Friday, May 31, 2024

Films That I Saw: May 2024


Summer is about to arrive, and it is already getting hot as there is so much shit happening right now as the Israel-Hamas war has gotten worse with our president Joe Biden still showing his support for Israel. OK Joe, enjoy the remaining days of your single term. There has been a lot of shit happening around the world as well as Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province endured one of the worst landslides ever with thousands of people killed. There has been some awful shit here in the U.S. with tornadoes and all sorts of storms and we are not even at the half-way point of the year. This has been quite insane as far as I do what I can to read the news, but I also try to find ways to not be too invested in it as it would be a total fucking downer.

I have been able to find things to escape to as this year’s Cannes Film Festival has always given me some excitement about what to look forward to in the world of cinema. I’m happy for Sean Baker whose newest film Anora won the Palme d’Or as that is a film I’m eager looking forward to as well as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness that gave one of its stars in Jesse Plemons the Best Actor prize while Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez took home the third-place Jury Prize and the Best Actress prize to its ensemble that includes Selena Gomez and Zoe Saldana. Other winners include the Grand Jury prize winner All We Imagine is Light by Payal Kapadia, the special prize winner to The Seed of the Sacred Fig by Mohammad Rasoulof, Best Screenplay winner The Substance by Coralie Fargeat, and Best Director winner Miguel Gomes for his film Grand Tour are films that I hope to see soon.

While the coverage has been great, the one thing that has put me off about this year’s festival was the numerous reports of standing ovations and that irked me. With Cannes, I usually expect some chaos or dramatic reactions at the screenings with films being booed and howled as that is what makes the festival fun to read about. This year saw some big releases such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis and Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga Chapter 1 all getting these long-standing ovations despite the mixed reviews the films have received. That is weird as I had recently listened to the MUBI podcast on YouTube where Wim Wenders talked about his own experience with standing ovations during a screening for one of his films with Sam Shepherd as they had a long-standing ovation, but it became very uncomfortable for both Wenders and Shepherd after a few minutes in which the latter left the theater because it was overwhelming.

Personally, I would have rather dealt with being booed and I would at least respond to that reaction by giving the audience the finger. That is what Carl Theodor Dreyer did when he screened his final film Gertrud in 1964 as that film was not well-received at the festival yet he went to the stage and flipped off the audience. Those are things that make Cannes so fun as this year’s festival overall felt a bit lackluster for me in the end.

After more than 7 years with a gray HP laptop that I had bought and used as I have written a lot of my work. It was time to get a new one as I bought a brand-new HP Pavilion laptop in its latest form for a lot of money which I am fortunate to have. At the same time, I purchased some software including a new anti-virus and other services that I need including a new Netflix account which I am in control of overseeing. My mother had been complaining about not seeing things in her iPad but with the new account I have created. She is relieved to do that as well as watch her favorite stuff on YouTube. The timing was right as I am now working on the newest version of Microsoft Word with a new editor program that has really done wonders for me as I feel like I can improve as it is going to help me overall.
In the month of May 2024, I saw a total of 23 films in 13 first timers and 10 re-watches with only one film directed/co-directed by a woman as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. A somewhat underwhelming month although still pretty good as one of the highlights of the month is my Blind Spot film in East of Eden. Here is the top 10 first timers that I saw for May 2024:

1. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
2. Let It Be
3. Young Ahmed
4. Miracle in Milan
5. Starlet
6. Khaite FW21
7. Snowbird
8. Elton John: Visions
9. Hi-Fi
10. Senior Year
Monthly Mini-Reviews/What Else I am Watching

For a film that is meant to celebrate the 100th anniversary for Disney Animation Studios, this was a fucking let down as I expected better from Disney. There was a lot of hype for it, but I was worried about it as the animation upon its previews had me worried. I watched the film with my niece and nephew who were both bored by it as it had a terrible story of a young woman who is an idealist that is hoping to become a king’s apprentice, but he refuses to grant her grandfather’s wish. Upon getting a fallen star that can grant wishes, the king gets upset and a lot of dumb shit occurs as I hated how pandering it was while the animation was wobbly in its attempt to make it look like an old hand-drawn animated film with some 3D computer animated movies. It was one of the things that irked me though the only redeeming quality is Chris Pine as the evil king though I felt like his character had some points about not wanting to grant some wishes, but the story did the character no favors. Even the songs that were made for the film were just fucking terrible as this is not a film for kids to see and Disney should have done better.

nothing, except everything
Wow… I have seen some awful shit in my life but goddamn. This is truly one of the worst things I had ever seen as I saw it out of curiosity as it was made by Wesley Wang who was given all this money to make a student film, and this is a film that is HATED by the Letterboxd community. It is this piece of shit which uses quotes by Karl Marx, Carl Jung, and Marya Hornbacher to explain this young man’s existential crisis, but Wang really has no context of who these writers are. All the film is some whiny little fuck who obsesses over the number 7 and what to expect in life as this is just some idiotic millennial bullshit filled with pretty people. The acting is horrible with some offensive usage of music by Beach House as that band should sue Wang. If Wang ever reads this, I hope he kills himself because if this is the future of cinema. FUCK OFF!

Senior Year
A film I saw on Netflix about an Australian teenager who moves to America and hopes to become a popular girl only to fall on her head during a cheerleading routine and then wake up 20 years later realizing how much the world has changed. It is a harmless comedy where Rebel Wilson re-enrolls herself to high school to finish her senior year as there are so many different things that happen. Wilson is hilarious in this as well as being heartfelt as a young woman who had lost much of her life but also her mother as she copes with adulthood as well as trying to realize that high school is not the peak of one’s life. It is a harmless and fun film with a great cast including an amazing cameo from Alicia Silverstone and Angourie Rice as the younger version of Wilson’s character.

Elton John: Visions Before Beyonce popularized the idea of the visual album with 2016’s Lemonade, the first of its kind was Blondie’s 1979 album Eat to the Beat that featured all its songs with a music video for each song. This was before the emergence of MTV as Elton John would create a visual album for his 1981 studio release in The Fox. For many years, the video album had been unavailable until a few days ago as Elton John’s YouTube page released all the videos from that album in a new remastered form. It is quite ahead of its time as well as making the case for being one of John’s more underrated recordings as the 80s was a messy decade for him despite some major hits at that time.


One of three shorts/ads directed by Sean Baker that I saw on YouTube is set in a desert trailer park starring Abbey Lee as a young woman who bakes a cake for many of her neighbors in this small trailer park. Featuring appearances from Mary Woronov and Clarence Williams III, the short is really an advertisement for Kenzo’s 2016 spring/summer collection with Lee wearing one of its clothing. She looks good in the clothes while also adding some naturalism to her performance as well as eating a piece of cake with her neighbors as it is a fun short by Baker.

Khaite FW21

The second short by Baker that I saw on YouTube is a four-minute ad/short commissioned for Khaite’s fall/winter collection as it featured models acting like gangs. Obviously inspired by Walter Hill’s 1979 film The Warriors, it has models walking around acting as a gang doing all sorts of shit with Ace Frehley’s New York Groove playing in the background. It is a fun short to watch and certainly something for fans of Baker to see.


The earliest short film of Baker that I saw on YouTube came from 2001 as it is a five-and-a-half-minute short film involving four young teenagers riding around New York City through its tunnels and streets. At first, it feels like this is going to be something fun and innocent until drugs come into play. It is a short that plays into the many themes that Baker has explored in outsiders living away from mainstream society. Even though it has a style that is akin to what was happening at the time, it is really a look into Baker honing his craft as a filmmaker.

Dark Side of the Ring (season finale)
The final episode of the fifth season of this series revolves around the incident known as Black Saturday. It is an event on July 14, 1984, in which WWE had taken over a timeslot on TBS that had previously aired professional wrestling through Georgia Championship Wrestling. It is an event that did mark a major change in professional wrestling as it would put WWE on a national level though it angered many fans of GCW as it revealed a lot into how Jack and Gerald Brisco sold their stakes of GCW to Vince McMahon Jr. much to the anger of Ole Anderson. Gerald Brisco, Jim Cornette, and Ole’s son Bryant Rogowski are among those who are interviewed as it plays into how this event would not only play into McMahon’s rise in professional wrestling but also the beginning of a rivalry with TBS owner Ted Turner though the episode was dedicated to Ole Anderson who died this past February while adding a post-script about McMahon’s most recent departure from WWE due to his many scandals including sex trafficking.

Top 10 Re-Watches

1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
2. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
3. Solo Con Tu Pareja
4. What Did Jack Do?
5. Frozen
6. Moana
7. Boomerang
8. Madrid, 1987
9. Dragon Around
10. Sliver
That is all for May. Coming in June will be a few films that I meant to do for my mini-Cannes marathon as well as hopefully a few theatrical releases in Inside Out 2 and Kinds of Kindness. I am not sure what film I will watch as my next Blind Spot film though I am however going to start work on my Auteurs piece on Michael Mann by watching two TV films of his available on YouTube along with The Insider and Ferrari for the rest of the summer. Before I leave, I want to express my condolences to those who have passed away this month including the writer Paul Auster who died at the end of April. Among those who have passed this month include the basketball legend Bill Walton, Elizabeth McRae, film producers Albert S. Ruddy and Fred Roos of The Godfather films, the legendary songwriter Richard M. Sherman, Johnny Wactor of General Hospital, Doug Ingle of Iron Butterfly, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, actor Darryl Hickman, music composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, the great Dabney Coleman, comic book artist Don Perlin, writer Alice Munro, actor/producer Samm-Art Williams, drummer Dennis Thompson of the MC5, drummer John Barbata of the Turtles, Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship, Susan Buckner from Grease, Richard Tandy of Electric Light Orchestra, and the legendary Roger Corman. We will miss you all. This is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2024

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga


Based on the characters created by George Miller and Byron Kennedy, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is the story of a young woman living in an apocalyptic desert wasteland as she is taken by a warlord whom she would get her revenge on years before she would meet Mad Max. Directed by George Miller and written by Miller and Nico Lathouris, the film is a prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road as it relates to the character of Furiosa and how she would become this dangerous figure and future ally to Mad Max as both Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne portray her. Also starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Nathan Jones, John Howard, Angus Sampson, Charlee Fraser, and Lachy Hulme as Immortan Joe. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a grand and astonishingly terrifying film from George Miller.

The film revolves around the titular character who gets abducted by a biker gang from her idyllic yet remote home as she becomes a prisoner to a warlord and later traded to another one where she later seeks vengeance on the man who had taken her away from her home and killed her mother. It is a revenge film set years after a global apocalypse where this young girl lives in an idyllic, yet remote area known as the Green Place where she encounters a group of bikers who would kidnap her prompting her mother Mary (Charlee Fraser) to go retrieve her. Unfortunately, Mary meets the warlord Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) who wants to rule the wasteland as he takes Furiosa for himself and is later traded to another warlord in Immortan Joe in an act of peace. The film’s screenplay by George Miller and Nico Lathoruis is straightforward in its narrative as it is told in five acts with the first two acts revolves around the young Furiosa who must endure so much torment as a prisoner and later become a slave for Joe where she would later disguise herself as a mute boy for its third act. Part of the film’s narrative feature some narration from a prisoner of Dr. Dementus in the History Man (George Shevtsov) who would provide some insight into the world and what had happened.

Furiosa would help create a massive supply tanker that would be armed with weapons and such as it would be driven by Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) who would take Furiosa under his wing as they would work for Immortan Joe who becomes restless over the deal he made with Dr. Dementus who had turned his fortress of Gastown into ruin. Jack would not just be a mentor for Furiosa but also give Furiosa another person to really care about as there’s hints of love between them. Even as Burke is willing to help Furiosa return home as they later deal with Dr. Dementus who has become unruly in his pursuit of dominance as he goes to war against Immortan Joe over the latter’s land known as the Citadel.

Miller’s direction is grand in terms of the scale that he creates as he would shoot the film on location in New South Wales in the towns of Hay and Silverton with the desert in the region being its main location. Miller’s usage of wide and medium shots does not just play into the vastness of these locations with such diligence in the caves and dunes in the deserts along with these sandstorms that would often emerge in the film. There are also a lot of worlds building that Miller goes into as it relates to the territories of Immortan Joe such as the fortresses he has including his main home at the Citadel where there are plants available though it is under Joe’s control. Miller does maintain a sense of intensity and suspense that plays into what Furiosa would encounter as a young girl and later as a woman. Even as he uses close-ups to play into her reaction as well as her silent demeanor when she is a woman disguised as a boy where she can observe her surroundings and situations.

With the aid of action designer Guy Norris as a co-director and a stunt coordinator, Miller creates these amazing set pieces for some of the film’s action sequences where this so much diligence in what is happening. Notably a scene in the second act where Furiosa works at the war rig as she would fix things under the truck and kill some rogue bikers while Jack is driving the war rig. The different camera angles as well as the different compositions that Miller creates do add to the sense of danger in these stunts and action set pieces. Notably in the film’s climax as it plays into this conflict of two warlords with Furiosa intent on killing Dr. Dementus herself following an encounter that revealed how she lost a part of her left arm. Miller also plays into the idea of vengeance as it relates to Furiosa but also in what she is taught about Dr. Dementus who had lost everything during the apocalypse as he is eventually pushed to the limit when his back is against the wall. Overall, Miller crafts an epic and exhilarating film about a woman who goes on a journey for vengeance.

Cinematographer Simon Duggan does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural photography for many of the daytime exterior/interior scenes along with some stylish filters for some scenes at night. Editors Margaret Sixel and Eliot Knapman do excellent work with editing with its usage of jump-cuts and fast-cutting as it help play into the action and suspense without deviating towards chaotic cutting as shots are allowed to linger for more than a few seconds Production designer Colin Gibson, along with set decorator Katie Sharrock and supervising art director Sophie Nash, does brilliant work with the look of some of the places in the film such as Gastown and the Citadel as well as the design of the war rig. Costume designer Jenny Beaven does amazing work with the costume designs in the usage of leather for what Dr. Dementus and his gang wear as well as some of the unique clothing of Immortan Joe and his associates along with the many different clothes that Furiosa wears throughout her time.

Hair and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt does fantastic work with the design of some of the hairstyles of some of the characters as well as the prosthetic nose that Dr. Dementus has as well as the makeup of some of the people in Dr. Demtentus’ gang. Special effects supervisors Lloyd Finnemore and Andy Williams, along with visual effects supervisors Xavier Matia Bernasconi, Dan Bethall, Paul Butterworth, Andrew Jackson, and Jo Plaete, do marvelous work with the visual effects with its mixture of practical effects that gives the film a sense of realism into the stunt work and action with some computer-based visual effects for some of the scenery and small bits to play into its sense of terror.

Sound designers James Ashton and Robert Mackenzie do superb work with the sound as it is a highlight of the film for how massive an engine sounds from afar or up close as well as the way things sound on location as is top-tier work from Ashton and Mackenzie. The film’s music by Tom Holkenborg is phenomenal for its bombastic mixture of orchestral music and electronic music that plays into the intensity of the action as well as the suspense as it is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Nikki Barrett is remarkable as it features some notable small roles and appearances from Dylan Adonis as Furiosa’s younger sister Little Valkyrie, Quaden Bayles as a war pup who is a warrior in the war rig, Daniel Webber and Sean Millis as a couple of war boys, Peter Stephens as the main guardian of Gastown until he meets Dr. Dementus, George Shevtsov as a prisoner of Dr. Dementus in the History Man who is also the film’s narrator, Angus Sampson as a doctor who worked for Dr. Dementus and later for Immortan Joe, and Jacob Tomuri as a mysterious man who finds Furiosa in the desert in the film’s third act. Josh Helman and Nathan Jones are terrific in their respective roles as Immortan Joe’s sons Scrotus and Rictus Erectus as two men who are trying to run things for their father as well as deal with the chaos that is Dr. Dementus and his forces. John Howard is superb as the People Eater as Joe’s advisor who is also a military strategist who is trying to deal with the chaos of Dr. Dementus.

Charlee Fraser is fantastic as Furiosa’s mother Mary Jabassa as a woman from the Green Place who is a cunning warrior that tries to retrieve Furiosa only to deal with Dr. Dementus and his horde of bikers. Elsa Pataky is excellent in a dual role as a Vuvalini general who helps Mary in her pursuit and as a deformed biker known as Mr. Norton. Lachy Hulme is amazing in a dual role as a lieutenant of Dr. Dementus in Rizzdale Pell and as the warlord Immortan Joe as this monstrous figure who sports a mask that runs the Citadel and much of the Wasteland where he finds himself challenged by Dr. Dementus only to later feel betrayed and conned by him prompting him to go to war. Alyla Browne is brilliant as the young Furiosa as a child from the Green Place who is kidnapped by Dr. Dementus’ horde of bikers as she later becomes his prisoner as she reminds him of what he once had and later trade her to Immortan Joe as a possible future wife where she deals with having to do things herself. Tom Burke is great as Praetorian Jack as the driver of the war rig who becomes Furiosa’s mentor as well as a life partner as he teaches her how to survive while also hoping to help her return home.

Chris Hemsworth is phenomenal as Dr. Dementus as a warlord who likes to ride a chariot of motorcycles as he is hoping to create havoc and rule the Wasteland where he is eager to find vegetation and such from the Citadel only to later rule Gastown into absolute disarray. It is a performance filled with humor but also a lot of terror as Hemsworth really provides this air of cruelty of a man who had lost everything and wants people to feel his pain including Furiosa. Finally, there’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a performance for the ages as Furiosa as this young woman who had endured a lot as she is also cunning in her pursuit of vengeance while also not saying very much as she only has thirty lines in the entire film. Taylor-Joy also has a way in the way she reacts to things as well as an icy stare that expresses so much by having her do so little as this is truly an iconic performance from Taylor-Joy.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an outstanding film from George Miller that features a tremendous leading performance from Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, high-octane action set pieces, immense sound design, a riveting music score, and a gripping screenplay in its exploration of vengeance and loss. The film is an example of what an action film should be while also giving audiences a look into the life of a beloved character with her own story that proves to be as thrilling as another of one of Miller’s great characters in Mad Max. In the end, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a magnificent film from George Miller.

George Miller Films: Mad Max - Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior - (Twilight Zone: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) – (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) – (The Witches of Eastwick) – (Lorenzo’s Oil) – (40,000 Years of Dreaming) – (Babe: Pig in the City) – (Happy Feet) – (Happy Feet Two) – Mad Max: Fury Road - (Three Thousand Years of Longing) - (Mad Max: The Wasteland)

© thevoid99 2024

Friday, May 24, 2024

2024 Cannes Marathon: Miracle in Milan


(Co-Winner of the Palme d’Or with Miss Julie and Othello at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the novel Toto il Buono by Cesare Zavattini, Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) is the story of a group of vagabonds who create a shantytown for themselves where they make a major discovery in the hopes they can keep it away from rich land developers. Directed by Vittorio de Sica and screenplay by de Sica and Zavattini with additional contributions from Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Mario Chiari, and Adolfo Franci, the film is a mixture of Italian neorealism and fantasy as it plays into a group of people who want to create a home as they also encounter miracles that would enrich their lives. Starring Francesco Golisano, Emma Gramatica, Paolo Stoppa, Guglielmo Barnabo, Brunella Bovo, Anna Carena, and Alba Arnova. Miracolo a Milano is an extraordinarily rich and enchanting film by Vittorio de Sica.

The film revolves around a young man who was found by an old woman as a baby as he would eventually be raised in an orphanage and live in a shantytown with a group of vagabonds as they make some discoveries that would help them. It is a film that mixes elements of fantasy and reality where the latter takes hold as it takes place in a shantytown near downtown Milan where this young man provides a sense of hope for these poor people living on the outskirts of the city. The film’s screenplay by Vittorio de Sica and Cesare Zavattini is straightforward in its narrative as it begins with this old lady Lolotta (Emma Gramatica) finding a baby in her garden as she would name him Toto and raise him through childhood until the age of eleven as he is sent to an orphanage following her death. Upon becoming a man, Toto (Francesco Golisano) deals with his surroundings yet remains upbeat over his new phase in his life where he meets a vagabond who takes his small suitcase but is shocked by Toto’s kindness as they share a shanty outside of the city.

Toto would help create and expand the shantytown that would include people who were once rich including a young woman named Edvige (Brunella Bovo) whom Toto falls for. During a party, a maypole strikes the ground where oil is sprouting out of the ground as it changes the fortunes of the people in the shantytown though one of them in Rappi (Paolo Stoppa) informs the land developer Mobbi (Guglielmo Barnabo) about the oil near his land. While Toto does manage to charm Mobbi in an earlier meeting, he is unable to stop Mobbi from trying to get rid of all the people in the shantytown where a series of strange events happen.

The direction of de Sica is entrancing for the way he blends elements of neorealism with fantasy to explore the needs that a person should have no matter how much or how little they have. Shot on location near the Lambrate railway station in Milan, de Sica does maintain a sense of space into how big the shantytown area is as well as how it is disconnected from the main part of the city. While there are a lot of wide shots that de Sica create to display the scope of the shantytown as well as areas near Milan. The film emphasizes more close-ups and medium shots to play into the number of people in a frame as well as some of the emotional aspects the characters embark on. Notably as de Sica maintains a realism in using actual locations as well as non-professional actors in how they would interact with their surroundings or the miracles they encounter.

The direction also plays into these social politics as it relates to land developers trying to get rid of the people in the shantytowns though Toto would charm Mobbi in how a bonfire can lift spirits or at a later meeting where they all drink tea in Mobbi’s office unaware of his motives. Once Mobbi decides to act, the elements of surrealism and fantasy arrive where these odd things happen that would baffle the police as it is all told through humor. Even as Toto would be granted something from his late mother as it would play into the things that the vagabonds would want though there is a moment in which an African (Jerome Johnson) makes a wish to be with a white woman (Flora Cambi) who also makes a wish as it is this terrible moment of blackface. Despite that one bad scene, de Sica does highlight a young man who is filled with goodness though what he wants are quite simple scenes as its ending is about all these people going into a place where there are no social classes or possessions as it is an element of fantasy. Yet, de Sica brings in a sense of hope as it is told in a grand style at the city square where the city’s Cathedral stands. Overall, de Sica crafts a majestic and whimsical film about a young man who brings joy to a group of people in a shantytown where miracles happen.

Cinematographer Aldo Graziati does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its usage of light and shadows for some scenes at night along with bits of natural and artificial lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes along with some special effects camera work by Vaclav Vich and Enzo Barboni for some of the film’s unique visual effect scenes as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Eraldo Da Roma does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play for some of the film’s whimsical visual effects scenes as well as some straightforward cuts to play into the drama and humor. Art director Guido Fiorini does amazing work with the look of the shantytowns with the small shacks that are built as well as the interior of Mobbi’s office. Costume designer Mario Chiari does fantastic work with the costumes as a lot of is ragged and such apart from some of the finer clothing that a character wished for since she used to be an aristocrat.

The sound work of Bruno Brunacci, with additional work for the film’s restoration by Antonio Catalano, is superb for some of the sound effects that occur in the film along with the usage of natural sound to capture the sense of joy within the crowd. The film’s music by Alessandro Cicognini is wonderful for its orchestral-based score filled with flourishing string arrangements and playful woodwind pieces as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Jerome Johnson as an African vagabond who is in love with a white woman, Flora Cambi as a maid for an aristocratic woman who is in love with the black man, Gianni Branduani as the 11-year old Toto, Angelo Prilo as a police commander, Checco Rissone as the second-in-command, Arturo Bragaglia and Erminio Spalla as a couple of vagabonds that are close friends of Toto, Virgilio Riento as a police sergeant who comes to the shantytown late in the film where he gets his own wish, and Alba Arnova as a ballerina statue who comes to life. Anna Carena is terrific as an aristocratic woman in Signora Altezzosa as a woman who was once rich as she deals with living in a shantytown while hoping to go back to her old world and wear the finest gowns out there. Guglielmo Barnabo is fantastic as Mobbi as a land developer who wants to buy the land where the shantytown is where is charmed by Toto only to scheme his way into buying the land while he becomes baffled by the miracles that is happening on the land.

Brunella Bovo is excellent as Edvige as a young woman from a poor family who falls for Toto as someone who would also ground Toto once he becomes this figure of hope in the film’s third act it is this radiant performance from Bovo. Emma Gramatica is brilliant in her small role as Lolotta as the woman who found the baby Toto as well as raise him while later appearing in the film’s third function as an angel. Paolo Stoppa is amazing as Rappi as a scheming vagabond who wants to be part of the rich society where he would sell out the vagabonds only to later realize that materialism is fleeting. Finally, there’s Francesco Golisano in an incredible performance as Toto as this young and upbeat man who is full of life and joy that often sees the best in people as well as trying to get those who are down to see the little things that make people happy.

Miracolo a Milano is a phenomenal film from Vittorio de Sica. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a story of hope and miracle in a dreary world, and a charming musical score. The film is a delightful mixture of fantasy and neorealism set in a world outside of the city as it plays into the ideas of how simple things can make the poorest feel rich. In the end, Miracolo a Milano is a sensational film from Vittorio de Sica.

Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - Bicycle Thieves - Umberto D. - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - Two Women (1960 film) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - Marriage Italian Style - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) – The Witches-An Evening Like the Others - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)

© thevoid99 2024

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

2024 Cannes Marathon: Young Ahmed


(Winner of the Best Director Prize to Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Le Jeune Ahmed (Young Ahmed) is the story of 13-year-old Muslim student who plots to kill his teacher after embracing a radicalized version of the Quran. The film is an exploration a young Muslim living in Belgian as he feels abandoned where he seeks to kill a schoolteacher in the name of Allah. Starring Idir Ben Addi, Olivier Bonnaud, Myriem Akheddiou, Victoria Bluck, Claire Bodson, and Othmane Moumen. Le Jeune Ahmed is a rich and somber film from the Dardenne Brothers.

The film revolves around a 13-year-old Belgian-Muslim student who has become radicalized by his local imam who convinces him that his schoolteacher is an apostate prompting him to kill her in the name of Allah. It is a film that explores a boy living in small working-class town in Belgium with a mixture of races and religions as he is embracing the radical ideas of his imam through a radicalized version of the Quran. The screenplay by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is straightforward in its narrative despite not having much plot in favor of studying the film’s titular character (Idir Ben Addi) and his actions where he would be sent to a juvenile detention center as he comes into conflict with the way the center approaches him in a non-confrontational manner. Even as he would collaborate with his caseworker at a farm as he tries to maintain his idealism but becomes troubled by his emotions and the pleas from his mother (Claire Bodson) to change his ways and forget the teachings of his local imam (Othmane Moumen).

The direction of the Dardenne Brothers is entrancing for its simplicity as it is shot on location in Wallonia, Belgium with hand-held cameras. While there are a few wide shots in the film, much of the direction is intimate through the usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the style that the Dardenne Brothers are known for that is like cinema verité. Even as the Dardenne Brothers play into this world of Islam where Ahmed is devoted to as he is a Muslim, yet he is upset that his schoolteacher Miss Ines (Myriem Akheddiou) who wants to teach basic Arabic to kids in preparation when they grow up and such as well as make it accessible. It is an idea that upsets both Ahmed and his imam as the latter urges him to act although the former mistakes his rhetoric as an act of jihad. The incident would put Ahmed in the detention center as he is given time to pray as he would often carry the Quran in a plastic Ziploc bag whenever he goes somewhere such as a farm.

At the farm, he meets a young girl in Louise (Victoria Bluck) who is interested in him though she confuses Ahmed. Especially as he is someone that is trying to maintain a sense of purity for himself hoping to be embraced by Allah. The Dardenne Brothers go to great lengths as it relates to Ahmed’s confusion where he steals a toothbrush from the farm to create a shiv, but things do not go well despite his claims that he has changed. The direction does showcase a world where Ahmed expects to be abused and such, but it isn’t anything like that as the film’s final moments play into him wanting to prove himself to Allah, but he’s filled with a lot of conflict over what he’s being taught but also what the Quran really teaches. Overall, the Dardenne Brothers craft an evocative and engaging film about a 13-year-old Muslim boy from Belgium trying to kill his schoolteacher to prove himself to Allah.

Cinematographer Benoit Dervoux does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward in its approach to natural lighting in the daytime interior/exterior settings and usage of available light for some of the interior scenes at night. Editors Marie-Helene Dozo and Tristan Meunier do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few jump-cuts to play into some of the drama. Production designer Igor Gabriel and art director Paul Rouschop do fantastic work with the look of the classrooms that Ahmed goes to as well as the home he lives with his family and some of the interiors at the farmhouse. Costume designer Maira Ramedhan Levi does nice work with the costumes as it is casual with many of the young kids wearing tracksuits or loose clothing apart from a few scenes at the imam’s church where everyone is wearing a robe.

Visual effects supervisor Guillaume Pondard does terrific work with a few of the film’s visual effects scenes as it is set dressing on a few bits including the film’s climax. The sound work of Julien Sicart and sound editor Valene Leroy is superb for its sound as a lot of it is captured on location to maintain a sense of realism that also includes a scene in a car where the lone music piece played on film is a song by the Intergalactic Lovers while a classical piece by Franz Schubert that is played in the film’s final credits.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Cyra Lassman as Ahmed’s older sister Yasmine, Amine Hamidou as his brother Rachid who is also radicalized, Karim Chihab as a counselor at the detention center, and Olivier Bonnaud as a sympathetic caseworker who tries to help Ahmed while not wanting to stray Ahmed from his faith. Victoria Bluck is fantastic as Louise as a farmer’s daughter who works at the farm as she befriends Ahmed while also trying to understand him through a simple act of affection. Claire Bodson is excellent as Ahmed’s mother who is aghast about his newfound radicalism as she tries to get him to steer back into his innocence, feeling he is becoming a danger to himself and everyone around him.

Othmane Moumen is brilliant as Ahmed’s imam Youssouf who is a radical that believes that Islam is being threatened as is everything Ahmed is trying to maintain in his faith where he would suggest going into extremism as he is really an evil figure distorting the ideas of Islam. Myriem Akheddiou is amazing as Miss Ines as Ahmed’s schoolteacher who is troubled by Ahmed’s radicalism as she is also a Muslim but is hoping to make it more accessible for everyone including children so they can maintain their identity. Finally, there’s Idir Ben Addi in a phenomenal performance as Ahmed as this 13-year-old Belgian-Muslim kid who becomes radicalized as he is eager to prove himself to his imam and Allah by killing his teacher only to be sent to a detention center. It is a subdued performance from the young actor who expresses someone that is determined to complete his task but is also filled with confusion and anguish over the ways of the world.

Le Jeune Ahmed is a sensational film from the Dardenne Brothers. Featuring a great ensemble cast, naturalistic visuals, and a riveting character study of a young boy being radicalized into killing his teacher. It is a film that explores a youth being lost and pulled in many directions while he is intent on completing a task in the name of religion only to realize that the world is far more complicated with hate being the catalyst for this complication. In the end, Le Jeune Ahmed is a phenomenal film from the Dardenne Brothers.

Dardenne Brothers Films: (Falsch) – (I Think of You) – La Promesse - Rosetta - Le Fils - L'Enfant - To Each His Own Cinema-Darkness - Lorna's Silence - The Kid with a Bike - Two Days, One Night - The Unknown Girl - Tori & Lokita

© thevoid99 2024

Sunday, May 19, 2024

2024 Blind Spot Series: East of Eden

Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, East of Eden is the story of a young man in the early 1900s during World War I who vies for the affection of his father who tends to favor his brother where he goes on a journey for his own identity. Directed by Elia Kazan and screenplay by Paul Osborn, the film is a take of the Cain and Abel story in which two brothers spar for the devotion of their deeply religious father as one of them copes with his own issues while learning about his estranged mother. Starring James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Lois Smith, and Jo Van Fleet. East of Eden is a majestic and intoxicating film from Elia Kazan.

Set in 1917 North California in the town of Salinas and the nearby town of Monterey, the film revolves around a young man trying to win the love of his father while competing with his twin brother whom their father favors. It is a film that is really an interpretation of the Cain and Abel story as it plays into two brothers vying for their father’s affection with one of them being this pacifist, strait-laced figure with a girlfriend and is a lot like his father. The other is an angst-ridden young man who feels like he could never please his father no matter how much work he can do and such. Paul Osborn’s screenplay is largely straightforward in how it plays into the journey that Cal Trask (James Dean) endures as he feels like he doesn’t do enough to please his father where he would often venture out Salina towards the neighboring Monterey where he follows a woman named Cathy Ames (Joy Van Fleet) whom he realizes is his mother that had abandoned his father just after he and his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) were born.

Their father Adam (Raymond Massey) is a man that is devoted to God in his beliefs, but he is also someone who has ideas with his crops as he is a farmer and a draft board chairman. He had an idea in keeping vegetables fresh as he has a lettuce crop as Cal helps along with Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) who is often concerned for Cal and his moody behavior. Yet, a weather storm crushes Adam’s dreams though Cal has an idea to go into the bean-growing business with one of his father’s partners knowing that stock will rise in case the U.S. decides to go to war as a way for Cal to get his father’s money back. Even as he turns to Cathy for help where he learns about why she left him as it makes Cal more determined to help his father where even Abra learns about what he is doing as she starts to fall for him. Yet, the script would reveal that Aron would find a way to upstage Cal in some way as it adds this sense of entitlement to someone who does everything his father does but is unable to cope with reality.

Elia Kazan’s direction is truly wondrous in his approach to imagery and the compositions that he creates that almost look and feel like a painting in some shots. Shot on location in coastal areas of Northern California in Salinas, Salinas Valley, and Mendocino County as they are important characters in the film such as shots of Cal riding on top of a train that would go from Salinas to Monterey. Kazan’s usage of the Cinemascope format allows him to go to great lengths to create shots such as a train riding away towards its destination as it plays into Adam Trask’s promise of a great future. While Kazan does use a lot of wide and medium shots to play into the locations including a fair where the bond between Cal and Abra becomes closer. There is also an intimacy in some of the medium shots but also in the close-ups along with a few slanted angles that play into Trask’s dominance towards his son with Aron often sitting either beside his father or in the middle of a table but closer to his father. Kazan also plays into the many differences between Cal and Aron as the latter is often seen in a clean-cut look with the former sometimes looking disheveled.

Kazan also plays into the events of World War I as Cal knew that there’s money to be made as he hopes he can use the money he makes to regain the money his father had lost. While Cal is aware about the horrors of war as there is this sense of optimism relating to the U.S. entering World War I. That optimism is destroyed when some of the young local men are killed with Trask’s longtime family friend Gustav Albrecht (Harold Gordon) is harassed because he’s German. The incidents relating to Albrecht make things for Trask uneasy with Aron also unable to cope with the realities of war as his pacifism becomes unwanted. The film’s third act relates to not just Cal’s desire to win over his father’s approval as he had kept the knowledge of his mother secret from both his father and Aron. It also plays into a young man who is often overshadowed by his brother whose selfishness is unveiled leading to a breakdown and some harsh truths for a family who have kept too many secrets from themselves. Overall, Kazan crafts a riveting yet intense film about two brothers vying for the affection of their father.

Cinematographer Ted D. McCord does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it is filled with gorgeous colors for many of the film’s daytime exteriors with some stylish lighting for some interior scenes in the day and night including some soft-looking shots as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Owen Marks does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some stylish transitional dissolves to help play into the drama . Art directors James Basevi and Malcolm C. Bert, along with set decorators George James Hopkins and William Wallace, do brilliant work with the look of the Trask family ranch as well as the home where Abra lives in as well as other locations within the town.

Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone does fantastic work with the costumes from the refined look of Trask and Aron to a more rugged look that Cal has as well as the stylish clothing that Cathy wears. The sound work of Stanley Jones is terrific for its approach to sound in the way things sound from afar as well as some of the sparse moments in the film. The film’s music by Leonard Rosenman is amazing for its soaring orchestral score that plays into some of the film’s melodrama along with some moments of dramatic suspense as it is a highlight of the film.

The casting by Harvey Clermont is wonderful as it features some notable small roles and appearances from Lois Smith as a young waitress working for Cathy at her brothel, Timothy Carey as Cathy’s bouncer Joe, Lonny Chapman as a mechanic who showed Trask how a car works, Richard Garrick as Dr. Edwards who appears late in the film, and Barbara Baxley as a nurse late in the film who annoys both Cal and Abra. Harold Gordon is terrific as Trask’s friend Gustav Albrecht as a German salesman whom the Trask family is fond of as they try to protect him from the locals. Albert Dekker is superb as Will Hamilton as a businessman who teams with Trask in his refrigerating idea only for things to fall but still wants to help Trask out by teaming with Cal in growing beans as it would be profitable. Burl Ives is fantastic as the local sheriff Sam who knows about Cathy being in Monterey as he is also a close friend of Trask where he does what he can to help Cal with news about his mother.

Jo Van Fleet is excellent as Cathy Ames/Kate Trask as a brothel madam who wears gloves to cover her hands that are described as white as ivory as she is also the estranged mother of both Cal and Aron as she discovers the former searching for her where she agrees to help his father as well as make money into Cal’s bean business. Richard Davalos is brilliant as Aron Trask as Cal’s twin brother who is a lot like their father in terms of being strait-laced and not getting into trouble yet is also unable to cope with reality where he would neglect Abra and later use her to win his father’s approval and humiliate Cal. Raymond Massey is amazing as Adam Trask as a farmer/draft board chairman who is trying to be this idea of purity as well as being someone who prefer to see success through small things instead of bigger things despite some ideas that would prove to prosperous despite the realities he had to face.

Julie Harris is incredible as Abra Bacon as Aron’s girlfriend who is this beautiful soul that is always good to everyone while shares her own issues with her father with Cal which adds to their growing bond as her relationship with Aron starts to falter as she would fall for Cal and be sympathetic towards him. Finally, there’s James Dean in a tremendous performance as Cal Trask as a young man who is eager to win the approval of his father while is often tormented by his own flaws as well as having to compete with his brother. Even as he is always full of energy and is willing to work hard yet is often conflicted in wanting to win his father’s love but also hates him for favoring Aron whom he feels is always undermining him as it showcases Dean as this acting powerhouse that is filled with angst and determination to be loved and understood.

East of Eden is a spectacular film by Elia Kazan that features great performances from James Dean, Julie Harris, and Raymond Massey. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, its exploration of sibling rivalry, and an evocative music score by Leonard Rosenman. It is a film that is not just this intense melodrama but also a film that displays a young man that is yearning to be accepted for who he is from those who are close to him. In the end, East of Eden is a phenomenal 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 - (Baby Doll) – (A Face in the Crowd) – (Wild River) – Splendor in the Grass - (America America) – (The Arrangement) – (The Visitors (1972 film)) – (The Last Tycoon)

© thevoid99 2024

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Let It Be (2024 Restoration)


Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Let It Be is a documentary film about the Beatles’ attempt to make a new album in January of 1969 that would eventually lead to their final public performance in front of an audience. The film is a look into a period in which the Fab Four attempt to make new music for an upcoming concert film that was never meant to be amidst musical and personal tension within the group. Also featuring appearances from George Martin, Billy Preston, Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, Glyn Johns, Mal Evans, Maureen Starkey, and Heather Eastman. The result is a film that explores a band trying to become a band again and have fun.

Set in January of 1969, the film follows the Beatles creating new songs in the hopes they would return to performing live in front of an audience as they would record and rehearse in two different studios that would climax with what would be their final public live performance. Yet, the film shows a band struggling to create new songs as the first sessions at Twickenham Studios where there is a brief argument between Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The sessions would move to Apple Studios where things are more relaxed and livelier as it would include Billy Preston playing the electric keyboard along with a visit from Paul’s then-girlfriend Linda Eastman and her daughter Heather who would play around in one of the sessions. It would then climax into a concert where the band would play on the rooftop of Apple Studios as it would be their last public concert ever.

That is the premise of the film in the span of 80 minutes but given the fact that it was released on May 13, 1970, just five days after the release of the album of the same name. It came out amidst a dark cloud in which the Beatles had just broken up a month earlier as well as a dour presentation of the film as it was shot originally on 16mm in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, meant for television, as it would be blown up into 35mm as the film had a grainy look that really added to the bleakness relating to the Beatles’ break-up. It would create this myth of a film that was a total downer as it would not be shown publicly since the early 1980s as it would be bootlegged by Beatles fans where footage of the film would be shown in the Anthology documentary series in the mid-1990s. The myth of the documentary about how it played during the Beatles break-up would continue with its director Michael Lindsay-Hogg getting much of the blame. Yet, it should be noted that Lindsay-Hogg along with editors Tony Lenny, Graham Gilding, and Peter Hollywood had to make the film under the most troubling circumstances when the band was making their final album Abbey Road as well as finding new management that did play into their break-up.

Then came Get Back by Peter Jackson that took the 56 hours of footage that Lindsay-Hogg and cinematographer Anthony Richmond had shot where the myth about the dark mood of these sessions were found to be untrue. While there were moments of tension that did lead to George Harrison’s brief departure from the band during the Twickenham sessions. What Jackson discovered was a band just trying to become a band again as there is more context into what was happening in these 22 days. The resulting 2021 documentary in Get Back did not just correct a small piece of history relating to the Beatles but also destroying a myth about that period. In this 2024 restoration that is supervised by Peter Jackson with a new music remix by Giles Martin and Sam Okell comes a film that is given a new life.

Presented in fully realized colors that brings a lot of beauty to Anthony Richmond’s cinematography along with a broader sound that was originally recorded by Peter Sutton. The documentary showcases a band that is trying to create these new songs while having some fun as there is footage in the film that wasn’t in Jackson’s documentary such as a performance of Besame Mucho as well as scenes from the last recording session where the band performed Two of Us, Let It Be, and The Long and Winding Road before they would be re-produced to horrific results by Phil Spector for the 1970 album. Given that it was filmed on the last day, but it was not the final sequence of the film does bring some confusion to the film’s narrative without the context that was shown in Get Back as one of the issues of this film is some continuity in the editing. There are scenes where Paul and George are wearing a different shirt or sweater in one scene and then there is a jump-cut where they are wearing something entirely different while John Lennon is still wearing a purple/pink T-shirt with a black vest over it.

Thankfully, the narrative that Lindsay-Hogg was able to provide showed a band just making music and enjoying themselves as the climatic final performance is the highlight of the film. Performing five songs with Get Back played twice in the film, it does show a band having some fun until the police arrive to stop the show as the film ends. The 2024 restoration does open with a brief conversation between Peter Jackson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg about the film’s restoration with Lindsay-Hogg feeling vindicated that the film is given a second chance.

Let It Be is a spectacular film by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While it is only a fragmented look into 22 days in the life of the Beatles trying to create new music that would lead to their final public performance. It still displays this brief glimpse of a band trying to be a band again instead of something bigger that has overwhelmed them. In this new restoration from Peter Jackson, the film is not just given a new life but also helps complete a small piece of a puzzle that played into the story of the Beatles and dispel myths about that period. In the end, Let It Be is a sensational film from Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

The Beatles: The Albums: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Magical Mystery Tour - The White Album - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - Let It Be

Compilations: (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (1) - (Let It Be… Naked) - (Love)

The Beatles Films: (A Hard Day’s Night) – (Help!) – Magical Mystery Tour - (Yellow Submarine) – (The Beatles Anthology) – The Beatles: Get Back

Related: The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Across the Universe - Nowhere Boy - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Good Ol' Freda - (Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years)

© thevoid99 2024

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Starlet (2012 film)


Directed and edited by Sean Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, Starlet is the story of a young woman who befriends an elderly woman following a yard sale from the latter. The film is an exploration of a unique friendship between two women of different age groups as a young woman struggles with her life just as the old lady is dealing with the remaining moments in her life. Starring Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve, James Ransone, and Karren Karagulian. Starlet is an evocative and touching film from Sean Baker.

Set in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, the film revolves a 20-something porn star who goes to a yard sale where she buys a thermos from this old lady only to find money in the thermos as she isn’t sure what to do with the money as she would later meet and befriend this old lady. It is a film with a simple premise as it plays into this young woman who finds money totally to $10,000 in this thermos that she originally intended to use as a vase only to try and meet this old lady she bought it from as she would befriend her. Even in doing errands and other things for this old lady to cope with the guilt of having this woman’s money. The film’s screenplay by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch is largely straightforward where it follows the life of Jane (Dree Hemingway) who works as a porn actress under the stage name of Tess as she lives with a couple of porn actors in Melissa/Zana (Stella Maeve) and Mikey (James Ransone) as the latter is trying to get something going while not wanting to get into trouble with their boss Arash (Karren Karagulian).

Wanting to put some changes in her bedroom, Jane drives around the Valley to yard sales where she buys this thermos from this old woman in Sadie (Besedka Johnson) who is annoyed by her where Jane later finds the money upon putting water into the thermos. She tries to talk to Sadie about the thermos while later picking her up at a supermarket as she would get to know her as well as do things to her. Jane would also bring her pet chihuahua Starlet to the trips as Sadie would find comfort in Jane’s company although she does not know what Jane does to make a living. Even when Jane had to pick up Melissa who had gotten fired as she had put herself in trouble with Arash. Still, Melissa would not help matters having had her car repossessed as well as do things that would put her in even more trouble with Arash as it relates to non-compete clauses. Even as Melissa would play into her discovery of what Jane had found as she would be a threat to Jane’s relationship with Sadie.

Baker’s direction does have a flair for style as it is shot with hand-held cameras and on location in the San Fernando Valley in California with a small budget of $250,000. While there are some wide shots in the film that Baker uses, much of the direction emphasizes on medium shots and close-ups to play into the intimacy of the characters and whatever location they are in. Especially as it is set in the streets and suburbs in the San Fernando Valley as it is a world where Jane lives in as she is trying to maintain some stability in her life while waiting for her next porn gig. Still, she contends with Mikey’s money-schemes as well as Melissa’s own issues while they would often spend much of their time playing video games. Upon meeting Sadie, Jane would follow her, including playing bingo with her so she could get to know her as Baker maintains a sense of space between the two as well as doing other things such as taking Sadie to her husband’s gravesite.

Baker also plays into the world of porn that Jane works in as she hides it from Sadie where there is a scene where Jane as Tess does do a porn shoot that includes some explicit sex. Baker would have actress Zoe Voss as a body double to perform these explicit scenes as he would edit them in a way that is shocking but also knowing what not to use. Baker’s editing is a strong component to the film with its usage of jump-cuts in playing to the emotional aspects of the film. Notably in the third act following an incident in which Sadie nearly loses Starlet while cleaning her garden though Jane is not mad at her but also unaware of what happened. It also plays into the growing rift between Jane and Melissa as the latter has become unruly as well as a liability for Jane as she would be disruptive at a porn expo where their boss tells Jane to get away from her. Still, Melissa does play a key role in trying to ruin Jane’s relationship with Sadie as its ending is about this role that Jane has been playing for this old woman who has been alone for a long time. Overall, Baker crafts a touching and ravishing film about a young woman forming a friendship with an old lady whose thermos she bought at a yard sale filled with money.

Cinematographer Radium Cheung does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its sunny look as well as some interiors with some stylish lights including a scene with neon for a key scene in the film. Production designer Mari Yui and art director Tatsuya Yamauchi do amazing work with the look of the apartment Jane shares with Mikey and Melissa as well as Sadie’s home. Costume designer Shih-Ching Tsou does nice work with the costumes from the stylish and youthful clothing that Jane and Melissa wear including some of the skimpy clothing they were at the porn expo along the more reserved look of Sadie.

Sound designers Justin M. Davey and Zach Seivers do excellent work with the sound as it plays into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how music is sound from a location as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Jonas Munk Jensen, in his Manual pseudonym, is incredible for its ambient-based score filled with low-key beats and soothing synthesizers that play into the drama while music supervisor Stephanie Diaz-Matos creates a soundtrack that features some hip-hop and electronic music from G-Lloyd, Erick Sermon, Feddi Twinz, Kenny P, Pink Dollaz, Longevity, Houston, and Jason Kilgore plus the awful rock music that is Buckcherry.

The casting by Julia Kim is wonderful as it features some notable small roles and appearances from real-life porn actors in Kristina Rose, Asa Akira, Manuel Ferrara, and Lily Labeau plus Michael Adrienne O’Hagan as Arash’s assistant Janice who is the mediator for Arash and his clients as she does not take Melissa’s bullshit and Boonee as Jane’s pet chihuahua Starlet. Karren Karagulian is terrific as the porn producer Arash who sees a great future in Jane as he sees her as a responsible person but finds trouble in Melissa while also learning about something that she is doing that goes against a non-compete clause. James Ransone is superb as Mikey as a porn actor/filmmaker who is trying to create a money scheme that he hopes would help them both financially as the reveal proves to be disappointing.

Stella Maeve is excellent as Melissa as a young porn actress who is often filled with money troubles and bad luck where she decides to do something that would get her into trouble with Arash while becoming jealous of Jane’s friendship with Sadie as well as discovering what Jane found in the thermos. Besedka Johnson is amazing in her only film role as Sadie as an old woman who sold Jane a thermos unaware that there’s money in there as she deals with Jane’s presence but also her own issues in life where she finds comfort in Jane’s company. Finally, there’s Dree Hemingway in a brilliant performance as Jane/Tess as a young porn actress who buys a thermos as she discovers its content where she is guilty about spending it yet spends time with Sadie to not feel guilty as well as get some life lessons as it is a riveting and naturalistic performance from Hemingway.

Starlet is a phenomenal film from Sean Baker that features incredible leading performances from Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson. Along with its supporting cast, naturalistic visuals, its story of companionship and guilt, and a soothing music score by Jonas Munk Jensen. The film is an unconventional yet effective drama that explores an unlikely friendship between two women from different generations as they both get something from one another. In the end, Starlet is a sensational film from Sean Baker.

Sean Baker Films: (Four Letter Words) – (Take Out (2004 film)) – (Prince of Broadway) – Tangerine (2015 film) - The Florida Project - (Red Rocket) – (Anora)

© thevoid99 2024