Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Films That I Saw: January 2024


We’re one month into the New Year and already, it’s been insane as things between Israel and Palestine are at its worst as Joe Biden really should’ve stayed away from this whole thing as it’s been one complicated thing after another with no real winners. Here in the U.S. is just as bad as it is an election year as once again. Democracy offers very little to the common American as it’s really choosing between a shit sandwich and a giant douche. At the same time, there’s been a lot of cold weather as it’s gotten bad here in Georgia as my niece and nephew have gotten sick as did my mother and I. Well, things could be worse as part of me is glad that I’m staying at home.

This month in the world of professional wrestling has been fucking insane with Kazuchika Okada earlier this month announcing that he’s leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling as this is huge because Okada is considered the best pro wrestler ever. Yet, it shows that New Japan is going through a new transitional phase at this point as they’ve been through many ups and downs through its 50-year plus history but Okada’s exit is astronomical as it is believed that it has to do with a downturn in Japan’s economy. The question is where will he go as many believe it is likely he’ll go to AEW as it would be the right place for him as he wouldn’t have to uproot his family to America and stay in Japan and work with people he’s known for years as well as new friends such as Bryan Danielson whom he wrestled against at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom in what is definitely an early candidate for match of the year.

AEW is the most likely place for Okada as Will Ospreay is also leaving New Japan for AEW though both men are finishing up their obligations for New Japan. While there have been possibilities that Okada might go to WWE, there isn’t a lot of news over that as WWE made some groundbreaking news this past week in making a $5 billion deal with Netflix to stream WWE Raw beginning in 2025 as it is a landmark deal for the company. Unfortunately, all of that news that WWE was hoping to celebrate was overshadowed by the actions of its former chairman Vince McMahon over his own sexual allegations and misconduct that had been all over the news in the past year. Especially in light of a recent article from The Wall Street Journal over a relationship he had with an employee who is suing him for not just abuse but also sex trafficking even though she signed a NDA last year but that NDA became null and void due to the fact that she only received $1 million of the $3 million settlement she was supposed to get.

A 67-page legal document became public recently as I read the whole thing and well… it’s beyond repulsive. For years, I’ve known that McMahon has some weird tastes as anyone growing up during the Attitude Era of the late 1990s know how fucked up he is. In the mid-2000s when his daughter Stephanie was pregnant with her first child, he pitched an angle that he was the father of Stephanie’s baby but Stephanie killed that idea. Looking back at some of those angles he’s known for back then now takes on a different view and it’s even more disgusting in what I’ve read. The abuse this young woman went through is traumatic as it wasn’t just with McMahon but also a former employee in John Laurinaitis among several others. There were also explicit photos featuring her that were sent to supposedly Brock Lesnar as a way to get him to re-sign his WWE contract as well as having to do sexual favors for him. The things that I read are beyond the level of depravity as it has me thinking into why Stephanie McMahon resigned from WWE early last year when her father came back. I can’t same I don’t blame her as I think the only reason her husband HHH stayed is to protect some of the employees as he doesn’t want to talk about the allegations as it might be too uncomfortable for him.

Even though McMahon just resigned from TKO and WWE doesn’t mean he’s going away as he’s always going to find a way back but he needs to be banned from the company and be put into trial. Laurinaitis needs to be in prison as well as anyone who was involved with this incident as it might not be the only one as there’s probably a whole lot more. This bombshell really did overshadow a lot of things and has made it hard for pro wrestling fans to enjoy themselves as it’s hard to break away from being entertained and what is happening behind the scenes. Even though this year’s Royal Rumble was a good show with an awesome women’s Royal Rumble match that saw Bayley win it this year having going up against 29 other women (and R-Truth) entering the match at #3 and being in the match for 63 minutes. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that the man who turned his father’s regional promotion into this global phenomenon has abused and did a lot to placate to his own ego as it’s made things hard to enjoy WWE just as it was starting to get good again. Still, I’m grateful for AEW, New Japan, Ring of Honor, and TNA for putting out good wrestling and will hope they do well in 2024.
In the month of January 2024, I saw a total of 30 films in 15 first-timers and 15 re-watches with four first-timers being films directed/co-directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. An excellent start to the year despite not going to the movie theaters due to illness but I was able to get access to Paramount+ through Amazon Prime though I’m unsure for how long. A highlight of the month has been my Blind Spot film in Wanda. Here are the top 10 first-timers that I saw for January 2024:

1. Babylon
2. The Last Repair Shop
3. Island in Between
4. The Stunt Double
5. Deciding Vote
6. Hearts Want
7. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
8. Soul Boys of the Western World
9. Good Chemistry: The Story of Elemental
10. Omelia Contadina
Monthly Mini-Reviews/What Else I’m Watching

Soul Boys of the Western World
For anyone who grew up in the 1980s like I did would definitely know about the group Spandau Ballet and their hit song True. Yet, there was so much more to this band that were really part of the Big 4 when it came to the top British acts of the early 1980s with Culture Club, Duran Duran, and Wham! While they may not have had the same success as those four bands did in America, they were able to maintain their popularity throughout the 1980s until they broke up in 1990 after six studio albums. This 2014 documentary that I watched on YouTube about the band is a great look into their beginnings as well as their popularity as it is largely told through archival footage and audio interviews with the band members and how things fell apart towards 1990 as well as a contentious lawsuit between band members over royalties as the band’s guitarist/songwriter Gary Kemp saw it as a low point in his life even though he won the case while his brother/bassist Martin stayed away from the suit not wanting to be in the middle. It is something pop music fans should watch as it showcased their eventual reunion in 2009 up till 2014 though the band had recently disbanded after vocalist Tony Hadley had left the group though the band continued with another singer that didn’t work out.

Omelia Contadina
One of two shorts that I watched on MUBI comes from Alice Rohrwacher in collaboration with the artist JR is this 10-minute short that is a funeral for the world of farming in Italy. Presented as this funeral with these large paper-life figures designed by JR, the people that are part of a farming community all recite some form of a eulogy including a piece written the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Even as it serves as a massive fuck you to modern-day governments and modern sensibilities as these burials of a way of life only serves as the beginning of a resurrection that is to come. It is something that anyone interested in Rohrwacher’s films should see.

Good Chemistry: The Story of Elemental
This documentary film shown on Disney+ is really an autobiographical film on director Peter Sohn and what inspired him to make Elemental. Notably as it mixes a narrative of him talking about his late parents who died during the film’s production as well as the two markets his father owned and ran in the Bronx. A lot of the stories Sohn talks about in his family life would inspire many of the things in Elemental which added a lot of more weight into that film. Even as his father would buy an art shop that his brother Philip would still run as it is a touching documentary that is worth watching as it serves as a great companion piece to Elemental.

I’m Going to Santiago
The second short I watched on MUBI is a 15-minute documentary film by Sara Gomez that showcases the world of Santiago, Cuba in the years following the Cuban Revolution. Notably as it’s a film made by a woman at a time when women filmmakers in Cuba were very rare as she created a documentary short that showcases a lot about the city and its history with its Afro-Cuban community. The film shows some of the city’s landmarks at its time culminating with its carnival that takes on a bigger meeting after the revolution as it’s something people need to seek out.

The Stunt Double

This 9-minute short film that I saw on YouTube that is directed by Damien Chazelle may be an ad for the Apple iPhone Pro 11 that is shot on a 1:1 aspect ratio. Yet, it is an incredible short film that has this stunt man doing a stunt only for the parachute to not work as he travels through the many different periods of cinema while trying to win over the leading lady. It is a fun short film as it is something fans of Chazelle should watch.

The Court Jester

If news over recent criminal charges of assault are true, then whatever comeback plans Pauly Shore has might be flushed down the toilet as it’s a damn shame. Especially as this short film from Jake Lewis that co-stars Jesse Heiman about a fictional appearance from Richard Simmons on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2004 that has Shore playing Simmons is a damn good one. While Shore may not have captured the voice of Simmons, he does manage to create a charismatic performance as well as bring a lot of gravitas to Simmons as he helps a young producer who is having trouble with his duties as well as being fat. Before the news of this assault, I was rooting for a Pauly Shore comeback but now that might not happen.

The Last Repair Shop

One of the five nominees for Best Documentary Short that is available both on YouTube and Disney+ is this heartwarming film about a repair shop for musical instruments for the Los Angeles School District and the four people who work at the shop. Even as school students are among those who talk about the instruments they love as they’re largely minority children who couldn’t afford these instruments but the four different people who help repair these instruments really put a lot of care into them. Especially as you have these four different people from different backgrounds who understand the importance of these musical instruments and what it means to these children.

Hearts Want
A short film I have been wanting to watch for years as it was written by one of my fellow bloggers in Ruth Maramis of Flix Chatter finally became available thanks to Ruth as I watched it some days ago on Vimeo thanks to a password Ruth sent me. It is this touching and evocative film about two actors who were once lovers reuniting in doing a play for their former mentor. It is filled with a lot of drama and tension as the performances of Sam Simmons and Peter Christian Hansen are incredible as this is a short that many people need to seek out as Ruth here has written a winner as I hope she does another one.

Deciding Vote

A documentary short that was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Short is a tremendous documentary as it revolves around New York’s abortion law back in the early 1970s and how one government official in George Michaels would kill his own political career by voting for the law that would protect women and doctors to perform abortions legally. The documentary features interviews with Michaels’ children and his granddaughter as how he was representing a county in upstate New York that was largely conservative despite being a Democrat as he originally opposed the law but changed his mind as it plays into the role of what a politician should be. Michaels’ vote may have killed his career but his legacy for standing up for women’s rights despite the fact that abortions are unfortunately illegal again showed a rare example when the powers that be does something right for a change.

Carl’s Date
A short film by Bob Petersen for Pixar that played with Elemental in its theatrical release features one of the final voice works of Ed Asner as he reprises his role of Carl from Up as he finds himself going on a date with a woman he had talked to on the phone. It is a funny short but also full of heart as Carl still has love for his late wife while is also unsure of what to do though Dug thankfully is there to help him. It is short that is a nice mini-sequel to Up while there’s also a great voice cameo that Petersen made as Alpha who seems to be enjoying post-guard dog life.

Island in Between

The second of the five Oscar nominees for Best Documentary short that I saw is from S. Leo Chiang who is a journalist from Taiwan that is based in New York City as he had just moved back to Taipei as this film is about a tiny island from Taiwan called Kinmen that is a few miles away from mainland China and serves as the first line of defense for Taiwan. Chiang talks about his early life in Taiwan as well as the propaganda it feeds itself for its citizens as it relates to them being the true Chinese yet it turned out to be more complicated. Even in 2001 when a ferry between the island and mainland China was used for Taiwanese to visit the mainland was used until the late 2010s and the emergence of COVID-19 halted things as tensions between Taiwan and China have risen recently. It is a riveting film that has the potential to be something longer but still Chiang manages to create something compelling about this little known island.

2023 has been a rough year for Marvel with the disappointing releases of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Secret Invasion which are both the worst releases from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortunately, this show about Maya Lopez aka Echo is a solid one as it relates to the titular character who remains lost in her grief as she reluctantly returns home to Tamaha, Oklahoma though wanting to avoid some family members she hadn’t seen. It is a riveting show that isn’t just about loss but also a woman re-discovering her roots as well as come to terms with Winston Fisk who had been a father figure to her. The usage of American Sign Language and going into great detail on the Choctaw culture makes the show a joy to watch. Especially as Alaqua Cox as Lopez and Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk are phenomenal with a great supporting cast that includes Graham Greene as Maya’s grandfather. The only thing I’m disappointed about the series is that there’s only five episodes as it left me wanting more.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians (season 1, episodes 4-8)
If this show is going to be renewed, then Disney+ has a winner in their hands as this first season is just great. Especially as the young actors were really the heart and soul of the film as they added that sense of realism and wit to their performances while the guest actors they brought in such as Toby Stephens as Poseidon, Jay Duplass as Hades, and in one of his final performances as Zeus is Lance Reddick. There is also in the role of Ares is…. THE RATED R SUPERSTAR!!!!!! ADAM COPELAND AKA EDGE!!!!! (Christian Cage is better). It is a show full of adventure with some amazing art direction as this is what the first film should’ve been but it is better as a TV series with Rick Riordan’s input as this feels more like something that had to take its time rather than be told in Hollywood film that tries to be too cool for its audience. Bring on season 2!

Top 10 Re-Watches

1. A Fish Called Wanda
2. Blue is the Warmest Color
3. Ratatouille
4. Bones and All
5. The Lion King
6. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
7. Frozen II
8. The To-Do List
9. Mulan
10. David Bowie: Glass Spider
Well, that is all for January. Next month will largely focus on films nominated for the Academy Awards as well as whatever films I had planned to review in the past few months. I’m not sure what theatrical releases I plan to watch though I have bought a ticket for Dune Part II this coming March. There’s a lot of films that I want to catch up on as I have a lot of things in my different watch lists as well as films for the Auteurs series as I will be writing them for the time being as well as other project. Yet, my laptop is starting to show its age as I am in need of a new one as my main priority for the next few months is to get a brand new laptop as that will be the laptop that I will use to write my book.

All of the things I write about in pro wrestling is likely coming to a different blog as I’ve thought about creating a new blog specifically for pro wrestling devoting to matches of the month and such as well as a way to keep track on the best matches of that year as I’m still unfinished with my best of 2023 in the year of pro wrestling. I think I will create that new blog once I get my new laptop. Before I leave, I want to express my condolences to those who have passed this month such as Melinda Ledbetter-Wilson, Chita Rivera, Sandra Milo, Hinton Battle, Jesse Jane, singer Melanie, music producer Frank Farian, Margaret Riley, Gary Graham, filmmaker Norman Jewison, Marlena Shaw, pro wrestler Hardbody Harrison, casting director Nancy Green-Keyes, David Gail, costume designer April Ferry, stuntman Conrad Palmisano, Glynis John, and David Soul. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2024

Saturday, January 27, 2024

2024 Blind Spot Series: Wanda


Written, directed, and starring Barbara Loden, Wanda is the story of a young woman living in a coal region in Pennsylvania as she deals with leaving her husband and losing custody of her children as she copes with a new life filled with all sorts of trouble including a bank robbery. The film is a study of a woman drifting aimlessly as she tries to find new love only to get herself into all sorts of trouble with Loden playing the titular character. Also starring Michael Higgins as Mr. Norman Dennis. Wanda is a stark yet riveting film from Barbara Loden.

The film follows the life of a woman who drifts aimlessly in Pennsylvania following her divorce from her husband as well as losing two kids where she would later meet various men including a robber in Mr. Dennis who take her around the state for his next big scheme. It is a film that plays into a woman who doesn’t have a lot going for her as she lives in the rural coal regions in Pennsylvania where jobs aren’t available for her while is also not good at those jobs at well. Barbara Loden’s screenplay, with minor contributions from Elia Kazan, is quite loose as it doesn’t have much of a plot as it follows the titular character who wanders around as she is late to her court case relating to her husband and their children while would have little money in her pocket as she would sleep around with men including a traveling salesman. Late one night, she walks into a bar that is closed where she meets Mr. Dennis who has robbed the bar as she goes along with him through the state where she learns about what he does. Though she is reluctant to help him in his criminal activities, he does make her feel important despite initially being frustrated and annoyed by her as he comes up with a plan where she would prove herself to be an asset.

Loden’s direction is largely straightforward in its overall presentation as it is shot largely in Pennsylvania with additional locations in Connecticut and on 16mm film. Through the usage of hand-held cameras as well as shooting on location with available light, Loden maintains this sense of realism while using wide and medium shots to play into these locations where Wanda is often alone and feeling out of place. Even as she is someone that doesn’t have much money and as well as the fact that she isn’t a responsible parent and tends to drift around. Loden also uses close-ups and medium shots to play into Wanda’s interaction with others including Mr. Dennis as their relationship is an odd one as he would be abusive towards her. Yet, Mr. Dennis would realize her value as she would get things for him while would also help him be more presentable while they’re on the road.

Loden’s direction also has this sense of improvisation in the way some scenes are filmed as it adds to this uncertainty while also using its minimal $115,000 budget to great use. Even as she also plays into the suspense as it plays into Mr. Dennis’ own plans and how Wanda would be involved as Loden also showcases some somber moments in Mr. Dennis where they go to Holy Land USA in Waterbury, Connecticut where Mr. Dennis visits his father (Charles Dosinan) while Wanda visits the theme park. The film’s third act is about a bank robbery that Mr. Dennis is planning as he thinks of everything yet it is Wanda who would take action early on as it would be this brief moment where Wanda feels really appreciated by someone. Still, Loden doesn’t go for anything conventional as she grounds the film in reality as it relates to everything Wanda is as well as the fact that much of the things she encounters in her life is temporary. Overall, Loden crafts a harrowing yet vibrant film about a woman’s aimlessness that has her hooking up with a bank robber.

Cinematographer/editor Nicholas T. Proferes does brilliant work with both film’s cinematography and editing as the available light adds to the film’s striking visuals including some scenes at night while Proferes’ editing is straightforward in terms of its suspense and drama. Sound editor Harvey Greenstein and sound mixer Dick Voriseck, along with additional work from Lars Hedman, do excellent work in the sound in capturing many of the sounds captured on location as well as the way music and other sounds are heard on a location.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast features notable small roles from Charles Dosinan as Mr. Dennis’ father, M.L. Kennedy as a judge to look over Wanda’s case, Jerome Thier as Wanda’s husband, Maria Thier as Wanda’s husband’s girlfriend, Dorothy Shupenes as Wanda’s sister, Peter Shupenes as Wanda’s brother-in-law, Jack Ford as a bank manager Mr. Dennis targeting, Arnold Kanig as a traveling salesman Wanda sleeps with, Frank Jourdano as a soldier Wanda meets late in the film, and Valerie Mamches as a young woman at a roadhouse that Wanda meets towards the end of the film. Michael Higgins is amazing as Mr. Norman Dennis as a bank robber who reluctantly takes Wanda as a companion while trying to figure things out where he later sees the value that Wanda brings to him. Finally, there’s Barbara Loden in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this aimless woman who is incapable of being responsible as she finds herself in some unique situations as she tries to make herself useful where she finds fulfillment in being with Mr. Dennis as it is a great performance from Loden.

Wanda is a tremendous film from Barbara Loden. Featuring a compelling story of a woman trying to find herself and her worth as well as its gritty yet wondrous visuals, emphasis on realism, and top-notch performances from Loden and Michael Higgins. It is a film that follows a woman with not much options in her life while trying to find something that can give her some meaning. In the end, Wanda is a spectacular film from Barbara Loden.

© thevoid99 2024

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench


Written, shot, co-edited, and directed by Damien Chazelle, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is the story of a jazz trumpeter who meets and falls for a shy woman on a park bench as they embark on a relationship until the trumpeter tries to find a muse whom he thinks would inspire him to make great music. The film is genre-bender that mixes the romantic comedy with old-school musicals set in a modern world as it plays into two people trying to find themselves. Starring Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, and Sandha Khin. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a wondrous and evocative film from Damien Chazelle.

The film revolves around the lives of a couple who had met on a park bench as they would break-up where both of them go onto separate journeys to find themselves. It is a film that explore these two people who would meet as they had this relationship but it would fall apart after a few months as a jazz trumpeter falls for a more outgoing woman who believes would inspire him to make great music. Meanwhile, his former lover is an introvert trying to find work as she would also travel to New York City from Boston where she would find ideas for herself. Damien Chazelle’s screenplay is largely straightforward yet doesn’t have much of a plot as it play into the life of these two people.

Notably as Guy (Jason Palmer) is a jazz trumpeter trying to get a big break as he is starting to get more gigs and recording sessions while his then-girlfriend Madeline (Desiree Garcia) is an aimless woman trying to find herself though she loves Guy’s playing. One day at a subway, Guy meets Elena (Sandha Khin) as they fall in love as Guy breaks up with Madeline who would wander around Boston trying to find work as it lead her to New York City where she would find something. Yet, it all play into these two people still trying to find themselves with Guy also coping with the fact that his new romance with Elena isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Chazelle’s direction is definitely inspired by films of the French New Wave in terms of its overall presentation as it is shot on 16mm black-and-white film stock in its 1:37:1 Academy aspect ratio and shot largely on location in Boston and New York City with a small $60,000 budget. The usage of hand-held cameras with Chazelle serving as the film’s cinematographer does allow the film this sense of improvisation and looseness that is common with films of the French New Wave while Chazelle does a lot to maintain this look that does have a sense of grit while not hiding its low-budget aesthetics in its interior settings. Even as he uses medium shots and close-ups to capture some of the parties and sense of improvisation in which music is a key part in these moments with some tap dancing. Chazelle also creates some intriguing moments that do play like a musical through a couple of songs he wrote with composer Justin Hurwitz where Madeline sings about her situations. The second song features intricate dance choreography by Kelly Kaleta, with Julia Boynton as a tap dance consultant, to play into this somewhat fantasy world that Madeline dreams about.

With co-editor William Adam W. Parker, Chazelle keeps things straightforward as well as using the music to maintain a rhythm into the editing. Still, Chazelle does know when to cut and when not to cut such as the film’s finale as it relates to its main protagonists where there’s a shot that goes on for a few minutes in one unbroken take. It adds to Chazelle’s sense of drama as well as how music can help create something emotional while also playing into this sense of uncertainty that occurs in the film’s ending. Overall, Chazelle crafts a riveting and mesmerizing film about a couple’s life after a break-up as they go on different journeys to find themselves.

Sound designer Geof Thurber does superb work with the sound in the way everything is captured on location as well as how music is heard being recorded and from afar. The film’s music by Justin Hurwitz is incredible with its jazz-based score that helps play into the film’s offbeat tone as well as into the original songs Hurwitz and Chazelle create that Madeline sings including a few jazz standards and an original piece from Guy.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast largely features some unknowns and local actors including Damien Chazelle in an un-credited role as a drum teacher that Madeline goes to, his father Bernard as a man that Madeline would date in New York City, Andre Hayward as a fellow musician Guy works with, Frank Garvin as a man Elena meets late in the film, Alma Prelec as that man’s daughter, and Willie Rodriguez as a friend of Guy that Elena isn’t fond of. Sandha Khin is excellent as Elena as this woman that Guy falls for at a subway as they would have this lively affair despite the fact that Elena doesn’t share the same interest in jazz that Guy does. Desiree Garcia is amazing as Madeline as a young introvert who isn’t sure what to do with her life following her break-up with Guy as she goes on a journey to find herself while lamenting her own life through the songs she sings. Finally, there’s Jason Palmer in a brilliant performance as Guy as this jazz trumpeter that is trying to find inspiration in his music as he believes that Madeline isn’t the right person as he falls for Elena where he copes with trying to get ideas much to Elena’s annoyance leading him to feel lost.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a phenomenal film from Damien Chazelle. Featuring a great cast, wondrous visuals, a compelling story of heartbreak and searching, and an exhilarating music score/soundtrack. The film is a look into two people who fall in love, break-up, and then go on their own individual journeys to find themselves with the aid of jazz music. In the end, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is an incredible film from Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle Films: Whiplash (2014 film) - La La Land - First Man - Babylon (2022 film) - (The Auteurs #76: Damien Chazelle)

© thevoid99 2024

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Babylon (2022 film)


Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Babylon is the story of a group of people making films in the 1920s as they deal with the sudden transition from silent cinema to the emergence of sound in film. The film is an epic period-drama that explores a group of people working in the industry as they embark onto a world of decadence as they also deal with changing times in the world of film. Starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Olivia Hamilton, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Eric Roberts, Lukas Haas, Jeff Garlin, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Samara Weaving, Ethan Suplee, and Tobey Maguire. Babylon is an outrageously wild, decadent, and insanely fun film from Damien Chazelle.

Set from 1926 to 1932 with an epilogue set in 1952, the film follows a number of people living in the wild and excessive world of Hollywood that includes a brilliant yet decadent film star, a rising starlet, a jazz trumpeter, and a Mexican assistant who rises to become a studio executive from the world of silent films to the emergence of sound. It is a film that plays into the lives of various people as they would live a decadent lifestyle that offers so much while also being extremely passionate about their love for film and making films. At the center of this chaos and creativity is a Mexican immigrant in Manuel “Manny” Torres (Diego Calva) who works as an assistant for a studio executive who would befriend various people he meets as he would work his way into a prominent position in the world of film playing to the lives and fates of those he meets and cares for. Even as he has to watch up close and from afar in the lives of these people who would have trouble adjusting to a new world that would become more of an industry than its emphasis on art.

Damien Chazelle’s screenplay is largely straightforward as it opens with Manny trying to get an elephant up a hill for this party despite the fact that the elephant is ill while trying to maintain some control in the sense of decadence happening around him. It is there he meets a young wannabe starlet in Nellie LeRoy (Margot Robbie) who crashes the party as she would get a film role after the original starlet had overdosed on drugs while famed silent film star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) arrives to the party where he would help Manny get jobs for Kinoscope Studios. Manny would also meet the African-American jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo), the famed gossip columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart), and the Chinese-American cabaret artist/title writer Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) as the would all play a role in Manny’s ascent yet the script does focus on Nellie’s own ascent as a silent film star despite her brash attitude and free-spirited personality. Upon his tenure working with Conrad, Manny would learn about Conrad’s ambitions to innovate and inspire yet is unprepared for the emergence of sound in films as Manny traveled to New York City to see The Jazz Singer as Kinoscope would also go into sound.

The film’s first act revolves around the time when Conrad is a top star and Nellie becoming this emerging star while they also take part in decadent parties with Nellie sleeping around with people including Lady Fay, who is known by people in their social circle as a lesbian, as the second act is about the emergence of sound with Nellie having difficulty adjusting to the new format. Even as a party where Nellie’s voice is mocked by a few people as it play into her decline as she would gain a reputation for being wild and engaging herself into drugs and gambling debts. Despite Manny’s ascent as a director and producer as he tries to get Nellie some work while making Sidney a film star with a jazz orchestra for Sidney. Manny is unable to help Nellie in her attempt to be part of Hollywood’s high society as the film’s third act plays into her fall as well as Conrad’s own fading film career as he is treated by MGM as their bailout star. It also play into the world where the film industry has changed with Manny being able to adapt but not everyone he knows are able to adapt in a world that has become more about money than creativity.

Chazelle’s direction is quite grand in its approach to capturing the period of silent films as it opens with the old Paramount Pictures logo from the 1920s as it then cuts into Manny waiting for a truck driver to carry an elephant up on a hill as it has this close-up shot of an elephant’s asshole shitting on a person. It is the first of a series of debauched moments that would arrive as once Manny and some people arrive at this mansion. There’s a young woman peeing on a fat man and all of this happens before 10 minutes while there are all of these tracking shots that showcases a party happening with orgies, dancing, drinking, and all sorts of debauchery including lots of cocaine snorting. All of this happens within 30 minutes of the film before the opening title credit appears as Chazelle allows the audience to be prepared for the amount of insanity they would endure for more than 3 hours. Yet, Chazelle maintains this sense of grandeur into the world that these characters live in with all of these wide shots into how a film was made such as Manny driving to town to wait for a camera arrive to rent after a bunch of cameras have been destroyed and then steal an ambulance to bring that camera before sunset.

That is intercut with Nellie doing her first movie and how natural she comes across to the point that she upstages the film’s main star to the point where she becomes the studio’s top gal as it’s presented with bawdy humor. Much of Chazelle’s direction plays up to the sense of excess that goes on in a Hollywood film production during the silent era while the sequence where Nellie makes her first sound film is among one of the most key moments in which Nellie has to be a certain position for her voice to be heard while everything around her goes wrong as she gets frustrated at the sound engineer while the assistant director absolutely goes on a fucking rant as if he is ready to kill someone. It is a key sequence that showcases everybody trying to adjust into this new form with an aftermath that shows that not everyone will be part of this new era in film as it would change into something far more commercial and less about art. Especially in the film’s third act where Manny would rise into a position of power as a director and studio executive yet uses his clout to ensure that Sidney becomes a star and Nellie remains on the studio’s payroll despite her issues with drugs and gambling. The film’s third act not only has this sense of everything being buttoned down where Chazelle’s close-ups and medium shots add to this element of claustrophobia in these characters who are trying to fit in to high society.

Yet, it also shows that they’ve become disconnected with who they are and hoping to return to that as the sequence where Elinor tries to show high society the new and improved Nellie to the likes of William Randolph Hearst (Pat Skipper) and Marion Davies (Chloe Fineman) while Sidney is the lone black person at the party as it is clear that neither of them fit in with these people and their shitty taste in food and drinks. The film’s climax doesn’t just play to Nellie hitting her bottom but also Manny’s devotion to her as it leads to him discovering a darker underworld in Hollywood that invites the likes of an eccentric gangster in James McKay (Tobey Maguire). It would be followed by this epilogue set in 1952 as it is about what Hollywood had become and what was lost but also the importance of film and the world that Manny was a part of. Overall, Chazelle crafts a tremendously grand and enthralling film about the lives of artists and individuals of the silent film world and their difficulty to adjust to a new world.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does phenomenal work with the film’s cinematography with its different array of film stock for the films that are made with black-and-white in those films but also luscious colors for the daytime exterior scenes along with some unique lighting for some of the interior scenes including some of its nighttime scenes as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Tom Cross does excellent work with the editing in maintaining a sense of manic energy while knowing when to slow things down as there’s some straight cuts and jump-cuts as it helps maintain this rollercoaster feel for the film. Production designer Florencia Martin, with set decorator Anthony Carlino and supervising art director Eric Sundahl, does amazing work with the art direction with the usage of the cars from the period as well as the interiors of the mansion in the film’s opening sequence as well as the studio sets both in a soundstage and outside of the studio as it is a highlight of the film.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does brilliant work with the film’s costumes from the red dress that Nellie wears in her first appearance as well as the array of period clothing at that time including the lavish dresses that women wore in those times as it is another highlight of the film. Special makeup effects artists Jason Collins, Thomas Floutz, and Tanner White, along with special makeup effects designer Arjen Tuiten, do terrific work with the look of the characters including some of the prop makeup used in films as well as the hairstyles of the time as it all play into this world of decadence. Special effects supervisor Elia P. Popov, along with visual effects supervisors Jay Cooper and John L. Weckworth, does fantastic work with the visual effects in the way special effects were presented during the silent film eras along with some visual set dressing to make Los Angeles look like the 1920s.

Sound designers Ai-Ling Lee and Tobias Poppe, along with sound editor Mildred Iatrou, do superb work with the sound as its mixing of sounds at the opening party sequence as well as the way sound is captured in the early days of film along with moments that help play into the atmosphere of a room or something heard from afar. The film’s music by Justin Hurwitz is incredible for its jazz-based score as it has these arrangements in the pianos, strings and brass including lots of trumpet solos and such while music supervisor Noah Hubbell help cultivate a soundtrack that includes some standards of the time along with a song sung by Lady Fay in My Girl’s Pussy that is shocking as it is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Francine Maisler is marvelous as it features appearances and cameos from Kaia Gerber as a starlet at the first party that Lady Fay flirts with, Patrick Fugit as a police officer at the party, Taylor Hill as Conrad’s last wife, John Mariano as the masters of ceremonies at the opening party, Olivia Wilde as Conrad’s first wife who leaves him early in the film, Karolina Szymczak as another of Conrad’s wives who is a Hungarian opera singer, Jennifer Grant as high society lady Mildred Yates, Phoebe Tonkin as a young starlet in Jane Thornton who is first seen peeing on a man, Joe Dallesandro as a photographer, Albert Hammond Jr. as a man in a chicken line at the first party, J.C. Currais as a truck driver who is supposed to transport an elephant, Karina Fontes as a waitress Conrad flirts with at the first party, Vanessa Bednar as Nellie’s mother, and Spike Jonze as a tyrannical European filmmaker trying to make an epic period film starring Conrad.

Other noteworthy small roles include Alexandre Chen as the famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, Samara Weaving as the film starlet Constance Moore that is upstaged by Nellie, Chloe Fineman as actress Marion Davies, Sarah Ramos as high society member Harriet Rothschild, Pat Skipper as the famed businessman William Randolph Hearst, Eric Roberts as Nellie’s slimy father Robert Roy who would add to Nellie’s financial troubles, Ethan Suplee as McKay’s right-hand man Wilson who constantly spits, Jeff Garlin as the Kinoscope Studios boss Don Wallach, Flea as Wallach’s assistant Bob Levine who is often the middle man Wallach and everyone else as he respects Manny for his hard work, Rory Scovel as a drug dealer/aspiring actor known as the Count who often supplies drugs to actors on set, Max Minghella as MGM studio head Irving Thalberg, Olivia Hamilton as the filmmaker Ruth Adler who would direct many of Nellie’s films, P.J. Byrne as Adler’s assistant director Max, Katherine Waterston as Conrad’s stage actress fiancĂ©e who believes film is a low art, and Lukas Haas as Conrad’s best friend/producer George Munn who was the one that had championed Conrad despite his own troubles yet Conrad was always helpful towards him.

Tobey Maguire is great as the eccentric gangster James McKay who appears late in the film as someone that Nellie owes money to as he is this odd yet scary figure that is part of a dark underworld in Los Angeles as well as be the showman of a lifestyle that is way too dark. Jean Smart is brilliant as Elinor St. John as a gossip columnist whose writing helps or breaks people on the rise as she is someone that plays a role in Nellie’s ascent and descent yet has a loyalty to those whose career she helped create despite the role she has to play in the film industry. Li Jun Li is amazing as Lady Fay Zhu as this Chinese-American cabaret singer who is the embodiment of decadence while isn’t afraid to tell the world that she’s a lesbian until her work as a title designer becomes obsolete as she also deals with being ostracized because of her sexuality. Jovan Adepo is excellent as Sidney Palmer as this gifted jazz trumpeter who often plays at parties while also spouting insults towards his bandmates during the parties as he would later become an actor and performer for films in collaboration with Manny until he becomes alienated by high society and the studio’s ideas in making him more appealing to racist Southern audiences.

Brad Pitt is phenomenal as Jack Conrad as a man who is the embodiment of a movie star that can carry a picture and bring money but is also someone that is often involved in short-lived marriages and relationships except with those who has helped him in his career while he would lament over his declining film career in the era of sound films as well as loss and disillusionment. Diego Calva is incredible as Manuel “Manny” Torres as an assistant to Don Wallach who would work his way up the ranks in his love for film and filmmaking where he eventually becomes a filmmaker and a studio executive yet is also devoted to Nellie whom he is in love with despite her many troubles as he is someone that bonded with her early in their careers as he does whatever he can to help her. Finally, there’s Margot Robbie in a spectacular performance as Nellie LeRoy as a young woman who believes she is a star as she is this free spirit that is all about life while is also vulnerable considering her own troubled family life where Robbie displays a lot of charisma and tragedy into someone who couldn’t deal with the need to conform to high society as well as having to make changes in the world of sound films as it is truly a career-defining performance from Robbie.

Babylon is a tremendous film from Damien Chazelle that features sensational leading performances from Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt as well as a major discovery in Diego Calva. Along with ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, exhilarating music score and soundtrack, and its depiction of early 20th Century decadence at its most uncompromising. It is a film that doesn’t apologize for how over-the-top and how insane it is in showcasing a period in time where there were no rules with characters who are forced to play by the rules to survive only for those that refuses to become part of an industry where creativity is unimportant. In the end, Babylon is a magnificent film from Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle Films: Guy and Madeline on a Park BenchWhiplash (2014 film) - La La Land - First Man - (The Auteurs #76: Damien Chazelle)

© thevoid99 2024

Monday, January 01, 2024

The "Unofficial" Best Films/TV Series of 2023


2023 has been a crazy year in films as there was a lot that had happened with the SAG/WAG strike definitely impacted a lot of things for film and television as films would be delayed, actors didn't take part in any promotion for the films they're in, and other things. Still, the year was chaotic as there were some major events in cinema but also burn-out as it relates to superhero films as Marvel is in need to take a step back while DC ended their cinematic universe with a whimper of sorts. Overall, I saw 13 films in 2023 in the theaters with a lot of them being great but a couple of screenings of films that weren't so good at all. Yet, there were a lot of films that I didn't get the chance to see though I hopefully will in the coming months and years to come.

Here are the 2023 films that I haven't seen yet: Past Lives, Ferrari, The Iron Claw, Bottoms, May December, Killers of the Flower Moon, Napoleon, They Cloned Tyrone, Four Daughters, Saltburn, The Boy and the Heron, Godzilla Minus One, Foe, Next Goal Wins, Hitman, Anatomy of a Fall, The Zone of Interest, Shoshana, The Peasants, Wicked Little Letters, Close to You, Wonka, Dream Scenario, Irena's Vow, Memory, The Bikeriders, Janet Planet, Wildcat, All of Us Strangers, Teachers Lounge, The Holdovers, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Origin, The Royal Hotel Green Border, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, Scrapper, Magic Mike's Last Dance, Polite Society, Evil Does Not Exist, Backspot, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, Earth Mama, Maestro, Dumb Money, Blackberry, Flamin' Hot, Strange Way of Life, Occupied City, Grenfell, The Beast, Bad Behaviour, Strange Way of Life, The Taste of Things, How to Have Sex, Fallen Leaves, About Dry Grasses, Club Zero, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret,The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Joy Ride, Close Your Eyes, Inside, The Crime is Mine, Afire, No Hard Feelings, The Starling Girl, Reality, The Eternal Memory, A Thousand and One, Sometimes I Think About Dying, Cat Person, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, Rye Lane, Cassandro, Landscape with Invisible Hands, Mami Wata, Monster, Magazine Dreams, Creed III, La Chimera, The Killer, Eileen, You Hurt My Feelings, Fingernails, Consecration, Coup de Chance, The Palace and She Came to Me.

Here are the top films that I saw for 2023 so far...

1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
2. Poor Things
3. Oppenheimer
4. Barbie
5. Infinity Pool
6. Air
7. Elemental
8. Priscilla
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
10. John Wick: Chapter 4
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
12. Asteroid City
13. Jackals & Fireflies
14. The Marvels
15. Once Upon a Studio
16. Eyes Two Times Mouth
17. Stane
18. boygenius: the film
Honorable Mentions: Now and Then: The Last Beatles Song & Maggie Simpson in "Rogue Not Quite One"

Dishonorable Mentions: Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania & Beau is Afraid

The world of TV has been just as crazy with some new shows coming though there's an uncertainty into whether they will have 2nd seasons though sadly Willow will not have one as the strike did impact a lot of those shows as there's been some good ones and there was one that was really disappointing as here are the best TV shows I saw in 2023:

1. Ted Lasso (Season 3)
2. Ahsoka (Season 1)
3. Loki (Season 2)
4. Dark Side of the Ring (Season 4)
5. The Mandalorian (Season 3)
6. What If...? (Season 2)
7. I Am Groot (Season 2)
8. That 90s Show (Season 1)
9. Willow
Dishonorable Mention: Secret Invasion

© thevoid99 2024