Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Films That I Saw: July 2013

The second half of the year has already begun and things are quite heating up as far as film-watching is concerned but there’s also a bit of burn-out. Notably as I’ve been spending the summer watching some Woody Allen films as I’m starting to get a little fatigued. Hopefully by the time I finish the Auteurs series on Allen, I’ll get a bit of a break. Yet, something else has been happening that’s been distracting me a bit from the world of film and it’s getting me very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very excited.

For anyone that’s been following my now revived music blog in The Void-Go-Round. There’s been a lot of activity in relation to Nine Inch Nails as the band just started touring again and have been premiering some new songs from their forthcoming new album Hesitation Marks that’s coming in September. Recently, I wrote a review of the band’s first single Down In It in which I hope will be the first of many new NIN reviews to come as I have more than a decade’s worth of material that I wrote related to the band as they are my all-time favorite act including a five-part retrospective series, a beginner’s guide to the band, and concert reviews. Just go to The Void-Go-Round for more of what’s to come though it will take some time for me to get into doing a series of mini-reviews relating to other new releases.

In the month of July, I saw a total of 40 films, 28 first-timers and 12 re-watches. Up from last month though some of the first-timers were some surprises and things that I didn’t expect to watch as it was unplanned but managed to be great surprises. The highlight of the month was obviously my blind-spot assignment in Stagecoach.

Here are the top 10 First-Timers I saw for July 2013:

1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

2. High Noon

3. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

4. American Gigolo

5. Husbands and Wives

6. The Way, Way Back

7. Cave of Forgotten Dreams

8. Radio Days

9. Pacific Rim

10. Only God Forgives

Monthly Mini-Reviews:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

I like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film series. I think they’re just very good films that explores the world of growing up and the awkwardness of adolescents. While this film is sort of a step-down from the second one, it is still quite fun and charming. Notably as it explores the complex relationship between father and son as Greg Heffley has to deal with the big differences he has with his dad. The thing that made the film so enjoyable for me is Devon Bostick as Greg’s older brother Rodrick as he provides a lot of funny moments including a much-needed butchering of Justin Bieber’s Baby by turning into a crazy-ass metal song.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’m an admitted history buff and when it comes to films about historical events and such. I get very antsy if things aren’t told exactly as they are though Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was a notable exception because it wasn’t relying on historical facts. The concept of this film was interesting. Abraham Lincoln being an aspiring politician by day and killing vampires at night. Unfortunately, it’s a concept that works on paper as the execution of the film is quite poor due to its over-stylized visual and action that is just quite poor. Not to mention that many of the actors in the film aren’t given great material to work with leaving someone like Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Lincoln feel wasted and look horrible in bad aging makeup.

WWE: The Attitude Era

For me as a longtime wrestling fan, the Attitude Era of 1997 to 2001 was the greatest period in World Wrestling Entertainment. It was a time where the violence was a bit extreme. It was OK to be sexually provocative and be very crude and funny all at the same time. It was just a very fun time during the Monday Night Wars where the WWE decided to step up their game and give the audience something different though it wasn’t for little kids. Still, that didn’t stop fathers to take their sons to see that kind of show where they can enjoy watching women wearing skimpy clothes or flash their tits. While there’s moments in the documentary that does get overlooked and skim around some of the stories, it is still a very fun one to watch.

For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley

Another WWE documentary that was made revolved around one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time in Mick Foley. Whether it’s in characters like Cactus Jack, Dude Love, or Mankind, Foley is definitely a true champion in wrestling whether it’s through barbed wire matches, Japanese hardcore death matches, or the big dive he took at Hell in a Cell back in 1998. He gives the people moments they will never forget. Though the documentary doesn’t cover his period in TNA in the late 2000s (like anyone gives a shit about TNA), it does cover a vast period of his career from his time in WCW to his glory years in the WWE as it includes some comments from peers like Triple H and the Rock to younger stars like the Miz, CM Punk, and Sheamus.

30 for 30: Fernando Nation

I’ve only seen bits of the various docs on the 30 for 30 series from ESPN as I ended up catching the entirety one of its best episodes about the career of Fernando Valenzuela. Here’s this young, pudgy 20-year old kid from a village in the middle of Mexico who is discovered by a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and then becomes a superstar in his rookie year. It’s a truly brilliant documentary about this man who wasn’t just a hero for the Mexican-American community and how much he meant for them. He is a truly inspirational story of how someone can be so famous yet remain humble about it as Valenzuela is still beloved by Dodgers fans and is likely to be a first-place pick for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Back to the Future

2. Pleasantville

3. Blazing Saddles

4. Mighty Aphrodite

5. Twins

6. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

7. Everyone Says I Love You

8. Klitschko

9. Kindergarten Cop

10. Kingpin

That’s it for July. Next month, the final leg of the Woody Allen will emerge as I will hopefully release the next two and final parts of the Auteurs series on Allen as well as a review of his new film Blue Jasmine. Along with other theatrical releases like Fruitvale Station, The World’s End, and whatever art house release that’s out there. There will also be a few art-house films out there as well as a few anthology films while after I finish the Woody Allen stuff. I’ll be taking a brief break from blogging for a while. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off.

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Don't Drink the Water (1994 TV Movie)

Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen that is based on his 1966 play, Don’t Drink the Water is the story about an American family traveling through Europe where they find themselves in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The TV film explores a family finding themselves in trouble in an Eastern Europe country as they hope to get out but things get complicated due to an ambassador’s son. Also starring Michael J. Fox, Julie Kavner, Mayim Bialik, Edward Herrmann, Josef Sommer, and Dom DeLuise. Don’t Drink the Water is a very funny TV film from Woody Allen.

Set during the Cold War, the film explores a family who find themselves stuck in an Eastern European country where chaos ensue as they hide out at the American embassy where they get stuck there for several weeks. With the help of an ambassador’s son who is very inexperienced with his job, the family does whatever to leave the embassy and the country but various problems ensue as they also to deal with bad food, a magical priest (Dom DeLuise), and all sorts of chaos as they don’t make anything easier for the embassy as they’re dealing with a visiting foreign dignitary.

It’s a premise that is quite simple as it’s told by a narrator (Ed Herlihy) who reveals a lot of the chaos that goes on as a young ambassador named Axel McGee (Michael J. Fox) tries to fill in for his father (Josef Sommer) who is back in the U.S. for a possible cabinet position. For the young McGee, the situation he has to deal with proves to be overwhelming as the American family he shelters prove to be more than they bargain for. Especially as the patriarch Walter Hollander (Woody Allen) is a neurotic caterer with very sensitive taste, his wife Marion (Julie Kavner) keeps calling everyone back in New Jersey, and their 20-year old daughter Susan (Mayim Bialik) who is engaged to be married. McGee tries to find ways to get them out of the country only causing more trouble where a lot of hilarity ensues.

Allen’s direction is quite simple as he shoots most of it in a soundstage set as an embassy with some shots set in some locations to create something that did feel like the Cold War is happening. Though there’s moments where the comedy can overwhelm things a bit and drag the story, the direction is still quite lively and intimate. Even as it has a few recurring gags and such where Allen wanted to maintain the sense of theatricality in the TV film. Particularly as Allen finds way to put the actors into a frame or create a setting where there chaos ensues. Despite its flaws, Allen still creates a very witty comedy about a family trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma does excellent work with the cinematography as it‘s mostly straightforward for many of the film‘s interior scenes as well as a shots set in the exterior scenes. Editor Susan E. Morse does nice work with the editing from the opening use of stock footage for a montage on the Cold War to the more straightforward approach to cutting throughout the TV film. Production designer Santo Loquasto, with set decorator Susan Bode and art director Peter Eastman, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the embassy and its rooms.

Costume designer Suzy Benzinger does terrific work with the 60s-based clothes that the women wear along with the suits and casual clothes of the men. Sound editors Bitty O’Sullivan-Smith and Dan Sable do superb work with the sound from the way gunfire is sound to other things set in the location. The film’s music consists of classical pieces by Gheorghe Zamfir, Aram Khachaturyan, and Sandor Lakatos as it is played to elements of comedy and drama to display the sense of craziness in the TV film.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is brilliant for the ensemble that is assembled as it features some notable small performances from Robert Stanton and Rosemary Murphy as a couple of aides of the ambassador, Austin Pendleton as a chef who is constantly insulted by Walter, Vit Horejs as a Eastern European agent eager to capture the Hollanders, Erick Avari as the Emir’s aide, John Doumanian as the Emir, Josef Sommer as Axel’s father Ambassador McGee, and Edward Herrmann as McGee’s right-hand man in Mr. Kilroy. Dom DeLuise is hilarious as wannabe-magician Father Drobney as a man who also has contacts with a resistance group that can get the Hollanders back to America.

Julie Kavner is wonderful as Marion Hollander as a woman trying to adjust to her situation as she constantly cleans the embassy and take up all of the phone lines to call her relatives. Mayim Bialik is excellent as Susan Hollander as a young engaged woman who falls for Axel McGee while dealing with the craziness around her. Michael J. Fox is terrific as Axel McGee as a young ambassador trying to deal with the situation and the chaos as well as finding a way to get the Hollanders back to America. Finally, there’s Woody Allen in a fine role as Walter Hollander as a very nebbish and neurotic caterer where Allen does his usual persona where it does get a little overwhelming at times though he does provide some very funny moments.

Don’t Drink the Water is an entertaining comedy from Woody Allen that features some superb performances from Michael J. Fox, Dom DeLuise, Mayim Bialik, and Julie Kavner. While it’s a TV film that may be a minor project from Allen, it is still something that is very funny as well as something that fans of his work should see. In the end, Don’t Drink the Water is a very good TV film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows and Fog - Husbands and Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon #2: High Plains Drifter

In the second part of Nostra’s Five Obstructions Blog-A-Thon, here is that next obstruction:

In this second assignment, the film I reviewed Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter and the person that I’m going to interview is Chris from Movies and Songs 365 who has been embarking on a marathon of westerns.  (Warning, the interview contains spoilers about the film).

As you’re currently doing a marathon of westerns, what aspects have impressed you about the genre?

First of all, excellent questions. Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on westerns, even though I’ve watched a lot of them over the last year or two.

I don’t think there’re any big secrets as to what makes a great western. What impresses me is cinematography, acting, memorable characters, dialogue, action scenes that stay with you, perhaps a bit of humor.

An authenticity so you believe you are in the old west is maybe the most crucial element. That said, are westerns really depicting how it was? According to writer Eric Hobsbawm in his book Fractured Times (2013), he argues the invented tradition of the west is entirely symbolic, in as much as it generalizes the experience of a comparative handful of marginal people. Who, after all, cares that the total number of deaths by gunshot in all the major cattle towns put together between 1870 and 1885 – in Wichita plus Abilene plus Dodge City plus Ellsworth – was 45, or an average of 1,5 per cattle trading season, or that local western newspapers were not filled with stories about barroom fights, but about property values and business opportunities.

Hobsbawn calls these marginal characters refugees from civilization. Explorers who have established a symbiosis with nature. Representing the ideal of individualist freedom pushed into a sort of inescapable jail by the closing of the frontier and the coming of big corporations.

The outlaw, or marginal character Hobsbawn talks about, who doesn’t fit into society, and finds his own way, has always interested me in westerns.

In regards to High Plains Drifter, what made it stand out from the other westerns that you saw including the ones that also starred Clint Eastwood?

It has an unsettling, unpredictable, and dark atmosphere, which kept me on edge. You don’t know who to root for, let alone trust. The main character (Eastwood) is reckless and forward, yet also humorous and a problem solver, which is an unusual mix. It’s an interesting character study of a person, and a community, which you don’t always get from westerns. I liked how it asks how much would you surrender to protect your town? There’s a risk of exploiting the situation to his own personal advantage. Feels like Eastwood character requests townspeople to paint the buildings red, just to tease them, because he has the authority to. It’s like Eastwood took his character from Dollars Trilogy, made him a bit more flawed, and put him in a new situation. A film about how a lawless community can reach chaos, and how important law and order is.

It’s obvious that from the look of the film that Eastwood is definitely basing a lot of his styles on not just Sergio Leone but also Don Siegel as they were the two filmmakers who definitely shaped his career. Is there anything from those filmmakers that you noticed that Eastwood used in his direction if you’re familiar with either of those two men?

I can see the comparison to Sergio Leone, especially in that Eastwood plays a stranger with no name, who has a mysterious past. There are parallels to Fistful of Dollars (1964) certainly, in terms of story, and The Dollars Trilogy in general in terms of flashback. I'm not sure about editing, camera work and such, as I've not seen these movies multiple times.

Haven’t seen any Don Siegel films recently, I’m sure Eastwood learnt something from Siegel he could use as a director.

I would say High Noon (1952) could also have been an influence on High Plains Drifter, the sense of tension and dread about the return of a notorious criminal.  Or even Shane (1953), which plays out the stranger character, who arrives in a small community, and experiences hostility at the bar.

One of my favorite moments in the film is Dee Barton’s score which has this strange mix of being very eerie with its electronic presentation but also has this element of orchestral touches. How did you feel about Barton’s music?

I liked it, and agree it’s an eerie score, almost horror soundtrack, which adds to a sense of doom, that something bad is going to happen any moment. There are several dream-like sequences, the first is Eastwood sleeping in the hotel, and the eerie score plays. His dream is about a whipping of a Marshall, it appears this took place in the town prior to Eastwood’s arrival. It’s like he’s dreaming the past. Has he been told about the whipping on his travels? A brilliant and ambiguous sequence. Some have claimed on IMDb message board, that Eastwood's character could be somehow supernaturally connected with the Marshall, because the Marshall says "help me" in the dream. Clint supposedly had said that the stranger was supposed to be Marshall Jim Duncan's brother.

The second dream sequence happens, when the midget is hiding, it’s like the midget is having a flashback in his mind to the same whipping of the Marshall that Eastwood dreamt about. Again the eerie music is in the background. To see the anguish on the townspeople’s faces (or lack thereof), together with the eerie music, makes the whipping doubly intense. It’s like we are the victim on the ground, as the camera is whipped.

You told me when you suggested the film as you were doing your marathon that you were bothered by its portrayal of women. After seeing it, I too had some qualms about their portrayal. Especially in relation to some of the other westerns in which women actually did a bit more and some of them didn’t have them play damsels-in-distress or anything. In this film, you have a whore who is essentially trouble as she is raped by Eastwood’s character and later tries to kill him only to have sex with him later on just so she can pull a fast one on him. There’s also Verna Bloom’s character who I thought was underwritten and she didn’t get more to do other than sleep with Eastwood and leave her husband. Are there anything else in the film’s portrayal of women were you bothered by as well?

I read John Wayne was outraged at the insinuation of rape in the first 20 minutes, and it really is a controversial scene that can make you switch off the film. Though is it really a rape? Or does Eastwood’s character simply have great intuition for when a woman wants to surrender to him? She was leading him on, by bumping into him. Granted he was too forward sexually, he should have gone slower, and not treat it so casually. Maybe he thought she was a whore, but that’s no excuse to take advantage of her, when she said no. He acts very confidently the whole movie, not just with women.

But yes, even though she leads him on, she still tries to save her honor by shooting at him in the bath tub scene. When they side with Eastwood’s character in the rape matter, because they need him to protect their town, it really does make it tough to empathize with the townspeople. Shows how messed up the situation is, when they won't punish Eastwood, because he's useful to them.

How did you feel about the Mordecai character? I know there’s people who might feel offended by the word “midget” or “half-pint” but I thought he was a fun character to watch as he aided Eastwood. Were you offended by that character?

No , I wasn’t offended, in fact I think he was given a substantial role, with a good deal of screen time, and wasn’t there just for laughs, but as a real human being. He was kind of in a similar spot as the audience, the voyeur, curious about Eastwood’s character, and watching events unfold. What’s weird is the midget observes the rape and just accepts it, it doesn’t dissuade him from becoming friendly with Eastwood’s character. You could say he gives Eastwood’s character the benefit of the doubt, not judging him as the rest of the town did. The midget doesn’t ask him for any favors, and doesn’t want to exploit him, and I think that’s why Eastwood is friendly towards him, and awards the midget the sheriff badge, because he feels the midget is good-natured.

How would you rank this film with some of the other westerns that Eastwood did (not counting the godawful Paint Your Wagon)?

Even though High Plains Drifter is quite controversial, it’s right up there with his best, in my humble opinion. I haven't seen Pale Rider (1985), here's how I would rank westerns Eastwood has starred in:

1.) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) 2.) For A Few Dollars More (1965) 3.) High Plains Drifter (1973) 4.) A Fistful of Dollars (1964) 5.) Unforgiven (1992) 6.) The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Anyway, thanks for letting me take part in the obstruction blog-a-thon! I had fun with the interview.

© thevoid99 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Only God Forgives

Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives is the story about a man who is asked by his mother to find the man who had just killed his older brother in Bangkok. The film is an exploration into the world of vengeance as well as the complex relationship between brothers and their mother as well as the sins they created as a cop determines their fate. Starring Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Only God Forgives is an entrancing yet unsettling film from Nicolas Winding Refn.

The film is a revenge tale of sorts in which a young drug smuggler/Thai boxing gym owner who deals with the death of his older brother in Bangkok as he learned about what his brother did. When their mother arrives to Bangkok seeking vengeance, complication ensues involving a cop who deals matters in his way prompting this young man to confront him. It’s a film that explores the sins of a family as one realizes what his older brother has done to cause all of this trouble while their mother wants vengeance at the worst possible way. Notably as it would explore this very troubled relationship between mother and son as it is implied that this young man’s mother seemed to favor his older brother more than him in very strange ways.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot nor a lot of dialogue as it’s mostly this exploration of a man dealing with the consequences of his brother’s actions. Julian (Ryan Gosling) is just a drug smuggler who wants to run a Thai boxing gym as he’s grown to be disconnected from his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) while his older brother Billy (Tom Burke) visits. Billy’s actions involving a minor would lead to his death as Julian would want vengeance first only to learn what his brother did. For Crystal, that’s doesn’t matter as she wants to go after this cop named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who is called an Angel of Vengeance and is someone that can’t be trifled with no matter what Crystal thinks. The screenplay is mostly filled with non-dialogue scenes while some of the dialogue is very stylized including some of the things that Crystal says that is definitely shocking as she’s easily one of the most terrifying characters in film.

Winding Refn’s direction is definitely a marvel to look at with its very steady yet precise approach to framing as well as the atmosphere that he brings to the scene. The direction is filled with lots of still and steady tracking shot with not a lot of shaky hand-held work in order to maintain something that is eerie and disconcerting. Notably as it plays to elements of surrealism where it’s not very clear that some of the things that Julian is seeing seems real or is he just dreaming about the sense of darkness that is emerging around him. Though this approach to framing and the direction can get overwhelming as well as be pretentious at times. It does establish this world that is Bangkok where this American expatriate is trying to run from whatever demons he’s carrying upon realizing that his brother’s sins are coming to get him.

The direction is also filled with these very extreme yet unsettling approach to violence where a lot of it is very brutal in not just the way people are killed but also in the way Chang does business. Yet, Chang is a man of honor as he kills or maims someone with a sword as he’s someone that can’t be stopped. It’s something that Julian is aware of as he does confront him in a climatic fight scene where the result would prove to be far more troubling. Even as it relates to the sins that Julian’s family have put upon him where it is his decision to accept his failings or to deny them. Overall, Winding Refn creates a very mesmerizing yet chilling film about vengeance and sin.

Cinematographer Larry Smith does exquisite work with the film‘s very stylized yet evocative cinematography with the use of lights for many of the film‘s interiors in its nightclubs and bars that has this beauty mixed in with violence in its coloring while some of its daytime exterior and interior scenes rely less on stylized lights. Editor Matthew Newman does superb work with the editing as it‘s very restrained and methodical without going into fast cutting while taking its time to play out some of the film‘s violent moments. Production designer Beth Mickle, along with art directors Russell Barnes and Witoon “Boom” Suanyai, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the clubs and bars the characters frequent to as well as the hotel suite that Crystal lives in.

Costume designer Wasitchaya “Nampeung” Mochankul does fantastic work with the costumes in the dresses that the women wear including Crystal as well as the more casual clothing of the men. Visual effects supervisor Martin Madsen does nice work with the film‘s minimal visual effects that mostly involve some of the film‘s violent moments. Sound designers Kristian Eidnes Andersen and Eddie Simonsen do brilliant work with the sound to play up that sense of chilling atmosphere in some of the locations including the intimacy that occurs in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments. The film’s music by Cliff Martinez is incredible for its very brooding score that is filled with these ominous electronic arrangements as well as lush string orchestral backgrounds that includes some additional contributions from Mac Quayle and Gregory Tripi including a few Asian pop songs in the soundtrack.

The casting by Des Hamilton and Raweeporn “Non” Srimonju is excellent for the ensemble that is featured as it includes some notable small performances from Gordon Brown as a lieutenant of Julian’s, Byron Gibson as a drug dealer who is hired by Crystal to put a hit on Chang, Kovit Wattanakul as a man who was involved in Billy’s death, Tom Burke as Julian’s older brother Billy, and Rhatha Phongam as a prostitute named Mai who accompanies Julian to dinner with his mother in a very unsettling scene. Vithaya Pansringarm is great as the man Chang as a man who is just this full-on badass that is all about doing what is right as he is certainly a man not to be fucked with as well as proving himself to be a very formidable interrogator and killer.

Kristin Scott Thomas is phenomenal as Crystal as a woman who is this mob leader that is truly one of the most evil bitches to walk on the face of the Earth with her very snide and obscene comments to the things she wants as it’s definitely one of her finest performances. Ryan Gosling is superb as Julian as a man dealing with the sins of his brother as it’s a mostly restrained performance from Gosling while some of his violent moments showcase a man troubled by what’s happening to him as it’s a very intoxicating performance to watch.

Only God Forgives is a remarkable film from Nicolas Winding Refn that features brilliant performances from Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringram, and Kristin Scott Thomas. While it’s a very stylized yet intense film that explores vengeance and a man dealing with the sins of his family. It’s also a film that explores the sense of fear as well as humanity at its worst where two men come face-to-face over these sins. In the end, Only God Forgives is a tremendous film from Nicolas Winding Refn.

Nicolas Winding Refn Films: Pusher - Bleeder - Fear X - Pusher II - Pusher 3 - Bronson - Valhalla Rising - Drive - The Neon Demon - The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Originally Written and Posted at on 9/19/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Harmony Korine, Gummo is a film about various lives in a small town in Ohio. Ravaged by a tornado back in 1974, the various people that included oddballs, kids, and other outsiders trying to live their daily lives in this poor, decaying small town. Shot in Nashville, Tennessee as Xenia, Ohio, the film is an unconventional portrait of the lives of various people in this poor small town. With an all-star cast that includes Chloe Sevigny, Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton, Jacob Sewell, Darby Dougherty, Carisa Gluckman, Max Perlich, and from Terrence Malick's legendary film Days of Heaven, Linda Manz. Gummo is a harrowing yet powerful film from Harmony Korine.

In the decaying town of Xenia, Ohio where many years ago, a tornado came across the land killing anything in their sight. Now in ruins and with many of residents living in poor neighborhoods, two young boys named Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and the teenage Tummler (Nick Sutton) are riding through their decayed town looking for stray cats. When they find a black cat, they were about to kill it only to realize it belongs to a little girl named Darby (Darby Dougherty). Darby lives with her older, blonde sisters Dot (Chloe Sevigny) and Helen (Clarisa Gluckman) as they hope to find some decent men in their town by putting electrical tape on their nipples. After killing some cats, Solomon and Tummler give the cats to a supermarket owner named Huntz (Wendell Carr) who gives them a bit of money and glue but also tells them that they have competition.

Another young man killing cats, but with poison, is Jarrod (Daniel Martin) who is doing this to help take care of his dying, catatonic grandmother (Berniece M. Duvall). Meanwhile, Bunny Boy (Jacob Sewell) is also finding dead cats while he also encounter two kids (James Lawhorn and James Glass) as cowboys where he pretends to play dead. Dot, Helen, and Darby meet with their friend Ellen (Ellen M. Smith) as they look at a boy named Eddie (Charles Matthew Coatney) playing tennis as he talks about his newfound concentration thanks to ritalin. Hoping to escape from their current troubles with Jarrod, Solomon and Tummler turn to Cole (Max Perlich) to have sex with his daughter Cassiday (Bernadette Resna) where Tummler talks to Cole about his own frustration with the world.

The next day as Solomon gets ready to kill more cats, he exercises while his mother (Linda Manz) talks about his late father while tap dancing on his old shoes and joking with him with a gun. Tummler's father (James David Glass) also muses on his late wife as he and Tummler have a night of drunken arm wrestling contests and such. After their time with their respective parents, Solomon and Tummler decide to find Jarrod at his home only to have an encounter with Jarrod's comatose grandmother. Dot, Helen, and Darby also suffer when their cat Foot-Foot is gone where they have an encounter with a man named Terry (Jeffrey Baker). With things in Xenia still being the same, no one knows if things will ever change.

While the film has no conventional narrative or a plot with the entire narrative being very lose that includes random scenes involving a midget (Bryant L. Crenshaw), two skinhead brothers (Jason and Casey Guzak), an Albino lady (Donna Brewster), and various people through home video and such. Yet, the film is about environment and how people live in this decay town. While the script seems to be written as sketches or ideas, it's clear that Harmony Korine is trying to make this film as a part-documentary, part drama with a story. While the loose narrative that features narration from Solomon, Tummler, and various people, it's clear that the film reflects the slow, painstaking recovering of this town and how people live through this decay. While audiences might be shocked by the behavior of the character including some of the language, it only confirms the surroundings they're living in.

While the script is loose, Korine's direction is far more compelling with his shaky camera work to convey some sense of action, whether it has the dreamlike quality of Terrence Malick in some sequences to more experimental, cinema verite style where anything goes and he captures these moments. The use of old super 8 footage, video interviews, and everything gives the film a unique look and feel as if it was documentary-like. While the film has a fragmented, episodic-like feel, it manages to work to convey the sense of sadness in all of the characters and their surroundings. Overall, it's Korine and his earnest, eerie direction that manages to be a real high-point for the film.

Cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffer brings a wonderfully enchanting look to the film with its colorful yet grainy-like photography that emphasizes the film's unique look in terms of its beauty mixed in with ugliness. Editor Christopher Tellefsen brings a wonderfully stylized approach to the edits with jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, and the use of stock footage to bring Korine's vision to life. Production designer David Doernberg and art director Amy Beth Silver bring a wonderful look to some of the homes, notably Solomon's home that is filled with a lot of stuff as if the house hadn't been cleaned including in one scene, bacon taped to a bathroom wall.

Sound designer Steve Borne brings a wonderful approach to the film's sound including the use of distortion for some of the film's music to convey the sense of chaos. Serving as costume designer is none other than Chloe Sevigny who brings a look that is definitely authentic to the film. With t-shirts of metal bands whether its something as extreme as Slayer or something as cheesy as Poison. Even some of the clothes Sevigny and her cast mates would wear would confirm the idea of the environment the characters are living in. The film's soundtrack consists a wide variety of tracks whether its music from a music box, Madonna's Like a Prayer, Roy Orbison's Cryin', or some accordion music. Then the soundtrack would have something as totally extreme as Scandinavian black metal to convey the film's anarchist tone.

The film's cast is definitely unique and memorable for the various segments they're in whether it's people like Jason and Casey Guzak, Lara Tosh as a young girl who finds a lump on her breast, James Lawhorn, James Glass, Wendell Carr, Ellen M. Smith, Charles Matthew Coatney, Daniel Martin, Bernadette Resna, James David Glass, Bryant L. Crenshaw, Berniece M. Duvall, Donna Brewster, Jeffrey Baker, Mark Gonzalez as a chair wrestler, and a cameo from Harmony Korine in a scene with Bryant L. Crenshaw. Though many of those people were non-actors, the performances they give felt real and true to what the film represents.

Other memorable small performances from Darby Dougherty, Carisa Gluckman, and Chloe Sevigny are great with Dougherty having a great scene involving a picture of Burt Reynolds with a mustache while Gluckman and Sevigny bring life to the role of young women trying to find good men in the poor town they're in. Max Perlich as a memorable scene as man who uses his own daughter for prostitution which is very disturbing as Perlich looks nearly unrecognizable in how he tries to please all involved. Linda Manz, in her first film role since the early 80s, gives a very memorable performance despite being in only two scenes. Manz's performance is a reminder of how much she's been missed over the years as she makes a wonderful impression though after this and a few other appearances that included David Fincher's The Game in the late 90s and hasn't done much since.

Despite having no dialogue, Jacob Sewell makes a wonderful impression as the Bunny Boy wearing a bunny hood as he does a lot of things many people wouldn't like, even in the film's opening scenes. Nick Sutton is great as Tummler, who muses on his own life and his own alienation while trying to find things to kill time, even if he has to do something bad. Sutton's performance is very layered and complex to unveil his emotions. Equally as great is Jacob Reynolds as Solomon, who also is trying to understand the world while still maintaining a sense of innocence, even around his mother. It's a fantastic performance in how he observes everything around him including the world around him, particularly through his imaginative narration.

Gummo is a compelling yet enchanting debut feature film from Harmony Korine. Those new to the auteur will no doubt find this film as essential though Kids is the best place to start. Anyone interested in unconventional filmmaking, abstract narratives, and performances that are non-traditional will no doubt enjoy this film. Particularly for its take on poor, Middle-class America. In the end, Gummo is truly one of the 1990s most under-appreciated films from one of cinema's strangest auteurs, Harmony Korine.

Harmony Korine Films: Dogme #6-Julien Donkey Boy - (Mister Lonely) - (Trash Humpers) - Spring Breakers - (The Trap (2016 film))

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bullets Over Broadway

Directed by Woody Allen and written by Allen and Douglas McGrath, Bullets Over Broadway is the story about a young playwright eager to succeed on Broadway as he hires a gangster’s girlfriend to star in the play while working with a gangster escort on re-writes to make sure his play is a success. The film is an exploration into the world of theater as well as one trying to not make compromises with his art with the help of a man who unknowingly has the gifts to be an artist. Starring John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Tilly, Chazz Palminteri, Mary-Louise Parker, Tracy Ullman, Jack Warden, Jim Broadbent, and Rob Reiner. Bullets Over Broadway is a fantastic yet witty film from Woody Allen.

Set in the 1920s, the film explores a young playwright trying to stage a play without compromise as he is convinced that he’s an artist. In order to get his play produced that will feature a renowned diva, he reluctantly accepts his producer’s offer to put in a gangster’s girlfriend who wants to become an actress despite her lack of talent. The woman’s escort is a mob henchman who has to watch her all the time as he would eventually bring in some ideas that would not only change this writer’s play but also the idea about art and what it takes to be an artist. It’s a film that explores the world of a man trying to define himself as an artist as he is eager to succeed in his own terms but has a hard time making compromises. Especially as he is someone who has the talents to be a writer but is often bogged down by rules and ideas that seem detached from reality until this gangster’s henchman would be the one that would open the doors of the idea of art.

The screenplay by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath not only goes into great lengths to explore the world of theater as well as what it takes to be an artist. It also showcases a world in which individuals all are taking part in a play as there’s egos involved and also the danger for the fact that only a few people know that funding this play is a gangster (Joe Viterelli). For David Shayne (John Cusack), it’s a compromise he has to live with for the sake of his career as he’s amazed by the gifted but boozy leading lady Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest). Yet, he has to deal with the gangster’s girlfriend Olive (Jennifer Tilly) who is determined to succeed despite the fact that she’s a loudmouth and isn’t very good though Shayne thinks there’s potential. Along with a brilliant but insecure leading actor named Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent) and a supporting actress in Eden Brent (Tracey Ullman) who always carries her dog.

It’s a strange mix of people that are involved with this play as Shayne is also directing the play but his actors have a hard time connecting with the script until Olive’s bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) would say things that he felt is hindering the story as he comes up with ideas that turned out to be great. It would prompt Shayne to secretly work with Cheech as the latter becomes more aware of his gifts though he still enjoys bumping people off. Once the story develops where Shayne becomes more confident in his work, there also comes the trappings of success where Shayne would alienate his longtime girlfriend Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker) while Cheech realizes what he must do in order for the play to become a big success as he cares more about its chance to be great. All of which would play into Shayne’s realization of what it means to suffer and sacrifice for your art.

Allen’s direction is truly exquisite in not just the way he presents the 1920s New York City and Broadway but also a period in time where a writer is trying to create something new without making compromises. While there’s an intimacy to the play that is present in the film, there’s also a sense of beauty for the scenes in the city including a moment between Shayne and Sinclair that has this gorgeous backdrop behind them. Allen also creates some unique compositions where he puts the actors in a scene while also using some moments of violence to play up that world of the gangster including the place where Cheech would kill people. It all would play into that world of art and a man’s desire to succeed as an artist where Allen would find ways to mesh humor and drama in the story while playing to that theme about art without doing it in an overbearing way. Overall, Allen creates a truly riveting film about a man’s desire to become an artist and the trappings of what one has to do to succeed as an artist.

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of the nightclubs with its lights to some of the more low-key lighting schemes for the nighttime exterior scenes. Editor Susan E. Morse does excellent work with the editing to create some rhythmic cuts for some of the lively moments involving the gangsters while most of the cutting is quite straightforward. Production designer Santo Loquasto, with art director Tom Warren and set decorators Susan Bode and Amy Marshall, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the play and nightclubs to the home where Olive lives

Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland does fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes the men wear to the array of dresses the women wear to play up that sense of style. Sound editor Robert Hein does terrific work with the sound to play up the atmosphere of the theater along with the sounds of gunfire for the gangster scenes. The film’s soundtrack is wonderful for the music that is played that includes pieces by Cole Porter, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, the Gershwin Brothers, and Duke Ellington.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small appearances from Tony Sirico and Tony Darrow as a couple of henchmen, Debi Mazar as Cheech’s girlfriend Violet, Benay Venuta as a theater patron Shayne meets at a party, Rob Reiner as the writer Sheldon Flender who is also Shayne’s mentor, Harvey Fierstein as Sinclair’s agent Sid Loomis, Jack Warden as the play’s producer Julian Marx, and Joe Viterelli as the gangster Nick Valenti. Mary Louise-Parker is wonderful as Shayne’s girlfriend Ellen as a woman who supports Shayne until success comes in as well as his fascination with Helen Sinclair. Tracey Ullman is terrific as Eden Brent as a supporting actress trying to get her part to be good while bringing her dog whom Helen dislikes. John Broadbent is excellent as Warner Purcell as a gifted actor who takes a liking towards Olive while he is also revealed to be a compulsive eater.

Jennifer Tilly is amazing as Olive as a young woman who is determined to be an actress despite her lack of talents as Tilly brings a lot of humor and charisma to her performance. Chazz Palminteri is brilliant as Cheech as a gangster’s henchman who has a gift for coming up with great ideas as he becomes someone who realizes his gift as he does whatever it takes to make it be a big success. Dianne Wiest is fantastic as Helen Sinclair as a veteran actress who likes to drink but is also so gifted as she seduces Shayne in the hopes that she can become much bigger. Finally, there’s John Cusack in a marvelous performance as David Shayne as a playwright eager to succeed without compromises while dealing with some of his flaws as a writer as he hopes to finally create something that will be great only to deal with the other compromises he must face as a person.

Bullets Over Broadway is an incredible film from Woody Allen. Armed with a great ensemble cast, amazing set pieces, a fun soundtrack, and an intriguing take on the world of art. It’s a film that definitely stands as one of Allen’s triumphs as well as riveting period piece about a man trying to do something new in the world of theater. In the end, Bullets Over Broadway is a sensational film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows and Fog - Husbands and Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don’t Drink the Water - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Manhattan Murder Mystery

Directed and starring Woody Allen and screenplay by Allen and Marshall Brickman, Manhattan Murder Mystery is the story about a couple who find themselves involved in a murder mystery as they take part in the investigation finding what’s going on. The film a whodunit where a couple goes into the world of mystery as it marks a reunion between Allen and two of his great collaborators in co-writer Marshall Brickman and Diane Keaton who plays Allen’s wife in the film. Also starring Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston. Manhattan Murder Mystery is a fantastic suspense-comedy from Woody Allen.

The film revolves around a couple who learn that the wife of their new neighbor has died as they suspect something isn’t right. Carol (Diane Keaton) investigates what happens despite her husband Larry (Woody Allen) telling her not to. With the help of their friend Ted (Alan Alda), Carol goes further to find out what happened as she is convinced is a murder. Larry eventually helps out as he and Carol make some discoveries of their own while realizing that the killer is on to them. Turning to Larry’s author friend Marcia (Anjelica Huston) for help, Larry and Carol along with some friends decide to nab a trap in order to expose the truth. It’s a premise that is quite simple yet told in a pretty humorous manner where a couple play detectives to see whether or not their neighbor killed his wife.

The screenplay that Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman create is full of ideas that play in the world of mystery as it is driven by this couple who have been married for a long time but have lost a bit of excitement. Upon the news of this woman’s death and her husband’s behavior in its aftermath, the two become suspicious where Carol goes head on into see what is going on. Little by little, clues would emerge as they go into many revelations as Carol gets help from Ted who is a mystery buff as he would inspire Larry to get more involved. There are moments in the film where the suspense is quite intense while it allows time for Ted and Carol to deal with themselves. Eventually, the intensity of the suspense would allow the two to rely on each while calling on Ted for help as they also bring in Marcia who knows a lot about mystery as she would play a key role in the third act.

Allen’s direction is quite engaging as it is mostly straightforward where it is set entirely in Manhattan where he makes it a character in the film as there’s scenes shot at Madison Square Garden and at the Metropolitan Opera House. Still, there’s moments in the direction where Allen does play up into that approach of suspense-comedy where there’s bits of slapstick but also some very mesmerizing scenes involving intrigue. Many of the compositions Allen create are quite lively while he creates a climax that is truly thrilling as well as making it a tribute to Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai as the film is also played in that climatic sequence. Overall, Allen creates a very entertaining and witty suspense-comedy that allows the audience to be engrossed in the mystery.

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma does excellent work with the cinematography from the look of some of the nighttime exteriors scenes in the city to its daytime interior and exterior scenes. Editor Susan E. Morse does amazing work with the editing as most of it is straightforward with the exception of some montages that play into Marcia‘s theories over what might‘ve happened and such. Production designer Santo Loquasto, with set decorator Susan Bode and art director Speed Hopkins, does wonderful work with the set pieces from the look of the apartments that the characters live in to the theater house where Ted and Carol snoop at.

Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly straightforward for the men though the clothes that Carol and Marcia wear are quite fun to look as it displays their different personalities. Sound editor Robert Hein does superb work with the sound from the intimacy in the locations to a very inspiring scene in the film’s third act to play a trick on the killer. The film’s soundtrack is terrific as it features an array of music from Cole Porter, Richard Wagner, Dave Brubeck Quartet, and Benny Goodman to play up some of the humor and suspense.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is fantastic for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small appearances from Aida Turturro as a hotel clerk, Wendell Pierce as a policeman, and Zach Braff in his film debut as Larry and Carol’s son Nick. Other small roles include Melanie Norris as a young actress named Helen, Marge Redmond as a woman named Mrs. Dalton, Ron Rifkin and Joy Behar as friends of Carol and Larry, Lynn Cohen as the neighbor’s wife who dies early in the film, and Jerry Adler as the mysterious neighbor Paul House. Anjelica Huston is great as the novelist Marcia Fox as a woman who is a friend of Larry as she helps out Larry, Carol, and Ted to uncover the mystery while providing some theories. Alan Alda is brilliant as Ted as a mystery buff who helps Carol in uncovering things while becoming attracted to Marcia over her theories.

Finally, there’s the duo of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in remarkable performances as Larry and Carol Lipkin. With Allen playing his usual nebbish persona and Keaton as the more outgoing of the two, the two clearly have not lost a step in their rapport with one another. Notably as Allen would provide some of the slapstick with Keaton as the more serious providing this unique balance as they are definitely the highlight of the film.

Manhattan Murder Mystery is a marvelous film from Woody Allen with superb performances from Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, and Anjelica Huston. The film is definitely one of Allen’s finest as well as another top-notch collaboration between Allen, Keaton, and co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman. It’s a film definitely has great odes to mystery as well as providing elements that are full of laughs. In the end, Manhattan Murder Mystery is a wonderful film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows and Fog - Husbands and Wives - Don’t Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013