Thursday, February 29, 2024

Films That I Saw: February 2024


Winter is coming to an end as my most-hated season is to arrive in Spring as I usually don’t look forward to it as I’m kind of sad winter is ending. Yet, this winter wasn’t that great as I largely stayed home for much of that time and didn’t go to the movie theaters because I’ve been sick with various cold and flu-like illness though it hasn’t been COVID. Still, it could be worse as there’s been a lot of shit happening with the recent death of Alexei Navalny as he had been an opposition leader in Russia as there is definitely some foul play into his death. It is among the many things happening around the world as even things in the U.S. are just as crazy given that it’s an election year with news coverage going into a bunch of bullshit including a bunch of ugly-ass golden sneakers that I wouldn’t pay a penny for because it looks cheap.
In the month of February 2024, I saw a total of 26 films in 16 first-timers and 10 re-watches with 4 of those first-timers being film directed/co-directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. A solid months all things considered as well as being ill right now. The highlight of the month is my Blind Spot pick in Splendor in the Grass. Here are the top 10 first-timers for February 2024:

1. Killers of the Flower Moon
2. The Holdovers
3. The Barber of Little Rock
4. Sandra
5. Past Lives
6. Whiplash
7. The Innocent
8. Nai Nai & Wai Po
9. Knight of Fortune
10. Next Goal Wins
Monthly Mini-Reviews/What Else I’m Watching

The Barber of Little Rock

Of the nominees for Best Documentary Short film, this is the film that should win as it isn’t just this engaging story of a man making a difference for his community. It is all about a community trying to have the power to run their own businesses in a city like Little Rock. Directed by John Hoffman and Christine Turner, the film focuses on Arlo Washington as a man who runs a barber shop with a barbershop college and a bank. A bank that helps African-American families get loans as well as whatever they need as it does show a massive economic racial divide in the city. There’s also some white people who live near the poverty line as they go to Washington for help as it shows a disparity in which 30,000 people in Little Rock could barely get by while there’s 8,000 people who live in middle/upper-class areas that could get anything. It’s a film that should be seen as well as show the power of what a man could do as a way to make a difference.


The short film that would later become the feature film that served as a breakthrough for Damien Chazelle is something fans of Chazelle should watch. Notably as both the film and short star J.K. Simmons in the role of Terence Fletcher as it remains this chilling performance that is really a sampler of what he would do in the feature version. In the role of the new student is Johnny Simmons as he manages to be incredible as a young student that is being pushed to the edge as it is just a great short film.

My Mistress
This Australian film that I saw on TUBI late one night starring Emmanuelle Beart as a mysterious woman who secretly works as a dominatrix is a fascinating if flawed film. It revolves around this young teenager who is dealing with tragedy who meets this older woman played by Beart as she helps home cope with his loss. The film does suffer from some underdeveloped characters in both Beart’s ex-husband and the young man’s mother but it is Beart and Harrison Gilbertson that make the film worth a watch.

This six-minute short film as part of Pixar’s Sparkshorts program by Searit Kahsay Huluf is this inventive film that mixes stop-motion animation with 3D computer-based animation as it’s about a wooden doll who enters a new world as she tries to fit in to this 3D world. It is truly an incredible short film as it showcases the journey of this doll and what she needs to do really stand out in a new world.

Nai Nai & Wai Po
Another nominee in Best Documentary Short that I saw on Disney+ by Sean Wang as it’s about his grandmothers who both live with each other as they do whatever they can to keep going. It is a fun short that showcases these two old ladies who are both near the end of their lives yet they do whatever they can to fulfill themselves while also farting a lot. It is a short that is also touching and full of joy as my mother also enjoyed this short as it is fun to watch.

The ABCs of Book Banning
Of the five nominees for Best Documentary Short, this one is the weakest for the fact that it’s a documentary that could’ve been a feature-length documentary. It revolves around the banning of books in the state of Florida as it is largely told through the perspective of children who question about the books that are being banned. Even as they’re put into 3 categories of Restricted, Challenging, and Banned as many of the books that are put into these categories are either books about African-Americans or people in the LGBTQ community. It is proof of how much of a shithole Florida is.

Made in Milan

This documentary short by Martin Scorsese on Giorgio Armani is a great short that fans of Scorsese should see despite the fact that video quality isn’t that great. Still, it showcases into why Armani is revered as it shows a man who goes to great lengths to make clothes and fashion mean something. Even as he does what he can to innovate while also talking about the city of Milan and what it means for him as well as acknowledging his roots as he wasn’t born rich yet it drove him to succeed. Shot by the late, great Nestor Almendros and edited by longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, it is a short that is full of wonder as it shows two masters working together for this little short.

A short I watched on MUBI (that will be unavailable next month) is a collaboration between Yann Gonzalez and Oliver Sim of the xx as the former films the latter who performs 3 songs from his 2022 album Hideous Bastard. Notably as it is this great mix of horror, black comedy, and fantasy as it is told with such style as it has this air of confession where Sim appears in a talk show and performs while becoming a monster. It is such a film short to watch and anyone who is a fan of the xx should see if they can find it though it will likely come back to MUBI soon.

Knight of Fortune

A nominee for Best Live Action Short film by Lasse Lyskjaer Noer revolves around grief as it plays into this man who is at a morgue to see his late wife’s body where he meets another man who had also lost his wife as they both learn that their wives share the same favorite song. It is a film with a bit of humor but it is also a film that really shows how men cope with grief as it is definitely worth watching.

Top 10 Re-Watches

1. The Handmaiden
2. The Lover
3. Tangled
4. The Band That Wouldn’t Die
5. Believeland
6. Just One of the Guys
7. 22 vs. Earth
8. Wingspan
9. Queen: Days of Our Life
10. Lamp Life
Well, that is all for February 2024. Next month, the big film to see is Dune-Part Two as I have a ticket but I'm not well enough to attend and the assholes at Fandango won't refund my ticket for Saturday. Along with whatever new films coming out as well as some last-minute Oscar-nominated films before the Oscars happen. There will be a bunch of films I have pre-written that I plan to watch including films by Barry Jenkins, Christian Petzold, Sean Baker, and hopefully Justine Triet. As for my Blind Spot next month, I’m not sure at the moment.

Before I leave, we have to take note on those have passed away this month starting with the most recent passing of Richard Lewis and Mike Jones aka Virgil aka Vincent aka Shane aka Soul Train Jones. Also who passed this month include Ole Anderson who was one of the co-founders of the Four Horseman as well as Pamela Salem, John Savident of Coronation Street, Paul D’Amato, musician Bobby Tench, Tony Ganios, writer Dan Wilcox, cinematography Alec Mills, Damo Suzuki of Can, drummer Jimmy Van Eaton, conductor Seiji Ozawa, former Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, filmmaker Robert M. Young, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Brother Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Don Murray, filmmaker/animator Mark Gustafson, Carl Weathers, William Post who invented the Pop Tart, and the greatest outlaw singer of them all… Mojo Nixon! This is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2024

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Next Goal Wins (2023 film)


Based on the 2014 documentary film by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, Next Goal Wins is the real-life story of Dutch-American soccer coach Thomas Rongen who is given an impossible task in turning the America Samoan national team from one of the worst teams in the world to become an elite team in their attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Directed by Taika Waititi and screenplay by Waititi and Iain Morris, the film is a dramatic take of this real-life story in which a troubled coach faces the prospect of being fired only to take on this impossible task to coach a team who were notorious for losing a World Cup qualifying game in 2001 to a score of 31-0. Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Will Arnett, Kaitlyn Dever, Luke Hemsworth, Rhys Darby, and Elisabeth Moss. Next Goal Wins is a heartfelt and witty film from Taika Waititi.

Set in 2011, the film around the Dutch-American soccer coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) who reluctantly takes the job of coaching the worst team in the world in America Samoa for an upcoming qualifying match for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It is a film with a simple premise yet it is told in an offbeat fashion as it plays into a man at the bottom of his life as he has gained a notorious reputation for his angry outbursts in soccer games as he is forced to take this job or else become unemployed. The film’s screenplay by Taika Waititi and Iain Morris is largely straightforward though it opens with an America-Samoan priest (Taika Waititi) revealing about this story with some additional embellishments and dramatic liberties including a small tale about the infamous 2001 FIFA World Cup qualifying game between America Samoa and Australia in which the former lost to the latter in a score of 31-0.

The screenplay doesn’t just play into Rongen’s struggle to turn this team of misfits into a capable team but also with the America Samoan culture that is quite unique in terms of their devotion to faith as they would stop doing everything during a prayer bell as well as the fact that their upbeat despite the losses they take. Even as he learns that many of the players and staff that work for the national team have multiple jobs and don’t take things too seriously as it is a source of conflict for Rongen who takes the game seriously. Still, Rongen would find ways to connect with the locals in the team’s president Tavita (Michael Kightley) as well as a fa’afafine in Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana) whom Rongen sees as a natural defender as well as making him/her the team captain. Saelua would also help him recruit players including Nicky Salapu (Uli Latukefu) who was the goalie of that infamous game from 2001. The script also plays into Rongen’s reluctance to open up as he’s been separated from his wife Gail (Elisabeth Moss) who was the person that suggested him for this job as a way to cope with issues he’s been trying to avoid.

Waititi’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of his compositions but also has elements of style in the way he portrays American Samoa as the film is shot largely in Honolulu, Hawaii. There are wide and medium shots in these locations including a mountain where a famous American Samoa site is held as Waititi makes the island a major location yet he keeps much of his film straightforward while also putting a few quirks to give the film a sense of flavor. Especially with its humor as it is offbeat in the way the locals present themselves but it never goes into parody where Waititi also uses video as a tour guide for Rongen to watch as well as why they don’t like Samoa. It’s among these little things that allows Waititi to play into Rongen’s own sense of confusion as he would eventually accept their customs while also having to think outside of the box in order coach them.

Waititi’s direction also has compositions that matches the same imagery from the 2014 documentary film of the same name while infusing it with some humor but also knows when to not put humor into something serious. Even as there’s scenes where Rongen is listening to phone messages from his daughter Nicole (Kaitlyn Dever) as a way to deal with his own emotions. The film’s climax is this qualifying game against Tonga as Waititi puts a lot into the game but also this element of drama as it relates to the many issues that Rongen has. Even as he still has this confusion about the America Samoan’s views on life and the world as well as how they play soccer even though there’s a lot riding against them. Yet, Waititi finds a way to showcase this idea of the good and the bad as well as how someone should take it no matter how hard life is. Overall, Waititi crafts a touching yet funny film about a troubled soccer coach going to American Samoa to turn their national team from the worst to a team of winners through just one goal.

Cinematographer Lachlan Milne does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting but also on low-key lighting to not give the film this vibrant look but rather something a little realistic but also colorful. Editors Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, Nicholas Monsour, and Nat Sanders do excellent work with the editing in creating some stylish montages as well as a scene late in the film with its usage of jump-cuts to play into something that is dramatic but also funny. Production designer Ra Vincent, along with supervising art director Peter Borck plus set decorators Katrin Chong and Taylor Jean, does amazing work with the look of the house that Rongen stays in during his tenure as well as the convenience store as well as the local restaurant that is run by Tavita with many of the players working there. Costume designer Miyako Bellizzi does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with some island-inspired shirts and such that play into the island flavor of the film.

Visual effects supervisor Jason Chen does nice work with the visual effects as it is largely set-dressing for some of the locations as well as in some of the video footage as it relates to footage of the past. Sound editors Phil Barrie and Ai-Ling Lee do terrific work with the sound work in the way a bell sounds from afar or up close that gets all of the natives to kneel and pray along with other natural sound effects as it adds to the atmosphere of the film. The film’s music by Michael Giacchino is wonderful for its mixture of electronic and orchestral flourishes with island-folk based music that plays into the humor and drama with a soundtrack that features some American Samoa-based folk music as well as music from Dolly Parton, Tears for Fears, and Sia.

The casting by Katie Doyle, Mary Vernieu, and Michelle Wade Byrd is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Taika Waititi as the American-Samoan priest who is sort of the film’s narrator in the film’s opening scene, Kaitlyn Dever in a largely-voice role as Rongen’s daughter Nicole, Angus Sampson and Luke Hemsworth as a couple of Australian players/FIFA officials who are old friends of Rongen with the latter having played in that infamous qualifying game, Chris Alosio as a kid named Jonah who would be Rongen’s assistant during practices, Loretta Ables Sayre as Rambo’s mother who is also a local cop, Rhys Darby as a FIFA official who does some funny presentations for Rongen over his status, and Uli Latukefu as the goalie who played at the infamous 2001 qualifying game whom Rongen tries to convince to return as he’s still fit and able to play. Other notable roles in the film as players for the team include David Tu’itupou as a player known as Tall David, Hio Pelesasa as Samson, Semu Filipo as a local cop named Rambo with a fierce kick, Ioane Goodhue as Smiley, and Lehi Makisi Falepapalangi as Pisa.

Elisabeth Moss is fantastic as Rongen’s estranged wife Gail who also works for FIFA as she is the one to suggest to Rongen to go to American Samoa in the hope he can sort out his own issues as well as find a way to reconnect with him. Will Arnett is excellent as Alex Magnussen as a FIFA official and Gail’s current boyfriend who often spouts these hilarious metaphoric stories as he tries to help Rongen with his issues while also being a bit of a dick but in a fun way as Arnett proves to be the right choice as his role was meant for Armie Hammer until scandal broke out and the film and Arnett came in for re-shoots. David Fane is brilliant as Ace as a mild-mannered coach who doesn’t do confrontations as he proves to be a funny assistant coach for Rongen. Rachel House is amazing as Tavita’s wife Ruth who is often the voice of reason for Tavita while also doing a funny bit to get into Rongen’s head. Beulah Koale is awesome as Daru Taumua as Tavita and Ruth’s son who plays for the team but is skeptical about Rongen until he finds his worth for the team as he gets inspired by Rongen’s teachings.

Kaimana is incredible as Jaiyah Saelua as a fa’afafine player who doesn’t take him/herself seriously yet does find a way to connect with Rongen as well as become the team’s captain where he/she is revealed to be a great defensive player as well as someone not to mess with. Oscar Kightley is great as Tavita as the federation president for the national team as he is someone that constantly gets humiliated but also knows not to have high expectations as his humor is low-key yet effective while also displaying a view on life that is fascinating no matter how bad things can get. Finally, there’s Michael Fassbender in a phenomenal performance as Thomas Rongen as this once-revered soccer player/coach who has serious anger issues as he reluctantly takes this job to coach the worst team in the world where Fassbender showcases some humor as well as bring a lot of emotional weight to a man at the bottom of his life where it is one of Fassbender’s finest performances.

Next Goal Wins is a marvelous film from Taika Waititi that features a great leading performance from Michael Fassbender as well as tremendous supporting performances from Oscar Kightley and Kaimana. Along with its ensemble cast, colorful visuals, a fun music soundtrack, and a compelling real-life story of adversity and finding balance in both the good and bad of life. It is a film that isn’t just a fun sports movie but also a story of a man trying to turn the worst team in the world into a team of winners but also find himself in learning to take the good with the bad. In the end, Next Goal Wins is a remarkable film from Taika Waititi.

Related (Next Goal Wins (2014 film)) – The Auteurs #64: Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi Films: Two Cars, One Night - Eagle vs. Shark - Boy (2010 film) - What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok - Jojo Rabbit - Thor: Love & Thunder - (Klara and the Sun)

© thevoid99 2024

Friday, February 23, 2024

2024 Blind Spot Series: Splendor in the Grass


Directed by Elia Kazan and written by William Inge, Splendor in the Grass is the story of a young woman’s love for a young man from a rich family in Kansas has them wanting to take a big step as they deal with a lot of things in its aftermath. The film is a coming-of-age romantic film that explores two high school sweethearts who fall in love and embark on new places into their relationship as it would delve into chaos and heartbreak. Starring Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie, Barbara Loden, Zohra Lampert, Joanna Roos, and introducing Warren Beatty. Splendor in the Grass is a rich and ravishing film from Elia Kazan.

Set in 1928 Kansas, the film revolves around a relationship between a working class girl and a young rich boy who fall in love and want to take the next step into their relationship yet expectations and pressures from their parents about their individual futures and such would drive the couple apart and into chaos. It is a film that explores young love between two high school kids who are devoted to each other yet both of them are from different social statuses despite attending the same high school as well as their parents wanting to do something for their futures as well as wanting to keep them together. William Inge’s screenplay is largely straightforward as it opens with Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) making out in his car as the latter wants to go forward but the former is reluctant for the relationship to be sexual. Still, the two want to maintain a relationship with Stamper wanting to marry Deanie in the future yet his father Ace Stamper (Pat Hingle) has plans for him to take over the family business even though Bud knows he doesn’t have the grades to go to Yale.

While Deanie lives comfortably despite her being over-protected by her mother (Audrey Christie), she is eager to become Stamper’s wife though is still reluctant to lose her virginity while also having to watch the dysfunctional world that is Stamper’s family. Notably as his older sister Ginny (Barbara Loden) has returned home from Chicago from an annulled marriage as well as a getting an abortion done, which was illegal at the time, where she becomes a source of discord for the family. Even as her behavior would create gossip with Ace wanting to focus more on Bud’s future where he convinces Bud to break up Deanie temporarily as the result would be chaotic with Deanie becoming erratic over its break-up. The two would endure their own separate journeys where Stamper deals with the futility of expectations while Deanie goes on her own journey to discover herself.

Elia Kazan’s direction is evocative in not just the richness of its compositions but also in its overall presentation as it plays into a world where parents are expecting this great future emerging just a year before the Crash of 1929 that lead to the Great Depression. Shot largely at the Filmways Studios in New York City with exterior locations shot on Staten Island and High Falls, New York, Kazan creates a film that plays into a period in time where Prohibition was still happening though the rich were able to get alcohol through some illegal means and get away with it. Even as Kazan shows how Ace Stamper is able to get alcohol in those times as he is a rich man with oil wells and cattle ranches where he wants Bud to run these things in the future though Bud is more interested in just wanting to run a ranch. Kazan plays into this sense of generational gap involving Deanie and Bud against the expectations of their parents as Kazan’s unique compositions in his close-ups and medium shots play into the melodrama and dramatic suspense.

There are some wide shots in Kazan’s direction in the way he films scenes in Kansas including this waterfall area for the film’s first scene as well as a couple of key moments that would play into the Deanie and Bud’s dissolution. Kazan also maintains this air of sexual innuendo in the way Ginny presents herself as well as a scene of Deanie in a bathtub as she is talking to her mother as she would act erratically over what happened with Bud. It would play into this third act of Bud and Deanie living separate lives but also confront their own issues with themselves but also gain an understanding of what their parents want. Notably as Bud’s time in Yale produces poor results in a scene with him, his father, and Yale’s dean (Kermit Murdock) where Kazan definitely shows who is running the conversation as that person is starting to unravel with Bud caught in the middle. Its ending refers to a poem by William Wordsmith that Deanie struggled to read and comprehend in its second act as it would return as a way to express what she and Bud had endured but also the choices they would make as adults. Overall, Kazan crafts an intoxicating and exhilarating film about high school sweethearts whose love life is disrupted by the demands of adulthood and the expectations of their families.

Cinematographer Boris Kaufman does amazing work with the film’s cinematography in the richness of the daytime exterior locations as well as the usage of lights for some of the interior scenes at night along with an emphasis on low-key lighting for the exterior scenes at night. Editor Gene Milford does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the melodrama as well as some lighthearted moments in the film. Production designer Richard Sylbert and set decorator Gene Callahan do brilliant work with the interiors of the Loomis family home in its simple yet classy style that is a sharp contrast to the way more refined world of the Stamper family estate with all of its bigger rooms and such. Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone does fantastic work with the costumes with the dresses that the women wear being a highlight including some of the clothes that Deanie would wear later in her life as well as the raunchy clothes that Ginny wears.

Hairdresser Willis Hanchett and makeup artist Robert Jiras do terrific work with the hairstyles that the women wear at the time including Deanie’s hairstyle in the film’s first and second act as well as a more refined look in the third act. Sound editor Frank Lewin does superb work with the sound in the way waterfall sounds from its location up-close and from afar as well as the way a room is presented in its location. The film’s music by David Amram is incredible for its jazz-like score that features some saxophone and piano to play into the melodrama and romance that includes some orchestral flourishes with a soundtrack filled with the music of the times.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Ivor Francis as Deanie’s psychiatrist Dr. Judd, screenwriter William Inge as the local pastor Reverend Whitman, Kermit Murdock as the dean of Yale in Dean Pollard, Phyllis Diller in her film debut as the famed performer Texas Guinan, Martine Bartlett as the school literature teacher Miss Metcalf, the duo of Sandy Dennis and Crystal Field as two of Deanie’s friends in Kay and Hazel, Charles Robinson in an un-credited performance as a young man that Deanie meets in a hospital in John, Gary Lockwood as a friend/teammate of Bud in Toots, Jan Norris as a slutty classmate of Deanie in Juanita Howard, and John McGovern as Doc Smiley who becomes concerned for Bud’s health following a collapse at a basketball game while also believing that Bud is being put into a lot of pressure from his father. Joanna Roos is wonderful as Bud and Ginny’s mother who is supportive of Bud’s relationship with Deanie though she has great concerns over her husband’s ambitions and the pressure he put on their son. Fred Stewart is superb as Deanie’s father Del Loomis as a man who runs a small shop next to the house as he is this low-key person that doesn’t try to cause trouble while is also doing what he can to make Deanie feel happy as he would also feel that his wife is smothering her.

Zohra Lampert is fantastic as Angelina as this young Italian immigrant that Bud meets in Yale as she would help him see things differently as well as be an important person to him later in his life. Audrey Christie is excellent as Deanie’s mother who is protective of Deanie as she also sees her as a young girl as she unknowingly would smother her as it would add to Deanie’s emotional and mental troubles. Barbara Loden is brilliant as Bud’s older sister Ginny as this young woman who likes to push her father’s buttons as well as be this ultimate rebel though it would also put her in danger including an attempted rape on her as she’s also gained notoriety for all of the wrong reasons. Pat Hingle is amazing as Bud’s father Ace Stamper as this rich oilman who expects so much from Bud to succeed him as he talks a lot while also making some bad suggestions as he would help play a role in Bud and Deanie’s break-up as he is really a complex man that is severely flawed and tries to control so many things in his life.

Finally, there’s the duo of Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis. Beatty in his debut performance has all of the attributes of a high school sports star in terms of its physiques and looks yet it is Beatty’s vulnerability that makes Bud compelling to watch as someone who is aware of his flaws and shortcomings as well as the fact that he doesn’t have his father’s ambitions. Wood exudes a radiance in her performance as a young woman that has an air of innocence but is also someone who had been too sheltered leading to an emotional breakdown and issues that would allow her to act out where Wood brings in that intensity to a young woman that is unraveling. Beatty and Wood together have this amazing chemistry as a young couple in love but one of them wants to get more physical but other isn’t willing as it causes problems with Ace getting involved as it adds to the drama as the two are a major highlight to watch.

Splendor in the Grass is an outstanding film from Elia Kazan that features great leading performances from Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, wondrous visuals, a fiery music score, and a story of young love and the expectations of adulthood. It is a film that explores two young people wanting to devote their love for one another only to cope with life changes and the move into adulthood as well as the demanding hopes of their parents. In the end, Splendor in the Grass is magnificent film from Elia Kazan.

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

© thevoid99 2024

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sandra (1965 film)


Based on the Greek tragedies of Electra by Sophocles and Euripides, Vaghe stele dell’Orsa (Glimmering stars of the Great Bear) or Sandra is the story of a woman who returns to her ancestral home town to celebrate the eve of her father’s death where she renews her incestuous relationship with her brother to the shock of her husband. Directed by Luchino Visconti and screenplay by Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and Enrico Medioli, the film is a modern take of the Greek tragedies of Electra in which a woman copes with loss but also secrets that would ruin her family as the titular character of Sandra is portrayed by Claudia Cardinale. Also starring Jean Sorel, Michael Craig, and Renzo Ricci. Vaghe stele dell’Orsa is a ravishing yet eerie film from Luchino Visconti.

The film follows a woman who returns to a small town, with her American husband, in Tuscany to commemorate her father’s passing as she also hopes to deal with some unfinished business with her funny including her brother whom she had an incestuous relationship with. It is a film that puts the Greek tragedies relating to the character of Electra and set in 1960s Italy as this woman returns home as she copes with various issues within her family as well as the need to commemorate her father who had died in a concentration camp at World War II. The film’s screenplay, that also features additional yet un-credited contributions from Giampiero Bona, is largely straightforward as its titular character is a woman who has created a new life away from her small town yet knows she has to return to that town with her husband Andrew Dawdson (Michael Craig) for her late father as well as to maintain a secret relationship with her brother that she doesn’t want Andrew to know.

Yet, the arrival of Gianni (Jean Sorel) at the family home does create confusion within Sandra as she also knows that he would arrive as he had been staying at their old home for some time. There is also tension relating to their stepfather Antonio Gilardini (Renzo Ricci) who knows about their secret as he and Sandra despise each other with Gilardini also taking care of their ailing mother (Marie Bell) who also issues with her children. Dawdson would try to settle things as he also meets a former lover of Sandra in Dr. Pietro Formari (Fred Williams) who would further the tension that is already boiling as he is also watching over Sandra and Gianni’s mother. Even as Dawdson would stage a dinner for everyone to settle matters once and for all as he would learn about his wife’s shocking secret.

Luchino Visconti’s direction is mesmerizing for the way he captures a woman returning to her hometown as it is filled with unique yet abstract visuals that play into this sense of dread and regret. Shot on location in Volterra in the Tuscan region of Italy, Visconti maintains an intimacy throughout the film though there are wide shots of these locations including the main home where Sandra’s family lived in that includes some decayed area where a bust of her father’s head is to be unveiled. Much of Visconti’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots as it plays into the dramatic tension and melodrama that occurs throughout the film. Notably in the scene at the decayed wall on a windy night where Sandra and Gianni reunite as there is something rich in Visconti’s compositions as well as scenes where Gianni and Andrew walk around town where the latter meets Dr. Formari for the first time as it is an awkward meeting.

Visconti also maintains this dramatic tension as it includes a tense scene between Sandra and her mother that is intercut with a meeting between her and local officials including her stepfather as the tension is felt throughout the film. Even as Visconti would go into the melodrama as well as these rich compositions in a scene at an old water tower between Sandra and Gianni as it acts as the two siblings possibly rekindling their taboo relationship. Yet, their relationship is put to the test in this climatic dinner scene at the film’s third act where Sandra, Gianni, Andrew, Dr. Formari, and Gilardini are attending as Visconti definitely creates this tense atmosphere where something is about to happen. Even as its aftermath would have this sense of tragedy but also acceptance of letting go something that has been the source of discord within her family. Overall, Visconti crafts a chilling yet rapturous film about a woman returning home to celebrate her father’s legacy as well as confront her troubled relationship with her brother.

Cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is filled with imagery with its usage of lights and shadows for the interior/exterior scenes including some really dark scenes in some of the bedrooms at night. Editor Mario Serandrei does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward to play into the dramatic tension as well as some of the melodrama that occurs with its usage of rhythmic cuts. Production designer Mario Garbuglia and set decorator Laudomia Hercolani do amazing work with the look of the rooms at the family estate including its main hall and a room full of statues and antiques as it is a highlight of the film.

Costume designer Bice Brichetto does fantastic work with the costumes in some of the suits the men wear as well as the stylish clothing that Sandra wears. The sound work of Bruno Borghi and Claudio Maielli do superb work with the sound in the way the wind sounds up close and from afar in a key scene early in the film as a lot of it emphasizes on natural sounds presented from its location as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Cesar Franck is phenomenal for its classical-based piano score that features some classical variations as it adds to the drama and tension that looms throughout the film while its soundtrack features some pop and rock music of that period.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from noted production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti as a party guest at the film’s opening scene, Amalia Tosca as the family maid Fosca, and Marie Bell (w/ the voice of Andreina Pagnani) as Sandra and Gianni’s mentally-ill mother who despises her children. Fred Williams is terrific as Dr. Pietro Formari as a former lover of Sandra who finds himself dealing with some of the family chaos as he also cares for their mother as he tries to help settle things despite the awkwardness between him and Dawdson. Renzo Ricci is excellent as Antonio Gilardini as Sandra and Gianni’s stepfather who isn’t fond of them yet loves their mother as he is trying to take care of her while he knows about their secret relationship as it is the source of his issues between his stepchildren.

Michael Craig (w/ the voice of Giuseppe Rinaldi) is brilliant as Sandra’s American husband Andrew Dawdson as he is someone trying to learn about the family as well as Sandra’s early life as he also serves as a mediator between the family and their many issues as he is largely reserved until the film’s climax. Jean Sorel (w/ the voice of Massimo Turci) is amazing as Sandra’s brother Gianni Wald-Lutazzi as a man who had maintained a mysterious life as he spends much of his time at the family estate as he hopes to renew his incestuous relationship with Sandra, despite liking Dawdson, as he becomes unhinged over the possibility that it wouldn’t continue. Finally, there’s Claudia Cardinale in a tremendous performance as the titular character as this woman who returns to her hometown to commemorate her Jewish father as well as deal with family issues including her brother as she is unsure about restarting their taboo relationship. Cardinale brings in a complex performance as a woman that is full of grief but also someone that is conflicted and full of rage as it relates to her family as it is a career-defining performance from Cardinale.

Vaghe stele dell’Orsa is a sensational film from Luchino Visconti that features a great leading performance from Claudia Cardinale. Along with its ensemble cast, riveting story of family tragedy and taboo, ravishing visuals, and an evocative music score. It is a film that explores a woman trying to settle family matters as well as confront a taboo relationship with her brother that had been the source of family drama. In the end, Vaghe stele dell’Orsa is a phenomenal film from Luchino Visconti.

Luchino Visconti Films: (Obsessione) – (Giorni di gloria) – (La Terra Firma) – (Appunti su un fatto di cronaca) – (We, the Women) – (Bellisima) - (Senso) – White Nights (1957 film) - Rocco and His Brothers - (Boccaccio ’70-Il lavoro) – The Leopard - (The Stranger (1967 film)) – The Witches-The Witch Burned Alive - The Damned - Death in Venice - (Alla ricerca di Tadzio) – (Ludwig) – (Conversation Piece) – The Innocent (1976 film)

© thevoid99 2024

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Innocent (1976 film)


Based on the novel The Intruder by Gabriele d’Annunzio, L’innocente (The Innocent) is the story of a womanizing aristocrat who openly engages in an affair with his mistress in front of his wife until he learns that his wife is having an affair of her own. Directed by Luchino Visconti and screenplay by Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and Enrico Medioli, the film is an exploration into fidelity as well as a man coping with his own chauvinistic views that has gotten him into trouble. Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli, and Jennifer O’Neill. L’innocente is a riveting and evocative film from Luchino Visconti.

Set in late 19th Century Italy, the film revolves around a philandering aristocrat who openly spends time with his mistress towards his wife whom he neglects until he learns that she had slept with someone as he devotes his full attention towards her. It is a film that explores a man who is married yet treats his wife terribly as he often engages in affairs as he tries to win over his mistress away from a rival. Yet, the news that his wife did have an affair only upsets him as he would try to devote his fullest attention to her until he learns more about the affair and its outcome. The film’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative as it showcases the life that Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini) has where he lives a rich life as he is married to a beautiful woman in Giuliana (Laura Antonelli) but he is also in love with his mistress in another aristocrat in Teresa Raffo (Jennifer O’Neill) whom he sees at an intimate concert. Giuliana suspects that something is going on when Tullio leaves the concert to talk with Teresa where he later confesses his relationship with Teresa but wants the marriage to continue as a way to maintain his social status.

When Tullio is out of town to pursue Teresa away from another aristocrat in Count Stefano Egano (Massimo Girotti), Tullio’s younger brother Federico (Didier Haudepin) is asked to watch over Giuliana as he invites some friends including an author in Filippo d’Arborio (Marc Porel) for dinner when Giuliana falls ill only to enjoy Filippo’s company. Tullio’s pursuit for Teresa would have issues as she is just as cruel as he is in the way he treats Giuliana until he wonders where Giuliana goes to when he’s not home as he also learns she goes to see his mother whom he would later visit with Giuliana. Giuliana’s affair would force Tullio to focus on her as he would be enamored with her until he brings her news that changes everything. The news would be exciting for Tullio’s family yet Federico becomes suspicious into Tullio’s behavior as Tullio becomes confused in his love for his wife but also wanting to be with his mistress.

Luchino Visconti’s direction definitely plays into a world that is set entirely in aristocratic society as it is shot at the Villa Mirafiori in Rome and two villas at the town of Luca with the Villa Butori being a main setting. Much of Visconti’s direction has this element of intrigue in the way he follows Tullio in this world of the privileged as well as being a man who feels like he could do whatever he wants and he can get anything he wants. Much of Visconti’s direction utilizes a lot of wide and medium shots to get a scope of the rooms that the characters walk into as well as this world where it is disconnected from the world of the working class and the poor as they’re never shown. Even as there are these rare moments of the rich walking into the streets such as a Christmas mass scene in the third act where everyone but Tullio attends. There is also an intimacy into Visconti’s direction in the medium shots and close-ups in the way he films Tullio’s reaction or the way he gazes into Giuliana’s face as she laments over her actions as well as Tullio’s response.

Visconti also plays into this air of masculinity that Tullio takes pride of as the revelations over who Giuliana had an affair with as he gets a look into the man as there is this air of humiliation and him being a cuckold. The film’s second act which takes place at the home of Tullio’s mother where Federico makes a visit showcases this sense of immorality that Federico notices in his brother’s behavior as he becomes concerned for Giuliana as the two would have a fencing duel that gets a little aggressive at one point. The third act relates to the film’s title where Giuliana starts to realize the emotional and mental toll her affair had yet more revelations occur following Tullio’s actions as Visconti reveals the many faults of Tullio’s masculinity and his inability to accept defeat. Even as the film’s final scene relates to result of his actions as well as the revelation of not having it all as it also relates to Teresa. Overall, Visconti crafts a chilling and intoxicating film about a philandering aristocrat trying to win back his wife after learning about her affair.

Cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its approach to natural lighting as well as its usage of light for many of the nighttime interior/exterior scenes. Editor Ruggero Mastroianni does excellent work with editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of its dramatic reactions as well as in some of the suspenseful moments in the film. Production designer Mario Garbuglia and set decorator Carlo Gervasi do amazing work with the look of the homes that the characters live in as well as a villa that Tullio decides to make as his home as plays into his lavish personality. Costume designer Piero Tosi does fantastic work with the costumes from the design of the dresses and gowns the women wear as well as some of the looser clothing that Giuliana wears when she’s resting as well as some of the military uniforms that Federico wears.

The sound work of Mario Dallimonti is superb for its natural approach to sound in the way epees sound during duels as well as scenes from one room to another in some of the villas. The film’s music by Franco Mannino is incredible for its orchestral score filled with piano and string arrangements that play into the drama as well as some of the suspense that looms throughout the film while its soundtrack largely features some classical and operatic pieces from Frederic Chopin, Franz Listz, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Christoph Willibald Gluck.

The film’s remarkable cast feature some notable small roles from Enzo Musumeci Greco as the fencing master, Vittorio Zarfati as Dr. Milani, Alessandra Vazzoler as a nanny, Claude Mann as a prince who is another romantic rival of Tullio for Teresa’s affections, Roberta Paladina as Federico’s date during a dinner where Filippo met Giuliana, Marie Dubois as a princess that is part of Teresa’s social circle, and Massimo Girotti as another of Tullio’s rival for Teresa in Count Stefano Egano whom Tullio despises. Marc Porel is superb as the writer Filippo d’Arborio whom Giuliana meets at Federico’s dinner as he is someone that the opposite of Tullio in his personality as well as being someone that doesn’t say much as he has no clue who Tullio is. Didier Haudepin is fantastic as Tullio’s younger brother Federico as an officer who observes a lot into what is happening to the point where he becomes disenchanted with life at the family home as well as being around Tullio whom he feels has become a monster.

In her final film performance, Rina Morelli is excellent as Tullio and Federico’s mother Marchesa Marianna Hermill as a woman who adores Giuliana while is hoping to have an heir to continue the family name as she becomes baffled by her eldest son’s cold demeanor. Jennifer O’Neill is amazing as Teresa Raffo as this aristocratic beauty who is also Tullio’s mistress as a woman who is fond of Tullio but often makes him go after her as she also has other suitors that she is eager to be with as O’Neill brings a lot of great facial expressions as her voice is dubbed Valeria Moriconi. Giancarlo Giannini is brilliant as Tullio Hermill as this aristocratic man who gets away with lot and feels like he’s untouchable while neglecting and humiliating his wife. Even as he would later become humiliated himself where Giannini brings that sense of restrained fury as a man eager to get revenge while also wanting to have control of his wife in seducing her every way possible.

Finally, there’s Laura Antonelli in a tremendous performance as Tullio’s wife Giuliana as a woman who is mistreated horribly by her philandering husband as she copes with her loneliness and being neglected until she meets a friend of her brother-in-law. Antonelli has this sense of restraint and melancholia as a woman who doesn’t feel appreciated until her brief affair where Tullio devotes a lot of attention to her as she becomes troubled by his behavior as well as some news that would shake their relationship as it is a revelatory performance from Antonelli who has this radiance that is often overlooked considering that a lot of her work has been in Italian softcore erotic films as this is her career-defining performance.

L’Innocente is a phenomenal film from Luchino Visconti that features great performances from Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli, and Jennifer O’Neill. Along with its ensemble supporting cast, ravishing visuals, a haunting music score, and its story of infidelity and the fallacies of male chauvinism. It is a film that is this evocative period drama that explores a man being forced to deal with his life but also maintain control of who he is as it serves as this fitting finale for Visconti. In the end, L’Innocente is a sensational film from Luchino Visconti.

Luchino Visconti Films: (Obsessione) – (Giorni di gloria) – (La Terra Firma) – (Appunti su un fatto di cronaca) – (We, the Women) – (Bellisima) - (Senso) – White Nights (1957 film) - Rocco and His Brothers - (Boccaccio ’70-Il lavoro) – The Leopard - Sandra – (The Stranger (1967 film)) – The Witches (1967 film)-The Witch Burned Alive - The Damned - Death in Venice - (Alla ricerca di Tadzio) – (Ludwig) – (Conversation Piece)

© thevoid99 2024

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Past Lives


Written and directed by Celine Song, Past Lives is the story of two childhood who reunite in New York City as they spend the week discussing their lives as well as their choices. The film is a semi-biographical film about these two people from South Korea who both contend with the choices they made in their lives as well as the possibility of what happened if fate hadn’t intervened. Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro. Past Lives is a rich and evocative film from Celine Song.

Told in the span of 24 years, the film follows the lives of two childhood friends from Seoul, South Korea who would lose contact with each other for 12 years only to finally reunite 12 years later to explore the state of their individual lives. It is a film that doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s more about possibilities and the lives they were living as well as what could’ve been. Celine Song’s screenplay opens with an off-screen couple watching the two main characters and another man in a conversation as the couple wonder who these people are as it then cuts to 24 years earlier in Seoul. The film’s main narrative begins with these two 12-year old kids in Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) and Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) who are schoolmates who have feelings for one another yet the former is about to leave Seoul with her family as they’re to emigrate to Toronto to start a new life.

The two wouldn’t contact each other again as Na Young changed her name to Nora (Greta Lee) as she is trying to become a playwright while the adult Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) is currently serving the country’s mandatory military service as they both discover they’re on Facebook. The two would talk to each other through video and such yet plans to see each other would fall apart due to the demands of Nora’s career while Hae Sung is still trying to find work as he would travel to China for a Mandarin language exchange. It would be another 12 years where they would finally meet in New York City yet both of them would reveal completely different lives with Nora having already been married to another writer in Arthur Zaturansky (John Magaro) while Hae Sung was in a relationship that is on hold.

Song’s direction is largely straightforward in its overall presentation as it is shot on 35mm as it added a sense of grain and realism to the film as they’re shot largely on locations such as Seoul, New York City, and Montauk in the upstate area of New York. While there are wide shots of some of the locations including scenes shot on a phone during a video conversation between Nora and Hae Sung. Much of Song’s direction is intimate with its usage of medium and few close-ups as it plays into the closeness that the young Hae Sung and Na Young had where there is this great shot of the two walking towards different parts of the street for their farewell. There are also some distinctive compositions that Song creates such as a scene of the young Hae Sung and Na Young playing in a park as their mothers watch from afar suggesting about a future for the two. By the time the film shifts twelve years later where Hae Sung is seen as an adult in a wide shot doing his mandatory military service and then cuts to Nora who is living her life in New York City trying to create something through writing. Song would mix both English and Korean throughout the film as Nora would speak Korean when she talks to Hae Sung through Facebook or when he goes to New York City.

Song also plays into this sense of isolation that looms throughout the film with the wide and medium shots she creates including these intimate moments where Nora and Hae Sung are communicating through Facebook video during the film’s second act with the third act being the two reuniting in New York City. Song definitely plays into the sense of awkwardness that would occur between Nora and Hae Sung with Arthur being a third wheel as he laments over the fact that Hae Sung could be Nora’s true love as it is told in a comical manner. The meeting between the two men is just as awkward due to the fact that Arthur only knows a little bit of Korean and Hae Sung speaks very little English but Song finds a way for the men to find some common ground as well as these revelations of what could’ve been for Hae Sung and Nora but also if that could happen in another life. Overall, Song crafts a rapturous and touching film about two childhood friends who deal with their longing for one another as well as what could’ve been.

Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of 35mm film stock as it has elements of grain to play into much of the film’s naturalistic look with some stylish lighting for a few interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Keith Fraase does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward as it doesn’t aim for anything stylish other than a few jump-cuts in order to play into the drama. Production designer Grace Yun, with set decorator Joanne Ling and art director Alan Lampert, does brilliant work with the look of the apartments that Nora and Hae Sung would live separately in the film’s second act as well as the home that Nora would live in with Arthur. Costume designer Katina Danabassis does nice work with the costumes as it is largely low-key and casual with the exception of the clothes that the young Hae Sung and Na Young wears.

Hair/makeup artist Heejin “Emily” Baek, along with makeup artists Ivy Emert and Tayler Winer plus hair stylist Antoinette Wade, does fantastic work with the hairstyle that Hae Sung would wear in much of his young adult life as well as a more refined look he would have in the film’s third act. Visual effects supervisors Michael Huber and Alex Lemke do terrific work with the visual effects as it is largely set dressing including a scene at a hotel room in China. Sound editor Jacob Ribicoff does superb work with the sound as it mainly focuses on natural sound in how a room sounds as well as a bar and such. The film’s music by Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen is wonderful for its somber and low-key score filled with piano-based music with some folk elements that add to the sense of longing while music supervisors Meghan Currier creates a soundtrack that features an original song from Sharon Van Etten as well as music from Leonard Cohen, Kim Kwang Seok, Paul Eakins, Them with Van Morrison, and John Cale.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth and Susanne Scheel is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Min Young Ahn as Hae Sung’s mother, Ji Hye Yoon and Choi Won-young as Nora’s parents, Yeon Woo Seo as Na Young’s younger sister, the trio of Noo Ri Song, Si Ah Jin, and Yoon Seo Choi as Hae Sung’s friends in Seoul, Jojo T. Gibbs as a fellow writer that Nora works with in the film’s second act, Seung Min Yim as the young Hae Sung, and Seung Ah Moon as the young Nora in Na Young. John Magaro is brilliant as Arthur as Nora’s husband who met her at a retreat as he fell in love with her while he would later lament about the presence of Hae Sung even though he doesn’t want to cause any trouble.

Teo Yoo is amazing as Hae Sung as a Korean man who longs for Nora/Na Young as he deals with growing up in his native South Korea as well as wonder if he would ever reunite with her and later does where he goes to New York City to lament over what might’ve been if he had gone to New York City 12 years earlier. Finally, there’s Greta Lee in an incredible performance as Nora Moon/Na Young as a woman who emigrated from South Korea to Canada and later a life in New York City as a writer where she thinks about Hae Sung only to get married where she also ponders about her feelings for him upon their reunion as it is a radiant and somber performance from Lee.

Past Lives is a phenomenal film from Celine Song that features a trio of great performances from Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro. Along with its gorgeous visuals, a mesmerizing music soundtrack, and its story of longing and fate. It is a film that plays into destiny and fates as well as the decisions in life that would impact two childhood friends in the span of 24 years. In the end, Past Lives is a sensational film from Celine Song.

© thevoid99 2024

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Holdovers


Directed by Alexander Payne and written by David Hemingson, The Holdovers is the story of a New England boarding school teacher who spends the Christmas holidays chaperoning kids who are forced to stay at school as he deals with a troubled student as well as a school cafeteria manager. The film is a comedy-drama set in the early 1970s where a strict teacher copes with his own life as he would unknowingly forge a bond with one of his students and the cafeteria manager who is grieving over the loss of her son in the Vietnam War. Starring Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Carrie Preston, and introducing Dominic Sessa. The Holdovers is a rich and riveting film from Alexander Payne.

Set during the Christmas holidays in 1970 at a New England boarding school in Barton, the film follows a curmudgeon ancient history teacher who is asked to stay at the school to watch over students who are unable to go home for the holidays where he deals with a troubled student who becomes a holdover at the last minute. It is a film that explores a teacher that many don’t like as he doesn’t think highly of the students as he doesn’t care who their parents are as he would befriend one of these students who is forced to stay at school because his mother is taking a vacation with her new husband at the last minute. David Hemingson’s screenplay is largely straightforward as it is set during the Christmas holidays of 1970 where Barton’s classic ancient history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is asked to stay at school to watch over the holdover students left for the holidays in an act of punishment for flunking a student whose father is a U.S. senator and an important school donor.

Staying with Hunham is the school’s cafeteria manager Mary Lamb, whose son Curtis was a student at the school as he was recently killed in Vietnam, as well as four other students. When another student in Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) becomes a holdover at the last minute because of his mother going on a vacation with her new husband. Things become tense as Tully already has issues with another student in Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner) who often says terrible things as the holdovers are forced to study and not do much until a father of one of the holdovers arrive having contacted the parents to return home with only Tully staying behind because he couldn’t contact with his mother. It only adds the tension between teacher and student though it is clear that none of them want to stay at the school during the holidays while they also befriend Lamb who is going through her own issues. Still, the three deal with the situation as Tully isn’t just dealing with his hatred for his stepfather but also being vague about his own father as Hunham learns to loosen up despite several incidents with Tully.

Alexander Payne’s direction definitely harkens to a look and feel reminiscent of films from the 1970s in terms of its overall presentation though it was shot entirely on the digital Arri Alexa camera yet elements of grain and scratches were added to play into that look of 1970s cinema. Shot on various location in Massachusetts, Payne wanted to bring the sense of New England into the film in terms of its locations and accents while using very little sets for the film as everything was shot on location with the usage of wide and medium shots to get a scope of these locations including the main dining hall at the school as well as its chapel. Payne also maintains a sense of intimacy in his direction in how the main characters interact as well as watch TV or go on a rare social outing despite Hunham’s desire to follow the rules. Notably in the film’s second act where Hunham, Lamb, and Tully attend a Christmas Eve party hosted by the school headmaster’s assistant Miss Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston) where things starts to loosen up despite Lamb’s melancholic mood.

Payne also maintains this mix of humor and drama with the former being something that is expected but it’s all about the timing as well as in Hemingson’s dialogue such as the way Hunham speaks classical Latin on occasion or the way Lamb would talk back as she never takes shit from anyone. Even as Christmas has arrived where Hunham tries to show that he’s not some authoritarian while is also trying to prove that he can loosen up. The film’s third act is a break from the world that is Barton as it plays into the main characters all wanting to do something different where they all learn something from each other. Notably as Hunham and Tully both realize their own similarities as well as the fact that there’s things in Barton that protects them from a world that is often quite cruel as the latter is dealing with a future that might be even more troubling. Yet, it is Hunham and Lamb that would help guide this young man in not just showing him a future as he would give these two adult figures a hopeful outlook in life. Overall, Payne crafts a majestic and somber film about a teacher, a cafeteria manager, and a student staying at school during the Christmas holidays.

Cinematographer Eigil Bryld does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural light as well as maintaining a look that is reminiscent of 1970s American cinema as well as the usage of low-key lighting for the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Kevin Tent does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usage of transition wipes, dissolves, and other stylish cuts as well as knowing when to cut for dramatic and comedic effect as it is a highlight of the film. Production designer Ryan Warren Smith, with set decorator Markus Wittmann and art director Jeremy Woolsey, does amazing work with the look of some of the rooms to play into the period of the 1970s as a lot of the rooms are actual rooms instead of sets while they also brought old TVs and such to play into the period of early 1970s. Costume designer Wendy Chuck does excellent work with the costumes from the dresses that Lamb wears outside of the school as well as the clothes that Hunham and Tully wear to display their personalities and how they would evolve later on.

Hair stylist Jennifer Douglas and makeup artist Scott Hersh do fantastic work with the look of the characters with the hairstyle of the students reminiscent of the look of the early 1970s as well as some of the minimal makeup including a contact lens for Hunham’s lazy eye. Special effects supervisor Adam Bellao, along with visual effects supervisors Andy Chang and Jasper Kidd, does terrific with some of the minimal effects such as a scene where Tully tries to antagonize Hunham while the visual effects are also minimal as it’s mainly set-dressing as well as creating scratches and such to play into the look of the 1970s. Sound designer Frank Gaeta does superb work with the sound in maintaining a naturalistic approach to the sound in the way music is played on a location as well as how quiet a room is as it plays into how empty the school is with only three people living there.

The film’s music by Mark Orton is wonderful for its folk-inspired score with elements of orchestral flourishes as it plays into the world that is the early 1970s while music supervisor Matt Aberle creates a soundtrack filled with music from that time period including some Christmas music and contributions from Cat Stevens, Shocking Blue, the Temptations, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Damien Jurado, the Allman Brothers Band, the Chamber Brothers, Labi Siffre, Andy Williams, Artie Shaw and his Orchestra, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, the Swingle Sisters, Khruangbin, and the Trapp Family Singers.

The casting by Susan Shopmaker is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Kelly AuCoin as a former classmate of Hunham he bumps into in Boston, Darby Lily Lee-Stack as Miss Crane’s niece whom Tully befriends, Gillian Vigman and Tate Donovan in their respective roles as Tully’s mother Judy and stepfather Stanley as the latter is someone Tully dislikes, Stephen Thorne as a man that Tully wants to meet in Boston, Naheem Garcia as the school janitor Danny whom Lamb is fond of, and Andrew Garman as the Barton headmaster Dr. Hardy Woodrup who doesn’t think highly of Hunham as he forces him to stay in school during the holidays. The trio of Michael Provost, Jim Kaplan, and Ian Dolley are terrific in their respective roles as the school’s football quarterback Jason Smith, the Korean student Ye-Joon Park, and the Church of Latter Day Saints student Alex Ollerman as three of the five holdovers who stay temporarily with Provost as a quarterback who is trying to maintain some peace while Kaplan and Dolley as young pre-teen students both dealing with not going home.

Brady Hepner is superb as Teddy Kountze as a classmate of Tully who often says awful things and is a total asshole to other students as he is the embodiment of entitlement as he is not liked by many. Carrie Preston is fantastic as Miss Lydia Crane as Dr. Woodrup’s assistant who also works at a local bar as she is someone that is often nice to everyone including Hunham as he has a thing for her. Dominic Sessa is incredible in his debut film role as Angus Tully as a junior who had hoped to go on a vacation for the holidays as he deals with staying at school as well as other issues. Sessa also has this charm and humility as someone who knows he’s a rich kid but is also someone that is danger of possibly going to military school while also having problems that Hunham would discover and become sympathetic for. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is phenomenal as Mary Lamb as the Barton school cafeteria manager whose son had attended the school as she is mourning his death at the Vietnam War while is also someone that isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Even as she also has Hunham to be less authoritative as well as also say some funny things that showcases why she won’t take shit from anyone.

Finally, there’s Pal Giamatti in a tremendous performance as Paul Hunham as a classics professor who teaches ancient history as this curmudgeon teacher who doesn’t think highly of his students while is also authoritative and prefers to do things his way. It is a performance that has Giamatti often quoting Latin and other old languages where he can be funny but also someone who is also vulnerable as he is someone that has secrets of his own. Even as it raises questions into his lack of a social life as well as why he continues to teach at Barton when he go somewhere else where Giamatti brings that humility but also wit in what is definitely a career-defining performance from him.

The Holdovers is a tremendous film from Alexander Payne that features a trio of great performances in Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Dominic Sessa. Along with David Hemingson’s screenplay, a wondrous music soundtrack, its stylish visuals, and its mixture of humor and drama. It is a film that explores three different people stuck at a prep school during the Christmas holidays as they deal with themselves as well as a world that is confusing for them while dealing with loss and uncertainty. In the end, The Holdovers is an outstanding film from Alexander Payne.

Alexander Payne Films: Citzen Ruth - Election - About Schmidt - Sideways - Paris Je T'aime-14th Arrondissment - The Descendants - Nebraska - (Downsizing) – (Tracy Flick Can’t Win) – The Auteurs #5: Alexander Payne

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