Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Origin Films

For the fourth week of November 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We focus on origin movies as they’ve become very popular within blockbuster films as it allows audience to find out how this person would become a hero or someone famous. Here are my three picks as they’re all from the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

1. Iron Man

The film that started the MCU revolves around a billionaire who sees his creation of weapons be used for evil only to fight back by creating a suit that would make him rectify those errors. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, it’s a film that shows a man who need to do something that would change this legacy of being a man creating weapons into becoming one for the good of the world. It’s got humor, it’s got action, and helps introduce the world that Stark would later be a part of as it is one of the finest superhero films ever made.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

A true gem in every sense of the word comes a film about a gang of misfits who come together to be the saviors of the universe. The gang includes a half-human being raised by thieves who hooks up with a raccoon, his tree-like friend named Groot, a female warrior with a chip on her shoulder, and a big alien of a man wanting revenge for the death of his family. It is set in a galaxy that is diverse as it has some great action mixed in with some high-octane humor as well as a cool soundtrack.

3. Doctor Strange

A more recent entry in the MCU series as it involves a character that is still new to the MCU as it’s about this arrogant doctor who is humbled by an accident that would do damages to his hands where he would make a major discovery into the world of mystical arts. It’s a flawed film that doesn’t really do much to the origin storyline but it still manages to not take itself too seriously while creating some dazzling visuals as well a top-notch performance from Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Eagle vs. Shark

Written and directed by Taika Waititi from a story by Waititi and Loren Horsley who also both do casting duties, Eagle vs. Shark is the story of a shy young woman who meets an eccentric oddball at a costume party as they connect over their insecurities and loneliness as she accompanies him back to his hometown to deal with issues including his family. The film is an exploration of two people who connect as they deal with their own issues with the world as well as wonder if there’s a place for them. Starring Loren Horsley, Jermaine Clement, Craig Hall, and Joel Tobeck. Eagle vs. Shark is a delightful and heartfelt film from Taika Waititi.

The film follows a fast-food worker who has a crush on a man who works at a video game store where they connect at a costume party as he invites her to his hometown to get revenge on a bully. It’s a film that revolves around these two oddballs who don’t exactly fit in with conventional society as they bond somewhat through video games, music, and other things. At the same time, they out of step with the people around them with a few exceptions such as their respective families. Taika Waititi’s screenplay that is based on a story he wrote with Loren Horsley is filled with this balance of tragedy and humor as it relates to a line of dialogue late in the film about the way life is. It’s an idea that Lily (Loren Horsley) has been carrying since her parents had died years ago where she shares a home with her brother Damon (Joel Tobeck) who is an eccentric himself yet has managed to find a suitable living as an animator. Lily works at a fast food restaurant where Jarrod (Jermaine Clement) would often go to as he works nearby as he doesn’t seem interested in Lily until she takes an invitation to a party that was meant for someone else.

Due to her skills in playing a fighting game, Lily wins over Jarrod but it’s not enough until he apologizes for not showing up to their date because of news relating to an old high school enemy coming back to his hometown. Lily would join Jarrod with Damon driving them from the city into the country as Jarrod’s family is an oddball bunch with his older sister Nancy (Rachel House) living in the house with her husband, son, and their father Jonah (Brian Sargent) who is very withdrawn from Jarrod. Especially as it relates to Jarrod’s older brother Gordon (Taika Waititi) who had died in an accident which Jarrod claims as he would also claim his mother died as well. There’s also the presence of Gordon’s former fiancée Tracy (Gentiane Lupi) whom Jarrod is trying to impress while he also reveals to Lily that he has a daughter in Vinny (Morag Hills). All of which has Lily trying to get to know Jarrod while being someone his family likes because she is willing to accept their oddball personalities.

Waititi’s direction is definitely stylish not just in its approach to comedy and drama but also setting it into a world that is definitely unique in its own way as it is shot on location in New Zealand with the first act in the city of Wellington and the rest of the film in Porirua. While Waititi would use wide shots to capture the scope of the locations, he would maintain something intimate in the way he would capture the lives of Lily and Jarrod. The former lives with her brother as she still lives in a room that she used to share with him where Waititi would have her in the left side of the room on her bed playing guitar with her brother sitting on the other side of what used to be his bed to establish the closeness of their relationship. The usage of medium shots and close-ups are key to Waititi and how he would capture the life of a family including where he would have them around the dinner table. Notably in a scene where it’s very quiet and tense until Lily breaks that tension by telling a joke that is lame but manages to work.

Waititi would also utilize some stop-motion animation with the aid of Guy Capper and Francis Salole of Another Planet Limited in creating abstract scenes that play into Jarrod’s need to find someone as he isn’t sure if Lily is the right person for him. Waititi’s approach to humor is offbeat in the way some of the characters are presented but it doesn’t go for cheap laughs where Waititi would know where to put the humor in the right moments. Even as it would play into elements of the tragedies of the film such as the climatic showdown between Jarrod and his childhood bully Eric (Dave Fane) as it would unveil some surprising revelations. Especially as it showcases Jarrod’s need to be accepted by his family and to move away from his brother’s shadow. Overall, Waititi creates an endearing and witty comedy about two oddballs who fall in love and cope with their own encounters with tragedy.

Cinematographer Adam Clark does excellent work with the cinematography as it is largely straightforward for the scenes set in the daytime while using some lights for the scenes set at night. Editor Jonathan Woodford-Robinson does brilliant work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts and other stylish cut to play into the humor as well as some of the light-dramatic moments without being too playful. Production designer Joe Bleakley does fantastic work with the look of the home Lily shares with her brother as well as Jarrod’s apartment in Wellington and his family home. Costume designer Amanda Neale does nice work with the costumes from the homemade animal costumes that Lily and Jarrod wear at the party to the track suits created by Jarrod’s sister and her husband.

Hair/makeup designer Leanne “Frankie” Karena does terrific work with the look of Jarrod who kind sports a mini-mullet of sorts to play into his oddball look. Sound editor Dave Whitehead does superb work with the sound in capturing the natural sounds in some of the locations as well as the way music is presented in some scenes in the film. The film’s music by the Phoenix Foundation is wonderful for its folk-like sound that play into the film’s offbeat tone in creating bits of melancholia and humor while music supervisors Chris Gough and Julie Hodges provide a fun soundtrack that features pieces from Devendra Banhart, M. Ward, and the Stone Roses.

The film’s incredible cast that is assembled by Taika Waititi and Loren Horsley features some notable small roles from Waititi as Jarrod’s late older brother Gordon, Chelsie Preston Crayford as Lily’s co-worker Jenny whom Jarrod has a crush on, Gentiane Lupi as Gordon’s fiancée Tracy whom Jarrod is trying to woo, Morag Hills as Jarrod’s daughter Vinny who befriends Lily, Dave Fane as Jarrod’s nemesis Eric, Cohen Holloway as Jarrod’s hacker friend Mason, Bernard Stewart as Jarrod’s heavy metal-loving nephew Zane, and Craig Hall as Jarrod’s brother-in-law Doug. Rachel House is fantastic as Jarrod’s older sister Nancy who doesn’t think much about him but enjoys Lily’s company. Brian Sargent is superb as Jarrod’s father Jonah as a man who is still reeling from the loss of his son as he is very distant towards Jarrod where he manages to connect with Lily that would allow him to get to know his youngest son.

Joel Tobeck is excellent as Damon as Lily’s kind older brother who likes to do impressions and say funny things as a way to cheer people up where he is also liked by Jarrod’s family during his brief time with them. Finally, there’s the duo of Jermaine Clement and Loren Horsley in sensational performances in their respective roles as Jarrod and Lily. Clement’s performance as Jarrod is strange in the way he would deliver his dialogue and how he would threaten Eric as it play into someone that is trying to be tough and cool but it only hide the anguish and loss he is dealing with over his brother’s death. Horsley’s performance as Lily is more restrained as she does provide bits of physical comedy reaction but also has a lot of energy in the way she reacts to Jarrod’s coldness during the second act where she channels her energy to get to know his family as her charm would be key to the story and letting Jarrod find some happiness.

Eagle vs. Shark is a remarkable film from Taika Waititi. Featuring a great cast, a heartfelt story, a fun soundtrack, and gorgeous visuals. It’s a film that showcases how two people can fall in love despite their own quirkiness and coping with their own respective tragedies. In the end, Eagle vs. Shark is an incredible film from Taika Waititi.

Taika Waititi Films: (Two Cars, One Night) – (Boy (2010 film)) – What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok

© thevoid99 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rocco and His Brothers

Based on an episode from the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori, Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) is the story of a family in Milan who deal with their surroundings where a man tries to maintain the unity of his family who deal with their new surrounding and its vices. Directed by Luchino Visconti and screenplay by Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, and Enrico Mediola from a story by Visconti, d’Amico, and Vasco Pratolini, the film is an exploration of the life of a family struggling to be together amidst their need to succeed and find happiness. Starring Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou, Spiros Focas, Max Cartier, and Claudia Cardinale. Rocco e i suoi fratelli is an evocative and rapturous film from Luchino Visconti.

The film follows a family from Southern Italy who travels to Milan to join their eldest son to live in a new environment hoping they wouldn’t struggle yet they would deal with the demands of the modern world and the vices it would bring that would shake the unity of the family. It’s a film told in five parts as it feature five brothers who are from Southern Italy as they all try to make it in Milan with the youngest being a child with their mother Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) hoping the move would be a good change for the family. The film’s screenplay does have this structure that is told in five parts as it goes from the eldest son in Vincenzo (Spiros Focas) to the youngest in Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) with the titular character Rocco (Alain Delon) in the middle. The first act revolves around Vincenzo being engaged to a young woman in Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale) and the second eldest in Simone (Renato Salvatori) trying to make it as a boxer where he falls for a prostitute in Nadia (Annie Girardot). The second act is about Rocco while the third is about the younger brother Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca.

When the Parondi family arrives to learn about Vincenzo’s engagement to Ginetta, it is a surprise where things don’t exactly go well forcing Vincenzo to be with his family and help them find a home and work for his brothers. When Ginetta becomes pregnant, Vincenzo would marry her as he would make the decision to be with Ginetta and their growing family leaving his mother and brothers to fend for themselves despite wanting to help them. It’s around this time that Simone becomes fascinated by boxing due to his physique but also wants more as he isn’t interested in doing menial work like Vincenzo and Rocco where he would meet Nadia and would do whatever to please her. Even if it means stealing from the laundromat that Rocco works at which would be the start of his own downfall from someone that was loyal to his family to becoming selfish and lazy. Simone’s development is crucial to the story as is Rocco who is this saintly figure of sorts that is doing whatever he can to help his family. Even if it means sacrificing his own happiness for the good of his family where the second act is about him doing his military service where he would meet Nadia a few years after their arrival in Milan.

The second act wouldn’t just play into Rocco searching for his own place in life which also means having to reluctantly become a boxer as Simone’s trainer realize that Rocco has a lot more to offer to the sport than Simone. It’s also for the fact that Rocco is willing to help his family as well as try to mend fences between his mother and Vincenzo in order to meet his growing family. Yet, Rocco’s time with Nadia, who sees him as a way out of prostitution and immorality, would cause problems with Simone. The third act which begins with Ciro, who grows into a responsible young man with a steady job and a girlfriend, who begins to be the one providing for himself, Luca, and their mother as he would be forced to deal with Simone’s self-destructive lifestyle with Nadia that becomes too much for Rosaria to deal with. Ciro’s development is crucial in the third act as he started off as a teenager focusing on his studies and then become a man with responsibilities watching everything around him. Even as he has to be the one to guide his youngest brother Luca about the struggles they all have to deal with.

Luchino Visconti’s direction is definitely intoxicating for the way he captures life in early 1960s Milan as this epicenter of post-war modern Italy. Also shot on location near Lake Como, Visconti would create this world which would seem foreign to a family like the Pardoni who come from the rural landscape of Southern Italy where they had land that was their own despite the struggles they endure. In the city, they had to work harder to get a home and the things needed in a home. While there are a lot of wide shots that Visconti would use to capture the world of Milan and areas that represent this world that is modern as it’s filled with pool halls, boxing arenas, and posh hotels. Visconti creates something where it is a world that is enthralling but also a little off for characters like Rocco who had lived most of his life in the countryside which is a world Visconti doesn’t show at all. Instead, he opens the film with the Pardoni family, minus Vincenzo, arriving on a train station in Milan where they’re in awe of their new surroundings.

While the setting of the film is quite vast, there is still an element of intimacy into the characters that Visconti is interested in as he would use close-ups and medium shots to get a glimpse into the life they have. Especially in the apartments where there’s a scene of Rocco coming into Vincenzo’s apartment late in the second act as it show the kind of life Vincenzo has which is what Ciro is aiming for while still living with his mother and Luca. The film’s third act is about this desire to return to the South as it’s something Rocco wants where he copes with all that he tries to do for his family including Simone who would constantly put the family into shame. Especially in the film’s climax where all of the goading he gets for his troubles would finally test Rocco in his desire to help and forgive with Ciro having to tell Luca about what he would face as well as the realities of what is to come if the family ever returns to the South. Overall, Visconti creates a ravishing yet visceral film about a rural family dealing with modernism, sacrifice, and major challenges in the big city.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography to capture the look of modern Italy from the sunny look of the scene outside of the hotel to low-key approach of lighting for the boxing scenes as well as a scene where Simone confronts his former manager. Editor Mario Serandrei does brilliant work with the editing as it emphasizes on a lot of the dramatic elements with its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into some of the intense moments as well as stylish montage of sorts for a key sequence in the third act. Production designer Mario Garbuglia does excellent work with the look of the apartment that the Pardoni family would live in as well as some of the places the brothers would work at and the gym where Simone and Rocco would train.

Costume designer Piero Tosi does terrific work with the costumes as it play into the ragged look of the men early on and the clothes they would wear in the coming years to the fabulous dresses that Nadia would wear to play into the lifestyle of decadence that she craves for. The sound work of Giovanni Rossi is superb in capturing the atmosphere of the city from the things heard from afar as well as some of the raucous sounds at the gym and the apartment building Rosaria would live in. The film’s music by Nino Rota is phenomenal for its lush orchestral score as it play into the melodrama while creating themes that range from being upbeat to using more heavy strings for the eerie moments in the drama as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Alessandra Panaro as Ciro’s girlfriend, Corrado Pani as Simone’s friend Ivo, Claudia Mori and Adriana Asti as a couple of laundromat workers who flirt with Rocco, Suzy Delair as the laundromat manager, and Paolo Stoppa as Simone’s manager Cerri as a man who discovers Simone and sees his potential only to find himself into trouble when Simone descends into alcoholism. Claudia Cardinale is fantastic in a small role as Vincenzo’s fiancée Ginetta as a young woman that is willing to be part of Vincenzo’s family despite the mistreatment they received from her family. Rocco Vidolazzi is terrific as Luca as the youngest of the five brothers who is often with his other as he would observe everything around him while having to bear the responsibility of what he will need to do when he gets older. Spiros Focas is superb as Vincenzo as the eldest of the five brothers who is trying to create a family of his own while doing whatever he can to help his mother and brothers. Max Cartier is superb as Ciro as the second youngest of the five brothers who spends much of the film observing his older brothers while trying to make his own mark in his life where he also voices his opinions about what to do.

Katina Paxinou is excellent as Rosaria Pardoni as the mother of the five brothers who frets over the situation of the family while hoping they would get a good life as she wonders if the move to Milan was a good idea. Annie Girardot is brilliant as Nadia as a prostitute who is a woman that lives a decadent lifestyle that has her bringing in some bad vices to Simone until she would fall for Rocco where she hopes to make some changes in her life until Simone wants her back. Renato Salvatori is amazing as Simone as the second eldest brother who is eager to succeed in the city where he becomes a boxer but succumbs to his infatuation with Nadia that would eventually be his downfall as he becomes selfish, lazy, and destructive in the shame he would bring to his family. Finally, there’s Alain Delon in a tremendous performance as Rocco Pardoni as the middle brother who is trying to do what is right for his family as well as maintain order including helping Simone with his troubles as it’s a very restrained performance from Delon that is filled with anguish and humility.

Rocco e i suoi fratelli is an outstanding film from Luchino Visconti. Featuring a great cast led by Alain Delon as well as great visuals, Nino Rota’s sumptuous score, and a heartbreaking story on family dealing with the modern world. It’s a film that explores the life of a family trying to start over in a new world that demands so much and filled with vices that would test their unity. In the end, Rocco e i suoi fratelli is a magnificent film from Luchino Visconti.

Luchino Visconti Films: (Obsessione) – (Giorni di gloria) – (La Terra Firma) – (Bellissima) – (Appunti su un fatto di cronaca) – (We, the Women) – (Senso) – (White Nights (1957 film)) – (Boccaccio ’70-Il lavoro) – The Leopard - (Sandra) – (The Stranger (1967 film)) – (The Witches (1967 film)) – (The Damned (1969 film)) – (Alla ricerca di Tadzio) – (Death in Venice) – (Ludwig) – (Conversation Piece) – (The Innocent (1976 film))

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Based on the novel by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the story of a soldier who is taking part of a halftime show with his platoon during a football game as he deals with his time in Iraq in 2004. Directed by Ang Lee and screenplay by Jean-Christophe Castelli, the film is a look into a 19-year old soldier coping with loss and post-traumatic disorder as well as the demands he is given for being a hero. Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Makenzie Leigh, Steve Martin, and introducing Joe Alwyn as Billy Lynn. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a messy and overwrought film from Ang Lee.

The film follows a young private in Billy Lynn who is finishing up a two-week heroes tour around the United States as he and his platoon will be participating in the halftime show for a big Thanksgiving football game in Dallas, Texas. During the course of this day where he and his fellow soldiers are appearing at the game and be part of the halftime show with Lynn as the face of the platoon due to his heroism in Iraq. Yet, he is coping with the loss of his platoon sergeant he was trying to save that was captured on video as well as unsure if he wants to return to Iraq with his squad as his sister wants to take him to a hospital to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s screenplay does explore the sense of trauma that Lynn is enduring as well as the struggle he’s facing as there’s also a movie deal on the line. Unfortunately, there’s so much that is happening in the story that it ends up being a very jumbled mess with a narrative that moves back and forth from Lynn’s time in Iraq as well as what he’s dealing with inside this dome in Dallas.

Much of the film has Lynn looking back at certain events as well as deal with uncertain futures as it relates to a cheerleader named Faison (Makenzie Leigh) that he meets and falls for while thinking about the time he had with his family a few days earlier as his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) implores him to seek medical help. The usage of flashbacks and going back into the present as it play into Lynn’s own emotional anguish ends up being a dramatic crutch that goes overboard. Especially where Lynn would see one thing and think of something back in Iraq as it gets repetitive while the scene where Lynn is at home are told more simply despite some of the heavy-handed politics that Kathryn is spewing as she is the reason Lynn joined the army as a way to not go to jail over destroying her boyfriend’s car. It’s not just the narrative that suffers but also some of the characters with the football team owner Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin) being this embodiment of wanting to sell the idea of American patriotism and urge Americans to support the War of Iraq as he’s just a caricature.

Ang Lee’s direction does have some nice moments visually in some of the scenes set in Iraq that is shot mainly in Morocco while the scenes in Dallas and parts of Texas is shot in Locust Grove, Georgia with the dome shot at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Much of Lee’s direction is straightforward in the close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots where he captures the scope of this dome to emphasize the magnitude of the Thanksgiving football game which is tradition in America as is the big halftime show. The scenes set in Iraq do have bits of style in its approach to some of the gunfights as well as some gorgeous compositions of Lynn conversing with his superior in Sgt. Shroom (Vin Diesel) who is this poetic individual that finds beauty in some of the harshest places in the world. It’s one of the highlights in the film that is unfortunately bogged down by not just a bad script but also some unfortunate visual decisions made by Lee in a film that emphasizes a lot on grand visuals.

The scenes set at the football stadium is where some of the visual aspects of the film become problematic where a small scene of Lynn and his platoon throwing footballs playfully is obviously meant for the 3D format as it’s just a waste of a scene. Another scene in which Lynn meets football players in the locker room looks really bad as it’s as if they added some visual effect background for scenes behind Lynn and a few football players. Then comes the big halftime show where it is meant for this high frame rate technology as it is this grand moment but it feels very bloated along with a few montage shots of flashback scenes as it is truly a lackluster moment. That is followed by some dramatic moments that do become heavy-handed including its ending which is obvious but never brings any surprises. Overall, Lee creates a messy and overblown film about a soldier dealing with loss and horror while being the centerpiece of a lame halftime show.

Cinematographer John Toll does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the way the interior of the dome looks as well as the scenes set in Iraq as it does display the sense of beauty of the location despite the chaos of war. Editor Tim Squyres does good work with the editing as it has some stylistic usages of dissolves and jump-cuts though the montage towards the ending is really one of the most nonsensical and overwrought moments of the film. Production designer Mark Friedberg, with set decorator Elizabeth Keenan plus art directors Kim Jennings, Thomas Minton, Gregory S. Hooper, and Aziz Rafiq, does fantastic work with the interior of some of the rooms in the dome as well as the look of Lynn’s family home. Costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi does nice work with the costumes from the look of the uniforms and camouflage the soldiers wear to the skimpy cheerleader uniforms modeled after the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader clothes.

Hair stylist Rita Troy and makeup artist Jay Wejebe do terrific work with the scars on Kathryn’s face and body to play into her own encounter with chaos as a reminder of why Lynn joined the military. Visual effects supervisor Mark O. Forker does some terrible and wobbly work with some of the film’s visual effects in the scenes at the dome including that one scene of Lynn meeting the football players at the locker room where it just looks bad. Sound designer Eugene Gearty does superb work with the sound in the way some of the gunfire and rockets sound as well as the atmosphere of the dome during the game. The film’s music by Mychael and Jeff Danna is wonderful for is mixture of lush orchestral music along with ambient and country-folk pieces with the latter playing into Lynn’s home in rural Texas.

The casting by Avy Kaufman is pretty good despite the script’s shortcomings in giving the actors some effective performances as it include some notable small roles from Tim Blake Nelson as some contractor talking to the soldiers during a lunch, Dierdre Lovejoy and Bruce McKinnon as Lynn’s parents, Laura Lundy Wheale as Lynn’s older sister Patty, and Ben Platt as a liaison personnel accompanying the troops to events. In the roles as members of Lynn’s platoon, there’s Mason Lee as Theodore Yang, Barney Harris as Kenneth Sykes, Ismael Cruz Cordova as Sgt. Antonio Holliday, Brian Vaughn “Astro” Bradley Jr. as Lodis Beckwith, Arturo Castro as Mango Montoya, and Beau Knapp as the shell-shocked “Crack” Koch who reacts badly to a pyrotechnic as they all do some fine work.

Makenzie Leigh is alright as the cheerleader Faison as a young woman who takes a liking to Lynn though it’s a role that has her just being some love interest without much depth. Steve Martin’s performance as the Dallas football team owner Norm Oglesby has its moments in showing how devious he is but it’s a mixed bag due to the fact that he’s a caricature that is trying to be endearing but wants a big payday out of the story in this idea of patriotism. Chris Tucker’s performance as the platoon’s agent Albert is actually superb for the fact that he is someone that is trying to make sure the guys get paid as well as getting a chance for their story to be told in the right way. Garrett Hedlund is excellent as Staff Sergeant David Dime as a no-nonsense soldier that is making sure the platoon is on point while being very suspicious about Oglesby’s intentions for the film.

Vin Diesel is brilliant as Sgt. Shroom as Lynn’s superior that is kind of a fraternal figure for Lynn and the soldiers as he would also be the source of grief for Lynn. Kristen Stewart is amazing as Lynn’s sister Kathryn who is not happy that her little brother has to join the military because of what happened to her as she is consumed with guilt and later concern for his well-being as she hopes he can stay home and not serve. Finally, there’s Joe Alwyn as the titular character in a performance that can be described as OK where he can do a Texan accent and display the needs to be tough in war but he is hampered by the film’s script in having him be emotional where it’s overdone and he has to do so much to carry the film where he’s not really up to the task.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a terrible and overblown film from Ang Lee. Despite some superb performances from Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and Garrett Hedlund along with a few nice visuals. It’s a film that wants to be so much as well as display new technological tools for the medium of film where it ends up doing nothing for a story that is just heavy-handed. In the end, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is just a bad film from Ang Lee.

Ang Lee Films: Pushing Hands - The Wedding Banquet - Eat Drink Man Woman - Sense & Sensibility (1995 film) - The Ice Storm - Ride with the Devil - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - The Hire: Chosen - Hulk - Brokeback Mountain - Lust, Caution - Taking Woodstock - Life of Pi

The Auteurs #19: Ang Lee

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Chimes at Midnight

Based on five different plays by William Shakespeare and Holinshed’s Chronicles by Ralph Holinshed, Chimes at Midnight is the story of a knight and his relationship with a prince who is forced to make a decision on whom he should be loyal to. Written for the screen, starred, costume designed, and directed by Orson Welles, the film is an unconventional take on the work of Shakespeare with Welles playing the role of Sir John Falstaff as it explores friendship and loyalty. Also starring Keith Baxter, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Norman Rodway, Marina Vlady, Fernando Rey, and narration by Ralph Richardson. Chimes at Midnight is a rapturous and evocative film from Orson Welles.

The film is set during the final days of Henry IV of England (John Gielgud) as it revolves around his son who spends much of his time with the knight Sir John Falstaff into a world of mischief as he is primed to be next in line for the throne despite opposition from relatives who want to have Edmund Mortimer released as he is the true heir to the throne. It’s a film that explores not just destiny but also a young man torn between two figures who are guiding him into manhood. Orson Welles’ screenplay is filled with a lot of the monologues and character study that William Shakespeare is known for in the plays that Welles would compile into the script. All of which play into the idea of identity and all of the glories an identity could bring where Falstaff is at the center of everything as he wants to be an influence to Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) knowing he is next in line. Yet, Hal does want to get the approval of his father where he would try to win it during a battle against a rebellion where he would go up against a prominent knight. Unfortunately, he would also see what Falstaff wants as it adds to this internal conflict that Hal would endure.

Welles’ direction is definitely stylish for the air of theatricality that he would maintain throughout the film as it would play into this world of 15th Century decadence with an air of 20th Century energy. Shot on location in Spain, Welles would use the desert landscape to play into the scope of the world that the characters are in. Notably with the castles and the tavern where much of the action occurs in the latter as it is a place where Falstaff and his band of brothers can enjoy themselves. While Welles would use some wide shots of the tavern to showcase the liveliness whether it’s in a big group dance or in a conversation scene involving Falstaff and Hal as there’s characters in the background such as a young page (Beatrice Welles), the tavern hostess Mistress Quickly (Margaret Rutherford), and the prostitute Doll Tearsheet (Jeanne Moreau). He would also create some close-ups and medium shots to capture some of the emotional aspects in the film including shots in the battle scenes.

The battle scenes is a highlight as it has a lot of action but also some offbeat humor as it relates to the armor that Falstaff is wearing which is designed by Welles who would also be the film’s costume designer. While there is a lot of stylistic elements that Welles would include in the film, he does maintain the theatricality needed in scenes where there are these long monologues such as the one Henry IV gives in the aftermath of the battles as it play into his own mortality as well as what the future holds. The third act is where Welles shines as a filmmaker where he would use some low camera angles to play into Hal’s acceptance into the role he is in but also what he had to sacrifice as it relates to Falstaff and his influence. Notably as what Falstaff would have to see when Hal becomes king as it would mark the end of something that he is forced to accept as well. Overall, Welles creates an intoxicating yet compelling film about a young man trying to cope with his destiny and the influence of a decadent knight.

Cinematographer Edmond Richard does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography to play into the look of some of the interiors inside the castles as well as the scenes at the tavern and the exterior shots set at night. Editors Fritz Mueller, Elena Jaumandreu, and Peter Parasheles do excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with some jump-cuts in its approach to the action and conversations involving different characters. Production designer Mariano Erdozia and set decorator Jose Antonio de la Guerra do amazing work with the look of the tavern as well as some of the interior of the different castles including Henry IV’s palace. The sound work of Luis Castro is terrific for the way the sound is captured in the tavern and at the castles along with the chaos during the battle scene. The film’s music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino is superb for its orchestral bombast and flourishes along with some somber string pieces to play into the drama.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Tony Beckley and Patrick Bedford in their respective roles as Falstaff’s friends Ned Poins and Bardolf, Walter Chiari as Justice Silence, Michael Aldrige as another friend of Falstaff in Pistol, Jose Nieto as the Earl of Northnumberland who rebels against Henry IV, Alan Webb as another country justice official in Justice Shallow who is a friend of Falstaff, Fernando Rey as the Earl of Worcester that is Northnumberland’s brother that is trying to get his cousin Edmund Mortimer in line for the throne, Beatrice Welles as Falstaff’s page who helps him with a few duties, Marina Vlady as Hotspur’s wife Kate Percy, and Norman Rodway as Northnumberland’s son Hotspur who is trying to aid in the rebellion where he would face off against Hal. Margaret Rutherford is fantastic as Mistress Quickly as the tavern hostess who is trying to maintain order in her tavern which is a place of escape for Falstaff and his friends.

Jeanne Moreau is excellent as Doll Tearsheet as a prostitute who lives in the tavern that is a lover of Falstaff as she deals with the chaos around him as well as spout insults at others while displaying elements of sentimentality over what will happen to Hal. John Gielgud is incredible as King Henry IV as a man that is trying to deal with the rebellion as well as Falstaff’s influence on his son where he would deal with his own mortality in a monologue that is just engaging to watch. Keith Baxter is brilliant as Prince Hal as a young man torn between his duties as prince but also the influence of Falstaff whom he sees as a father figure where he wonders if he’s being used. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a phenomenal performance as Sir John Falstaff as a knight that is literally larger than life as a man that is the embodiment of decadence where he hopes to become a nobleman unaware that times are changing with him having no role in this new world.

Chimes at Midnight is a sensational film from Orson Welles. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a sumptuous music score, and a script that meshes many of William Shakespeare’s play into a study of loyalty, identity, and ambition. It’s a film that display many of Welles’ hallmarks of grand visuals to play into a man who tries to influence a younger man into a world of decadence instead of duty. In the end, Chimes at Midnight is a tremendous film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: (Too Much Johnson) – Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Strangers (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - (Mr. Arkadian) – Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - (The Immortal Story) – F for Fake - (Filming Othello) – (The Other Side of the Wind)

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Films with Strong Female Characters

For the third week of November 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We focus on films with strong female characters as it’s becoming more common lately with films focused on women. Here are my three picks:

1. Les Rendez-vous d'Anna

From the late Chantal Akerman is a film that explores isolation where a filmmaker is on the road traveling through Europe to promote a film. Starring Aurore Clement, it’s a film that is told in the span of 72 hours on a train from Cologne, Germany to Paris, France where she would meet various people during her journey as well as sleep with two men she would meet during her travels. Still, it is a film that is this intriguing character study in which a woman copes with her own detachment from everyone as well as the need to connect in strange surroundings.

2. Vagabond

Agnes Varda’s 1985 film about the life of a drifter who is first found dead in a ditch during a cold winter in the South of France. The film features an incredible performance from Sandrine Bonnaire as this hitchhiker trying to find anything she would encounter whether it is work, shelter, food, or companionship. It’s a film filled with some existential themes as well as a woman trying to find her role in the world as it is told in an unconventional style moving from something that feels like a documentary to something more traditional in a narrative as it’s one of Varda’s finest films.

3. Zero Dark Thirty

Though it’s the most conventional pick of the three films in the list, it is still one of the finest films of the 21st Century so far as it is about the search for Osama Bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks. Starring Jessica Chastain as a CIA officer who is charged with finding Bin Laden and the eight-year search it would take to find him amidst the sense of loss, false leads, and other moments that would challenge anyone. Told with such style by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is intense as it follows Chastain who goes through so much to find the man that started the 9/11 attacks as well as clues that would lead to his death.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Burmese Harp (1956 film)

Based on the novel by Michio Takeyama, The Burmese Harp is the story of a Japanese soldier who is wounded during the final days of World War II where he disguises himself as a Buddhist monk where he would find enlightenment. Directed by Kon Ichikawa and screenplay by Natto Wada, the film is the story of a man whose encounter with war forces him to find some idea of hope and meaning in his life. Starring Rentaro Mikuni, Shoji Yasui, Taniye Kitabayashi, Tatsuya Mihashi, and Yunosuke Ito. The Burmese Harp is an evocative yet devastating film from Kon Ichikawa.

Set during the summer of 1945 in Burma during the final days of World War II, the film follows a Japanese regiment who are captured by the British as one of them volunteers to tell another regiment that the war is over and Japan has surrendered. What happens instead becomes a traumatic moment where he is later saved by a monk only to become one as his regiment wonders what had happened to him. It’s a film that explores not just the horrors of war but also the sense of loss he would encounter as it’s not just seeing these bodies of fellow Japanese soldiers he would see. It’s also in the fact that they would never return home to a country that’s been torn apart by war and will never get some form of redemption. Natto Wada’s script is told mainly from the perspective of another soldier who recalls the events from their capture to being one of the regiments to accept the news over their country’s surrender as they’re taken to a prison camp where they’re treated fairly by the British.

During the course of the film such as the first act where the regiment led by Captain Inoyue (Rentaro Mikuni) who trying to maintain morale amongst his troops as he knows they’re tired, they’re hungry, and worn-out from fighting as the one thing he can to help them is have them sing with PFC Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) playing a Burmese harp. The second act revolves around Captain Inouye and the regiment wondering to Mizushima during his mission to tell another regiment about news on the war as they believe he’s dead until they see a monk who looks like him when they’re passing by a bridge they’re building. Though it is clear who the monk is, it shows the things that he would encounter that forces him to go into a vow of silence but also deal with the monstrosity of war.

Kon Ichikawa’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in the way he would capture a time of war as it’s about to end. Though it is shot mainly in Japan, Ichikawa would maintain a look and feel through the forest and rural locations that it is shot in Burma as there would be a few exterior shots of the temples in Burma. While Ichikawa would create some amazing wide shots to capture the scope of the locations as well as a look of the prison camp which feels more of a camp than a prison. He would infuse some close-ups and medium shots to capture the look of the cabins from the interiors where the soldiers would trade with an old woman who would walk into the camp occasionally. The scenes relating to Mizushima and his own encounter with the horrors of war from the bodies he would find during his walk toward the location of the camp as well as seeing a funeral procession for unknown soldiers. It adds a lot to the tone of the film as it include a scene in the third act where Captain Inouye is leading his regiment to sing a song in front of a large Buddha statue where Mizushima is inside playing a Burmese harp as it add to some form of musical dialogue. Even in the film’s climax as it play into this sense of loss over the fallacies of war and what would it cost as these men would have to go home knowing they lost a war which they feel is unimportant. Overall, Ichikawa crafts a somber yet intoxicating anti-war film about a soldier’s encounter with death and chaos that forces him to find some sort of spiritual meaning.

Cinematographer Minoru Yokoyama does brilliant work with the black-and-white photography as it has a very natural look to the scenes in the day with some low-key lighting by Ko Fujibayashi for some of the interiors at the cabin at night. Editor Masanori Tsuji does excellent work as it play into the drama as well as a key sequence of a regiment trying to battle it out against the British only for everything go wrong. Production designer Akira Nakai and art director Takashi Matsuyama do fantastic work with the look of the prison camp and the cabins the prisoners live in as well as some of the interior of the temples. The sound work of Masakazu Kayima is amazing for the way some of the music is presented as well as the few moments of gunfire and such that occur in the lone battle scene. The film’s music by Akira Ifukube is incredible for its mixture of lush orchestral music, broad choir music, and somber harp music that is performed by Yoshie Abe.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Jun Hamamura as Private Ito, Taketoshi Naito as Private Kobayashi, Ko Nishimura as the soldier Baba, Yunosuke Ito as a village head that would help the soldiers try and trick the British, Tatsuya Mihashi as a defense commander refusing to surrender, and Taniye Kitabayashi as an old lady who would trade with the Japanese prisoners at the camp as well as show kindness to them. Shoji Yasui is remarkable as Private Mizushima as a young soldier who volunteers to appeal to a fighting regiment to surrender that nearly dies from the battle as he becomes traumatized where he pretends to be a monk only to become one to cope with the loss he is carrying. Finally, there’s Rentaro Mikuni in a phenomenal performance as Captain Inouye as a man dealing with the chaos of war as he would accept the reality of what happened to Japan where he also raises morale for his regiment and see what Mizushima had become.

The Burmese Harp is a tremendous film from Kon Ichikawa. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a fantastic score, and themes on war and the loss that it would bring war. It is an anti-war film that showcases the horrors of war and how it would affect a man to withdraw into some idea of spiritual fulfillment. In the end, The Burmese Harp is a spectacular film from Kon Ichikawa.

Kon Ichikawa Films: (A Thousand and One Nights with Toho) – (The Hole (1957 film)) – (Enjo) – (Odd Obsession) – (Fires on the Plain) – (Jokyo) – (Her Brother) – (Ten Dark Women) – (Being Two Isn’t Easy) – (An Actor’s Revenge) – (Alone Across the Pacific) – (Tokyo Olympiad) – (Topo Gigio and the Missile War) – (To Love Again) – (Visions of Eight) – (The Inugamis (1976 film)) – (Koto) – (Kofuku) – (The Makioka Sisters) – (Ohan) – (The Burmese Harp (1985 film)) – (Princess from the Moon) – (Kaettekita Kogarashi Monjiro) – (The 47 Ronin (1994 film)) – (Dora-heita) – (The Inugamis (2006 film))

© thevoid99 2017