Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Million Dollar Baby

Based on the short stories Rope Burns by Jerry Boyd in his F.X. Toole pseudonym, Million Dollar Baby is the story of a boxing trainer who reluctantly trains a young woman to become a top boxer with the help of a friend as she seeks her dream to fight. Directed and starring Clint Eastwood and screenplay by Paul Haggis, the film is an unconventional boxing film in which a gym owner/trainer deals with setbacks as well as his own demons while finding some redemption in the young woman he would train. Also starring Hilary Swank, Jay Baruchel, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Brian F. O’Byrne, Margo Martindale, and Morgan Freeman. Million Dollar Baby is a rich yet enthralling film from Clint Eastwood.

The film is an exploration into the world of boxing but from a different spectrum as a young woman in her 30s is eager to succeed as it’s the only thing she wants to do while working part time as a waitress. In seeking the help of a gym owner/veteran trainer who often finds himself in situations where he doesn’t take chances that could’ve helped his fighters. Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) does manage to sway Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to train her as she also gets help from Frankie’s friend Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) who was once a great fighter only to lose his eyesight in one of his eyes. With Frankie helping Maggie to work her way to become a viable contender, Frankie also deals with the wounds in his life as it relates to the family he’s become estranged with as well as the bad decisions he’s made. Yet, the two would find something to fill the void they needed in their lives.

Paul Haggis’ screenplay does have a traditional structure where the first act is about Frankie dealing with the unanswered letters he sent towards his estranged daughter and becoming out of touch with the potential he has for his fighters. Often turning to Father Horvak (Brian F. O’Byrne) for guidance, Frankie doesn’t get the answers he needed until the presence of Maggie showing up to the gym trying to learn to fight forces him to be involved despite his own reluctance. The second act is about the growing bond between Frankie and Maggie in a father-daughter relationship of sorts as Maggie would use her success to give her family from Missouri a good home and money but instead, she gets berated for her generosity by her mother (Margo Martindale). The rejection from her mother would only strengthen Maggie’s relationship with Frankie as he would help her reach the top of the welterweight women’s division.

One aspect of the screenplay that is unique is the fact that is largely narrated by Eddie who watches everything that happens while he looks at the other fighters in Frankie’s gym into whether or not they have the potential to be any good. Eddie’s narration is key to the story where it fills in a few tidbits on the characters while talking about the art of boxing. While the film would be a boxing film for much of the film’s first two acts. It would have a major change in tone into something more dramatic for its third act.

Clint Eastwood’s direction is very low-key and intimate in the way he presents the scenes as he doesn’t go for a lot of wide shots. Instead, he keeps things simple and to the point while creating some unique compositions with medium shots and close-ups to help tell the story. Much of the drama is presented with a sense of simplicity while the boxing scenes do have a flair for style in the way the fights are choreographed and how engaging they can where it would allow the audience to root for Maggie in those fights. Even as it would have shots set outside of the ring to get the reaction from the people watching as well as Frankie watching from his corner as it has this fluidity in the way Eastwood presents the scenes.

While it is largely a drama as it would delve into elements of melodrama in its third act, Eastwood does inject some humor into the role as it is told with such subtlety that includes a scene of Frankie and Eddie talking about the latter’s socks with holes. Eastwood’s approach to balancing humor and drama does add something to the film that where it makes it more than a boxing drama as it it’s also a film about a man finding the void he lost with his own daughter as well as a woman finding the father figure she never had. Overall, Eastwood crafts a very poignant and compelling film about a man helping a young woman become a boxer.

Cinematographer Tom Stern does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it has this air of style with tinted-bluish colors while creating some unique lighting schemes in its shadows and such. Editor Joel Cox does brilliant work with the editing where some of it is straightforward while he plays into a lot of cutting styles for the fight scenes. Production designer Henry Bumstead, with set decorator Richard C. Goddard and art director Jack Taylor, does fantastic work with the look of the gym as it‘s a bit grimy as it plays to the world that Frankie and Eddie live in.

Costume designer Deborah Hopper does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual while creating some very lovely robes for Maggie to wear when she gets ready for a fight. Sound editors Lucy Coldsnow-Smith and Alan Robert Murray do superb work with the sound from the way punches sound to the sound of people cheering in the boxing halls. The film’s music by Clint Eastwood is amazing for its eerie yet plaintive score as it is mostly low-key with its emphasis on acoustic guitars and lush string arrangements as it includes additional pieces by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens.

The casting by Phyllis Huffman is incredible as it features some notable small roles from Mike Colter as a fighter Frankie trained who would leave him for a shot at the title, Michael Pena as a fighter who often trains at the gym, Anthony Mackie as a brash fighter, Riki Lindhome as Maggie’s white-trash sister, and Lucia Rijker as a German fighter Maggie goes after as she is known for her brutish style. Margo Martindale is excellent as Maggie’s mother who is only more concerned about living on welfare and take whatever money she has from Maggie than supporting her. Jay Baruchel is terrific as a young wannabe fighter in Danger Barch as a kid who has a lot of enthusiasm despite his lack of talent. Brian F. O’Byrne is superb as Father Horvak as a priest who doesn’t really like Frankie yet gives him some advice on the issues he’s dealing with.

Morgan Freeman is marvelous as Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris as a former boxer who watches over the gym with Frankie while being the conscious of sorts in the film as he also looks at fighters who he felt could have potential including Maggie. Hilary Swank is remarkable as Maggie Fitzgerald as a woman in her 30s who just wants to make it as a boxer and win fights while wanting to get the approval of her mother only to find a father-figure in Frankie as Swank has great rapport with Eastwood. Finally, there’s Clint Eastwood in a tremendous performance as Frankie Dunn as man dealing with many issues as he finds the spark of life in Maggie who would give him the chance to find some redemption as he becomes troubled with his own estranged relationship with his daughter.

Million Dollar Baby is a phenomenal film from Clint Eastwood that features absolutely superb performances from Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman. Not only is it a boxing film with substance but also a drama that explores a man finding a lost void in a woman who would become a daughter to him. In the end, Million Dollar Baby is a spectacular film from Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood Films: (Play Misty for Me) - High Plains Drifter - (Breezy) - (The Eiger Sanction) - (The Outlaw Josey Wales) - (The Gauntlet) - (Bronco Billy) - (Firefox) - (Honkytonk Man) - (Sudden Impact) - (Pale Rider) - (Heartbreak Ridge) - (Bird) - (White Hunter Black Heart) - (The Rookie) - (Unforgiven) - (A Perfect World) - (The Bridges of Madison County) - (Absolute Power) - (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) - (True Crime) - (Space Cowboys) - (Blood Work) - (Mystic River) - (Flags of Our Fathers) - (Letters from Iwo Jima) - Changeling - (Gran Torino) - (Invictus) - (Hereafter) - (J. Edgar) - (Jersey Boys)

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Zero de conduite

Written, edited, and directed by Jean Vigo, Zero de conduite (Zero for Conduct) is a forty-four minute short film about a group of boarding school kids rebelling against the authority in their school as a commemoration day is approaching. It’s a film that explores the world of kids dealing with authority as a young kid becomes part of a small group of misfits who would rebel against their masters. Starring Jean Daste. Zero de conduite is a dazzling film from Jean Vigo.

The film is a look into a group of kids who would make plans to upstage their headmaster and other authority figures at a French boarding school. Among these kids is a young boy named Tabard (Gerard de Bedarieux) who is new to the school as he befriends the small group of misfit kids as the only authority figure the boys like is the new teacher/schoolmaster Huguet (Jean Daste) as he is young and likes to Charles Chaplin impressions. The film’s screenplay that features dialogue by Charles Goldblatt has a realness to the way kids deal with authority though the authority figures aren’t entirely bad. It’s a very simple film that explores kids dealing with school and detention as they want to fight back against oppression.

Jean Vigo’s direction is very lively as well as entrancing in the way he presents life at a boarding school. Some of the film is shot in the room where the kids sleep as well as in the classroom. Vigo’s compositions play into that sense of repression but maintain something that has this sense of anarchy in the presentation. Notably in scenes where the kids create some trouble as Vigo’s editing with its use of slow-motion cutting, dissolves, and early ideas of jump-cuts would add to the sense of style and energy of the film. Vigo is able to create something naturalistic in the performances of his young actors with Gerard de Bedarieux being the standout while Jean Daste is excellent as the schoolmaster Huguet as well as Delphin as the miniature headmaster. Overall, Vigo creates a very sensational and enthralling film about rebellion at a board school.

Cinematographer Boris Kaufman does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where there‘s some grainy images but also some that are rich in some of its exteriors. The sound work of Royne-Bocquel is superb for the atmosphere its created as way as how certain objects are captured through sound. The film’s music by Maurice Jaubert is amazing for its playful score that includes some upbeat orchestral pieces and some cadence-based pieces for some of the moments of the film.

The Region 1 2-disc DVD/Region A 1-disc Blu Ray from the Criterion Collection set known as The Complete Jean Vigo presents the film in its 1:19:1 aspect ratio which was a format for newsreels as it is shown with a new high-definition digital transfer and a remastered Dolby Digital Mono sound in French with English subtitles. The film features a commentary track by Vigo biographer Michael Temple who talks about the film which is Vigo’s most autobiographical. Temple also discusses Vigo’s father who was a famous anarchist that was rumored to be killed by the government as the film represented Vigo’s anarchist politics. Temple also talks about the production and why it got banned in its initial release as it’s a very engaging commentary piece from the biographer.

The DVD set also includes a 44-page booklet that features essays on Vigo and his work as Brooklyn video-maker and writer B. Kite writes an essay on Zero de conduite entitled Rude Freedom. Kite’s essay talks about the film and its importance to Vigo’s career as well as French cinema. Particularly as he talks about the film’s story and the portrayal of his characters that is so different from what is usually portrayed in films. It’s a very insightful essay from the writer.

Zero de conduite is a remarkable film from Jean Vigo. Though it’s only 44-minutes, it’s a film that manages to make all of its running-time and images worth it. Especially for its sense of anarchy that young audiences can relate to. In the end, Zero de conduite is a sensational film from Jean Vigo.

Jean Vigo Films: A propos de Nice - Taris - (L’Atlante) - (The Auteurs #34: Jean Vigo)

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal

Written and directed by Gareth Evans, The Raid 2: Berandal is a sequel to the 2011 Indonesian film in which a cop goes undercover into the Jakarta crime syndicate while discovering corruption within the police. The film sort of picks up where the first film left off as Iko Uwais reprises his role as Rama from the first film. Also starring Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Tio Pakusadewo, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, and Cecep A. Rahman. The Raid 2: Berandal is an intense and gripping film from Gareth Evans.

The film sort of picks up just a few hours after the events of the first film where Rama is being asked by an investigator to go undercover. In going undercover, Rama has to infiltrate a revered Jakarta crime organization as things become more complicated as police corruption and an ambitious self-made boss is involved where the latter wants to start a war with all of the organizations in Jakarta. For Rama, his mission becomes more troubling as he is asked by a boss to watch over his son who has become bloodthirsty and eager to succeed his father. Especially as that young man in Uco (Arifin Putra) is making a deal with the self-made gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) who is only interested in creating anarchy and take complete control of Jakarta.

Gareth Evans’ screenplay is quite ambitious for not just the way he explores the world of the Jakarta crime scene as two bosses try to maintain peace but also in how a young boss wants to undo this peace. Yet, the film begins with the death of a major character from the first film in the hands of Bejo which would set everything up for what Rama needs to do as the only person he trusts is Bunawar (Cok Simbara) who is an anti-corruption task force leader eager to bring down both the Bangun family and the Goto family as the latter is from Japan. He also wants Rama to look into the works of Bejo as things get more complicated by the involvement of corrupt officers under the supervision of its commissioner Reza (Roy Marten). The sacrifices that Rama would make to go undercover as he wouldn’t see his family for years would take a toll on him as he starts to get close the Bangun leader (Tio Pakusadewo) who would take Rama, under an alias, and treat him better than his own son Uco.

The presence of Bejo into Uco’s world would complicate things as Bejo is a very different antagonist whose interest in chaos and wanting to rule Jakarta makes him a formidable foe as he would force Uco to become more erratic. Though Uco’s motivations is to take over for his father as he feels he is ready, Uco doesn’t have the experience to do that as his father is already looking towards his right-hand man Eka (Oka Antara) to take his place. Uco’s alliance with Bejo would have this repercussions that would include Bejo sending his deadliest assassins to wreak havoc. Among these assassins include a man (Cecep Arif Rahman) who carries kerambits as well as a woman (Julie Estelle) who carries claw hammers while her brother (Very Tri Yulisman) is deadly with a metal baseball bat. They would become the kind of forces that wouldn’t just threaten the Goto family but also Rama as he becomes aware of what is happening as he would have to do whatever it takes to save himself and for the good of Jakarta.

Evans’ direction is definitely much broader in comparison to its predecessor in not just its scope but also in the violence and action. With its emphasis on grimy locations as well as some set pieces such as the prison where Rama would be in. Evans creates something that is much darker where it’s a very different world that Rama is in as it’s far more unforgiving as he arrives in prison as an enemy while he has to fight many men in the mud on a rainy day as he would gain Uco’s loyalty. There’s moments where Evans’ direction is entrancing in the compositions he creates that has him not just maintain a sense of dramatic tension but also play into a world that is about to come undone. Even as some of the locations include some gorgeous set pieces such as the place where Bejo conducts business.

Evans’ approach to the action is far more visceral in its presentation where he doesn’t just go for some very shaky and gripping hand-held cameras but also in the way the violence is presented. With help from fight choreographers Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Larnell Stovall, Evans creates a fluidity to the fighting as it is about not just the rhythm but the power of the punches as well as how the weapons are used. Forgoing the use of CGI blood, the violence is definitely bloody as well as has some elements of gore. There is a mixture of ugliness and beauty into the images as it would lead to this very bloody and intense climax where Rama has to go against the odds for the state of good. Overall, Evans craft a very mesmerizing yet unsettling film about a man going against the crime world all by himself.

Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono do amazing work with the film‘s cinematography with the look of the green fields as well as some of shots set at night to the lighting in some of the interiors such as Bejo‘s barroom as well as the penthouse that Rama would stay at. Editors Gareth Evans and Andi Novianto do fantastic work with the editing as it plays to some very unconventional rhythms with its jump-cuts while the most interesting aspect of the editing is in the fight-sequences where some of it involve long takes as it‘s an idea on when not to cut. Sound editor Jonathan Greber and sound designer Ichsan Rachmaditta do brilliant work with the sound as it plays to the atmosphere of some of the locations with some layering of sounds in some places as well as the way some of the fights are presented.

The film’s music by Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi, and Fajar Yuskemal is great for its mixture of dark-ambient with some pulsating, percussive-based music that adds to the action while the soundtrack includes some pop music, a classical piece, and a couple of instrumentals from Nine Inch Nails from their 2008 instrumental double-album Ghosts I-IV.

The film’s cast is just incredible as the ensemble includes some notable small performances from Fikha Effendi as Rama’s wife, Roy Marten as the corrupt police commissioner Reza, Kenichi Endo as the crime boss Goto, Ryuhei Matsuda as Goto’s son Keiichi, and Kazuki Kitamura as Goto’s advisor/right-hand man Ryuichi. Other memorable small roles include Very Tri Yulisman as the very-deadly Baseball Bat Man who would also hit a baseball to kill his enemies while Julie Estelle is just fantastic as the very silent but lethal Hammer Girl who is a total badass with two hammers. Cecep Arif Rahman is excellent as Bejo’s unnamed assassin who kills with no remorse as he is a man that carries these kerambits that play into his personality. Yayan Ruhian is great as the Bangun’s most loyal assassin Prakoso as a man who is the eyes and ears of Bangun as he is also a very skilled killer with a machete.

Cok Simbara is terrific as Rama’s superior Bunawar who is the only contact Rama has to the outside world as he ensures him of the danger that Rama is facing. Tio Pakusadewo is amazing as the crime boss Bangun who just wants to keep the piece with the Gotos as well as deal with his son. Oka Antara is brilliant as Bangun’s advisor/right-hand man Eka who watches over some of the business while looking into Rama’s activities. Arifin Putra is wonderful as Bangun’s son Uco who tries to impress his father only to make an uneasy deal with Bejo to create a war. Alex Abbad is phenomenal as the very slimy and evil Bejo as he walks with a cane while being this epitome of nihilism and ambition. Finally, there’s Iko Uwais in a remarkable performance as Rama as a man who goes undercover to infiltrate a crime syndicate as he struggles with his new role as well as the things he discovers as he is forced to fight the Bejo and the mob all by himself.

The Raid 2: Berandal is a tremendous film from Gareth Evans. Featuring a great cast led by Iko Uwais as well as gripping and exciting action sequences. It’s a film that isn’t just a worthy sequel to its predecessor but also raises the bar of what can be done with martial-arts action films as well as inject with some substance in terms of its storytelling. In the end, The Raid 2: Berandal is a magnificent film from Gareth Evans.

Gareth Evans Films: (Samurai Monogatari) - (Footsteps) - (Merantau) - The Raid: Redemption - (V/H/S/2-Safe Haven)

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Major League

Written and directed by David S. Ward, Major League is the story of a showgirl who has inherited ownership of the Cleveland Indians as she decides to get the worst players in the team in the hopes they finish dead last and move the team to Miami. Once the players full of aging veterans and young upstarts start to show signs of winning, they also learn what their owner is trying to do where they hope to go all the way. It’s a film that doesn’t just explore the world of baseball where players and coaches deal with an entire season where the world is totally against them. They also try to overcome the adversity they were tagged with. Starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert, Chelcie Ross, Rene Russo, Margaret Whitton, Bob Uecker, and James Gammon. Major League is a witty and entertaining film from David S. Ward.

In the world of Major League Baseball, fans always have teams to root for no matter how bad they are yet this is a film set in Cleveland where its team in the Indians have often struggled to get a pennant win as they hadn’t won a pennant since 1948 at the time the film was released in 1989. The film revolves around the scheme of a new owner who wants to ensure that attendance records drop so big that she can move the team to Miami where she would get a luxurious deal. Upon hiring a minor league manager to manage the team and gather a group of player filled with has-been veterans and rookies with very little potential to succeed. Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) hopes her scheme would succeed yet manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) and his team led by veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) had other plans instead. It’s a film that showcase a group of individuals who all have something different to offer yet manage to show signs they want to be good.

David S. Ward’s screenplay is filled with a lot of humor that includes some profane language in the dialogue that adds spice to the humor. Most notably in the group of misfit characters in the film as Taylor is an aging catcher with bad knees who hopes to get one more good season as well as win back the heart of ex-girlfriend Lynn (Rene Russo). Other characters include the aging pitcher Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) who uses all sorts of tricks to pitch good as well as veteran shortstop Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) who is a prima donna that is more concerned with securing a financial future than playing. Then there’s the small group of rookies that the franchise gain as it includes a young pitcher named Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) who has great arm but lack of control. A power-hitter in the Cuban immigrant Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) who practices voodoo in the hopes he can hit curve balls. The final rookie is Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) who is a great runner but wasn’t originally invited to try out.

While there is some tension between some of the players such as Cerrano and Harris over religion and Vaughn and Dorn over image as they’re forced to work together to deal with Phelps. While the team does get support in their general manager Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers), Phelps’ lack of support by having them ride in bad buses and airplanes only makes the team succeed despite the odds. One aspect of the film that adds to the humor is the commentary by the team’s broadcaster Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) who always says some funny things while sharing the team’s frustrations as he would say things like “that’s we all we have. One goddamn hit!” His colleague Monty (Skip Griparis) would close the microphone telling “you can’t say ’goddamn’ on the air” where Doyle replies, “don’t worry. Nobody’s listening”. It’s part of the film’s genius as it’s not afraid to be crass while it has a human element that makes the characters very engaging.

Ward’s direction is quite simple as he doesn’t go for any big scenes other than the actual baseball playing scenes while balancing it with drama and humor. Ward’s approach with the latter definitely has a liveliness where it’s not afraid to be confrontational but also in moments where it has a lot of jokes that evolves in the course of the film. Among the gags involve blue-collar workers commenting on the team as well as Japanese field team having their own comments on the team. Ward’s compositions are quite rich in its presentation while some of the film is shot in Milwaukee for some scenes in the film. Still, he is able to make it look like Cleveland where he emphasizes more on its blue-collar locals who are eager to see the Indians go all the way. Even as it climaxes with the big game as it has some funny moments as well as moments to cheer for. Overall, Ward creates a very enjoyable and heartfelt film about a team defying the odds.

Cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of the stadium the team plays as well as many of its exterior and interior lighting schemes for some of the scenes at night. Editor Dennis M. Hill does amazing work in creating some stylish montages as well as rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s humorous moments. Production designer Jeffrey Howard, with set decorator Celeste Lee and art director John Krenz Reinhart Jr., does superb work with the look of the Cleveland Indians stadium and its beat-up buses and planes as well as some of the bars they go to.

Costume designer Erica Edell Phillips does terrific work with the design of the costumes as well as the clothes some of the characters wear to reflect on their personalities. Sound editor J. Paul Huntsman does nice work with the sound in the way the crowd sounds during the games to some of the sounds of the bats hitting the ball. The film’s music by James Newton Howard is fantastic for its swirling electronic score for some of the themes when the Indians start to win as the soundtrack includes songs by Bill Medley, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett, and X doing a cover of the Troggs’ Wild Thing.

The casting by Joanne Zaluski is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable small roles from Skip Griparis as Harry’s broadcast colleague and Peter Vuckovich as New York Yankees hitter Clu Haywood who always give the Indians problems. Charles Cyphers is terrific as the team’s general manager Charlie Donovan who would eventually tell Brown what Phelps is up to while James Gammon is great as the no-nonsense manager Lou Brown who always speaks the truth and says some funny shit along the way. Bob Uecker is hilarious as Harry Doyle as the team broadcaster who commentates everything that happens while often saying funny things to express his frustrations. Chelcie Ross is wonderful as the aging pitcher Eddie Harris who admits to using all sorts of things to throw good pitches while eventually learns what happens when one steals Jobu’s rum. Margaret Whitton is excellent as the team owner Margaret Phelps who despises the team as she tries to make their life a living hell.

Dennis Haysbert is superb as the voodoo-practicing power-hitter Pedro Cerrano who has this intimidating presence while Wesley Snipes is amazing as the brash but na├»ve Willie Mays Hayes as a guy that wants to be a star as he eventually becomes one through stealing bases. Rene Russo is fantastic as Taylor’s ex-girlfriend Lynn who is unsure if she wants to get back with him as she has a new life of her own yet becomes impressed when he does take the effort to read some books she had been recommending him. Corbin Bernsen is incredible as the prima donna player Roger Dorn who tries to make himself more valuable only to realize that he’s treated like garbage by Phelps. Charlie Sheen is phenomenal as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn as a young pitcher with a great arm who eventually learns some control to become a top pitcher. Finally, there’s Tom Berenger in a marvelous performance as Jake Taylor as a veteran catcher who leads the team while trying to have one more great season and win back his ex-girlfriend.

Major League is a tremendous film from David S. Ward. Armed with a great cast, moments to cheer for, and some very funny one-liners. It is a film that showcases the love for baseball and why it means so much to people. Especially as it showcases the players as guys just trying to win a game and deal with all sorts of shit. In the end, Major League is an outstanding film from David S. Ward.

David S. Ward Films: (Cannery Row) - (King Ralph) - (The Program) - (Major League II) - (Down Periscope)

Related: (Major League: Back to the Minors)

© thevoid99 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Away From Her

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/2/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the short story The Bear Came the Mountain by Alice Munro, Away from Her is the story of a couple's blissful life is changed when the woman suffers from Alzheimer's disease as her husband copes with the changes as he takes her to a nursing home. Written for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley, the film is an exploration into the world of Alzheimer's disease where a man tries to deal with his wife's illness. Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Michael Murphy, and Wendy Crewson. Away From Her is a startling yet enchanting film from Sarah Polley. 

The film is an exploration into the life of a couple where a woman starts to lose her memory as she is suffering from Alzheimer's disease as her husband tries to cope with the disease as he reluctantly takes her into a nursing home. It's a drama that showcases a man dealing with the disease and the unexpected changes it would have as Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is forced to watch his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) become attached to another patient in Aubrey (Michael Murphy) whose wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) also watches. For Grant, it's a hard pill to swallow as he deals with the new change in his life as it's a film that could've become a sappy melodrama. Instead, it's a film that is about the loss and the fear of that loss.

What Sarah Polley does with her script and direction goes for a meditative approach of a woman's disintegration as her husband is forced to watch her mind leave with her not remembering who she is half of the time. The script is wonderfully structured with the first act about the beginning of the end and Grant's first trip to the Meadowland facilities, the second is about him coming to terms about Fiona's relationship with Aubrey, and the third act is about her continuing disintegration through the disease.

The dialogue feels realistic that also includes text from many books read in the film while some of the words do end up being funny just to add a bit of humor to a very serious drama. The direction that Polley has taken is very observant and enchanting as she takes the camera to unveil a woman's disintegration where she would pull the camera away to dramatize its sadness. What is really amazing in Polley's approach to the film is how restrained the drama is since the actors are given more dimension while not being overly sentimental or very dramatic to emphasize the subject matter. While the film is a bit flawed due to a few pacing issues where the entire film does move very slow, it works to convey that sense of emotional, mental disintegration. Overall, Polley proves herself to be a very strong director who can channel a scene while not doing to much to convey heavy emotions.

Cinematographer Luc Montpellier brings a wonderfully dreamy look to some of the film's sequences at the Meadowlands while the rest is very intimate and colorful while the exterior shots is gorgeous with the white snow laid down on the Canadian film location. Production designer Kathleen Climie and art director Benno Tutter create a low-key look to the film's Meadowlands facility along with an intimate, earthy look to the home of Grant and Fiona. Costume designer Debra Hanson plays to the film's natural look with clothing that looks normal with the exception of a tacky, striped sweater and a yellow dress that Julie Christie wears that in the former, causes Grant to be upset.

Editor David Wharnsby brings a wonderful approach to the editing by not doing any stylized or fast-cutting but rather in playing with the film's structure to make the film play like memory of sorts which gives the film a unique feel and tone. Sound designer Jane Tattersall definitely adds a nice tone to the film's sound with the use of cars, elevators, and objects to convey the intimate feel of the Meadowlands where it's nearly silent as well as Grant and Fiona's home. Jonathan Goldsman brings a plaintive, subtle score of guitars and piano to convey the sadness and emotional intensity of the film to convey the tragedy while not overdoing it which definitely works in the film.

The film's cast is definitely wonderful assembled by Polley's brother John Buchan that includes memorable, minor performances from Nina Dobrev as a teenager bored by her holiday visit at the Meadowlands, Ron Hewat as an ex-sports announcer who still does play-by-play, and Angela Watson in a small role as a doctor. Wendy Crewson is excellent in her role as the Meadowlands supervisor by acting both professional and caring who reminds Grant of what he has to face. Kristen Thomson is wonderful as the very sympathetic nurse Kristy who bonds with Grant over Fiona while often reminding him that it's never easy to deal with loss. Michael Murphy is great despite having no dialogue and having to be in a wheelchair yet adds life through the facial responses he makes in the film. Olympia Dukakis is brilliant as Marian, Aubrey's wife who understands what Grant is feeling though she is a bit upset over what Fiona was doing to Aubrey while coming to terms over their relationship.

Gordon Pinsent is incredible in his performance as Grant. An icon known to Canadians, Pinsent's performance is wonderfully restrained and subtle as in some ways, he's the observer for the audience watching his wife becoming detached from him. Pinsent's tender chemistry with Julie Christie is wonderful to watch as if they're both a couple who have known each other for a long time. Julie Christie delivers a truly radiant performance as Fiona. Looking very beautiful for her age and almost youthful in some ways, Christie remains jaw-dropping with her performance as she brings subtlety and an innocence to her approach in playing a victim of Alzheimer's without being overly-dramatic.

Away From Her is a remarkable film from Sarah Polley that features great performances from Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. It's a film that is a very smart and engaging film for the way it explores the world of Alzheimer's disease without delving into heavy-handed melodrama. Especially as Polley balances it with being a love story and a story about loss. In the end, Away from Her is an extraordinary film from Sarah Polley.

Sarah Polley Films: Take This Waltz - (Stories We Tell)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In Her Shoes

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/12/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner, In Her Shoes is the story of two very different sisters whose rocky relationship leads to the younger sister to find shelter in the grandmother she had just discovered while the oldest tries to deal with the chaos in her own life. Directed by Curtis Hanson and screenplay by Susannah Grant, the film is an exploration into the world of sisterhood as two different women come to terms with their sisterly bond as well as the mother they lost as they try to find answers with the woman who hadn't been in their life. Starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Ken Howard, Brooke Smith, Candice Azzara, Mark Feurerstein, Jerry Adler, and Shirely MacLaine. In Her Shoes is a smart and heartfelt film from Curtis Hanson.

The film is an exploration into the life of two sisters where the only thing they have in common is their shoe size as both of them still deal with the wound of losing their mother many years ago. For Rose Feller (Toni Collette), she's a workaholic lawyer who doesn't have much of a social life and often looks plain. For her younger sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz), she's a dyslexic party-girl with no sense of direction as she often causes trouble. After an incident that forced Rose to kick Maggie out, Maggie goes to Florida to the home of the grandmother she had just discovered. Upon meeting Ella Hirsch(Shirley MacLaine), Maggie eventually finds some direction in her life while Rose also finds some new moments that would help her but the two sisters still need each other to sort out things as well as deal with the death of their mother when they were kids. It's a film that could've played to a lot of tropes that is common with female-based comedy-drams that is often tagged as "chick-flicks" but it's a film that has so much more.

Screenwriter Susannah Grant creates a story of these two sisters who diverge and come together to deal with the missing pieces in their family as well as the woman who hadn't been in their life very much in their grandmother. Upon discovering into why Ella wasn't around following the death of their mother, Rose and Maggie are forced to deal with not just some harsh truths about their mother's death. They also deal with their own issues as Maggie is a young woman who didn't grow up with a mother which definitely plays into her lack of direction and the need for money so she can party. For Rose who is always responsible, she has the urge to protect Maggie from the people in her life including a man named Simon Stein (Mark Feurerstein) who was a colleague of hers at a firm as the two fall in love and become engaged. The very few things Maggie and Rose do have in common aside from their shoe-size is their disdain for their stepmother Sydelle (Candice Azzara) who had never liked them either often favoring her daughter Marcia (Jackie Geary). Grant does take stock into structuring the film with such ease where the first act is about the two sisters, the second act is about Maggie meeting Ella and Rose finding her own path in life, and the third is about the two sisters reuniting and mend the broken pieces in their family.

Curtis Hanson's intimate yet character-driven direction is quite simple yet is often very engaging for the way it balances comedy and drama. Shot in South Florida and Philadephia, Hanson's direction creates some unique compositions in its use of medium and wide shots. Even in scenes where the humor is light-hearted in some parts of the film while the drama gets a bit melodramatic but not overtly. Hanson knows how to set up the humor and drama while creating moments that do play into the development of the characters in key scenes as well as the story about the death of Rose and Maggie's mother. Overall, Hanson crafts a very smart and touching comedy-drama about two sisters dealing with the broken pieces in their life.

Cinematographer Terry Stacey does some great work in the shading design for many of the film's interior scenes in Philadelphia as well as some wonderful coloring in the Florida sequences to set the intimacy that Hanson wanted. Editors Lisa Zeno Churgin and Craig Kitson do excellent work with the editing in creating some stylish montages as well as going for some straightforward cutting techniques. Production designer Dan Davis does fantastic work in using the locations, notably Florida for its colorful, vibrant look to convey the peaceful tranquility that Maggie and Ella lived. Costume designer Sophie Carbonell also helps with the look by designing some great clothing not just for Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette but also Shirley MacLaine and the older actresses to give them a look that helps the story. Composer Mark Isham does a wonderful score in playing to the film's vibrancy and character struggle while the music features a great soundtrack mixed in with pop music like Garbage to some reggae featuring the music of Bob Marley.

The film's cast has some wonderful small performances from Jackie Geary as Sydelle's daughter My Marcia, Brooke Smith as Rose's friend Amy, Carlease Burke as the animal shelter manager, model Ivana Milicevic as Rose and Maggie's mother in pictures, Norman Lloyd as the blind professor, and Richard Burgi as Jim. Other notable small roles from Candice Azarra as Rose/Maggie's stepmother Sydelle is funny while Ken Howard is good as Rose/Maggie's father Michael. Notable standout performances include Jerry Adler as the charming Lewis Feldman and a better, funnier supporting role from Francine Beers as Mrs. Lefkowitz. Mark Feuerstein is good as the sensitive, good-natured Simon who brings all the right qualities that Rose needs in a man while having his own moments to be funny when talking about basketball.

Shirley MacLaine delivers another masterful yet heartfelt performance as Ella Hirsch. MacLaine remains to be very beautiful at her age while her wisdom and concern for the young woman prove her mastery at restrained comedy and even more restraint in drama as she brings a lot of ground for Diaz and Collette to work on while having her own fun. It’s MacLaine that really shines in the film as she continues to be a forced to be reckoned with.

Toni Collette delivers another great performance as the more straight-laced, somewhat neurotic Rose who has a lot of physical and emotional insecurities. Collette manages to make her character develop as she has more emotional scenes that are dramatic while having the time to be funny as Collette proves to be one of the most talented actresses of her generation. Cameron Diaz is often known as kind of bubbly yet a whole lot of fun to see. It's easy to forget that she's an actress and she proves that in her role as Maggie. While Diaz starts off in a more fun yet irresponsible personality, she does allow herself to let the character grow where Diaz brings a lot of depth to a woman who still finds fun in helping old women find new clothes or read to the blind professor. It's a fine performance from Diaz while she has great chemistry with Collette and MacLaine.

In Her Shoes is a remarkable film from Curtis Hanson that is highlighted by the radiant performances of Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine. It's a film that is funny as well as heartwarming in the way it explores the relationship between sisters as it has something to offer for not just women but men as well. In the end, In Her Shoes is a sensational film from Curtis Hanson.

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Run Lola Run

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/20/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Tom Tykwer, Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) tells the story of a woman who needs to retrieve 100,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes to save the life of her boyfriend. Told in three different versions in a running time of 76-minutes, the film explores the different versions of how a woman could retrieve all of that money to save her life and the possibilities of how she could succeed or fail. Starring Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, and Joachim Krol. Lola Rennt is an exciting, energetic, and entertaining film from Tom Tykwer.

When an exchange suddenly goes wrong, a dealer named Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) calls his girlfriend Lola (Franka Potente) about what's happening to him. His boss Ronnie plans to kill him if he doesn't give him 100,000 Deutsche Mark as Lola, who doesn't have her moped has to save him in 20 minutes at 12 PM. If she doesn't arrive in time with the money, Manni plans to rob a supermarket nearby. Lola makes her first run as she goes to her father (Hebert Knaup) where she encounters a woman with a baby, a biker, a homeless man (Joachim Krol), and others. When she arrives into her father's bank, she learns that he is leaving her and her mother for another woman as she is refused the money. She continues her run to save Manni as she reluctantly helps him leading to bad consequences.

In the second version of her run, Lola runs down the stairs of her apartment building but is tripped by a young man with a dog as it slows her down a bit while she goes to the bank. Immediately, she learns of her father's affair, has an emotional confrontation and gets the 100,000 Deutsche Marks but the end result becomes different. For the third and final version of her run, Lola runs into her father's co-worker Meyer (Ludger Pistor) whom she helped avoid an accident while seeing her father leave with Meyer much later on. While she ends up running to a casino to make a huge gamble, Manni finds the homeless man with a bike as the two try to pay off Manni's debt one way or another as time begins to run out.

The film is about chances and how things play. Yet, in between each run are two scenes of Lola and Manni professing their love and mortality shot through a red filter. While the film's plot is simple, Tom Tykwer brings different perspectives to the possibilities of what Lola could be doing and how to approach it. The stories and set-ups Tykwer presents are in tune to the film's kinetic energy and style with three different endings. Though the idea of which ending to be preferred is kind of a disservice to some audiences who prefer to stick to one idea. Tykwer at least gives the idea of different realities through the three stories. The first is more suspenseful in the form of a thriller and the second is more dramatic. The third is a mix of both but seems to be more real than the previous stories. Its ending in comparison to the other two is a bit weak despite its resolution.

Tykwer's direction is top-notch as he delves into various styles of filmmaking whether it's 2-D, hand-drawn animation for the film's opening credits and running down the stairs sequences; grainy hand-held work for a few of the film's dramatic scenes; or stylized action sequences that involve tracking shots to capture the film's energy. For each run, there's always something present that Lola runs into whether's it's a lady, the homeless man, a guy with a stolen bike, or a bank teller. For three of those characters, Tykwer reveals what will happen to them and such in the three different runs. One of the themes Tykwer delves into is fate, what is expected from these characters and such as it's clear that one of Tykwer's profound influences is the late Krzysztof Kieslowski who delves into the theme of fate. Though the film isn't perfect, Tykwer still creates a solid film that is energetic and profoundly entertaining.

Cinematographer Frank Griebe does a fantastic job with the film's diverse camera work from the colorful, tracking shots all shot on location in Berlin to the grainy cinematography in a few of the film's dramatic scenes. Griebe's camera work is wonderful in its emphasis on style, particularly on the in-between scenes for the runs with its red filter. Editor Mathilde Bonnefoy does a spectacular job with the film's energetic pacing with jump-cuts, split-side shots, and transitions to create a stylistic yet rhythmic tone for the film. Bonnefoy's editing is one of the film's most memorable technical highlights.

Production designer Alexander Manasse and art director Attila Saygel do a great job in the look of the film's bank and casino sequences to add to its unique style while costume designer Monika Jacobs does a great job with the look of Lola, particularly her loose gray wife-beater shirt, her light-green pants, and the hypnotic red hair designed by Christa Krista. Sound designer Dirk Jacob with editors Markus Munz and Kai Storck do an excellent job with sound work of car noises, photo snaps, gunshots, and such to help create an atmosphere for the film and the scenes that goes on. Animation designer Gil Alkabetz does a wonderful job with the film's 2-D hand-drawn animation style to help give the film its unique look.

The music by Tom Tykwer plus Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek is wonderfully hypnotic in its German-techno music with thumping beats, lots of energy, and noises to capture each run that goes on. With additional contributions from Franka Potente who contributes a few vocals on the track while the soundtrack includes a song from Dinah Washington. Though some might not be a fan of techno or electronic music, it works for the film's sense of rhythm and energy.

The casting by An Dorthe Braker is superbly assembled with performances from Heino Ferch as Ronnie, Ute Lubosch as the mother Lola bumps into during her run, Monica Bleibtreu as the blind woman whose card Manni borrows, Klaus Muller as the bank croupier, Sebastian Schipper as the guy with the stolen bike, and Armin Rohde as the bank security guard. Other small but memorable performance include Ludger Pistor as Meyer, Nina Petri as Lola's father's mistress, Joachim Krol as the homeless man who took Manni's bag of money, and Herbert Knaup as Lola's uncaring father. Moritz Bleibtreu is excellent as Manni, the drug dealer who gets himself into big trouble as he seeks help from Lola while becoming desperate for some other way to pay his boss.

Finally, there's Franka Potente in her breakthrough performance as Lola. Potente's energetic, powerful, and hypnotic performance is definitely one of the most memorable performances of the 1990s. Not just for her look but her determination as she tries to save her boyfriend’s life while dealing with her father's extramarital affairs and the angst that she has as her scream is very deafening. It's a powerful performance from the German actress who became a star after this film.

Lola Rennt is an excellent and energetic film from Tom Tykwer. Though it's not perfect, it's pulsating music, sharp camera work, superb editing, set-ups, and Franka Potente's performance still makes it one of the most memorable films of the 1990s. Those new to Tykwer will no doubt find this as a great place to start as is a great introduction to the new era of German cinema. Anyone else who has heard about this film but haven't seen this should pick this up, even in its short 76-minute running time. In the end, for a film with a lot of energy and style, Lola Rennt is the film to see.

© thevoid99 2014