Monday, September 01, 2014

The Namesake

Originally Written and Posted at on 1/9/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake is the story of the life of a young Indian-American who deals with his identity as he struggles with his own culture clash while learning about the root of his name and his family. Directed by Mira Nair and screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala, the film is a multi-layered story that explores the experience of immigrants as it's told from multiple perspectives from the young man and his parents. Starring Kal Penn, Tabu, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson, and Irfan Khan. The Namesake is a powerful and compassionate film from Mira Nair.

Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) is riding on a train in India reading a book by Nikolai Gogol when he talks to an old man named Ghosh (Jangannath Guha) about the world when a crash occurred. Three years later in 1977, Ashoke is with his family as he is about to meet his bride Ashami (Tabu) in an arranged marriage as they're set to depart for New York City. Though Ashoke manages to find work through a college and be accustomed to American lifestyle, Ashami feels lonely and confused. Yet, she finds comfort in Ashoke as they eventually gain a son the following year whom they name Gogol as the pet name when they're still waiting for her grandmother to give the baby boy his official name. With a baby girl named Sonia to follow, things started to feel blissful despite Ashami's cultural confusion as she and the family return to India following her father's (Sabayasachi Chakravarthy) death.

It's the mid-1990s as Gogol (Kal Penn) has become a typical American teenager who listens to grunge rock, smoke pot, and is about to graduate. Yet, he still struggles with his name Nihil Gogol Ganguli after learning from a teacher (Linus Roache) that he was named after a Russian novelist who had a bleak outlook on life. Though Ashoke and Ashami are struggling with Gogol and Sonia's (Sahira Nair) American outlook, they decide to take the family to India for the summer. Before leaving, Ashoke gives Gogol a present which is a book by Nikolai Gogol that Gogol doesn't seem enthused about yet Ashoke says it will bring him something. Around that same time, plans for a possible arranged marriage is made between Gogol and a young girl named Moushimi (Zuleikha Robinson). During their trip to India, the family visit relatives and other places as the big moment is the trip to the Taj Mahal where Gogol learns what he wants to do with his life. Returning home, Gogol also decides to change his name back to Nihil for a business identity.

Years later as he becomes an architect, Gogol finds happiness in an American girlfriend named Maxine (Jacinda Barrett) while his parents find themselves becoming disconnected with their children as Sonia now lives in California. With Ashoke set to work at a Cleveland university for a semester, he becomes worried for Ashima who never lived alone all her life. Though an awkward visit from Gogol and Maxine arrive for lunch on their way to a vacation, Ashima struggles to deal with Gogol's life while Gogol is trying to think more about himself. It is there that Ashoke has a private moment with Gogol about his name. Then, an event forces Gogol to rethink his entire life as he returns to India and learn about his identity. After seeing Moushimi again, he starts to find himself in touch with his Indian heritage while starting to accept who he is. Still, his acceptance also forces him to learn the true meaning of his name and what he wants with his life.

Films about cultural clash, isolation, family, and acceptance often tend to be overdramatized or sometimes done with humor. Yet, from the vison of Mira Nair whose roots remain in India while splitting her time also in New York City. With a wonderful script by Sooni Taraporevala, the film definitely pays true to Jhumpa Lahiri's novel in this story of change and culture. Nair’s ethereal and evocative direction is amazing from the film's opening scenes in India that is filled with color to the grayish look of winter that reveals the sense of change and isolation from the viewpoint of Ashima. Isolation is the theme of Ashima whose fears to be alone as she deals with not just loss but also her children departing for their own worlds.

Then there's the character of Gogol who like his mother go through a change in character development. While she deals with her own isolation and cultural clashes, Gogol deals with a cultural clash in a similar way yet also his own identity as he becomes confused about himself and his name. Then there's the theme of acceptance where both Gogol and Ashima start to get into in the third act. Yet, for both of them, it becomes a fulfillment of their characters as they're each guided by Ashoke who acts like a guide for everyone as his bravery is really the glue that holds the story together. Nair's direction is truly superb in the way she places her camera, the framing, and presentation is great. Even in the film's final moments has an emotional payoff that is extremely moving without being manipulative or overly sentimental. It's Nair at her finest.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes does great work in capturing the beauty of India with his fluid camera while adding bits of grainy distortion for flashback sequences including Ashoke's train crash. Elmes work in his photography is brilliant to show the contrasting look of India and New York City in all of its splendor as its exteriors are great while the interiors, notably in India are just exquisite. Editor Allyson C. Johnson does excellent work with the film's editing in the use of transitions and perspective cutting to convey the sense of emotion in the film's scene along with the structuring of the story and flashbacks. Even the film's pacing is solid without being too slow or too fast with credit also going to Nair in her direction.

Production designer Stephanie Carroll and art director Suttirat Anne Larlarb do great work in the differing look of the times from the colorful yet street look of India to the clean, American suburban homes that Ashoke and Ashima live in along with the homes Gogol visits. Costume designer Arjun Bhasin does exquisite work with the traditional Indian clothing that Ashima wears throughout the film along with the contemporary clothing other characters wear in the American sequences. Sound mixers Dave Paterson and Joe White do excellent work in conveying the different cultural atmospheres of India and America in all of their glory. Music composer Nitin Sawhney does excellent work in creating a subtle, traditional Indian score that is filled with layers of vocals and sitars while the soundtrack is a mix of traditional Indian music, Indian pop, hip-hop, and rock music including Pearl Jam.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is great in employing a wonderful mix of Indian and American actors. Small appearances from American actors Glenne Headly and Daniel Gerroll as Maxine’s parents, Brooke Smith as Ashima's library co-worker Sally, and Maximilano Hernandez as Sonia's boyfriend Ben are nice to see along with a cameo from British actor Linus Roache as Gogol's literature teacher. Indian actors Tanusree Shankar and Sabayasachi Chakravarthy as Ashima's parents, Ruma Guha Thakurta and Tamal Sengupta as Ashoke's parents, and Jangannath Guha as Mr. Ghosh are great in their brief scenes. Soham Chatterjee is wonderful as the four-year old Gogol with Noor Lahiri Vourvoulias as the baby Sonia.

Mira Nair's niece Sahira is great as the teenage/adult Sonia who starts off as a typical Indian-American teenager who couldn't relate to India while dealing with cultural changes and then as a woman who takes care of her mother. Jacinda Barrett is excellent as Maxine, Gogol's American girlfriend who loves Gogol and wants to understand his Indian heritage despite a few awkward moments involving his parents that shows her naivete and innocence. Zuleikha Robinson is wonderful as Moushimi, an arty young woman who starts off as a nerd and is then seen as this beautiful, cultured woman who like Gogol, struggles with her own heritage. Robinson's performance is filled with charm and depth as she is a wonder onscreen that includes a great dance sequence of sorts with her and Kal Penn.

Known to American audiences for his comedic film roles including Van Wilder, Malibu's Most Wanted, and the stoner cult-classic Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Kal Penn delivers an impressive performance as Nikhil Gogol Ganguli. Penn does a great job in selling the American teenager that he is struggling with his name and identity while he is then seen as an adult. Then when his character changes and deals with this conflict of identity, Penn shows his strength as a dramatic actor as he is a huge revelation in the film. It's also noted he got the part as he was suggested by Nair's son and a friend of his for the role. Irfan Khan delivers an amazing, subtle performance as Ashoke Ganguli, a man whose wisdom on life is just a joy to watch. Khan's performance is really the centerpiece of the film as his character guides both his wife and son into their own path to self-discovery. Khan's performance is definitely one of the year best and must certainly not be overlooked.

The film's best performance easily goes to Tabu, a famous Bollywood actress in her first major American production. Though she's in her 30s, Tabu definitely brings a performance that starts out youthful as she brought a sense of innocence to the film in her scenes in India. Then in America, she shows depth in her dealing with isolation and cultural change while she has amazing chemistry with Khan. In the role of parent, Tabu has an older look yet remains radiant and spellbinding as this woman who is dealing with her children's Americanized personalities and changing times. Tabu is really the heart of the film and her performance is truly unforgettable.

The Namesake is a phenomenal film from Mira Nair that features great performances from Irfan Khan, Tabu, and Kal Penn. The film is truly one of the most engaging and moving tales about the immigrant experience as well as how a young man comes to term with his identity. Especially as it has very common ideas about family and tradition without the need to embellish as it allows audience to find something extraordinary to connect with these characters and their stories. In the end, The Namesake is a sensational film from Mira Nair.

Mira Nair Films: (Salaam Bombay!) - (Mississippi Masala) - (The Perez Family) - (Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love) - Monsoon Wedding - (Hysterical Blindness) - (Vanity Fair) - (Amelia) - (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) - (Words with God)

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Films That I Saw: August 2014

Summer is finally coming to an end and based on what I’ve read so far, the summer film season was the worst in eight years. Frankly, I’m kind of happy about that as I was glad to avoid many of the films that didn’t live up to the hype or the ones that made a lot of money but were really fucking crap. I’m just relieved it’s over though there were some films I did miss out due to financial reasons while there is another big reason that is happening right now. That is that my local multiplex is being renovated as it is temporarily closed for the time being as I think it has to due to the fact that a couple of miles nearby is where the new Atlanta Braves stadium is being built.

It was an alright summer despite the fact that I had to change cable providers because of money and I lost a lot of the films that I had been slated to watch but I’m over it now. The one thing I’m still not over is Robin Williams’ passing which I’m sure still stings as it did force me to not just write a tribute but also watch some of his films and a few re-watches. I felt a certain obligation to do so since he made the world laugh and cry. I know he will be missed and I’m glad there are communities not just in film but also in comedy and gaming that really care about the guy.

In the month of August, I saw a total of 40 films, 24 first-timers and 16 re-watches which includes a WWE pay-per-view and an old concert from 20 years ago. Definitely an improvement over last month though my Blind Spot choice in Satantango was without question the most challenging film that I had ever seen as it took more than a week to watch. Here are the top 10 first-timers I saw in the month of August 2014:

1. Boyhood

2. The Silence

3. The Fisher King

4. Pola X

5. The Ballad of Narayama

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

7. Naqoyqatsi

8. Rush

9. The Idle Class

10. David Bowie: Five Years

Monthly Mini-Reviews

The Internship

Shawn Levy is among the list of filmmakers I really dislike as I think of him as an overrated and mediocre filmmaker who makes very bland comedies that never delivers. This one is no exception other than the fact that it’s a really a feature-length commercial for Google starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson where the two just essentially play lazier versions of their personas that looks more worn out and tired. What is very surprising about this film is how hard it tries to be funny and engaging but ends up being very boring where someone like Rose Byrne is being wasted while Max Minghella ends up overacting his role as the antagonist as it’s just a terrible film.

Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection

While Ric Flair is now being seen as a joke due to his recent appearances on WWE TV programs, there is no question that he is one of the greatest of all-time as he was a 16-time world champion who not only talked the talk but also walked it with style and profile. This documentary made just after he lost his retirement match to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV which showcased his career and why he is so beloved by everyone as there is no question that he is still the Man as his 16-title reigns as the World Champion in the NWA, WCW, and the WWE mean way more than the 15-time reigns that John Cena has had so far.

Kick-Ass 2

I enjoyed the hell out of Kick-Ass when it came out in 2010 but the sequel under a different director was very disappointing. Not only because it was uneven in its story but it was also for the fact that I didn’t really care about the titular character Aaron Taylor-Johnson is very bland in this film. Another thing that I didn’t like about it wasn’t how silly the violence but also Jim Carrey whose performance as this crazed war veteran turned vigilante was one of his worst where it wasn’t funny nor compelling. The only person that really kept the film from being a disaster was Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl as her character would be the one who would go into some serious growth as she was the only one that I actually cared about as she would endure the cruelty of high school and the conflict of trying to live a normal life and being a heroine.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Deliverance

2. 8 Mile

3. Mrs. Doubtfire

4. The World's End

5. Lethal Weapon

6. Dr. No

7. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

8. Private Parts

9. Shanghai Noon

10. American Hustle

Well, that is all for August and the summer as I have no clue on what theatrical release I’m going to cover other than The Equalizer which I’m obligated to do for Cinema Axis. However, I am planning to do a diverse array of films by Samuel Fuller, Paul Schrader, Gregg Araki, and some Auteurs-related films by a few filmmakers including Terry Gilliam’s new film The Zero Theorem and a couple of films by Pedro Almodovar who will be my profile for September. Until then, I hope everyone has a good Labor Day weekend.

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Idle Class

Written, directed, edited, scored and starring Charles Chaplin, The Idle Class is the story of the Tramp who inadvertently causes trouble in the world of the rich as he is accused of doing wrong. The film is an exploration into the world of the rich as Chaplin plays dual roles as the Tramp and as a rich man. Also starring Edna Purviance, Mack Swain, and Henry Bergman. The Idle Class is a witty film from Charles Chaplin.

The film’s premise revolves around the idea of the Tramp at a posh golf course where he causes trouble and is later is mistaken to be the husband of a rich woman since they both look alike. It’s not just a film about mistaken identity but also in how someone like the Tramp manages to stumble into this world of the rich where he just wants to play golf and cause mayhem. Chaplin’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the misadventure that the Tramp creates but also in his doppelganger in this rich man who is an alcoholic as he alienated his wife who is thinking about leaving him. When the Tramp encounters her, he imagines what it would be like to be with her yet their own eventual encounter would also cause mayhem.

Chaplin’s direction is quite simple in terms of its compositions yet he does manage to create some unique ideas in the way the Tramp tries to play golf where he would anger a couple of golfers in the process. Much of it would involve Chaplin creating some scenes where he would create gags that would effective in the story along with a scene at a masquerade ball where the rich man is unable to take off his knight helmet. Through his fluid yet straightforward approach to editing as well as his exuberant music score that ranges from playful to more rhythmic-based music for the masquerade ball scene. Chaplin would maintain that sense of entertainment as well as some amazing trickery in the way he would play both the Tramp and the rich husband in one notable scene. Overall, Chaplin creates a very lively and fun film about the Tramp’s misadventures in a posh world.

Cinematographer Roland Totheroh does excellent work with the black-and-white photography from the look of the golf course including some of the trick photography to feature the Tramp and the rich husband in one notable sequence. Production designer Charles D. Hall does fantastic work with the look of the hotel and the masquerade ball as well as one notable set at the golf course for a creative gag.

The film’s cast includes notable small roles from Henry Bergman in a dual role as a homeless man and a man pretending to be a cop, John Rand as a golfer who would have an unfortunate encounter with the Tramp and the rich man’s father-in-law, and Mack Swain as the rich man’s father-in-law who would have one bad day. Edna Purviance is wonderful as the rich man’s wife who feels neglected by her husband and troubled by his alcoholism until her encounter with the Tramp makes her feel happy unaware that he’s not her husband. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin in the dual role as the Tramp and as the rich husband as he brings that great sense of pantomime physicality to his humor as well as a mischievousness to the role of the Tramp in how he reacts to certain situations as it‘s one of Chaplin‘s finest performances.

The Idle Class is a remarkable film from Charles Chaplin as it makes fun of the world of the rich while showcasing some of the fun they have. The film isn’t just one of Chaplin’s quintessential shorts but also a key moment into his work as a director as he would create moments that would be considered innovative. In the end, The Idle Class is a fantastic film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - (The Rounders) - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog's Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - A Day's Pleasure - (The Professor) - The Kid - (Pay Day) - (The Pilgrim) - (A Woman in Paris) - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hustle & Flow

Originally Written and Posted at on 2/10/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Craig Brewer, Hustle & Flow tells the story of a pimp from Memphis decides to become a rapper hoping to find a better life for himself. A film about starting over and redemption, Brewer explores the world of Memphis hip-hop as well as the culture that surrounds it. Starring Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, D.J. Qualls, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes, and rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Hustle & Flow is a superb film of music and redemption from Craig Brewer.

Hustling through the streets of Memphis as a pimp, Djay (Terrence Howard) is still trying to make ends meet. Though being a pimp has brought him a bit of power and money, it only covers barely of what he is doing where he still lives in the ghettos of Memphis with a couple of prostitutes, Nola (Taryn Manning) and Shug (Taraji P. Henson) who is pregnant. Helping to make money as well is Lexus (Paula Jai Parker), but is often ungrateful towards him. While Djay is still a down-home boy to the locals, including bartender Arnel (Isaac Hayes), he ponders life without having to be a pimp. Even when he learns that a rapper he knew years ago named Skinny Black (Ludacris) has now made it big. After getting a little keyboard from a customer for cheap, Djay starts to become obsessed with music.

Running into an old school friend named Key (Anthony Anderson), he learns that Key is a recording producer who often produces church music to make a decent living. Djay realizes that Key is the chance he needs where he goes to his house and plays him a demo he made from the little keyboard as Key decides to be involved. Though Key's wife Yvette isn't sure about this, she understands it's a break from the monotonous job he’s doing. With help from a white musician named Shelby (D.J. Qualls), Key and Shelby create beats while Djay begins to flow whatever comes out of his mouth. Though Lexus didn't thing Djay's new thing would happen, Shug and Nola are intrigued. Eventually, Djay begins to evolve more despite some creative tension that’s settled by Shug. Shug's presence helped things where she created a hook for a song they've been working on and it becomes great although Key realizes they need better equipment to make it sound better.

Djay does some hustling with Nola to get a new microphone but Nola feels useless and frustrated with her role. Djay tells her that if they make it, Nola will become someone more important. With a new microphone, things start flowing as Djay's demo is nearly completed. Learning that Arlen is going to throw a private party that Skinny Black will be attending, Djay feels it's his chance to get that demo sent to Black. Arriving at the party with a new look and a gold chain, Djay hopes to make a chance thinking there's some history between him and black. Yet with the reality and Black's crass behavior, Djay wonders how far will it take for his dreams to come true.

The theme of redemption is a big engine that drives the plot of this film where it revels in its realism but also offers hope to audience. Writer/director Craig Brewer understands what it takes to make it into the music business in all of its harshness. Yet, it's really more about a man who makes a living dealing drugs and pimping hookers trying to see if there’s something more. Sure, Djay isn't a nice guys at times, making women vulnerable or being abusive towards them. Still, he tries to make something of himself and find some support from the people that surrounds him. Even if they’re dysfunctional, which is common in the South. Plus, Brewer's vision of a pimp reveals that not all of them wear suits or look intimidating and aren't always abusive towards their women. There's a complexity to the character of Djay while the support he has are characters that audiences can relate to. It's in Brewer's script and gritty, observant direction that really holds true.

Even in the environment of somewhere like Memphis, it really presents of what it's really like in the ghettos. There’s moments where it's crazy and it can be peaceful at times. Brewer shows both sides while he explores the world of music where in Memphis, it's very diverse. There's hip-hop, country, blues, and soul in this melting pot called Memphis and in parts of the film, there's a conversation of Southern hip-hop in relations to the blues and it makes perfect sense. Even in what D.J. Qualls character says that there's really a lot of similarities to a song like Backdoor Man to Back That Ass Up. While it may be a debate about the purity of Southern hip-hop among its fans and purists, it can't be denied of where it roots come from. Brewer understands that immediately and hip-hop is true definition of where that culture comes from. Even to the film’s plot where the music carries it to bring some excitement and entertainment to its audience.

Cinematographer Amy Vincent does excellent work in capturing the look of Memphis with it gritty, colorful camera work where it's not all bright or flashy. It's very real as is the art direction from production designer Keith Brian Burns and art director Alexa Marino. The look of the film from the dark bars, the streets, and the home of Djay where cup holder trays are used as sound proof walls are a fantastic touch to the film's authenticity. Costume designer Paul Simmons adds to that grittiness with these leather, short skirts that Nola wears or the kind of dirty, torn clothes that everyone else with the clean-like look that Key and Yvette wears. Editor Billy Fox does excellent work in the film's editing including a sequence with a lot of jump-cuts that involved Djay's supposed association with Skinny Black. Sound editors Greg Hedgepath and Frank Smathers with sound designer Brian W. Jennings do excellent work in capturing that atmosphere of recording and the world known as the South with train horns blaring and cars which speaks true to its environment.

Then there's the music that is a big part of the movie. Score composer Scott Bomar adds a moody, rhythmic texture to the score that adds the sense of tension and melancholia of where the film is. The rest of the film's soundtrack is dominated by touches of country music, blues, and soul music courtesy of the likes of Al Green and Buddy Guy. Then there's the hip-hop which features tracks written by Al Kapone, Lil' Jon, and Three-6 Mafia. The stuff that is performed by Terrence Howard like Whoop That Trick and the Oscar-winning It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp are catchy and memorable. The music is definitely inspiring and will make any audience go “Aww yeah!!!”

Then we have the film's cast that includes notable small performances from Josey Scott of Saliva as a store clerk, members of Three-6 Mafia as locals, and the legendary Isaac Hayes as the sympathetic bartender Arlen. Elise Neal is good as Key's supportive wife who doesn’t understand the ghetto world and believes to be neglected only to realize what's going on. Paula Jai Parker is pretty good as the combative, ungrateful Lexus who serves as an antagonist for Howard. Anthony Anderson and D.J. Qualls, both of whom are known for their comedic talents, give excellent performances that show more of their range in drama. Anderson as the more moralistic, cautious Key and Qualls as the more experimental, pot-smoking Shelby are two excellent, memorable characters that show the good and the bad of creativity.

Established rapper Ludacris gives a fine performance as the crass, egomaniac Skinny Black who seems friendly though he seems to be distracted by his own fame. Ludacris, who also appeared in Paul Haggis' Crash with Terrence Howard, proves that he can be a solid actor. Even in this performance of a rapper who seems to have betrayed his roots. Taryn Manning is wonderful as Nola, Djay's top earning hooker who is trying to find her footing as her character develops from a naive hooker to a woman who finds her own footing. Taraji P. Henson is great as the pregnant, supportive Shug whose vulnerability in her usefulness proves to have power when she sings. Henson shows a lot of development as someone insecure to someone who feels empowered when she sings.

Finally, there's Terrence Howard in what is truly an amazing role of not just 2005 but one of the best of the decade. Howard's complex, realistic, and engaging performance is truly inspiring to watch as a man who goes into this mid-life crisis and then, finds hope. Howard brings in all of the struggles, swagger, frustration, and warmth to a character that could've been sleazy since he is a pimp/drug dealer. Howard manages to find the humanity in the character to the point that he is relatable. When he's rapping and doing music, there is such joy in the performance that it looks like he's having a lot of fun. It's a fantastic performance from the talented Terrence Howard.

Hustle & Flow is a fantastic film from Craig Brewer that features a riveting performance from Terrence Howard. The film is definitely not just an inspirational story of redemption but also one that explores the world of Southern hip-hop and the world that is the American South. In the end, Hustle & Flow is a phenomenal film from Craig Brewer.

Craig Brewer Films: (The Poor and the Hungry) - (Black Snake Moan) - (Footloose (2011 film)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: Satantango

Based on the novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango is the story of a collective farming community closing down in the final days of Communist Hungary as a group try to leave only to be stopped by strange circumstances. Directed by Bela Tarr and screenplay by Tarr and Krasznahorkai with a screen story by Mihaly Vig, Peter Dobai, and Barna Mihok, the film is an meditative exploration into a world that is ending as they endure a series of events that would change their lives. Starring Mihaly Vig, Putyi Horvath, and Laszlo Lugossy. Satantango is a mesmerizing yet ominous film from Bela Tarr.

Set in the final days of Communist Hungary, the film explores a group of people living in a desolate farming community that is in absolute ruins as they learn that two men who were presumed dead have returned and to reclaim the community. It is told in twelve chapters where a group of people deal with the return of two men as well as the bleakness of their surroundings as they try to pull together all they have left. While coping with the arrival of Irimias (Mihaly Vig) and his friend Petrina (Putyi Horvath), a lot of things occur where a lot of mistrust and tension begin to emerge as Irimias would make his arrival with news about his plans causing a lot of suspicion. It’s a film that doesn’t have a traditional narrative as it essentially follows the steps of a tango which is six steps forwards and six steps back which is odd for a narrative structure. Yet, the film’s script prefers to play with that structure and to tell this story of a world that is collapsing as the people who live in this farming community have no idea what is going to happen.

The film is told from several perspectives such as six couples, a child (Erika Bok), an ailing doctor (Peter Berling), and several other characters. It all plays into this world set in this desolate farming community that is very removed from the rest of the world as they’re dealing with heavy autumn rain and gathering whatever money that is left. Unfortunately, there is also distrust as Schmidt (Laszlo Lugossy) is suspicious that his friend Futaki (Miklos Szekely B.) is sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt (Eva Almassy Albert) who has grown tired of the farming life as the other residents would cope with alcohol at one point in the film. Yet, the film’s script also have these moments where there’s a scene that is happening while something else is happening at the same time but in another chapter such as the doctor’s encounter with the child Estike who would watch the residents dance in a drunken manner. Plus, there’s a sequence where residents would leave their farming community following their meeting with Irimias as he would walk back to the city with Petrina and their friend Sanyi (Andras Bodnar) about their plans.

Bela Tarr’s direction is truly entrancing not just in the way he would compose the film but also maintain a sense of minimalism in his presentation. Yet, it’s a presentation that will not be everyone’s cup of tea as Tarr strays away from many of the conventions of cinema as a film with 432-minute running time only features a total of under 200 shots and shots that range from 8-11 minutes in total. Much of it involves a lot of gazing shots of these dreary and damp locations set in a world that is just completely removed from the modern world. Tarr’s direction includes a lot of these very stylized tracking and dolly shots to capture the world such as the opening eight-minute shot of a herd of cows walking into this desolate land as it would set the tone for everything that is to come from the film.

While there are a lot of close-ups, medium shots, and some beautiful wide shots, it is presented in a manner that is quite meticulous in its approach to framing yet there’s a looseness in how some of the actors would play out in a scene such as the drunken dance at this small restaurant. Some of it would include these elaborate crane shots that are very entrancing to watch as it plays into not just the lives of people that might seem ordinary but also in how they cope with their situations and the impending uncertainty of what is to come. Many of the shots and presentation do take a while to get things going as it’s pacing is very slow where it definitely isn’t for everyone. Especially as there’s moments in the film that doesn’t feature any dialogue while the music score is only used sparingly as it adds to this unconventional presentation that will annoy the most impatient viewer.

The direction definitely broadens itself in the many stories and characters that it has where Tarr definitely goes to great lengths to flesh out many of the characters as well as fill as many ambiguities into the actions of Irimias and the struggle of the doctor who is only seen briefly as he is sort of this outsider that either doesn’t know about Irimias or is in denial of what is happening. There is so much that occurs in the story that includes Estike trying to torture her cat in an act of rage because she’s being neglected. It is Tarr showcasing a world that is removed from everything else as time doesn’t even exist in some cases where they would all embark into an uncertain future while many of Irimias’ intention becomes more ambiguous as it goes on as it relates to what is happening behind the scenes. Overall, Tarr crafts a very chilling yet intoxicating film about the final days of a farming community in Communist Hungary.

Cinematographer Gabor Medvigy does amazing work with the film‘s very grimy black-and-white photography to not just find beauty in this very ugly and depression location but also in the intimacy in some of the lighting as it is one of the film‘s major highlights. Editor Agnes Hranitzky does terrific work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with very few elements of style as it only cuts to capture some of the dramatic impact. Production designer Sandor Kally, with set decorators Sandor Katona and Bela Zsolt Toth, does excellent work with the set design from the look of the homes many of the residents live to the restaurant and city offices that are present in the film.

Costume designers Janos Breckl and Gyula Pauer do nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly ragged with the exception of Irimias who carries this look of coolness with his Fedora hat. Sound mixer Gyorgy Kovacs does fantastic work with the sound to play into the texture of the sound in its locations as well as the sense of dread and uncertainty that looms in the film. The film’s music by Mihaly Vig is a largely electronic score that definitely recalls the music of Russian composer Edvard Artimev in terms of its melancholia as it is truly mesmerizing in its dissonant yet ambient presentation while the soundtrack also includes some accordion music played on location.

The film’s remarkable cast includes some noteworthy performances from Alfred Jarai as the intellectual Halics, Erzsebet Gaal as Halics’ wife, Owen Calvert as the village fool, Andras Bodnar as Irimias and Petrina’s associate Sanyi, Janos Derzsi as the skeptical Kraner, Iren Szajki as Kraner’s wife, and Erika Bok as the young girl Estike. Peter Berling is superb as the ailing yet reclusive doctor who often observes everything from his house as he is troubled by his alcoholism and his poor health. Miklos Szekely B. is terrific as Futaki who conspires with Schmidt into collecting money to do something only to be stopped by Irimias as Futaki also tries to hide his secret affair with Schmidt’s wife. Laszlo Lugossy is fantastic as Schmidt as a farmer who is trying to gather money so he can start on his own unaware of what to do and what Irimias is planning.

Eva Almassy Albert is amazing as Schmidt’s wife who tries to hide her affair while comprehending everything that is happening as she is the most reluctant to trust Irimias though she doesn’t speak out about it. Putyi Horvath is excellent as Irimias’ partner-in-crime Petrina who questions what Irimias is doing while getting things done for Irimias. Finally, there’s Mihaly Vig in a phenomenal performance as Irimias as this man of great charisma and power who seems like a reincarnation of Satan himself as he tries to sway the residents into giving him money so he can rebuild their community while being very cagey about his intentions.

Satantango is an incredible film from Bela Tarr. Armed with gorgeous visuals and an ambitious presentation that defies the concept of what cinema could be, it’s a film that is very challenging but also engrossing in its exploration into the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. While it is definitely not a film for everyone due to its slow pacing and very minimalist approach to storytelling. It is a film with a very bold take on a story of a world that is changing in a place that is very removed from that world. In the end, Satantango is a tremendously evocative film from Bela Tarr.

Bela Tarr Films: (Family Nest) - (The Outsider (1981 film)) - (The Prefab People) - (Autumn Almanac) - (Damnation) - (Wreckmeister Harmonies) - (The Man from London) - (The Turin Horse)

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Originally Written and Posted at on 12/10/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Written, directed, and co-starring Adrienne Shelly, Waitress tells the story of a young woman who works as a waitress in a small-town diner whose life isn’t going so well with a bad husband. Things get worse when she learns she is pregnant and she decides to make a change by entering a pie-making contest while falling for the town's new doctor. The film's mix of humor and drama along with Shelly's themes of female empowerment create a film that is sweet and entertaining. Starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Eddie Jemison, Lew Temple, Jeremy Sisto, and Andy Griffiths. Waitress is a charming, funny, sweet comedy from Adrienne Shelly and company.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is a waitress at a coffee & pie diner that is owned by quirky businessman named Joe (Andy Griffiths). Working under her grizzled boss Cal (Lew Temple), Jenna is known for making numerous pies that is a hit at the diner. Joined by Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), she works and often mulls her dour existence with her only hopes to escape her dreary life and her obnoxious, controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is to win a pie-baking contest. Then one day, Jenna receives the worst news of her life as she learns she is pregnant with Earl's child and all of her dreams is now confronted by a new reality. Checking to see if she really is pregnant, she goes to the doctor's office where her regular doctor is taken a break and is temporarily replaced by Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

Dr. Pomatter brings a new sense of comfort to Jenna while trying to deal with her own dreary life while Dawn is being courted by a man named Ogie (Eddie Jemison) whom she met a blind date. While Becky is keeping a secret from her two waitresses, Jenna's desperation to leave Earl and her life, she makes an attempt while trying not to tell Earl that she’s pregnant. Another meeting with Dr. Pomatter brings an unexpected romance despite the fact that he's also married. The romance suddenly brings new things for Jenna despite the fact that Earl knows her pregnancy and is hoping that she will love him more than the baby. Writing a diary to the baby about her feelings, Jenna is still trying to find some hope as her affair with Dr. Pomatter is taking its toll. Turning to Joe for guidance about life, Jenna learns what she must do for her child and future.

While the film is set in the romantic-comedy genre, the film is also a feminist statement of sorts about a woman trying to find out her future without the support of a man. While the film at times does play to conventional plot structures, the development of Jenna as a character is strong as Adrienne Shelly makes the audience go along for her journey as she is treated awfully by her husband while her affair with Dr. Pomatter despite its sweet moments is mired in the fact that he's married. Shelly's script is filled with a lot of stylish yet witty dialogue about pies, love, women, and all of the things in life as it's done so well that it gives the film an energy and style that is engaging to watch.

Shelly's direction works to convey the moments of humor while adding bits of subplots for each supporting character to have their moments. Still, it's the story of Jenna and her question of morality as well as trying to figure out if she wants to be mother that remains the key story of the film. Shelly's direction shines throughout the entire film from the way she places the camera to capture the drama and humor while showing moments of pie-making which is an art in itself. Overall, Shelly's writing and direction is superb.

Cinematographer Matthew Irving does some great work with some of the film's lighting in the interiors which were dark and intimate, notably in the nighttime sequences that are very low-key while many of the exteriors on day time are wonderfully colorful. Editor Annette Davey does some excellent work with the film's pacing that is very leisurely while taking the energy of the film's development in one scene to convey Jenna's happiness. Production designer Ramsey Avery and art director Jason Baldwin do great work with look of the diner that is very intimate and colorful along with the messy look of Dr. Pomatter's office. Costume designer Ariyela Wald-Cohain does fantastic work with look of the waitress dresses, Earl's grungy look, and Joe's suit to give that small town feel. Sound editor Frederick Helm does some great work with the film's sound to convey the world of diners as well as Earl's car honks to know he's coming and such.

The film's music by Andrew Hollander is very dream-like to convey Jenna's dream-sequences of making pies that is very innocent while the soundtrack features some fine music from Mozart, Richard Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries for a great sequence, a cover of Howard Jones' No One Is To Blame by Emile Millar for a romantic scene, some mix of country and pop music, and a great use of Cake's Short Skirt/Long Jacket in a very funny scene.

The film’s cast is wonderfully assembled with small performances from Sarah Hunley as Jenna's regular doctor and Darby Stanchfield as Dr. Pomatter's wife along with an appearance from Shelly's young daughter Sophie Ostroy as a toddler. Lew Temple is funny as the dirty, insulting boss Cal who just orders people around while having a bit of a sensitive side underneath his bossy exterior. Eddie Jemison is very funny as Dawn's new boyfriend who constantly follows her while professing his love to her as Jemison's performance is fun to watch. Adrienne Shelly is also funny as the mousy Dawn who is trying to help Jenna about her problems while giving her the notebook that would play a part of the film.

Cheryl Hines is great as Becky, the other waitress who is trying to deal with her own breasts while keeping a secret as she has some hilarious one-liners throughout the film. Jeremy Sisto is excellent as Earl, Jenna's obnoxious, abusive, and jealous husband who believe a woman is supposed to serve the man while being all nasty and such as Sisto's performance is fun to watch for all the wrong reasons. Andy Griffith is superb as the cantankerous, grouchy Joe, a businessman who always have specific orders and such while providing Jenna with some wise advice as his performance is a joy to watch.

Nathan Fillion of Firefly/Serenity fame is wonderful as the romantic yet simple Dr. Pomatter who changes Jenna's life while trying to find the lost passion he needed in his life in both Jenna and her pies. Finally, there's Keri Russell in an amazing performance that should give her some big-star attention. Russell manages to mix her cynicism and humor in a performance that is engaging and a joy to watch. Russell not only carries the film but she does it very naturally that it's truly her best work to date as she has many great scenes with her supporting cast.

Waitress is a lovely, charming, and funny film from Adrienne Shelly and company featuring great performances from Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. Fans of romantic comedies and light-hearted films will no doubt enjoy this little gem for all of its humor and sweetness. The film is also guaranteed to make anyone hungry for some pie. In the end, Waitress is a remarkable film from Adrienne Shelly.

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Day's Pleasure

Written, directed, edited, scored, and starring Charles Chaplin, A Day’s Pleasure is the story of the Tramp and a family trying to spend a day together where everything goes wrong. The film is a simple slapstick comedy where Chaplin plays the role of the Tramp as he tries to get his wife and children a chance to have a good day. Also starring Edna Purviance and Jackie Coogan. A Day’s Pleasure is a delightful film from Charles Chaplin.

The film is a simple story of a family spending the day together where a lot of things ensue in the course of an entire day. All of which involves the Tramp in a series of gags relating to his car as well as being on a boat with his family as Charles Chaplin explores everything that could go wrong on a family outing. All of which told in a simple manner as Chaplin’s direction keep some of the compositions to the point while creating some inventive gags in the process. Even as it involves a scene with a car that doesn’t really work or how someone would get seasick as the sequence in the latter is among one of the finest presentations of humor ever. Especially in the way Chaplin would create the idea of what it would be like on a boat as he would capture some of that humor through his rhythmic approach to editing. Chaplin’s score would also maintain that sense of humor as it’s often exuberant and bouncy which plays into the many misadventures of the Tramp. Overall, Chaplin crafts a very charming and fun film about a family outing.

Cinematographer Roland Totheroh does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the sunny look of a family outing on the sea where the Tramp and his family are on the boat. Production designer Charles D. Hall does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the car as well as the design of the boat when it rocks back and forth. The film’s cast features appearances from Henry Bergman in a trio of roles as a large policeman, a ship captain, and a big man in a car, Tom Wilson as a large husband on a boat, Babe London as the large husband’s seasick wife, Loyal Underwood as an angry little man on the street, Marion Feducha and Bob Kelly as the Tramp’s eldest son, Jackie Coogan as the youngest child, and Edna Purviance as the Tramp’s wife. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin as the Tramp as it’s another enjoyable performance in the way the Tramp tries to start his car or adjust to being on a boat as it’s one of his funniest performances.

A Day’s Pleasure is an excellent film from Charles Chaplin. It’s among one of his finest shorts as well as one of his most entertaining in the way it explores a family outing and how it can go wrong. In the end, A Day’s Pleasure is a splendid film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - (The Rounders) - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog's Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - (The Professor) - The Kid - The Idle Class - (Pay Day) - (The Pilgrim) - (A Woman in Paris) - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2014