Sunday, December 10, 2017

Get Out

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out is the story of young African-American who is in an interracial relationship with a white woman where she takes him to her family home where he makes an awful discovery. The film is a horror film set in a quaint American suburb where a young man realizes what is going on as it relates to the world of white liberals and their ideas of race. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, and Catherine Keener. Get Out is a thrilling and horrifying film from Jordan Peele.

The film follows an African-American photographer who reluctantly agrees with his white girlfriend to visit her family at their countryside home where he learns that the family’s African-American maid and groundskeeper act very strangely as is an African-American guest at an annual party. It’s a film that explore the idea of a world where a young man is about to go into a world that he isn’t sure would be receptive in as he arrives to this small countryside town where it is the opposite where he’s welcomed. Jordan Peele’s screenplay showcases why Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is reluctant to meet this family but he is calm by the reception he’s given though he notices a lot of odd things at the house where his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) lives with her family that consists of her neurosurgeon father Dean (Bradley Whitford), her psychiatrist-hypnotist mother Missy (Catherine Keener), and younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones).

Dean and Missy may seem welcoming towards Chris as they both offer to help him quit smoking yet Jeremy is a little leery towards Chris. Jeremy doesn’t surprise Chris but it’s the housemaid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) who both sport these strange smiles just make Chris uneasy. When Missy converses with Chris, things take a weird turn as it relates to a tragedy in Chris’ life as it lead to moments that become offbeat to the guests Chris meets at this annual gathering Dean and Missy have every year. Notably as they’re largely white with the exception of an Asian and an African-American man named Logan (Lakeith Stanfield) who also acts odd as he’s in a relationship with a white woman 30 years older than him. The odd atmosphere and people Chris meets would have him asking many questions as it would lead to something darker prompting his best friend in TSA agent Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) to make some chilling discoveries of his own.

Peele’s direction does have elements of styles in terms of the camera movements he creates as well as the element of surrealism that looms throughout the film. Especially in the opening sequence in which an African-American is at a suburb calling a friend telling him about some fucked-up shit as he notices a white car is driving nearby and some weird shit happened. Though the film is set at upstate New York with a few shots set in New York City, much of the film is shot on location in Fairhope, Alabama and the city of Mobile, Alabama as it play into this idea of an idyllic countryside home near the suburbs in an autumn setting. Peele’s usage of the wide shots play into the vast scope of the exterior of the house while he would use some dolly-tracking shots for some unique medium shots to get a look at the interiors of the house. It would play into something that is idyllic but there is still something off as Peele’s approach to the humor is restrained while the drama is also low-key and straightforward. The second act in which the annual party with all of these guests is definitely an intriguing sequence. Notably in that restrained approach to humor where there’s subtleties into what these guests are saying.

When a moment at the party becomes chilling, it does create that sense of intrigue that Chris is dealing with as it confirms that something has been off the moment he and Rose accidentally hit a deer on their way to Rose’s family home. Peele’s direction would leave behind small clues such as a door that’s left ajar in Rose’s room as well as the behavior of the housemaid and groundskeeper whenever they approach him. The film’s third act is definitely a horror film but not in a gory nor in a conventional sense in comparison with modern horror. Instead, Peele takes his time to let things unfold while balancing that with some humor involving Rod’s own discovery and his need to seek out help. It all play into these ideas of social classes and race relations where Chris is aware of the way things are but never would realize how far some people would go to ensure African-Americans’ place into 21st Century society. Overall, Peele crafts a very witty yet harrowing film about an African-American’s visit to his white girlfriend’s family home where it’s not what it seems.

Cinematographer Toby Oliver does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the natural and colorful look of the daytime exterior scenes to the usage of low-key lights for the exterior scenes at night as well as other lighting schemes to play into the suspense and horror. Editor Gregory Plotkins does brilliant work with the editing as it doesn’t devolve into conventional horror editing techniques as it plays more into building up the suspense with its stylish edits while using some inventive montages to help play into the suspense and surrealism. Production designer Rusty Smith, with set decorator Leonard R. Spiers and art director Chris Craine, does fantastic work with the look of the Armitage family home as well as some of its rooms and the apartment that Chris lives with Rose where Rod is watching Chris’ dog. Costume designer Nadine Haders does terrific work with the costumes as it is quite straightforward with the exception of the posh clothes of the party guests as well as the clothes that Logan wears.

The visual effects work of Paul Baran does superb work with the visual effects as it is largely minimalist for the deer-hitting scene as well as these surreal sequences whenever Chris is under a state of hypnosis where he’s in this strange world. Sound editor Trevor Gates does amazing work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the party as well as the way Missy would stir her teacup with a spoon as it adds a lot to the sound design as it is one of the film’s highlights. The film’s music by Michael Abels is incredible for its mixture of low-key orchestral music mixed in with some Swahili-inspired chants that include bits of blues to play into the suspense and horror while music supervisor Christopher Mollere provides a fun soundtrack that mixes pop and hip-hop as it features cuts by Childish Gambino, Flanagan and Allen, and Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

The casting by Terri Taylor is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Richard Herd as Dean’s father, Erika Alexander as a detective that Rod goes to in the third act, Marcus Alexander as the groundskeeper Walter, Betty Gabriel as the housemaid Georgina, Lakeith Stanfield as the odd yet young African-American guest Logan, and Stephen Root in a superb small role as a blind art gallery dealer in Jim Hudson who is interested in Chris’ photos. Lil Rel Howery is fantastic as Chris’ friend Rod as a TSA agent who house-sits Chris’ apartment and his dog where he would get calls from Chris about the trip as he notices something is off when he doesn’t get any calls prompting him to start his own investigation. Caleb Landry Jones is terrific as Rose’s younger brother Jeremy as a young man that doesn’t seem fond of Chris as he wants to practice jujitsu moves on him while being too eager to play into the scheme that is unveiled in the third act.

Bradley Whitford is excellent as Dean Armitage as Rose’s father and a revered neurosurgeon who is warm to Chris while being very odd in the way he approaches or converses with Chris. Catherine Keener is brilliant as Missy Armitage as Rose’s psychiatrist/hypnotist who is also warm to Chris as she is intrigue into the tragedy of his life as she would use it as a tool to get him hypnotized. Allison Williams is amazing as Rose Armitage as Chris’ girlfriend as this young woman who epitomizes kindness and free-thinking as she understands Chris’ reluctance to meet her parents while there is something off about her when she’s at her parents’ home where she adds a layer of creepiness to her performance. Finally, there’s Daniel Kaluuya in a remarkable performance as Chris Washington as an African-American photographer who gets invited to meet his girlfriend’s parents as he tries to remain calm and collective but notices something isn’t right as it’s a very restrained performance from Kaluuya that would eventually become more chilling as the film progresses.

Get Out is a tremendous film from Jordan Peele. Featuring a great ensemble cast, an eerie music soundtrack, themes on race and social classes, and an inventive and witty script that is willing to create discussion. It’s a film that is definitely explores the ideas of racism in a modern context and how people perceive others who are different as well as what they want to do in a modern world. In the end, Get Out is a phenomenal film from Jordan Peele.

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, December 09, 2017

We Own the Night

Written and directed by James Gray, We Own the Night is the story of a club manager who finds himself in trouble following a raid where his boss decides to target both his father and brother who are cops. The film is an exploration of a man trying to live his own life as he contends with the drawbacks of his lifestyle and how it would affect his family. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall. We Own the Night is a gripping and evocative film from James Gray.

Set in the late 1980s in New York City, the film revolves a nightclub manager who works for the Russian mob as a raid led by his brother lead to trouble where he learns about a drug deal that has gotten dangerous forcing him to turn to his family. It’s a film that is not just about loyalty but also a study of a man caught between two different worlds where he is already in the world of running a club with drugs and seedy businesses while his father and older brother are cops. James Gray’s screenplay follows Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) who spends much of his time running a nightclub in New York City while being with his Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) and their friend Jumbo (Danny Hoch). Bobby works for the Russian mob leader Marat Buzhayev (Moni Moshonov) who owns the club as a legit way of making business though he allows his nephew Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov) to make deals as he is about to make a huge drug deal that would change things. The news gets the attention of Bobby’s older brother Captain Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) who would lead a raid that doesn’t go anywhere but only furthers the tension between him and Bobby.

When Joseph is gunned down and in a critical state following a hit, Bobby finds himself torn between his loyalty to the mob as well as his love for his brother and father in Chief Albert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) as the latter wants to protect him. When Bobby is asked to see what Vadim is up to by some of his father’s fellow officers, Bobby reluctantly agrees as a way to make amends with his brother but he eventually realizes that he isn’t safe once Vadim learns who he’s related to. Amada would be in danger as she copes with having to give up a lifestyle that she’s used to as well as be disconnected from her own family which would eventually cause tension with her and Bobby. Notably in the third act where Bobby makes a decision that is more about doing what is right for everyone and himself rather than return to a life that is filled with too much trouble.

Gray’s direction definitely bear elements of style in terms of some of the compositions while he would also create a period in time when New York City was still dangerous but had risen from the ashes of its dreary period of the late 70s thanks in part to its then-mayor in Ed Koch who appears in the film as himself. Shot on location in New York City, the film does play like a look back in time when the city was thriving but also had this air of unease where it’s the police that is trying to bring order back as the film’s title comes from a tag from one of chevrons on the police uniforms. Much of the film is set in the night with Gray focusing on that world though there are substantial scenes set in the daytime as it play into the world that Bobby lives in where he gambles or parties with Amada. It’s something different to what Joseph does where he splits his time doing his work with the police and being with his own family. Gray would shoot some wide shots of some of the locations though he would avoid certain landmarks of the city to maintain this element of the street and areas that involve people of Russian descent.

The direction would also have these intense moments such as a chase scene in the rain where Bobby and Amada are in a car where they’re being attacked with Bobby’s father trying to stop the attackers as it’s a key moment that would lead to the third act. It would play into what Bobby needed to do as Gray’s usage of close-up and medium shots play into the drama as well as how he deals with near-moments of tragedy and other things that add to Bobby’s development to help his family. Even as he has to deal with the other people who were like family to him as he is aware that everything he had done for them is meaningless. The film’s climax which is set in a bed of reeds is definitely one of the most chilling moments in the film as it play into the sense of the unknown and what a man will do to make things right. Overall, Gray creates a thrilling and compelling film about a nightclub manager turning straight when the mob he works for goes after his family.

Cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has some distinctive looks into the way the scenes at the club as well as some exterior scenes at night are light while it emphasizes on something low-key for some of the daytime scenes as well the mood for the car chase scene in the rain. Editor John Axelrad does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style as it relates to the action and suspense while being more straightforward in its approach to the drama. Production designer Ford Wheeler, with set decorator Catherine Davis and art director James C. Feng, does amazing work with the look of the nightclub that Bobby manages as well as the look of some of the homes of the characters in the film. Costume designer Michael Clancy does fantastic work with the costumes as it has elements of style in what Bobby and Amada wear to the clubs as well as the look of the police uniforms.

Visual effects supervisors Iva Petkova, Kelly Port, and Mike Uguccioni do nice work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for a few spots including a shot where the World Trade Center buildings are seen through a window. Sound designer Douglas Murray does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the nightclub as well as some of the intense moments of violence including the film’s climax. The film’s music by Wojciech Kilar is wonderful for its usage of low-key string arrangements to play into the drama and suspense while music supervisor Dana Sano provides a cool soundtrack that features a lot of the music of the late 70s/early 80s from Blondie, the Clash, David Bowie, the Specials, Louis Prima, Tito Puente, and a mixture of traditional Russian music and jazz.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is marvelous as it feature notable small roles and appearances from former New York City mayor Ed Koch as himself, Maggie Kiley as Joseph’s wife, Latin artist Coati Mundi as himself at a club performance, Yelena Solovey as Buzhayev’s wife Kalina, Tony Musante as Captain Jack Shaprio who is an old friend of Albert, Antoni Corone as another friend of Albert in Lt. Solo, and Moni Moshonov in a terrific small role as the mob leader Marat Buzhayev as a man who treated Bobby like a son despite his dealings. Danny Hoch is superb as Bobby’s best friend Jumbo as a guy who helps run the nightclub as well as party with him while not knowing anything that is happening to Bobby or his family. Alex Veadov is fantastic as Vadim Nezhinski as Buzhayev’s nephew who is also a ruthless drug dealer that is willing to make sure things go right and kill anyone who gets in his way.

Eva Mendes is excellent as Amada as Bobby’s girlfriend who is happy in the lifestyle that she and Bobby live until Bobby gets into danger where she gets a closer look into the dark aspects of the lifestyle where Mendes really shows her frustration and sadness over Bobby’s eventual decision with his life. Robert Duvall is brilliant as Chief Albert Grusinsky as Bobby’s father who is aware of the lifestyle of his son as he hopes Bobby would get into the straight-and-narrow where he learns the kind of trouble he’s in as he does what any father would do which is to protect him. Mark Wahlberg is amazing as Captain Joseph Grusinsky as Bobby’s older brother who is this hard-ass that is trying to do what is right for the law despite getting into fights with his brother where he learns how deep into trouble his brother is following his own recovery from a hit as he does whatever he can to help him. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in an incredible performance as Robert “Bobby” Grusinski/Bobby Green as a nightclub manager trying to live his own life until he learns of a drug deal that would get him into trouble after his brother was nearly killed as Phoenix’s performance is one of anguish and determination that includes the film’s climax.

We Own the Night is a phenomenal film from James Gray. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous cinematography, a riveting story, and a thrilling soundtrack, it’s a crime-drama that explore the idea of loyalty and a man being torn between his love for his family and the people who are part of the dark and seedy world of crime. In the end, We Own the Night is a sensational film from James Gray.

James Gray Films: Little Odessa - The Yards - (Two Lovers) – The Immigrant (2013 film) - (The Lost City of Z) – (Ad Astra)

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

Joy (2015 film)

Written and directed by David O. Russell from a story by Russell and Annie Mumolo, Joy is a loosely-based bio-pic about the life of Joy Mangano as a woman who would become a self-made millionaire and run her own empire despite the dysfunctional presence of her family. The film is a look into a woman who comes from a troubled family forcing her to do things by herself as she would gain fame through a series of inventions as Mangano is played by Jennifer Lawrence. Also starring Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper, Elisabeth Rohm, and Robert de Niro. Joy is a compelling though messy film from David O. Russell.

Set in 1990 upstate New York, the film revolves around a mother of two children who shares her house with her grandmother and mother while working for Eastern Airlines as a booking clerk with her ex-husband living in the basement. Yet, Joy Mangano’s life is about lost potential who had dreams to create things when she was a kid but the dysfunctional life of her family which included her father Rudy (Robert de Niro) moving in to her home after a break-up where he would share the basement with Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez). When Rudy gets a new girlfriend in the rich Italian widow Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) and she invites Joy and Joy’s older half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) to the boat. Joy gets an idea while cleaning spilled wine on the boat as it would be the start of an empire as well as tapping into the lost hopes and dreams she had when she was a child.

David O. Russell’s screenplay is partially told through the perspective of Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) as someone who had seen Joy’s potential when she was a child and then be destroyed when her family was torn apart by divorce with Rudy going to someone else while Joy’s mother Terri (Virginia Madsen) spends much of her life in her room watching soap operas to escape from the harshness of reality. The script is often messy and can be over-the-top in its usage of flashbacks in the first act where Joy looks back at her marriage to Tony including their wedding reception in which her father embarrasses her. Joy is definitely at the center of the film as someone that is dealing with the fact that her life hasn’t gone well as she often has to deal with Peggy’s comments while Rudy often makes cynical comments though he means well. Tony is at least supportive as he would become one of the few that really believes that Joy can succeed through the invention of the Miracle Mop. Yet, would face challenges including from those who claimed to have a patent over the creation of the mop while Joy would find an outlet to sell her mop through the emergence of QVC.

Russell’s direction does have elements of style as it play into the setting and time period of the 1980s and early 1990s while much of his compositions are straightforward. Shot on location in and around Boston, Massachusetts with additional locations at Wilmington, Massachusetts, Russell would create a film that is set largely in the winter to play into the look of upstate New York where the characters live in which include the garage that Rudy owns which is managed by Peggy. There are some wide shots of the locations including scenes at the QVC studio that include this telethon studio that turns around for a different set. Yet, Russell would maintain an intimacy as it relates to the family drama where it can be overwhelming at times due to the number of people arguing over Joy in the usage of close-ups and medium shots. The film’s second act would loosen up as it relates to Tony taking Joy to a studio where she would be introduced to QVC and an executive in Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper).

The fact that the script is told partially from Mimi’s perspective does make the film tonally uneven as it would also affect the film’s pacing leading to its third act where it is about some of the business problems caused by Joy’s family over these people involved in parts manufacturing. Especially as Joy knew she had to pay certain amount of royalties to a man who created a patent for this mop as she would be forced to take control of her empire by herself with only a few such as Tony to be the ones to really support her. Her action to confront these men who are trying to ruin her would show what she has to do as it relates to the questions that Trudy has asked about what is a person willing to do to succeed. Overall, Russell crafts a fascinating though flawed film about a woman who finds her lost potential in creating things and later build an empire.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does excellent work with the cinematography with the look of the daytime exteriors with the usage of natural lights while going for something low-key and low for the interior scenes at night. Editors Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross, and Christopher Tellefsen do nice work with the editing as it is stylized in some parts while it is mainly straightforward to play into the drama. Production designer Judy Becker, with set decorators Gary Alioto and Heather Loeffler plus art director Peter Rogness, does brilliant work with the look of the sets at the QVC building as well as the home where Joy and her family live in plus the garage her father owns. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into something that looks casual in some parts but mainly play into the look of the late 80s/early 90s.

Visual effects supervisors Trent Claus and Gregory D. Liegey do terrific work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for the look of the different places that Joy and other characters go to. Sound designers Jason King and Jay Nierenberg, with sound editor John Ross, do superb work with the sound as it play into the chaos inside Joy’s home as well as the scenes at various gatherings and at the QVC studio. The film’s music by West Dylan Thordson and David Campbell is wonderful for its mixture of orchestral music with bits of rock in parts of the film while music supervisor Susan Jacobs provides a soundtrack that mixes Latin music, pop, rock, and jazz to play into the different worlds that Joy encounters.

The casting by Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Donna Mills and Susan Lucci as soap opera actresses, Drena de Niro as a QVC saleswoman in Cindy, Jimmy Jean-Louis as a Haitian repairman in Toussaint whom Terri falls for, Madison Wolfe as the young Peggy, Emily Nunez as the young Jackie, Isabella Crovetti-Cramp as the young Joy, Aundera and Gia Gadsy as Joy/Tony’s daughter Cristy, Tomas and Zeke Elizondo as Joy/Tony’s son Tommy, and Melissa River in a wonderful performance as her late real-life mother Joan Rivers who sells things for QVC as it’s so dead-on. Dascha Polanco is superb as Joy’s best friend Jackie who helps her out with some of the business aspects in selling the mop as well as one of the few who really believes in her product. Virginia Madsen is fantastic as Joy’s mother Terri as a woman who had lost a lot of hope in reality by spending much of her time watching soap operas until she would fall for a repairman and bring some encouragement to Joy.

Isabella Rossellini is excellent as Trudy as an Italian widow who becomes Rudy’s new girlfriend as a woman who isn’t sure about Joy’s new idea as she reluctantly gives her the money only to find a way to get it back. Elisabeth Rohm is brilliant as Joy’s overachieving half-sister Peggy as someone who constantly belittles Joy to prove that she is superior and would end up causing financial trouble for Joy against Joy’s will. Diane Ladd is amazing as Joy’s grandmother Mimi as a woman who is Joy’s greatest supporter as someone who is also a dreamer and had seen a lot of the struggles the family has endured. Edgar Ramirez is incredible as Joy’s ex-husband Tony as a failed musician that doesn’t like Joy’s father very much as he would be the one to get Joy to meet with QVC and be one of her true supporters in her ideas. Bradley Cooper is terrific in a small role as Neil Walker as a QVC executive who sees what Joy has created and decides to help her sell the Miracle Mop in the hope that it would make money.

Robert de Niro is remarkable as Joy’s father Rudy as a man who means well but often embarrasses Joy while often favoring his daughter as it’s a flawed but fun performance from de Niro. Finally, there’s Jennifer Lawrence in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a mother of two children with an ex-husband that is dealing with her life believing she’s failed until she came up with another idea as it is one of Lawrence’s finest performances.

Joy is a stellar though flawed film from David O. Russell that features an incredible leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Along with its supporting cast, cool score, and an engaging story that is very messy in its structure and tone. It’s a film that has a fascinating look into the life of Joy Mangano though it tends to overwhelm itself with all of the family drama and wanting to be this study into the cutthroat world of business. In the end, Joy is a very good film from David O. Russell.

David O. Russell Films: (Spanking the Monkey) – (Flirting with Disaster) – Three Kings - I Heart Huckabee's - (Soldier’s Pay) – The Fighter - Silver Linings Playbook - American Hustle - Accidental Love

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Ugly Ducklings Turned Beautiful Swan Makeovers

For the first week of December 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We venture into the idea of the ugly duckling where a person who often starts out as unattractive or insecure then becomes someone beautiful or become a better person. Yet, it’s a subject that has taken many forms and here are my three picks:

1. My Fair Lady

In this adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion comes one of the finest musicals ever made in which an arrogant phonetics professor makes a wager in which he turns a Cockney flower girl into a presentable woman in Edwardian-era Britain. Featuring iconic performances from Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, it’s a film told with such beauty and style by George Cukor with amazing songs in which Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle is being this poor flower girl into a woman of glamour and manners only to realize why she’s been transformed. It is a film that still holds up and is always a joy to watch.

2. Strictly Ballroom

From Baz Luhrmann comes one of the finest feature-film debuts of the 1990s as it is set in the world of ballroom dancing where a promising dancer has become bored with the dancing he’s done and wants to do something different. He teams up with this young woman who is a beginner and isn’t very attractive yet she does give him some inspiration once she did some Flamenco steps. By helping her become more confident in her looks as she would help him find do something different and new where they also dare to shake up the establishment of the ballroom dancing committee as it’s all about dancing.

3. The Shape of Things

From Neil LaBute comes a cinematic version of his play as it is inspired by Pygmalion but it’s a really fucked-up film. It’s about this nerd, played by Paul Rudd, who meets this beautiful art student in Rachel Weisz who takes an interest him where she gets him to lose weight, take on a new look, and all sorts of things unaware of what it’s all about. Even as his friends in Gretchen Mol and Fred Weller become unsure of this change as they become alienated which would affect their own relationship. The film’s third act is really one of the most castrating moments in film as it is a twist on the ugly duckling theme that includes a devastating ending with all of the music is from Elvis Costello.

© thevoid99 2017

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Knock Knock

Based on the film Death Game by Peter S. Traynor and screenplay by Jo Heims, Anthony Overman, and Michael Ronald Ross, Knock Knock is the story of a man who invites two women to his house on a rainy night where things go wrong as he becomes a hostage in their own game. Directed by Eli Roth and screenplay by Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, and Nicolas Lopez, the film is a home invasion film of sorts where a married man tries to be a Good Samaritan in helping two young women only to be seduced and tortured by them. Starring Keanu Reeves, Ana de Armas, and Lorenza Izzo. Knock Knock is a wild and intense film from Eli Roth.

It is Father’s Day weekend as a man is staying home to finish work as an architect when two young women arrive on his doorstep on a rainy night asking for shelter and things don’t just go wrong but also get really fucked up. That is pretty much the premise of the film itself as it all takes place in the course of an entire weekend where a man stays home while his wife and two kids go out to a beach house for the weekend. The film’s screenplay by Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, and Nicolas Lopez follows the life of this architect in Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) who is happily married to artist Karen Alvarado (Ignacia Allamand) with two kids as they’re out at the beach. During a night where he’s trying to finish his work, he hears a knock on the door as these two young women in Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) who are asking for directions and information for a place where there’s a party. Evan would let the two in thinking they would get in and get out but things become troublesome and he gets more than he bargains for during the course of this weekend where he’s accused of pedophilia and all sorts of shit.

Roth’s direction does have style as it is set largely at the house as it play into a world that feels quaint and intimate as it is set entirely in Los Angeles though it is actually shot on location in Santiago de Chile. While there are a few wide shots of the film including a look into where Evan lives with his family, much of the action takes place at the house where Roth would use some unique tracking shots to capture scale of the homes including the hallways. The usage of close-ups and medium shots would play into many of the interiors at the home with a few wide shots of scenes outside of the house including a scene of Evan talking to his wife while Genesis and Bel flash their breasts at him and mimic oral sex as a way to distract him. It does have a sense of humor yet it would take a darker turn during the second half after Evan tried to get the two girls out of his house. Notably in the way he gets tortured physically and mentally as it is clear that these two young women aren’t some jilted women who felt unappreciated for giving this man a good time. Instead, they’re crazy bitches that like to have fun and make men show their dark side whether they want to admit it or not. Overall, Roth crafts a gripping yet witty film about a man who invites two beautiful women into his home only to get himself into some serious shit.

Cinematographer Antonio Quercia does excellent work with the film’s cinematography in the way the daytime exteriors looked through the colors of the grass as well as the usage of lights for the scenes set at night. Editor Diego Macho does brilliant work with the editing with the usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense as well as a stylish montage for the film’s sex scene. Production designer Mariachi Palacios and art director Fernando Ale does amazing work with the look of the house including the sculptures and art work that Karen has made. Costume designer Elisa Hormazabal does fantastic work with the youthful and skimpy clothing that Genesis and Bel wear.

Visual effects supervisor Rodrigo Rojas Echaiz does some nice work with the visual effects as it is mainly set-dressing for some of the exteriors to make the location look like it’s in Los Angeles. The sound work of Mauricio Lopez and Mauricio Molina do superb work with the sound in the way music is presented and then cut off as well as the scenes inside the house. The film’s music by Manuel Riveiro is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score that play into the suspense and terror while music supervisor Sokio provides a cool soundtrack that features music from KISS and Pixies as well as some obscure world music that Evan owns.

The casting by Sheila Jaffe is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Dan and Megan Baily as Evan and Karen’s children, cinematographer Antonio Quercia as an Uber driver, Colleen Camp as a masseuse who arrives unexpectedly and sees something is off, Aaron Burns as Karen and Evan’s assistant Louis, and Ignacia Allamand as Evan’s artist wife Karen. Ana de Armas is brilliant as Bel as the blonde Spaniard who is very energetic and kinky as she claims to be underage as she is also the most sexual of the two women. Lorenza Izzo is amazing as Genesis as the most cunning of the two women as well as someone who says some funny stuff as well as be this air of charisma in the way she pretends to be a game show host to torment Evan. Finally, there’s Keanu Reeves in an incredible performance as Evan Webber as a good-hearted family man who finds himself in a dangerous and deadly situation when his generosity gets the best of him as he is seduced by two women and then be blackmailed and all sorts of things where it’s Reeves displaying some humility and anguish in a man who shouldn’t have opened the door to strangers.

Knock Knock is a remarkable film from Eli Roth that features top-notch performances from Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, and Ana de Armas. Along with its ensemble cast, simple premise, and unwillingness to take itself seriously, it’s a home invasion film that manages to be intense but also have these offbeat moments of humor. In the end, Knock Knock is a marvelous film from Eli Roth.

Eli Roth Films: (Cabin Fever) – (Hostel) – (Hostel: Part II) – Grindhouse-Thanksgiving - The Green Inferno - (Death Wish (2018 film)) – (The House with a Clock in Its Walls)

© thevoid99 2017

Monday, December 04, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the story of a woman who rents three billboards to bring attention into why the local police haven’t made any effort into finding out who killed her daughter. It’s a film that explores a small town unraveled by a woman’s need for justice where its chief wants to help but is dealing with personal matters prompting his deputy to cause a lot of trouble. Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, and Sam Rockwell. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a visceral and eerie film from Martin McDonagh.

A young woman had been raped and killed outside a small town in Missouri as her mother becomes consumed with guilt and rage as the investigation hasn’t gone anywhere prompting her to rent three billboards outside of the home that asks its local police chief why hasn’t there been any arrests. The film is about these three billboards which has caused a lot of trouble for this small town in Missouri as its police chief is dealing with the fact that he’s dying from cancer despite the fact that he does want to help. Yet, there are those who are angered by the billboards including a deputy who acts out by causing all sorts of trouble unaware of what he’s supposed to do for the town. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay doesn’t just explore this small town rocked by a murder only to be more unhinged when Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent these three billboards outside of a town that is on her way home where it reads the following message in sequential form: “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

While Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is upset over the billboards, he does understand Mildred’s anger as he is still unable to get a break over the murder of Mildred’s daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). Adding to his trouble is the fact that he’s diagnosed with cancer as he’s become more concerned with his wife Anne (Abbie Cornish) and his two daughters. Though he tries to continue his job as well as find any clues with Angela’s murder with Deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) helping him despite the fact that he doesn’t like Mildred nor does he do what is right by the law as he is prejudiced and takes the law into his own hands. One of McDonagh’s key aspects of the script isn’t just the structure and this exploration for peace and justice in a small town. It’s also in the development of the characters as both Mildred and Chief Willoughby are individuals want some idea of justice as the first two acts revolve around both of them with the former being a single mother with a teenage son in Robbie (Lucas Hedges) as she also has a contentious relationship with her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes).

Then there’s Dixon who is this mama’s boy that is very hot-headed and eager to succeed in the force but is also a dimwit who prefers to read comic books and listen to music on his earphones than do his job. There are people in the force who would question why Willoughby would keep him on the job as it would be unveiled in the third act where it play into Dixon’s development as a character. Especially as he would find his true calling that would give him a sense of purpose as well as give some kind of hope and peace to Mildred and Chief Willoughby.

McDonagh’s direction is definitely evocative in terms of the imagery he creates where it is shot mainly in Sylvia, North Carolina as this small town of Ebbing, Missouri with its usage of mountains and routes with certain curves on the road. Yet, there is this one location of these three abandoned billboards that would be at the center of the film as they would appear constantly whether it’s in a wide shot or in a close-up. Since the billboards are below a hill where Mildred can see hit from her house, it is placed in an area outside of town where it would get a lot of attention where McDonagh’s would showcase how some would react to these billboards. Notably Chief Willoughby and Dixon who would see these billboards as it just add to their reaction whether it’s serious or comical. The humor in the film does have an aspect of darkness but also in the way Mildred deals with people including a local priest as she puts him in his place.

McDonagh would also use close-ups and medium shots to get an intimate look into the lives of the characters in the film as he would show what they’re like as Mildred is just a woman who works in a shop that is just consumed with grief and anger as she lives with her teenage son. Chief Willoughby lives in a farm with his family while living in the small town is Dixon with his mother as they all have different lives and personalities yet are part of this very diverse community that is coming apart by Mildred’s actions. Even in some of the moments that involve arson and violence with the latter coming from Dixon as he beats up a local advertising agent. It’s a gruesome scene but it play into the sense of loss that Dixon is dealing with and his inability to control himself as he would later find that control during a tense meeting with a man at a bar. It’s a moment that shows that despite many of Dixon’s flaws, there is still a man that is just trying to do good for his community. Even in a world where justice is hard to come by for a woman just wanting peace for her daughter and those who had suffered through this murder. Overall, McDonagh crafts a mesmerizing yet gripping film about a woman calling attention for justice for her daughter’s rape and murder.

Cinematographer Ben Davis does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of low-key lights and such for many of the scenes set at night to a more naturalistic look for the interior/exterior scenes set in the day. Editor Jon Gregory does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Inbal Weinberg, with set decorator Merissa Lombardo and art director Jesse Rosenthal, does fantastic work with the look of some of the locations including the police precinct building and the look of the billboards. Costume designer Melissa Toth does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual including the uniforms Chief Willoughby and his team wear.

Special makeup effects designer Leo Corey Castellano does terrific work with the look of a character late in the film as it play to escalation of tension in the film. Visual effects supervisor Tyler Gooden does wonderful work with the visual effects as it is mainly based on scenes involving fire. Sound editor Joakim Sundstrom does superb work with the sound with the way some of the scenes in the small town occurs as well as some of the film’s violent moments. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is incredible for its mixture of low-key orchestral music with some country textures to play into the location of where the film is set while music supervisor Karen Elliott provides a fun and offbeat soundtrack that include music from ABBA, the Four Tops, and a mixture of music genres ranging from folk, country, rock, and classical music.

The casting by Sarah Finn is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Amanda Warren as Mildred’s friend/co-worker Denise, Darrell Britt-Gibson as a billboard painter who helps Mildred in posting the ads, Kerry Condon as the advertising agent secretary Pamela, Clarke Peters as a man who would come at the film’s second half to take charge of the investigation, Nick Searcy as the local priest who tries to help Mildred only to get a lashing about what he does, Christopher Berry as a mysterious visitor of the town, Sandy Martin as Dixon’s mother who is also prejudiced, Zeljko Ivanek as the precinct desk sergeant Cedric Connolly, Samara Weaving as Charlie’s dim-witted 19-year old girlfriend Penelope, Riya May Atwood and Selah Atwood as Chief Willoughby’s daughters, and Kathryn Newton as Mildred’s daughter Angela in a lone flashback scene on the night she was to be killed. Caleb Landry Jones is terrific as the billboard advertising agent Red Welby who takes Mildred’s money to post the ads where he would later get himself into serious trouble with Dixon.

Lucas Hedges is superb as Mildred’s son Robbie who is dealing with the action of his mother as he considers moving in with his father as he also realizes the need for justice. Peter Dinklage is fantastic as James as a local who is a friend of Mildred as he would help get out of trouble during the film’s third act as a way to give her something she didn’t have in her marriage to Charlie. John Hawkes is excellent as Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie who had been abusive to her as he feels that her action with the billboards have done nothing but bring trouble. Abbie Cornish is brilliant as Willoughby’s wife Anne who is dealing with her husband’s illness as well as the impact of the billboards where she does meet with Mildred in a scene during the second act as it play into the injustice that everyone is dealing with.

Sam Rockwell is incredible as Jason Dixon as a police deputy that is this odd mixture of someone who is ignorant and is willing to do something stupid but there’s also a good person in there where Rockwell toes the line between being profane and being decent where he later goes through a transformation of sorts in the third act where he realizes what needs to be done. Woody Harrelson is remarkable as Chief Bill Willoughby as a local police chief who is the target of Mildred’s billboards as he is aware of what he needs to do but he’s also dealing with his own illness as it’s a role that displays some humility but also some dignity. Finally, there’s Frances McDormand in a phenomenal performance as Mildred Hayes as a woman who is consumed with grief and guilt over the loss of her daughter as she rents three billboards to get attention and justice for her daughter as it’s a role of anguish, rage, and humor in which McDormand just seizes every ounce of energy and anger into her role while displaying this I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude about a world that is dark while clinging to some idea of hope.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tremendous film from Martin McDonagh. Featuring a great ensemble cast, beautiful locations, an offbeat music soundtrack, and themes about justice and the need for action in a world that doesn’t get anything done. It’s a film that showcases what some will do in a call for action but also to make sense in a world of injustice where there are those that want to do what is right no matter how complicated the world can be. In the end, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a magnificent film from Martin McDonagh.

Martin McDonagh Films: (Six Shooter) – In Bruges - Seven Psychopaths

© thevoid99 2017

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Lady Bird

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is the story of a Catholic high school senior dealing with growing pains and her troubled relationship with her mother. Set in 2002 Sacramento, the film is a look into the life of a young woman as she tries to find herself as well as dealing with all of the challenges in becoming a woman. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith. Lady Bird is a delightful yet witty film from Greta Gerwig.

The film follows a year in the life of a young woman as she is about to become a senior where she deals with her identity, her surroundings, and her family including her mother. It plays into the world of growing pains for this 17-year old woman in Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) who wants to go to a college in the East Coast and away from her old life of Sacramento. Having to go to a Catholic high school since her older brother had been stabbed at a public school, Lady Bird also deals with that situation though she has company in her best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans (Beanie Feldstein) only to become infatuated with a musician in Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet) where she tries to fit in with the popular crowd. Greta Gerwig’s screenplay follows Lady Bird’s own search for an identity as well as doing things that upset her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) who is struggling with all sorts of things as her husband Larry (Tracy Letts) had just been laid off.

The script opens with Lady Bird and Marion driving around in the middle of California looking for colleges as it showcases the turbulent relationship they have as the former wants something more while the latter feels like Lady Bird should settle for less and accept the realities of her situation. Lady Bird is moody as she also feels like her mother hates her as she can turn to her easy-going father who is encouraging her despite some of the financial difficulties at home. Yet, Lady Bird also struggles to find love as she would befriend a classmate in Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges) who would act in the play she and Julie take part in. Still, Lady Bird becomes attracted to Kyle during Thanksgiving night with Danny, Julie, and a friend as it would lead to trouble with Lady Bird spending time with Kyle and a popular girl in Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush). It adds to Lady Bird’s growing confusion and desire to leave Sacramento but revelations about Kyle as well as dealing with her ambition knowing it would cause some pain between her and her mother.

Gerwig’s direction is very simple as she doesn’t go for a lot of stylistic shots to capture a moment in time in an environment that is quaint and interesting in a city like Sacramento. The city itself is a major character in the film while Gerwig would also shoot on location in Los Angeles and New York City for small bits with the latter is a place that Lady Bird wants to go. While there are some wide shots of the locations including certain places that is key to Sacramento, Gerwig would emphasize more on intimate and simpler compositions in using medium shots and close-ups. Even in the way she captures the interaction between Lady Bird and Marion such as the opening scene of the two listening to a reading of The Grapes of Wrath as it starts off as quaint until they start to argue. It’s among these offbeat moments that add to the humor including Lady Bird’s audition scene for a play and her own campaign posters that she created for class president. Gerwig would also showcase Lady Bird’s need to fit in as she claimed to live in this house that she and Julie would walk pass every once in a while.

Gerwig would also maintain something low-key in the drama to play into the relationship between Lady Bird and Marion in how they react toward one another. Notably in the third act as it relates to Lady Bird’s audition and where she wants to go as Marion’s response is one that is surprising in its restraint. It would showcase that sense of difference in the two women but also how similar they are with Lady Bird forcing to think about the essay she wrote as it relates to her hometown. Especially as the film’s ending has Lady Bird make a decision that would show the sense of maturity that she needs into becoming a young woman but also hold on to the bond between mother and daughter. Overall, Gerwig crafts a compelling and intoxicating film about a young woman dealing with growing pains and her tumultuous relationship with her mother.

Cinematographer Sam Levy does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the scenes set in the day including the daytime exteriors with some low-key lighting for the scenes set at night. Editor Nick Houy does terrific work with the editing as it is very straightforward without delving into a lot of style but does provide some nice rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s humor. Production designer Chris Jones and set decorator Traci Spadorcia do fantastic work with the look of Lady Bird’s room at her house as well as the classrooms and some of the places she goes to.

Costume designer April Napier does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual with the exception of the school uniforms the kid wears as well as the Goth clothing Lady Bird’s brother and his girlfriend wears. Sound editor Paul Hsu does terrific work with the sound as it play into the way music is heard on location as well as some of the sounds that happen at Lady Bird’s home. The film’s music by Jon Brion is brilliant for its low-key score with elements of jazz and pop to play into the humor and drama while music supervisor Michael Hill and Brian Ross provide a fun soundtrack of the kind of music that was being played in the early 2000s such as Bone Thugs N Harmony, Justin Timberlake, and Dave Matthews Band along with a mixture of classical, indie, and folk music that is played throughout the film.

The casting by Heidi Griffiths, Allison Jones, and Jordan Thaler is incredible as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Kristen Cloke as Julie’s mother, Kathryn Newton as Lady Bird’s classmate Darlene, Laura Marano as a theater performer/classmate in Diana, Marielle Scott as Miguel’s girlfriend Shelly, Jake McDorman as the school’s math teacher Mr. Bruno whom Julie has a crush on, Odeya Rush as a popular girl in Jenna Walton that Lady Bird befriends, and Stephen McKinley Henderson as the school’s drama teacher in Father Leviatch as a man that is still dealing with loss as he tries to teach the kids drama. Jordan Rodrigues is terrific as Lady Bird’s older half-brother Miguel who is trying to find his own path in life after college where he also deals with his sister’s attitude. Lois Smith is fantastic as Sister Sarah Joan as this teacher at the Catholic school who understands Lady Bird’s rebellion as she is this unconventional authority figure that is offbeat but also very funny. Lucas Hedges is superb as Danny O’Neill as a classmate who joins drama as he is someone Lady Bird has feelings for only to see that he is dealing with some personal issues.

Beanie Feldstein is excellent as Julie as Lady Bird’s best friend who feels left out when Lady Bird hangs out with Jenna as she is just trying to deal with high school and finding herself as it’s a funny and heartfelt performance from Feldstein. Timothee Chalamet is brilliant as Kyle as this kid who is also a musician that Lady Bird falls for as he is her idea of what is cool as he is someone that is intriguing although very flawed. Tracy Letts is amazing as Lady Bird’s father Larry as a man dealing with depression over losing his job as he does whatever it takes to encourage Lady Bird and make her feel good. Laurie Metcalf is remarkable as Lady Bird’s mother Marion as a woman that is dealing with her daughter as well as not wanting her to go far away as she also cope with the financial issues as it add to the tension between mother and daughter. Finally, there’s Saoirse Ronan in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a young woman trying to figure out her identity and desire for culture where Ronan displays that air of humor and humility as a young woman just trying to figure things out as it is a career-defining performance for the actress.

Lady Bird is a sensational film from Greta Gerwig that features incredible performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. Along with its supporting cast, engaging story, sumptuous music soundtrack, and its themes on growing up and trying to find an identity at a young age. It’s a film that showcases life of a young woman dealing with many issues as well as turbulent relationship with her mother who doesn’t want her to deal with disappointment. In the end, Lady Bird is a spectacular film from Greta Gerwig.

© thevoid99 2017