Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Films That I Saw: March 2021


It’s been more than 2 months since Joe Biden has entered into the White House yet the stench of the previous administration still looms. Even in violent acts across the country including here nearby in Atlanta as this wave of anti-Asian rhetoric has emerged where a number of Asian women were killed in massage parlors by some crazy white guy. It’s a world that is getting more insane as there’s been attacks on Meghan Markle because of her identity from someone like Piers Morgan who should never have a voice on anything considering that he has been friends with people who weren’t just racist but were also some of the vilest people on the face Earth. It shouldn’t have surprised me that Sharon Osbourne of all people would defend him as she just got fired from her show as I tend to forget that she is an awful person. After all, this is the woman who tried to sabotage Iron Maiden’s performance at Ozzfest in 2006 all because vocalist Bruce Dickinson didn’t like her show.

It’s a world that is going crazy as I consider what kind of world that my nephew has to endure when he grows up. Even now as I have gained a new member of my immediate family on March 11, 2021 in my niece in Cynthia Adalina Flores-Publicover as she is named after my late younger sister Cynthia yet we all call her Adalina. She’s been around for a few weeks yet is aware of all of us though she hasn’t seen my face properly because I have yet to be vaccinated. I’m still waiting to get the word to be vaccinated while I’m now dealing with what is probably the worst pollen season in years as it’s why I hate spring more than any other season of the year.
In the month of March, I saw a total of 23 films in 7 first-timers and 16 re-watches which is decent considering I had to spend part of my time taking care of my almost 2-year old nephew who loves to go outside to the playgrounds and run around. The highlight of the month has definitely been my Blind Spot Series film in The Great Escape. Here are my top 3 first-timers that I saw for March 2021:

1. Girlhood
2. Native Son
3. Homework
Monthly Mini-Reviews & What I’ve Been Watching

WandaVision (episode 9)
The final episode of the first season of the MCU TV series may not have been as emotionally-involving as its previous episode but it does pay off into a hell of a climax. Notably as it finally creates this conflict between Wanda Maximoff and her neighbor Agnes who is revealed to be a witch in Agatha Harkness as Maximoff eventually accepts her new identity. The episode has a lot of revelations about Maximoff’s grief but also with a lot of open-ended possibilities of what she is going to do with Monica Rambeau also helping out and understanding what Maximoff had done. The episode is a fitting finale as it play into Vision’s fate and the secret that has been unveiled into what S.W.O.R.D. had been trying to create. As for the whole first season, this is definitely one of the best things Marvel has created as it definitely raises the bar of what TV series could be while it gives Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn some of their best work as well as a breakout for Teyonnah Parris as Monica Rambeau with Kat Dennings and Randall Park providing some amazing supporting work.

South ParQ Vaccination Special
This special from the famed animated TV series is an improvement over its previous episode as it plays more into Mr. Garrison’s return to the town as well as the friendship of the four boys starting to fracture. It also play into the paranoia of who gets the vaccines as well as the stupidity that is QAnon. It has some funny moments but it is a messy episode with an ending that is typical of the show in the fact that everything gets resolved but they always are going to find a way to fuck it up for everyone.

The Craft: Legacy
This was painful to watch as I do like Zoe Lister-Jones as I was a fan of her film Band Aid while I also like Cailee Spaeny and Gideon Adlon but this film was horrendous. It is really this unnecessary reboot/remake/sequel of sorts to the 1996 film as it never did anything original but it is often surrounded by this horrible music soundtrack that pops up every now and then. There was also some lame twists including a really lame villain in the film as it never does anything exciting nor does it have anything suspenseful as it feels really by the numbers as it was just an awful film.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (first 2 episodes)
Available on YouTube for free as this documentary series about pop singer Demi Lovato and her struggles with sobriety is a chilling series as it plays into a young woman who grew up a child star and then a teen idol but has trouble dealing with her own identity as well as having to please so many people. It is so far a film that really showcases what happened to her in 2018 when she nearly died of a drug overdose that involved heroin of all things. The revelation that the dealer who supplied her the drugs also raped her while she was unconscious is unsettling as it just adds to the air of discomfort while what happened once she arrived to the hospital and stayed alive is just as shocking. Heart attacks, strokes, organ failures, and being blind for a time. Yet, this is only half of the story so far.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (first 2 episodes)
The second entry from the MCU TV series that is also Disney+ is a completely different show as it emphasizes more on suspense, identity, and legacy. Under the direction of Kari Skogland and created by Malcolm Spellman, it is a show that is familiar with some of the films of the MCU yet it is more grounded into the struggles that both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are enduring post-Blip. The former being a free agent who is trying to save his family’s fishing business while the latter is dealing with PTSD and the guilt of his actions as the Winter Soldier. That’s all in the first episode as the second one features Wyatt Russell as John Walker who becomes the new Captain America and honestly, I hate this character. He is not my Cap. The second episode is so far the best as it goes head on into the discussions of racism as it features veteran actor Carl Lumbly as Isaiah Bradley as an African-American super-soldier who fought the Winter Soldier during the Korean War and ripped his arm off only to be in prison for 30 years by Hydra and the government.

These revelations as well as the fact that government are willing to cover up these stories just add to the discussion as well as a discussion of globalization as the group Sam and Bucky have to go against are just young super-soldiers trying to be people helping the unfortunate and thought that things were better during the Blip. That sense of complexity add to the show’s charm with both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are doing great work as it’s just the start of great things to come.

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changer (episode 1)
Having grown up in the 90s and seen all three films of the franchise, this was a curiosity that I wanted to see on Disney+ as it stars Lauren Graham as a single mom who is trying to help her son be part of the Mighty Ducks team which is a completely different team from the band of misfits from the film series. Yet, it is more of a study of the modern world of youth sports and how insane it is with parents hiring special coaches, psychologists, and all sorts of things in the hopes that they get their kids to a great school and become professionals instead of just playing for fun. The first episode also features Emilio Estevez reprising his role as a bitter and resentful Gordon Bombay who reluctantly helps Graham’s character in forming her own team with her son and other misfits who just want to play and have fun despite the fact that it’s also full-contact.

A Must-Watch

AEW Dynamite: St. Patrick’s Day Slam-Unsanctioned Lights Out Match: Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa
It’s been more than two years since its inception as All Elite Wrestling has been this great alternative to the lame sports entertainment that is Meekmahan-land (WWE). The show that was launched since the fall of 2019 has been a show I’ve watched every Wednesday as they’ve always had some solid matches and moments with a stacked tag team division, faction wars, and amazing single competitors. The women’s division has gotten to a shaky start though it slowly improved in 2020 yet the biggest thing to come out of the division has been a feud between Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. and NWA star Thunder Rosa that started ever since the latter made an appearance in the late summer of 2020 as part of a working relationship between AEW and NWA. This was a feud that involved Dr. Baker, who had turned heel early in 2020 following a bland run as a babyface, as she felt insulted by Rosa’s presence leading to a few matches and incidents that had the two going at it.

What happened on March 11, 2021 when the match was taped for the next week is monumental not just for the AEW women’s division but also for women’s wrestling in the U.S. This wasn’t just some hardcore match with tables, ladders, chairs, and thumbtacks with both women showing blood. This was a war that had both women going at it and putting their bodies on the line. I rarely stood up and applauded for a wrestling match but this is a true masterpiece in professional wrestling. Many wrestling podcasts and people on social media just talked about this match and this is a match that definitely raised the game for women’s wrestling. While Rosa remains under contract with the NWA until probably next year, she is already the hottest star as there will be a time when she will be in AEW full-time. For Dr. Baker, this puts as the face of the division and it’s time for her to become the AEW Women’s champion while there are others such as veterans like Riho and Ryo Mizunami as well as home-grown talent like Red Velvet and Jade Cargill making their mark while former WWE/NXT talent Tay Conti has become popular. It’s things like that makes me proud to be a fan of pro wrestling as I hope that AEW, New Japan, Impact, NWA, ROH, and other companies around the world work together and put WWE out of business for good.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2. Shock Corridor
3. A Hidden Life
4. Rocky
5. Cinderella
6. Lethal Weapon 3
7. Death Becomes Her
8. Purl
9. 13 Going on 30
10. Drumline
Well, that is it for March. Coming next month, I hope to get back on board into watching a couple of films by Kelly Reichardt and return to work on my overdue Auteurs essay on her. Along with films from my never-ending DVR list and probably a few from my A Little Something Extra list as well as the next film in my Blind Spot Series. I am going to be vaccinated in a few weeks but I’m not going back to the movie theaters immediately unless it’s for something big while I do plan on writing a review on Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2021

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: The Great Escape


Based on the non-fiction novel by Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape is the story of a legendary prison break during World War II at a Nazi prison camp where a group of different soldiers concoct a break at a high-security prison. Directed by John Sturges and screenplay by W.R. Burnett and James Clavell, the film a dramatic version of the real life prison break at Stalag Luft III where a small number of men do whatever they can to break out of this hellish prison camp. Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, and Hannes Messemer. The Great Escape is a riveting and adventurous film from John Sturges.

It is late 1942 as a large number of POWs are sent to the high security Stalag Luft III prison camp as a number of them lead by a mixture of British, America, Polish, and Australian soldiers/officers where that small number concoct an elaborate prison break. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it is more about a group of men trying to understand their environment and how to get out of the prison as well as get out of Germany. The film’s screenplay follows a simple narrative structure as it’s more about the people at the camp and how they meticulously try to get out as well as figure out what is outside of the camp. Notably as they try to do everything secretly under the watchful eye of the prison camp’s commandant Oberst von Luger (Hannes Messemer) who is trying to ensure that nothing goes wrong and the prisoners are treated humanely. Still, he has to deal with the British officer Roger Bartlett aka Big X (Richard Attenborough) who harbors a lot of disdain for the Nazis following his time with the Gestapo as he’s someone who knows about prison breaks as he confides in his superior Captain Ramsey (James Donald) about the plan who chooses to mediate between the prisoners and Kommadant von Luger.

Two of the American prisoners in Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley aka the Scrounger (James Garner) and Captain Virgil Hilts aka the Cooler King (Steve McQueen) try to concoct their own plans yet they would eventually work with the other prisoners as the latter often breaks out only to come back and put in the isolation confinement. The former doesn’t just try to charm a guard in Werner (Robert Graf) but also befriends Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe aka the Forger (Donald Pleasance) as the latter starts to go blind making Hendley protective of him. Also part of the team include the Polish digger/tunnel maker Danny Welinski aka the Tunnel King (Charles Bronson), his friend Willie Dickes (John Leyton), and the Australian Sedgwick aka the Manufacturer (James Coburn) as they all meticulously plan to build a tunnel system while also trying to find ways to keep it a secret. There are also these situations that Hilts had observed during his own brief escapes as it also concerns locations, blind spots, and other areas that the prisoners have to deal with.

John Sturges’ direction is definitely engaging for the way he creates the atmosphere of the film but also finds an air of hope during a moment of repression and frustration. Shot on location in areas near and around Munich including the Bavarian region in then-West Germany, the film uses the prison location as a character as it is surrounded by forest where there’s Nazis patrolling in areas outside of the prison as it would add to the suspense during its third act. Much of the film’s first and second takes place in the prison camp where it is about the location and where a few blind spots are and where the coolers are placed for the prisoners who overstep their bounds and are sent to the isolation centers. While Sturges uses some wide shots to get a scope of the locations as well as these unique dolly-tracking shots to get a look into the length of the tunnels. Sturges also maintains that air of claustrophobia in the medium shots and close-ups for some of the tunnels as it plays into the struggles that Welinski endures as it pertains into his own secret despite being a great creator of tunnels.

Sturges also plays up the air of suspense as it relates to these prisoners dealing with the idea that they might be caught as it includes a moment where all of the prisoners are having a drink of moonshine some of the prisoners created where one of the planned tunnels is discovered. It would add to the drama as the scene where a small number of prisoners make their escape through the tunnels is an intense moment filled with dread and uncertainty. Yet, it’s outside of the camps that are much more dangerous where no one has to make a noise or be caught by a light. It is a gripping sequence in the film that is followed more by a chilling aftermath once some of these men are out of the camp as they have to watch where they’re going and such. Getting out of the prison is easy in comparison to getting out of Nazi Germany as there are some thrilling and exciting moments including a scene of Hilts escaping on a motorcycle. While its conclusion might seem bleak, there is something hopeful about it considering the work that these men did to break out of prison as it gave them a sense of urgency and a need to be alive as it adds to the human spirit. Overall, Sturges crafts an evocative and exhilarating film about the real-life POW camp escape and the details of the men who planned the escape.

Cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on dream-like natural lighting for some of the daytime scenes set in the morning as well as its approach to lights for some of the scenes at night including the scenes in the tunnels. Editor Ferris Webster does excellent work with the editing as much of the cutting is straightforward to play into the action and suspense as well as to play into some of the dramatic moments in the film. Art director Fernando Carrere and set decorator Kurt Ripberger do amazing work with the look of the prison camp as well as some of the houses and the cooler as it is play into the claustrophobia and the way the tunnels were designed. The special effects work of A. Paul Pollard does terrific work with some of the action including some of the motorcycle chase for the film’s climax. Sound effects editor Wayne Fury does nice work with the sound in the way gunfire sound as well as some sparse sounds in the tunnel scenes. The film's music by Elmer Bernstein is incredible with some thrilling themes as well as a memorable marching theme as it adds to some of the humor and workmanship of the tunnels as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast as it feature some notable small roles from Ulrich Beiger and Hans Reiser as a couple of Gestapo officials who have it in for Bartlett, Jud Taylor as an American soldier who often keeps Hilts’ baseball glove for safekeeping, Robert Graf as a naïve German soldier in Werner whom Hendley likes to bullshit with but also make him feel important, Nigel Stock as a British officer in Cavendish who is nicknamed the Surveyor for making sure everything is kept secret from the Germans, Angus Lennie as the Scottish soldier Ives who often joins Hilts at the cooler with a desire to get out, David McCallum as a British officer who creates an ingenious way to get rid of dirt, John Leyton as Welinski’s friend Willie Dickes who helps Welinski in digging the tunnels and to help him with Welinski’s issues, and Gordon Jackson as Bartlett’s second-in-command Andy MacDonald who helps plan the escape and ensure that things go right.

Hannes Messemer is superb as Kommadant Oberst von Luger as the camp’s commandant who oversees everything and tries to make sure the prisoners are well-treated as he does give a sympathetic performance of a man just doing his job but also knows he doesn’t want to do anything extreme. James McDonald is fantastic as the British officer Captain Ramsey as the leader of the prisoners who tries to ensure that everyone does their duty and keep everything a secret while having to do some diplomacy with Kommadant von Luger. Donald Pleasance is excellent as the master forger Colin Blythe who strikes a friendship with Hendley as he deals with a growing blindness that makes his a liability as he also does what he can to help everyone out despite his blindness. James Coburn is brilliant as the Australian officer Sedgwick who helps construct some of the wood for the tunnels including the small trains as well as watch out for guards. Charles Bronson is amazing as the Polish officer Danny Welinski as a man who is an expert in creating tunnels yet is dealing with his own issues as he starts to deal with his illness that almost makes him a liability.

Richard Attenborough is incredible as RAF officer Roger Bartlett as a British officer who has already caused trouble with the Gestapo as he leads the charge to plan an escape as he also tries to boost up morale despite some of the darker moments that occur in the film. James Garner is phenomenal as the American RAF officer Bob Hendley who does what he can to get things as he also bullshits his way to get them but also a man who possesses a great sense of warmth to others including Blythe whom he vouches for and helps him escape as it’s one of Garner’s finest roles. Finally, there’s Steve McQueen in a tremendous performance as the American officer Captain Virgil Hilts as a man who likes to push buttons while being someone who can help everyone else as he is also willing to put himself in isolation just for the team as he’s also one of the toughest guys who is willing to do what it takes to outsmart the Nazis even if it means getting caught.

The Great Escape is a magnificent film from John Sturges. Featuring a tremendous ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, Elmer Bernstein’s sumptuous music score, gripping suspense, and a story of determination and wit. It is a film that can be served as a prison break film that everything else has to follow while it is also a testament to the human spirit in war whether it’s those digging the tunnels or those who try to create some kind of peace in the darkest of times. In the end, The Great Escape is an outstanding film from John Sturges.

Related: The Magnificent Seven

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks (TV Edition): Opening Title Sequences


For the 12th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We return to the world of television in opening title sequences as it always presents something memorable to set up the show and what people are going to watch. It introduces the players in the show and all sorts of things as here are my three picks that would inspire episodes of the Marvel TV series WandaVision with themes written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez:

1. Bewitched

The show that ran from 1964 to 1972 about a witch who marries an ordinary man and tries to lead a normal life for him is considered an iconic show that play into the silliness of married life with a witch having to deal with her mother who wants her to leave her husband. It is a show that opens with an inventive sequence told in hand-drawn animation as it plays into the silliness of Samantha’s desire for a normal life with her husband Darrin. It is an iconic intro that would be the inspiration for the second episode Don’t Touch That Dial that pays homage to the show and its introduction.

2. Malcolm in the Middle

The early 2000s sitcom about the life of a kid and his dysfunctional family as they try to live their lives while dealing with all sorts of problems was popular during its 7 season run from 2000 to 2006 as it focused on a middle child with three siblings and parents who are eccentric yet loving as he is the smartest kid of them all but has trouble relating to his family. The episode’s intro that is performed by the alternative rock band They Might Be Giants as it plays into the manic energy of the series. It would be the inspiration for the sixth episode of the series All-New Halloween Spooktacular! in which its intro song is sung by riot grrl artist Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.

3. The Munsters

The classic 1960s TV series that only ran from 1964 to 1966 about a family of monsters that mixes that mixes horror-comedy with the tropes of the sitcoms was a short-lived series that does remain popular in its aftermath. Notably as it features an introduction piece that sets up the series with a rock n’ roll-based music intro that was kind of a new thing for its time. Yet, the theme would be the inspiration for a major twist in the episode Breaking the Fourth Wall in which a character reveals herself and with her own theme intro that has now become a really popular song in Agatha All Along.

© thevoid99 2021

Friday, March 19, 2021

Homework (1989 film)


Written, directed, and co-edited by Abbas Kiarostami, Homework is a documentary film about the lives of students at the Shahid Masumi primary school in Tehran as well as their parents. The film explores the lives of these kids and their families as well as the struggles they endure to get a good education. The result is a fascinating and insightful film from Abbas Kiarostami.

Shot in February of 1988 at the Shahid Masumi primary school in Tehran, the film follows the lives of various young students at the school as filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami interviews them about their homework and the struggles to finish it as well as perspective from a couple of fathers who also share their own struggles. The film is largely straightforward as it features Kiarostami talking to a student and get insight into what they do after school and why they don’t finish their homework all the time as it also has discussion of punishments the kids had to endure from their parents. Much of Kiarostami’s work features simple set-ups and compositions in how he interviews each student with a few shots of himself talking as he wants to learn more as he has a son that also struggles with his homework in school.

With the aid of co-editor Yavar Toorang in compiling a lot of the interviews including shots of kids reciting a daily pledge of allegiance before school begins. Kiarostami and his cinematographers in Iraj Safavi and Ali Asghar Mirzai showcase that scene where the sound is cut off to showcase some of the lack of attention span in some of the kids who prefer to goof off and have conversations rather than do this pledge. It play into the idea that these kids probably have learning disabilities that teachers, parents, and the government might’ve overlooked or dismissed as Kiarostami asks some of those kids the struggles. Even in a couple of fathers who admit that work and illiteracy contribute to the reasons why their sons couldn’t finish their homework without their help. It does show these two men in a sympathetic light as it play into their own struggles as they do want what is best for their children despite the tremendous circumstances they have to endure.

With the help of sound recordist Ahmad Asgari and sound mixer Changiz Sayad in capturing the audio of the interviews and pledge scenes, Kiarostami keeps much of the production simple to the point that there’s no music to accompany everything until the end. The film’s music by Mohammad Reza Aligholi is terrific for its somber and mesmerizing orchestral score as it only appears in the film’s final interview and closing credits.

Homework is a marvelous film from Abbas Kiarostami. Featuring its simple presentation and its willingness to ask simple questions from children and adults about education and their struggles. It is a documentary film that plays it simple yet manages to get a lot of compelling answers. In the end, Homework is a remarkable 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? - 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 - 24 Frames

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Fake Identity


For the 11th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of fake identities as it has people pretending to be someone else either to hide something or to take advantage of people’s identities. Here are my three picks:

1. Purple Noon
An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel that would be part of a series of novels related to the character of Tom Ripley, Rene Clement’s adaptation features a star-making performance from Alain Delon as Ripley as he tries to help a friend raise money to return to America only for things to go wrong where he takes on a new identity. It is a film rich in its imagery and setting with Delon just exuding an air of beauty and sensuality that would make him an idol for a time. Yet, the film is somewhat overshadowed by another adaptation that came out nearly 40 years later in The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon in the titular role.

2. The Passenger
Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film is a film where it wasn’t given a wide release despite being well-received from critics as it plays into a photo-journalist on assignment in North Africa as he laments over his life and career. Upon meeting a man he had met only to find him dead after an assignment, he takes on that man’s identity unaware of what he does in real life. It is a film that features a lot of the visual trademarks and themes that is expected from Antonioni yet it is Jack Nicholson as the journalist who takes on a new identity as he goes on the road with Maria Schneider through Spain makes the film a triumph and certainly one of Antonioni’s greatest films.

3. Hiding Out
An underrated 80s film starring Jon Cryer as a stockbroker who gets into trouble with the mob as he is forced to hide out and take on an identity as a high school student as he lives with his cousin while getting a different look. It is a comedy at times but it’s also a heartfelt drama as Cryer really manages to display a lot of charm including his scenes with Annabeth Gish as it is a worthwhile film. Notably as Cryer manages to play a high school student and a bearded stockbroker really well.

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Girlhood (2014 film)


Written, costume designed, and directed by Celine Sciamma, Bande de filles (Girlhood) is the story of a 16-year old girl who lives in a rough neighborhood in Paris as she befriends a trio of girls who refuse to be defined by the rules of society. The film is a coming-of-age story that follow four young French-African women who deal with their lives as well as the world that is often ruled by boys as they all choose to make up their own rules. Starring Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, and Marietou Toure. Bande de filles is an evocative and hypnotic film from Celine Sciamma.

The film follows a French-African 16-year old girl whose oppressive family life and lack of prospects at school as she befriend a trio of girls who are part of a gang as she embraces a new lifestyle that refuses to be defined by anything including the law of men and boys. It’s a film that follow this young woman and three other young women who are also French-African and live in rough areas near Paris as they’re all high school drop-outs with not much of a future other than just hanging out and forming their own crew. Celine Sciamma’s screenplay has a structure that follows the journey that Marieme (Karidja Toure) who isn’t an academic prospect despite her hard work but the lack of a future and the abuse she receives from her old brother due to her mother not being around because of work. Upon meeting these trio of young women lead by Lady (Assa Sylla), Marieme becomes part of the group as a way to not just fit in but also find her identity though she still has to deal with things including taking care of her two younger sisters as one of them is becoming a teenager.

The script also has this unique narrative structure that play into Marieme’s development as she would gain a nickname in Vic and how she would earn it. Even as she becomes someone that is loyal to her gang as she takes part in gang fights while she also starts to showcase her own idea of womanhood as she would also gain a boyfriend in Ismael (Idrissa Diabate) who is a friend of her brother. The script also play into some of the downsides of gang life where Marieme learned about a former member and why she left though there’s no animosity between her and the gang while Marieme also sees her younger sister be part of a young gang.

Sciamma’s direction definitely bear some style in its visuals yet remains grounded in its emphasis to study the world of urban life that is on the outskirts of Paris as it is shot on locations outside of the city with a few parts in the city. Sciamma’s usage of the wide shots don’t just add to the scope of the locations as they’re unique in its setting as world that has elements of African culture but also in tune with what the city of Paris is as well as some American culture. Notably with African-American culture as the four young women play into that world that says a lot about their identity as black women that include music, dancing, and clothes with Sciamma serving as the film’s costume designer where she uses clothes to help express these women including Marieme’s own evolution as a person. In the first act, she wears largely sports-like clothing as the first scene shown have women playing American football while the second act has Marieme wear more street-like clothing as well as expensive designer dresses. One noted scene during the second act involves the four women all wearing these expensive dresses and jewelry where Marieme earns the name Vic as they all sing and lip-sync to Rihanna’s Diamonds as it is presented in a medium shot in very few shots where Sciamma lets the camera linger in this moment that is just intoxicating.

Sciamma also showcase the world of African-French culture and how they interact with conventional society but also be part of their own yet there are also dangers as it relates to Marieme’s own attraction to Ismael and its repercussions. Notably as her home life becomes more oppressive with her mother unable to be at home and her brother being more controlling as Sciamma’s close-ups and medium shots play into that as the film’s third act is darker as it relates to the path that Marieme takes upon meeting this drug dealer in Abou (Djibril Gueye) who offers her a home away from her brother but her gang believes it is a bad idea. It is where the film’s tone does change in terms of its mood yet remains consistent with the narrative that Sciamma is telling as it play into her lack of a future yet there is also something hopeful in the way the film ends as it is more about Marieme taking control of who she is with or without a gang. Overall, Sciamma crafts a mesmerizing and riveting film about a young woman who joins a gang of women in a search for her own identity away from her oppressive home life.

Cinematographer Crystel Fournier does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its vibrant usage of colors including for many of the interior/exterior scenes at night as well as its emphasis on low-key lighting. Editor Julien Lacheray does amazing work with the editing as it has elements of style in a few jump-cuts as well as some slow-motion bits as it help play into the drama and Marieme’s own journey. Production designer Thomas Grezaud does excellent work with the look of Marieme’s home as well as a few of the places she goes to including hotels and restaurants. Makeup supervisor Marie Lusiet and hair supervisor Milou Sanner do fantastic work with the look of the hairstyles that the young women wear as well as how the makeup enhances their beauty as it play into the celebration of what it means to be black.

Sound editor Pierre Andre does superb work with the sound as it is straightforward as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how sparse the sound is during one of the fight scenes in the film. The film’s music by Jean-Baptiste de Laubier as Para One is incredible for its soothing electronic music score that features elements of ambient and hip-hop that helps play into Marieme’s own journey of self-discovery while its music soundtrack features an array of music from Rihanna, J. Dash, Light Asylum, Lita Solis & Audrey Carpentier Mballa, and some classical pieces.

The casting by Christel Baras is incredible as it feature notable small roles from Damien Chapelle and Rabah Nait Oufella as a couple of Marieme’s friends late in the film, Dielika Coulibaly as a prostitute named Monica that Marieme also befriends late in the film, Binta Diop and Chance N’Guessan as a couple of Marieme’s younger sisters, Siminia Soumare as a former gang member in Bebe, Djibril Gueye as the drug dealer/businessman Abou, Idrissa Diabate as a young man Marieme falls for in Ismael, and Cyril Mendy as Marieme’s abusive older brother Djibril. Marietou Toure and Lindsay Karamoh are amazing in their respective roles as Fily and Adiatou as two gang members who both like to have fun as they take Marieme into their gang as they would be impressed with her determination and sense of loyalty.

Assa Sylla is brilliant as Sophie/Lady as the gang leader who takes a liking to Marieme as she is wowed by her loyalty as well as realizing she can count on someone during the toughest of times. Finally, there’s Karidja Toure in a phenomenal performance as Marieme/Vic as a 16-year old woman living in the projects as she deals with limited prospects as she drops out of school and joins a gang as she goes on a discovery of her identity while dealing with an oppressive home life as Toure’s performance is one filled with anguish but also moments that are just lively as it is a major breakthrough for Toure.

Bande de filles is a spectacular film from Celine Sciamma that features an incredible leading performance from Karidja Toure. Along with its ensemble that includes its trio of young women in Assa Sylla, Marietou Toure, and Lindsay Karamoh, exploration of French-African culture, gorgeous visuals, and a hypnotic music score and soundtrack. The film is truly unique in its exploration of womanhood told from a different voice and world that will seem foreign to many yet has similarities in how black women choose to define themselves no matter the circumstances and their refusal to be identified a certain way. In the end, Bande de filles is a tremendous film from Celine Sciamma.

Celine Sciamma Films: (Water Lillies) – (Tomboy (2011 film)) – Portrait of a Lady on FirePetite Maman

© thevoid99 2021

Friday, March 05, 2021

Native Son (2019 film)


Based on the novel by Richard Nathaniel Wright, Native Son is the story of a young African-American man who takes a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white businessman in Chicago where things don’t go well as it seems. Directed by Rashid Johnson and screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks, the film is an exploration of a young man who is given a major opportunity only to find himself in serious trouble as the story is set to modern times since the book and previous adaptations took place during the 1940s. Starring Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, David Alan Grier, and Sanaa Lathan. Native Son is a compelling and haunting film from Rashid Johnson.

The film follows a young African-American man who lives in the working class area of Chicago as he’s given the chance to take a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white businessman only to deal with his wild daughter. It’s a film with a simple premise that does play into a young man given an opportunity that will help financially as well as socially though he is an anomaly of sorts as he prefers to listen 70s/80s punk rock and classical music than hip-hop. Suzan-Lori Parks’ screenplay is largely straightforward as it is told largely from the perspective of its protagonist Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders) who lives with his family in the streets of Chicago as it include two young siblings and his mother Trudy (Sanaa Lathan).

While Bigger has a girlfriend in Bessie (KiKi Layne), he is often pressured to take part in things some of his friends do that often involve criminal activities as this opportunity to be a chauffeur for the wealthy businessman Henry Dalton (Bill Camp) as he’s a kind and likeable figure that Bigger doesn’t have any disdain for. Yet, it is Dalton’s daughter Mary (Margaret Qualley) as she is a radical who is engaged to a young activist in Jan Erlone (Nick Robinson) as Bigger thinks they’re good people but also a bit disconnected with the real world.

Rashid Johnson’s direction does have elements of style yet much of his approach to the compositions are largely straightforward as it is shot on location in Chicago. Johnson uses the city as a character as it play into two different worlds of the city with one being urban and working class while the other is upper class and rich. Johnson’s wide and medium shots to play into these different worlds that Bigger is in the middle of as he wants to remain in his original environment but also sees the advantages of the upper class and what it has to offer. There are close-ups that Johnson uses to play into Bigger’s viewpoints on the world he’s in as he’s also narrating through voice-over narration as he copes with his situations in a poetic approach. Johnson also play into some of the tension that is happening with Bigger and some of his friends as one of them wants to do a robbery but is upset that Bigger isn’t black enough because of the music he listens to and the fact that he’s working for a white man. While Bessie gets to know Mary and Jan a bit, she is still unsure if they’re a good influence as she believes the former is trouble.

Johnson’s direction in the film’s second half is eerie as it play into the trouble Bigger gets into as it relates to Mary and Jan in their activities but also wanting to score drugs and be part of Bigger’s social circle. Bigger tries to keep them away from trouble but it is Mary and Jan that are the powder keg of emotions due to the fact that the former is really unstable. Its third act is about Bigger and the consequences of his time with Mary as he is aware that he would be in big trouble with the police largely due to the social injustices and inequalities. Johnson’s direction does put in some unique visuals yet play into the drama that Bigger endures as he is unsure of what he would do as he is also forced to confront his own identity as a young man and the world he’s in. Overall, Johnson crafts a riveting and eerie film about a young man’s opportunity goes wrong due to some awful decision involving both his urban environment and the world of the upper class.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting for many of the daytime scenes including some of its interiors as well as some low-key and stylish lighting for the interior/exterior scenes at night including a party scene with neon lights. Editor Brad Turner does excellent work with the editing as it has some stylish cuts including a few jump-cuts and montages as it play into the whirlwind that is Bigger’s life. Production designer Akin McKenzie, with set decorator Melisa Jusufi and art director Miles Michael, does fantastic work with the look of the Doyle family home as well as a few of the places Bigger goes to with Bessie, Mary, and Jan. Costume designer Elizabeth Birkett does nice work with the costumes from the leather jacket and punk paraphernalia that Bigger wears to some of the posh clothes that Mary wears in major social gatherings.

Hair stylist Tonya Johnson does terrific work with the look of the hairstyles of Bigger, Bessie, and their own social circle. Visual effects supervisor Joshua James Johnson does some fine work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it relates to a few dream sequences and set dressing in some parts of the film. Sound editors Mary Ellen Porto and Ryan M. Price do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of some of the locations including the parties that Bigger goes to. The film’s music by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is wonderful for its somber ambient music score as it play into the drama including moments of dramatic suspense while music supervisor Howard Paar creates a killer music soundtrack that ranges from classical music, hip-hop, and punk rock from Ludwig Van Beethoven, the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and several others.

The casting by Raylin Sabo and Mary Vernieu do incredible work with the film’s ensemble cast as it include some notable small roles from Barbara Sukowa as the Daltons’ housekeeper Peggy, Jerod Haynes and Lamar Johnson as a couple of Bigger’s friends in Jack and Gus respectively with the latter feeling that Bigger is selling out, Stephen Henderson as the Dalton family’s old chauffeur who warns Bigger about what he’s getting into, David Alan Grier as Trudy’s boyfriend Marty who tells Bigger about the job, Elizabeth Marvel as Mary’s legally-blind mother, and Sanaa Lathan in a terrific performance as Bigger’s mother Trudy who is concerned about the opportunity that Bigger is embarking on. Bill Camp is superb as Mary’s mother and the wealthy Henry Dalton as a man who wants to give Bigger this opportunity and do well as he’s also someone who knows that Bigger is a good person and doesn’t want to get into any trouble.

Nick Robinson is excellent as Jan Erlone as a young activist who befriends Bigger as he wants to know more about Bigger’s world as isn’t as radical as Mary though is naïve about what he wants to do despite his good intentions. KiKi Layne is brilliant as Bessie as Bigger’s girlfriend who is a kind-hearted person that is a bit wary of Mary despite the opportunity that Bigger is getting as she becomes troubled by Bigger’s behavior late in the film. Margaret Qualley is amazing as Mary Dalton as the daughter of a wealthy businessman who is wild as well as having radical ideas of wanting to change the world yet is also a loose cannon due to her love of partying and causing trouble to the point that she would even make Bigger uncomfortable. Finally, there’s Ashton Sanders in a remarkable performance as Bigger Thomas as a young African-American man with a love of classical music and punk rock as someone who is given the chance to have this prestigious job yet he copes with the two worlds he live in as well as the consequences he would face as it is an understated and complex performance of a young man who makes bad decisions but also tries to comprehend what happened and how it would impact him.

Native Son is a marvelous film from Rashid Johnson that features incredible performances from Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, and KiKi Layne. Along with its ensemble cast, study of social classes, killer music soundtrack, and its evocative visuals. The film is a unique character study that explore a young man trapped into two different social environments and how it would impact the decisions in his life. In the end, Native Son is a remarkable film from Rashid Johnson.

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Best Actor and Best Actress Winners (Oscars Edition)


For the ninth week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We return to the subject of the Oscar winners in the form of Best Actor and Best Actress. It is a moment where film stars strive to reach that moment as it could be this accomplishment many had been waiting for or something that happened at the right time or it could be a case of too early and too soon. There’s also moments where the wrong winners come in and just ruin everything. Here are my three picks for each category:

Best Actor

1. Sean Penn-Milk
There’s no question that Sean Penn is a great actor as his performance as the openly-gay politician Harvey Milk is one of his best performances. Yet, it’s a performance that doesn’t really deserve the Oscar as it just bears a lot of the elements that is typical of Oscar-bait but Penn does manage to at least Milk a great character. The reason Penn doesn’t deserve the Oscar is 2 words: Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler isn’t just this great comeback performance but one that is eons away from what Penn is doing. The only other performance that should’ve been considered but wasn’t nominated that year is Benicio del Toro in Che.

2. Eddie Redmayne-The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Dr. Stephen Hawking is an excellent performance that showcases the life of the famed astrophysicist yet it is a performance that is really showy in which Redmayne does a lot of mouth twitching and playing disabled as it is the kind of shit that wins awards. Yet, the Oscar really should’ve gone to Michael Keaton for Birdman as not only was that a major comeback performance but also a study of a man trying to understand his worth as an actor and his own faults. My father really liked what Keaton did as he also saw Redmayne’s performance and hated it. The moment Redmayne won the Oscar and Keaton putting his speech back in his pocket is heartbreaking to watch for myself and my dad as he loved Keaton. Till the moment he passed, my father never got over that and will always hate Eddie Redmayne for all eternity.

3. Rami Malek-Bohemian Rhapsody
I do like Rami Malek and I do think he’s an amazing actor but his performance as Freddie Mercury is really uninspired largely due to the fact that it played into too many dramatic liberties and made Mercury to be boring which is further from who the man really was. The script and Bryan Singer really did a disservice to Malek who ends up giving a very typical performance that doesn’t do anything new nor does it make Mercury interesting. The performance that should’ve won the Oscar that year is Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate which has this air of anguish and mystique that feels true to who Van Gogh is.

Best Actress

1. Jessica Lange-Blue Sky
Jessica Lange is a great actress and her performance in Tony Richardson’s final film is amazing yet it came out three years after it was finished but languished due to Orion Pictures’ bankruptcy. It is a fine film but nothing really great except for Lange as this troubled, mentally-ill woman who has an affair with an officer only to be used as a way to get rid of her husband. Lange is excellent yet she only won because the Best Actress race was kind of weak as the only person who was her true competition is Winona Ryder for Little Women yet actresses who weren’t nominated and could’ve made the Best Actress more interesting are Mia Kirshner for Exotica, Irene Jacob for Three Colors: Red, Juliette Lewis for Natural Born Killers, and Toni Collette for Muriel’s Wedding.

2. Sandra Bullock-The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock is a national treasure as she is someone that is constantly a joy to watch and always delivered and if there was a performance that should’ve gotten her the Oscar, it would’ve been for Gravity. Yet, her performance in this film is just so typical of the white savior trope where Bullock had this exaggerated Southern accent and a bad blonde hair look as it was grating to watch and never felt authentic at all as it just added a lot to a bad movie. Bullock’s other nominees had better roles and performances as Carey Mulligan or Gabourey Sidibe should’ve won while other performances that should’ve been nominated are Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist, Katie Jarvis for Fish Tank, Kim Hye-ja for Mother, Abbie Cornish for Bright Star, and Penelope Cruz for Broken Embraces.

3. Jennifer Lawrence-Silver Linings Playbook
I do think Jennifer Lawrence is a brilliant actress though I can understand the criticism she’s received as she has managed to rub people the wrong way with her personality as well as playing roles that are meant for people than her. Her performance in this film is an excellent one and filled with a lot of charisma and weight yet the performances from her fellow nominees including Naomi Watts, Jessica Chastain, and late Emmanuelle Riva were better while Marion Cotillard is one performance for the film Rust and Bone is probably the best performance that year that wasn't even nominated.

© thevoid99 2021