Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Good Company


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/14/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Written and directed by Paul Weitz, In Good Company is a lighthearted comedy about a 51-year old ads salesman for a top sports magazine who has been demoted after a corporate shakeup and buy when he's forced to work under an inexperienced, 26-year old man. With a new child due, tuition to be paid for his older daughter at NYU, and a second mortgage taken out, the old man is in a tough position in his life while seeing colleagues being fired. Meanwhile, his younger boss is dealing with his own insecurities, failed marriage, and trying to impress his corporate bosses while dating his employee's daughter. A wonderful examination of the corporate world, Weitz delivers a smart and sweet film that works on most levels only to be hit hard with his own ideals. Starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg, Selma Blair, John Cho, and Malcolm McDowell. In Good Company is an enjoyable yet compelling film from Paul Weitz.

For the 51-year old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), his life seems to be charmed until he hears rumors that his Sports America magazine company might be bought by the conglomerate Globecom owned by billionaire Teddy K. (Malcolm McDowell). After a trip to meet with his client and friend Eugene Kalb (Philip Baker Hall), he goes home to learn that his wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) is pregnant with a third child. Already having two children with Jana (Zena Grey) and college-bound tennis prodigy Alex (Scarlett Johansson), a third child might seem to calm him. Instead, Sports America is bought with his fellow colleagues including Morty (David Paymer) worrying about being fired. Then Dan learns that he's going to be demoted by a young 26-year old cell phones salesman in Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) who is also working along with Globecom man Steckle (Clark Gregg). Dan learns that his old office will now be Carter after he meets him.

The stress couldn't be worse for Dan when he learns that Alex has been accepted to NYU meaning that he's forced to take out a second mortgage and pay for his daughter's tuition. With Alex now moving to the NYU dorm, Dan's new life under as a wingman for Carter is going to be tough, especially with fellow colleagues being let go, including best friend Morty. Carter's life meanwhile is also falling apart as his wife of seven months Kimberley (Selma Blair) is leaving him forcing Carter to live in an apartment and sometimes at the office. After a last-minute meeting on a Sunday, Carter invites himself to eat at Dan's house where he sees Alex as the two begin a conversation.

With Carter instigating a plan for "synergy" to mix products that have nothing to do with each other like computers in a sports magazine, Dan couldn't help but give in to Carter's energetic attitude. One day, Carter bumps into Alex as the two have another heart-to-heart conversation that suddenly leads to a secretive romance forcing Alex to not talk to her father for a while. Dan becomes suspicious, even when his business life is turned upside down after a concert meeting with one of Carter's colleagues (John Cho) where Dan couldn't do business with another person due to corporate rivalry. With Carter and Alex's romancing blossoming, Dan becomes more suspicious that leads to an emotional confrontation. Even with Dan's life falling apart, Carter is forced to grow up to see what has been going on, even as Teddy K. visits where he is forced to learn about the soulless world of corporate conglomerates.

While In Good Company doesn't have the emotional strength of About a Boy, Paul Weitz deserves credit for going into that deep world of corporations and conglomerates including a heavy scene with Malcolm McDowell that almost suggest something of an evil movement. Weitz's study of the corporate world and morals is very spot-on but his idealism in the third act isn't very realistic since the corporate world isn't very nice at all. The subplots involving the Alex/Carter romance and the situation involving David Paymer's characters are well-written for the script since it gives the movie a new sense of energy and pace to Weitz's direction that is very dead-on in the situations of comedy and drama.

The film is masterfully presented to Weitz's lighthearted approach to the film with a lot of credit to the cinematography of Remi Adefarasin who brings a lovely, colorful look to the film with help from production designer William Arnold and art directors Sue Chan and Fred Kolo for its detailed look of corporate buildings. With Molly Maginnis doing great work on the costume design, notably for Johansson's character, the film looks great without being too superficial. The editing by Myron Kerstein is very well-paced, notably the meeting of Carter and Dan that is almost like a scene from Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. The film's score by Hedwig & the Angry Inch composer Stephen Trask is very lighthearted to the film's tone with music by Peter Gabriel, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, and David Byrne.

The film carries some wonderful performances in smaller roles from Colleen Camp, Zena Grey, John Cho, Selma Blair, and the always-brilliant Malcolm McDowell in his devilish role as Teddy K. Clark Gregg is excellent as the corporate brown-noser Steckle who worships at the altar of Teddy K. Philip Baker Hall is excellent in his brief role along with Marg Helgenberger who provides some of the comedy and dramatic foil for Quaid's home life. The film's real standout in the supporting cast goes to David Paymer in a role many can sympathize with since he’s a guy who is trying to work hard in his business while we feel sorry for him when he's fired, especially in a tough scene that included a post-firing scene with Quaid that balances comedy and drama though it would've been nice to see him more.

Scarlett Johansson delivers a charming, marvelous performance as Alex. Instead of making her into a typical girl who goes after a guy, Johansson brings some depth to her character early on when she seeks love for her scenes with Grace while as she develops, she learns of the sacrifices her father had to make in a very poignant scene. Johansson proves herself again to be a very smart, capable actress who can shine in tricky situations though, in the third act following a scene with Grace was very unnecessary.

Topher Grace is the film's real breakthrough as the caffeine-addicted, energetic Carter Duryea with his ambitious ideas and immature state of mind that caused the failure of his marriage. Grace could've been a real villain but he gives his character sympathy and depth as a young man trying to find himself through romances and business while he has greater scenes with the veteran Quaid. Dennis Quaid delivers another masterful performance as Dan Foreman with his wise insight into the business world and family life as he becomes a fraternal figure for the naive Grace while having some great, tender moments with Helgenberger and Johansson while dealing with the anguish and stress of the new chapter in his life.

***Updated 5/22/05-DVD Tidbits***

The Regional 1 DVD of In Good Company includes the usual Anamorphic 1:85:1 Widescreen format (for those who want to see the film in widescreen) along with Spanish and French subtitles. Also included in its Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is French and Spanish dubbing. While the DVD features in the film are minimal, it's substantial enough for those who enjoy the film. Included with a filmography section for cast members Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson, Topher Grace, Marg Helgenberger, and David Paymer along with the Weitz brothers and executive producers Rodney Liber and Andrew Miano. Overall, there's only three big features on the DVD.

First is a seven-part, 30 minute documentary segment called Synergy that interviews several cast and crew members where they talk about the film locations, the atmosphere of Corporate America and how young corporate businessmen want the knowledge of older businessmen and the father-son relationships. Director Paul Weitz talks about the editing of the film how originally, it ran nearly three hours as he and editor Myron Kerstein talk about trying to rid of some scenes. In the interviews with the cast, one segment was for Quaid and Helgenberger about life in middle-age life while Grace and Johansson talk about why they did the film where Johansson felt the film had sentimental references to her own relationship with her dad.

The film includes several deleted scenes that were cut out for length reasons as well as emotional reasons from Paul Weitz's commentary. Some scenes involved some funnier moments with Quaid, Paymer, and Kevin Chapman as another colleague who bring some of the humor to Quaid's business lifestyle. Along with scenes of Quaid playing golf and dealing with the corporate merging, he's the real star in the deleted scenes. One includes a confrontation with Grace about Grace's relationship with Johansson and another is when Grace's character forgots about an early meeting. Grace too has his moments in the deleted scenes where one scene is him, feeling sick after firing someone and another when he tries to call Selma Blair. The best deleted scene that I felt shouldn't have been cut is a scene where Quaid tries to dye his hair to look younger and the result is extremely hilarious.

The feature-length commentary from Paul Weitz and Topher Grace is wonderfully entertaining with Weitz explaining why he wanted to do a film about corporate synergy and his own take on the father-son relationship. He also explains his intentions of the film, including the much-aligned third act which he admit, he struggled a bit on how to end it. With Grace helping in the commentary, the two talk about New York and Grace's own feelings about the film since he feels very close to it because his dad is in the same corporate atmosphere as well. Both men also do a lot of praising for some scenes as well as praise for their actors, notably Quaid, Johansson, and Paymer, who Weitz wished wanted more of.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Despite an unrealistic, uneven third act, In Good Company soars as a very good film with very good morals and insight into Corporate America. Paul Weitz makes a film that is funny and poignant in his messages with great performances from Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, and Malcolm McDowell. While the film shows a promise into Weitz's maturity as a writer, it is clear that he's a director and writer with some talent who could make a great comedy. In Good Company is an excellent film from Paul Weitz.

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Women (1960 film)




Based on the novel by Albert Moravia, La ciociara (Two Women) is the story of a woman trying to protect her daughter from the horrors of war during World War II. Directed by Vittorio De Sica and screenplay by De Sica and Cesare Zavattini, the film explores war from the perspective of a woman and her young daughter as it is a story of motherhood as well as a coming of age story for her daughter. Starring Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown, and Carlo Ninchi. La ciociara is an astonishing yet terrifying film from Vittorio De Sica.

Set in World War II during the rule of Benito Mussolini, the film explores a woman and her 12-year old daughter trying to hide from the horrors of war by traveling from Rome to the Northern Italian mountains. It’s a film that showcases what women go through in war as they endure many of its horrors where a widow tries to shield her daughter from these moments where the two become part of a group of refugees seeking shelters in the mountains where they befriend a former professor with Communist ideals. During this time in the mountains, Cesira (Sophia Loren) deals with the struggles to protect her daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) from the horrors of war as planes often fly by. Hunger also becomes a key factor into their struggle as they get help from Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who is an intellect with Communist ideals as he becomes this father figure for Rosetta.

The film’s screenplay does have this unique structure where the first act is set in Rome as well as Cesira and Rosetta walking towards the mountains when their train is forced to be stopped. The second act is set in the mountains and in nearby villages while the third is about Cesira and Rosetta trying to return to Rome when the Americans arrive to liberate Italy. It all plays to Cesira and Rosetta in their encounter with war as they would meet different soldiers in their journey as well as watch an old man gunned down by a plane. There’s also moments in the story where Cesira is intrigued by Michele despite the fact that he’s younger than her as it does lead to elements of romance. Yet, it’s a cautious one as Michele knows what is at stake where even though the Allies would win. The war isn’t over as the Germans become the new enemy and there’s an uncertainty into whether they could trust the Allies.

Vittorio De Sica’s direction is very mesmerizing for not just the way he explores the horrors of war but also in the dramatic moments in how Cesira tries to do what is right for her daughter and to protect her. The direction showcases some very chilling images that displays what kind of woman Cesira is where she has good intentions but does things that aren’t very noble. Still, she is determined to protect her daughter as De Sica would create some intoxicating close-ups to play into her struggle as well as some medium and wide shots to showcase the world they’re in as well as the horrors of war. There’s also some very dark scenes that includes an encounter with Moroccan soldiers that is one of the film’s most unforgettable and disturbing moments. Though De Sica knows what he does, he knows what not to show as it is about the dramatic impact and terror that happens. It all plays into what women go through in war and how it can affect them in the most horrific way. Overall, De Sica crafts a very harrowing yet powerful film about a woman protecting her daughter from the horrors of war.

Cinematographer Gabor Pogany does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the gorgeous landscape of the Italian mountains as well as some intriguing interior lighting schemes to play into the sense of dread that occurs during the time of war. Editor Adriana Novelli does amazing work with the editing to create some unique rhythms to play into the drama as well as that sense of suspense for any scene involving planes. Production designer Gastone Medin and set decorator/costume designer Elio Costanzi do brilliant work with the set pieces from the look of the shack where Cesira and Rosetta would live in while Costanzi‘s costumes have this air of realism to play into a world that is very chaotic. Special sound effects by Philippe Arthuys does nice work with the sound work to play into that sense of terror that occurs in war. The film’s music by Armando Trovajoli is fantastic for its somber orchestral piece to play into the drama as it showcases the sense of despair that Cesira would go through.

The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small performances from Raf Vallone as a family friend of Cesira, Franco Balducci as a German soldier hiding in a haystack, Antonella Della Porta as a troubled mother Cesira and Michele encounter, and Carlo Ninchi as Michele’s father who tries to keep things peaceful despite his own political differences with his son. Eleonora Brown is amazing as Rosetta as an innocent, religious young girl who deals with her surroundings as well as the terror of war that would have a major impact on her. Jean-Paul Belmondo is excellent as Michele as an intellect who helps Cesira in getting food and supplies while expressing his own disdain towards Mussolini and the idea of war. Finally, there’s Sophia Loren in an incredible performance as Cesira as this woman determined to protect her daughter at any cost as she would use her sex appeal to get what she wants but also is a woman that understands right from wrong as it’s really one of Loren’s finest performances.

La ciociara is a tremendously visceral yet evocative film from Vittorio De Sica that features a magnificent performance from Sophia Loren. The film isn’t just a unique yet compelling portrait about what people go through in war but also in some of its horrors and the many questions people ask about these atrocities. In the end, La ciociara is a phenomenal film from Vittorio De Sica.

Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - Bicycle Thieves - (Miracle in Milan) - (Umberto D.) - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) - (Marriage Italian-Style) - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) - (Le streghe) - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) - (The Garden of Finzi-Continis) - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)

© thevoid99 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Zero Theorem




Directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Pat Rushin, The Zero Theorem is the story of a reclusive computer genius who tries to see if there’s any meaning to life through a formula where he endures a series of surreal misadventures. The film is a dystopian film of sorts set in the future as it recalls many of Gilliam’s films from the past while going into a man dealing with his own identity and his place in the world. Starring Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, and Matt Damon as the Management. The Zero Theorem is a dazzling yet whimsical film from Terry Gilliam.

Set in a futuristic world, the film explores the troubled life of an eccentric computer programmer whose job is to find the meaning of life through a theory as he ponders about his own existence where he encounters a series of oddball characters during his journey. Yet, it all plays into this programmer who is also very reclusive as he await a phone call that he thinks could have some meaning. During his time in his home where he works continuously to find answers, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) deals with his own loneliness as he often refers to himself as “we” where he starts to fall for a young woman in Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) as well as gain the aid of his boss’ son Bob (Lucas Hedges) where they would get him to showcase a world outside of his work and obsession to find answers.

Pat Rushin’s screenplay does create some unique ideas about existentialism as well as faith where Qohen is a man who seeks answers that are beyond the world he works for as he often crunch numbers to see if there are any answers. Qohen is a man that often dreams about being sucked into a black hole in his feeling that there’s nothing in the world as he is asked by the mysterious known as Management to find these impossible answers. Qohen takes the job because he has nothing to live for where his meetings with Management would be very strange. While he spends a year working to prove this theory in his home, he rarely has human contacts where the odd visits he receives from Bob, Bainsley, and his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) would be very strange. Even as he learns what Bainsley does as it would complicate things as she would be the one person who shows him that there’s more to life than nothingness.

Terry Gilliam’s direction is quite extravagant in some ways in not just the world that Qohen lives but also the idea of dystopia where it’s more offbeat rather than oppressive. Yet, it does have some satirical comedy about the way technology drives the world such as a party scene where everyone is holding tablets rather than communicate with words. Gilliam’s direction has him utilizing not just close-ups and medium shots but these intricate crane shots to play into Qohen’s sense of loneliness. Especially as he rarely goes outside as he prefers to stay home to await a phone call where there’s an intimacy that Gilliam creates. The artificial world that Qohen would encounter would display his own lack of humanity and struggles along with the idea of what it could be once the fear is gone. Overall, Gilliam creates a very sensational yet compelling film about a man seeking answers in a very troubled world.

Cinematographer Nicola Pecorini does excellent work with the many of the film‘s stylized interior lighting schemes for the party scenes and the main base of where Qohen works at plus an offbeat look to some of the film‘s exterior settings. Editor Mick Audsley does fantastic work with the editing with its rhythmic approach to play into the film‘s humor as well as in some of the dramatic moments. Production designer David Warren, with art director Adrian Curelea and set decorators Jille Azis and Gina Stancu, does amazing work with the set design from the home that Qohen lives in to the look of the city and the place where Qohen works at. Costume designer Carlo Poggioli does brilliant work with the stylized costumes that includes some of the camouflage suits that Management wears in his surroundings as well as the clothes that Bainsley wears.

Hair/makeup designer Kristin Chalmers does terrific work with the hairstyle that Qohen would wear in his fantasy as well as the wig that Bainsley wears in one of her visits. Visual effects supervisors Felix Lepadatu, Jonah Loop, and Fredrik Nord do superb work with the visual effects where it is minimal in some respects from the fantasy world that Qohen and Bainsley live in to the image of the black hole. Sound designer Andre Jacquemin does nice work with the sound work from the sound effects of the cameras that are watching Qohen to the scenes that occur that play into Qohen‘s troubled state of mind. The film’s music by George Fenton is wonderful for its mixture of eerie orchestral music with some offbeat electronic music with the soundtrack featuring electronic dance music and a jazz cover of Radiohead’s Creep.

The casting by Irene Lamb is incredible as it features an array of offbeat cameos from Gwendoline Christie, Ray Cooper, Lily Cole, and Rupert Friend as people seen on commercials, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Peter Stormare, and Ben Whishaw as a trio of oddball doctors, and Robin Williams in an un-credited appearance as televangelist. Other notable small roles include Emil Hostana and Pavlic Nemes as a couple of clones, Dana Rogoz as a sexy pizza girl, and Tilda Swinton in a very hilarious performance as Dr. Shrink-Rom as an artificial shrink who can bust some mad rhymes. Matt Damon is excellent in a small but very memorable performance as the boss known as Management as he appears in the oddest circumstances as it’s Damon playing it very straight.

David Thewlis is amazing as the supervisor Joby who tries to get Qohen to be more outgoing while also being a friend of sorts as he tries to prepare Qohen for what he will endure. Lucas Hedges is fantastic as Bob as this whiz-kid who helps Qohen in uncovering the theory as well as dealing with Qohen’s reclusive behavior. Melanie Thierry is brilliant as Bainsley as this mysterious young woman who meets Qohen at a party as she is intrigued by his personality while getting him to be more open as she would fall for him. Finally, there’s Christoph Waltz in a remarkable performance as Qohen Leth as this very reclusive man who deals with his own existence as well as faith as he tries to uncover a mystery as it’s a performance that features Waltz at his most vulnerable as well as his restrained approach to humor.

The Zero Theorem is an extraordinarily fun and exhilarating film from Terry Gilliam. Armed with a great cast led by Christoph Waltz as well as some amazing technical work and some compelling themes on faith and existentialism. The film is definitely one of Gilliam’s finest works as it proves that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. In the end, The Zero Theorem is a marvelous film from Terry Gilliam.

Terry Gilliam Films: Jabberwocky - Time Bandits - Brazil - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - The Fisher King - 12 Monkeys - Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas - The Brothers Grimm - (Tideland) - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

(The Auteurs #38: Terry Gilliam)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pickup on South Street




Written and directed by Samuel Fuller from a story by Dwight Taylor, Pickup on South Street is the story of a petty crook who steals a pocketbook from a woman that features secrets that are confidential by the U.S. government. The film is a noir-thriller set during the early years of the Cold War where a crook and a woman are caught in the middle of a chase involving Federal officers and Communist agents. Starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. Pickup on South Street is a riveting noir film from Samuel Fuller.

The film revolves around a pickpocket who steals a wallet from a woman’s purse unaware that it features an item that both the U.S. government and Communist spies want where he and the woman he stole from are in trouble. It’s a film that plays into the paranoia of Communism spreading into the U.S. yet writer/director Samuel Fuller would focus more on characters and their motivations rather than a lot of the political implications that occur. Especially as the pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is just looking for money to steal as he wants nothing to do with Communism as he realizes that there is more at stake. While he is reluctant to trust Candy (Jean Peters) who wants the film back for her boyfriend, Skip wonders if Candy knew what she was carrying where she would eventually find out. The only person the two trust is an offbeat informer in Moe (Thelma Ritter) who works for little money but also is aware of what is right and wrong.

The film’s script is filled with some very stylish dialogue that plays into the world of film noir where there is a certain language in the way everyone talks. Even as it plays to everyone trying to outwit each other in order to get what they want. Yet, many of the characters in the film all want something but in the process realize that there’s a price to be paid where both Skip and Candy eventually decide to do what is right. One character that is key to the story is Moe as she is someone who knows about the ins and outs of the underworld but isn’t a total snitch as she would often steer people into the right path as she is also someone who is weary and has seen so much in her life.

Fuller’s direction is quite stylish not just in the way he plays into the visual language of film noir but also in the way he would subvert some of the expectations of the genre in favor of character study. Notably as Fuller would create some very intense yet intimate moments in the way Skip would do his pick pocketing where it’s all about timing and going for the move. It’s also a moment in the film where it is shown from different perspectives where there are men who are watching Skip as they’re tailing Candy. Fuller would take a break from the action where it is about speculation about whether Skip is a Communist while Candy who has very little clue about what she was supposed to do finds herself in a situation that makes her uncomfortable. The use of tight close-ups and medium shots would play into the drama that includes this chilling scene of a weary Moe facing a Communist agent. It would lead into Skip and Candy finding redemption as its climax does play to typical noir showdowns but one that manages to be fulfilling. Overall, Fuller creates a gripping yet very smart film about a pickpocket who uncovers a dark secret that could impact the world.

Cinematographer Joseph McDonald does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylized black-and-white photography with its noir-inspired interior shadings for scenes at night as well as some of the nighttime exterior lighting schemes. Editor Nick De Maggio does fantastic work with the editing with its rhythmic editing style to the pick pocketing scene as well as some of the dramatic moments where the editing is methodical to play into its suspense. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and George Patrick, with set decorator Al Orenbach, do excellent work with the look of the pier shack that Skip lives in to the quaint apartment of Moe.

Costume designer Travilla, with wardrobe supervisor Charles Le Maire, does nice work with the costumes from the stylish dresses that Candy wears to the suits the men wear. The sound work of Winston H. Leverett is superb for some of the sound effects that occur including some chilling moments inside the pier and in the locations the characters are in. The film’s music by Leigh Harline is wonderful for its thrilling orchestral score that features some elements of jazz as well as some somber pieces for the drama.

The film’s amazing cast includes some notable small roles from Willis Bouchey and Milburn Stone as a couple of government agents tailing Skip and Candy, Murvyn Vye as a police captain who doesn’t like Skip, and Richard Kiley in a very crucial and chilling performance as Candy’s boyfriend Joey. Thelma Ritter is phenomenal as Moe as this informant who doesn’t take shit from anyone while being the one person who is this unlikely conscious as she has this great monologue that is heartbreaking but also compelling about who she is. Jean Peters is superb as Candy as this woman who realizes what she has done as she tries to set things right while falling for Skip. Finally, there’s Richard Widmark in a marvelous performance as Skip McCoy as a pickpocket who deals with his discovery as he eventually realizes the trouble that is happening where he would try and do what is right.

Pickup on South Street is a phenomenal film from Samuel Fuller that features great performances from Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. The film is one of Fuller’s more seedy yet stylish films that showcase his dark take on film noir with a dose of captivating stories and characters. In the end, Pickup on South Street is a remarkable film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - (Hell and High Water) - (House of Bamboo) - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - (Forty Guns) - Verboten! - (The Crimson Kimono) - (Underworld U.S.A.) - Merrill's Maurauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - (The Big Red One) - (White Dog) - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

High Heels (1991 film)




Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, Tacones lejanos (High Heels) is the story about the fragile relationship between a famous torch singer and her news reporter daughter where the two find themselves involved in a murder. Inspired by American melodramas, the film isn’t just an exploration about this estranged relationship between two women but also what these two women do to hurt each other. Starring Marisa Paredes, Victoria Abril, and Miguel Bose. Tacones lejanos is a compelling though uneven film from Pedro Almodovar.

The film explores this tense and fragile relationship between a torch singer and her news reporter daughter as the former returns to Spain to do a series of concerts while the latter has married a former lover of her mother’s. All of which would then lead to a murder mystery where both women are suspects as it would lead to many complications and revelations over the strained relationship between the two women. Much of which involves envy and resentment between the two women as the singer Becky del Paramo (Marisa Paredes) and the news reporter Rebeca (Victoria Abril) come to terms with their disdain for one another as well as the root of this schism.

Pedro Almodovar’s screenplay starts off very well in the way it plays the troubled relationship between Becky and Rebeca as it would be furthered by the latter’s marriage to Manuel (Feodor Atkine) whom Becky had been with many years ago. Yet, the marriage is already troubled which would lead to a brief affair between Manuel and Becky but one that is unfulfilling as Manuel has another lover. Then the film shifts gears into a mystery where Rebeca becomes very despondent over what happens as she is questioned by a judge (Miguel Bose) who wants to know what happened. Even as he would make some revelations about the relationship between mother and daughter as it would lead some very dramatic moments in the second act. Just as the first two acts would create something that is intriguing, the film would then fall apart in its third act not just in some of the twists that are unveiled but in how messy and uneven the story would become.

Almodovar’s direction is quite stylish in not just in the way he composes a scene but also capture elements of the drama where one of its obvious influences in the film is Ingmar Bergman’s whose 1978 film Autumn Sonata is referenced. There’s some unique close-ups and framing devices that Almodovar would use to play into the tension between Becky and Rebeca as well as the way the camera would capture these moments in medium shots and wide shots with very few close-ups of the two together as they would only be used in single shots. The film would also have some very entrancing moments such as Becky, Rebeca, and Manuel watching a tribute performance to Becky by a drag singer as well as Becky’s own singing performances. Yet, there’s also some offbeat moments such as a choreographed dancing in a prison as well as some moments in the third act which definitely provides some shifting tones that eventually becomes confusing and incomprehensive despite its very powerful ending. Overall, Almodovar crafts a very intriguing though very messy film about a troubled relationship between a mother and her daughter.

Cinematographer Alfred Mayo does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography to capture every sense of detail in many of the film‘s interior settings including the scenes at the club as well as some of the exteriors in the way Madrid looks. Editor Jose Salcedo does fantastic work with the editing with its stylish approach to dissolves as well as jump-cuts to play into some of the film‘s humor and melodrama. Production designer Pierre-Louis Thevenet, with set decorator Julian Mateos and art director Carlos Garcia Cambero, does brilliant work with the set pieces from the different homes the two women live as well as the look of the club and court house that the characters would go to.

Costume designer Jose Maria de Cossio does excellent work with the costumes from the dresses that Becky would wear as well as the Karl Lagerfeld-designed Chanel suits and dresses that Rebeca would wear. The sound work of Jean-Paul Mugel is terrific for some of the sound work that occurs including one key moment of the film that would drive the story towards its second act. The film’s music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is pretty good as it features some low-key orchestral pieces while most of the music consists of jazz pieces by Miles Davis as well as classic torch songs and some score pieces by George Fenton in some of the dramatic moments.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small appearances from Rocio Munoz as a young Rebeca, Nacho Martinez as Rebeca’s father, Pedro Diez del Corral as Rebeca’s step-father in a flashback sequence, Miriam Diaz Aroca as the sign-language reporter, Anna Lizaran as Becky’s assistant Margarita, Cristina Marcos as a social worker that Rebeca meets, and Javier Bardem in a very small role as a TV director. Feodor Atkine is terrific as Rebeca’s husband Manuel who has a disdain for drag queens and is cruel to Rebeca as he seeks to renew his affair with Becky. Miguel Bose is fantastic as the young judge who looks over into this case as he tries to question the two women over their troubled relationship.

Marisa Paredes is great as Becky del Parmo as this torch singer who returns to Spain to give a series of homecoming concerts as she tries to deal with a murder mystery as well as her tense relationship with her daughter. Finally, there’s Victoria Abril in a phenomenal performance as Rebeca as this young woman who tried to reconcile with her mother as she is dealing with being in her mother’s shadow as well as being in a loveless marriage as it’s a performance filled with anguish as well as excitement as her scenes with Paredes are just astonishing to watch.

Tacones lejanos is a stellar yet messy film from Pedro Almodovar. While it features a great cast and beautiful images, it’s a film that has Almodovar trying to infuse many genres where it starts off great but has a very messy third act that hinders the film a bit. In the end, Tacones lejanos is a really good yet flawed film from Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Bad Education - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I'm So Excited!

The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wadjda




Written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, Wadjda is the story of a young girl living in a suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she seeks to get a bicycle. The film is an exploration into the world of young women trying to find a role in a very conservative world like Saudi Arabia as she is played by Waad Mohammed. Also starring Reem Abdullah and Abdulrahman al-Guhani. Wadjda is a remarkably touching film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

The film is a simple story about a young girl named Wadjda who lives in a small suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she is eager to get a bicycle so she can race with her one of friends. Yet, bicycles aren’t toys for girls in the conservative country as she would take part in a competition to recite the Koran where the prize money would be more than enough to buy the bike. Still, it’s a film that explores this conflict between the conservative and religious ideals of Saudi Arabia and this young girl who just wants to ride a bike, wear Chuck Taylor shoes and listen to American pop music. Even as she gets the ire of her school headmistress Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel) and her mother (Reem Abdullah) who is struggling with the growing separation between herself and her father (Sultan Al Assaf) as well as other issues.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s screenplay doesn’t go into many of the issues about the conservative and religious rule of the country by focusing more on Wadjda’s story as she isn’t trying to be a rebel. Instead, she is just a young girl living in a very strict world where she wants to enjoy things despite these circumstances. She makes money making bracelets and mixtapes while being in school where she would see other girls do other things as Wadjda would often get in trouble much to the dismay of her mother. Once Wadjda decides to take part in the competition, she would have to act more conservatively in the school but it becomes a struggle as she realizes that some of her more rebellious classmates are being shunned for their own actions. At the same time, Wadjda watches her mother struggling with loneliness as she is trying to get a new job as she would be forced to ride three hours to work in a very hot van driven by a very annoyed man.

The direction of al-Mansour is quite intoxicating in the way she manages to bring something that is engaging in a story that is simple. Shooting on location in Riyadh, there is a realism to the way al-Mansour shoots everything on location to showcase a world that is very modern at times but also still trying to hold on to a sense of tradition. The approach to shooting on location but in a more traditional sense gives al-Mansour the chance to do something that doesn’t go into any kind of style there are some very simple yet unique compositions in the way close-ups are shot as well as scenes in the school. It would play into this dramatic climax where Wadjda would compete in this recitation of the Koran where al-Mansour would have the audience root for knowing why she wants to win. Yet, there’s an aftermath that doesn’t just play into Wadjda’s struggle but also the one her mother faces in her own marriage and ideals where there are moments of hope despite these circumstances. Overall, al-Mansour crafts a very heartfelt yet mesmerizing film about a young girl from Saudi Arabia and her desire to own a bike.

Cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very simple and understated for the way it shoots many of the locations along with some low-key lighting schemes for some of the interiors. Editor Andreas Wodraschke does terrific work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward with bits of styles to play into the drama and some of the light-hearted moments. Production designer Thomas Molt, with set decorator Maram Algohani and art director Tarik Saeed, does fantastic work with the look of home that Wadjda and her mother live in as well as the school where Wadjda goes to.

Costume designer Peter Pohl does nice work with the costumes from the design of the head-scarves the women wear as well as some of the clothing they would wear inside their homes. Sound designer Sebastian Schmidt does superb work with the sound to capture the sound textures of the city including some scenes where Wadjda and her mother watch from afar as an election party is happening next door. The film’s music by Max Richter is brilliant for its mixture of somber orchestral music and traditional Arabian music to play into Wadjda’s determination as the soundtrack also includes a few American pop tracks that Wadjda listens to.

The film’s cast includes some noteworthy small roles from Noof Saad as the Koran teacher, Rafa Al Sanea and Alanoud Sajini as a couple of trouble-making classmates, and Ibrahim Al Mozael as the toyshop owner who is holding the bike for Wadjda. Sultan al Assaf is terrific as Wadjda’s father who only appears sporadically to see her as he often brings trouble to his marriage and what he wants. Ahd Kamel is fantastic as the headmistress who is very wary of Wadjda’s activities and her choice of shoes and such as she wonders why she is entering the competition. Abdulrahman al-Guhani is excellent as the young boy Abdullah who is a friend of Wadjda as he helps her in learning to ride a bike as she would also help him with a few things such as putting lights for an election that his uncle is a part of.

Reem Abdullah is amazing as Wadjda’s mother as a woman dealing with her own issues at work as well as her marriage as she tries to raise Wadjda by herself as she brings a complexity to the role of a mother who tries to instill ideas of tradition but is aware of the changes in her daughter. Finally, there’s Waad Mohammed in an incredible performance as the titular character as this young girl who is determined to ride a bicycle as she would do whatever it takes to get the money to buy one as it’s a role filled with naturalism and energy as it’s really a performance that has to be seen.

Wadjda is a spectacular film from Haifaa al-Mansour that features a supremely exhilarating performance from Waad Mohammed as the titular character. The film isn’t just a unique look into the world of Saudi Arabia from the perspective of a young girl but also an engaging one in how she is determined to get a bicycle. In the end, Wadjda is a magnificent film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Russian Ark




Directed and narrated by Alexander Sokurov and written by Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, Russian Ark is the story about the events at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg told through a ghost who watches these events in the span of three centuries. Shot entirely in one entire take, the film explores these moments of time where the evolution of this place occurs. Starring Sergei Dreiden. Russian Ark is a dazzling and intoxicating film from Alexander Sokurov.

The film is a plot-less story where a ghost finds himself at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia as he watches many events unfold through the span of three centuries. All of which is told from this unseen narrator who at times would break the fourth wall as he gazes into many of the events as joining him is this French composer (Sergei Dreiden) who finds himself speaking Russian as he would also comment on what he’s seeing. Among them are parties in the 18th and 19th Century, lunch with the Romonovs, various ceremonies, and people looking at the paintings in present time. The film’s screenplay by Alexander Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, with additional dialogue by Boris Khaimsky and Svetlana Proskurina, has this looseness where it avoids any kind of plot structure or any kind of scenarios. It all takes place in this palace that has become a museum where it plays into a world of what it once was and those who are seeing it.

Sokurov’s direction is truly astonishing for the fact that is shot entirely in one entire take in an entire day where anything could’ve gone wrong. It is shot from the perspective of the narrator that follows everything that goes on from room to room where there is always something happening. Much of which is presented in a continuous steadicam that captures everything with its approach to wide shots and close-ups. There is also moments where time is distorted where one room is set in the 18th Century and then another could be set in the 20th/21st Century where people are looking at paintings and sculpture where the composer and narrator would interact with them. It would then go into another room where moments of history are taking place as well as commentaries about what is happening as if the fourth wall is broken.

Since it’s a very daring film where there’s a lot of extras and people in the room, there is an unpredictability that is engaging to watch where it brings an excitement to the sense of the unknown. Even as it includes some ceremonial scenes where choreography is a key aspect of the film whether it’s a military ceremony or a ball where the composer and narrator are either observing or taking part in the event. It has moments that are quite lavish and those that are very intimate as Sokurov manages to capture something that feels real in its 96-minute running time where the film is presented in real time. Overall, Sokurov creates a truly exhilarating and enchanting film about many events happening and such at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

Cinematographer Tilman Buttner does amazing work with the cinematography to capture the different lighting schemes that occur in many of the film‘s interior settings as well as a few exterior shots as it has this panoramic look in the way the camera moves as Buttner is also the film‘s camera operator. Editors Stefan Ciupek, Sergei Ivanov, and Betina Kuntzsch do nice work with the few edits that occur in the opening credits and closing credits while gathering whatever takes was used throughout entire production to create something that feels like a continuous shot. Art directors Natalya Kochergina and Elena Zhukova do fantastic work with the look of some of the rooms to recreate some of the balls and ceremonies that occur during the film.

Costume designers Maria Grishnova, Lidiya Kryukova, and Tamara Seferyan do brilliant work with the array of period costumes and uniforms wore by the many extras in the film to capture those different periods of time. The sound work of Sergei Moshkov and Vladimir Persov is superb for the atmosphere it creates in some of the rooms where some of it is sparse while other scenes might have more broader sounds such as the ballroom scene. The film’s music features a lot of classical Russian pieces from Mikhail Glinka and Tchaikovsky as well as pieces by Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann where much of the arrangements are made by the film’s composer Sergei Yevtushenko who provides a few low-key pieces that are mostly ambient-based cuts.

The film’s casting by Tatyana Komarova is great as it features many extras as well as small performances from Vladimir Baranov as Nicholas II, Anna Aleksakhina as Alexandra Fedodorovna, Marksim Sergeyev as Peter the Great, and Mariya Kuznetsova as Catherine the Great. Director Alexander Sokurov does excellent work in his narration that plays into this very offbeat role of a ghost whose face is never seen as Sokurov brings a lot of strange yet mesmerizing approach to his role. Finally, there’s Sergei Dreiden in an incredible performance as this mysterious French composer who is an observer and commentator on everything he sees as it’s a role filled with some humor and wonderment.

Russian Ark is a tremendous film from Alexander Sokurov. Armed with some amazing technical achievements and a premise that is out of this world but intriguing to watch. It’s a film that showcases a world that once gone and can be recreated through imagination as it blends with the modern world. In the end, Russian Ark is a magnificent film from Alexander Sokurov.

© thevoid99 2014