picks as it is devoted entirely to the Police Story film series starring Jackie Chan:

1. Police Story
The first of the two films to directed and choreographed by Chan is a film that everyone has to see in not just stunt work, action choreography, suspense, and presentation that includes Peter Cheung’s impeccable editing. It’s also a film that is really funny where if it’s watched in its original language or dubbed into English, Chan is always a joy to watch as he brings in a comedic style that owes a lot to the silent film performers such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. It revolves around Chan’s character Ka-kui who is trying to take down a drug lord with the help of a reluctant witness while the film includes what is probably one of the greatest action sequences inside a mall that remains a high-water mark of action film presentation.

2. Police Story 2
The second film of the series that is also directed by Chan has him reprising his role of Ka-kui as he is trying to stop a group of serial bombers while being demoted as a traffic cop due to events in the previous films. Also starring Maggie Cheung who reprises her role as Ka-kui’s put-upon girlfriend May, it is a film that has more dramatic stakes where Ka-kui is trying to be a good cop but also a good boyfriend to May as he’s dealing with all sorts of shit. The playground sequence is another inventive action scene that showcases choreography at its finest as well as a chase scene involving trucks, buses, and locations as it is proof of Chan’s gift as an actor that even his silent comedy influences would be proud of.

3. Police Story 3: Supercop
The third film that is directed by Stanley Tong and the last film in the series to feature Maggie Cheung has Chan’s character team-up with Michelle Yeoh who plays a Chinese office who teams up with the Hong Kong-based Ka-kui to stop a drug lord who threatens both factions just years before Hong Kong would return to Chinese rule. It is a fun film that has lots of great stunts yet Chan definitely meets his match in Yeoh whom he shares the spotlight with as she gets to do some amazing stunts making it a more collaborative affair. Yet, it was so successful that Yeoh’s characters gets to have a spin-off that features a cameo from Chan and another franchise regular in Bill Tung as Ka-kui’s captain.
© thevoid99 2021

Friday, January 15, 2021

Lucy in the Sky

 

Directed by Noah Hawley and screenplay by Hawley, Brian C. Brown, and Elliott DiGiuseppi from a story by Brown and DiGiuseppi, Lucy in the Sky is the story of an astronaut whose experience in space has her lose sight with reality. The film is a drama where a woman deals with life back on Earth as it is sort of based on the real life story of Lisa Nowak and her criminal activities relating to her romantic affair with a fellow astronaut. Starring Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Jeffrey Donovan, Colman Domingo, and Ellen Burstyn. Lucy in the Sky is a messy and nonsensical film from Noah Hawley.

The film follows an astronaut who is eager to return to space but becomes disconnected with reality just as she begins an affair with another astronaut that eventually becomes troublesome. It’s a film that plays into a woman’s emotional and mental descent as she embarks on a tumultuous affair with a colleague as well as trying to go back to outer space despite the presence of a younger candidate who wants her spot. The film’s screenplay play into the descent that its protagonist Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) endures as well as her desire to relive the experience of being in outer space yet it also goes into places where the narrative isn’t sure where it wants to go and what it wants to be. Notably as it doesn’t do enough to explore Lucy’s mental issues following her return from space as she believes she is alright despite the concerns of Dr. Will Plimpton (Nick Offerman). The man Lucy has an affair with in a fellow astronaut in Mark (Jon Hamm) is someone who says a lot of things but he also has kids and not much is known whether he’s married or divorced as he also has interest in Lucy’s new rival in Erin (Zazie Beetz).

If the script’s problems in establishing characters and its lack of exploration of Lucy’s disconnect with reality, Noah Hawley’s direction for the film is what makes everything fall apart. Shot on location in Southern California with some of it as part of Texas and Florida, the film has no clue on what it wanted to be where Hawley wanted to make this drama of a woman’s mental struggles but also this romantic drama with no sense of cohesive direction. Even in some of Hawley’s approach to wide and medium shots have him using different aspect ratios where some of the scenes on Earth including Lucy’s home with her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) and their niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) are shot in a 1:33:1 aspect full-frame ratio where there’s some scenes shot in 1:85:1 and 2:35:1 aspect ratios as it gets confusing. Even where Hawley is trying to use the framing devices as a form of style but it ends up being a total distraction to the story as it would change every time until Hawley until sticks with one for its third act.

Hawley does use some close-ups that includes a scene where Lucy is training underwater as water went inside her helmet during the training scenario as she was able to finish it but raises concern about her mental state. It’s a rare good scene in a film that just gets crazier as the third act includes scenes that needed humor. Especially in light of the real-life stories that the film is based on yet it never goes there as Hawley just makes it dramatic leading up to this insane confrontation between Lucy and Mark as the aftermath of it is just a hollow and underwhelming resolution into what happened to her in the end. Even as it feels like it has been rushed and without explanation of how she got to the end as it’s just lazy storytelling. Overall, Hawley crafts an idiotic and humorless film about an astronaut who loses grip with reality as she engages into an affair with another astronaut that leads to chaos and stupidity.

Cinematographer Polly Morgan does excellent work with the film’s cinematography in its emphasis on low-key lights for many of the interiors in the day and night as well as some vibrant lighting for the scenes at the training stations. Editor Regis Kimble does a fine job in the editing despite the over-usage of jump-cuts to play into Lucy’s paranoia and troubled state of mind as it really does make the film jarring for much of it. Production designer Stefania Cella, with set decorator Jon J. Bush and art director Samantha Avila, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Lucy and her husband live in as well as Mark’s office. Costume designer Louise Frogley does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual including the clean-cut look of Drew.

Special effects supervisor Mark R. Byers and visual effects supervisors Matthew Bramante do terrific work with the visual effects for the scenes in space though one sequence that involves Lucy moving through walls and into another location is one of the dumbest effects moments in the film. Sound designers Ai-Ling Lee and Tobias Poppe do superb work with the sound as it play into some of the natural locations though it does go overboard as it play into Lucy’s paranoia. The film’s music by Jeff Russo is good with its mixture of orchestral flourishes and ambient music while music supervisor Maggie Phillips provides a decent soundtrack that includes the B-52s, Riders in the Storm, Mel Tillis, and Norah Jones but it also features a horrendous cover of the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Jeff Russo and vocalist Lisa Hannigan.

The casting by Ronna Kress is alright despite the fact that a lot of the actors don’t get much to do while being hampered by a terrible script and poor direction. Performances from Nick Offerman as the psychiatrist Dr. Will Plimpton, Tig Notaro as the astronaut Kate Mounier, Jeffrey Donovan as the astronaut trainer Jim Hunt, and Colman Domingo as the mission director Frank Paxton aren’t just severely underused but never really do anything to be involved with the narrative with the exception of Domingo’s character who plays a key role in the third act as it relates to Lucy’s mental state. Pearl Amanda Dickson is wonderful as Drew and Lucy’s niece Blue Iris as a young girl who is concerned about her aunt’s mental state as she reluctantly joins her for the road trip in the film’s third act. Zazie Beetz’s performance as Lucy’s rival Erin Eccles is severely underwritten as she’s just there to be this romantic/competitive rival with not much to do while Ellen Burstyn’s performance as Lucy’s grandmother Nana Holbrook has a few funny lines and such but never gets the chance to be used more as her one appearance in the film’s third act is just dumb.

Dan Stevens is alright in his performance as Lucy’s husband Drew as someone who is religious and kind-hearted yet becomes concerned about Lucy’s activities as he is hampered by the fact that he is underwritten and is just there to be a cuckold. Jon Hamm’s performance as the astronaut Mark Goodwin where it has its charm but is hampered by the film’s script as someone who is a manipulator and a womanizer as he ends up being one-dimensional. Finally, there’s Natalie Portman in a stellar though flawed performance as Lucy Cola as this astronaut whose experience in space has made her lose touch with reality as Portman does what she can to play into that disconnect but she is held back by the film’s awful script while her Texan accent is spotty at times and having to sport one of the worst haircuts ever on film.

Lucy in the Sky is a lousy and horrendous film from Noah Hawley. Despite Natalie Portman’s attempt to give a fiery performance, the film’s terrible script, messy presentation, and lack of humor as it relates to the real-life story the film is inspired by. It is a film that wants to be a lot of things yet its lack of cohesion and idiotic presentation makes it a total chore to watch. In the end, Lucy in the Sky is a fucking awful film from Noah Hawley.

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: 2020 Releases

 

For the second week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into 2020 releases as it was a really shitty year overall as even cinema took a hit due to the pandemic where many movies didn’t get the chance to be seen in theaters and there’s also a lot of films people missed out on. Then there’s films that just absolutely fucking suck that people need to avoid. Here are my three picks of 2020 films that I hope to never see:

1. The Kissing Booth 2
I do like Joey King and I do think she’s a talented actress yet I don’t understand why she takes part in awful films. From her collaborations with Roland Emmerich to this inane franchise of teenage love that doesn’t have any realism nor does it have anything empowering to women. It is about a girl dealing with a long-distance relationship with a guy who is really an asshole as his brother still has feelings for this girl as he is the best friend. The fact that the film is over 2 hours long is just ridiculous.

2. Songbird
It is bad enough everyone here has to deal with this awful pandemic but a movie about life during a pandemic that is produced by Michael Bay? If it has his name, stay the fuck away from that piece of shit. I’d rather die from COVID than watch a second of his bullshit. It’s a lame ensemble film about people living in the pandemic during a time where people can’t get out and set in a suspense film. You know the film is fucked when the leading role is played by a no-talent pretty boy but it gets worse when it doesn’t do anything.

3. The Tax Collector
I don’t understand the hype for David Ayer as a filmmaker as I’ve seen a few of his films and I’m not impressed. The fact the guy said “fuck Marvel” at Comic-Con only for Suicide Squad get trashed by the critics and audiences and then having a film like Bright get a worse reception. This film about a couple of Latinos who collect taxes for high-ranking gang members feature Shia LaBeouf as a Mexican with real tattoos. LaBeouf as a Mexican is just ridiculous but the fact that he got real tattoos as a way to be authentic is proof of why method acting has to fucking go. It is a film that wants to be a gritty crime film set in the streets but it ends up being stupid.

© thevoid99 2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

 

Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the story of two teenage cousins who travel from Pennsylvania to New York City to seek help over the pregnancy of one of the cousins. The film is an exploration of a young woman dealing with being pregnant at age 17 as she seeks the help of her cousin as they try to figure out what to do. Starring Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an evocative and riveting film from Eliza Hittman.

The film is the simple story of a 17-year old girl who travels to New York City with her cousin from Pennsylvania as she seeks to have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents as she deals with not just uncertainty but also the overwhelming journey to get the abortion. It is a film with a simple premise as it explores the plight of this young woman who is 10 weeks into her pregnancy as her parents don’t know about it where writer/director Eliza Hittman showcases the life of Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) as she deals with feeling ill and learns that she is pregnant as she couldn’t tell her parents who are already busy dealing two younger kids. Autumn’s cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who is the same age, helps her out as they steal money from the grocery store they work at as they travel to New York City knowing that an abortion done at their home would put Autumn in serious trouble with her parents. Upon their arrival, they deal with not just trying to find a place to sleep but also cope with the little money they really have as well as the reality that Autumn has to face in not just money but also revelations about her own sexual history.

Hittman’s direction is straightforward as she doesn’t really aim for any kind of stylistic approach other than shoot the film with hand-held cameras to give it an air of realism. Shot on location on location in the state of Pennsylvania and New York City, Hittman doesn’t aim for a lot of wide shots in the film in favor of maintaining an intimacy in the film. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots play into not just Autumn’s plight and the situation she faces but also the journey she takes with Skylar who knows the trouble that Autumn is in as she is willing to help but also go to New York City. The film opens in an unconventional way with a school performance with kids wearing 1950s-inspired costumes with Autumn performing a folk song as it play into this growing isolation she’s dealing with. The scenes in New York City has this air of craziness in what Autumn and Skylar encounter as they would go to an abortion clinic as well as this air of uncertainty.

The film’s title refers to the answers Autumn has to give in these questions when she’s talking to a counselor at it is presented in this simple static close-up shot that goes on for minutes without the need to cut. It adds to the drama and anguish that Autumn is enduring and what she has to do to get this abortion as she and Skylar both realize that this procedure isn’t cheap. The film’s second half would have Skylar meet a young man in Jasper (Theodore Pellerin) who takes interest in her as Autumn watches close by with disgust as she is aware of what Skylar is about to go into. Even as Autumn has to cope with her own sexual history and what she has to endure where Hittman definitely doesn’t provide any easy answers as well as the fact that young women are under pressure to be sexually active as it relates to Skylar and her infatuation with Jasper. Overall, Hittman crafts a heart-wrenching yet intoxicating film about a 17-year old girl who travels to New York City with her cousin to get an abortion.

Cinematographer Helene Louvart does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it emphasizes more on natural lighting and a raw tone that gives the film its realistic look. Editor Scott Cummings does brilliant work with the film’s editing as it straightforward with not a lot of stylish quick-cuts in favor of letting shots linger in order to play into the drama. Production designer Meredith Lippincott, with set decorator Brittany Henrickson and art director Tommy Love, does excellent work with the look of the home that Autumn lives in as well as a few of the places she and Skylar go to in New York City.

Costume designer Olga Mill does nice work with the film’s costumes as it is largely casual including the yellow hoodie-coat that Autumn wears. Sound designer Chris Foster does superb work with the sound as it play into the realistic atmosphere of the locations as well as how a room sounds to maintain its realistic tone. The film’s music by Julia Holter is fantastic for its mixture of ambient music and somber yet low-key orchestral texture that play into the drama while music supervisors Maggie Phillips and Christine Greene Roe largely feature a few classical music pieces, 50s covers for the film’s opening scene, a couple of karaoke performances of songs by A Flock of Seagulls and Gerry and the Pacemakers, and a folk song by Sharon Van Etten in the film’s final credits.

The casting by Geraldine Baron and Salome Oggenfuss is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Aurora Richards and Rose Elizabeth Richards as Autumn’s two younger sisters, Mia Dillon as a women’s center director in Pennsylvania, Carolina Espiro as a financial advisor at the New York clinic, Drew Seltzer as a creepy grocery manager, Kim Rios Lin as an anesthesiologist, Kelly Chapman as a sympathetic social worker at the New York clinic, and the duo of Sharon Van Etten and Ryan Eggold as Autumn’s parents. Theodore Pellerin is excellent as Jasper as 20-something man Autumn and Skylar meet whom the latter is attracted to as he helps them with money as well as having a good time with them including his own sexual interest in Skylar. Talia Ryder is incredible as Skylar as Autumn’s cousin who accompanies her to New York City as she does what she can to help Autumn while having her own interests that include Jasper. Finally, there’s Sidney Flanigan in a phenomenal performance as Autumn as this 17-year old girl who learns she is pregnant and knows she isn’t ready to be a mother as she deals with her journey as well as not telling her parents as it’s an understated yet raw performance from Flanigan.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a tremendous film from Eliza Hittman that features spectacular performances from Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. Along with realistic yet ravishing presentation, a haunting music soundtrack, and its exploration of young woman dealing with the sexuality and its drawbacks as well as abortion. It is a film that showcases a young woman’s plight as well as the decision she’s made including the pressure of young girls being sexually active. In the end, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a magnificent film from Eliza Hittman.

Eliza Hittman Films: (It Felt Like Love) – (Beach Rats)

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Front Runner

 

Based on the book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai, The Front Runner is about the real-life rise and fall of American presidential candidate Gary Hart from his rise as a Senator running for the presidency to his fall when reports of an extramarital affair emerged. Directed by Jason Reitman and screenplay by Reitman, Bai, and Jay Carson, the film is a look into a man’s rise-and-fall as someone who seemed like he was full of promise only for a trip on a boat at a party where everything goes wrong as Hugh Jackman plays the role of Gary Hart. Also starring Vera Farmiga, Kaitlyn Dever, Alfred Molina, and J.K. Simmons. The Front Runner is a compelling though undercooked film by Jason Reitman.

The 1988 U.S. Presidential election that lead to the victory of then-vice president George H.W. Bush over the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis yet the person who was the front runner in the primaries was Gary Hart as the film chronicles three weeks in the life of Hart in early 1987 during his campaign and how it all fell apart over news of an extramarital affair. The film’s screenplay opens with Hart’s loss at the 1984 primaries to Walter Mondale as the senator from Colorado would try again in 1988 on a campaign of ideas as he would intrigue a lot of voters who see him as a fresh face. Yet, one lousy decision to attend a party at a yacht would undo everything for Hart as it relates to questions of immorality. The film’s screenplay is straightforward yet it never goes further in its exploration of immorality as it relates to the people not doing enough to get Hart to open up as well as the world of journalism as they realize what must be done to sell newspaper. Though some of the characters such as the famed Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina) reveal what has to be done yet he is aware that this is a part of an evolution in journalism whether he likes it or not.

Jason Reitman’s direction is largely straightforward in his compositions though the film opens with a long tracking shot on coverage of the 1984 Democratic primaries and Walter Mondale’s victory as people working for Hart are trying to figure out what to do next. Shot largely on location in the state of Georgia with some of it shot in Atlanta and Savannah with additional locations in Colorado, Miami, and New York City, Reitman creates a film set in a time where everyone was eager for change and Hart as this idealist might be their man. Reitman does create some unique wide and medium shots to get a look of what Hart is trying to do in order to reach voters but also to get a scope at the large ensemble that includes his campaign team lead by campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons). The scene at the boat where Hart would meet Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) is more about the party as Reitman doesn’t show Rice’s face until later in the film’s second half as there aren’t a lot of close-ups on her as she is presented as a woman who put herself in a bad situation unaware that things are going to get worse.

Since this is a film about scandal and how it destroys a man’s ambitions, Reitman and his co-writers don’t exactly go all the way into not just exploring the immorality of Hart’s actions but also into some of the seedier details into his affair with Rice. The lack of intrigue as it focuses on journalists printing the story as well as the moral implications that lead the way to tabloid news of sorts does bring the film down a bit as well as provide some scenes where the pacing suffers. Even in the third act with people in Hart’s campaign wanting him to confess his actions though Hart claims that his private life is no one’s business. The film’s climax does have suspense into what journalists ask him as one of them in AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie) asks him about his morals as he had asked him weeks earlier during an interview that didn’t put Hart in a good light. Overall, Reitman crafts a fascinating but messy film about the rise and fall of American politician Gary Hart during his presidential campaign.

Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography in maintaining a low-key mood for some of the interior scenes as well as emphasize on autumn-like colors for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editor Stefan Grube does excellent work with the editing in creating some straightforward cuts to play into the drama and some of the dramatic suspense. Production designer Steve Saklad, with set decorator Melinda Sanders and art director Cameron Beasley, does brilliant work with the look of Hart’s campaign headquarters and his homes as well as the look of the offices for the various newspaper buildings. Costume designer Danny Glicker does fantastic work with the clothes the characters wear including some of the casual 80s look that Rice wears as well as Hart’s family.

Hair stylist Lawrence Davis and makeup artist Wendy Bell do nice work with the look of the characters from the look of Hart as well as some of the 80s hairstyles women had at the time. Special effects supervisor David Fletcher and visual effects supervisor Chris LeDoux do terrific work with some of the film’s visual effects as it relates to journalists being on TV as they’re talking to real-life figures as much of it is set-dressing. Sound editor Perry Robertson do superb work with some of the sound in the way a room full of people sound like as well as the raucous sounds of journalists trying to get answers from Hart. The film’s music by Rob Simonsen is wonderful as it does feature bits of low-key orchestral music to play into the drama with some percussive-based music to play into the political aspects of the film while music supervisor Tricia Halloran feature a soundtrack of the music of the times that is played on location as it includes music by Boston, Henry Mancini, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Expose`, the Whispers, and Gene Clark plus a couple of classical piano pieces performed by Vera Farmiga.

The casting by John Papsidera is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Mike Judge as a reporter for The Miami Herald, Spencer Garrett and Ari Graynor in their respective roles as veteran Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Ann Devroy who both give Parker advice on ethics, Chris Coy as Hart’s press secretary Kevin Sweeney, Oliver Cooper as Hart’s deputy political director Joe Trippi who spends time with Hart’s wife and daughter during the scandal, Alex Karpovsky as Hart’s advance man Mike Stratton, Josh Brener as Hart’s political advisor Doug Wilson, Tommy Dewey as Hart’s deputy campaign manager John Emerson, Mark O’Brien as Hart’s body man Billy Shore, Kevin Pollak as The Miami Herald editor-in-chief Bob Martindale, and Alfred Molina in a small role as the famed Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee who is aware of what this scandal would do but also knows that he has a job to do whether he likes it or not.

Steve Zissis and Bill Burr are superb in their respective roles as The Miami Herald reporters Tom Fielder and Pete Murphy as the two men who would investigate Hart’s personal life and discover the identity of Donna Rice. Sara Paxton is fantastic as Donna Rice as the woman who sleeps with Hart as she copes with being part of a major scandal while Molly Ephraim is excellent as Hart’s campaign scheduler Irene Kelly who tries to help Rice. Kaitlyn Dever is brilliant as Hart’s daughter Andrea who watches from afar and begins to wonder if everything her father does would ruin the family. Mamoudou Athie is amazing as A.J. Parker as a journalist for The Washington Post who goes on the road with Hart as he asks questions only to upset Hart prompting to find out about Hart’s private life as he asks him some big questions at the film’s climax. J.K. Simmons is incredible as Hart’s campaign manager Bill Dixon as a man who is trying to run the campaign but is aware of how damaging the scandal is where Simmons displays some humor early in the film but then becomes serious when things do get serious.

Vera Farmiga is wonderful as Hart’s wife Lee though it’s a role that doesn’t get enough coverage despite Farmiga’s performance as she allows herself to maintain some dignity as she watches her life fall apart from afar though it is hampered by how underwritten her character is. Finally, there’s Hugh Jackman in a remarkable performance as Gary Hart as this idealistic senator who is the front runner for the upcoming 1988 U.S. Presidential election until news about his extramarital affair comes into question where Jackman brings a unique presence to a man who is vehemently private and refuses to answer any questions only to alienate those closest to him as Jackman does bring in that intensity of a man who is trying to protect himself only to fall apart because of his own actions.

The Front Runner is a good but underwhelming film from Jason Reitman. Despite its ensemble cast led by Hugh Jackman and some solid technical work, the film is a compelling real-life drama about the rise-and-fall of Gary Hart yet it unfortunately chooses to play it safe leading to a film that is undercooked and not having enough intrigue. Even as the real-life scandal itself is filled with stories that unfortunately does pave the way for tabloid news to become big business as Reitman’s attempt to comment on morality gets bogged down by the drama. In the end, The Front Runner is a stellar but deeply flawed film from Jason Reitman.

Jason Reitman Films: Thank You for Smoking - Juno - Up in the Air - Young Adult - Labor Day -(Men, Women, & Children) – Tully (2018 film) - (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks (Oscar Winners Edition): Best Picture

 

For the first week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We enter the first in a series of subjects devoted to the Oscars as the first is on Best Picture winners. Films that are considered the best of the year they’re released to the public as there’s been many that are great but there are also films that won that big prize but have not aged well. Here are my three picks for winners for Best Picture… that absolutely fucking sucked:

1. Driving Miss Daisy
How in the fuck did this film beat Born on the 4th of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot? Not to mention that there were several other films not nominated for Best Picture that are regarded as classics such as Do the Right Thing, Batman, Drugstore Cowboy, sex, lies, & videotape, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Glory, The Little Mermaid, and so many other films that could’ve gotten that fifth spot. All this movie is about an old cranky white lady who just keeps on bitching and bitching to her black chauffeur and all sorts of shit. It has not aged well and it remains one of the worst films that I had ever seen in my life.

2. Dances with Wolves
Awakenings, Ghost, and Goodfellas could’ve been a better choice than what won as it was essentially a boring western about a cavalry officer who decides to make friends with the Native Americans and then become one of them yet there is no dancing with wolves. How can you call a movie with that name and there’s no dancing wolves? Kevin Costner fortunately would make a much better film in Open Range but this was extremely dull as fuck. As someone like myself who loves westerns, this was just terrible and there is no way a film like that is better than fucking Goodfellas.

3. A Beautiful Mind
Moulin Rouge!, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring would’ve been better choices than this extremely saccharine, dull, and idiotic film about a mentally-ill mathematician. There are so many films released in 2001 that are so much better and instead they gave the Oscar to fucking Opie and the asshole who wrote the lines, “Hi Freeze! I’m Batman!” I hated this film and the only reason Jennifer Connolly won the Oscar was to make up for the fact that she didn’t win it the year before for Requiem for a Dream. It is a very by-the-numbers film that is manipulative and with some idiotic twists and turns that doesn’t do anything for the people involved. It’s Oscar-bait bullshit just like the other 2 films in this list.

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, January 04, 2021

Soul (2020 film)

 

Directed by Pete Docter with additional direction from Kemp Powers and written by Docter, Powers, and Mike Jones, Soul is the story of a middle school music teacher who gets the chance to play for a prestigious jazz band until he accidentally falls down a hole as he seeks to reunite his soul with his body. The film is an exploration of life and what it means of existence and to live as it’s told in a strange mixture of reality and surrealism. Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, and Angela Bassett. Soul is a majestic and evocative film from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers.

The film revolves around a middle school music teacher trying to get back to his body after falling down a manhole where he ventures into a world where he meets a young soul that isn’t eager to go to Earth where he shows this young soul what it means to live. It’s a film with a unique premise as it plays into this man who is given the chance of a lifetime to play for a prestigious jazz band in New York City as it’s something he always dreamed of yet the excitement of passing the audition has him falling down this manhole. The film’s screenplay by Pete Docter, Kemp Powers, and Mike Jones do play into this long-held desire that Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) has in wanting to be a jazz pianist ever since he was a teenager but chooses to be a middle school teacher in order to pay the bills as he is reluctant to go full-time. A former student who is playing drums for the respected and revered jazz musician Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) would get Gardner to audition for her as he passes and then falls into a manhole.

That’s only the first few minutes of the film as the script plays more into the exploration of what it means to live as well as what defines a soul where Joe is supposed to go into the Great Beyond where those who have passed are meant to go but Joe refuses as he finds himself in the Great Before. The Great Before is a place where unborn souls are there to find personalities and everything else that would define them before they enter Earth as Joe is mistaken for an instructor who is given the task to mentor an unwilling soul named 22 (Tina Fey). 22 is a character who had been given many mentors including Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, Mother Teresa, and many others but none have been able to get through to her about what it means to live as Joe shows her some of the simple ideas including music as they’re aided by a strange mystic known as Moonwind (Graham Norton) to help her out as well as take her to the place of lost souls whom he rescues.

The direction of Pete Docter, with additional contributions by Kemp Powers who is credited as a co-director, does create these massive set pieces in a world that is based on reality that is New York City but also this strange reality that is the Great Beyond, the Great Before, and other worlds where lost souls are recovered. With the help of animation directors Jaime Landes Roe, Gini Cruz Santos, and Royce Wesley, the world that Joe encounters are presented in different styles as the look of New York City as well as some of the places Joe go to each have their own sense of style that has an air of realism but also some beauty thanks to the contributions of the film’s cinematographers Matt Aspbury and Ian Megibben who help create unique lighting schemes in the way rooms are lit in the day and night with production designer Steve Pilcher, along with art directors Paul Abadilla and Tim Evatt, and visual effects supervisor Michael Fong in the creation of the Great Before with its vibrant colors and the world of lost souls that is dark and colorless. The scenes in the Great Before feature characters in these counselors who are called Jerry as they’re presented in this traditional hand-drawn animation style that is unique but also has these offbeat personalities that adds to some of the surreal elements that Joe and 22 encounter.

Docter and Powers also create the subplot as it relates to an accountant named Terry (Rachel House) who always count on those who die and are set to the Great Beyond as she notices that the count is off as it relates to Joe not going to the Great Beyond. The film’s second act is about Joe showing 22 the ideas of living where 22 would experience things that add to the joys of life through simple pleasures and encounters. Docter and Powers provide these moments that definitely echo some of ideas of pure cinema as well as surrealism in its third act as it relates to 22’s journey in trying to find her spark that would allow her to go to Earth and live. Yet, it forces Joe to have some revelations about his own life and his own pursuits of being a jazz musician as he has to help 22 to not only find her own purpose in life but also in just living for the moment and enjoy it. Overall, Docter and Powers create a rich and rapturous film about a music school teacher trying to show a young soul the pleasures and meaning of life.

Editor Kevin Nolting does brilliant work with the editing as it play into some of the humor as well as some of the drama as there is a rhythm to the cutting in its presentation of the music but also in some of the surreal elements of the film. Sound editor Coya Elliott and sound designer Ren Klyce do amazing work in the sound in some of the sound effects that are created as well as the natural sounds of certain locations and how certain objects sound in the things 22 encounters. The film’s jazz music soundtrack by Jon Batiste is incredible in the way it plays into Joe’s life and sense of improvisation in how life works while the electronic music score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for scenes in the Great Beyond and the Great Before is probably the major highlight of the film with its mixture of ambient, throbbing electronics, and discordant industrial textures that adds to the mystical and suspenseful elements of those worlds while its music soundtrack also include pieces from Daveed Diggs, Cody ChestnuTT, Bob Dylan, a cover of the Impressions’ It’s All Right performed by Batiste, and jazz pieces from Walter Norris, Duke Pearson, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.

The casting by Natalie Lyon and Kevin Reher is superb as it feature voice appearances and cameos from Pixar regular John Ratzenberger as a subway passenger, Sakina Jeffrey as a doctor, Laura Mooney as a therapy cat owner, Cora Champommier as one of Joe’s students who gets lost in playing the trombone, Margo Hall and Rhodessa Jones as a couple of Joe’s mother’s co-workers, June Squibb as a soul that Joe meets who is about to enter the Great Beyond, Cody ChestnuTT as a subway performer, Daveed Diggs as a frenemy of Joe’s in Paul, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimester, and Zenobia Shroff as soul counselors named Jerry, and Donnell Rawlings as Joe’s barber Dez who has some unique views about life and what he could’ve done but is content with what he’s doing. Angela Bassett is fantastic as the revered jazz musician Dorothea Williams as a saxophonist/band leader who is hoping that Joe gives her what she wants while Questlove is excellent as Joe’s former student Curly who plays drums for Williams and gets Joe the chance to audition for her. Phylicia Rashad is brilliant as Joe’s mother Libba as a seamstress who wants Joe to accept the full-time teaching job and not go after his dream of being a musician knowing what his father had tried to do for years.

Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade are amazing as two soul counselors in the Great Before both called Jerry as Braga is more informative and witty while Ayoade is the funnier one. Rachel House is incredible as the soul counter Terry as an accountant who makes sure the count is precise on those who go to the Great Beyond as she becomes intent on finding Joe. Graham Norton is marvelous as Moonwind who works as a human being sign twirler by day yet is a soul who captures lost souls in the lost world and gets them back as Norton provides a comical and offbeat approach to his character who sails on a ship to the music of Bob Dylan. Tina Fey is phenomenal as 22 as a cynical soul who isn’t eager to go to Earth as she likes to mess with other souls though she reluctantly let Joe mentor her where she realizes that there are things she might want to experience. Finally, there’s Jamie Foxx in a sensational performance as Joe Gardner as a middle-school music teacher who dreams of being a jazz musician and play in a jazz band as he deals with being in a mystical world and to try and guide a young soul about the pleasures of life as he begins to question about aspects of his own life in this endearing voice performance.

Soul is an outstanding film from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. Featuring a great ensemble voice cast, gorgeous visuals, engaging themes of existential and what makes life worth living, and an exhilarating music score from Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross. It’s a film that isn’t just engaging and full of wit but it’s also a film that allows its audience to understand the ideas of life and what it means to live and enjoy it without trying to be heavy-handed nor be overly-intellectual. In the end, Soul is a magnificent film from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers.

Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters Inc.) – (Finding Nemo) – The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) – (Cars 3) – Coco - The Incredibles 2 - Toy Story 4 - (Onward)

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