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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Le Cercle Rouge

Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, Le cercle rouge (The Red Circle) is the story of a master thief who meets a prison escapee and a former cop where they team up for a heist as they deal with an inspector. The film is a study of three men planning a heist to ensure that everything goes exactly as planned while they’re being pursued by a police investigator. Starring Alain Delon, Gian Maria Volonte, Yves Montand, and Andre Bourvil. Le cercle rouge is a ravishing and intoxicating film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

The film follows two different criminals who meet as they team up for a heist with a former cop while one of the criminals is being pursued by a police investigator who was accompanying him to prison. It’s a film that play into men who are trying to pursue one another or flee from someone as its title refers to that place where everyone comes together through some form of destiny. Jean-Pierre Melville’s screenplay opens with these two paralleling narratives into these two criminals in the thief Corey (Alain Delon) and a prisoner named Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) as the former is being released from prison while the latter makes an escape on a train as a manhunt would follow led by Inspector Mattei (Andre Bourvil) who was accompanying Vogel. Corey would go on the run after robbing a former associate and be involved in a scuffle with that associate’s goons as he discovers that Vogel had hidden himself in the trunk of his new car.

The two would learn about their respective situations as Corey has some vital information about a robbery he wants to do as Vogel knows a former cop named Jansen (Yves Montand) who is an expert marksman that is dealing with alcoholism. While Corey and Vogel plan the robbery with Jansen scoping out everything in this posh jewelry store, Inspector Mattei is in pursuit of Vogel as he tries to figure out how to capture him alive as he would encounter a series of mysteries that Vogel is involved in. Even as he would delve into the crime underworld to get what he wants while straying away from being corrupted as he had seen a lot of people in the force succumb to vices.

Melville’s direction definitely has some stylistic scenery in the way he captures the idea of a heist film though much of his compositions are straightforward. Shot on various locations in France including parts of Paris, the film does play into this idea of characters meeting as if it was destiny as much of the first act is about Inspector Mattei’s pursuit of Vogel and Corey on the run from people in the criminal underworld. Melville’s approach to compositions has him focusing on the scope of the locations with the wide shots in Vogel running from the authorities and how he would meet Corey through accidental means with Corey unaware that Vogel hid in the trunk of his car. The usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the suspense as well as Vogel and Corey’s first meeting as Melville would create shots that are simple to establish who they are as well as the need to make a big score. The introduction of Jansen is surreal as it plays into his alcoholism where he would see all of these animals coming into his home as it is a key moment in the second act.

One notable sequence during the second act is where Jansen goes to the jewelry shop as it’s about the room where all of the jewels are on display and what is in the room. The attention to detail as well as the geography of where the cameras might be as well as a lock for what might be a vault is shown through wide and medium shots as Melville gives the audience an idea of what has to be done. The heist sequence itself is definitely the highlight of the film as it’s this long sequence that goes on for nearly 30 minutes as it about what these three men would do and the role they would play. It is paced slowly but it’s crucial to show how meticulous these three men are in making sure everything goes right as there is barely a word said throughout. The aftermath is filled with thrills as it play into Inspector Mattei trying to find Vogel as well as the men who robbed the jewelry store as its climax is about Mattei trying to set a trap. Overall, Melville crafts a riveting and evocative film about three men planning a jewelry heist as they’re being pursued by the criminal underworld and a determined police investigator.

Cinematographer Henri Decae does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its natural yet grey exteriors to play into the cold weather for the rural locations as well as the usage of lights for some of the scenes at night including the bright and extravagant look at the nightclub scenes. Editor Marie-Sophie Dubus does amazing work with the editing as it is stylized with usage of jump-cuts, transition wipes, and other rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and the drama. Production designer Theo Meurisse and set decorator Pierre Charron do excellent work with the look of the dusted apartment where Corey and Vogel hide out as well as the rooms in the police station and at the nightclub where one of Vogel’s old friends run.

The costumes of Colette Bardot are fantastic as it is mainly straightforward with many of the men wearing suits while there’s some stylish clothing for the dancers at the nightclub. The sound work of Jean Neny is superb for the atmosphere of the nightclub as well as the sparse usage of low-key sounds for the heist sequence. The film’s music by Eric Demarsan is terrific as it’s a mixture of jazz and orchestral music that is used sparingly during the course of the film with bits appearing during the heist.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Francois Perier as Vogel’s old contact Santi who runs a nightclub, Pierre Collet as a prison guard that Corey befriends early in the film, Andre Eykan as Corey’s old associate Rico whom he robs, and Paul Amiot as the police chief who is suspicious towards Inspector Mattei over his methods. Yves Montand is brilliant as Jansen as a former cop who is struggling with his alcoholism as he is asked by Corey to work with him and Vogel where he would unveil his true sense of professionalism when being sober as well as someone who is always looking out at anything he see that could go wrong. Gian Maria Volonte is amazing as Vogel as an escape convict who is trying to evade Inspector Mattei where he teams up with Corey while maintaining a low profile in his role for the heist.

Andre Bourvil is phenomenal as Inspector Mattei as a man who is trying to pursue Vogel and investigate other crimes as he’s an unconventional inspector that has methods where he can get the job done but he’s also a man of justice. Finally, there’s Alain Delon in a sensational performance as Corey as a master thief who has been released from prison who gets a tip about a place that is for a job where he tries to ensure that nothing goes wrong while befriending Vogel and Jansen as it’s an understated performance from Delon.

Le cercle rouge is a magnificent film from Jean-Pierre Melville. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an engaging story, and inventive sequences that play into the meticulous nature of a heist. It’s a film that explores men trying to create the ultimate heist without incident unaware of the meeting they will have with the man trying to pursue them in this unlikely form of destiny. In the end, Le cercle rouge is a tremendous film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

Jean-Pierre Melville: (24 Hours in the Life of a Clown) – Le silence de la mer - Les enfants terribles - (Quand tu liras cette letter) - Bob le flambeur - (Two Men in Manhattan) – (Leon Morin, Priest) – (Le Doulos) – (Magnet of Doom) – (Le deuxieme soufflĂ©) – Le samourai - (Army of Shadows) - (Un flic)

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Based on the comic series by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber, Thor: Ragnarok is the story of the godly figure who finds himself in danger when a mysterious figure has returned to Asgard to wreak havoc forcing Thor to seek help from an ally and other figures. Directed by Taika Waititi and screenplay by Eric Pearson Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, the film is an exploration of a man trying to fulfill his role but also rectify the mistakes of the past as Chris Hemsworth reprises the role of Thor. Also starring Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Thor: Ragnarok is a sprawling yet witty film from Taika Waititi.

Two years after the events in Sokovia where Thor helped the Avengers saved its people, the film follows the godly figure trying to get answers about the Infinity Stones where he learns that a mysterious figure named Hela (Cate Blanchett) is returning to Asgard to make her claim to its throne and its people. It’s a film that has Thor not only try to find out the whereabouts of his father but also deal with the sins that Odin had been carrying as it include Hela who is revealed to be Thor’s older sister that was cast out of Asgard due to her dark ambitions. With the help of his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor tries to stop Hela only for things to go wrong as she takes control of Asgard while Thor finds himself in the planet of Sakaar. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the sins that Odin has laid upon for his sons who are forced to work together and deal with themselves but also realize the role that Thor is destined to carry as he is Asgard’s true heir.

The script also has this unique structure that doesn’t just play into the development of the story but also the characters as Thor is first seen imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown) in his search for the Infinity Stones where he also learns of the prophecy known as Ragnarok that will deal with the end of Asgard which had been in Thor’s mind for some time. Upon his return to Asgard where he learns that his father had been away, he turns to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help where he and Loki find Odin’s whereabouts who reveal his own sins and the return of Hela. The second act isn’t just about Hela taking over Asgard as well as deal with a resistance led by Heimdall (Idris Elba) who had taken the sword that controls the Bridge to all nine realms. It’s also about Thor in the planet of Sakaar where he’s captured by a woman named Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) where he’s forced to become a gladiator for amusement of the planet’s leader in the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) where its champion is none other than the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Thor has to convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard as well as Valkyrie who was once part of an army of warriors that tried to stop Hela years ago.

Taika Waititi’s direction is very offbeat not just for the fact that it’s a film with grand visuals and set in a large universe but it’s also approached with a sense of humor mixed in with bits of tragedy. Though shot mainly on soundstages at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, the film also shoots on location in New York City and parts of Australia with the latter as the forest and mountains in Asgard. Waititi does create something that is grounded but also maintain the importance of the different lands and galaxies where it is very diverse as well as filled with all sorts of ideas of the world that Thor is encountering. Waititi would use some wide shots for those locations but also in some of the battle scenes and in the gladiator showdown between Thor and Hulk as the latter is this mixture of humor and drama. He would also use some close-ups and medium shots as it play into the situations that Thor is in whether it’s being imprisoned at Sakaar where he would befriend other gladiators including a rock-like creature named Korg (Taika Waititi) or coping with the sins of his father.

The direction doesn’t showcase the motivations of Hela in the need to claim her place in the throne as Asgard’s sole ruler but also infuse with some dark humor where Hela is someone that is just hell-bent on wreaking havoc. Waititi would also showcase Asgard when Odin isn’t available as it include this play of Thor and Loki’s adventures where Thor is watching with befuddlement. It’s among these offbeat moments in the film that add a lighter touch to the action and drama as well as the scenes in Sakaar where the Grandmaster is this oddball man that is ruling a planet yet he’s so weird. The film’s climax in which Thor, Loki, the Hulk, and Valkyrie battle Hela and her army as it does play into Thor’s own insecurities into not living up to his own claim for Asgard’s throne. All of which forces him to unveil his true powers and bring some redemption for his father to save the people of Asgard. Overall, Waititi crafts an exhilarating and evocative film about a god trying to save his people from his evil sister with the help of a few allies.

Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the colorful exteriors of the scenes in Sakaar and Asgard as well as some of the interiors for the scenes at Dr. Strange’s home and at the palace of Asgard. Editors Joel Negron and Zene Baker do excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with conventional fast-cutting in the action but also use some straightforward cuts for the non-action scenes to establish what is going on. Production designers Dan Hennah and Ra Vincent, with set decorator Beverley Dunn plus art directors Bill Booth, Brendan Heffernan, Richard Hobbs, Alex McCarroll, and Laura Ng, do amazing work with the look of the different worlds from Dr. Strange’s New York home, the places in Asgard, and the coliseum at Sakaar. Costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo does fantastic work with the costumes from the design of the gladiator gear to the clothes that Hela, Valkyrie, and the Grandmaster wear to play into their offbeat personalities.

Hair designer Lucy Vannella and makeup designer Vincenzo Mastrantonio do terrific work with the look of Hela in her hairstyle as well as Thor’s haircut before the gladiator battle and the makeup some of the people at Sakaar wear. Special effects supervisors Brian Cox and R. Bruce Steinheimer, with visual effects supervisors Megan Flood, Jake Morrison, and Stuart White, do incredible work with the visual effects from the look of the Hulk and some of the creatures Thor encounters to the look of the planet that Sutur lives in. Sound designers David Farmer and Shannon Mills, with co-sound editor Daniel Laurie, do superb work with the sound in creating sound effects for some of the action as well as the way the Hulk sounds and some of the objects in the different planets such as the guns at Sakaar.

The film’s music by Mark Motherbaugh is wonderful for its mixture of electronic synth-pop with elements of orchestral bombast as the latter play into some of the adventure and action while the electronic pieces play into the world of Sakaar while music supervisor Dave Jordan provide a soundtrack that is just as offbeat from the usage of Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song which makes perfect sense for the film’s action scenes as its lyrics features a lot of Norse mythology that relates to Thor.

The casting by Sarah Finn and Kirsty McGregor is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Clancy Brown as the voice of the fire demon Sutur, the trio of the Warrior Three in Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, and Zachary Levi as Fandral who are among the first to confront Hela at Asgard, Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s bodyguard Topaz, director Taika Waititi as the rock-like gladiator Korg who provides some funny commentary about Thor’s situation, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo as Thor’s barber, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a brief but terrific appearance as Doctor Stephen Strange who helps Thor find the whereabouts of Odin through his own powers. Karl Urban is superb as the Asgardian warrior Skurge who watches over the Biofrost as he becomes a reluctant aide to Hela where he copes with the choices he makes. Anthony Hopkins is fantastic as Odin as Thor and Hela’s father and king of Asgard who deals with his own exile as well as the regrets he made in his life where he ponders what will happen to Thor and Loki upon Hela’s return.

Idris Elba is excellent as Heimdall as the former watcher of the Biofrost who has become a fugitive due to events from the last film as he leads a resistance against Hela where he does whatever he can to help the people of Asgard. Jeff Goldblum is brilliant as the Grandmaster as the odd leader of Sakaar who rules the planet with a mighty fist but also with some eccentric ideas as he cares more about having gladiator shows than cleaning up his dirty planet. Tom Hiddleston is amazing as Loki as Thor’s adopted brother who has been trying to create mischief at Asgard due to Odin’s absence as he deals with the presence of Hela while being very conflicted into helping Thor and Asgard or himself as he also struggles with his own shortcomings. Tessa Thompson is remarkable as Valkyrie as a former Asgardian warrior who had fought with Hela a long time ago as she is reeling from bad memories while unsure if she wants to help Thor in order to find her own redemption. Mark Ruffalo is incredible as the Hulk/Bruce Banner where he appears briefly as Banner as the man who had been lost in the role of the Hulk as he tries to comprehend what has happened to him whereas the Hulk has become a figure that feels loved and appreciated at Sakaar instead of being seen as a monster on Earth.

Cate Blanchett is phenomenal as Hela as Odin’s first-born child who had been his executioner and right-hand woman until her ambitions overwhelm him as this woman that is just pissed off in being exiled as Blanchett provides a bit of camp but also has this air of charisma that makes her so interesting in being one of the best villains in the MCU. Finally, there’s Chris Hemsworth in a sensational performance as Thor as the Norse god who is trying to find answers about the Infinity Stones only to learn about the revelation that he has an evil older sister where he deals with his own shortcomings as Hemsworth displays some humility as well as some great comedic timing that adds to his sense of humility.

Thor: Ragnarok is a spectacular film from Taika Waititi that features great performances from Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, and Anthony Hopkins. Along with its supporting cast, dazzling visuals, killer music soundtrack, and themes on sins and duty. It’s a film that manages to be compelling in its themes while providing moments that are exciting as well as being very funny. In the end, Thor: Ragnarok is a tremendous film from Taika Waititi.

Taika Waititi Films: (Two Cars, One Night) - (Eagle vs. Shark) - (Boy (2010 film)) - What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers (2012 film)

Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man

Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - (Black Panther) - (The Avengers: Infinity Wars Pt. 1) - (Ant-Man & the Wasp) - (Captain Marvel) - (The Avengers: Infinity Wars Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

You Can Count on Me

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count on Me is the story of a single mother who gets a visit from her younger brother who stays longer than expected as they deal with their relationship as well as other issues within their family. The film is an exploration of the relationship between siblings as well as a woman trying to deal with aspects of her life as well as help her wayward brother find a sense of direction in his life. Starring Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney, J. Smith-Cameron, Amy Ryan, Josh Lucas, Gaby Hoffman, Adam LeFevre, and Matthew Broderick. You Can Count on Me is an extraordinarily rich film from Kenneth Lonergan.

Set in a small town in upstate New York, the film follows a single mother who is raising her eight-year old son while working at a bank where she learns her younger brother is coming home. Though he was supposed to stay for a day as he’s asking her for money, some troubling circumstances relating to his girlfriend forces him to stay longer as he has to do a few duties for his sister in raising his nephew. During the course of the film, the two cope with their different lifestyles as well as their own vices which would eventually affect one another. Kenneth Lonergan’s script explore the dynamic between Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry Prescott (Mark Ruffalo) as these two siblings who both lost their parents in an accident when they were kids as it had affected them greatly. For Sammy, she would live at the home she had lived for all of her life as she would share it with her son Rudy (Rory Culkin) as she struggles with her job due to the fact that she’s working for a new manager in Brian Everett (Matthew Broderick).

When Terry writes a letter in the hope that he would stay for a day, Sammy is excited at first until she learned why Terry hadn’t contacted her for months as it relates to the fact that he’s had some bad luck and continues to drift from city to city. Though his visit was only for money, he is forced to stay longer than expected where he would bond with Rudy who keeps asking Terry about his father since Sammy never talks about him as Terry would reveal that his father isn’t someone he liked at all. While Terry is someone that admits to having no real sense of direction of what to do. Sammy’s life is in a whirlwind as she is in relationship with a man named Bob (Jon Tenney) who wants to marry her as she is unsure while she would have an affair with her boss. Terry would know about Sammy’s love life as he would be baffled when she brings the local minister (Kenneth Lonergan) to counsel him as it is a key moment early in the third act about the tension between the two over their lifestyle choices.

Lonergan’s direction is simple in terms of the compositions and setting as much of the film is shot on location at Margaretville, New York near the Catskill Mountains as fictional small towns of Scottsville and Auburn. The locations in the film is a big importance as it relates to the this sheltered world that Sammy is in and why she wants to shelter Rudy from aspects of the outside world knowing how fucked up it is. For Terry, it’s an environment that isn’t ideal for him since there isn’t much to do other than drink, play pool, or go fishing. While there are some wide shots of the locations, Lonergan goes for something that is more intimate in terms of the drama that is prominent throughout the film. Notably in some of the close-ups and medium shots as there is this one shot in the latter from the stairs in the corner of the dining room that shows where Sammy, Terry, and Rudy would be sitting if they’re eating dinner. It’s among these little details including the lunch scene where Sammy and Terry meet on the day of the latter’s arrival where there is a wide shot to show the other patrons hearing the two argue over Terry’s troubles.

The direction also play into these little quirks over Brian’s disdain over things at the bank which is just silly as it play into some of the film’s humor which is subtle as well as what Sammy would do in her affair with Brian. Still, Lonergan maintains that low-key approach to the drama which include scenes in the third act as it play into Terry’s immaturity as well as Sammy’s own flaws where she would force Terry to confront his own aimlessness to cover up for her troubles. The third act is dramatically-intense as it relates to Rudy’s father where it play into why Sammy never wants Rudy to know about him and why Terry despises him. All of which forces Sammy and Terry to deal with their own differences but also realize that they can still rely on each other. Overall, Lonergan crafts a rapturous yet heartfelt film about two siblings coping with loss and themselves.

Cinematographer Stephen Kazmierski does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward to play into the locations in the daytime but also with some low-key lighting for the scenes at night including the film’s opening scene. Editor Anne McCabe does brilliant work with the editing as it is straightforward with some jump-cuts as well as some rhythmic cuts for the drama. Production designer Michael Shaw, with set decorator Lydia Marks and art director Shawn Carroll, does fantastic work with the look of the house Sammy and Rudy live in as well as a few of the places they go to with Terry.

Costume designer Melissa Toth does nice work with the costumes as it is mainly straightforward to play into the look of the characters from the more clean clothes of Sammy when she’s working to the ragged look of Terry. Sound editor Wendy Hedin does terrific work with the sound as it play into the natural atmosphere of the locations including the chaotic sound at the bar. The film’s music by Lesley Barber is superb as it is very low-key in its folk-based score with bits of country while music supervisors Barry Cole and Christopher Covert provide music from folk and country with the latter being something Sammy listens to with the rest of the soundtrack consisting of classical pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The casting by Lina Todd is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Amy Ryan and Michael Countryman as Sammy and Terry’s parents in the first scene, Haley Feiffer as Sammy and Terry’s babysitter early in the film, Whitney Vance as the young Sammy, Peter Kerwin as the young Terry, Kenneth Lonergan as the local pastor, Nina Garbiras as Brian’s pregnant wife, Kim Parker as the girlfriend of Rudy’s father, Adam LeFerve as the local sheriff who knows Sammy and Terry, Gaby Hoffman as Terry’s girlfriend at Worcester, J. Smith-Cameron as a bank secretary that Sammy tries to protect from Brian, and Josh Lucas as the man who might be Rudy’s father. Jon Tenney is superb as Bob as an old boyfriend of Sammy who is seeking to marry her unaware of the things she does as he’s just a nice guy that never did anything wrong.

Matthew Broderick is excellent as Brian Everett as the bank manager and Sammy’s boss who is annoyed by the little quirks at the bank while engaging into an affair with Sammy that becomes too intense for Sammy. Rory Culkin is brilliant as Rudy as Sammy’s eight-year old son that is trying to deal with his own adolescents and idea of who his father is where he would find a father-figure in his uncle where he would get a broad idea of the world. Mark Ruffalo is incredible as Terry Prescott as Sammy’s younger brother who drifts from place to place to find something as he finds himself back home unsure of what to do while finding a comfortable role as Rudy’s uncle where he would give his nephews an idea of the world but also make sure that the kid does have some kind of hope to carry. Finally, there’s Laura Linney in a phenomenal performance as Sammy Prescott as a bank loan manager who is raising an eight-year old son as she is dealing with all things in her life including relationships with two different men as well as dealing with her brother at home and wondering about what he will do next as she is also forced to face her own faults.

You Can Count on Me is a tremendous film from Kenneth Lonergan that features great performances from Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Rory Culkin. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous setting, and a riveting story about loss and siblings coping with their own differences. It’s a film that manages to create something that is engaging but it is also willing not to provide any easy answers into how some cope with loss or the fact that they can’t adjust to certain places or ideas in life. In the end, You Can Count on Me is a spectacular film from Kenneth Lonergan.

Kenneth Lonergan Films: Margaret (2011 film) - Manchester by the Sea

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Strike (1925 film)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and written by Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov, Ilya Kravchunovsky, and Valeryan Pletnyov, Strike is the story of a worker’s strike in 1903 Russia and the aftermath that would set the seeds for the Russian Revolution of 1917. The film is a dramatic depiction of the strike as it is told in six parts playing into the events that helped change the idea of Russian society. Starring Grigori Aleksandrov and Aleksandor Antonov. Strike is a gripping yet rapturous film from Sergei Eisenstein.

Set in 1903 and told in six chapters, the film follows the events of a worker’s strike from the moments that sparked the strike to the eventual outcome that later served as a template for Russia’s revolution that would emerge more than a decade later. The film’s screenplay is broken into six chapters as the first relates to the life of the workers and management and the second is about a worker who is accused of theft over a lost micrometer that was supposedly stolen forcing him to hang himself to death. This leads to a major strike with workers wanting demands and the response from management that eventually lead to all sorts of chaos and terror. Especially as there are those who working for management as spies who want to destroy the hopes of these workers.

Sergei Eisenstein’s direction is definitely stylish in his approach to compositions as well as creating scenes that definitely play into something that feels real. While it is shot in the full-frame aspect ratio of 1:33:1, Eisenstein is able to get a lot of coverage in the framing as it relates to the scope of what is happening in those times. The usage of wide shots to capture some of the riots and battles between workers and military in the film’s third act is evident as Eisenstein would also include some impressionistic shots with its usage of shadows and light courtesy of a trio of cinematographers in Eduard Tisse, Vasili Khvatov, and Vladimir Popov. Notably in scenes during the third act of a riot in an apartment building where the lighting and the art direction of Vasiliy Rakhals would come into play along with dizzying editing that is heavy in montage but also to play into this sense of style with its rhythms and superimposed dissolves to showcase the chaos of these riots.

There are also some light-hearted scenes in the film as it relate to the life of the workers who are just common people helping each other out and want what is best for themselves and their children. It’s a sharp contrast to the scene with the shareholders and managers as they’re shown in close-ups and medium shots to show that they not only do they not care about what the workers want but discuss it while having cocktails thinking they’re above the workers. The direction would have Eisenstein bring a realism to the actors in their performance as it help provide that need to capture what is happening as it feature standout roles from Maksim Shtraukh as a police spy, Grigori Aleksandrov as a factory foreman who is assaulted by the workers, and Ivan Klyukvin as the head revolutionary. Overall, Eisenstein creates a mesmerizing yet intense film about a worker’s strike in pre-Revolutionary Russia.

Strike is a phenomenal film from Sergei Eisenstein. Featuring incredible visuals, masterful editing, and a look into a period in time that would set the seeds for a historical event. The film is stylish silent film that showcases many of the visual ideas that would come as well as presenting a historical moment with an air of realism and power. In the end, Strike is a spectacular film from Sergei Eisenstein.

Sergei Eisenstein Films: (Glumov’s Diary) – Battleship Potemkin - (October: Ten Days that Shook the World) – (The General Line) – (Que Viva Mexico) – (Bezhin Meadow) – (Alexander Nevsky) – Ivan the Terrible

© thevoid99 2017

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Yards

Directed by James Gray and written by Gray and Matt Reeves, The Yards is the story of a convict who has been released from parole as he finds himself being part in a crime scheme with a friend for a subway rail yard leads to trouble. The film is a crime drama set in New York City where a man who went to jail for his friend deals with being drawn into a world that might put him back in prison as he also copes with loyalty and doing what is right. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn, and James Caan. The Yards is an evocative and mesmerizing film from James Gray.

The film follows a young man who has returned from prison for a crime he didn’t commit as he is eager to lead a straight-and-narrow life only to be coerced by his best friend to be involved in the world of corruption relating to the subway train yards only for things to go wrong. It’s a film that is a bit about redemption but also about the fallacy of loyalties in the streets as this young man is just trying to find work and not get in trouble but he is lured into a world he doesn’t want to go back to. The film’s screenplay by James Gray and Matt Reeves explore the motivations of its characters such as the protagonist Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) who returns home as he learns that his mother Val (Ellen Burstyn) is dealing with a heart condition and wants to set things right for her. At his homecoming party that is attended by his mother, his aunt Kitty (Faye Dunaway), his cousin Erica (Charlize Theron), and best friend Willie Gutierrez (Joaquin Phoenix), Leo learns that Kitty’s new husband Frank Olchin (James Caan) could get him a job working at the railway car repair company.

Yet, Frank is unable to give Leo a job immediately though he offers to fund his studies for a two-year machinist program as Leo chooses to work closely with Willie, who also works for Frank, where he does bribes and such to get contracts against competing companies. It may give Leo some money in his pocket but he becomes uneasy as he also learns what Willie and his friends do in ruining other companies in order to get contracts where one night in an attempt to sabotage another company’s trains would lead to chaos as Leo gets into a scuffle with a police officer (David Zayas) and knocks him unconscious. Yet, that is nothing compared to what was happening at the same time where a yard master is killed as Leo becomes a suspect where he goes into hiding with a few people to trust. Among them is Erica whom Leo is close to, despite the fact that she’s engaged to Willie, as she would look after her aunt for Leo as she becomes aware of what had happened as she turns to her stepfather for help.

Gray’s direction does have elements of style in terms of the compositions that he creates as it play into the suspense and drama. Shot on location in New York City with much of it set in the boroughs of Queens, the film does play into this world that is away from the usual aspects of the city which is often set in Manhattan. Instead, Gray plays into this world that is a mixture of upper-class suburbia as it relates to the home that Frank and his family live in as well as the apartment that Leo shares with his mother. Gray’s approach to the compositions does having him using some wide shots not just in establishing the location but also this world where there is so much at stake in the world of the subways where companies are trying to compete to get contracts where it eventually becomes deadly.

Gray’s approach to the drama is more straightforward in the compositions where he uses some medium shots and close-ups as it relate to what the characters are reacting as well as what they’re dealing with. One noted scene is where Leo is being asked to kill the cop he knocked unconscious as a way to solve all of his problems where Gray uses the space of the room and everything in it to play into the suspense. It says a lot of who Leo is as well as the conflict he has in his loyalty to his friends but he’s also thinking about the fact that he might return to prison. It’s an effective scene as would the third act where it is about family as it relate to Leo’s relationship with his mother and Erica where he really cares about them with the latter as someone he can really trust. Even as he would make a bargain to ensure that he and the family would be safe despite the fact that he could still be public enemy number one against those he would rat out. Overall, Gray crafts a gripping yet compelling film about a former convict being lured into a deadly scheme where his loyalty towards friends is being tested.

Cinematographer Harris Savides does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of low-key yet grimy lighting for the scenes set at night including scenes during black-outs and low-light situations while maintaining something natural for the daytime exterior scenes. Editor Jeffrey Ford does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward to play into the drama and suspense which includes a scene of Leo dealing with a hood wanting to kill him. Production designer Kevin Thompson, with set decorator Ford Wheeler and art director Judy Rhee, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Frank lives in with the family as well as the apartment that Leo lives with his mother.

Costume designer Michael Clancy does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with some of the stylish clothes that Erica wears. Sound editor Phil Benson, along with sound designers Kyrsten Mate and Gary Rydstrom, does superb work with the sound in creating that atmosphere of how trains are repaired as well as the atmosphere of the streets including the hospital room scene which is very low-key yet also chilling. The film’s music by Howard Shore is brilliant for its orchestral-driven score that play into the suspense and drama while music supervisor Dana Sano provide a mixture of music from acts and artists like Macy Gray, Brand New Heavies, KRS-One, Peggy Lee, George Benson, and Petula Clark.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Chad Aaron as Erica’s little brother Bernard, David Zayas as Officer Jerry Rifkin whom Leo would knock unconscious, Joseph Ragno as Leo’s parole officer, Robert Montano as a railway yard contractor in Hector Gallardo whom Willie doesn’t like, Steve Lawrence as a boroughs president who wants to keep the murder quiet until after the election, and Tomas Milian as a rival contractor who feels cheated by Frank’s company and the politicians over contracts. Faye Dunaway is fantastic as Erica’s mother Kitty as a woman that doesn’t approve of the engagement between Erica and Willie as she is also concerned with what Frank is doing with his business. Ellen Burstyn is superb as Leo’s mother Val as a woman who is happy to see her son as she also copes with what is happening to him as it is affecting her health but knows that he hasn’t done anything wrong. James Caan is excellent as Frank Olchin as a railway repair contractor who wants to help Leo out in finding a good job as he later copes with the murder of yard securities officer where he tries to do some cover-up as well as make decisions that would later be troubling.

Charlize Theron is brilliant as Erica as Leo’s cousin/Willie’s girlfriend who is happy to see Leo back as she becomes concerned with what’s happening to him after being accused of murder while taking care of her aunt where she would learn about what happened which disturbs her. Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable as Willie Gutierrez as Leo’s best friend who is part of a crew that helps sabotage rival subway trains as well as bribe officials where he goes too far into his work to the point that he thinks about getting rid of his best friend. Finally, there’s Mark Wahlberg in a marvelous performance as Leo Handler as convict who is on parole that is trying not to get into trouble as it’s a very restrained performance from Wahlberg as someone that is quiet as well as knowing what he had to do to save himself and those he cares about.

The Yards is a phenomenal film from James Gray. Featuring a great cast, top-notch cinematography, a chilling score, and captivating themes on loyalty and corruption. It’s a film that explores a world that is very competitive with those being caught in the middle of a dark and violent game where a man is forced to live by the code of the streets or do what is right. In the end, The Yards is a sensational film from James Gray.

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

© thevoid99 2017

Monday, November 06, 2017


Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg and written by Cammell, Performance is the story of a gangster who goes into hiding following a botched assassination attempt on his life where he stays at the home of a reclusive rock star. The film is an exploration of a man dealing with the life he’s been as he’s looking for a change as he meets someone who is also in need of a change in his life. Starring James Fox, Mick Jagger, and Anita Pallenberg. Performance is a stylish and whimsical film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg.

The film is a simple story of a gangster who survives an assassination attempt by thugs over a dispute with his boss as he finds himself at the home of a reclusive rock singer where things get weird. It’s a film that plays into not just identity but also the need to change things when a certain lifestyle has taken its toll where this gangster had nearly been killed and wants to do something different. Donald Cammell’s screenplay starts off with the world that Chas (James Fox) is in where he works for a mob boss in collecting money owed to his boss where he makes a great living. Yet, when his boss wants to do business with a betting shop owner that Chas has an unfortunate history with. Things go sour where Chas is attacked in his home and ends up killing the man his boss wants to do business with as he goes on the run.

Upon staying at the apartment building owned by this reclusive rock singer in Turner (Mick Jagger), he finds himself in this strange world where Turner is living with two women in Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton) plus a child maid in Lorraine (Laraine Wickens). Chas finds himself in this strange world where fantasy and reality blur as it relates to the idea of masculinity and identity as Turner is coping with writer’s block as well as dealing with his own identity where he finds inspiration in Turner and vice versa.

The film’s direction by Cammell and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg is definitely stylish in the way they would present the film as it was shot in 1967-1968 at a time when Swingin’ London and the flower power era was in full swing. Shot on location in London as well as various locations in the city, the film showcases the air of different cultures which play into the different personalities and ideas of masculinity of both Chas and Turner. The gangster culture is very gritty in its presentation while Cammell and Roeg would infuse it with some style including some different film stocks to play into the air of fantasy that Chas is craving for through Roeg’s high-octane cinematography as it show a world that is grey but also dangerous. When the film is set at Turner’s apartment, it is more colorful with an array of different styles where Cammell and Roeg would create some unique compositions in the close-ups and medium shots. 

There are also these moments that are quite extreme in terms of the sexual content, by standards of the late 60s/early 70s, as it relates to Turner’s own interest in his femininity as well as the fact that he’s sleeping with two women. Once Chas begins to embrace other sides of himself in the hope that it would get him out of Britain, it does become a film about identity as its ending is about the blur of fantasy and reality into what these two men want. Overall, Cammell and Roeg create a surreal yet exhilarating film about a gangster who hides out at the home of a reclusive rock star in the hopes to create a new identity.

Editors Anthony Gibbs, Brian Smedley-Aston, Frank Mazzola, and Tony Palmer do excellent work with the editing as it is very stylized in its approach to jump-cuts, dissolves, and fast-cuts to play into something that feels manic but also wild in the spirit of the 1960s. Art director John Clark does brilliant work with the look of the spacious home of Chas in the film’s first half to the arty and sort of claustrophobic home of Turner that is quite dirty and filled with lots of art and recording equipment. Sound recordist Ron Barron and sound editor Alan Patillo do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere at Turner’s house as well as the clubs and places that Chas goes to as a gangster. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is terrific as it is this mixture of blues and jazz that play into the period of the times as the soundtrack also feature contributions from Mick Jagger including a scene where he sings as a gangster as well as pieces from Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The film’s fantastic cast feature some notable small roles from John Sterland as a chauffeur that Chas was beating up for money, John Bindon as a thug, Johnny Shannon as Chas’ boss Harry Flowers, Laraine Wickens as a young girl who is a maid for Turner in Lorraine, Kenneth Colley as a friend of Chas who would be his only contact in hiding, and Anthony Valentine as a betting shop owner in Joey Maddocks whom Chas dislikes as he would later try to kill him in a botched assassination attempt. Michele Breton is wonderful as Lucy as an androgynous woman whose look is boyish yet she seems to connect with Chas who would also have a liking towards her. Anita Pallenberg is excellent as Pherber as a secretary-of-sorts for Turner as well as a lover who takes an interest in Chas as she thinks he can get helpful for Turner.

Mick Jagger is brilliant as Turner where he provides that sense of energy but also a pretentiousness that is expected in a rock star where Jagger is definitely enjoying himself where he pretends to be a gangster as well as provide some humor as the rock star. Finally, there’s James Fox in an amazing performance as Chas as a tough gangster who deals with an attempt on his life as he struggles to find a life outside of crime as well as become this unlikely muse for a rock singer as he deals with the drawbacks of his own masculinity.

Performance is a marvelous film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. It’s a very stylish film that explore male identity and the need to change it as it also feature some dazzling visuals and a killer soundtrack. In the end, Performance is a remarkable film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg.

Nicolas Roeg Films: Walkabout - (Glastonbury Fayre) – (Don’t Look Now) – The Man Who Fell to Earth - (Bad Timing) – (Eureka) – (Insignificance) – (Castaway) – (Aria-Un ballo in maschera) – (Track 29) – (The Witches (1990 film)) – (Heart of Darkness (1993 film)) – (Two Deaths) – (Full Body Massage) – (Samson and Delilah) – (Puffball)

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