Sunday, January 21, 2018

Phantom Thread

Written, directed, and shot by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread is the story of a fashion designer who finds his muse in his need to design clothes for women during period of couture in 1950s London. The film is an exploration into the world of fashion and a man’s desire to create the perfect clothing for women as well as dealing with the women in his life who want what is best for him. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. Phantom Thread is a ravishing and evocative film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

The film follows a fashion designer who creates clothes for some of richest and most powerful women in London during the 1950s as he finds a muse in a waitress from the British countryside as he has her modeling clothes for her as well as have help create these dresses. Along the way, the character of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) deals with his need to create the perfect dresses with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) looking over the business and ensuring everything goes well. Even as they deal with the new presence in their house in Alma (Vicky Krieps) who would work sewing these dresses as well as be a model. Yet, Alma wants to do more not knowing about Woodcock’s routines as it’s something he needs in his time to create. Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the obsession and need to create perfection in these dresses but also the need to feel appreciated for his work as he often works for some of the most important women in Europe.

While much of the film’s narrative is told from Alma’s perspective as she tells the story of how she met Woodcock one day when he goes to the country. It also establishes the world that Woodcock lives in as he spends much of his time during breakfast sketching ideas for dresses with Cyril sitting by silently knowing not to make any noise during that time. It’s something Alma would eventually understand as she would also realize she isn’t the first person to become a muse for Woodcock as they come and go. Her simple beauty and naiveté is what would attract Woodcock to her as he takes her to his country home after dinner to have her try on a dress with Cyril making notes of her measurements. She wouldn’t just be a muse/seamstress for Woodcock while working with other seamstresses but also someone who appreciates what he does when a dress he makes for one of his rich clients is treated with disrespect that angers Woodcock.

While much of the film’s narrative is straightforward, it’s Anderson’s study of the characters that are unique where he establishes them as who they are and the role they play into this very demanding world of high fashion. Woodcock is the artist who takes his time trying to create these gorgeous dresses as he would spend days to weeks trying to figure out the right material and measurements. Cyril’s role is in the business as well as making sure everything is in place where her brother isn’t distracted though she has to remind him of the people he’s working for as they pay for the house they live in. Though Cyril is a bit wary of Alma’s presence, she is welcoming to it to ensure that her brother can get ideas but warns Alma of disrupting routines and to not create any kind of chaos that could be surprising. Alma is someone who does follow the beat of her own drum as she wants to be more than just a collaborator to Woodcock. Yet, she would become frustrated as it would occur late in the second act through a simple act as it would play with Woodcock’s own state of mind and later his own emotions that would come to play in the film’s third act.

Anderson’s direction does bear elements of style in terms of the compositions he creates but also display an air of simplicity in the way he presents this very posh world of couture fashion. Shot largely on location in London and various parts of Great Britain along with bits of Switzerland, Anderson would display this world with a meticulous approach to his close-ups in how dresses are sewn as well as the great attention to detail in the measurements as well as the type of fabric that is needed. While there are also some wide shots for some of the film’s locations and a few of the dramatic scenes in the film. Much of Anderson’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots to play into the interaction with the characters as well as these elements of precise movements of how people come into the Woodcock house. Even as Anderson establishes the importance of Woodcock’s routine from the moment he gets out of bed, the clothes he decides to wear for the day, doing his sketches during breakfast, and working with his seamstresses on the dresses as he treats them quite fairly.

Also serving as the film’s cinematography, Anderson would try to capture every bit of detail into the look of the film including the way dresses are presented under natural lighting as the photography kind of harkens back to the days of Technicolor of the late 1940s/early 1950s. For the scenes in the countryside, it is presented in a much more different light where Anderson goes for something that is more natural as it would emphasize the growing tension between Woodcock and Alma. Notably in the third act where despite their fondness for each other, their differences in age and social backgrounds would come into play such as a New Year’s Eve party sequence is where Alma fits totally right in with Woodcock feeling out of sorts. Anderson’s usage of wide shots and tracking camera shots play into Woodcock’s own confusion that would eventually force him to contend with changing times that would emerge in fashion during the 1950s. Still, Anderson focuses on the relationship between the creator and his muse and the role they play for each other with Alma playing a role that is bigger than she realized. Overall, Anderson crafts an intoxicating and rapturous film about the mind of a fashion designer and the muse who inspires him.

Editor Dylan Tichenor does brilliant work with the editing as it display elements of style in its approach to jump-cuts and dissolves while knowing when not to cut during some of the film’s dramatic moments that includes some tense scenes in the third act. Production designer Mark Tildesley, with set decorator Veronique Melery and supervising art director Denis Schnegg, does amazing work with the look of the Woodcock home in London as well as the house in the country and some of the places he, Alma, and Cyril go to. Costume designer Mark Bridges does incredible work with the costumes from the look of Woodcock’s suits and clothes that he wears to the gorgeous dresses that he creates as it looks and breathes color where they act as characters of their own as it’s a major highlight of the film. Makeup designer Paul Engelen does fantastic work with much of the film’s minimal makeup that play into the style that women wore during the 1950s.

Special effects supervisor Chris Reynolds and visual effects supervisor Marc Massicotte do terrific work with a few of the film’s visual effects as it mainly consists of set-dressing for a few of the film’s locations. Sound designer Christopher Scarabosio and sound editor Matthew Wood do excellent work with the sound from the sparse approach to how objects sound during breakfast which would annoy Woodcock to some of the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Jonny Greenwood is phenomenal for its rich orchestral score with elements of lush string and piano pieces in the film that add to the elegance of the times while the music would include some classical pieces as well as some of the pop standards of the time before the arrival of rock n’ roll.

The casting by Cassandra Kulukundis is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Camilla Rutherford as Woodcock’s muse early in the film, Lujza Richter as the Belgium royal Princess Mona Braganza, Gina McKee as one of the Woodcock’s rich clients in Countess Henrietta Harding, Silas Carson as a rich man in Rubio Guerrero, Harriet Sansom Harris as a rich woman that is marrying Guerrero only to take poor care of the dress that Woodcock created, Emma Clandon as the picture of Woodcock’s mother, and Brian Gleeson as Dr. Robert Hardy as a young doctor who comes in to look over Woodcock as he befriends Alma. Lesley Manville is remarkable as Cyril as Woodcock’s sister and business manager who runs everything as well as ensuring that her brother’s routine keeps on going while being sympathetic to Alma’s needs in wanting to loosen things in his life.

Vicky Krieps is radiant as Alma as a young waitress who becomes Woodcock’s new muse/collaborator as she helps run bits of the household and does what she needs to be done as it’s a performance that has this mixture of naiveté and curiosity of a simple woman in a world that she’s new to but understands her role but wants to do more. Finally, there’s Daniel Day-Lewis in a tremendous performance as Reynolds Woodcock as this fashion designer that is intent on creating the best dresses for some of the most important women in the world. It’s a performance that has Day-Lewis provide bits of humor into his performance but also this air of obsession to achieve perfection with great care as well as displaying something has him be aloof in small moments. Day-Lewis would display amazing chemistry with Krieps and Manville in the way he deals with them while also showing vulnerability in the scene where Woodcock talks to Alma about his mother and her wedding dress which is something he cares so much about. If this performance is to be the last performance that he ever does. At least he is going on top.

Phantom Thread is a spectacular film from Paul Thomas Anderson that features great performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. Along with its gorgeous visuals, breathtaking costumes, intricate sound design, and Jonny Greenwood’s sumptuous score. It’s a film that explores a world that is unique in its time and a man’s willingness to create something special with the help of a young woman from another world. In the end, Phantom Thread is a magnificent film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

P.T. Anderson Films: Hard Eight/Sydney - Boogie Nights - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Inherent Vice - Junun

Related: The Short Films & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson

© thevoid99 2018

Saturday, January 20, 2018

More (1969 film)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder and screenplay by Schroeder and Paul Gegauff from a story by Schroeder, More is the story of a German boy and American girl who meet in Paris as they go on a trip to Ibiza to explore the world of the drug culture of the 1960s. The film is a look into youth culture of the late 1960s at a time where drugs and the idea of free love where the rage with two people caught up in this world. Starring Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grunberg. More is a mesmerizing though flawed film from Barbet Schroeder.

The film follows a German student who hitchhikes to Paris where he meets an American girl and falls for her where he later follows her to the Spanish island of Ibiza where they engage in sex and drugs. That is pretty much the premise of the film provided by Barbet Schroeder and Paul Gegauff with dialogue co-written by Mimsy Farmer, Eugene Archer, and Paul Gardner as it doesn’t really do much to flesh out the premise even more. Especially as it explore the highs and lows of the 1960s counterculture with much of the latter is prevalent for the film’s second half. The character of Stefan (Klaus Grunberg) is a student that is interested in adventure and smoking dope but not wanting to do hard drugs. When he meets Estelle (Mimsy Farmer) as she is a woman that is the party as she goes to Ibiza to live in a villa with Stefan though she is connected to a former Nazi named Dr. Wolf (Heinz Engelmann) whom she has a relationship with.

Schroeder’s direction is definitely stylish as it is shot on location in Paris and Ibiza as owes a lot to many of the visual aesthetics of the French New Wave with its usage of hand-held cameras. The usage of close-ups and medium shots would play into the interaction of the characters while there are also some wide shots to showcase the scope of the locations including many of the rocky beaches of Ibiza. Notably as those scenes on the beaches showcase Stefan and Estelle engage in nude sunbathing near their villa where they spend time having sex, cooking, or doing drugs as it would later devolve into hard drugs such as heroin. The third act is where things become grimy with Stefan getting a taste of the drug as he becomes addicted where the film definitely changes it tone into something darker as it relates to what was happening in the 1960s. Much of the film is told from Stefan’s perspective until the third act as it is told from the perspective of his friend Charlie (Michel Chanderli) who warned Stefan about Estelle and her dependency on drugs. Overall, Schroeder crafts a visually-entrancing but underwhelming film about two lovers embarking on the many ideas of the late 1960s.

Cinematographer Nestor Almendros does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of natural lighting for many of the film’s daytime exterior scenes in Ibiza as well as its more low-key look for the scenes in Paris as well as the usage of available and natural lighting for some of the scenes at night. Editors Denise de Casabianca and Rita Roland do nice work with the editing as it has elements of jump-cuts to play into some of the drug trips as well as some of the livelier moments in the film. Art directors Nestor Almendros and Fran Lewis do fantastic work with the look of the villa as well as a bar that Stefan works at including some of the places he goes to in Paris. The sound work of Jack Jullian and Robert Pouret is terrific for its natural approach to the sound in the way the cafes and some of the bars that the characters go to including how music sounds at a party. The film’s music by Pink Floyd as it is one of the film’s highlights for its mixture of psychedelic rock, space-rock, blues, tribal music, and other kinds of experimental music as it include a few instrumentals in the mix as it is one of the band’s more overlooked recordings during their early years in the late 1960s.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Georges Montant as a drug dealer, Louise Wink as a friend of Estelle in Cathy, famed photography Henry Wolf as himself in a cameo in Paris, Michel Chanderli as Stefan’s Parisian friend Charlie who is a thief as he knows Estelle and isn’t fond of her, and Heinz Engelmann as Dr. Ernesto Wolf as a former Nazi living in Ibiza who has a relationship with Estelle as he is also a part-time dealer. Finally, there’s the duo of Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grunberg in stellar performances in their respective roles as Estelle and Stefan with Farmer being this vivacious woman who is also very destructive in her drug use while Grunberg is more restrained as he becomes concerned only to be consumed by the world of drugs.

More is a solid though flawed film from Barbet Schroeder. Despite its gorgeous visuals by Nestor Almendros, a riveting soundtrack by Pink Floyd, and some whimsical moments in the film. It’s a film that lacks a strong story to really support its visuals and ideas while it often acts as a product of its time. In the end, More is a terrific film from Barbet Schroeder.

Barbet Schroeder Films: (La Vallee) – (General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait) – (Maitresse) – (Koko: A Talking Gorilla) – (Tricheurs) – (The Charles Bukowski Tapes) – (Barfly) – (Reversal of Fortune) – (Single White Female) – (Kiss of Death) – (Before and After) – (Desperate Measures) – (Our Lady of the Assassins) – (Murder by Numbers) – (Terror’s Advocate) – (Inju: The Beast in the Shadow) – (Amnesia)

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Honeymoon Killers

Written and directed by Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers is the story of a lonely and overweight woman who meets and falls for a man who could be a serial killer. The film is based on the real-life stories of Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck as they’re played respectively by Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler in a film that mixes drama with elements of the documentary. Also starring Marilyn Chris and Doris Roberts. The Honeymoon Killers is a riveting yet unsettling film from Leonard Kastle.

The film follows a lonely nurse whose friend submits her to a lonely hearts club where she meets a man who is revealed to be a con-artist as the two on a scheme to steal money from other lonely women. It’s a film that play into two people who take part in something where they go on a trip around America in conning women all over the country into taking their life savings and more. Leonard Kastle’s screenplay follow the life that Martha Beck was having before she met Ray Fernandez as she was a lonely nursing administrator that was no-nonsense until she gets a response from Fernandez through corresponding letters. Yet, she would deal with what Fernandez does following a time where he doesn’t respond to her letters as she is intrigued by what she does. Especially when she decides to put her mother in a nursing home and send money to her every month while she goes on the road.

Kastle’s direction is definitely engaging for the fact that it’s shot in a somewhat documentary style with its hand-held cameras and lots of close-ups. While the film does feature some work from Martin Scorsese and Donald Volkman during the early stages of the production, it is Kastle who would infuse something that does feel real even though the story is set in the late 1960s rather than the 1940s where the real-life story actually took place. Notably in the way he captures the relationship between Beck and Fernandez as well as using many of the film’s low-budget aesthetics in some of the crude lighting and grainy film stock. Still, Kastle uses these limitations to his advantage as it would play into elements of black humor with the close-ups and medium shots he conveys into the drama. The film’s third act is intense due to the violence where it’s more about the act and presentation rather its emphasis on focusing on the gory details. It all play into the descent of their romance with Beck becoming clingy towards Fernandez as it lead to them taking out their frustrations on those they’re targeting. Overall, Kastle crafts a gripping and ominous film about a couple who go on the road to scheme lonely women out of their money.

Cinematographer Oliver Wood does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography with its low-grade film stock and crude lighting to play into the grittiness of the film as it has this somewhat-documentary look for the scenes in the day and at night. Editors Stan Warnow and Richard Brophy do terrific work with the editing in creating some straightforward cuts to play into the drama and some of the suspense. The sound work of Fred Kamiel is superb for its naturalistic approach to the sound as it play into some of the dark and violent moments in the film’s third act. The film’s music consists of pieces by Gustav Mahler as it help add to the drama as well as some of the film’s most terrifying moments.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Dortha Duckworth as Martha’s mother, Mary Jane Higby as one of the victims of Beck/Fernandez’s scheme in Janet Fay, Marilyn Chris as one of the first victims of the scheme in Myrtle Young, Kip McArdle as the single mother Deliphine Price Downing, Mary Breen as Downing’s daughter Rachel, and Doris Roberts in a wonderful performance as Martha’s friend Bunny who would sign her up to the Lonely Hearts club. Finally, there’s the duo of Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez. Stoler provides that sense of loneliness and pent-up anger that emerges as a woman that needed companionship as well as feeling threatened by other women taking Ray from her. Lo Bianco’s performance is more low-key while displaying this air of charm but also frustration when he doesn’t get what he wants while he and Stoler have this chemistry that is just electrifying to watch.

The Honeymoon Killers is a sensational film from Leonard Kastle that features great performances from Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco. It’s a film that captures a real-life event of killings told in a gritty and grimy style that doesn’t play nice while displaying acts of violence that is about its impact rather than its look. In the end, The Honeymoon Killers is an incredible film from Leonard Kastle.

© thevoid99 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Sundance Favorites

For the third week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. We venture into the Sundance Film Festival as it’s the festival that begins the New Year in showing new films often from filmmakers that are ready to break-out or from veterans wanting to show something new. Here are my three picks:

1. Hoop Dreams

Winner of the 1994 Audience Award Prize for Documentary is definitely a film where if one person wants to ask anyone what is a documentary film. It’s this one as it covers five years in the life of two different boys from the inner cities in Chicago as they hope to make it through their skills in basketball to give their family better lives. It also play into the different paths these two boys would take to go into college in the hopes they would become professional as it’s a film that everyone whether they’re sports fans or not need to see.

2. DiG!

Winner of the 2004 Grand Jury Prize for Documentary is a film about two different bands who share a common interest to succeed and create music that is unique yet their paths to become successful would also lead to these two bands becoming rivals. Ondi Timoner’s documentary about the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre showcases the many fortunes and misfortunes two bands would endure with the former becoming very successful around the world while maintaining their own independence from the industry. The latter for all of their brilliance and talent would struggle due to egos, drugs, and all sorts of shit as they do whatever they can to get their music heard.

3. Searching for Sugar Man

Winner of the 2012 World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary is a film that is about an American musician who never was big in his home country but somehow found an audience in South Africa. It follows two fans who wondered if the musician in Sixto Rodriguez is alive and well as his music is discussed as well as what it meant to South Africans and it turned out that he is where his career is unexpected revive in a country that is often seen from the outside of the Western World. It’s a film that showcases what the documentary can do and how it can get people’s attention to discover something they never heard of and embrace it.

© thevoid99 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Much Ado About Nothing (2012 film)

Based on the play by William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing is the story of a two people who tricked themselves into thinking they’re in love with each other while trying to get two other people to fall in love with each other. Written for the screen, scored, co-edited, and directed by Joss Whedon, the film is set in a modern-day setting at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica with some changes to the text to play into the basic elements of Shakespeare’s story. Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, and Jillian Morgese. Much Ado About Nothing is a whimsical and intoxicating film from Joss Whedon.

Set during a wedding ceremony that is to commence, the film revolves around two people who despise each other as they try to help two people get married as they also cope with their feelings for each other. During the course of the film, there’s a guest who wants to create ruin for the proceedings with a couple of his co-conspirators as it would later become chaotic. Joss Whedon’s screenplay definitely keeps a lot of the dialogue that William Shakespeare had written as well as the setting in the fictional town of Messina. Yet, Whedon would make some changes to the story as it is set in a modern world while expanding a few minor characters who play crucial roles to the story. There are also elements in the film that are comical as it relates to the character of Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and his attempts to find the truth as he has to deal with the associates of the Don John (Sean Maher). Still, much of Whedon’s approach to the material remains faithful as well as infusing modern-day humor to play into the romance and comedy.

Whedon’s direction is definitely stylish not just for its black-and-white cinematography but also for its intimate setting as it is shot on location at the home of Whedon and his wife/producer Kai Cole as the house was built by the latter. While there are some wide shots of a few bits of the locations including the area around Whedon’s home, much of Whedon’s compositions are shot in and out of the house including the backyard with its swimming pool, garden court, and a view of the landscape around the house. Notably in the way Whedon would use the space to play into the way characters interact whether it’s in a close-up or in a medium shot that include scenes where Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) both would listen to other characters talk about the other person to play into this sense of attraction. The response from both Benedick and Beatrice is filled with a sense of slapstick comedy in the way they would try and hear what their friends are saying.

With Whedon also serving as a co-editor with Daniel Kaminsky and composing the music score as it’s a mixture of jazz, folk, and low-key orchestral music to play into the comedy. Much of the editing is straightforward with some jump-cuts and fade-to-white transitions to play into the humor and some of the drama. Even during the film’s second act as it relates to the wedding proceeding as it play into the love-hate relationship between Benedick and Beatrice where they become aware of what is happening. The comedy still looms as it relates to Dogberry and the way he’s been treated by the people he arrested. Whedon would also maintain that sense of imagery into the events of the third act as it relates to deceit and power control with Benedick and Beatrice trying to set things right. Overall, Whedon creates a lively and witty film about two people whose disdain towards one another leads to them falling in love and in helping a young couple get married.

Cinematographer Jay Hunter does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it has this natural yet gorgeous look to the film for its scenes in the day and night including scenes in the latter that includes a dinner party. Production designers Cindy Chao and Michele Yu do fantastic work with the look of some of the exteriors for the wedding as well as a few set decoration for the police base and some of the rooms at the house. Costume designer Shawna Trpcic does excellent work with the costumes from the casual look of the characters to some of the costumes and masks worn at the dinner party. Sound editor Victor Ray Ennis does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as music is presented in the film. Music supervisor Clint Bennett provides a wonderful soundtrack that feature a couple of songs written by William Shakespeare that are performed by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.

The film’s incredible cast feature appearances from Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney as watchmen, Romy Rosemont as the sexton who watches over Dogberry’s interrogation of Don John’s attendants, Paul M. Meston as Friar Francis, Tom Lenk as Dogberry’s partner Verges, Emma Bates as a maid/attendant to Hero, and Ashley Johnson as another young maid/attendant to Hero in Margaret who unknowingly becomes a victim of Don John’s scheme. Spencer Treat Clark and Riki Lindhome are superb in their respective roles as Don John’s attendants in Borachio and Conrade as two people who help Don John in his scheme with the latter being Don John’s lover. Nathan Fillion is fantastic as Dogberry as a police investigator who is watching over the proceedings as he is trying to figure out what is happening when the wedding plans is being ruined as it’s Fillion being very funny and offbeat. Reed Diamond is excellent as Don Pedro as the Prince of Aragon who is the best man that is trying to deal with the chaos of the wedding while not knowing who is creating all of this trouble.

Jillian Morgese and Fran Kranz are brilliant in their respective roles as Hero and Claudio as two young lovers who are about to be married only to be unaware of the forces that is trying to break them up. Sean Maher is amazing as Don John as the bastard prince brother of Don Pedro who despises the young lovers as he wants to ruin them in his own pursuit of power. Clark Gregg is marvelous as Hero’s father Leonato who is Messina’s governor that is dealing with the chaos of what happens as he wants justice for the people that ruined his daughter’s wedding. Finally, there’s the duo of Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Benedick and Beatrice with the former being a charmer that isn’t willing to be with Beatrice yet as feelings for him while the latter is an energetic figure who despises Benedick but is protective of her cousin Hero where she turns to Benedick for help in setting things right.

Much Ado About Nothing is a sensational film from Joss Whedon. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, a simple yet effective setting, and some witty interpretation of William Shakespeare’s words. The film is definitely a lively and inspired take on Shakespeare’s comedy as well as setting it in a modern world that proves that Shakespeare can fit in towards any environment. In the end, Much Ado About Nothing is a spectacular film from Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon Films: Serenity - The Avengers (2012 film) - The Avengers: Age of Ultron

© thevoid99 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stories We Tell

Written and directed by Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell is a film about Polley’s family and the revelations about her life as it’s told in a documentary style with some dramatic recreations. The film is a look into Polley in her own life as she talks to her own siblings about their parents as well as things in their life with Rebecca Jenkins playing Polley’s mother in dramatic recreated scenes. The result is an astonishing and evocative film from Sarah Polley.

In 2007, Sarah Polley learned a major revelation about her life as well as about her late mother who died when Polley was only 11. The news of this shocking news about who she is forces her to piece things not just about her whole family life that included four half-siblings but also people who knew her mother. During the course of the film, Polley would learn about her mother’s life that included two marriages with her second and final marriage to David Polley who would narrate the film as he’s seen in a recording booth with Sarah watching in a different room in seeing her father read bits of his memoir. Even as she would film her father, her siblings, and others in the filming as she knew she had to create some idea of what her mother’s life was like since she only had pictures and recollections from others about that time in her life before she was even born.

With the aid of cinematographer Iris Ng, production designer Lea Carlson, set decorator David Gruer, costume designer Sarah Armstrong, and casting directors John Buchan and Jason Knight, Polley would use Super 8 camera footage to create these fictionalized home movies with actors such as Rebecca Jenkins playing her mother while other actors such as Peter Evans playing David Polley and Alex Hatz playing the role of Harry Gulkin who is crucial to the story as he is also interviewed as it relates to the big reveal. Much of the Super 8 footage is presented as a silent film of sorts to capture an idea of what life was like with Diane Polley who had been through a lot including a terrible first marriage as her divorce was considered scandalous for a time in Canada.

Even as she lost custody of her two kids in John and Susy though meeting David Polley proved to be fulfilling as she would get Mark and Joanna before this bump in 1978 when she and David hit a rough patch. When Diane took an acting gig for a theater show in Montreal is where things start to occur though she eventually stayed with David till her death in 1990 on the week of Sarah’s eleventh birthday. The stories about Diane’s time in Montreal would raise a lot of questions as it relates to Harry Gulkin as well as another man she met during that time though she still loved David. These revelations weren’t just devastating to Sarah but also her siblings who had a sense that something was going on yet Sarah was more concerned about her father and what he would think. Even when news was to emerge as Sarah had to beg on the phone during the production of Mr. Nobody to not have this story go public.

Editor Mike Munn would collect some of the photos and footage that Sarah would recreate to play into the story as some of it include elements of montages and such. Sound editor David Rose would capture a lot of the audio to help play into the dramatization and the narration of David Polley. The film’s music by Jonathan Goldsmith is largely low-key in its plaintive and somber piano-based score as it play into the drama while much of the music is a mixture of folk, classical, and traditional music with a cut by Bon Iver that play into drama and sense of loss.

Stories We Tell is a tremendous film from Sarah Polley. It’s a film that explores the idea of family and identity as well as the many versions of the truth about someone that is no longer around. Even as it forces people to see that there’s still so much to tell while learning more about themselves and the people around them. In the end, Stories We Tell is a magnificent film from Sarah Polley.

Sarah Polley Films: Away from Her - Take This Waltz

© thevoid99 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sugar (2008 film)

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Sugar is the story of a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic who dreams of making it to the big leagues where he deals with the reality of chasing that dream when he arrives to America in the minor leagues. The film is an exploration of a young man who wants to give himself and his family a chance at a better life away from poverty while coping with the gift he has when he has to endure culture shock and the demands of the game. Starring Algenis Perez Soto, Andrew Holland, Rayniel Rufino, and Michael Gaston. Sugar is a rapturous and intoxicating film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

The film is a simple story of a young baseball pitcher who is given the chance to travel to America to play in the minor leagues as he hopes that he can make it and give his mother and siblings a good life back at the Dominican Republic. What happens instead is that he would face challenges upon arriving into a new environment where there’s so much to be expected not just from himself but also others who would come and go. The film’s screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is largely a study of ambition and its fallacies as well as what it takes to make in the majors despite the fact the protagonist in Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) doesn’t speak much English and doesn’t know very much about American culture. The first act partially takes place in the Dominican Republic where Sugar is like every other player dreaming of making it to the Major Leagues like many before him where he is at an academy to learn about the game while learning to speak English. Upon learning that he and another player are going to Arizona for spring training with a minor-league rookie team, Sugar is excited as he hopes to do good things for his family.

Though he experiences culture shock and confusion during his time in Arizona, he was able to bond with players from the Dominican Republic along with players from other Spanish-speaking countries. When Sugar is sent to the A level in Iowa, the culture shock becomes greater where he would live with an old couple in the Higgins as he has trouble adjusting to his new environment while the only person he could really talk to is a Dominican player in Jorge (Rayniel Rufino) who has been in the minors for years as he helps Sugar out. While Sugar takes a liking towards the old couple’s granddaughter Anne (Ellary Porterfield), he does cope with some of the prejudice of being an outsider as it leads to this air of isolation that is prominent for much of the second and third act. Even as Sugar would endure an injury that would sideline him as he’s unable to get back on track prompting him to question a lot of things around him including himself.

The film’s direction of Boden and Fleck is definitely evocative in the way it captures not just this air of realism about the struggle in trying to make it to the major leagues but also in the study of isolation and culture shock. Shot largely in Iowa with additional locations shot in New York City, the state of Arizona, and the Dominican Republic, the film does play into idea of a man caught between two different worlds where one is a place that he’s familiar with as it’s his home and the other is just completely different. Boden and Fleck’s usage of the wide shots would capture the many cultural and social differences that Sugar would encounter as it adds to the sense of culture shock upon arriving somewhere like Iowa with its farmland, cornfields, and areas that doesn’t have much to offer like the small town he was in Arizona nor in the Dominican Republic. Yet, much of their direction involve intimate shots such as close-ups and medium shots to play into Sugar’s struggle with being on the pitcher’s mound and outside of the baseball field.

With Boden also serving as editor, she and Fleck would maintain something straightforward in the editing with a few jump-cuts such as a scene of Sugar meeting his many relatives wishing him luck that just adds to the pressure he’s in to succeed. Still, it just adds to this sense of isolation such as this amazing tracking shot sequence of Sugar walking out of his hotel room and into the bar, the arcade, and later the bowling alley as it shows him really lost he’s in. The third act is about this sense of continuation and awareness that Sugar has to endure when another player from the Dominican Republic emerges as someone who has the same gift that Sugar had. It’s a reality that is quite common where Boden and Fleck don’t sugarcoat it yet it would have an aftermath about what happen to those who don’t make it but still have a love for the game. Overall, Boden and Fleck craft a riveting and sobering film about a young man chasing his dream to become a major league baseball player only to deal with the realities and expectations of that dream.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of natural lights for many of the daytime scenes as well as some lighting for some of the scenes at night including many of its interiors. Production designer Beth Mickle, with set decorator Richard Bailey and art director Michael Ahern, does fantastic work with the look of the baseball camps and places that Sugar goes to including the home of the Higgins family and the locker room for the team he plays for. Costume designer Erin Benach does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward including the uniforms that Sugar wears during his time playing.

Sound editor Tom Efinger and sound designer Abigail Savage do excellent work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the baseball games as well as some of the places that Sugar and the people he’s with go to. The film’s music by Michael Brook is wonderful as it’s mainly low-key in its folk-based score while music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein creates a soundtrack that mixes all sorts of music from merengue, bachata, salsa, hip-hop, rock, and indie music from acts like Aventura, TV on the Radio, Cassie Ventura, Celia Cruz, Moby, Leonard Cohen, and Juan Luis Guerra with Ruben Blades and Robi Rosa.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Jose Rijo as a player named Alvarez, Kelvin Leonardo Garcia as the young pitcher Salvador who becomes a threat to Sugar’s spot in the third act, Alina Vargas as Sugar’s girlfriend in the Dominican Republic, Ann Whitney and Richard Bull as the old couple in the Higgins who would take Sugar in during his time in Iowa to make sure he does well, Ellary Porterfield as the Higgins’ granddaughter Anne whom Sugar takes a liking to, and Jaime Tirelli as a man named Osvaldo that Sugar meets late in the film. Michael Gaston is terrific as Sugar’s Iowa coach Stu Sutton who sees talent and potential in Sugar while is trying to understand where his control is once his performance suffers.

Andre Holland is fantastic as Brad Johnson as a player that Sugar befriends as he tries to help him with his performance and understand American culture. Rayniel Rufino is excellent as Jorge as a player from the Dominican Republic in Iowa who is the closest friend that Sugar has where he is someone that has seen a lot as he knows what will happen to him but would accept his fate. Finally, there’s Algenis Perez Soto in an incredible performance as the titular character as a young pitcher who has a gift for his pitching while hoping to succeed so he can get his family out of poverty but the demands of the game, the culture shock, and isolation would get to him as it’s an understated and mesmerizing performance from Soto.

Sugar is a phenomenal film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous images, an intoxicating soundtrack, and themes of isolation and culture shock, the film is a unique study of ambition and its fallacies as it relates to the idea of the American Dream. In the end, Sugar is a sensational film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Films: Half Nelson - (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) – (Mississippi Grind) – (Captain Marvel)

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