Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Navigator (1924 film)




Directed by Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp and written by Keaton, Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, and Joseph A. Mitchell, The Navigator is the story of a young rich man who boards on a cruise ship unaware that he and his girlfriend are the only passengers are there due to some devilish scheme. It’s a film that plays into the misadventures of a young man and his girlfriend as the former tries to impress the latter. Starring Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire. The Navigator is an extremely funny and entertaining film from Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp.

It’s a film with a very simple premise about two spoiled rich kids who both go aboard on a cruise ship unaware that they’re the only people onboard due to a scheme made by a rival faction during a war. Along the way, these two kids are forced to fend for themselves as they deal with being alone in a cruise ship as a lot of hilarity ensue as it’s a film that showcases what happens when two people who often have people do things for them are forced to make their own coffee and cook their own food. It’s simple premise adds to a lot of ideas of what could be done and the screw ups that these two character have to endure.

The film’s direction by Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp is definitely ambitious in terms of its set pieces and stunt work that is created where much of the film takes place on this cruise ship. Especially as Keaton and his co-star Kathryn McGuire create some intricate stunt work and gags that add to the sense of two spoiled kids having to fend for themselves. The use of medium shots and wide shots on this ship add to the humor such as a scene where Keaton and McGuire are running around the ship trying to find each other as Keaton’s editing would help play to that humor with some unique rhythmic cuts. Even as Keaton would slow things down to play into the sense of not knowing where he and McGuire would be shot in medium shots while each providing subtle moments into their performances. Overall, Keaton and Crisp creates a very funny and thrilling film about two spoiled young adults stuck on a cruise ship by themselves.

Cinematographers Byron Houck and Elgin Lessley do excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the interior scenes at night to the daytime scenes set on the ship. Costume designer Clare West does brilliant work with the costumes from the rich clothes the main characters wear to the sailor uniforms they would have to wear. The film’s music by Robert Israel (for its 1995 reissue) is fantastic for its very playful score as it is driven by piano and an orchestra to capture some of the antics in the film.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from H.N. Clugston and Clarence Burton as the two spies that would be responsible for the ship to drift, Noble Johnson as a cannibal chief, Donald Crisp as scary picture, and Frederick Vroom as the girl’s father who sold the ship that plays a key part in the film. Finally, there’s the duo of Kathryn McGuire and Buster Keaton in incredible performances in their respective roles as Betsy O’Brien and Rollo Treadaway. McGuire serves as a great foil for Keaton in terms of the physicality of the comedy as well as being a character that manages to get things down. Keaton displays his mastery in physical comedy and stunt work while proving to do some funny things in little moments as it showcases his gift as a comedy actor.

The Navigator is a phenomenal film from Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp that features a fantastic supporting performance from Kathryn McGuire. The film is definitely one Keaton’s finest films in terms of his approach to physical comedy and how stunts can help provide some of the finest gags captured on film. In the end, The Navigator is a remarkable film from Donald Crisp and Buster Keaton.

Buster Keaton Films: (The Rough House) - (One Week (1920 short)) - (Convict 13) - (The Scarecrow (1920 short)) - (Neighbors (1920 short)) - (The Haunted House (1921 short)) - (Hard Luck (1921 short)) - (The High Sign) - (The Goat (1921 short)) - (The Playhouse) - (The Boat) - (The Paleface) - (Cops) - (My Wife’s Relations) - (The Blacksmith) - (The Frozen North) - (The Electric House) - (Day Dreams (1922 short)) - (The Balloonatic) - (The Love Nest) - (Three Ages) - (Our Hospitality) - Sherlock Jr. - (Seven Chances) - (Go West (1925 film)) - (Battling Butler) - The General - (College (1927 film)) - (Steamboat Bill Jr.) - (The Cameraman) - (Spite Marriage) - (The Gold Ghost) - (Allez Oop) - (Tars and Stripes) - (Grand Slam Opera) - (One Run Elmer) - (Blue Blazes) - (Mixed Magic) - (Love Nest on Wheels)

© thevoid99 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Captain America: The Winter Soldier



Based on the Marvel comics series by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the story of Captain America uncovering a conspiracy involving the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization as he is also targeted by a mysterious assassin prompting him to face demons and new ideals about his new world. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the film has Captain America/Steve Rogers adjust to living in the 21st Century following the events in the 2012 film The Avengers as well as his past as Chris Evans reprises the role of Captain America. Also starring Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, and Robert Redford. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a rapturous and exhilarating film from Anthony and Joe Russo.

The film revolves around Steve Rogers working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as he copes with not just what he’s asked to do but also a world that is far more complicated once S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised by forces from within forcing Rogers to become a fugitive as well as being targeted by a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). There, Rogers is forced to realize that all of these ideas of keeping things in control have been compromised as he has very few allies he can count on such as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who aids him in uncovering the mystery. It’s a film that explores the idea of what people are willing to do to avoid war and to keep people safe as someone like Rogers who lived during the time of World War II has a hard time trying to understand what S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to do as he questions what Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about these reasons to arm the world and keep them under heavy watch.

The film’s screenplay definitely plays into this world of conspiracies where Rogers would meet one of the heads of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) who is trying to get a project unveiled as he is an old friend of Fury where he questions Rogers about his own ideas and such. It is in that moment where the film’s second act comes to play where Rogers is on the run as the only people he can trust is Romanoff and a former USAF pararescueman in Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) as the latter is a soldier that Rogers can relate to. When Rogers and Romanoff uncover more secrets about what has happened within S.H.I.E.L.D., it becomes clear that there’s elements of Rogers’ past that has come back to haunt him as well as the identity of the Winter Soldier which would only trouble Rogers. The eventual confrontation between Rogers and the Winter Soldier does come ahead in the third act but the stakes are much higher as it relates to what Rogers can do to make the world safer amidst the terror from within.

The film’s direction by Anthony and Joe Russo is definitely sprawling in terms of its action sequences and set pieces but the Russo Brothers know what to do when there’s a need for a break from the action. Much of it involves some inspired use of wide and medium shots where a lot of it is shot in location in Washington, D.C. plus locations in Cleveland and Long Beach, California. There’s also some close-ups as it plays to the drama along with some very key moments in the film as it relates to some of the things that Rogers would encounter that includes the eventual identity of the Winter Soldier. The usage of high camera angles, wide shots, and medium shots play into the sense of action that occurs as it’s very frenetic which plays to the sense of danger and no-holds-barred attitude that Rogers, Wilson, and Romanoff are facing.

There’s also elements of flashbacks that play into Rogers’ past as he is trying to hold on to ideals that he had grown up on where he knows that he need to hold on to them as it adds to the drama and elements of suspense. It’s climax where Rogers has to face the Winter Soldier is definitely gripping as it’s filled with massive set pieces where it adds to the sense of high stakes for Rogers and his need for people to believe in something all over again in a world that is very cynical and chaotic. Overall, the Russo brothers create a very intelligent yet engaging film about a hero dealing with his new surroundings and the need to keep his old ideals intact.

Cinematographer Trent Opaloch does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its use of low-key lights and sepia lighting schemes for some of its interiors to the usage of low-level lights for the exteriors set at night. Editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt do amazing work with the editing to create some unique fast-cutting styles to play into some of the fights and action scenes while slowing things down for some of the film‘s suspenseful and dramatic moments. Production designer Peter Wenham, with set decorator Leslie A. Pope and supervising art director Thomas Valentine, does brilliant work with the look of the S.H.I.E.L.D. building as well as the heli-carriers and the secret buildings where Rogers and Romanoff uncover a very dark secret. Costume designer Judianna Makovsky does nice work with the costumes as it’s mostly casual with the exception of Rogers’ Captain America uniform.

Visual effects supervisors Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, and Dan Suduck do fantastic work with the visual effects from the look of the heli-carriers in the sky to design of some of the big action sequences as well as the look of a character from Rogers‘ past. Sound designers David Hughes, Shannon Mills, and Al Nelson, along with co-sound editor Daniel Laurie, do superb work with the sound in not just creating some unique sound effects but also in the way the sound adds to the sense of terror and suspense that occurs in the film. The film’s music by Henry Jackman is terrific for its mixture of bombast and lush orchestral pieces to play into the action and drama while music supervisor Dave Jordan brings in a couple of music pieces from Marvin Gaye and Harry James’ Orchestra.

The casting by Sarah Finn is great as it features some notable cameos that includes the obligatory cameo from Stan Lee plus small roles from Garry Shandling as Stern, Maximiliano Hernandez as S.H.I.E.L.D. official Jasper Sitwell, Danny Pudi as a S.H.I.E.L.D. technician, DC Pierson as an Apple store employee who helps Rogers and Romanoff, Gary Sinise as a Smithsonian narrator for a Captain America exhibit, Georges St. Pierre as a mercenary Rogers confronts early in the film, and as a trio of council members of the World Security Council are Chin Han, Alan Dale, and Bernard White. Other notable small roles include Jenny Agutter as a World Security Council member, Hayley Atwell in a brief but memorable appearance as Rogers’ old flame Peggy Carter, and Emily VanCamp as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent assigned to protect Rogers at his home. Frank Grillo is terrific as the S.H.I.E.L.D. strike-team commander in Brock Rumlow who is part of the conspiracy as he proves to be a formidable opponent that is willing to take down Rogers and his cohorts.

Toby Jones is superb in his brief but eerie performance as Dr. Arnim Zola whom Rogers had dealt with back in the 1940s as he would be a key figure into uncovering the mystery that Rogers would have to deal with. Cobie Smulders is fantastic as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill who is one of the few people that Rogers and Romanoff can trust as she would help them and Wilson uncover the mystery behind the conspiracy on S.H.I.E.L.D. Sebastian Stan is excellent as the mysterious Winter Soldier who is known for being a fearsome assassin that is willing to cause damage as it’s a very menacing and nearly-silent performance that is all about action rather than words. Anthony Mackie is brilliant as Sam Wilson/Falcon as a former pararescuer who befriends Rogers as he later helps him and Romanoff uncover the mystery while proving to be a formidable soldier that Fury needs. Robert Redford is amazing as Alexander Pierce as a senior official of S.H.I.E.L.D. who would be the one that would make Rogers a fugitive over secrets Rogers refused to divulge as he represents this man that was part of an old world order as he wants to start something new for the sake of maintaining control in the world.

Samuel L. Jackson is great as Nick Fury as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is aware of Rogers’ reluctance about the ways of the world as he starts to question things himself where Jackson brings some humility to Fury who is forced to realize that his organization has been compromised. Scarlett Johansson is phenomenal as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow as this agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. who realizes what has been going on as she helps Rogers in trying to uncover the truth as Johansson brings some wit and a lot of ass-kicking into her role. Finally, there’s Chris Evans in a remarkable performance as Steve Rogers/Captain America who copes with not just the new rules of the world but also the conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. as he tries to unravel its mystery as well as elements of his past as Evans brings in that very straightforward manner to someone who feels out of place in the world but with old-school values that still means something.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a dazzling and thrilling film from Anthony and Joe Russo that features great performances from Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson. Not only is a blockbuster that entertains and enthralls but it’s also a film that is very smart and engages the audience into uncovering a lot of the suspense and intrigue that looms over the film. Especially with characters that audiences can root for as it has a lot of real-world ideas about the ways of the world. In the end, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a sensational film from Anthony and Joe Russo.

Marvel Phase One Films: Iron Man - (The Incredible Hulk) - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers (2012 film)

Marvel Phase Two Films: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - (Guardians of the Galaxy) - (The Avengers: Age of Ultron) - (Ant-Man)

© thevoid99 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sherlock Jr.




Directed and edited by Buster Keaton, with additional direction from Fatty Arbuckle, and written by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph A. Mitchell, Sherlock Jr. is the story of a film projectionist who dreams about being in a mystery movie as he finds himself in the movie. The film is a mystery-comedy where a man finds himself being part of a case and does whatever to help the characters in the film. Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, and Ward Crane. Sherlock Jr. is a whimsical and dazzling film from Buster Keaton.

The film revolves around a wannabe detective who works as a film projectionist as he dreams about being in a movie where he plays a detective trying to solve a mystery. It’s a film that sort of mirrors what is happening with this young projectionist in the real world as he has been accused of stealing his girlfriend’s father’s pocketwatch and pawning it off. It’s a film that blurs the idea of reality and fiction where this young man dreams that he is in a movie by walking into the movie that he is playing in the theater and becomes part of it. It’s an idea that is truly filled with a lot of imagination as well as ideas of how cinema can shape the direction of a young man. Even as the movie he is in has him fulfilling his own fantasies to become a detective.

Buster Keaton’s direction is definitely filled with lots of imaginative ideas not just in his approach to gags but also in how the ideas of fantasy can play into a young man’s desire to succeed. Much of it involves some inventive use of compositions in the way Keaton frames himself in the projection booth or in medium shots to showcases his approach to comedy. Even as the gags are very spectacular such as a car chase scene or Keaton playing the detective in following the man he suspects. Keaton’s usage of tracking and dolly shots to capture some of the action as well as his own inventive use of editing in a very funny sequence of his character being in one scene and then in another in a rhythmic cutting style that adds to the whimsical tone of the film. Overall, Keaton creates a very charming and majestic film about a young projectionist who wishes to be a detective.

Cinematographers Byron Houck and Elgin Lessley do excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to create some unique lighting schemes for a few of the film‘s interior settings including the sequence where Keaton enters the movie screen. Art director Fred Gabourie does brilliant work with the set pieces from the homes that are used for some very spectacular gags as well as the look of the theater where Keaton‘s character is working at. Costume designer Clare West does superb work with the costumes from the clothes in the real-world scene to the more lavish look of the clothes in the movie-within-a-movie sequence. The film’s music by the Club Foot Orchestra is amazing for its approach to old-school jazz music and orchestral music to play into its humor and romance as it adds a lot of energy to the film.

The film’s fantastic ensemble includes some notable small performances from Erwin Connelly in a dual role as a butler and a hired hand for the film’s villain in the fantasy sequence as well as Joe Keaton in a terrific performance as the girlfriend’s father in both the real-world and fantasy sequences. Ward Crane is excellent as the film’s antagonist in dual versions as the rival in the real-life scene and as the thief in the fantasy scenes. Kathryn McGuire is amazing as the girl whom the film’s protagonist loves as she appears in both the real-life sequences and the fantasy sequences as she is far more interesting in the real-life sequences. Finally, there’s Buster Keaton in a phenomenal performance as the projectionist who wants to be a detective as he would live out his fantasies as the titular character where Keaton’s approach to physical comedy and intricate stunt work is among one of the reasons why he was so revered in the era of silent films.

Sherlock Jr. is a remarkable film from Buster Keaton as it’s definitely one of his finest films as well as one of the essentials in silent comedies. It’s a film that has a lot of ambition but also imagination that manages to showcase what could be done with cinema. Especially as it manages to transcend ideas about reality and fiction. In the end, Sherlock Jr. is an incredible film from Buster Keaton.

Buster Keaton Films: (The Rough House) - (One Week (1920 short)) - (Convict 13) - (The Scarecrow (1920 short)) - (Neighbors (1920 short)) - (The Haunted House (1921 short)) - (Hard Luck (1921 short)) - (The High Sign) - (The Goat (1921 short)) - (The Playhouse) - (The Boat) - (The Paleface) - (Cops) - (My Wife’s Relations) - (The Blacksmith) - (The Frozen North) - (The Electric House) - (Day Dreams (1922 short)) - (The Balloonatic) - (The Love Nest) - (Three Ages) - (Our Hospitality) - The Navigator - (Seven Chances) - (Go West (1925 film)) - (Battling Butler) - The General - (College (1927 film)) - (Steamboat Bill Jr.) - (The Cameraman) - (Spite Marriage) - (The Gold Ghost) - (Allez Oop) - (Tars and Stripes) - (Grand Slam Opera) - (One Run Elmer) - (Blue Blazes) - (Mixed Magic) - (Love Nest on Wheels)

© thevoid99 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Blackhat



Directed by Michael Mann and written by Morgan Davis Foehl, Blackhat is the story of a convicted hacker who is asked by U.S. and Chinese government officials to aid them in uncovering a cyber-terrorist following a series of cyber-terrorist activities. The film is an exploration into the world of cyber-terrorism as it is becoming prevalent in the 21st Century where a hacker is asked to find the criminals as he copes with some of his actions. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Holt McCallany, Wang Leehom, and Viola Davis. Blackhat is a riveting and compelling film from Michael Mann.

With the news of cyber-terrorism finally coming into the forefront of the public, the film is about the dangers of cyber-terrorism when a Chinese nuclear power plant was attacked prompting a Chinese government official to work with the American government to get an old friend out of prison so he can help uncover these acts of cyber-terrorism. It’s a film that plays into the idea of what is a new world order as well as the dangers of technology in how it can create chaos where the enemy itself are faceless individuals who are wreaking havoc on the world of economics which makes countries vulnerable. There’s a lot of intriguing ideas that goes on in the film as it relates to the world of cyber-terrorism but it has elements in the script by Morgan Davis Foehl that doesn’t work.

Part of the flaws in the screenplay involves some of the conventional dramatic elements involving its protagonist Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) and Chen Lien (Tang Wei) as the latter is the younger sister of China’s cyber warfare official in Captain Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) who was a former college roommate of Nick and was the one that got him out of jail so that Nick can be helpful. The romance between Hathaway and Lien feels like it’s part of another film as it doesn’t really seem necessary to the story as a lot of it involves intrigue and what needs to be done. Especially as the trio are working with two FBI agents in Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and Jessup (Holt McCallany) to find out who are the hackers and why they’re creating chaos. The eventual reveal of the villains themselves do come to ahead but their motivations aren’t very clear other than money as it is very ambiguous where it is among some of the conventional elements of the script that doesn’t really work.

Michael Mann’s direction is very entrancing as it is set in various locations in order to make the film play into this feeling of a new world that is being torn apart by modern technology. Much of Mann’s direction has him playing into a world that is chaotic where he uses a lot of hand-held cameras for some of the film’s action and gunfight sequences while creating elements of suspense in other scenes to convey this sense of a new world order. Shot in various locations in places like Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Kuala Lampur in Malaysia, and Jakarta, the film does have this sense of a feel that this worldwide where Mann’s approach to wide shots add to a film where it’s taking place around the world. Even as Mann creates feels very intimate in some of the drama with his usage of close-ups and medium shots to play into these characters embarking on something that they don’t really know.

Much of that intimacy and frenetic approach to action and suspense is shot on digital where Mann definitely aims for something that is not very polished but rather grainy as if it adds to this dark tone of the film. Especially for scenes set at night where Mann seems at home in displaying these elements of gunfights as well as in the action that includes its chilling climax in Jakarta. The usage of sequences inside the computers add to the air of suspense as well as the feeling that this is a new world and terror could come from anywhere. Even as the weapon is a simple laptop can trigger a nuclear power plant meltdown as it adds to the sense of a world that is far more dangerous than what it was. Though not everything in Mann’s direction works as well as the flaws that are present in the film’s script. The overall results still showcase Mann creating a very engaging film about the world of cyber-terrorism.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh does brilliant work with the film‘s very wobbly yet entrancing cinematography with its element of blurry images as well as the use of lights for many of the scenes set at night in the film‘s many different locations. Editors Joe Walker, Stephen Rivkin, Jeremiah O’Driscoll, and Mako Kamitsuna do excellent work with the editing with its usage of montages to play into the effects of the hacks as well as some intense rhythmic cuts to play into the action and suspense. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, with set decorator Victor J. Zolfo and supervising art director Tom Reta, does fantastic work with the set designs from the FBI and Chinese government offices to the quaint apartments in Hong Kong where the main characters do their work.

Costume designer Colleen Atwood does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual with the exception of the uniform that Dawai wears in China as well the stylish clothes that Lien wears. Visual effects supervisors Phil Brennan, Joe Farrell, and John Nelson do superb work with the visual effects for the computer hacking sequences as well as a few moments in the action scenes. Sound editor Victor Ray Ennis and sound designer Tony Lamberti do terrific work with the sound to play into the way computers and their codes hack into certain places as well as the moments in some of the film‘s action scenes. The film’s music by Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross, and Leo Ross is wonderful for its score as it is largely electronic-based courtesy of the Ross brothers with a few orchestral flourishes from Gregson-Williams while music supervisor Gabe Hilfer brings in bits of traditional Asian music, electronic, and rock music into the mix.

The casting by Bonnie Timmerman is incredible as it features small performances from William Mapother and Jason Harner Butler as FBI officials, Andy On as a Hong Kong police inspector, Ritchie Coster as a mysterious figure named Kassar, and Yorick van Wageningen as another mysterious figure who is connected to the acts of cyber terrorism. Holt McCallany is terrific as FBI Agent Jessa as someone who is keeping an eye on Hathaway while knowing what is at stake as it relates to the mission at hand. Viola Davis is fantastic as FBI Agent Carol Barrett as this no-nonsense agent who knows about Hathaway’s reputation as she is reluctant to trust him while becoming aware that she and her team are facing an unknown enemy as Davis plays it straight with bits of humor into her performance. Leehom Wang is brilliant as Captain Chen Dawai as an old friend of Hathaway who asks for his help as he tries to uncover the mystery of the hacks as well as dealing with what he’s being asked to do by his bosses.

Tang Wei is excellent as Dawai’s sister Lien as she is also good with a computer as she aids in uncovering the mystery while dealing with her attraction towards Hathaway. Finally, there’s Chris Hemsworth in a superb performance as Nick Hathaway as this accomplished hacker who is temporarily released from prison as he helps the FBI uncover the hacker attacks as he copes with returning to prison as well as the dangers of what he’s facing.

Blackhat is a stellar yet flawed film from Michael Mann. While it has an excellent cast as well as compelling ideas about cyber-terrorism, it’s a film that falls short as it relates to being far more intriguing due to some of the conventions of the screenplay. However, it does play into a world that is becoming more uneasy as cyber-terrorism is becoming big news in the modern world. In the end, Blackhat is a very good film from Michael Mann.

Michael Mann Films: (The Jericho Mile) - (Thief) - (The Keep) - (Manhunter) - (L.A. Takedown) - (The Last of the Mohicans (1992 film)) - (Heat (1995 film)) - (The Insider) - (Ali) - (Collateral) - (Miami Vice) - (Public Enemies (2009 film))

© thevoid99 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Go West (1940 film)




Directed by Edward Buzzell and written by Irving Brecher, Go West is the story of three men who travel to the American West to thwart some bad guys and help a couple in their relationship. The film is a western-comedy that stars the Marx Brothers in Groucho, Chico, and Harpo as they bring in their unique approach to chaos-based comedy. Also starring John Carroll, Diana Lewis, and Tully Marshall. Go West is a messy yet entertaining film from Edward Buzzell and the Marx Brothers.

The film revolves a group of three men who travel to the American West where two of them are given land which a young man wants to use for the railroad where a group of scheming businessmen want to get that land for themselves. It’s a film with a simple premise as it features many of the attributes that is expected from the Marx Brothers in their approach to chaos. Yet, the story does lose sight as it’s quite messy and a bit hard to follow because there’s so much that is going on. Even as the motivations of the supporting characters for the main story gets overwhelmed by the antics of the Marx Brothers.

Edward Buzzell’s direction does have some unique compositions as well as elaborate gags and set pieces. Especially in scenes involving the train where there’s a lot of chaos that goes one while some of the dialogue features a lot of anachronisms that are intentional. It adds to the sense of chaos in the film with its use of close-ups and medium shots to capture the sense of action as well as some of the musical numbers in the film. There is a lot of energy that occurs but once the story involving the leads and the other characters come together, it loses some of its luster only to pick things up in its third act that involves a train chase and a confrontation with its antagonists. Overall, Buzzell creates a very entertaining but uneven film about three guys trying to stop crooked businessman from stealing land in the American West.

Cinematographer Leonard Smith does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its usage of low-key lights for scenes set at night while using some stylish ones for some of the film‘s interior scenes. Editor Blanche Sewell does nice work with the editing as it‘s straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts for the comedic moments plus fade-outs and transition wipes. Art director Cedric Gibbons and set decorator Edwin B. Willis do fantastic work with the look of the saloon where some of the characters encounter each other as well as the small town where much of the film is set. Costume designers Gile Steele and Dolly Tree do terrific work with the costumes from the hats and clothes of the men designed by Steele to the women dresses created by Tree. Sound recordist Douglas Shearer does superb work with the sound to create some of the sound effects and capture the sense of chaos in some of the film‘s comical moments. Music director Georgie Stoll creates a wonderful soundtrack filled with original score music by Stoll plus a lot of original songs that are co-written by Gus Khan.

The film’s phenomenal cast includes some notable small roles from Mitchell Lewis as an Indian henchman, Joe Yule as the saloon bartender, Tully Marshall as the owner of the land who gives it away as he has no use for it, June MacCloy as a showgirl that is often flirted by Quayle, Robert Barratt as a devilish gunslinger named Baxter, and Walter Woolf King as the antagonist in the scheming John Beecher. Diana Lewis is wonderful as the land owner’s granddaughter Eve who is love with the man who is a family rival who wants to help the land. John Carroll is terrific as Terry Turner as Eve’s lover who wants to gain access to her grandfather’s land so he can use it as a railroad station and make money for the town and for her grandfather to settle a long-standing feud. Finally, there’s the Marx Brothers in brilliant performances with Chico as the smart-talking and cautious Joseph Panello while Harpo is hilarious as the silent but cunning Rusty Panello. Groucho is superb as S. Quentin Quayle as a schemer that wants to buy the land and help Turner and the Panello brothers make money while being very wry in his comments about everything.

Go West is a stellar and superb film from Edward Buzzell and the Marx Brothers. While it may not have a strong story that is often overshadowed by the antics of the Marx Brothers which makes it uneven and messy. It is still a film that is very enjoyable where they do bring in some fine laughs. In the end, Go West is a very good film from the Marx Brothers.

Marx Brothers Films: (Humor Risk) - (I’ll Say She Is) - (The Cocoanuts (1925)) - (Animal Crackers (1928 film)) - (The Cocoanuts (1929 film)) - (Animal Crackers (1930 film)) - (The House That Shadows Built) - (Monkey Business) - Horse Feathers - Duck Soup - A Night at the Opera - A Day at the Races - Room Service - At the Circus - (The Big Store) - (A Night in Casablanca) - (Love Happy) - (The Story of Mankind)

© thevoid99 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: The General (1926 film)




Based on William Pittenger’s novel The Great Locomotive Chase, The General is the story of a Confederate train driver who steals a Union train during the American Civil War. Directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman and screenplay by Keaton, Bruckman, Al Boasberg, Paul Girard Smith, and Charles Henry Smith. The film is a comedy that explores a man’s desire to help the Confederate as well as gain the admiration of his fiancee. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. The General is a spectacular and adventurous film from Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman.

Set in the early years of the American Civil War, the film revolves around a train engineer who wants to enlist in the Confederacy to gain the favor of his girlfriend only to be rejected until he sees his beloved train being captured by Union spies prompting him to be involved. It’s a film with a simple premise but one that manages to play into a sense of adventure as well as what is at stake for the protagonist Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton). It is clear that he wants to help out in the war but he is seen by some as too valuable for the railroad service as it’s key to the survival of the South. Once the element of suspense emerges where his train known as the General is taken with his beloved Annabelle (Marion Mack) also captured. Gray does what needs to be done where it is more than just about his train and girlfriend but also his home as the Confederates are outnumbered against the Union.

The film’s direction by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman is quite mesmerizing for not just its inspired use of tracking shots and capturing the scenery of its locations. It’s also in the use of wide shots and capturing the vast look of the locations as it’s shot in a small town in Oregon to play into the look of the American South. Much of it involve crowd scenes as well as shots that require massive set pieces and special effects that involve the scenes in the train. There’s also a chase sequence where it’s Keaton that uses his unique approach to physical comedy to play into the sense of adventure and Gray’s determination to be the hero despite the fact that he’s kind of a screw-up. Yet, that adds to the whimsical tone of the film Keaton and Bruckman allow a character to root for as there’s some very intense scenes in the train where he has to do whatever to stop the Union from unleashing their plans.

All of which would lead to a climax that is very sprawling where it’s use of wide and medium shots as well as tracking shots would play into something that is thrilling and explosive. Especially in the fact that it requires moments of suspense and elements of humor as it plays to Grey being in a situation and how he tries to defuse things with some minor success. Overall, Keaton and Bruckman create a very fun and exciting film about a train engineer doing his part for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

Cinematographers Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings do brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with some unique lighting schemes for a key scene in the climatic battle as well as the use of blue filters for the scenes set at night. Editors Buster Keaton and Sherman Kell do amazing work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s action and comical scenes. Art director Fred Gabourie and set decorator Harry Roselotte do fantastic work with the design of the trains as well as the bridges for some of the film‘s extravagant sequences. The film’s special effects by Jack Little are excellent for some of the intense action sequences as well as a key scene where Grey sees Annabelle at a Union cabin. The film’s music by Carl Davis is superb for its thrilling and bombastic orchestral score with themes that play to period of the times as it’s always adding tone to the film in its humor and suspense.

The film’s phenomenal cast includes some notable small roles from Joe Keaton, Mike Donlin, and Tom Nawn as a trio of Union generals, Frederick Vroom as the Confederate general, Charles Henry Smith as Annabelle’s father, Frank Barnes as Annabelle’s brother, and Jim Farley as the Union general Thatcher who would be part of the scheme to attack the Confederates. Glen Cavender is terrific as the Union spy Captain Anderson who leads the train theft as he would also kidnap Annabelle. Marion Mack is brilliant as Annabelle as a woman who loves Johnnie but sees him as a coward when he doesn’t enlist as she would later prove to be useful in the third act where her character isn’t just a foil but also someone that can get things done. Finally, there’s Buster Keaton in a marvelous performance as Johnnie Gray as this young train engineer who is trying to show his courage by trying to save his train and his girl while doing whatever to save his small town from the Union as it’s one of Keaton’s funniest and most touching performances.

The General is a magnificent film from Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman. The film is truly not just one of Keaton’s most entertaining films but also a film that is filled with ambition and manages to exceed those ambitions with a sense of humor and adventurous moments. It’s also a film that showcases what could be done in comedy as it’s really one of the finest films in the era of silent comedies. In the end, The General is a tremendously sensational film from Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman.

Buster Keaton Films: (The Rough House) - (One Week (1920 short)) - (Convict 13) - (The Scarecrow (1920 short)) - (Neighbors (1920 short)) - (The Haunted House (1921 short)) - (Hard Luck (1921 short)) - (The High Sign) - (The Goat (1921 short)) - (The Playhouse) - (The Boat) - (The Paleface) - (Cops) - (My Wife’s Relations) - (The Blacksmith) - (The Frozen North) - (The Electric House) - (Day Dreams (1922 short)) - (The Balloonatic) - (The Love Nest) - (Three Ages) - (Our Hospitality) - Sherlock Jr. - The Navigator - (Seven Chances) - (Go West (1925 film)) - (Battling Butler) - (College (1927 film)) - (Steamboat Bill Jr.) - (The Cameraman) - (Spite Marriage) - (The Gold Ghost) - (Allez Oop) - (Tars and Stripes) - (Grand Slam Opera) - (One Run Elmer) - (Blue Blazes) - (Mixed Magic) - (Love Nest on Wheels)

© thevoid99 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Total Balalaika Show




Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Total Balalaika Show is a concert film featuring the Leningrad Cowboys and Alexandrov Ensemble that took place in June of 1993 in Helsinki, Finland. The film is an exploration into Europe’s reunification after the Cold War where Kaurismaki showcases an event at Helsinki’s Senate Square where 70,000 people attended this event. The result is one of the most entertaining concert films ever made.

The film is essentially a concert film where at the Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland on June 12, 1993 as it’s headlined by the Finnish comedy rock band the Leningrad Cowboys as they team up with the Alexandrov Ensemble as the latter consists of a male choir, an orchestra, and dancers from Russia as they’re part of the Red Army in the former Soviet Union. The concert is a mixture Western rock-pop music and traditional Eastern European music all mixed into one as a symbol of Europe’s reunification following the Cold War all through music. Both groups sing various popular rock songs from acts like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynard, Bob Dylan, and several others as well as traditional European songs.

Through Aki Kaurismaki’s direction, the film captures what goes on in the performance that includes some dance numbers during the songs as the dancers are dressed in traditional folk costumes to a few of the rock songs and some of the traditional songs. Kaurismaki uses some wide shots but also medium shots to present these dances. Even as there’s shots the audience to display how huge the event is as there’s also wide shots of the stage itself. It’s a concert full of exuberance and humor where the Leningrad Cowboys are seen with huge pompadour hairdos and big shoes singing rock songs. The Alexandrov Ensemble are dressed in military uniforms which is a total contrast to who the Cowboys are. However, both groups definitely seem to enjoy themselves as it adds to something that feels special and fun in these performances.

With the help of cinematographer Heikki Ortamo, Kaurismaki definitely gives the film a unique look while the editing of Timo Linnasalo is very straightforward without devolving towards fast-cutting styles so that Kaurismaki can capture a moment and let it happen. The sound work of Jouko Lemme help adds to the sense of exuberance in the music as well as the delight of the audience as it‘s key to the success of the concert.

Total Balalaika Show is a phenomenal film from Aki Kaurismaki. The film isn’t just a concert film that manages to be very entertaining but it’s also filled with great music and performances that showcases a continent reuniting following a dreary period of tension and unrest. In the end, Total Balalaika Show is a dazzling film from Aki Kaurismaki.

Aki Kaurismaki Films: (Crime and Punishment (1983 film)) - (Calamari Union) - Shadows in Paradise - (Hamlet Goes Business) - (Ariel) - (Leningrad Cowboys Go America) - (Dirty Hands) - (The Match Factory Girl) - (I Hired a Contract Killer) - (La Vie de Boheme) - (Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana) - (Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses) - (Drifting Clouds) - (Juha) - (The Man Without a Past) - (Lights in the Dusk) - Le Havre

© thevoid99 2015