Friday, July 25, 2014

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/23/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Jake Kasdan and written by Kasdan and Judd Apatow, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is the story of musician who becomes a major star in creating some groundbreaking music while enduring all of the trials and tribulations such as drug addiction, buying strange animals, sleeping with millions of women, and being haunted by the sight of machetes. The film is a spoof into the world of music bio-pics where it lampoons all of the cliches and more as its titular character is played by John C. Reilly. Also starring Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, plus Apatow regulars Paul Rudd, Martin Starr, Harold Ramis, Jane Lynch, and Jonah Hill, with appearances from Jack Black, Jack White, Jason Schwartzman, Justin Long, Frankie Muniz, Eddie Vedder, and many more. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a whimsical, entertaining, and certainly hilarious spoof on the musical bio-pics.

The film is an uncompromising spoof in the world of music bio-pics where Dewey Cox reflects on his entire life in his first performance in 25 years as he is haunted by the death of his brother Nate (Chip Hormess) in a machete accident that would lead him to lose his sense of smell and his gift for making music. Along the way, he marries his 12-year old girlfriend Edith (Kristen Wiig) and create a bunch of songs while falling for his backup singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) who would become his second wife. In his journey to stardom, Cox would create punk rock and dabble into many musical trends such as the variety show while becoming addicted to drugs due to his drummer Sam (Tim Meadows) in a life that quite crazy but also typical of many bio-pics based on musicians where it was bound to become a parody. It's a film that takes these cliches and amp it up to 11 as Cox's journey lampoons everything from Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash, and many others as it follows the scenarios of these stories and infuse it with humor. .

The script by Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow is definitely genius as it plays with the cliches while creating moments in the film that are downright funny from the repeated breakdowns of Cox to his drug use. A lot of the film's raunchy humor that included appearances from naked people is definitely Apatow in all of his glory. Kasdan's direction is very stylish from the colorful, over-lit look of Cox's early years to the grainy footage of Dont Look Back/Eat the Document period of Cox trying to be Bob Dylan. The whole film works overall in all of its humor and drama as it plays like a bio-pic and spoof. The only real major complaint about the film is that for its 96-minute running time, it's not long enough. Largely because some of the material that appeared in the trailer including Cox's sausages, more of the disco-variety show stuff, Patrick Duffy getting punched, Cox's third wife Cheryl Cox Tiegs, and additional scenes with the Beatles were left on the cutting room for its extended DVD. Overall, Kasdan crafts a very smart and witty film about the cliched life of a musician.

Cinematographer Uta Briesewitz does some wonderfully stylish photography to convey each different period from the colorful lighting in the 50s and early 60s sequence to the grainy black-and-white look of Cox as Dylan, to the slick look of the 70s. Editors Tara Timpone and Steve Welch do great work with the film's editing for its leisurely pacing and cutting style to show Cox's moments and triumphs that is very solid. Production designer Jefferson Sage and art director Domenic Silversti do excellent work with the film's varied period looks from the wooden, farm look of Dewey's childhood home to the 70s couches and such.

Costume designer Debra McGuire does great work with the varied period costumes of Dewey's world that is lovely to watch while showing Darlene in all of her sexy look in different period clothing. Hair stylist Michelle Payne and a team of makeup artist do great work with those different periods from the teddy-boy look to the Dylan fro and 70s long hair along with the aging for the film's third act. Sound designer Robert Grieve and editor Joel Shryack do great work with the film's sound to convey the world that Dewey is in. Visual effects supervisor Evan Jacobs does great work to convey the look of Dewey's vision of his ghostly family along with a hilarious animation sequence involving Dewey and the Beatles.

Then there's the film's music and soundtrack with a wonderfully upbeat score from Michael Andrews who is also one of the film's songwriters in the many original songs created. Contributing to the writing aren't just Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow, and John C. Reilly but indie-pop legend Marshall Crenshaw, Mike Viola, Dan Bern, and many more as the songs range from country, folk, mariachi, punk rock, hip-hop, psychedelia, and a hilarious disco cover of David Bowie's Starman. All of the songs are sung by Reilly himself with Angela Correa as the singing voice of Darlene for Let's Duet. Many of the songs including various versions of Walk Hard performed by Jackson Browne, Jewel, Lyle Lovett, and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan are hilarious with funny lyrics as the soundtrack is a real highlight of the film.

The film's cast assembled by Anya Colloff and Amy McIntyre Britt is pure genius as appearances from Deanna Brooks and Angela Little as lovely groupies, Jacques Slade as rapper Lil' Nutzzak who did a remake of Walk Hard, Chip Hormess as young Nate, Connor Rayburn as the young Dewey Cox, Rance Howard as a preacher, Paul Bates as a nightclub manager, John Ennis as the Big Bopper, Phil Rosenthal as Jewish talent agent Mazeltov, and Simon Helberg as Dredel L'Chai'm are funny. Cameo appearances from Jewel, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, Ghostface Killah, the Temptations, and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder are fun to watch while Jack White of the White Stripes does a hilarious impression of Elvis Presley. Frankie Muniz is also funny as Buddy Holly but none of the cameos could ever top the casting of the Beatles whom are all funny.

Justin Long is a great George Harrison complaining about wanting to put more songs on the album while Jason Schwartzman is funny making faces and often commenting about writing a song about an octopus. Jack Black is a hoot as a huge Paul McCartney claiming he's the leader of the band while saying obscene things while Paul Rudd is pitch-perfect as John Lennon. Raymond J. Barry is funny as Pa Cox who has a great one liner, "the wrong kid died" while Margo Martindale is also great as Ma Cox. The appearances from Apatow regulars Jane Lynch as a reporter, Jonah Hill as the ghost of Nate, Craig Robinson as singer Bobby Shad Martin Starr & Harold Ramis as Jewish talent agents, and Kristen Wiig as Cox's first wife Edith are all funny in their memorable scenes with Wiig doing some funny drama with some great one-liners. Hill meanwhile, is another scene-stealer as he looks like a more attractive version of Tobey McGuire with the hair he's given.

David Krumholtz is great as Cox's manager Schwartzberg who convinces Cox to go on TV while Matt Besser and Chris Parnell are great as two of Cox's bandmates with Besser as the frustrated guitarist whose wife always sleeps with Cox and Parnell as the loving friend. Tim Meadows is a true scene-stealer for every scene he's in that involves drugs as he tells Dewey to not do them and such and then have this repeated line "you never paid for the drugs". Jenna Fischer is gorgeous as the sexy, hot, ravishing, exotic, and luscious Darlene who wows Dewey while conveying the sexual tension the two have as she becomes his shining light. Fischer's performance is very funny as she and Reilly have great chemistry both comedic and in dramatic performances. Finally, there's John C. Reilly in what is a long-overdue star-making performance as the title character of Dewey Cox. Playing the man when he's 14 to the present, Reilly gives a performance that is phenomenal as if he was born to play this fictional legend with a lot of witty humor and a singing voice that really showcases his range in ballads and such as it is really one of his great performances of his career.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a remarkable film from Jake Kasdan featuring a riveting performance from John C. Reilly as the titular character. In an age where spoof films have become lazy, this is a film that not only gets it right in terms of the cliches that play into bio-pics but also with a story that is thoroughly entertaining that also include some amazing songs. In the end, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a phenomenal film from Jake Kasdan.

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Auteurs #35: Michael Cimino

One of the most controversial filmmakers to emerge from the New Hollywood era of auteur-driven films of the 1970s, Michael Cimino is a name that is synonymous with both success and failure. He rose high in the late 70s with the Academy Award-winning Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, that is often regarded as a classic, only to gain notoriety and become a pariah with Heaven’s Gate a few years later as he was supposedly responsible for bankrupting United Artists. It has been nearly 20 years since he last directed a feature film just as his most infamous film is being re-discovered by a new audience. Known for creating films with striking visuals that paints wide canvas while containing subject matters that are very controversial and provocative. Cimino is a filmmaker who was very fearless as there are those who are wondering if he will ever return and be given one more chance to helm a film without compromise.

While there’s been conflicting background about his real age and collegiate background, it has been notified that Michael Cimino was born on February 3, 1939 in New York City as his father was a music publisher and his mother was a costume designer. While he was considered a prodigy in the private schools he was taught at where he graduated at the Westbury High School in Long Island in 1956. After a three-year period in Michigan State where he graduated with honors, Cimino was transferred to Yale based on his work in Michigan State’s school humor magazine where he continuously studied art and drama where he would get a BFA in 1961 and later a master’s degree two years later. It was during this time that Cimino was becoming interested in films as he was influenced by the films of John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, and Luchino Visconti in terms of their visual language and sprawling approach to storytelling.

More on this piece can be read through this link here.

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bonjour Tristesse

Based on the novel by Francoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse is the story of a young woman whose life of decadence by the arrival of an old friend of her mother who wants to put an end to her father’s playboy’s lifestyle. Directed by Otto Preminger and screenplay by Arthur Laurents, the film is an exploration into the world of decadence and how a woman would intrude into that world to bring some order. Starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Jean Seberg, Mylene Demongeot, and Geoffrey Horne. Bonjour Tristesse is a dazzling and exhilarating film from Otto Preminger.

The film explores the carefree and decadent lifestyle of a playboy and his teenage daughter as a visit from an old family friend would cause some disruption and tension prompting the young woman to create a break-up with the help of her father’s flighty mistress. All of which is told from the perspective of the young woman Cecile (Jean Seberg) as she thinks about the summer where her late mother’s friend Anne (Deborah Kerr) makes an unexpected visit at the French Riviera as a guest of Cecile’s father Raymond (David Niven). It’s a film that has a unique narrative that moves back and forth with Cecile doing much of the narration as she is seen at parties in Paris where she spends much of the time thinking about the summer.

Arthur Laurents’ screenplay reveals much of what Cecile and Raymond do as they would often be joined by Raymond’s young mistress Elsa (Mylene Demongeot) in their parties. Yet, Anne’s arrival would change things as she wants Cecile to do so much more as well as show Raymond that there’s more to life than partying. It would eventually some conflict between Cecile and Anne as the latter just wants to have fun as she is also in love with a young law student in Philippe (Geoffrey Horne). When Anne and Raymond decide to marry, it would drive Cecile to do something to end the relationship where in the scenes in Paris. There is a sense of regret that looms Cecile where she is at these parties dancing and such but has lost a sense of joy.

Otto Preminger’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he presents an air of style in the film where the scenes set in Paris are shot in black-and-white while the rest of the film is shot in gorgeous Technicolor to display the beauty of the French Riviera. Preminger uses a lot of wide shots and elaborate crane shots for some of the film’s livelier moments to capture the locations as well as some of the parties the characters go to. Yet, he also maintains a sense of intimacy in his framing in the way the relationship between Raymond and Anne develops where there is that sense of Cecile in the background as she starts to become upset. Preminger knows when to heighten things up for the melodrama where its third act would showcase everything that Cecile had been planning with Elsa and Philippe. Yet, the presentation of a key moment in the film has Preminger focusing on what he isn’t showing which makes it more effective as it would play to the sense of regret that would loom Cecile in Paris. Overall, Preminger crafts a very poignant coming-of-age film where a young woman faces the reality of her empty life.

Cinematographer Georges Perinal does brilliant work with the film‘s different photography styles with the rich look of the black-and-white shots set in Paris with its use of lighting to set the film‘s somber mood to the use of ravishing Technicolor for the scenes in the French Riviera as it captures a sense of vibrancy and beauty in those locations. Editor Helga Cranston does excellent work with the editing with its unique approach to rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s humor and melodrama. Production designer Roger K. Furse and art director Ray Simm do fantastic work with the set pieces from the lavish home that Raymond and Cecile live in as well as restaurants and such they go to. Sound editor David Hawkins does terrific work with the film‘s sound to play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as the sound of objects. The film’s music by Georges Auric is spectacular for its lush orchestral score to play into the sense of romance and melodrama along with some dance pieces in the film.

The film’s incredible cast includes some notable small roles from Eveline Eyfel as a trio of maids Raymond and Cecile often get confused by, David Oxley as Cecile’s date in Paris, Martita Hunt as Philippe’s mother, Walter Chiari as a South American playboy that Elsa meets, and the famed French singer Juliette Greco in a cameo appearance as a club singer. Geoffrey Horne is superb as Philippe as a law student who falls for Cecile as he just wants to be a good guy who wants to have fun but also be responsible. Mylene Demongeot is terrific as Raymond’s mistress Elsa as this vain and quite dim woman who cares about having fun as she doesn’t like Anne who is the exact opposite of her. Jean Seberg is amazing as Cecile as this young woman whose life of parties and living a carefree lifestyle is challenged by Anne’s presence as she would devise a plan to break up Anne’s relationship with Raymond only to regret it later on.

David Niven is fantastic as Raymond as this charming playboy who likes to have fun as the presence of Anne gives him a chance to lay back and be with someone close to his age as he tries to accept these new changes in his life. Finally, there’s Deborah Kerr in a radiant performance as Anne as this fashion designer who has accomplished a lot as she tries to show Cecile and Raymond a life that isn’t decadent as she tries to come to terms with their lifestyle and Cecile’s sudden cold behavior towards her as it’s a great performance full of humility and sadness.

Bonjour Tristesse is a phenomenal film from Otto Preminger. Featuring the outstanding performances of Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Jean Seberg as well as the beautiful score by Georges Auric and Georges Pernal’s evocative cinematography. It’s a film that is filled with a lot of style as well as captivating story about a young girl coming of age and deal with the idea of change. In the end, Bonjour Tristesse is a remarkable film from Otto Preminger.

Otto Preminger Films: (Die GroBe Liebe) - (Under Your Spell) - (Danger-Love at Work) - (Kidnapped (1938 film)) - (Margin for Error (1943 film)) - (In the Meantime, Darling) - (Laura (1944 film)) - (A Royal Scandal) - (Fallen Angel (1945 film)) - (Centennial Summer) - (Forever Amber) - (Daisy Kenyon) - (The Fan (1949 film)) - (Whirlpool) - (Where the Sidewalk Ends) - (The 13th Letter) - (Angel Face (1952 film)) - (The Moon is Blue) - (Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach) - (Point of No Return (1954 film)) - (Carmen Jones) - (The Man with the Golden Arm) - (The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell) - (Saint Joan) - (Porgy and Bess) - (Anatomy of a Murder) - (Exodus (1960 film)) - (Advise & Consent) - (The Cardinal) - (In Harm’s Way) - (Bunny Lake is Missing) - (Hurry Sundown) - (Skidoo) - (Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon) - (Such Good Friends) - (Rosebud) - (The Human Factor (1979 film))

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation Blog-a-Thon

Nostra of My Filmviews has created another blog-a-thon based on the idea of six degrees of separation where it would be the idea for this new blog-a-thon. The rules are simple. Connect an actor/actress with the movies they’re in or a director who helmed that film with another actor/actress/filmmaker in six steps or less. Alex of And So It Begins... decided to choose me since I’m such a gamer for these things as he wanted to connect actor Stephen Dillane with the legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Alrighty then.

1. Stephen Dillane co-starred with Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

2. Jessica Chastain is about to appear in the film Miss Julie that is directed by Liv Ullmann.

3. Liv Ullmann starred in Persona (and 9 other films) that were directed by Ingmar Bergman.

OK, now I pass the baton to Chris of moviesandsongs365 to connect Ingmar Bergman to Toshiro Mifune.

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Heaven's Gate (2012 Restoration Edition)

Written and directed by Michael Cimino, Heaven’s Gate is the story of a Harvard-educated marshal who finds himself in the middle of a conflict between rich and established cattle barons who wage war on a group of poor, European-based immigrants over claims of stealing cattle. A fictional account of the Johnson County War of 1892, the film is scathing look into the world of American Imperialism and the myth of the American dream as a man finds himself battling a friend as they’re both in love with a prostitute who is among the many that cattle barons want killed. Starring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Waterston, John Hurt, Jeff Bridges, Brad Dourif, and Joseph Cotten. Heaven’s Gate is a visually-stunning and enthralling film from Michael Cimino.

Based on the real-life events of the Johnson County War in 1892, the film explores a piece of American history where a group of established cattle barons battled against small settling ranchers where these more established men hired killers with the backing of the American government. Yet, the film is a re-interpretation about these events as the cattle barons are portrayed as rich men who want to kill these poor European immigrants for stealing their cattle as they think of them as thieves and anarchists. On the other side is a group of European immigrants who only steal because they’re hungry as they just want to live in America and live the American dream. In the middle of this is the marshal of Johnson County in James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) who wants to smooth out the conflict before it gets more troubling yet he is a man full of complications and contradictions. Especially as he’s in a love-triangle with a bordello madam in Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) who is in love with an enforcer in Nate Champion (Christopher Walken) who is a friend of Averill.

The film’s screenplay is quite vast as it starts in 1870 where Averill graduates from Harvard with his friend William Irvine (John Hurt) and ends with an epilogue set in 1903 in Newport, Rhode Island. Yet, much of the story is set in 1890 Wyoming where Averill tries to use his wealth and education to help the people of Johnson County that is full of European immigrants that is this mix of German, Russian, Slavic, Dutch, and other ethnicities who are just trying to live good lives. Averill is inspired by the ideas that is instilled upon him from his Harvard graduation when its speaker the Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) urges the graduates to use their knowledge to help those in need. That moment is mocked by Irvine who later finds himself as a man lost in his role as he becomes a rambling, poetic drunk who has no clue on what to do as he would regret those actions. Irvine is part of this faction known as the Stock Growers Association led by Frank Canton (Sam Waterston) who is a rich cattle baron that has a lot of government connections while being very arrogant about what he does.

It is all part of something that is very complex as well as containing lots of ambiguities as Champion is an enforcer of the Association as he just enforces the law where he does kill an immigrant and later threatening another from stealing as he is just a lawman. He’s also in love with Ella who doesn’t mind being paid either in cash or cattle for prostitution as she is this woman who is in love with both Champion and Averill. Averill wants to take her out of the world of prostitution and protect her from what is coming once he learns about what is going to happen. Yet, she prefers a life that is simpler which is something Champion is offering as he would later question what Canton and the Stock Growers Association is doing. Especially when Ella’s name is in a death list that features many immigrants where Averill tries to figure out what to do as he becomes troubled by his own personal issues and the longing for a life that isn’t complicated. It’s part of that sense of conflict he’s in because of Ella where he would eventually take part in this brutal battle between the Stock Growers Association and the immigrants with very bloody results.

The script does have flaws in some of the characterization as the William Irvine character is an ambiguous figure as he is this rambling, poetic drunk that had the power to make a difference with his wealth and education. Yet, he’s a lost figure who has no clue what he’s doing or why he’s still in the Stock Growers Association as there’s a scene where a character asks why is he even here. Another flaw is its politics where it’s clear that it is one-sided in the way Canton is portrayed as this snobbish and arrogant antagonist while the poor is treated more fairly though there’s aspects of them that are just as flawed where one of them would try to make a bargain only to get his ear shot off. Still, it is a commentary on the idea of American Imperialism where Americans try to infuse their own ideas and such all for something as childish as money.

Michael Cimino’s direction definitely recalls a lot of the visual traits of the western as well as his own fascination with American landscapes as he shoots with such a wide canvas that covers so much of the landscape as it’s largely shot in Montana. There are aspects of the film where Cimino definitely wants to create something that has the attribute of an epic with these massive wide shots that includes this terrifying shot of a large group of horsemen on top of a mountain about to kill someone. Cimino’s approach to the widescreen in its 2:40:1 aspect ratio would showcase some of the lavishness of the film such as the Harvard dance sequence where Averill and Irvine waltz around a tree with a bevy of beautiful women. The Harvard prologue serves as a place where Averill and Irvine are being tasked as men who have the power to make change and help those who are less fortunate. It’s something that would drive Averill to do what is right in Johnson County as he feels the need to do with the power and responsibility he’s given.

The direction is also quite excessive in terms of its attention to detail in the way 1890s Wyoming is portrayed in its buildings and such that would also include this beautiful sequence of people in a roller skating rink to showcase what it was like to have fun in those times. It is in contrast to the sense of terror that would happen as much of the violence is quite graphic and bloody where it would culminate into this very spectacular battle scene that is frenetic at times but also very direct with the cameras being on wagons and such as well as shooting it from multiple perspectives. There’s also some unique ideas in camera angles and crane shots that Cimino uses while he also creates some intimate moments that plays into this love triangle where there’s some humor but also a sense of longing as both Averill and Champion want to have a better future with Ella. Its climax in the battle and its aftermath would lead to not just this understanding over how things are but also the question into what difference Averill made. Especially as he tries to come to terms with his own identity and the responsibilities he has as the film ends with this somber epilogue in 1903 Rhode Island. Overall, Cimino has created a grand yet very visceral film about a dark piece of American history seen through the eyes of a marshal trying to make some kind of difference.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does absolutely incredible work with the film‘s rich and evocative cinematography with its approach to sepia lighting for some of the film‘s interiors with its shading and such as well as the colorful exterior settings of Montana in the day time as well as some low-key yet beautiful lighting for some of the film‘s interior scenes. Editors Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, and Gerald Greenberg do brilliant work with the editing with its unique approach to rhythms in some of the film‘s dramatic moments along with its frenetic cutting in the battle scenes. Production designer Tambi Larsen, along with set decorators James L. Berkey and Josie MacAvin and art directors Spencer Deverell and Maurice Fowler, does phenomenal work with the set design from the look of the small town of Sweetwater with its cabins and roller skating hall as well as the home of the Stock Growers Association.

Costume designers Allen Highfill does excellent work with the costumes from the suits that the men wear to the period dresses that the women along with the more lavish look in the Harvard dance sequence. Sound editor James J. Klinger does fantastic work with the soundtrack from the way gunfire is presented to the sound of cannons as well as some of the intimate moments as it is quite sprawling in its mixing and editing. The film’s music by David Mansfield is just sublime for its mixture of eerie string arrangements with these rich arrangements of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and balalaikas to play into the film’s Eastern European tone as it features some amazing themes plus reinterpretations of classical pieces and traditional themes as Mansfield’s score is one of the film’s major highlights.

The casting by Cis Corman, Tony Gaznick, and Jane Halloran is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some appearances from composer David Mansfield plus T-Bone Burnett and Huey Lewis & the News keyboardist Sean Hopper as the live band in the skating rink, Willem Dafoe as a bar waiter, Anna Levine and Caroline Kava as a couple of young prostitutes, Mary C. Wright as the fiery prostitute Nell, Tom Noonan as an Association hitman who tries to rape Ella, Mickey Rourke as Nate’s friend Nick Ray, Waldemar Kalinkowski as the immigrant photographer, Terry O’Quinn as cavalry leader Captain Minardi, and Roseanne Vela as a beautiful girl that Averill eyed on at the Harvard graduation. Other notable small roles include Geoffrey Lewis as a trapper friend of Nate’s, Ronnie Hawkins as a military leader working with Canton, Paul Koslo role as the town’s cowardly mayor, and Richard Masur as the train station manager Cully who is friends with Averill. Brad Dourif is terrific as the town commerce head Mr. Eggleston who would have this great monologue about what it means to be poor and from another country as he would inspire his fellow immigrants to fight back.

In a small yet crucial role at the Harvard graduation scene, Joseph Cotten is superb as the Reverend Doctor who speaks to the graduates to ensure the weight of responsibility they have for the future of America. John Hurt is wonderful as Averill’s old Harvard classmate William Irvine as this rambling drunk who often spouts poetry though his role is one of most flawed elements of the film. Jeff Bridges is excellent as the town proprietor John L. Bridges who runs the bar and skating rink as he is a friend of the immigrants and becomes one of their leaders in the battlefield. Sam Waterston is brilliant as the smarmy and arrogant Stock Growers Association leader Frank Canton who is a man that is driven by greed as he is someone that is full of himself as Waterston brings this smarmy quality to a character that everyone loves to hate.

Isabelle Huppert is fantastic as Ella Watson as this bordello madam who is caught in a love triangle with two men as she wants to maintain a life that she built for herself while dealing with the reality of what she is facing as her name is on a death list. Christopher Walken is marvelous as Nate Champion as an Association enforcer who is quite prejudiced towards immigrants as he would eventually question his bosses once Ella is targeted as he realizes that they’re breaking the law. Finally, there’s Kris Kristofferson in a remarkable performance as James Averill as a marshal with a very posh and educated background who tries to mediate a deadly situation as he deals with his own personal feelings for Ella while dealing with who he is and what he tries to do to make a difference.

The 2-disc Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a 2:40:1 theatrical aspect ratio in a widescreen format with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound in a newly-restored transfer supervised by Michael Cimino in a new 216-minute cut where the only scene removed is the film’s intermission scene plus a few slightly-trimmed shots in some sequences. The first disc of the Blu-Ray is the film in its entirety as it is given a much richer transfer while on the DVD version, the film is split into two parts where the split occurs just after James Averill receives the death list.

The film’s second disc features many extras relating to the film and its notorious production starting with a 31-minute illustrated audio interview with Michael Cimino and producer Joann Carelli (which appears as an extra in the DVD‘s first disc). Through various still photos of the film and its production, Cimino and Carelli talk about the film where Cimino dominates much of commentary as he revealed that the version on the Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray is his final version. Cimino and Carelli talked about the research they went through about the actual Johnson County War as Carelli talked about Cimino’s approach to writing and how she discovered David Mansfield during the production. Cimino admits to not using monitors or watch dailies in his approach to directing while commenting on a lot of the things about the film as it’s a very compelling piece that showcased Cimino feeling validated that the film is being given a second chance.

The extras include new interviews with three people involved the film as the first is a nine-minute, twenty-three second interview with actor Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson talks about what made him do the film as he was interested in the subject matter and working with Cimino. He felt it was a story that needed to be told as he admitted that Cimino was difficult and excessive but only because he wanted to get things right. Kristofferson admitted to being hurt over the film’s reception yet he doesn’t regret doing the film which he is still proud of while he also talks about the political aspects of the film where he felt that it was probably too controversial for audiences to handle.

The nine-minute interview with music composer David Mansfield has him talking about the music and his background as he had been proficient in a lot of string instruments. He was discovered by Joann Carelli who had seen him play with Bob Dylan in the mid-1970s as he was among several real musicians including T-Bone Burnett that were hired to play a band that actually played live music. Through his work and what he was able to do on the set, Cimino hired Mansfield to do the score as Mansfield talked about his approach to the score as well as infusing a lot of Eastern European influences into the music since his father is from a Eastern European background.

The eight-minute interview with second assistant director Michael Stevenson who talked about making the film as he knew what Cimino wanted in terms of scenery and in its attention to detail. Having worked with David Lean, Anthony Mann, and Richard Brooks, Stevenson knew that Cimino had that sense of wanting to get things right where Stevenson also talks about some technical moments in the film. Especially in how close Cimino was with his actors in making sure they would get their performances right as they trusted him as Stevenson would work with Cimino in his next two films. Other minor extras include a two-and-a-half minute restoration demonstration that showcases what had to be done as the film was drenched in sepia as a lot of work through digital scanning had to be made to restore its original color. The extras include a teaser and a TV spot for the film where the latter displayed the sense of controversy about the film.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set includes a booklet that features two pieces of text relating to the film. The first is an essay entitled Western Promises by the New York-based film writer and programmer Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan about the film. Vallan discusses much of what Cimino wanted to say in the film as well as its disastrous screening in November of 1980. Vallan also talks about the film’s politics and some of the aspects of the production as she feels like it is a film that got attacked over what was going on in its production and its cost rather than it was about. Even as it was well-received in Europe who were looking for the kind of films that old masters like John Ford and Howard Hawks used to make while it was getting trashed by American critics just as the film industry was in a state of transition in the age of the blockbuster as it’s a very engaging essay about the film.

The second piece of text is an interview with Michal Cimino for the November 1980 issue of American Cinematographer entitled The Film That Took On a Life of Its Own by the magazine editor Herb Lightman who was a guest camera operator on the film. Cimino talks about what he wanted to say and do with the film as well as his meticulous approach as he needed people who were able to recreate things from the past as he felt it was something that was lost at the time. Cimino also talked about wanting to shoot in certain locations where he said that if he ever found the right location, he would go ahead and shoot somewhere just to capture something that is just magical. Even as he would capture something that was just accidental yet felt right for the story as it is a compelling piece that showcased his perspective on the making of the film before it would have its notorious premiere.

Heaven’s Gate is a tremendously rich and harrowing film from Michael Cimino. Armed with a great ensemble cast plus major technical achievements in its art direction, Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, and David Mansfield’s score. It’s a film that showcases a man trying to make a difference in a conflict driven by greed and class differences set to a dark piece of American history. While it is a film that is flawed, it has aspects that are thematically provocative as well as visuals that really defines the concept of epic filmmaking. In the end, Heaven’s Gate is a remarkable film from Michael Cimino.

Michael Cimino Films: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot - The Deer Hunter - Year of the Dragon - The Sicilian - Desperate Hours (1990 film) - The Sunchaser - To Each His Own Cinema-No Translation Needed - The Auteurs #35: Michael Cimino

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Little Big Man

Based on the comic novel by Thomas Berger, Little Big Man is the story of a white man who was raised by the Cheyenne Indian nation since he was a child in the 19th Century as he deals with prejudices that Native Americans face during the Indian Wars in America. Directed by Arthur Penn and screenplay by Calder Willingham, the film is a revisionist western that mixes satire with elements of tragedy where a man deals with his identity as well as a world that doesn‘t make any sense. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Martin Balsam, Richard Mulligan, and Cal Bellini. Little Big Man is a whimsical yet engaging film from Arthur Penn.

The film is told from the perspective of a 121-year old man who recalls his life when he was raised by the Cheyenne Indians following the death of his parents in an ambush where he would eventually take on various roles in the course of life which would culminate in Battle of Little Big Horn. Yet, that 121-year old man would endure many prejudices and injustice in the course of his life as he is known as Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) yet his Cheyenne name is Little Big Man as he is known for being small but with a big heart as he is raised by the wise yet eccentric Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). Throughout the course of his life, he encounters a horny preacher’s wife in Mrs. Pendrake (Faye Dunaway), a swindling salesman named Meriweather (Martin Balsam), Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey), and all sorts of individuals including General George Armstrong Custer (Richard Mulligan).

The film’s screenplay begins and ends with the elderly Crabb who tells his story to an interviewer (William Hickey) who starts doubting Crabb’s story until Crabb talks about everything he’s experienced. Though he would be raised by Old Lodge Skins and treated fairly by the tribe with the exception of a young Cheyenne in Young Bear (Cal Bellini) who would later owe a life debt to Crabb who saved his life. During a battle with the cavalry, Crabb would get wounded and later be sent to the world of the white where he would endure many adventures. One of which include marry a Swedish immigrant (Kelly Jean Peters) and later a Cheyenne woman named Sunshine (Aimee Eccles) along with her sisters. Still, he would also endure the atrocities that Armstrong and the cavalry would do where he would wait for some vengeance. At the same time, he also deals with the complications over the state of the world and questions into why Native Americans are being killed because they refuse to conform with the rest of society.

Arthur Penn’s direction is quite vast in terms of what he wanted to say about the American cavalry’s war with the Native Americans during the late 19th Century as it relates to some of the things that were happening in the Vietnam War. Much of it is played with humor and some dark humor as it is told from the perspective of a man stumbling around his surroundings as he would try to be religious, a gunslinger, aiding a crooked salesman, run a shop that goes wrong, and all of the things that white people do which makes him unhappy and desperate. Penn’s direction would include a lot of wide shots of the landscapes as much of it was shot in Montana along with some scenes in Alberta, Canada to play into that feel of the American West. It’s a world that is quite free whenever Crabb is with the Cheyenne though there’s moments that are quite absurd that includes the portrayal of General Custer. Custer is shown as an egotistical and offbeat lunatic who is so full of himself as he would be a sense of bafflement to everyone including his own soldiers.

The film would have some violent moments where Crabb watches the slaughters of women and children in the film as it would lead him to see Custer’s death happen. It’s aftermath would force Crabb to see that it would be a hollow victory as it would unveil a much bleaker future as the old Crabb would endure that sense of loss. Overall, Penn crafts a very sensational and provocative film about a man trying to find his identity as he endures prejudice and the horrors of humanity.

Cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the colorful yet vibrant daytime exteriors of the desert and plain locations to the use of lighting for some of the interior scenes as well as some shots set at night. Editor Dede Allen does brilliant work with the editing with its use of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s humor and drama. Production designer Dean Tavoularis, with set decorator George R. Nelson and art director Angelo P. Graham, does amazing work with the design of the soda pop shop that Crabb and Mrs. Pendrake go to as well as the teepees that the Cheyenne tribe stays in.

Costume designer Dorothy Heakins does fantastic work with the design of the lavish dresses that Mrs. Pendrake wears as well as the gunslinger suit that Crabb would wear for a brief moment. Makeup designer Dick Smith does superb work with the makeup design to showcase Crabbe as an old man who would tell his story. The sound work of Bud Alper and Al Overton Jr. do terrific work with the sound to play into the sound of gunfire as well as some of the moments that goes on in the battle scenes. The film’s music by John Hammond is wonderful for its mixture of folk and blues to play into the film’s quirky humor as well as some of the darker moments such as the cavalry cadence numbers.

The casting by Gene Lasko is phenomenal as it features some notable small performances from William Hickey as the skeptical interviewer, Thayer David as the very cruel Reverend Pendrake, Ruben Moreno as the Cheyenne warrior Shadow That Comes in Sight who would take Crabb to the Cheyenne tribe, Robert Little Star as the flamboyant Little Horse, Carl Bellini as the very eccentric yet unfriendly warrior Young Shadow, Carole Androsky as Crabb’s older sister Caroline who had become a bandit, Alan Howard and Ray Dimas as the younger versions of Crabb, Kelly Jean Peters as Crabb’s Swedish wife Olga, and Aimee Eccles as the Cheyenne woman that Crabb saves and later marries in Sunshine. Jeff Corey is terrific as Wild Bill Hickok who learns about Crabb’s reputation as a gunslinger only to reveal to him what it takes to be a true gunslinger. Martin Balsam is excellent as the oily salesman Meriweather who uses his disability to swindle people and such as he would play into Crabb’s encounter with the world at its worst.

Richard Mulligan is brilliant as General George Armstrong Custer as this very off-the-wall individual who thinks so highly of himself to the point that he is this moron that is unaware of what is going to happen to him. Faye Dunaway is fantastic as Mrs. Pendrake as this wife of a preacher who falls for Crabb as she shows him the ways of temptation while later appearing as a woman trying to find herself. Chief Dan George is great as Old Lodge Skins as this Cheyenne chief that had seen it all as he would guide Crabb into the ways of life as well as the troubles of the ways of the white man. Finally, there’s Dustin Hoffman in a remarkable performance as the titular character/Jack Crabb as this white man who is raised by the Cheyenne as he tries to deal with his identity as well as the ways of the world as it’s a performance that has Hoffman be funny but also full of humility and bewilderment as a man that deals with the horrors of humanity.

Little Big Man is a marvelous film from Arthur Penn that features a riveting performance from Dustin Hoffman. It’s a film that showcases the world of the American West and some of the atrocities that happened to Native Americans where it’s told with some satirical humor and some dark moments. Overall, Little Big Man is a phenomenal film from Arthur Penn.

Arthur Penn Films: (The Left-Handed Gun) - (The Miracle Worker) - (Mickey One) - (The Chase (1966 film)) - (Bonnie & Clyde) - (Flesh and Blood (1968 film)) - (Alice’s Restaurant) - (Visions of Eight) - (Night Moves (1975 film)) - (The Missouri Breaks) - (Four Friends) - (Target (1985 film)) - (Dead of Winter) - (Penn & Teller Get Killed) - (The Portrait) - (Inside (1996 film))

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Last Picture Show

Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show is the story of a group of teens who deal with their lonely surroundings as they also meet aging souls as they would contemplate their own future. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich and screenplay by Bogdanovich and McMurtry, the film is a look into a world where the old values of America starts to fall apart as it’s set into a small town in the middle of Texas circa 1951. Starring Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Ben Johnson, Randy Quaid, and Clu Gulager. The Last Picture Show is an entrancing yet somber film from Peter Bogdanovich.

Set in this small yet lonely Texas town in the early 1950s in the span of nearly a year, the film explores the lives of three teenagers as well as various adult figures dealing with their environment in a world that is changing around them. Leading the pack is a high school senior in Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) who is unsure of what to do after high school as he spends much of his time hanging out at a pool hall, a diner, and other places in his small town with nothing to do. With his friend Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Duane’s rich girlfriend Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), Sonny spends nearly a year trying to figure things out where he has an affair with his coach’s lonely wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) while Jacy is eager to lose her virginity to Duane while her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) warns her about being with someone like Duane. All of which plays into a world of uncertainty in this small town that is just dying.

The film’s screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry explore this world where even though it is set in nearly a year from October of 1951 to September of 1952. It feels like a film that is set into a very different time period where much of the loose morality of the 1960s and early 1970s come into play as Sonny, Duane, and Jacy would all deal with growing pains as they’re eager to leave the small town they’re in. Especially as there’s a world that is filled with so much change that these three want to be a part of but Sonny is still attached to the small town as he is guided by the town’s local figure Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who owns the diner, the pool hall, and movie theater that the people often go to. With Duane in tow, Sonny would often get into mischief as it showcases their lack of direction where their friendship would get complicated to do Duane’s immaturity which eventually played into his break-up with Jacy who wanted more.

The script also plays into the role of peer pressure as Jacy is eager to be with the crowd as she would skinny-dip while wanting to lose her virginity so that she can be with a popular boy in school. It would play into her own development as a young woman as she is guided by her mother Lois about the trappings of love affairs and such as well as being with someone like Duane. Yet, Lois is a woman that is lost in her own marriage and affair as it reveals that she did love someone and has regretted leaving that man while Ruth is a woman in an unhappy marriage as she deals with loneliness where Sonny helps her out and lead to their affair. Ruth, Lois, and Jacy are three of four women who play into Sonny’s life as the other is the diner waitress Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) who is a weary observer, like Lois and Sam, that has seen a lot in the small town and knows what is going on as she would also guide Sonny into finding his way. Even if it means leaving the small town that he has lived for all of his young life.

Bogdanovich’s direction opens and ends with this eerie image of the small Texan town where it feels like a ghost town with hard winds being heard and tumbleweeds passing by. It sets the tone of a film where it has this feel of aimlessness but also something that is quite entrancing where it is set in a crucial moment in time where everything is black-and-white with little contact of the world outside of this small town. Bogdanovich creates some unique shots to play into this emergence of a new world of sexuality that is emerging where Jacy is quite hesitant in some parts of the film but is also eager to fit in with the crowd such as the skinny dipping sequence. There’s also some very chilling scenes where Sonny, Duane, and their friends try to get the mute boy Billy (Sam Bottoms) to lose his virginity to a prostitute as it starts off comically but ends up being very somber where Sonny and his friends feel bad about what happened with Duane not owning up to his mistake.

Much of the direction is shot with some unique wide shots and some medium shots plus a few close-ups to play into the drama that is unfolding as Sonny deals with growing pains and temptation as it concerns Jacy. Especially as things become much grimmer in its third act as parts of this small town is starting to die while the sense of uncertainty starts to loom. Much of it would include some revelations about the town and the people that Sonny has known where he isn’t sure if he has to escape or just be part of it for good. Overall, Bogdanovich creates a very haunting yet intoxicating film about a group of people living in a desolate town in the middle of Texas.

Cinematographer Robert Surtees does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it has this very timeless look to the film where it plays into that sense of a ghost town in its location in Texas as well as some unique lighting schemes and such to play into the mood of the drama. Editor Don Cambern does excellent work with the editing as it features bits of stylistic uses of jump-cuts and dissolves to play into the sense of dramatic energy in the film as well as the sense of aimlessness.

Production/costume designer Polly Platt and art director Walter Scott Herndon do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the town in its desolate setting as well as the pool hall and movie theater while the costumes are terrific to play into the personality of the characters. Sound editor James M. Falkinburg does superb work with the sound from the way wind sounds to some of the moments in the film’s locations along with the film’s music as much of it is played on location as it features pieces by Hank Williams and other artists in country and pop music of the times.

The casting by Ross Brown is fantastic as it features some notable small roles from Sharon Taggart as Sonny’s girlfriend Charlene early in the film, Bill Thurman as Ruth’s husband, Gary Brockette as the popular senior Bobby that Jacy wants to be with, Sam Bottoms as the mute boy Billy that always hung around Sonny and Sam the Lion, Clu Gulager as Lois’ lover Aibilene who would later meet Jacy in a very haunting moment, and Randy Quaid as a rich kid named Lester who would take Jacy to the skinny-dipping party. Eileen Brennan is excellent as the kind-hearted waitress Genevieve who often serves Sonny and the other locals as she would help Sonny around and give him some guidance and food. Ellen Burstyn is superb as Jacy’s mother Lois who tries to warn her daughter about dating someone like Duane as she is embroiled in an empty affair of her own as she comes to term with her own regrets and what she doesn’t want her daughter to do.

Ben Johnson is amazing as the town leader Sam the Lion as this old man that had seen everything as he also displays some sentimentality about how simple things were in the past as he is aware of changing times as he guides Sonny into doing what is right. Cloris Leachman is radiant as the lonely housewife Ruth Popper as this middle-aged woman who has been neglected and depressed as she finds solace in the company of Sonny as there is a moment at the end of the film that is just astonishing as she is just riveting to watch. Cybill Shepherd is brilliant as Jacy Farrow as this young woman who is eager to fit in with the rest of her classmates as she is in love with Duane while becoming frustrated with her lack of prospects as she tries to come to terms with what she wants to do with her life.

Jeff Bridges is superb as Duane as an aloof young man who likes to party and such as he has very little idea into what Jacy wants while being forced to grow up and think about his own future. Finally, there’s Timothy Bottoms in an incredible performance as Sonny Crawford where Bottoms brings a boyish quality to a young man unsure of what to do as he begins an affair with a middle-aged woman while dealing with the tasks he’s given as well as temptation as it’s a truly mesmerizing performance from Bottoms.

The Last Picture Show is a tremendous film from Peter Bogdanovich. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast as well as an astonishing look and presentation, it’s a film that explores a world that is truly American but cut-off from the rest of the country. Especially in a world that is changing where the youth of this small town is forced to make decisions about what to do with this new world that is emerging. In the end, The Last Picture Show is a phenomenal film from Peter Bogdanovich.

Peter Bogdanovich Films: (Targets) - (Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women) - (Directed by John Ford) - (What’s Up Doc?) - (Paper Moon) - (Daisy Miller) - (At Long Last Love) - (Nickelodeon) - (Saint Jack) - (They All Laughed) - (Mask (1985 film)) - (Illegally Yours) - (Texasville) - (Noises Off) - (The Thing Called Love) - (To Sir, with Love II) - (The Price of Heaven) - (Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Women) - (Naked City: A Killer Christmas) - (A Saintly Switch) - (The Cat’s Meow) - (The Mystery of Natalie Wood) - (Hustle (2004 film)) - (Runnin’ Down a Dream) - (She’s Funny That Way)

© thevoid99 2014