Friday, February 12, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: A Trip to the Moon

Based on the novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon by Jules Verne as well as other sources, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) is the story of a group of astronomers who make a daring trip to the Moon and discover what is there. Written for the screen, directed, edited, production designed, and starring Georges Melies, the film is a silent film that is considered one of the very first foray into sci-fi as it is a simple adventure story of a journey to the moon. Also starring Bleuette Bernon, Francois Lallement, and Henri Delannoy. Le Voyage dans la Lune is a spellbinding and majestic film from Georges Melies.

The film is a simple story that follows a group of astronomers who makes a plan and see what is out there in outer space by going on a trip to the moon. It’s a film that is filled with a lot of imagination and ideas from the mind of Georges Melies who wouldn’t just create these scenes that are unique but also play into what stories could be told. Even as something that is daring as a world like the moon where it’s a world that was yet to be explored. Under the direction of Melies, many of the compositions are quite simple as it relates to not just a group of men inside a room but also in the people that are celebrating the launch of this rocket. Melies’ approach to framing is very evident as he captures a wide scope to what he is showing as well as images that are off the world.

With the aid of cinematographers Theophile Michault and Lucien Tainguy, the film has this very evocative look thanks in part to the fact that many of the images were hand-painted on the film. The set design with help from art director Claudel doesn‘t just flesh out exactly what is on display in the sets that is created but also in what Melies would believe the world of the moon would look like. Even in the idea that there could be creatures or aliens as they were wonderfully designed with the aid of costume designer Jeanne d’Alcy. While Melies, along with Francois Lallement and Henri Delannoy, provide some lively performances into the multiple roles they play. They also help in creating ideas of what these men could say with Bleuette Bernon playing the role of the woman on the moon as well as other roles. The film is also unique for its editing as it has many of these fast-cuts that serve as the prototype for jump-cuts as well as some dissolves that would to the film’s magical tone.

From the film’s 2011 restoration is a score by the French electronic duo known as Air. A mixture of electronic with jazz and rock, the score doesn’t play into some of the elements of sci-fi but it’s also one that is very whimsical as well as displaying a lot of tone depending on a scene and such.

Le Voyage dans la Lune is a spectacular film from Georges Melies. While it’s only a thirteen-minute film depending on the frame-speed that is shown. It is truly one of the finest touchstones in cinema as well as a look into one of the finest works from one of cinema’s great pioneers. In the end, Le Voyage dans la Lune is an incredible film from Georges Melies.

© thevoid99 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Schindler's List

Based on the novel by Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List is the real-life story of a Czech-born German businessman who tries to save thousands of Jews by making them work in his factory during the era of the Holocaust in World War II. Directed by Steven Spielberg and screenplay by Steve Zaillian, the film is a look into the life of a man who tries to do good during one of the most horrific periods in the history of the world as the role of Oskar Schindler is played by Liam Neeson. Also starring Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz, and Ralph Fiennes. Schindler’s List is a visceral yet evocative film from Steven Spielberg.

Told in the entire span of World War II in Europe from the Invasion of Poland to the aftermath of Germany’s surrender. The film plays into the life of Oskar Schindler during that period in World War II where he decided to have Jews working for him at his factory so they can stay alive while he deals with Nazi officials and such during the days of Polish ghettos and concentration camps. It’s a story that is quite simple yet it is also filled with a lot of graphic detail into what went on in Krakow, Poland and all of these places that the Germans had occupied during World War II. Even as Schindler has to deal with the sadistic Anom Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) who would become a concentration camp leader that has a sense of sick pleasure in killing Jews no matter who they are.

Steve Zaillian’s screenplay does have this very traditional yet broad three-act structure that plays into Schindler’s desire to save the lives of Jews by having him work in his factory and such. Yet, it also display Schindler as a man with some very big flaws such as the fact that he is a member of the Nazi party that would wear a Nazi pin in his suit. He would often socialize with Nazi officers and have drinks with them and was a notorious womanizer despite the fact that he is also married. It is among the many complexities of a man who would do something that is good but he is no saint despite his courageous act of kindness. The first act would play into Schindler’s social life and meeting this Jewish accountant in Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) who has contacts with black markets and such in the Jewish community where he would run Schindler’s enamelware factory in secrecy with Schindler being the one to over see everything.

While Stern is often suspicious of Schindler’s activities in and out of the factory, he is grateful for what Schindler is doing for the Jewish community who had been driven away from their homes and be forced to live in ghettos. The film’s second act plays into Goeth’s arrival and the creation of Plasnow concentration camp as it is a world that is very scary. Especially with Goeth watching over everything as the first taste of that sense of terror is where kills a young woman watching over the building a camp because she made a simple mistake. It adds to this sense of terror where Schindler tries to befriend him in order to keep people safe but it’s not enough where a scene where children are being driven away from their families is a big moment while there’s a few that would hide and manage to stay in the camp. The film’s third act doesn’t just play into the growing realities of what Schindler is facing but also in what he hopes to do as well as see what real power could do.

Steven Spielberg’s direction is very intense not just for some of the graphic violence that occurs in the film from time to time but also in the atmosphere that he creates. While it opens with shot in color of a simple Jewish ceremony where candles are lit, it plays to a world before war but that candle goes out. The film is then presented in black-and-white as it plays into this very chilling period of war and terror. Shot on location in Krakow, Poland and areas nearby, the film does play into a world that becomes undone by prejudice and occupation where Spielberg’s usage of hand-held cameras and tracking shots capture these moments where Jews are driven out of their homes and be cramped into these apartments where overcrowding becomes an issue. Spielberg’s usage of close-ups and medium shots do play into that intimacy but also in moments where there is very little space in comparison to the places where the Germans and Schindler lived in.

The usage of wide shots are also evident to capture the look of the locations as well as these eerie scenes such as the liquidation of Krakow where Schindler and his mistress are watching up on a hill into this moment where many Jews are being killed with some hiding from the Germans. There are also some very eerie scenes of dark comedy in the way Goeth handles situations such as how he kills Jews or a moment where he tries to kill a former rabbi. There are also these moments that play into Schindler’s own sense of disconnect from the realities of what is happening as it features a scene where he’s in a party having fun while Goeth beats a young Jewish maid as that moment is actually far more gruesome than the scenes of people being killed. It is among these moments that showcase not just a stench of death but also some of the eerie symbolism that Schindler is forced to confront that includes this strange image of the little girl in a red coat.

It’s not just these elements of symbolism that Spielberg would put in that are very evident as it relates to Schindler’s disconnect with what he really needed to do but also in how it would relate to the film’s ending. It showcases not just the development in Schindler but also the severity of what he had to do at not just great cost of his own but also in what more could be done. The film features an epilogue as it relates to the people who were saved because of Schindler as they’re presented in color as it reveals not just the fact that some of these people are still alive. It’s a moment where Spielberg breaks the fourth wall and allow these survivors to have their moment into how much Schindler meant to them no matter how flawed he is as a man. Overall, Spielberg creates a tremendously riveting and harrowing film about a man trying to save thousands of Jews in German-occupied Poland.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does incredible work with the film‘s cinematography with its usage of lights for some of the scenes set at night as it has elements of film noir and German Expressionism in its black-and-white photography as well as the element of neo-realist images in its usage of tracking shots as it is one of the major highlights of the film. Editor Michael Kahn does amazing work with the editing as he uses some jump-cuts during a scene where Schindler interviews different prospective secretaries as well as some very chilling rhythm cuts that play into the violence and drama in the film. Production designer Allan Starski does excellent work with the look of the some of the interiors in the homes of Schindler and Goeth as well as the look of the concentration camps and some of the even more chilling interiors in Auschwitz. Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard does nice work with the costumes from the dresses that many of the rich women wear as well as the Nazi uniforms of the officers to the ragged look of the Jews.

Hair supervisor Judith A. Cory and makeup supervisor Christina Smith do fantastic work with the look of the characters from the hairstyle of the women in the posh world to the ragged look of the Jews in the numerous stages they would endure. Visual effects supervisor Steve Price does terrific work with two major moments of symbolism in the film from the color of red in the girl in the red coat and the Jewish candlelight scenes. Sound editors Charles L. Campbell and Louis L. Edemann do superb work with the sound in creating layers of sound in some of the chilling moments in the film as it relates to eerie scenes in some of the camps as well as what goes on in the ghettos along with some somber yet eerie moments late in the film. The film’s music by John Williams is great as it is very low key in its orchestration where it plays in these very eerie and somber moments that is supported by Itzhak Perlman’s violin playing as the music also features some of music that was playing in those times including the traditional Jewish prayer hymns.

The casting by Toya Cypin, Lucky Englander, Fritz Fleischhacker, Liat Meiron, Magdalena Szwarcbart, and Juliet Taylor is phenomenal as it features some noteworthy small roles from Oliwia Dabrowska as the little girl in the red coat, Hans-Michael Rehberg as Auschwitz camp leader Rudolf Hoss, and Andrzej Seweryn as SS Officer Julian Scherner that Schindler befriends to get him to ease restrictions for Jews. Other notable roles from Anna Mucha, Rami Heuberger, Piotr Polk, Norbert Weisser, Miri Fabian, Michael Schneider, Adi Nitzan, Jacek Wojcicki, Beata Paluch, Pawel Delag, Mark Ivanir, and Ezra Daga as the many Jewish refugees who would be spared and saved by Schindler as they would endure some of the most humiliating moments that no one should deal with. Jonathan Sagall is superb as Poldek Pfefferberg as a young Polish-Jew who would be an officer for the SS as he would deal with the many complications of his role as well as protecting friends and family.

Embeth Davidtz is excellent as Helen Hirsch as a Jewish maid hired by Goeth to do things for him as well as be a sick object of desire that she is repulsed by. Caroline Goodall is terrific as Schindler’s wife Emilie as a woman who would see him often though she is aware of his womanizing and such while being the one person he can always turn to for guidance. Ben Kingsley is amazing as Itzhak Stern as a Jewish accountant who serves as the film’s conscience as a good man that would run many of Schindler’s operations as well as be the one person that can connect Schindler to the people. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as Amon Goeth as this sadistic and insane concentration camp leader who seems to have sick pleasure in killing Jews as well as being someone that is very scary as it is one of the most haunting performances in the film as well as a great breakthrough for Fiennes. Finally, there’s Liam Neeson in a riveting performance as Oskar Schindler as this man who is very flawed in his activities as he tries to make money during the war and hire the Jews to manufacture pots and pans for him where he also deals with the severity of what is happening forcing him to do something in a world where a lot of wrongs are happening.

Schindler’s List is a magnificent film from Steven Spielberg. Armed with a great ensemble cast led by Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley as well as some top-notch technical work and a sumptuous score by John Williams. The film isn’t just one of Spielberg’s best films but also one of the most sobering and harrowing films about the Holocaust and what Jews from Poland had to endure during Germany’s occupation during World War II. In the end, Schindler’s List is an outstanding film from Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg Films: (Duel (1971 film)) - (The Sugarland Express) - (Jaws) - (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) - (1941) - (Raiders of the Lost Ark) - (E.T. the Extraterrestrial) - (Twilight Zone: the Movie-Kick the Can) - (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) - (The Color Purple) - (Empire of the Sun) - (Always) - (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) - (Hook) - (Jurassic Park) - (The Lost World: Jurassic Park) - (Amistad) - Saving Private Ryan - (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) - (Minority Report) - Catch Me If You Can - (The Terminal) - (War of the Worlds (2005 film)) - (Munich) - (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) - (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn) - (War Horse) - (Lincoln) - (Bridge of Spies) - (The BFG)

© thevoid99 2016

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

Directed by Spike Lee, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall is a documentary film about the period in the life of Michael Jackson from his success as a child when he was singing with his brothers in the Jackson 5 to the first major solo release of his career with 1979’s Off the Wall where he would begin to break out on his own. Featuring rare archival footage and interviews from historians, musicians, artists, and those who knew Michael reveal the boy who was driven to become one of the greatest figures in the history of pop music. The result is an entertaining and exhilarating film from Spike Lee.

The film chronicles the period in the life and career of Michael Jackson from being this idol for children when he was singing in the Jackson 5 and then leaving Motown for Epic to find creative freedom with his brothers that would lead to wanting to make a solo album of his own. It is really the look of a someone who desires to make something of his own while studying everything around him from those he was inspired by to the legends of the past. It’s a film that showcases a prodigy growing up and finding his own identity as a man and an artist and how this album that would set the course in him becoming a legend would be this impact for many people including musicians, artists, actors, athletes, and everyone else.

With interviews with Michael’s brothers Jackie and Marlon as well as Motown founder Berry Gordy, producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, filmmakers Joel Schumacher and Rob Cohen, songwriters Valerie Simpson and Sediah Garrett, Stevie Wonder, and others that knew him. The people Spike Lee would talk to doesn’t just reveal Michael’s drive and persistence but also that desire to wanting to be more than just some bubblegum singer. Even as it comes to the music as he really did all that he could to make it great as he was known for being a perfectionist. The stories about him at Studio 54 reveal that he was there for the music and would spend much of his time either on the dance floor or in the DJ booth. The film also interviews musicians such as Questlove, Pharrell Williams, the Weekend, and David Byrne as well as producers Mark Ronson and Rodney Jerkins where they would dissect each of the songs on the album and reveal why it still holds up.

With the aid of cinematographer Kerwin DeVonish in filming many of the new interviews where actors like John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez talk about the impact of his music and what it meant to them in their adolescents and growing up into adulthood. Lee also brings his own personal experiences about Michael’s music and the impact it had on him and every African-American child growing up when the Jackson 5 were around. With the aid of editors Barry Alexander Brown and Ryan Denmark in compiling many of the footage of concerts including the ones the Jacksons did in the late 70s and early 80s as well as archival audio from many of Michael’s interviews by sound editor Philip Stockton. Even as some of the demos of the songs Michael made for Off the Wall and the stuff he did with his brothers reveal the work that went into those songs which plays into the importance of musicianship and taking the time to make these songs matter in this age of laptops and machines that doesn’t have the human capacity of what can be done.

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall is an extraordinary film from Spike Lee. Not only is it a fascinating documentary about one of the finest albums in the history of popular music but also an intriguing look into the man that made it and what it took to make a statement from being this child prodigy to a genius that is nearly unparalleled with anyone else in the world of music. In the end, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall is a phenomenal film from Spike Lee.

Spike Lee Films: (She’s Gotta Have It) - (School Daze) - Do the Right Thing - Mo' Better Blues - Jungle Fever - (Malcolm X) - Crooklyn - (Clockers) - (Girl 6) - (Get on the Bus) - 4 Little Girls - (He Got Game) - Freak - Summer of Sam - (The Kings of Comedy) - (Bamboozled) - (A Huey P. Newton Story) - 25th Hour - (Jim Brown: All-American) - (She Hate Me) - (Inside Man) - (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) - (Miracle at St. Anna) - (Kobe Doin’ Work) - (Passing Strange) - (If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise) - (Red Hook Summer) - Bad 25 - (Oldboy 2013 film)) - Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - (Da Blood of Jesus) - (Chi-Raq)

© thevoid99 2016

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Written, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! is the story of a Hollywood fixer who tries to find a Hollywood film star who had disappeared during the production of a big Hollywood movie. The film is an exploration into 1950s American cinema as well as the world of gossip, scandals, and all sorts of shenanigans that went on in 1950s Hollywood as it is narrated by Michael Gambon. Starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Alden Ehrenreich, Jonah Hill, Alison Pill, and Ralph Fiennes. Hail, Caesar! is a witty and off-the-wall film from the Coen Brothers.

Set in 1950s Hollywood, the film revolves around a studio head whose job is to clean up people’s messes and make sure they’re protected by scandal where he copes with the recent disappearance of a major Hollywood star who had been abducted by a mysterious organization known as the Future. It’s a film that plays in the few days in the life of this fixer who makes sure that everything goes well as he deals with all sorts of things such as an un-wedded pregnant starlet, a cowboy film star going into costume dramas, and a job offer. The film’s screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen doesn’t just explore the turbulent life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he tries to juggle his life in work but also a family life which he is fond of despite the demands of his job. While the character of Eddie Mannix is a real-life figure who was a fixer in real-life, the situations that he encounters do play into some of the things that go on in Hollywood. Yet, what the Coen Brothers do is create some exaggerations as well as some shenanigans.

When the actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets abducted by this mysterious group, this is where the story really begins to take shape as the script also play into a world that is changing. Not just through the emergence of television and the new ideas of films that are coming but also what is happening underneath as it relates to a growing scare that would shape 1950s America. There lies this conflict of not just the world that Mannix wants to protect but also the emergence of a new world order that threatens it. Along the way, there are these characters who part of Mannix’s world that are have this public fact that people know and love but if anything about who they really are become known could be the end of them. Even as many of them might seem like these typical film stars but either they’re smarter than they actually are or are part of something bigger.

The Coen Brothers’ direction definitely owe a lot of the Golden Age of Hollywood in not just the type of films they’re presenting where many of the stars of Capitol Pictures are in. It’s also in the way the studio system was back then where they’re sort of disconnected from the real world as a way to escape from the harsh rigors of reality. Shot on location in Hollywood, the film does play like a Hollywood film that is a bit off-kilter yet manages to be very lively and full of energy. Especially in the soundstages where filmmakers and actors do their work and not worry about anything yet not everything is going great. Especially for the starlet DeeAnna Moray (Scarlett Johansson) who is coping with the early stages of pregnancy as she has trouble being in a mermaid outfit. It’s among the many quirks and bits of humor that the Coen Brothers put in as it showcases not just how silly the world of Hollywood is as it includes the kind of films that are made including a western where its lead actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself cast in a costume drama.

Many of the compositions are simple in terms of wide and medium shots as well as some close-ups where some of it play into what kind of films are being made. The Coen Brothers also play with aspect ratios where many of the films that are being made are shot in the 1:33:1 Academy aspect ratio as the widescreen format wasn’t prominent until later in the 1950s due to the advent of television. The film would also play into an intimacy into this group that Whitlock was abducted by where it also has a sense of parody into who these guys are and what they represent. Some of which would set the tone for what would come in Hollywood but not to someone like Mannix who still believes that he is doing what is right no matter what forces are coming. Overall, the Coen Brothers create a very zany yet exhilarating film about a Hollywood fixer trying to clean up some big messes amidst an ever-changing world.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of grainy black-and-white film to recreate the costume drama to the array of lighting styles for the soundstages as well as some naturalistic exterior lighting for scenes in the day. Under the Roderick Jaynes alias, the Coen Brothers do some excellent work with the editing as it plays into the editing style of the times such as dissolves and some rhythmic cuts as well as some stylish cutting that would play into the suspense. Production designer Jess Gonchor, with set decorator Nancy Haigh and supervising art director Dawn Swiderski, does fantastic work with the different array of sets created for the many films in the soundstages as well as Mannix‘s office and the home of this mysterious group known as the Future.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does brilliant work with the costumes as it doesn’t just play into the period of the early 1950s from the many dresses the women wear but also some of the clothes of the men including Doyle’s cowboy get-up and the Roman period costume that Whitlock wears. Makeup artist Julie Hewett and hair designer Cydney Cornell do terrific work with the many different hairstyle of the characters that include the look of Moray as well as the look of the many women in the film including the twin gossip columnists Mannix has to deal with. Visual effects supervisors Dan Cregan, Dan Levitan, and Dan Schrecker do nice work with the visual effects for some of the set dressing for some of the exterior scenes as well as a few old-school tricks for sequences in some of the films that are being made. Sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound designer Craig Berkey do superb work with the sound from the way many of the recordings in an editing room or in a soundstage sound like to scenes outside the studio where it plays into the chaos that Mannix is dealing with. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is delightful for the many different array of music from bombastic orchestral music for the epics to country-western music for the cowboy movie or something more snazzy for the musicals as it includes original songs written with Henry Krieger and Willie Reale.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is phenomenal for the mass ensemble that is created in the film as it features notable small roles from Wayne Knight as a suspicious extra, E.E. Bell as a bartender in a musical number, Clancy Brown as Whitlock’s co-star, Robert Picardo as a concerned rabbi who frets over the epic movie, Alex Karpovsky as a photographer for the Future, Natasha Bassett as a starlet Mannix deals with early in the film, Christopher Lambert as a European filmmaker that is rumored to be the father of Moran’s baby, Emily Beecham as a young actress in a costume drama, Veronica Osorio as a Carmen Miranda-actress in Carlotta Valdez that Doyle is set up with for a date, and Heather Goldenhersh in a wonderful performance as Mannix’s secretary Natalie who is Mannix’s right-hand woman of sorts. In the roles of members of the Future, there are David Krumholtz, Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, and Patrick Fischer while John Bluthal is terrific as a philosopher who tries to convince Whitlock to join them. In the role of the Future’s leader, Max Baker is superb as the team’s leader as someone that wants to crush Capitol Studios as well as do something that would change America.

In small but very memorable roles, there’s Alison Pill in a radiant performance as Mannix’s wife who helps him decide what to do while Jonah Hill is fantastic as a man named Joseph Silverman that is willing to help out Mannix and Moran. Channing Tatum is excellent as Burt Gurney as a musical actor that is so full of charm in the way he sings and dances while also being a bit ambiguous as it relates to activities outside of acting. Frances McDormand is hilarious as the editor C.C. Calhoun as it’s a very funny one-scene appearance where McDormand helps Mannix over the fate of a film and what should be cut. Tilda Swinton is amazing in a dual role as twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker as two twin sisters who hate each other as they both try to get a story from Mannix over what is happening where one is trying to bring real news while the other wants to uncover scandal.

Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as filmmaker Laurence Larentz as this man who makes prestigious costume dramas who deals with having to work with the very inexperienced Doyle under the orders of the studio. Scarlett Johansson is great as DeeAnna Moran as this Esther Williams-type of actress who deals with being pregnant as well as being unmarried having already married twice where Johansson brings a lot of humor to her role. Alden Ehrenreich is incredible as Hobie Doyle as a singing cowboy actor who is a real cowboy as he deals with being put into a costume drama where he has trouble saying lines without his Western drawl as well as being a lot smarter than people want to believe. George Clooney is marvelous as Baird Whitlock as a leading man who gets abducted by a mysterious group where he realizes what is going on as he ponders whether to be part of this group where Clooney also gets to be funny. Finally, there’s Josh Brolin in a remarkable performance as Eddie Mannix as this fixer who tries to clean up all of the messes for a film studio while dealing with the chaos of his work where he also ponders about taking on another job as it’s Brolin in one of his best performances to date.

Hail, Caesar! is a phenomenal film from the Coen Brothers. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a witty premise, and some amazing technical work. The film isn’t just a lavish tribute to 1950s American cinema but also a hilarious take on that period that includes a funny view of the growing scare in America. In the end, Hail, Caesar! is a sensational film from the Coen Brothers.

Coen Brothers Films: Blood Simple - Raising Arizona - Miller's Crossing - Barton Fink - The Hudsucker Proxy - Fargo - The Big Lebowski - O Brother, Where Art Thou? - The Man Who Wasn't There - Intolerable Cruelty - The Ladykillers - Paris Je T'aime-Tulieres -To Each His Own Cinema-World Cinema - No Country for Old Men - Burn After Reading - A Serious Man - True Grit - Inside Llewyn Davis

The Auteurs #9: The Coen Brothers: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2016

Friday, February 05, 2016

Crackers (1984 film)

Based on the film Big Deal on Madonna Street by Mario Monicelli, Crackers is the story of a group of small-time thieves who decide to rob a local pawn shop that is owned by a greedy man. Directed by Louis Malle and screenplay by Jeffrey Fiskin, the film is a comedic take in the world of caper films where a group of men try to boost their luck in hoping to rob a store and succeed. Starring Donald Sutherland, Sean Penn, Wallace Shawn, Larry Riley, Christine Baranski, and Jack Warden. Crackers is a delightful and silly film from Louis Malle.

Set in a neighborhood in San Francisco, the film revolves around a group of misfits who decide to rob a pawn shop in the hopes of making their lives better as well as give the greedy pawn shop owner his comeuppance for short-changing them. It’s a caper film of sorts that play into guys who are broke, unemployed, and in need of money and food as they decide to do a robbery. Along the way, hilarity ensues as their attempts to create alibis and all sorts of things cause trouble as it leads to the climatic heist. The film’s screenplay by Jeffrey Fiskin is simple as it play into a group of guys who are down on their luck as they hope that the heist will make their lives better. Even as some have girlfriends or families to take care while one of them in Turtle (Wallace Shawn) is just homeless as he’s constantly hungry.

Louis Malle’s direction is actually very simple where he shoots the film on location in this street in the middle of San Francisco as it plays into a world that is very diverse. While Malle does use some wide shots to capture the look of the city as it is a character in the film, Malle goes for something that is more intimate by utilizing close-ups and medium shots to play into the characters and the situations they endure. It also plays into the pawn shop which is where many of the characters socialize at as there are things they want but also hope to score money for whatever they can steal and pawn off. There are elements that are fun and raucous but also silly where the film does lose a bit of steam in its third act as it leads to the climatic heist. Notably as Malle tries to mix some suspense with some silliness as the result is a mixed bag where one overwhelms the other. Overall, Malle creates a flawed but fun film about a group of misfits trying to rob a pawn shop.

Cinematographer Laszlos Kovacs does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of lights for scenes at night in the exteriors as well as some naturalistic look for the scenes set in the day. Editor Suzanne Baron does nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward to play into the humor and some of the suspenseful moments. Production designer John J. Lloyd and set decorator Hal Gausman do fantastic work with the look of the pawn shop with all of the objects and the things at the shop as well as the elaborate look of the alarm.

Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman does terrific work with the costumes as a lot of it is casual but also has some style to play into the personality of the characters. Sound editors Ruth Blakeslee and Gail Showalter do superb work with the sound from the way the shop alarm would sound as well as some of the sparser moments in the film. The film’s music by Paul Chihara is wonderful for it mixture of electronic music with some blues to play into the vibrant and diverse world that is San Francisco while the theme song by Michael McDonald is a fun and upbeat number that plays into the film‘s mischievous tone.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is amazing as it features some notable small roles from Edouard DeSoto as a bartender that Ramon wants his sister to be with, Tasia Valenza as Ramon’s sister Maria whom Dillard falls for, Charlayne Woodard as a maid named Jasmine that Boardwalk wants to help, Irwin Corey as an old friend Weslake in Lazzarelli, and Anna Maria Horsford as Boardwalk’s hooker wife Slam Dunk who is tired of her husband’s constant failures. Christine Baranski is wonderful as Maxine as a traffic cop that Weslake is dating as she also spends time being with other men. Trinidad Silva is terrific as Ramon as a Mexican who is dealing with trying to evade immigrants while joining in the heist for money. Larry Riley is fantastic as Boardwalk as a pimp with a baby that deals with his wife leaving him and trying to get out of the game once he meets and falls for Jasmine.

Wallace Shawn is brilliant as Turtle as a homeless man that is always hungry as he’ll eat anything he sees while being a man of few words as he joins the heist so he can feed himself. Sean Penn is excellent as Dillard as a Southern musician who falls for Ramon’s sister as he’s also a skilled electrician that helps out in the heist so he can get revenge on Garvey for not giving him a guitar that he wants. Jack Warden is marvelous as Garvey as a pawn shop owner that is reluctant in giving people money over objects that are worth a lot more while selling those at a high price as it relates to some realities over what is happening with his business. Finally, there’s Donald Sutherland in a remarkable performance as Weslake as a man who just lost his job as he decides to steal from his friend Garvey in the hopes that he can give Maxine a dream vacation as well as a good life as Sutherland also brings a lot of humor to his performance.

Crackers is a stellar film from Louis Malle. Armed with a great cast as well as a fun premise, the film is a light-hearted and enjoyable comedy though it is one of Malle’s more lesser works but one that remains to be very entertaining. In the end, Crackers is a terrific film from Louis Malle.

Louis Malle Films: (The Silent World) - Elevator to the Gallows - The Lovers (1958 film) - Zazie Dans le Metro - (A Very Private Affair) - (Vive Le Tour) - The Fire Within - (Bons baisers de Bangkok) - (Viva Maria!) - (The Thief of Paris) - Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson - (Phantom India) - (Calcutta) - Murmur of the Heart - (Humain, Trop Humain) - (Place de la Republique) - Lacombe, Lucien - Black Moon - (Close Up (1976 short) - (Dominique Sanda ou Le reve eveille) - Pretty Baby (1978 film) - Atlantic City (1980 film) - (My Dinner with Andre) - (God’s Country (1985 film)) - (Alamo Bay) - (And the Pursuit of Happiness) - Au Revoir Les Enfants - (May Fools) - (Damage (1992 film)) - (Vanya on 42nd Street)

© thevoid99 2016

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Black Moon (1975 film)

Directed by Louis Malle and written by Malle and Joyce Bunuel, Black Moon is the story of a young woman who takes refuge at the countryside during a war where she finds herself at the home of an eccentric family. The film is an avant-garde exploration into a young woman dealing with a world that is surreal and unlike anything she’s encountered. Starring Cathryn Harrison, Joe Dallesandro, Alexandra Stewart, and Therese Ghiese. Black Moon is a strange yet evocative film from Louis Malle.

Set in a dystopian world where there’s a war between men and women, the film revolves around a young woman who takes refuge in a lavish countryside home where an eccentric family lives there and nothing makes sense. It’s a film that doesn’t have much of a plot nor does it feature much dialogue as it’s about a woman dealing with a world that is surreal and odd yet it serves as this strange escape from the dark reality of war. Yet, the world she would encounter involves an old lady (Therese Ghiese) lying on her bed only speaking coherently on a ham radio next to her while her adult children (Joe Dallesandro and Alexandra Stewart) don’t say a word as they do farming activities. Along with naked children running around chasing animals and the old lady being breast-fed by her daughter. It’s among these things that Lily (Cathryn Harrinson) would deal as she tries to make sense of everything.

Louis Malle’s direction definitely owes a lot to the idea of surrealism where it seems real but it’s also very off. The film begins with Lily driving in her car disguised as a man as she realizes she is in the middle of a war zone where men are killing women in this conflict. For about fifteen minutes, there is no dialogue other than what is heard on the radio. Once Lily is in the forest hiding from both forces as she would encounter the daughter riding a horse and a donkey with a unicorn horn. With the usage of wide and medium shots to capture the landscape along with some unique tracking and dolly shots for a few chase scenes and close-ups to play into Lily’s own reaction to what she sees. There’s some unique moments where Lily sees the sister doing something and then she goes into another room and sees her again as if she was there a second ago. It adds to a world that doesn’t make sense nor does it apologize for it as it adds to what Malle wants to do. Overall, Malle creates an odd yet riveting film about a young woman’s encounter with a surrealistic world.

Cinematogrpaher Sven Nykvist does brilliant work with the film‘s colorful cinematography in capturing the damp yet naturalistic look of the locations in the French countryside as well as in creating some unique lighting for some of the film‘s interior setting. Editor Suzanne Baron does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s offbeat tone as well as some of the stranger moments that occur. Production designer Roland Thenot and art director Ghislain Ury do fantastic work with the look of the home that Lily encounters as well as the rooms inside the home such as the bedroom of the old lady with all sorts of things around her.

The sound work of Nara Kollery and Luc Perini is amazing for its usage of sound effects that play into the world of fantasy as well as creating a sense of atmosphere in some of the rooms such as the sounds of clocks ringing that Lily tries to destroy. Music supervisor Diego Masson does wonderful work with the music as the soundtrack largely features some opera and classical music which largely consists of pieces by Richard Wagner.

The film’s superb cast features a wonderful performance from Therese Ghiese as the old lady as she would speak in broken French or a different language while speaking more clearly when she’s talking to a ham radio. Alexandra Stewart and Joe Dallesandro are excellent in their roles as the old lady’s adult children who don’t say anything but rather communicate through touch as they add a sense of eccentricities to their performances. Finally, there’s Cathryn Harrison in a radiant performance as Lily as this young woman who deals with the strange surroundings she is in as she does say a lot to express her frustration and confusion while being very energetic to express the emotions she is carrying.

Black Moon is an odd yet ravishing film from Louis Malle. While it is definitely one of his strangest and inaccessible films of his oeuvre, it is still one of the most fascinating studies of surrealism as well as a young woman’s desire to escape from the harsh realities of a world in conflict. In the end, Black Moon is a sensational film from Louis Malle.

Louis Malle Films: (The Silent World) - Elevator to the Gallows - The Lovers (1958 film) - Zazie Dans le Metro - (A Very Private Affair) - (Vive Le Tour) - The Fire Within - (Bons baisers de Bangkok) - (Viva Maria!) - (The Thief of Paris) - Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson - (Phantom India) - (Calcutta) - Murmur of the Heart - (Humain, Trop Humain) - (Place de la Republique) - Lacombe, Lucien - (Close Up (1976 short) - (Dominique Sanda ou Le reve eveille) - Pretty Baby (1978 film) - Atlantic City (1980 film) - (My Dinner with Andre) - Crackers - (God’s Country (1985 film)) - (Alamo Bay) - (And the Pursuit of Happiness) - Au Revoir Les Enfants - (May Fools) - (Damage (1992 film)) - (Vanya on 42nd Street)

© thevoid99 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Cinderella (2015 film)

Based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, Cinderella is the story of a young woman whose quaint and loving world is shattered by the death of her family as she is treated cruelly by her stepmother and stepsisters until a ball is announced where she would be able to go with a little help from magic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and screenplay by Chris Weitz, the film is a lavish interpretation of the fairytale that also features elements from the 1950 Disney animated version with Lily James in the titular role. Also starring Richard Madden, Derek Jacobi, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Nonso Anozie, Helena Bonham Carter, and Cate Blanchett as the stepmother Lady Tremaine. Cinderella is a dazzling and heartwarming film from Kenneth Branagh.

The film is a unique take on the fairy tale about how this young woman who lived under the cruelty of her stepmother and stepsisters where she is forced to serve them until a ball is announced where she would standout and capture the heart of the prince in her land through magic and a glass slipper. It’s a story that’s been told many times yet what director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz does is provide some back story for some of the characters but also add some offbeat humor into the story. The film begins with the life of Cinderella as a child where she was known as Ella who lived in a happy home with her family and servants until the death of her mother (Hayley Atwell) and her father (Ben Chaplin) eventually remarrying years later to Lady Tremaine until he would die tragically. It would set the events of what would happen where Tremaine and her stepdaughters would treat Ella cruelly and fire all the staff forcing Ella to become their servant. For all of the cruelty she endures, Ella maintains a strong front as she made a vow to her mother to be kind and have courage.

Branagh’s direction definitely plays to a very lavish style where it is largely fantasy as opposed to elements of intense reality. Shot largely in Britain, the film is set during medieval times but from a world where there isn’t much conflict nor poverty where everything is great but not perfect. Once Lady Tremaine comes in, she represents a woman who likes to live lavishly and with excess just like her own daughters who are full of themselves and expect to be treated as elite while Ella is a woman who is generous and uses whatever she can to live or sleep on with the aid of mice. Upon meeting the Prince (Richard Madden) during a horseback ride as the Prince claims to be an apprentice, it is clear that Branagh wanted to provide more depth to these character as the Prince isn’t some typical prince but rather a young man coping with what is ahead of him. Especially as the Duke (Stellan Skarsgard) wants him to marry another princess for political reasons rather than for love.

Branagh’s approach to compositions with its wide and medium shots get a good view of the landscape as well as the world that the Prince lives in along with the lifestyle that Tremaine and her daughters crave for. Branagh would also use some medium shots and close-ups to play into the life of Ella and how she would cope with the living situations in her life as well as the cruelty she endures. Once the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) arrives, the film lightens up where Branagh goes for some offbeat comedy as some of it is childish but also manages to be very funny. Even in the way Branagh portrays the stepsisters as buffoons manage to be entertaining while not losing sight into the story itself. Especially the message as it plays into the idea of depth and what one must endure in a world that is often very cruel and unforgiving. Overall, Branagh crafts a fantasy film that manages to be entertaining as well as enchanting.

Cinematographer Haris Zambarkoulos does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with the usage of lights for many of the interiors set at night as well as in the ball scene to the exteriors for scenes set at night. Editor Martin Walsh does nice work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for the scenes at the ball. Production designer Dante Ferretti, with supervising art directors Gary Freeman and Leslie Tomkins and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, does fantastic work with the look of home Ella lives in as it‘s quaint yet warm while the palace itself is lavish to play into the world that the Prince lives in. Costume designer Sandy Powell does brilliant work with the costumes from the dresses and gowns many of the women wear including the blue ball gown that Ella would wear at the ball.

Makeup designers Naomi Donne and Norma Webb, with hairstylists Carol Hemming, Orla Carroll, and Wakana Yoshihara, do amazing work with the look of the characters including the hairstyles of Lady Tremaine and her daughters as well as the look of the Fairy Godmother. Visual effects supervisor Huseyin Caner does terrific work with the visual effects in some of the moments of magic as well as the design of the mice that Ella talks to. Sound editor James Mather does superb work with the sound in creating effects for some of the fencing scenes in the palace as well as some low-key sounds at Ella‘s home. The film’s music by Patrick Doyle is wonderful for its lush, orchestral-based score that plays into the sense of fantasy as well as some of the moments of innocence that Ella carries throughout the film while the soundtrack also features song from the 1950 animated film.

The casting by Lucy Bevan is remarkable as it features notable small roles from Rob Brydon as a family friend in Master Phineus, Nonso Anozie as the Prince’s guard captain, Jana Perez as a princess the Duke feels the Prince should marry, Eloise Webb as the young Ella, and Derek Jacobi in a superb performance as the King who sees the conflict in his son over what to do. Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell are fantastic as Ella’s parents as kind-hearted people who provide the many elements that would make Ella who she is with Chaplin as the worldly father and Atwell as the very kind-hearted mother. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera are excellent in their respective roles as the stepsisters Anastasia and Drisella as they both provide a sense of comic relief in how untalented and dim-witted they are. Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant as the Grand Duke as the man running the kingdom where he is hoping to make some political maneuvers while conspiring with Lady Tremaine in the film’s third act.

Helena Bonham Carter is a total delight as the Fairy Godmother as this magical being who shows up to help Ella get ready for the ball as well as being someone that is just funny to watch. Richard Madden is amazing as the Prince as a young monarch who copes with the role he is about to gain while falling for Ella unaware of who she is as he deals with what to do as a prince and as a man. Cate Blanchett is incredible as Lady Tremaine as a wicked stepmother who treats Ella very cruelly while hoping that the ball would put her and her daughters out of debt and gain power in being part of the royal court where Blanchett adds a bit of restraint in her approach to humor as well as chewing the scenery. Finally, there’s Lily James in a radiant performance as the titular character as a young woman who copes with loss and cruelty while trying to raise her spirits and do what is right as well as be courageous and kind.

Cinderella is a phenomenal film from Kenneth Branagh. Armed with a great cast, gorgeous scenery, and an engaging story that manages to be faithful to its source and more. It’s a film that is also very accessible in terms of what it needed to say as well as be very entertaining. In the end, Cinderella is a splendid and majestic film from Kenneth Branagh.

Kenneth Branagh Films: (Henry V (1989 film)) - (Dead Again) - (Swan Song) - (Peter‘s Friends) - (Much Ado About Nothing (1993 film)) - (Frankenstein (1994 film)) - (A Midwinter’s Tale (1995 film)) - (Hamlet (1996 film)) - (Love’s Labour Lost (2000 film)) - (Listening) - (As You Like It (2006 TV film)) - (The Magic Flute (2006 film)) - (Sleuth (2007 film)) - Thor - (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)

© thevoid99 2016