Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Small Back Room

Based on the novel by Nigel Balchin, The Small Back Room is the story of a research scientist who is asked to take part in a research involving a new German weapon during World War II. Written for the screen and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film is an exploration of a man dealing with his role in the world as well as succumbing towards self-destructive behavior that would trouble his relationship with his secretary. Starring David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Michael Gough, and Cyril Cusack. The Small Back Room is a gripping yet evocative film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

It’s 1943 during World War II as the film revolves a bomb expert/research scientist who is asked to do work for the government on a series of new bombs created by the Germans which had killed a few people including children. It’s a film that follows this man who is reluctant in doing the job as he finds himself dealing with military and government officials who don’t do enough to help him while he is becoming troubled by his dependence on alcohol which is troubling his own relationship with his secretary whom he’s in a romantic relationship with. The film’s screenplay by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger wouldn’t just follow the struggle that Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is coping with both at work and at home but also the expectations and demands from his bosses at work in trying to understand what this bomb has done. Rice’s secretary/girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron) is aware of the chaos that is looming upon him but also his lack of ambition to do more as he’s hampered by a bad leg as well as his growing alcoholism that would eventually take its toll.

The direction of Powell and Pressburger is visually entrancing not just for some of noir-like visual style but also in the fact that it’s a story that is grounded in reality. Shot largely at various sound stages in Britain with some of the exterior locations are shot in and around Britain including the famous site of Stonehenge. The direction for some of the exterior scenes are simple in terms of the few wide shots in the film as much of it have Powell and Pressburger utilize medium shots and close-ups for many of the film’s interior scenes including the scenes at Rice’s lab with his staff at it has this claustrophobic feel for how small it is compared to a conference room during the film’s second half. The scenes at a nightclub where Rice and Susan go to are quite spacious but also intimate where it also has these unique compositions in where the characters are in the frame as well as Rice’s view when he sees Susan dancing with another man.

The direction also include this very surreal sequence as it relates to the struggle that Rice has in his alcoholism where it involves this bottle of whiskey and a clock as it is this amazing sequence filled with unique camera angles and extravagant set designs. It’s a scene that help play into the drama that would intensify in its third act where Rice’s desperation and fragility come into play. The film’s climax which involves a bomb that Rice is researching is quite intense in terms of its suspense where Powell and Pressburger choose to present the whole thing in a restrained approach. It is a moment in the film that is quite chilling in what is going through Rice’s head as tries to figure out what the creator of the bomb would do as it would also force him to confront himself. Overall, Powell and Pressburger create a riveting and mesmerizing film about scientist’s struggle to maintain his sanity during World War II and battling alcoholism.

Cinematographer Christopher Challis does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its emphasis on stylish lighting and moods that play into the drama including Rice’s struggle with his sobriety as well as the soft lights for some of the close-ups. Editors Reginald Mills and Clifford Turner do excellent work with the editing as it is quite straightforward with some stylish shots for the nightmare sequence as well as some rhythmic cutting for some of the dramatic suspenseful moments. Production designer Hein Heckroth and art director John Hoesli do amazing work with the look of the lab and offices that Rice works at in how small it is as well as the look of Rice’s apartment home including the nightmare sequence which is a highlight of the film’s art direction.

Costume designer Josephine Boss does fantastic work with the design of the gowns and dresses that Susan wears at work as well as in the nightclub scenes. The sound work of Alan Allen is superb for some of the sound effects that play into the testing of weapons and such including the conference scene where sounds would pop up every now and then to play into some of the film’s intense moments including its climax where it is used sparingly. The film’s music by Brian Easdale is terrific for its mixture of bombastic orchestral music with some eerie textures with the usage of the theremin to play into some of the suspense and drama that looms throughout the film.

The casting by Madeleine Godar is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Bryan Forbes as a dying gunner who had a fatal encounter with a German bomb, Sid James as a bartender at the bar Rice frequents at, Milton Rosmer as a fellow professor, Renee Asherson as a corporal at the beach site for the film’s climax, Leslie Banks as a colonel who is trying to speed things up with the weapons test, and Robert Morley as a minister of war who is trying to use his position of power to get Rice to speed things up. Cyril Cusack is terrific as a stuttering soldier in Corporal Taylor who often guards the building that Rice works at as he is one of the few friends that Rice has. Michael Gough is excellent as Captain Dick Stuart as the person who goes to Rice for help about the bomb as he would take part in the research.

Jack Hawkins is brilliant as R.B. Waring as a military official who is trying to help Rice but also be aware of the many things that are happening behind the scenes. Kathleen Byron is incredible as Susan as a secretary who is also Rice’s girlfriend as it’s a radiant performance from Byron as a woman who is supportive but also not afraid to speak her mind about Rice’s lack of ambition as well as dependence on alcoholism. Finally, there’s David Farrar in a phenomenal performance as Sammy Rice as a bomb expert who is also a research scientist that is troubled by the demands from his bosses about the bomb as he also copes with his alcoholism where Farrar’s sense of anguish is riveting to watch.

The Small Back Room is a sensational film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger that features remarkable performances from David Farrar and Kathleen Byron. Featuring a compelling story, eerie visuals, and a great supporting cast, the film is definitely one of the finest war dramas made about World War II that doesn’t feature any combat as well as an exploration of man’s battle with substance abuse. In the end, The Small Back Room is a tremendous film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Powell-Pressburger Films: The Spy in Black - Contraband - (The Lion Has Wings) - (An Airman’s Letter to His Mother) - 49th Parallel - One of Our Aircraft is Missing - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - (The Volunteer) – A Canterbury Tale - I Know Where I'm Going! - A Matter of Life and Death - Black Narcissus - The Red Shoes - (The Elusive Pimpernel) - (Gone to Earth) - The Tales of Hoffman - (Oh… Rosalinda!!!) - (The Battle of River Plate) – Ill Met by Moonlight - Peeping Tom - (They’re a Weird Mob) - (Age of Consent) - (The Boy Who Turned Yellow)

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: The Woods

For the fourth week of June 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We go into the woods where it’s either films about the woods or films set in the woods. Here are my three picks:

1. Ivan's Childhood

Andrei Tarkovksy’s first feature film is an unusual war film that is about a young boy who is a spy for the Russian army during World War II. It’s a film that largely features images in the woods as it would feature not just some incredible cinematography as well as these gorgeous images in the forest. Notably a scene where a nurse is being carried by an officer at a trench as it is one of these entrancing images as is the setting which has been imitated by many filmmakers including Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier.

2. First Blood

One of the definitive action films of the 1980s has scenes that is largely set in the woods as it relates to the character of John Rambo who finds himself being chased by local authorities who consider him a nuisance when he didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, they pissed off the wrong motherfucker who would use the woods as his fortress as he would grab anything he can find and use the woods as his weapons. Colonel Trautman was right, those fuck-heads needed a shitload of body bags for fuckin’ with Rambo.

3. The Revenant

From Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a film about survival as much of the action is set in the woods where Leonardo DiCaprio fights and nearly gets killed by a bear as he’s left for dead by Tom Hardy. It’s a film that features some beautiful cinematography from Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki that give the film a look that is ravishing while making the snowy woods an important centerpiece of the film.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: Ninotchka

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch and screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch from a story by Melchior Lengyel, Ninotchka is the story of a Russian woman who goes to Paris for official business relating to her government as she meets and falls in love with a man who represents everything she stands against. The film is a romantic comedy in which a woman who is on a mission to retrieve three men in trouble who are tempted by the offers in Paris as she tries to avoid that sense of temptation. Starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, and Bela Lugosi. Ninotchka is an enchanting and splendid film from Ernst Lubitsch.

The film revolves around a Soviet envoy who travels to Paris, after three men working for the government in retrieving jewels that once belonged to a grand duchess, where she comes to get the jewels and return them to the Soviet Union until she meets a Russian count who is working for the grand duchess. It’s a film that has a lot in not just being this romantic-comedy but also a film involving dueling political ideals as a woman with very socialist views arrive into a country that is more democratic with some leanings toward capitalism. Yet, the character of Nina Ivanova “Ninotchka” Yakushova (Greta Garbo) is a woman that would be new to this world as she struggles to be loyal to her own beliefs but also become tempted by what the free world has to offer. The film’s screenplay begins with the arrival of these three Soviet officials who hope to get these jewels from the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) that they can use for government funding. Instead, the three men meet Swana’s friend Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas) who charms them with lavish gifts as they lose sight of why they’re in Paris.

The script does show Ninotchka as a no-nonsense woman who knows what she is in Paris for as she presents herself as someone that isn’t afraid to spout her own socialist beliefs as well as doing things for herself. In meeting Count d’Algout, she tries to resist all of his temptation as he would try to humor her to see if she can crack and eventually does. The film’s first half is about Ninotchka’s resistant towards the frivolities and capitalist ventures in Paris while its second half is about her conflict with what Count d’Algout wants to give her as well as her loyalty to the Soviet Union. The third act would begin with Ninotchka meeting the Grand Duchess where it is a key moment in the film where it is about Ninotchka’s idea for the new Russia versus everything the Grand Duchess had stood for and why those jewels mean a lot to her. It’s a meeting that would showcase what the Grand Duchess would sacrifice but also what Ninotchka would have to do for her country as it would come at a price for herself.

Ernst Lubitsch’s direction does have an air for style but much of the film’s compositions throughout the film are quite straightforward. Shot mainly in studio backlots at MGM, the film dos play into this world of pre-World War II Paris as it play into this very thriving and lavish world where everyone is staying at posh hotels or eating at cafes that are quite affordable. Much of Lubitsch’s direction include some close-ups to play into the expression of the characters as well as some medium shots to play into the world of the characters and the growing attraction between Ninotchka and Count d’Algout. Lubitsch’s approach to humor is straightforward but also has this slow build into the way it would show Ninotchka as someone becoming less stern and more outgoing. Even as she would buy this very silly hat as it would play into her development as a person as well as scenes that showcases some of the flaws of socialism and capitalism as it’s shown with some very subtle humor.

The dramatic moments would have Lubitsch use some unique compositions that include the meeting between Ninotchka and the Grand Duchess as it is this very simple yet evocative scene that showcase a game kind of being played. Yet, it is a moment in the third act that would shift things a bit but also play as a key moment of development for both Ninotchka and Count d’Algout for the film’s third act as it relate to their growing infatuation for each other. Even as the latter would do something to get Ninotchka out of the Soviet Union in an inventive way but also have scenes set in Moscow into the life that Ninotchka and her comrades are living in as it show a world that is changing where both socialist and capitalist ideals do have their good but also the bad as it’s all about how one could compromise for the good of the world. Overall, Lubitsch creates an evocative and engaging film about a Soviet envoy who falls for an exiled count in Paris.

Cinematographer William H. Daniels does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography from the usage of low-key interior lighting for some of the scenes set in Moscow for its third act to the very gorgeous array of lighting and textures for much of the film’s interiors including the club scene in Paris. Editor Gene Ruggiero does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward with a couple of transition wipes and fade-outs that play into the drama and comedy. Art director Cedric Gibbons and set decorator Edwin B. Willis do fantastic work with the look of the Parisian hotel sweet the Soviet officials and Ninotchka stay in as well as Count d’Algout’s apartment and the interiors of the nightclub and cafe.

Gown designer Adrian does amazing work with the look of the dresses that Ninotchka would wear at the nightclub as well as the dresses that the Grand Duchess wears. Sound editor Wally Heglin does nice work with the sound as it play into the world of the cafes and clubs as well as some of the exterior scenes set in Paris. The film’s music by Werner R. Heymann is wonderful for its sumptuous orchestral score that play into some of the funnier moments of the film as well as the dramatic and romantic moments in the film.

The film’s marvelous cast include some notable small roles from George Tobias as a Russian visa official, Charles Judel as a cafĂ© owner, Rolfe Sedan as the hotel manager, Tamara Shayne as Ninotchka’s Moscow roommate, and Bela Lugosi in a small but superb performance as Ninotchka’s superior Commissar Razinin who is concerned about Ninotchka’s behavior and her time in Paris. The trio of Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach are fantastic in their respective roles as Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski as three government officials who give in to the temptation of what Paris has to offer as they have a hard time wanting to stay loyal to the Soviet Union as they become more enamored with the world of capitalism.

Ina Claire is brilliant as the Grand Duchess Swana as a former royal who had lost her jewels during the Russian Revolution as she is eager to get them back while making a major compromise that would affect Ninotchka greatly as she believes this compromise would be good for herself and her former country. Melvyn Douglas is amazing as Count Leon d’Algout as a former Russian royal who is a friend of the Grand Duchess as he is eager to get her jewels back only to be intrigued by Ninotchka whom he would fall for as he decides to help Ninotchka and do whatever he can to be there for her. Finally, there’s Greta Garbo in a magnificent performance as the titular character as a no-nonsense Soviet envoy who goes to Paris to do her job and get out as she tries to resist temptation where Garbo starts off as humorless and mechanic only to loosen up as someone full of charm and radiance while being vulnerable later on as it is one of her defining performances.

Ninotchka is a phenomenal film from Ernst Lubitsch that features incredible performances from Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, and Ina Claire. Along with its gorgeous visuals, top-notch art direction, and a witty script co-written by Billy Wilder. It’s a film that isn’t just a fun romantic-comedy but also a study of social classes and ideals that play into two people with different ideals who come together for one common goal. In the end, Ninotchka is a spectacular film from Ernst Lubitsch.

Ernst Lubitsch Films: (Shoe Palace Pinkus) – (When Four Do the Same) – (Die Augen Der Mumie Ma) – (Carmen (1918 film)) – (Intoxication (1919 film)) – (The Doll) – (My Wife, the Movie Star) – (The Oyster Princess) – (Meyer from Berlin) – (Madame DuBarry) – (Sumurun) – (Kohlhiesel’s Daughter) – (Anna Boleyn) – (The Wild Cat) – (The Loves of Pharaoh) – (The Flame (1923 film)) – (Rosita) – (The Marriage Circle) – (Three Women (1924 film)) – (Forbidden Paradise) – (Kiss Me Again) – (Lady Windermere’s Fan) – (So This is Paris) – (The Honeymoon Express) – (The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg) – (The Patriot (1928 film)) – (Eternal Love) – (The Love Parade) – (Monte Carlo (1930 film)) – (Paramount on Parade) – (The Smiling Lieutenant) – (Broken Lullaby) – (One Hour with You) – (Trouble in Paradise (1932 film)) – (Design for Living) – (The Merry Widow) – (Angel (1937 film)) – (Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife) – (The Shop Around the Corner) – (That Uncertain Feeling) – (To Be or Not to Be (1942 film)) – (Heaven Can Wait (1943 film)) – (A Royal Scandal) – (Cluny Brown) – (That Lady in Ermine)

© thevoid99 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marley (2012 film)

Directed by Kevin MacDonald, Marley is a documentary film about the life and career of reggae music legend Bob Marley. Told through archival footage, rare audio and film clips, and new interviews with family, friends, and collaborators. The film explores Marley’s early life as well as his career into becoming an international superstar until his untimely death in 1981 of cancer. The result is an engrossing and lively film from Kevin MacDonald that explores the life one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century.

Bob Marley is an icon in the world of music who would introduce the world to reggae music as he wouldn’t just make it popular but also display characteristics to express the need for social changes as well as giving voice to the oppressed and neglected. From his early years singing as part of a doo-wop group of sorts called the Wailers with Bunny Livingston and the late Peter Tosh that would later become a full-on reggae band until Livingston and Tosh left the group in 1974. Marley’s impact on popular music was immense as he would bring the music of his home country of Jamaica into the attention of the world as well as the idea of Rastafarian to give Africans and Jamaicans an identity of their own.

With interviews from Marley’s widow Rita as well as two of his eleven children in the singers Cedella and Ziggy plus longtime girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare, Bunny Livingston, producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, and fellow reggae artist Jimmy Cliff as well as many others. The film follows a simple narrative of Marley’s early life living in the small town of St. Ann in the Jamaican countryside where he never knew his father who was a white man named Norval Marley who was a government official that was known for sleeping with a lot of Jamaican women as he was from a well-off family. The film would also feature interviews with Marley’s mother Cedella Booker (who would die four years before the film’s release) as well as half-sister of his in Constance who also admits to not knowing much about her father as she is featured in one scene listening to a song called Corner Stone where one of his second cousins is listening to as it relates to the rejection that Marley would have throughout his life as someone related to this white family known as the Marleys as he is related to them.

While Kevin MacDonald does follow the narrative about Marley’s music career that would blossom for much of the 70s and peaking towards the 1980s until his death in May of 1981. Much of the film focuses on aspects of Marley’s personal life as well as his relationship with his family and his notorious womanizing which Rita knew but let it happen as she had so much respect for her husband and his work ethic. She would be with him as she along with many others survived an assassination attempt on Marley in 1976 on the eve before he was to give a free concert during a tumultuous period in Jamaica’s history relating to an election and divisive political standings. It would lead to a brief exile from Jamaica for Marley, his family, and entourage as the film showcases his growing audience all over the world including Africa where he played at an independence concert for Zimbabwe. The film also play into the final months of his life as it reveal what he was trying to fight the cancer he had for years due to an infection in one of his big toes.

Much of MacDonald’s direction in the film is straightforward as he’s aided by cinematographers Mike Eley, Alwin H. Kuchler, and Wally Pfister in shooting much of the interviews as well as some gorgeous shots of the locations in Jamaica as well as places such as a small town in Delaware Marley stayed at in the early 60s and the German resort he would go to in his final months. Editor Dan Glendenning would compile many of the rare concert footage and old video interviews Marley did during his lifetime with sound designer Glenn Freemantle compiling much of the audio including some rare demos and early tracks that Marley did as well as some of the audio interviews. Visual effects supervisor Hayden Jones would do some wonderful work in creating some 3D effects for some of the photos to make it come alive. Music supervisor Liz Gallacher does amazing work with compiling the soundtrack that doesn’t just feature much of the music that Marley did in his lifetime including some rare demos but also in the music that was playing in the early 1960s in Jamaica before Marley’s ascendance into the becoming its cultural icon.

Marley is a phenomenal film from Kevin MacDonald. Not only is it a film that offer some new stories and insights for those familiar with the life and music of Bob Marley but it also offer for those new or not entirely familiar with Marley the chance to hear his music as well as get some ideas about the world of Rastafarian. In the end, Marley is a sensational film from Kevin MacDonald.

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

Master of the House

Based on the play Tyrannens fald by Svend Rindom, Master of the House is the story of a housewife who teams up with her maid on a revenge scheme towards her tyrannical husband who has made their life a living hell. Directed, edited, and art direction by Carl Theodor Dreyer and screenplay by Dreyer and Rindom, the film is a revenge film of sorts set in the domestic world where two women conspire to save their family from their bullish patriarch and teach him a lesson. Starring Johannes Meyer, Astrid Holm, Karin Nellemose, Clara Schonfeld, Mathilde Nielsen, Johannes Nielsen, Petrine Sonne, and Aage Hoffman. Master of the House is a riveting and witty film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The film follows a businessman who has lost his business as his frustrations would have him lash out at his wife and family as well as his former nanny who frequently visits as she and the wife conspire to get revenge on the man. It’s a film with a simple premise as it explores the idea of who controls the house as a man is wreaking havoc on his family as he tries to maintain his rule while being very cruel to his wife, three children, old nanny, and his mother-in-law who would also make a few visits. The film’s screenplay by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Svend Rindom has a unique structure that begins with the way Ida Frandsen (Astrid Holm) runs her household in doing all of the things a housewife does as she’s aided by her eldest daughter Karen (Karin Nellemose) who would help watch over her younger brother Frederick (Aage Hoffman) and the family baby. Yet, they are mistreated with some indifference by the patriarch Viktor (Johannes Meyer) who was a successful watchmaker until he lost everything as he just complains about everything around him and terrorizes everyone.

When his old nanny Mads (Mathilde Nielsen) would make her visits to help around the house, things would become more chaotic to the point that Ida’s mother Alvilda (Clara Schonfeld) decides to take Ida to her home away from Viktor who has become abusive. This would prompt Mads to do something big in the film’s second half as it relates to everything Viktor has done to Ida and the family where he would get some revelations about what his wife does while he’s often away at the bar or trying to find work. It does become a different film of sorts in terms of who is the master of the house as the script would become this kind of feminist film of sorts as Mads would have to go back to old tactics in the way she dealt with Viktor as a child.

Dreyer’s direction is definitely simple in its approach to the visuals as the camera throughout the film rarely moves except in scenes outside of the house or a camera tilt inside of the home. Much of the compositions has Dreyer use medium shots for much of the film to play into the sense of theatricality that is prevalent throughout the drama. Especially as he doesn’t go for any kind of close-ups as there are a few wide shots for scenes outside of the house but that is pretty much it as Dreyer is more about the way the household is run and what happens when Ida is out of the picture in running the household. Also serving as the film’s art director and editor, Dreyer’s approach to the sets would help create something that is intimate for the camera to capture as much coverage in its compositions without the need to move it in case a character goes from one room to another. Instead, he would cut to that person in the other room as his approach as an editor his also very straightforward. Even in his idea of humor which is very subtle as it showcases the humility that Viktor has to endure all because of his selfishness towards the people in his live. Overall, Dreyer creates a compelling and evocative film about a family patriarch getting his comeuppance from his wife and former nanny.

Cinematographer George Schneevoigt does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it features some unique shades of lighting for some of the interiors as well as going for something natural in the few exterior scenes in the film. The film’s reconstructed score by Gillian B. Anderson that is performed by pianist Sara Davis Buechner from its 2010 reissue is superb for its piano-based score that play into the style that was reminiscent of the music made during the silent film era with its array of moods and pieces that is played continuously.

The film’s amazing cast as it include some notable small roles from Petrine Sonne as a washer woman from the film’s second half, Johannes Nielsen as a doctor who would look over Ida, Aage Hoffman as Ida and Viktor’s son Frederik, and Clara Schonfeld as Ida’s mother Alvilda who is trying to help her daughter and the family as she would help Mads in her plan. Karin Nellemose is fantastic as Karen as Ida and Viktor’s daughter who tries to help her mother every way she can but also pities her father once she sees him try to adjust without his wife. Mathilde Nielsen is incredible as Mads as Viktor’s former nanny whose frequent visits to help the family has her seeing what Viktor has become where she decides to make him pay.

Astrid Holm is brilliant as Ida as a housewife who is mistreated, neglected, and overworked as someone that does love her husband but couldn’t take the abuse anymore as she goes along with Mads’ plan. Finally, there’s Johannes Meyer in a marvelous performance as Viktor Frandsen as an unemployed watchmaker who unravels in his lack of progress as he starts to vent his anger at his family including his wife where he would later endure a lesson in humility that would make him realize the abuse he has done to his wife and family.

Master of the House is an incredible film from Carl Theodor Dreyer. Featuring a great cast, a captivating story with proto-feminist ideas, gorgeous visuals, and amazing sets. It’s a silent film that is quite intriguing in its depiction of household life as well as the importance of a woman’s role in that household. In the end, Master of the House is a phenomenal film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Carl Theodor Dreyer Films: (The President) - (The Parson’s Widow) - Leaves from Satan's Book - (Once Upon a Time (1922 film)) - (Love One Another) - (Michael (1924 film)) - (Bride of Glomdal) – The Passion of Joan of Arc - Vampyr - Day of Wrath - (Two People) – Ordet - Gertrud

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Films Based on True Events

For the third week of June 2017 as part of the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We go into movies based on true events where it play into dramatized stories about real things that happened whether it’s historical or something that is personal but really happened. Here are my three picks as they’re all directed by Michael Winterbottom:

1. The Road to Guantanamo

In a project co-directed with Mat Whitecross, this film about the Tipton Three in which three British-Pakistani men were sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba from Afghanistan as they were accused of being involved in the events relating to 9/11. In this mixture of documentary and fiction, the film features an early performance from Riz Ahmed as one of the three men who was accused of being part of Al-Qaeda. It showcases the horror of what goes on at Guantanamo Bay as well as a period in time after 9/11 in which America and Britain become consumed with fear and paranoia.

2. A Mighty Heart

In this film about Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder in early 2002 in Pakistan, the film is a dramatized story largely told by his wife Mariane as she wonders where her husband is. Featuring Angelina Jolie in one of her finest performances as Mariane and Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl, it’s a film that might be conventional for someone like Winterbottom to make but he doesn’t go for usual tropes expected in a film like this. Especially as Winterbottom would go for something more of a cinema verite style to create some realism into the drama.

3. The Look of Love

In his fourth of several collaborations so far with actor Steve Coogan, Winterbottom’s bio-pic about the controversial British pornographer and real estate mogul Paul Raymond is a witty and unconventional film though it is very flawed due to its very uneven script. Still, it features a winning performance from Coogan yet it’s Imogen Poots that is the real standout as Raymond’s daughter Debbie as a young woman eager to try to make it as an entertainer but her lack of talent would prevent that as she would die tragically. Despite some of its drawbacks in featuring too many party scenes, it is still one of Winterbottom’s more intriguing films.

© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Based on the novel by Philip Roth, Indignation is the story of a Jewish student who begins a relationship with a mentally ill student at a small Ohio college as he also spars with its dean over religion and individuality in the life of academics. Written for the screen and directed by James Schamus, the film is a period drama of sorts set in the 1950s as it revolves around morality as a young man copes with his faith and his own sexual awakening. Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Linda Edmond, Ben Rosenfield, Danny Burstein, Pico Alexander, and Tracy Letts. Indignation is a riveting and compelling film from James Schamus.

Set in 1951 at a college in Ohio, the film follows a Jewish student who arrives as a freshman where he meets a beautiful student as they would have a strange sexual moment that would later get the two into some trouble involving gossip as he gets the attention of the school’s dean. The film is a complex story in which a young man with strong views on the world as he prefers to keep things to himself as he deals with the expectations he’s laid upon from his parents as well as the faculty until a date with this young woman would change things. James Schamus’ screenplay opens and ends with this old woman at a hospital staring at the wall as it then goes into a scene during the Korean War where a North Korean soldier fights with an American. It would then cut into a funeral service that the film’s protagonist Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) attends for someone who was killed at the war as he copes with his father (Danny Burstein) who has been acting erratic lately as well as the need to socialize with other Jewish students despite the fact that he’s an Atheist.

When he meets Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) at a history class and asks her out, he is unaware of what kind of person she is as she would give him a blow job inside a car as their relationship would be awkward until Marcus wonders about Olivia’s frequent absences at school. Especially as he learns about the fact that she’s had a history of mental illness and an undeserved reputation for being loose which gets him upset as he would lash out at his roommates and eventually move into his own room at another dorm. This would get the attention of the school’s dean Hawes D. Caudwell (Tracy Letts) who would ask a lot of questions that would annoy Marcus and his own beliefs including having to attend chapel forty times during his entire time at the school as requirement to graduate. It is a key moment in the story as it shows the expectations laid upon Marcus, Olivia, and other students in what they had to do in order to move forward as a society yet Marcus and Olivia have a hard time sticking to those ideals which has the former be outspoken and the latter coming apart.

Schamus’ direction is quite straightforward yet does contain some very entrancing compositions in the way he looks at college life in the 1950s where it’s a world that is quite square in its surroundings. Shot on location around various parts of New York City, the film does play into this look that is quite idyllic for the look of the college as well as Schamus’ precise framing into every image including the scenes at the chapel where a speaker tries to instill Christian ideals into the students including non-Christians. The usage of wide and medium shots play into this institution that may seem like idyllic but also quite stifling which is definitely what Schamus is doing while he also uses close-ups for the characters including Marcus who narrates the film via voiceover. There are a few scenes outside of the college as it relates to the working-class Jewish community that Marcus live in as it has a similar presentation visually but it’s a grimy world that includes the butcher shop that Marcus’ father runs.

The sexual content in the film is actually very tame since Schamus doesn’t show anything at all but rather Marcus’ own reaction to getting a blowjob from Olivia as well as her visits at the hospital during the second half of the film. Schamus’ approach to the drama is very simple yet he would also maintain some ambiguity as it relates to Olivia where he only display a few things about her with the exception of a flashback sequence relating to her mental history. The third act isn’t just about Marcus and Olivia’s relationship which is considered taboo given Marcus’ own idealism and Olivia’s reputation as well as the fact that they both come from different social circles. It also play into this growing decline of the ideas and demands of conformity at the college as it would play into Marcus’ growing disdain for everything Dean Caudwell stands for. Overall, Schamus creates a provocative yet haunting film about a young man’s relationship with a troubled young woman at a college in the early 1950s.

Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for some of the interiors at night as it play into this idyllic of 1950s society with the only scene of brightness is in the hospital scenes. Editor Andrew Marcus does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of the cutting as it strays from anything stylized. Production designer Inbal Weinberg, with set decorator Philippa Culpepper and art director Derek Wang, does amazing work with the look of the college dorms and classrooms as well as Marcus’ hospital room and the butcher shop that his father owns.

Costume designer Amy Roth does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of what students wore during that time including the dresses that Olivia wore. Sound editor Lewis Goldstein is terrific from the way a record sounds inside Marcus’ dorm to some of the low-key yet raucous moments at the campus as well as the tense scenes inside the chapel. The film’s music by Jay Wadley is superb for its orchestral-based score that is also low-key in its string arrangements as it help play into the somber tones of the film while the soundtrack features music of the times including the folk and pop music of the times.

The casting by Avy Kaufman is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Sue Dahlman as this old woman at the film’s beginning and ending, Noah Robbins as a Jewish fraternity brother who would help Marcus deal with appearing at chapel, Philip Ettinger as a roommate of Marcus early in the film who would lend Marcus his car for his date with Olivia, Ben Rosenfield as another of Marcus’ roommate earlier in the film whose fondness for loud records and Shakespeare would annoy Marcus, and Pico Alexander as Jewish fraternity president who would try to invite Marcus to the fraternity as he’s a mutual friend of Marcus’ family. Danny Burstein is superb as Marcus’ father Max who starts to behave erratically as he believes something bad is going to happen where he would eventually lash out at those around him. Linda Emond is excellent as Marcus’ mother Esther as a woman who has been very supportive of Marcus as she would visit him at the hospital while getting to meet Olivia which would worry her.

Tracy Letts is brilliant as Dean Caudwell as the college dean who is eager to instill his own rule and ideals into the college that he runs as he finds himself challenged by Marcus where Letts’ performance is quite unusual in its restraint as he comes off more as a man who seems concerned and intrigued but it’s just a cover for someone who is really quite dark. Sarah Gadon is amazing as Olivia Hutton as a young woman from an upper-class family that is sexually-experienced yet is also quite off as someone who is also very fragile as she doesn’t want to reveal much about herself to Marcus. Finally, there’s Logan Lerman in a remarkable performance as Marcus Messner as this young Jewish freshman that is an Atheist who isn’t eager to fit in with the rest of the campus in order to focus on his studies only to find himself challenged by Dean Caudwell and find someone he is intrigued by in Olivia as it’s a very complex performance from Lerman who has this defiance but also weariness to someone trying to find his place in the world.

Indignation is an incredible film from James Schamus that features phenomenal performances from Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, and Tracy Letts. Along with its gorgeous visuals and compelling themes on individualism during the early 1950s, it’s a film that explores a young man dealing with the expectations of society where he finds solace in a troubled young woman. In the end, Indignation is a sensational film from James Schamus.

© thevoid99 2017