Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Babette's Feast




Based on the short story by Karen Blixen under the Isak Dinesen pseudonym, Babette’s Feast is the story of a housekeeper who decides to create a feast for religious villagers in late 19th Century Denmark. Written for the screen and directed by Gabriel Axel, the film is a look into a woman with a mysterious past that decides to take action in the hopes of bringing people together to celebrate the 100th birthday of their late yet beloved pastor. Starring Stephane Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, and narration by Ghita Norby. Babette’s Feast is an evocative and enchanting film from Gabriel Axel.

The film follows the life of two sisters and their French housekeeper who lived together for fourteen years when the latter had been taken in despite the fact that the sisters had no money. During their time as the sisters are running their father’s congregation with the remaining villagers left in their small village, their housekeeper plans to create a feast to celebrate what would’ve been the 100th birthday of the congregation leader. Gabriel Axel’s screenplay opens with the story of these two sisters in their youth where they are both pursued by different suitors who visit their small village but both women would stay with their father and later run his congregation. The story then shifts to thirty-five years later where the Frenchwoman Babette (Stephane Audran) has arrived based on the recommendation by a former suitor of one of the sisters who has left France due to a conflict in the country. The story would move fourteen years where Babette receives a letter from home as it would be a brief trip where she would return with ideas for a grand feast for the sisters and the villagers.

Axel’s direction is understated in terms of its setting as well as not going for any kind of stylistic shots to go for something simple and to the point. Shot on location in the small town of Lonstrup in Denmark, Axel would use wide shots to get a scope of the locations as well as some of its surroundings including its seaside cliffs and the oceans. Yet, much of what Axel would do is maintain an intimacy with its close-ups and medium shots where the film opens with Philippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) is holding a congregation meeting with its small villagers while Babette would serve them food. The flashbacks of the sisters when they were younger as it’s told by Ghita Norby’s narration to play into the world they could’ve been in with Philippa being courted by an officer and Martine by an opera singer due to her voice. Axel would show why the sisters chose to stay as it relates to their father and the congregation that he is leading in this small yet fruitful community.

The tone of the film would change upon Babette’s arrival as she would eventually learn how to speak Danish as well as things do lighten up until Babette has to return to France briefly where a soup that she’s known to make that is recreated by the sisters isn’t as good. It would lead to the third act where Babette returns from France with a bevy of things as it relates to the film’s climatic feast. The attention to detail into what Babette would create in her feast is engaging where Axel is fixated on all of the ingredients she’s bringing in as well as the preparation for the entrees she’s making. The dinner which would include a couple of major guests as there’s a sense of apprehension from Philippa due to a surreal dream she had about what she and the guests will eat. Once the guests would get as their feast, something magical happens as it play into the unexpected as well as the familiar. Overall, Axel crafts a ravishing and sumptuous film about a French housekeeper and the feast she makes for her mistresses and their guests.

Cinematographer Henning Kristiansen does brilliant work with the cinematography with its usage of natural lights for many of the interior/exterior scenes in the village with a few artificial lighting for a few scenes in the places outside of the village. Editor Finn Henriksen does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play into a few scenes of Babette cooking or in moments that play into the lives of the two sisters. Production designer Sven Wichmann does amazing work with the look of the home that the sisters live in as well as the houses in the village and the interiors of the rich places that the suitors of the sisters lived in.

Costume designer Annelise Hauberg does fantastic work with the costumes from the plain and colorless dresses of the villagers to the colorful look of the officer’s uniform. Sound mixer Hans-Eric Ahrn does superb work for the sound in creating a natural mix of sounds to play into the atmosphere of the village and its surroundings as well as the climatic dinner scene. The film’s music by Per Norgaard is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score that has elements of opera and traditional religious music that play into the world that the characters live in.

The film’s incredible cast include some notable small performances from Gert Bastian as a poor villager who loves Babette’s soup, Pouel Kern as Philippa and Martine’s father, Hanna Stensgaard and Vibeke Hastrup in their respective roles as the younger versions of Philippa and Martine, Thomas Antoni as a Swedish lieutenant, and Bibi Andersson as a Swedish courtier that would introduce General Lowenheilm to his wife. Jean-Philippe Lafont is superb as the opera singer Achille Papin as the man who courts Philippa as he hears her voice and later send Babette to her and Martine. 

Jarl Kulle is fantastic as General Lorens Lowenheilm as a man who falls for Martine as he would see her years later in attending the feast. Bodil Kjer and Birgitte Federspiel are amazing in their respective roles as Philippa and Martine as two sisters who run their father’s congregation as well as dealing with its dwindling followers and reluctantly give Babette the chance to create her feast. Finally, there’s Stephane Audran in a phenomenal performance as Babette as a woman who becomes the housekeeper for two sisters where she would create food that would be extraordinary and wanting to return the favor to the sisters by creating a feast that would become an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Babette’s Feast is a sensational film from Gabriel Axel. Along with its incredible cast, gorgeous visuals, sumptuous music, and images of delicious food, it’s a film that explore what an ordinary woman could to help two old ladies and a village in giving them something that is extraordinary. In the end, Babette’s Feast is a spectacular film from Gabriel Axel.

© thevoid99 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bessie



Directed by Dee Rees and screenplay by Rees, Christopher Cleveland, and Bettina Gilois from a story by Rees and Horton Foote, Bessie is the story of the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith and the journey she would take to be one of the pioneers in blues. The film is an exploration of a woman in her rise to become the great singer as well as struggle with success and identity as she is played by Queen Latifah. Also starring Michael K. Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Bryan Greenberg, and Mo’Nique as Ma Rainey. Bessie is a rapturous and intoxicating film from Dee Rees.

The film follows the life and career of Bessie Smith who was considered an influential figure in the world of blues music from her period of success during the 1920s to the late 1930s before her death in 1937 at the age of 43. The film focuses on Smith’s life from her early period as a struggling singer in 1912 where she meets the famed blues singer Ma Rainey who would become her mentor to the mid-1930s just a few years before her death. The film’s screenplay by Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, and Bettina Gilois is straightforward with a few flashbacks as it relates to Smith’s troubled childhood though the film opens with Smith singing at a club when she was at her peak and then returning home as it would become a reflective story of sorts. Notably as Smith thinks about wanting to succeed and give people in her family as well as those close to enjoy her success. Learning from Ma Rainey in how to perform, engage the audience, and deal with the business side of things, Smith and her brother Clarence (Troy Kittles) would form their own show as they would get help from Jack Gee (Michael K. Williams) who would become Smith’s first husband.

Gee would also handle some of Smith’s businesses much to her brother’s dismay where things would go well but Smith has her own interests towards both men and women as well as a love of alcohol. Smith’s affairs with both sexes would cause trouble in her marriage to Gee who would take on other interests with her money as it would create a lot of discord. Even as Smith’s estranged older sister Viola (Khandi Alexander) whom she had reconciled with would take charge of Smith’s own personal life. Yet, it would also play into Smith’s fall when the Great Depression occur forcing her and Clarence to deal with their dwindling fortune but also the realization that there’s people who still listen to her music and needed her.

Rees’ direction is definitely mesmerizing for the way it captures early 20th Century life at a time when African-Americans are excluded from certain parts of the country. Shot largely in areas around Atlanta and other parts of the American South, the film has Rees use the rural locations to play into the American South where it was segregated but also lively as African-Americans had their own community and culture to live on. Rees would use wide shots of the locations as well as scenes in theaters to play into scope of the world that Smith is as well as the number of people who come to see her including a shot in the cotton fields as she watch them wave to her on her train. Yet, much of Rees’ direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots as it play into Smith’s interaction with other people in her life as well as the key moments that would shape her such as a stabbing she would receive from a man she earlier insulted for being rude to her. Rees’ close-ups would also play into the stage as well as the attention to detail of what Smith had to do to engage the audience in her performance as it would be her gift but also cause problems with Ma Rainey who realizes that Smith is a better singer.

Rees would also create some dream-like elements to play into Smith’s life at home as well as display something that is extravagant into the stage show such as the opening shot of her under a blue limelight. It would be seen again to set up the third act as it relates to the toll success would have on Smith. Even as she is aware that not everyone including upper-class white society will accept her as she also doesn’t give a fuck if they accept her or not. The third act does play into her descent where Rees reveals not just the pain of her childhood but also her own flaws where she would drive those who cared about her away. Still, there are those who were willing to stick by her as Rees would show what those outside of her circle were willing to do such as the character of John Hammond (Bryan Greenberg) in bringing her music to the masses. Overall, Rees creates a compelling and lively film about the life of one of the pioneers of blues music.

Cinematographer Jeff Jur does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it play into some of the film’s natural lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes as well as some unique lighting for some of the interiors and scenes at night. Editor Brian A. Kates does excellent work with the editing as it play into the performances of the music as well as some of the drama that occur in the film. Production designer Clark Hunter, with set decorator Traci Kirshbaum and art director Drew Monahan, does amazing work with the look of the theaters, trains, cars, and other places to play into the look of the times. Costume designer Michael T. Boyd does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of the dresses and hats that the women wore in those times as well as the suits and other stylish clothing that play into the period of the 1920s to the ragged look of the Great Depression.

Visual effects supervisors Paul Graff, Gong Myung Lee, and Eric J. Robertson do nice work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for some of the exteriors including scenes outside of the train. Sound designer Kris Fenske and sound editor Damian Volpe do superb work with the sound in the way the crowd reacts to the music as well as some of the things happening on location. The film’s music by Rachel Portman is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score in some of the childhood flashbacks and intensely-dramatic moments while the rest of the soundtrack feature a lot of blues music from the real artists that are actually sung by the actors who play them including bits of jazz in the mix including the early dirty blues music of Lucille Bogan.

The casting by Billy Hopkins is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Joe Knezevich as the talent agent Frank Walker who would get Smith to sign with Columbia Records, Bryan Greenberg as the famed record producer John Hammond who would record Smith’s music late in her career, Oliver Platt as the controversial writer/photographer Carl Van Vechten who is fascinated by Smith until he told her the title of his controversial novel that pisses off Smith, Kamryn Johnson as the young Smith, Chantelle Rose Mussenden as the wannabe blues singer Gertrude Saunders that Jack wants to promote and develop, and Charles S. Dutton as Ma Rainey’s manager Pa Rainey who handles her business as well as help Smith in how to handle business. Tika Sumpter is wonderful as Smith’s lesbian lover Lucille whom she sleeps with as well as have her around for companionship while Mike Epps is superb as Richard as a bootlegger of alcohol who would become another of Smith’s lovers but also someone who really cares about her. Tory Kittles is fantastic as Smith’s brother Clarence who often accompanies her and makes sure things go well while being part of a power struggle over control of her career with McGee.

Khandi Alexander is excellent as Smith’s estranged older sister Viola who had never been fully supportive until she sees how successful Smith has become where she would reconcile with her but would also see her sister’s downfall very closely. Michael K. Williams is brilliant as Jack McGee as a man who falls for Smith and helps manages her career where he would do everything to make sure things go well but would also become frustrated by her other ventures leading to him doing things on his own. Mo’Nique is incredible as Ma Rainey as the blues pioneer who would be Smith’s mentor as a woman that knows how to engage the audience and deal with business as well as know where not to go as it’s a commanding and charismatic performance. Finally, there’s Queen Latifah in a phenomenal performance as Bessie Smith as a woman wanting to make it as a singer but also has a huge lust for life and everything else yet is haunted by her childhood and insecurities about herself as it’s a career-defining performance for Latifah.

Bessie is a spectacular film from Dee Rees that features a sensational performance from Queen Latifah in the titular role. Along with its great supporting cast, amazing music, and gorgeous visuals, it’s a film that doesn’t play into the conventions of a bio-pic while allowing audiences who aren’t familiar with the blues hear its importance to the world of music. Even as it gives light to some of its pioneers who would make that music important. In the end, Bessie is a tremendous film from Dee Rees.

Dee Rees Films: (Eventual Salvation) – Pariah - (Mudbound)

© thevoid99 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Two Cars, One Night




Written and directed by Taika Waititi, Two Cars, One Night is the story of two boys and a girl who meet at a car park where one of the boys finds himself falling in love. The eleven-minute short film explores the idea of first love in a simple yet enchanting setting. Starring Rangi Ngamoki and Hutini Waikato. Two Cars, One Night is a dazzling yet enchanting film from Taika Waititi.

Set in a car park at a pub in a small, rural town in New Zealand, the film revolves around two boys in a car as they see a girl in a car beside them. Though the eldest boy and girl start off not liking each other, they become fascinated with one another as writer/director Taika Waititi uses a simple setting for this interaction to come to life. Even as it play into elements of humor where they mock each other but then realize that there is a sense of attraction. Waititi’s direction does bear elements of style as anything outside of the story is told in a speedy, time-lapse style yet much of his approach to the compositions are straightforward. Waititi’s usage of close-ups and medium shots play into the interaction of the characters as well as how they bond. There is some uncertainty into how long this interaction will last or will it ever continue but Waititi displays a tenderness into the idea of first love. Overall, Waititi creates a compelling yet charming film about first love in a car park.

Cinematographer Adam Clark does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it play into the locations as well as the usage of lights of cars that pass by. Editor Owen Ferrier-Kerr does excellent work with the editing with its usage of time-lapse speed edits and jump-cuts. Art director Simon Harper does nice work with a few of the exterior look of the pub. Visual effects supervisor Tim Capper does terrific work with a few of the visuals for the time-lapse sequences. Sound editor/recordist Nic McGowan does superb work with the sound in how cars sound as they pass by as well as what is heard in the pub from the outside. The film’s music by Craig Sengelow is wonderful for its low-key score as it is mainly some ambient-based guitar sounds with vocals in the background for the film’s final credits.

The film’s amazing cast feature notable small roles from Dion Waikato and Riwai Waka as a couple of men passing by and Te Ahiwaru Ngamoki-Richards as the youngest boy in the car named Ed. The incredible performances of Rangi Ngamoki and Hutini Waikato in their respective roles as Romeo and Polly are a joy to watch in how they naturally approach each other and their conversation which has a mixture of humor and uncertainty.

Two Cars, One Night is a marvelous film from Taika Waititi. It’s a fascinating 11-minute short film that displays a lot of innocence told with light-hearted humor. In the end, Two Cars, One Night is a remarkable film from Taika Waititi.

Taika Waititi Films: Eagle vs. Shark - (Boy (2010 film)) – What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok

© thevoid99 2018

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Producers (1967 film)




Written and directed by Mel Brooks, The Producers is the story of a Broadway producer who teams up with an accountant in financing a sure-fire flop hoping to make money out of the flop and live happily. The film is a look into two different men who team up to find a flop as their choice would prove to be something that might offend so many in the hopes they can succeed by creating a Broadway bomb. Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, and Dick Shawn. The Producers is a whimsical and lively film from Mel Brooks.

The film follows the life of a washed-up Broadway producer who hears his accountant talking about the ideas of making money in investing a flop where the two come together to find a sure-fire flop as they choose a play written by a former Nazi called Springtime for Hitler. It’s a film with a simple premise in which two men decide to take part in a scheme in the hopes they can make some serious money but the journey in finding the flop, getting the worst director to helm the play, and get a terrible cast would prove to be hard. Mel Brooks’ screenplay play into this unlikely partnership between the producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and the account Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) as the former coaches the latter in what it takes to raise funds and such while convincing the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) to have his play be made with the help of the notoriously-flamboyant director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett). It all play into this scheme where Bialystock and Bloom take careful planning into as it would culminate in the opening night where they hope to unleash the mother of all Broadway bombs.

Brooks’ direction is quite straightforward in terms of the compositions and setting as much of the film is shot on location in New York City with some of its interiors shot at the Chelsea Studio in the same city. While there are some wide shots including a key scene at the Metropolitan Opera House, much of Brooks’ direction rely on close-ups and medium shots to play into the interaction of the protagonists and the adventure they take. At the same time, Brooks would infuse elements of life-hearted banter as it relates to the nerve-stricken Bloom and the aggressive Bialystock where they encounter so many things. Brooks would also put in some moments that are funny such as a Swedish receptionist named Ulla (Lee Meredith) whom they hire just so she can wear skimpy clothes and dance. When the character known as L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) comes into the picture to audition for Hitler, the humor would amp up into the film’s climax for the play’s opening night. Yet, its aftermath that would lead to the funnier moments as it relates to the reaction of Springtime for Hitler and what the audience would see whether Bialystock and Bloom’s scheme would work. Overall, Brooks creates a witty yet exhilarating film about two Broadway producers trying to cash in by financing a sure-fire flop.

Cinematographer Joseph Coffey does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward and colorful for many of the scenes in the day as well as the way the play is presented in its lighting. Editor Ralph Rosenblum does nice work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the humor. Production designer Charles Rosen and set decorator James Dalton do amazing work with the look of Bialystock and Bloom’s office as well as the staging of the play. Costume designer Gene Coffin does fantastic work with the lavish costumes from the dress that De Bris wear as well as the costumes at the play. Sound editor Alan Heim does terrific work with the sound as it is straightforward to play into the atmosphere of the crowds at the play. The film’s music by John Morris is wonderful for its playful orchestral score that add a lot to the film’s humor as it include a few original songs by Mel Brooks such as the titular song to the play.

The casting by Alfa-Betty Olsen is great as it feature some notable small roles from William Hickey as a drunk at a bar, Renee Taylor as an actress playing Eva Braun, Madelyn Cates as a landlord claiming to be a concierge, Barney Martin as an actor playing Hermann Goring, Andreas Voutsinas as De Bris’ assistant Carmen, Estelle Winwood as one of the old ladies that Bialystock woos to get her money, and Lee Meredith in a funny performance as the very attractive receptionist Ulla. Christopher Hewett is superb as the flamboyant and openly-gay play director Roger De Bris who cares more about extravagance rather than the story. Dick Shawn is hilarious as L.S.D. as a singer who auditions to play Hitler as he acts like a Beatnik of sorts as he consistently brings in the laughs.

Kenneth Mars is excellent as Franz Liebkind as the author of Springtime for Hitler as this former Nazi who wrote the play to show Adolf Hitler in a different light while being furious if things don’t go his way. Finally, there’s the duo of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in incredible performances in their respective roles as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom. Mostel brings an energy and determination to his role as a man that is willing to humiliate himself to pleasure old ladies as well as deal with the struggles of being a producer. Wilder is definitely the funnier of the two in the way he is wracked with nerves as he comforts himself with a tiny piece of his blanket as well as display this abundance of energy that had been repressed in him. Mostel and Wilder are a joy to watch in the way they interact with each other as well as be foils to each other.

The Producers is a phenomenal film from Mel Brooks. Featuring a great cast, a witty story, some catchy songs, and an abundance of funny moments that are fun to watch. The film is a whimsical comedy that play into two men trying to pull a scheme by choosing the worst story ever in the hopes they can make money. In the end, The Producers is a spectacular film from Mel Brooks.

Mel Brooks Films: (Twelve Chairs) – Blazing Saddles - Young Frankenstein - (Silent Movie) – High Anxiety - (History of the World Pt. 1) – Spaceballs - (Life Stinks) – Robin Hood: Men in Tights - (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)

© thevoid99 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars




Directed by Lili Fini Zanuck and written by Stephen “Scooter” Weintraub and Larry Yelen, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars is the story of the life and career of one of the greatest guitarists in rock n’ roll from his time in the 1960s being an integral part of the emergence of blues in Britain and playing in bands like the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith and then becoming a successful solo artist. The film also explores Clapton’s struggle with drugs and alcohol as well as the need to be loved as it relates to the lonely childhood he had and how music saved him as well as give him the family that he’s always wanted. The result is a fascinating and evocative film from Lili Fini Zanuck.

Told through various audio clips and footages from interviews from other films and TV appearances, the film follows the life and career of Eric Clapton who emerged in the early 1960s under the radar of the British Invasion as a gifted guitarist with a love for American blues music. Before he would make waves for being in the supergroup power-trio Cream and later as a solo artist, Clapton was considered the best guitarist of his generation where in 1967. A fan wrote graffiti on the wall stating “Clapton is God” which would embarrass a young man who would endure a lot of pain in his early life as well as in his adult life where he spent much of the 1970s battling drug addiction and alcoholism. Much of the film’s first half explore Clapton’s time in the 1960s as well as going back to parts of his early life where he was raised by his grandparents.

With the aid of Chris King’s editing as well as the collection of audio interviews from sound editors Stephen Griffith and Andy Shelley, director Lili Fini Zanuck would showcase the events that shaped Clapton’s life from the fact that he had been abandoned by his mother who would later return to Britain with two children and reject him as well as a visit to Germany with his grandparents where his mother treated him poorly. It would affect his relationship with women including a time in the late 60s where he found himself falling for Pattie Boyd who was then-married to one of his best friends in George Harrison. Though Boyd would eventually divorce Harrison in the early 70s and marry Clapton a few years later, the relationship was shaky due to Clapton’s alcoholism as he traded his addiction to heroin to drinking alcohol.

It’s not just Clapton’s voice that is heard throughout the film but also archival audio from his grandmother Rose as well as Boyd, Harrison, Derek and the Dominos bandmate Bobby Whitlock, and a few others that would help play into Clapton’s story as well as the fulfillment he would have in the late 80s with the arrival of his son Conor until tragedy occurred in March of 1991 when Conor fell off a fifty-three story building in New York City and died at the age of four. His son’s death would inspire him to co-write the song Tears in Heaven that would give not just accolades but also start a period of rebuilding and creating the need for a treatment center as he would later find a new wife in Melia McEnrey who would give him three daughters while Clapton would also discover of another daughter he would have in 1985 as they would give him what he needed.

At the heart of the film is the music which is compiled by music supervisor Gary Welch that doesn’t just feature many of the music Clapton made in the bands he’s been in as well as the artists he collaborated with but also some of his influences. The film also features low-key score music by Gustavo Santoalalla who provides a mixture folk-based blues that play to pictures of Clapton’s pre-fame life.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars is a remarkable film from Lili Fini Zanuck. It’s a documentary that doesn’t play by the conventions while allowing audiences to get to know the man on and off the stage as well as someone that used music as his salvation no matter how hard the obstacles of life threw a lot at him. In the end, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars is an incredible film from Lili Fini Zanuck.

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Auteurs #63: Adam McKay




Among the current crop of filmmakers working in the genre of comedy, Adam McKay is probably the best filmmaker working today in comedy though recent films are suggesting he’s moving away from the genre to tackle more serious subjects. Nevertheless, McKay has managed to provide a body of work that doesn’t just play into the world of silliness as well as push the ideas of what is profane in comedy. Through his collaboration with comedy actor Will Ferrell, McKay would provide not just exploration of men dealing with their shortcomings but also face obstacles that pushes them to be better. Even as his films in recent years show that he’s willing to showcase a world that might be too complex for a wide audience yet give them something to relate to. As he’s about to emerge with a new film that would explore the controversial life of former American vice president Dick Cheney, McKay has already made his mark in mainstream American cinema with his eye on the absurdities of the world.

Born on April 17, 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Adam McKay was the son of a jazz bassist and a cocktail waitress as he spent much of his young life living in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Like many kids living in rural or suburban areas near big cities, McKay spent much of his time escaping through films where video stores became the place to go to as he learned about the films of Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini while was also drawn by the comedies that were emerging during the early 1980s. In the late 1980s, McKay attended Penn State and Temple University where he would drop out from the latter just a semester-and-a-half before getting his bachelor’s degree feeling that college didn’t give him much to learn. In 1990, McKay moved to Chicago as he formed an improve comedy troupe called the Upright Citizen Brigade with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Rick Roman, and Horatio Sanz. The troupe would later include Amy Poehler and many others as the troupe would become a hit in the Chicago comedy circuit.

Through his work with Upright Citizen Brigade and the Second City comedy team in Chicago, McKay attempted to audition for the famed late-night comedy-sketch show Saturday Night Live in 1995 for its 21st season as a featured player but executive producer Lorne Michaels noticed McKay’s work as a writer. While McKay would spend time in cameo appearances during the 1995-2001 series, it was his work as a writer and later a head writer during this time that showcased his talents for creating sketches. It was during this time he met Shira Piven (sister of actor Jeremy Piven) whom he would marry in 1996 while that time writing for the show also gave him a chance to work with two of the show’s main cast members in Will Ferrell and David Koechner as they would become collaborators. Notably in the former as the two worked with closely while McKay would bring in fellow Second City alum Tina McKay to join the show as a writer for its 23rd season. Following the end of the 26th season in mid-2001, McKay would leave the show wanting to pursue work as a filmmaker having gained experiences directing a few episodes of Saturday Night Live during his tenure.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy



In the early 2000s during his time working for Saturday Night Live, McKay and Ferrell collaborated on ideas for a film that would eventually evolve into a project set in the 1970s about a news anchor and their sexism towards women at the time. The project attracted the interest of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson who wanted to produce it as he was a fan of the work that McKay and Ferrell has done but found some of the ideas that included a parody of the 1993 film Alive which lead to Anderson leaving the project. Filmmaker David O. Russell came on board as an executive producer as would Judd Apatow who would eventually produce the film. The project eventually morphed from a series of bizarre stories into a more straightforward story about a news anchor who falls for his new co-worker only to share the lead anchor job with her.

With Ferrell playing the role of the titular character and Christina Applegate in the role of his love interest/co-worker Veronica Corningstone, the cast would include several of McKay’s associates in David Koechner, Second City alum Steve Carell, and Chris Parnell of SNL as well as Paul Rudd, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Willard, and appearances from Ferrell’s Frat-Pack cohorts in Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Luke Wilson. The script would originally involve a story relating to a group of hippie bank robbers as well as other stories involving rival news organizations and Ron Burgundy dealing with changing times. The bank robber storyline wouldn’t be well-received during test screenings as McKay and Ferrell chose to re-write the script into something more cohesive as it play more in to Burgundy’s relationship with Corningstone and their eventual rivalry as well as a report about the impending birth of a panda at the San Diego Zoo.

Though the film was to be a starring vehicle for Ferrell who was becoming quite popular in comedy, both he and McKay knew that it shouldn’t revolve around him as they wouldn’t just make sure that Applegate’s role as Corningstone isn’t just some typical love interest. At the same time, Ferrell and McKay wanted to focus on the supporting characters such as Burgundy’s news team that included Rudd as the charming field reporter Brian Fantana, Koechner as the brash yet closeted sportscaster Champion “Champ” Kind, and Steve Carell as the loyal but dim-witted meteorologist Brick Tamland who would provide some of the film’s funnier moments. Much of the humor was improvisational due to many of the actors work in comedy clubs where they learned their craft. The film would also include this over-the-top sequence in which rival news team where Burgundy and his team face off against other teams led by Vaughn, Stiller, Wilson, and Tim Robbins as it adds to the sense of absurdity that Ferrell and McKay wanted.

The film made its premiere in late June of 2004 before going into a wider release in early July as the film received good reviews but some critics felt the film relied too much on gags and absurdity to be considered a well-rounded comedy. Yet, the film would prove to be a box office success grossing more than $90 million worldwide with $85 million in the U.S. against its $26 million budget. Upon the film’s home video release in December of that year, the film would grow into a cult classic of sorts with many quoting lines of that film as it would later be considered one of the finest comedies ever made.

Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie



During the post-production for Anchorman, McKay wanted to revive the poorly-received storyline involving the bank robbers into another film of sorts where and Ferrell along with the film’s original editor Brent White in re-assembling a version of the film that would include outtakes and alternate versions into an entirely different film. The film would feature much of the original cast of the film with rapper Chuck D, SNL actress Maya Rudolph, Kevin Corrigan, and Tara Subkoff as the bank robbers where it played into them robbing banks for some kind of cause with Corningstone getting kidnapped while on assignment for another story. McKay would re-tool much of what had been shot in the initial production of Anchorman while bringing in material that had been deleted from the original film and reuse it for this sequel of sorts.

The film was released in December of 2004 as a bonus release for anyone who purchased the Anchorman DVD as the film received mixed reviews from critics as well as fans of the original film. Nevertheless, the film was successful enough to ensure the growing cult following for Anchorman as it had become popular among fans of comedies.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby



The massive success of Anchorman wouldn’t just give McKay some clout but also helped make Will Ferrell a star that can bring in money as the two decided to work on another project that would play into another character who is unable to cope with reality. The film would be set in the world of NASCAR stock car racing as it relates to driver who becomes a racing champion as he would win all the time but struggles with father-abandonment issues as well as the emergence of a Formula One racer who would become his newest opponent. The film would have Ferrell in the lead role as it would be the second part of a thematic trilogy of films known as the Mediocre Man Trilogy relating to men dealing with their own insecurities and inability to deal with reality. With editor Brent White returning on board as McKay would gain another recurring collaborator in Oliver Wood as his cinematographer.

The cast, aside from McKay regular David Koechner, would include John C. Reilly as Ricky Bobby’s best friend Cal Naughton Jr., Sacha Baron Cohen as Bobby’s new rival Jean Girard, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, Leslie Bibb, Jane Lynch, and Gary Cole. The film would be shot in North Carolina as it would play into the world of NASCAR with a lot of emphasis on product placement to establish the world that Bobby is in while it also had an element of satire. Yet, McKay didn’t want to make fun of NASCAR nor its racers as there’s cameos from several NASCAR luminaries including Dale Earnhardt Jr. who appears in a scene wanting an autograph from Bobby. It’s more about a man who wants to be in that culture of racing all because he wants to go fast and manages to become a star when he replaces a driver who quits during a race where he would become a superstar with his best friend becoming his teammate and the second-best driver in NASCAR.

Still, McKay wanted to show the flaws of Bobby as he always want his father to come and see him race since he was the inspiration for Bobby but he never shows up to a single race. At the same time, Bobby is forced to deal with the realities around him once he is unable to defeat Girard in a race as he loses his wife and everything else. It would eventually lead to his father coming back to help him as well as get inspiration from his longtime assistant who would get him to realize why he was a great racer. The film made its premiere in August of 2006 where it was a major commercial hit at the box office grossing more than $148 million in the U.S. box office with a worldwide total of $163 million against its $72.5 million budget.

The film would also receive positive reviews from critics as a lot of them had re-evaluated their opinion on Anchorman stating that McKay and Ferrell are a force to be reckoned with. The film also attracted positive notices from the racing community where the film’s climatic race was re-enacted somewhat when Carl Edwards ran towards the finish line after his car had crashed during a race at the 2009 Aaron’s 499. At the 2013 United States Grand Prix, racer Sebastian Vettel and his engineer Guillaume “Rocky” Rocquelin would make references to the film as well as pay homage to Bobby and Naughton’s “shake and bake” quote sustaining the film’s popularity.

The Landlord/Good Cop Baby Cop



During a break between film projects, McKay and Ferrell teamed up with writer/producer Chris Henchy in forming a project that would be a platform to create comedy shorts and ideas for people in the world of comedy. The production company that would become Funny or Die would begin as a comedy website to create shorts and ideas McKay teamed up with Drew Antzis in directing a two-minute short film about a man being confronted by his two-year old landlord. With McKay playing the small role, his daughter Pearl would play the landlord who confronts Ferrell about wanting her rent money while being intoxicated. The short film was seen on the Internet by millions in its initial 2007 release as it was considered one of the funniest videos ever shown which lead to McKay making another short film with his daughter and Ferrell.



The second short involves Ferrell as someone who refuses to cooperate with the police with McKay as one of the cops forcing to bring in someone that could break Ferrell which is Pearl. Pearl’s tactics would prove to be Ferrell’s undoing as she would assault him and give him insults to the point that Ferrell would confess. While the short didn’t have the big impact as its predecessor, the short was still successful though it would mark Pearl McKay’s final acting performance as she decided to retire at the age of two despite a cameo a few years later in Anchorman 2.

Step Brothers



During that break period between feature film projects and developing the Funny or Die production banner, McKay and Ferrell attempted to make a third film that would be part of a thematic trilogy with Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The project that was to become Booby Trap: The Tale of Rusty Butte was to revolve around a porn star and his skills in porn. Yet, the project never got off the ground as McKay and Ferrell would get another project in collaboration with John C. Reilly about two people meet and fall in love yet they both have unemployed slacker sons in their 40s who are forced to become stepbrothers against their own will. With McKay and Ferrell writing the script with Reilly receiving a story credit as it would star Ferrell and Reilly as the stepbrothers, the film would mark a major change for McKay in his approach to comedy as it had leaned towards element of satire and silly humor.

With Richard Jenkins playing Reilly’s father and Mary Steenburgen as Ferrell’s mother, the cast would include Adam Scott as Ferrell’s younger yet arrogant brother, Andrea Savage, and two regulars of the McKay ensemble in Kathryn Hahn and Rob Riggle plus a cameo from Seth Rogen. While McKay would also retain the services of his collaborators from previous films, he would gain the services of music composer Jon Brion who had been famous for his score music to the early films of Paul Thomas Anderson. The film would be shot largely on location in Southern California as McKay knew that this film would be different from previous films that often toed the line of what was acceptable and what was profane. Knowing that this film would be given a possible R rating for its brash language, McKay decided to forge ahead and create something that is confrontational and uneasy for a wide audience.

Among these scenes involve Ferrell and Reilly’s characters doing all sorts of things as it shows them not wanting to conform to the expectations of society such as this one moment where they both show up for job interviews in tuxedos proclaiming “we’re here to fuck shit up”. McKay also decides to give the other actors their moments with Kathryn Hahn in the role of Scott’s unhappy wife getting some scene-stealing moments as a frustrated wife who engages in a one-sided sexual affair with Reilly’s character. The film’s climax at this corporate wine mixer known as the Catalina Wine Mixer would play into the film’s protagonist who had succumbed to being part of society until Jenkins realizes how miserable they are. Even as it showcases a moment where an 80s Billy Joel tribute act is being heckled by a guest leading to its lead singer spewing profanity at the heckler to showcase the element of anarchy and rage that looms throughout the film.

The film was released in late July 2008 with a lot of anticipation where even though it made more than $128 million worldwide against its $65 million budget. It was considered a disappointment by some in the industry while the critical reception was polarizing as some didn’t like the film’s mean-spirited and confrontational humor though others found it to be fresh. The film’s home video release later in December would give the film an unexpected cult following that would grow as people would reenact certain scenes or say certain lines.

Eastbound & Down-Chapter 5



In 2006, McKay and Ferrell formed a production company called Gary Sanchez Productions named after a fictional financier from Paraguay as it would be a company that would develop films and TV shows where filmmaker Jody Hill had developed a project about a former baseball pitcher who returns to his hometown after years of failure where he becomes a middle school physical education teacher. McKay and Ferrell would serve as executive producers for the show that made its premiere in 2009 on HBO with Ferrell making an appearance as the owner of a car dealership. The show’s six episodes in the first season were directed by Hill and David Gordon Green while McKay would direct the fifth episode that featured Ferrell in an episode in which Ferrell’s character wants to challenge the character of Kenny Powers, played by Danny R. McBride, to face off against one of his foes played by Craig Robinson. It’s a moment where Powers wonders if he’s still got it after having been humiliated by his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend in the previous episode as it would become this big moment that Powers might return to the majors. The episode was a hit as it would give the show three more seasons on HBO to great acclaim and solid ratings.

The Other Guys



Having spent time producing and develop projects for other writers/filmmakers in comedy, McKay decided to return to the world of film though wanted to do something different while retaining his love for light-hearted comedy. During a dinner with Will Ferrell and actor Mark Wahlberg, McKay saw the two actors banter and laugh with each other prompting to create a buddy comedy for the two that would eventually be a spoof of sorts of the buddy cop films with Ferrell and Wahlberg in the lead roles. With Ferrell unable to take part in the writing due to other projects, McKay was able to get help from writer/producer Chris Henchy in writing the film. The film would more than just a buddy cop spoof sorts where it relates to two mismatched partners who try to prove their worth to the New York Police Department in filling the void of two revered cops who died on the job by taking on a case involving financial embezzlement.

The film’s cast would include Eva Mendes, Damon Wayans Jr., McKay regular Rob Riggle, Ray Stevenson, Steve Coogan, and Michael Keaton along with appearances from Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, an un-credited Anne Heche, and Bobby Cannavale as well as a cameo from Henchy’s real-life wife in actress Brooke Shields. Rapper/actor Ice-T would do some of the film’s narration as it would be shot largely in New York City as McKay retained the services of his many collaborators from the previous film. McKay would allow room for improvisation as well as provide moments for the supporting cast to do more such as Mendes and Keaton with the latter playing the police captain who also manages a Bed, Bath, and Beyond while unknowingly quote lyrics from the R&B group TLC.

The film would also include a subplot as it relates to a dark past that Ferrell’s character is carrying as he tries to deny the fact that he was once a pimp. It’s among some of the comical moments that McKay would create which is why Ferrell’s character often gets the attention of a lot of attractive women including Brooke Shields. Even as Ferrell’s character shows a dark side that is starting to re-emerge as McKay wanted to get that out in a funny way where he tells Keaton’s character “Gator needs his gat you punk-ass bitch!” The film would premiere on August 2010 where it was a big box office hit as it grossed more than $170 million worldwide against its $100 million budget. The film’s critical reception was also positive where the film would hint a new direction for McKay that was shown in the film’s closing credits.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues



After many attempts to get Booby Trap out of development, McKay and Ferrell decided in making a sequel to Anchorman that began around 2008 where the two traded ideas. During the production of The Other Guys, McKay and Ferrell wanted to incorporate more satire as it relates to the rise of FOX News and its right-wing stance in creating stories that are supposedly untrue. When the rights to the original film and its characters were transferred from Dreamworks to Paramount after a buy-out from the latter in 2006, plans for the sequel were on hold despite the fact that Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Steve Carell were willing to take pay cuts to lower the film’s budget. In 2012, Paramount ultimately decided on getting the sequel made which Ferrell announced as the character of Ron Burgundy on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show. With Christina Ricci and David Koechner reprising their roles from the previous film, the cast would also include Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good, Dylan Baker, Greg Kinnear and James Marsden in major supporting parts.

With appearances from Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard, and Chris Parnell reprising their roles from the previous film as cameos, several personalities would appear in the film in cameos such as Will Smith, Harrison Ford, John C. Reilly, Jim Carrey, Marion Cotillard, Kirsten Dunst, Kanye West, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Liam Neeson, and Sacha Baron Cohen where many of them appear for the film’s climatic news team battle. Shot on a $50 million budget with much of it shot in Atlanta with some parts of the film shot on location in San Diego and Jersey City, New Jersey as the production began in March 2013 where McKay brought in Melissa Bretherton to aid regular editor Brent White in the editing for its impending release later that December. The film would be set in the early 80s where Burgundy doesn’t just deal with losing a top anchor spot to love-interest Veronica Corningstone but also take part in the emergence of 24-hour news where he calls upon his old team to join him.

While the film would have gags and such that was prevalent in the original film, McKay would tone it down in favor of satire as it relates to Burgundy’s plan to become a big deal in the ratings in creating news that people want to hear rather than what they need. It showcases the idea of what news would become in the 1990s and later into the 21st Century with Burgundy becoming extremely famous and eventually alienating his loyal news team. The film also included a subplot in which the character of Brick Tamland gets a love interest of his own in an equally-idiotic typist named Chani who is played by Kristen Wiig which gives the film some offbeat humor as well as a couple for audiences to root for. Yet, the film does remain a character study of sorts in which Burgundy is also a father to a boy that he shares custody with Corningstone who becomes appalled into what Burgundy has done to the news forcing him to make a decision as a man in what he really needs to do.

The film was released on December 2013 to much anticipation as it was a major box office hit grossing more than $170 million worldwide against its $50 million budget. The film’s critical reception was positive though many agreed that it isn’t as good as its predecessor but still entertaining enough. The film’s success continued to maintain Ferrell’s status as box office draw in comedies while McKay would also gain some clout though he decided to take a step back to help develop other projects for other filmmakers.

The Big Short



Following a break in between films where McKay produced his wife Shira Piven’s directorial debut in Welcome to Me starring Kristen Wiig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, James Marsden, and Wes Bentley which received good reviews despite its limited release. McKay was approached by Paramount in taking part in an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2010 non-fiction novel as it would be produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment platform with Pitt taking on a small acting role. Working with screenwriter Charles Randolph who had been involved in the project since 2013 when Paramount bought the rights to the book. McKay is aware of the complexities of this story that relates to the 2007-2008 financial crisis though he had explored the world of finance in 2010’s The Other Guys. It would take time for McKay and Randolph to find an approach to the film’s narrative as it would revolve around three different storylines playing into a group of men who would make discoveries that would cause the financial crisis.

With the exception of Steve Carell and production designer Clayton Hartley, McKay would work with an entirely new cast and crew for the film as it would be a much more serious project than his previous films yet it would feature elements of satire. The ensemble would also include Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Hamish Linklater, Karen Gillan, and Tracy Letts. British cinematographer Barry Ackroyd would take part in the production which began in early 2015 in New Orleans with additional shooting in New York City and Las Vegas as it play into the vast environment of finances. Especially as the three different storylines would all be set in different places in time as well as different locations where these characters would make a discovery that would rock the financial world. Since the film would have taken on a complex subject that would probably overwhelm a wide audience, McKay found a way to explain these ideas.

In cameo roles, actress Margot Robbie, singer/actress Selena Gomez, famed chef Anthony Bourdain, and renowned economist Richard Thaler would appear as themselves in moments where the fourth wall is broken. The comical expositions from these individuals would define what these financial terms and ideas do and the effect it would have on a global economy. The approach would prove to be a difference-maker for the story as McKay would also show the immoral implications it would have where many of the film’s central characters deal with the consequences and face a world that is even more cynical in the wake of this crisis.

The film made its premiere at the AFI Film Festival in November of 2015 as it would be given limited release in early December before going wide a week later. The film would prove to be a major success both critically and financially as the film made more than $133 million worldwide against its modest $28 million budget. The film would give McKay not just his best reviews but also accolades as the film would receive five Oscar nominations including Best Supporting Actor to Christian Bale, Best Editing to Hank Corwin, Best Picture, and a Best Director nod for McKay. Yet, the film would win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay to McKay and Randolph as it would mark a major career highlight for the former.

Succession (TV series)



Among the slew of upcoming projects that McKay is working on including a bio-pic about the entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes entitled Bad Blood that is to star Jennifer Lawrence. One of two projects that McKay is about to unveil is a limited-TV series created by writer/producer Jesse Armstrong with McKay directing the episodes as it’s about an American global-media family. The series would star Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kiernan Culkin, Sarah Snook, Nicholas Braun, Hiam Abbass, Matthew McFayden, and Alan Ruck. While there hasn’t been a release date on the series which will premiere on HBO, the project is still on board for a release as it is a mixture of comedy and drama.

Backseat



The second upcoming project from McKay that is slated for a December 2018 release is a bio-pic on the former American vice president Dick Cheney that will be portrayed by Christian Bale. The film would once again be co-produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment platform with Annapurna Pictures distributing as it is likely to be an unconventional film. With Amy Adams playing Cheney’s wife in her second collaboration with McKay, the film would also star Bill Pullman, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, and longtime McKay regular Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfield with Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush. There is no clue on what the film will be like although McKay’s track record with past films will show that it will at least be interesting.

Whatever the outcome of his upcoming projects will be, there is no question that Adam McKay is one of Hollywood’s reliable filmmakers. While his films may cater to a wide audience, there is an element of substance in his approach in creating memorable and compelling characters as well as go into places that many comedies wouldn’t go into. Though he’s leaning towards more dramatic-based films, there is still that element of smart humor and satire that McKay is willing to put in to give audiences something to be engaged by. It is why Adam McKay is one of the small number of filmmakers in Hollywood who can create films to a wide audience as well as offer something unique to cinephiles that often doesn’t occur with mainstream films.

© thevoid99 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Break Into Song Scenes (Non-Musical)




For the seventh week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. We venture films that feature moments where characters break into songs in a scene that isn’t a musical. Moments that are often funny or just out of place but still fun. Here are my three picks:

1. Step Brothers


If anyone doesn’t think this is one of the best comedies of the 21st Century so far, then go fucking die. Adam McKay’s anarchist comedy includes a hilarious sing that introduces one of the biggest assholes in film who decides to show off his singing skills by singing an acapella version of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine. It shows the air of smugness that is carried with an extra ounce by Adam Scott’s son who gets a solo as he sings it as if he’s Justin Timberlake or something. It’s that kind of smugness where I feel like it if a kid is starting to act like a little shit, then you have my permission to kick the shit out of the little motherfucker. It’s one of the funniest scenes ever that’s inspired a lot of Internet parodies.

2. Holy Motors


From one of the finest and more overlooked films in recent years comes Leos Carax’s tribute to cinema that revolves a man playing different personalities to fit in with a certain environment. There’s a couple of musical scenes in the film yet it is the scene with international pop icon Kylie Minogue singing the original song Who Were We that is a big standout. It’s an intensely emotional moment in the film that showcases Minogue’s talent as a vocalist as well as what her character is doing for this particular scene with Denis Lavant’s character watching.

3. Rush Hour 3


The third and possibly final film of the series from Brett Ratner is definitely the weakest of the three films so far. It tries to be a lot of things despite its cast but it ends up trying too hard. Yet, there is a great musical sequence in which Chris Tucker tries to save a performer from a Chinese triad gang and then sings The Closer I Get to You as he’s later joined by Jackie Chan who can fucking sing. It’s a brief moment in the film but it’s such a joy to watch just because of Chan and Tucker singing together.

© thevoid99 2018