Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Films That I Saw: October 2013




The fall film season is definitely heating up as is the Oscar race as there’s now a lot of new contenders into what might be the film of the year. If anyone checks out my list, it’s definitely becoming a very tight race as the remainder of the year is going to be very crazy. In the meantime, I’m definitely starting to look ahead for some ideas on what I’m going to do next year as I’ve already selected the films that I’m going to do for my Blind Spot Series next year as well as the Auteurs profiles for the next year. I will make an official announcement on what films and filmmakers I will be doing for 2014 in mid to late December.

In the month of October, I saw a total of 42 films, 28 first-timers and 14 re-watches. Definitely up from last month as I spent a lot of time watching horror and horror-related films as today is Halloween. The highlight of course is in my Blind Spot assignment in Battle Royale. Here are the 10 best first-timers I saw for October 2013: 



1. Vertigo




2. 12 Years a Slave




3. Gravity




4. Un Chien Andalou




5. The Phantom Carriage




6. Knife in the Water




7. The Brood



8. Spirits of the Dead



9. Captain Phillips




10. Sisters




Mini-Reviews

The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story



I’ll admit that things in the WWE as far as booking and storylines have been pretty damn terrible. Yet, with an angle pitting the Cody Rhodes and his older brother Dustin aka Goldust against the Shield and the Authority is actually the highlight of the year so far. I watched the WWE doc about their father that was made some years ago as it was great to watch to showcase the American Dream’s career from his work in Florida Championship Wrestling to having one of the great careers during his time with the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s that included a classic rivalry with Ric Flair. There’s no question about this man’s legacy as it’s great to see his two sons doing well as it’s very likely that Cody will soon follow in his father’s footsteps in becoming a World Champion.

Road Warriors: The Life and Death of the Most Dominant Tag Team in Wrestling History



While the Rhodes Brothers along with the Shield, the Prime Time Players, the Real Americans, and the Usos do make the WWE tag team division somewhat interesting. They’re nothing compared to the brilliance that are the Road Warriors/the Legion of Doom that features Hawk and Animal. This is definitely one of the great WWE documentaries that showcases the duo’s dominance from their days in the AWA and NWA in the 80s to their numerous runs in WWE and WCW in the 1990s. Though Hawk sadly passed away in 2003 after a period of struggling with some personal demons, there is no question that they were one of the best tag teams in professional wrestling.

Oz: The Great & Powerful



I love The Wizard of Oz, it’s one of the greatest films ever made though the idea of a prequel is interesting though I have heard mixed things about Sam Raimi’s new film. The result is an OK film that features some pretty good performances from Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams though James Franco is a bit uninspired as the Wizard. I wasn’t a fan of Mila Kunis in the film as I thought she went a bit over-the-top while some of the visuals had some moments but a lot of it wasn’t very good. Count me as one of those not interested in the sequel if it ever comes.

Toy Story of Terror



Pixar has been going through a creative slump as of late with their feature films though this new entry in the Toy Story series is a very inspired one. Especially as it is this simple horror story where Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Mr. Pricklepants, Mr. Potato-Head, Trixie, and Rex are stuck in a motel with something terrifying. It is a very fun little TV special that I hope becomes a regular staple for every Halloween as it has something that appeals to kids but also includes material that appeals to the hardcore Pixar fans as well as film buffs.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. The Birds



2. The Fly



3. They Live



4. Repo Man



5. The Goonies



6. Riding Giants



7. Rumble Fish



8. A Knight’s Tale



9. The Hunger



10. In Her Shoes



Well, that is it for October. Next month as I will spending part of my time assembling and writing my multi-part list for the Most Anticipated Films of 2014 which will be released in December. There will be a lot of films to cover from new releases like Thor, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, and All is Lost to the films of Jim Jarmusch for the Auteurs series as well as films by Luis Bunuel, Billy Wilder, and maybe some Yasujiro Ozu along with some recent releases from the past few years. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off and… hey, what are you carrying that knife? Are you really going to fucking kill me? Are you… AHH… OH FUC……



© thevoid99 2013

Vertigo




Based on the novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejec, Vertigo is the story of a retired yet acrophobic police detective who is asked by a man to tail his wife who is dealing with mood swings. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, the film is an exploration into a man dealing with his fear of heights as well as the case that he’s investigating where he falls for the woman he’s tailing. Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes. Vertigo is a magnificent film from Alfred Hitchcock.

The film is a simple story about a retired police detective who is asked by an old friend to tail his troubled wife. Yet, John Ferguson (James Stewart) is still dealing with the guilt over losing his partner during a chase as he also suffers from acrophobia and gets dizzy due to that fear. By taking this assignment for an old friend, he hopes to get some form of redemption yet he would end up falling for this woman in Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) while trying to deal with her fascination towards this woman who had died nearly a century ago. Even as he helps her try to deal with the nightmares she has where things get more stranger as it goes on. It’s a film that is largely about fear where one man has a fear of heights while this woman is someone who fears that she might be the reincarnation of someone else as she is becoming suicidal.

The film’s screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor does take its time to explore the aspects of fear where Ferguson is a man just wracked with guilt over the loss of his partner during a roof chase. Though he finds comfort in his former fiancée Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), he reluctantly takes the assignment for Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) as a favor to an old friend as the first act is about Ferguson coping with his fear and seeing Madeleine for the very first time where he would follow her around San Francisco. The second act is about Ferguson trying to figure out Madeleine’s fear and her mental state while he also deals with some jealousy from Midge who managed to see Madeleine walk out of his apartment one night after she had jumped on the San Francisco Bay. The film’s third act is definitely the most intriguing where it just doesn’t explore the idea of guilt and fear but also identity and obsession where Ferguson delves into the latter towards another woman where a lot of the mystery gets unveiled.

The direction of Alfred Hitchcock is truly mesmerizing in the way he creates these gorgeous images while making San Francisco and places nearby the city as characters in the film. Hitchcock makes great use in his framing devices in not just the way he presents the film with these lovely compositions but also create something that has this air of mystery and melancholia that is prevalent throughout the film. Notably as Hitchcock would take a simple shot and do something with it to add to the sense of drama and suspense in the film. The way he uses a two-shot on characters as well as close-ups are very entrancing with some soft lenses and the use of locations just adds to this romance that builds between John and Madeleine.

Hitchcock also creates some very dazzling sequences that plays into John’s fear such as the shots of him looking down from above where the zoom lenses play a key part into his fear along with some special photographic effects. There’s also this very strange yet surreal sequence that also plays into John’s fear as well as the ideas of what Madeleine was so afraid of. Most notably as it would play into this very strange third act that explores John’s obsession as he tries to deal with his fear of heights as well as see if he can find some redemption. Overall, Hitchcock creates a very spectacular and intoxicating film about fear, obsession, and identity.

Cinematographer Robert Burks does exquisite work with the film‘s very colorful and lush photography to play into the beauty of the locations in San Francisco as well as using the lights to play into that element of suspense and intrigue as it is definitely a major highlight of the film. Editor George Tomasini does brilliant work with the editing to play into the suspense with some rhythmic cuts and other stylish cuts to help maintain that air of intrigue as well as some slow yet methodical cuts in the film‘s drama. Art directors Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira, along with set decorators Sam Comer and Frank R. McKelvy, do fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of John‘s apartment as well as some of the places he goes to like the museum and the other places Madeleine goes to.

Costume designer Edith Head does amazing work with the costumes from the suits that John wears to the dresses that Madeleine and Midge wears as it has that great sense of style. Hairstyle supervisor Nellie Manley and makeup artist Benny Lane do excellent work with the look of Madeleine in her blond hair to display this unique look that John would be obsessed about later in the film. Sound recorders Winston H. Leverett, Harold Lewis, and Jim Miller do superb work with the sound to create an atmosphere in some of the locations as well as play into the film‘s suspense and drama. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is truly phenomenal with its orchestral-based score that features heavy and broad themes to more somber, lush pieces driven by the strings to play into the romance and drama.

The casting by Bert McKay is incredible as the ensemble that includes some noteworthy small roles like Fred Graham as John’s partner in the film’s opening sequence, Konstantin Shayne as a historian John and Midge meet, and Ellen Corby as a hotel owner John asks about. Tom Helmore is excellent as John’s old friend Gavin Elster who asks John to follow his wife to see what she’s up to. Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful as John’s former fiancée Midge who helps John with his case while dealing with her jealousy towards Madeleine. Kim Novak is radiant as Madeleine as this mysterious yet troubled woman who has a strange connection to a woman from the past as Novak also has this beauty that is just entrancing making her performance iconic. Finally, there’s James Stewart in a marvelous performance as John “Scottie” Ferguson as a man wracked with guilt and fear as he takes an assignment that would prove to be troubling. Stewart and Novak have amazing chemistry together in the way they play into each other’s fears as well as the romance they have for each other.

Vertigo is an outstanding film from Alfred Hitchcock that features remarkable performances from James Stewart and Kim Novak. Not only is the film one of Hitchcock’s most quintessential works but also a stylish yet engaging thriller that explores the world of fear, obsession, and identity. Particularly as it’s told with great style through its colorful cinematography and the enchanting score of Bernard Herrmann. In the end, Vertigo is a triumphant film from Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) - (39 Steps) - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) - The Lady Vanishes - (Jamaica Inn) - (Rebecca) - (Foreign Correspondent) - (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) - Suspicion - (Saboteur) - (Shadow of a Doubt) - Bon Voyage - Lifeboat - (Spellbound) - (Notorious) - (The Paradine Cage) - Rope - (Under Capricorn) - (Stage Fright) - Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - Rear Window - To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)) - (The Wrong Man) - North by Northwest - Psycho - The Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) - (Topaz) - (Frenzy) - (Family Plot)

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Auteurs #26: David Cronenberg




One of the most controversial yet revered filmmakers of the horror genre, David Cronenberg is considered to be the godfather of the body-horror films as he would redefine horror by exploring ideas of sexuality, body transformation, and all sorts of things. While he would deviate from the genre in some of his more recent films, he still manages to infuse his own troubling idea about violence and sex in his films as he continues to redefine himself as a storyteller and filmmaker. With another film in the works coming in 2014 that would explore the world of film culture in Maps to the Stars. David Cronenberg is a name that always peak the interest of film buffs no matter what kind of films he makes.

Born in Toronto, Ontario in Canada on March 15, 1943, Cronenberg was the son of writer/editor Milton Cronenberg and musician Esther Sumberg in a Jewish, middle-class family. Cronenberg would later gain a sister in Denise as she would later become one of his key collaborators in his film career due to her work in costume design. While attending Harbord Collegiate Institute, Cronenberg’s fascination with science that included botany and lepidopterology gave him the chance to attend the University of Toronto in 1963 at the Honour Science program. Though he would switch programs for Honors English Language and Literature which increased his interest in writing as he had been writing as a child. It was there that Cronenberg became fascinated with the world of film as he would start making his first student films by this time.

The rest can be read in two parts at Cinema Axis in the following links: Part 1: 1966-1988 & Part 2: 1991-2014

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sisters (1973 film)




Directed by Brian De Palma and screenplay by De Palma and Louisa Rose from a story by de Palma, Sisters is the story of a model who learns that her separated Siamese twin had been suspected of murder that was witnessed by a newspaper reporter. The film explores the unique relationship between Siamese twin sisters as they deal with their relationship as well as the interference of another woman who suspects one of them of murder. Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, and William Finley. Sisters is an entrancing yet stylish thriller from Brian De Palma.

The film is about the world of Siamese twins where a model wakes up one morning to learn that the man she just spent the night was murdered while across the building was a journalist who witnessed the murder. The journalist then learns that the woman might have a twin as it’s revealed that she is one of Siamese twins as she hires a private detective to help out where things get more troubling. It’s a film that plays into a classic scenario of the mystery-suspense film to see if what this woman named Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) saw actually happened where her journalistic instincts have her going very deep into what is going on. Yet, there’s some strange twists and turns that involves this model named Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) who may or may not have a clue about what is going on other than finding a dead body in her apartment.

The film’s screenplay is unique where the film starts off very low-key and playful where Breton appears on a TV show where she and a contestant in Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) meet and hit it off where they would spend the night together despite the appearance of Breton’s ex-husband Emil (William Finley). Things seem to go well for much of the first act where there isn’t any suspense with the exception of an argument Philip hears between Danielle and her sister Dominique in French. When he comes back to her apartment with a birthday cake, that’s when the element of suspense occurs where Collier would see Philip’s bloody hand write “help” on the window. Collier would report what she saw to the police who don’t believe her as she hires this very eccentric private detective in Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) who goes into the apartment to uncover secrets while following a moving truck that is carrying a couch.

Much of the film’s second act is about Collier’s search to find out the truth where Larch’s help has her learn about who Danielle Breton is where she turns to the journalist in Arthur McLennen (Barnard Hughes) who had written a piece on these French-Canadian twins who had reportedly gotten a surgery to separate themselves. It would then lead to this third act where Collier follows Danielle and Emil as the sense of mystery and intrigue intensifies. Notably where the script would play into this element of surrealism into the relationship between Danielle and Dominique.

Brian De Palma’s direction is definitely stylish though from the way he opens the film in its opening credits that is filled with these very strange images of Siamese twin fetuses. Then the film plays into this unique scene where Philip is in a gym locker room where Danielle pretends to be a blind woman where it’s all part of a silly game show that showcases De Palma’s willingness to play with genres and structures as much of the first act starts off very calm and lively. Still, De Palma does create images and such to play into these little moments that would trigger the suspense where it finally emerges in this gruesome act of killing that is very stylized in its presentation. One unique aspect of De Palma’s direction that is interesting is the way he uses split-screens to play into the suspense where one shot has Collier talking to the cops and show them what she saw while Emil and Danielle are cleaning up all of the blood in the apartment.

The element of suspense occurs for much of the film’s second half where De Palma keeps much of the suspense low-key to see if Collier would crack the case with the help of Larch. Notably in a scene where Collier enters Breton’s apartment with the detectives where the use of these long tracking shots help play into Breton’s determination to find some clues. By the film’s third act where Collier gets closer to cracking the case, something gets strange where De Palma goes for surrealism in some strange dream sequence where it’s shot in 16mm black-and-white as if it was a documentary. It plays into this world that Collier is entering where it would uncover a lot of the mystery but also reveal how complicated things are for those who are Siamese twins. Overall, De Palma crafts a very exotic yet eerie film about identity and murder.

Cinematographer Gregory Sandor does excellent work with the cinematography from the nighttime look of the locations in New York City and Staten Island to the use of black-and-white 16mm footage to play into the surreal dream sequence in its third act. Editor Paul Hirsch does brilliant work with the film‘s stylized editing with its use of split-screens and rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s suspense. Production designer Gary Weist does nice work with the look of Danielle‘s stylish apartment as well as some of the places she and the other characters go to. Sound editor John Fox does terrific work with the sound to play into the suspense including the scene where Philip hears Danielle and Dominique arguing in French. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is amazing for its mixture of orchestral music and eerie electronic pieces to play into the film’s suspense and terror.

The casting by Sylvia Fay is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Olympia Dukakis and Justine Johnston as two bakers Philip meets, Dolph Sweet as Detective Kelly who is unsure about Collier’s claims, Jennifer Salt’s real-life mother Mary Davenport as Collier’s mother, Lisle Wilson as the man that Danielle meets in Philip Woode, and Barnard Hughes as the renowned journalist Arthur McLennen who reveals some things about Danielle and Dominique. William Finley is excellent as the very strange Emil Breton who helps Danielle cover things up while maintaining this weird presence as he knows more about what is going on. Charles Durning is terrific as the eccentric private detective Joseph Larch who uses unconventional methods to find things in his investigation.

Jennifer Salt is brilliant as Grace Collier as a woman determined to find some truth over what she saw as she gets deeper into her discovery while uncovering things that would disturb her. Finally, there’s Margot Kidder in a fantastic performance in the dual roles of Danielle and Dominique where she sports a French-Canadian accent to play into a woman’s innocence as well as her uncertainty of who is who as there’s a complexity to these characters as well as what she is dealing with.

Sisters is a remarkable film from Brian De Palma that features some astounding performances from Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt. The film is definitely one of De Palma’s great early triumphs as well as very fascinating film on the idea of Siamese twins and identity. Particularly as it also explores many concepts into doubles and such that would be a prominent theme in De Palma’s work. In the end, Sisters is a sensational film from Brian De Palma.

Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) - (Greetings) - (The Wedding Party) - (Dionysus in ‘69) - (Hi, Mom!) - (Get to Know Your Rabbit) - (Phantom of the Paradise) - (Obsession) - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) - Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface - (Body Double) - (Wise Guys) - The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito’s Way - (Mission: Impossible) - (Snake Eyes) - Mission to Mars - (Femme Fatale) - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) - (Passion (2012 film))

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Captain Phillips




Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephan Tatly, Captain Phillips is the true story about a merchant freighter captain whose ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates as he tries to deal with the pirates and keep his crew safe. Directed by Paul Greengrass and screenplay by Billy Ray, the film is a look into how a man tries to maintain a peaceful situation while being captured by pirates as he is trying to keep his crew safe as Tom Hanks plays the titular role. Also starring Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, David Warshofsky, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, and Corey Thompson. Captain Phillips is a gripping yet mesmerizing film from Paul Greengrass.

The film is based on a real-life incident in 2009 where Captain Richard Phillips is leading a freighter cargo ship on the coast of Somalia where he and his crew have to deal with a small band of pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Muse and his small band of brothers do whatever to get on board where they succeed and take over the ship while Phillips tries to protect his crew and make sure no one is killed. It’s a film that plays into this real-life situation where Phillips is aware that they’re in dangerous territory as he informs his crew of the situation they have to face where it becomes very real. Even as he has to do a lot of negotiating and such to ensure his crew’s safety and give these pirates what they want without hurting anyone.

Billy Ray’s screenplay may have a traditional structure of sorts but it strays from convention where it plays into moments of real-time. The first act shows Phillips’ life at home with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) as well as the dreary world of these Somali pirates as they’re in need to make money in order to survive as Muse is someone who has experience in piracy. Phillips is aware of what he’s facing as he and his crew would encounter pirates in the first act where Muse’s first attempt with another boat doesn’t go well until he gets an idea to make his second attempt where he and his small crew succeed. Much of the film’s second act is about Phillips trying to ensure Muse that he’s not going cause trouble as his crew hide out where they’re not trying to make any attempts to do anything heroic or else someone gets killed.

Adding to the chaos in script is that there’s an element in the battle of wits between Muse and Phillips where there’s a bit of mutual respect for each other as Phillips knows that Muse is no fool and Muse is aware of Phillips determination to stay alive once the U.S. Navy gets involved. With Phillips captured on his own in a lifeboat with the pirates, it becomes this even bigger game where the pirates have to deal and negotiate with the Navy though it’s a showdown that doesn’t get any easier where Ray creates a bigger complexity in the script as well as reveal that there’s no such thing as heroes or villains in this story.

Paul Greengrass’ direction is very engaging for the way he presents the film as if a real-life situation is happening. Going for that cinema verite approach with hand-held cameras and close-ups, Greengrass maintains a lot of simplicity and intimacy for most of the film where it showcases life on a freighter cargo ship. Even as he creates some images to show a world where men do their job and keep themselves safe as they’re aware of the situations they might have to deal with. Once the pirates come into the story, Greengrass adds that air of suspense into the story where he keeps the camera in tact to both the little engine boats the pirates are in as well as the big ship to see how it would maneuver itself into getting away from the pirates.

The suspense definitely intensifies in its second and third act where the moments of violence are low-key but also chilling to see what a crew member will do to see if he just hides or do something knowing how tense the situation is. By the time the film moves into the lifeboat, there is this air of claustrophobia and tension that occurs while it is inter-cut with these images of the Navy trying to figure out how to create a situation and make sure they save Phillips life as even Phillips himself tries to fight his way. Even as he encounters moments where he could’ve died but the Muse character knows that if he’s killed, they all die. That sense of intensity in the suspense and the sense of something could go wrong occurs throughout the film as it leads to this very harrowing climax. Overall, Greengrass crafts a very engrossing yet captivating thriller about a ship captain’s willingness to survive against pirates.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd does fantastic work with the film‘s cinematography where it has this air of grain to play into something that feels real as well as using some low-key lights and such for the scenes in the lifeboat as well as the scenes inside the Naval ships. Editor Christopher Rouse does brilliant work with the editing with its use of rhythmic and methodical cuts to play into the suspense as well as the conversations between Muse and Phillips in their game of wits. Production designer Paul Kirby does superb work with the minimal set pieces from the look of the boat the pirates are in before they attempt to capture something to the interiors of the freighter and the lifeboat.

Costume designer Mark Bridges does nice work with the costumes as it’s mostly casual for the crew while the pirates ragged clothing showcase the world they come from and how desperate they are. Visual effects supervisors Richard Kidd, Charlie Noble, and Adam Rowland do terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects such as the backdrops for some of the exteriors settings. Sound editor Oliver Tarney does amazing work with the sound to play into the tense atmosphere that occurs in the ship as well as the sounds of sirens and ocean waves to play into the film‘s suspense. The film’s music by Henry Jackman is wonderful for its ominous yet enchanting orchestral score to play into the film’s suspense and drama that happens throughout the film.

The casting by Francine Maisler is marvelous for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small performances from Catherine Keener as Phillips’ wife Andrea, Yul Vasquez as a naval commander trying to negotiate Captain Phillips’ safety, Max Martini as U.S. Navy SEAL commander, Chris Mulkey as the senior crew member John Cronan, Corey Johnson as the helmsman Ken Quinn, David Warshofsky as chief engineer Mike Perry, and Michael Chernus as Phillips’ first officer Shane Murphy. Mahat M. Ali, Faysal Ahmed, and Barkhad Abdirahman are great as the three hijackers who try to maintain control while pondering about what to do with Captain Phillips. Barkhad Abdi is brilliant as the pirates leader Muse who tries to maintain some control of the situation though he is also not a fool as Abdi just has this very unique presence that makes him terrifying but also compelling as he makes the character sort of cool for the fact that he’s very determined.

Finally, there’s Tom Hanks in the titular role as it’s a performance that proves into why Hanks is one of American cinema’s great actors. Hanks has this everyman quality that allows his character to be engaging while he maintains a sense of cool in the way he handles his situation. It’s definitely a performance that shows Hanks just being calm and cool while showing that he also has an edge to him which proves that he is still one of the best actors working today.

Captain Phillips is a tremendous film from Paul Greengrass that features an incredible performance from Tom Hanks. Told in a very direct and gripping style with a cast that is solid including a major discovery in Barkhad Abdi. While it doesn’t feature anything new that Greengrass has done, it does however maintain that only he could make a film like this that is filled with suspense as well as a real-life story without sugar-coating it. In the end, Captain Phillips is a spectacular film from Paul Greengrass.

Paul Greengrass Films: (Resurrected) - (Open Fire) - (The One That Got Away) - (The Fix) - (The Theory of Flight) - Bloody Sunday - (The Bourne Supremacy) - United 93 - (The Bourne Ultimatum) - (Green Zone)

© thevoid99 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

12 Years a Slave




Based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is the true story of Northup’s life where he was a free black man living in the North until he is kidnapped in Washington, D.C. where he is sold as a slave as he endures hardships for 12 years. Directed by Steve McQueen and screenplay by John Ridley, the film is an exploration into a man who endures the worst kind of cruelty towards humanity as he deals with the world of slavery as Northup is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Also starring Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael K. Williams, Scott McNairy, and Brad Pitt. 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing yet visceral film from Steve McQueen.

The film is this simple story about a man named Solomon Northup who lived a decent life in Saratoga, New York in 1841 where he is asked by two men to play for a show in Washington, D.C. where he accepts the offer until he wakes up in chains as he’s sold to slavery where he endures cruelty under different masters for 12 years. It’s a film that explores a man who had this very good life in the North where he finds himself in a world that is very different in the South where blacks are treated as a form of property by their masters. The 12-year journey that Northup encounters where he’s called Platt, he doesn’t just see the cruelty of slavery but also how dangerous he is as he’s a man that is educated where slaves tell him to keep his head down and just do your work so there won’t be anymore trouble. Still, he just couldn’t comprehend the atrocities that he sees and endures in the 12 years of being a slave.

John Ridley’s screenplay definitely explores the 12 years of Northup’s life where its first scene is Northup as a slave cutting down sugar canes for another master as he then reflects on the life he had. Much of the film’s first half showcases bits of Northup’s life as a free man while revealing how he had been tricked by two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) into doing a show for them where he wakes up the next morning in chains. Ridley’s script is largely told from Northup’s perspective as he watches the world he’s in as he has to see a woman named Eliza (Adepero Oduye) be separated from her children as they’re also sold to slavery. Northup’s encounter with slavery has him endure the supervision of different masters where the first is this Baptist preacher in William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is much kinder to his slave though he’s unaware of the cruelty that his slave overseer in John Tibeats (Paul Dano) who always undermine things and treats Northup with disdain.

While Northup would also work briefly under the supervision of Judge Turner (Bryan Batt) during a seasonal break, Northup would endure the worst under Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is this very unique individual whom Ford describes as a man who is willing to break slaves to the core as he has a very sick fascination with the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) whom he seduces much to the chagrin of his wife (Sarah Paulson) who loathes Patsey. It all plays to Northup dealing with Epps as well as the harsh conditions he endure as a slave picking cotton where if he picked less than the day before. He will get whipped as it’s just one of the many punishments he has to deal with yet clings to some sense of hope as he desperately tries to write a letter to his family and friends in the North but the presence of Epps has him feel uneasy. The film’s third act doesn’t just play into Northup’s sense of hopelessness but also the things he has to do where he does find some hope in a Canadian carpenter named Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt) who learns about Northup’s situation as he would be a key proponent into Northup getting his freedom.

Steve McQueen’s direction is very evocative in the way he presents a world that is beautiful but has this air of ugliness that is prominent throughout for the fact that it’s a film about slavery. A lot of McQueen’s direction is filled with these intoxicating images that mixes beauty and horror while knowing how to put an actor in a frame or to use a close-up to express something by doing very little. Shot on location in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, McQueen’s portrait of the American South is very seductive in its beauty yet has this sense of harshness where it’s a place where a slave’s attempt to runaway is more treacherous where Northup would attempt that only to see what will happen as he would never do it again.

There’s also some intimate moments in McQueen’s direction such as the scene of Northup being chained inside a prison cell where it’s very dark with little light to showcase the horror that is to come. Even as McQueen doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the whippings and such where there’s some very chilling scenes that includes one of the most brutal sequences of whipping where it’s the sound of a whip hitting flesh that is the most unsettling. McQueen’s framing and some of the long shots he creates are just a marvel to watch in not just some of the drama that plays out but also some of the sense of terror that occurs. Though there are bits of humor in the film, it’s only just small bits as it plays into the drama and turmoil that Solomon Northup endures as the film’s ending is an absolute tearjerker. Overall, McQueen creates a very exhilarating yet haunting film about a man who endures the cruelty of slavery.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt does some amazing work with the film‘s photography from the look of the Louisiana swamp landscapes and scenes set in the forest with its use of natural lights to some of the shadings and lighting schemes he uses for some of the film‘s interiors as well as the scenes set at night. Editor Joe Walker does brilliant work with the editing with its use of jump-cuts, rhythmic cuts, and dissolves to play into that sense of horror and drama that Northup endures. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, with set decorator Alice Baker and art director David Stein, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the plantations that Northup works at to the look of the homes and places that Northup lived before his capture.

Costume designer Patricia Norris does superb work with the costumes from the dresses the mistresses wear as well as the suits that the men wear as well as the rags the slaves have to wear. Sound editors Ryan Collins and Robert Jackson do excellent work with the sound work from the way dialogue is meshed in certain scenes to some sound effects that occur in the film such as the whippings and such to play into the sense of power in those moments. The film’s music by Hans Zimmer is phenomenal for its mixture of low-key orchestral music to some tremendous pieces that mixes some haunting percussions and string arrangements that play into the terror that occurs in the film.

The casting by Francine Maisler is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small appearances from Quvenzhane Wallis and Cameron Zeigler as Northup’s children, Kelsey Scott as Northup’s wife Anne, Michael K. Williams as slave Northup meets early in the film, Garret Dillahunt as a drunkard who works with Northup picking Cotton, Dwight Henry as a slave Northup befriends in Uncle Dwight, Bryan Batt as the fair-minded slave master Judge Turner who would get Northup a job at a party, Liza J. Bennett as Ford’s wife, Chris Chalk as a slave Northup meets who tells him to not act too smart, and J.D. Evermore as Ford’s overseer Chapin who is forced to watch the action of Tibeats.

Other noteworthy performances include Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam as the two men who would trick and drug Northup into a job that would lead to his enslavement while Alfre Woodard is wonderful as a plantation mistress whom Patsey likes to drink tea with. Paul Giamatti is terrific as the slave trader Theophilius Freeman who does things to sell the slaves and presents them in the most cruel ways. Adepero Oduye is superb as the slave Eliza who deals with being separated from her children as she reminds Northup of the cruelty he has to face as a slave. Paul Dano is excellent as the slave master John Tibeats who sings a very horrific song while feeling threatened by Northup for being someone who can speak his mind and please Ford. Brad Pitt is amazing in a small yet cruel role as Samuel Bass who works with Northup during his time with Epps as he learns about his plight.

Sarah Paulson is brilliant as Mrs. Epps as a woman who loathes Patsey as she treats her with the worst kind of cruelty as she someone who proves to be just as extreme as her husband. Benedict Cumberbatch is marvelous as the kind William Ford who is intrigued by Northup as he gives him a violin while dealing with the cruelty of Tibeats as he makes an uneasy decision about giving Northup up. Lupita Nyong’o is tremendous as Patsey as this young slave woman who becomes this object of desire for Epps as she faces some of the most horrific moments a slave has to endure as it’s a performance that is just unforgettable to watch.

Michael Fassbender is remarkable as the cruel yet twisted plantation owner Edwin Epps who is a man that is just extreme in the way he treats his slaves as well as having this sick desire towards Patsey. There’s also this very haunting presence that Fassbender presents as a man who could probably kill someone as well as being ignorant about his ideas of the world. Finally, there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor in an outstanding performance as Solomon Northup. Ejiofor brings a sense of grounding to a man who faces a world that is different from the one he had lived in as he tries not to do anything yet is aware of how much of a threat he is. There’s also that sense of sadness and determination in Ejiofor’s performance to display a man who deals with not just loss but also the hopelessness of not being able to return home as it’s really a performance for the ages.

12 Years a Slave is a magnificent film from Steve McQueen that features a tour-de-force performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor. Along with a great supporting cast and some amazing technical work from cinematographer Sean Bobbit and music composer Hans Zimmer. It’s a film that explores not just the horrific atrocity of slavery but also from the perspective of a free black man who is captured and endures this horror for 12 years as it’s told by McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley at its most visceral. In the end, 12 Years a Slave is a massively astonishing film from Steve McQueen.

Steve McQueen Films: Hunger - Shame - The Auteurs #52: Steve McQueen

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

2013 Blind Spot Series: Battle Royale




Based on the magna novel by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale is the story of a middle school student who is sent by the government to take part in a deadly game against other students where they have to kill each other in order to win. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku and screenplay by Kenta Fukasaku, the film is an exploration into children who are forced to kill each other in order to survive as one boy is still dealing with the death of his own father. Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Takeshi Kitano. Battle Royale is a terrifying and visceral film from Kinji Fukasaku.

The film is a simple story in which 40 students from a middle school in Japan are forced to take part in a game of survival where there can only be one winner all under the control of the government following a period of dystopia. It’s a film that has a simple premise yet its presentation showcases a world in which children are forced to survive under the most horrific circumstances in a deserted island where they have to kill each other to survive. It’s a film that has elements of satire, drama, and nihilistic horror as it’s told largely from the perspective of a boy named Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who is dealing with his father’s suicide as he and his classmates find themselves being forced to play this deadly game with two transfer students where one of them in Kuzuo Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando) is a total psychopath.

The screenplay by Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku explores this dystopian world where teenagers from middle schools have seem to have lost respect for their adult figures following economic and social turmoil while there’s a few that does have respect towards their elders. Most notably Nanahara and his classmate Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) as they’re two young teens who have always has some sense of respect towards adults as Nakagawa also has some respect for her teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) despite the fact that he’s mocked and treated with disrespect by his students as he later becomes the announcer of the Battle Royale games. The use of minimal flashbacks and the sense of danger that occurs play into the minds of Nanahara and Nakagawa as the weapons they have prove to be worthless as they’re easy targets for everyone else.

With only a few supplies and a map of which places the participants cannot go to as they’re danger zones where the collars they wear will explode as it will kill them instantly. The game begins immediately where already, there are those who just couldn’t take the pressure of kill or being killed where they commit suicide or kill each other under intense pressure or through some misunderstanding. For Nanahara and Nakagawa, they have few allies as one of them in the transfer student Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) who has played the game before as he becomes the one person the two have to rely against the psychotic Kiriyama and the mentally-troubled classmate Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki) who kill with no remorse. While there’s a few others that try to find a way to survive the game and get out of the island, there is that sense of terror that they could all die at any moment.

Kinji Fukasaka’s direction is very mesmerizing in the way he presents a world that is cruel and unforgiving as it’s largely set in an island in Japan where they’re cut off from the rest of the world and are being watched by the government where the sole survivor is later presented to the world. Fukasaka’s direction features a lot of beautiful compositions of the landscape where it seems peaceful until it becomes this place where kids do whatever to survive and kill each other. Fukasaka’s use of flashbacks play into the world of a few characters in peaceful times including Nanahara who has reminders of the day his father committed suicide with a message that would later drive him to survive as he is also eager to protect Nakagawa from anything or anyone.

Fukasaka’s approach to the film’s violence is definitely confrontational where the scene where all the kids have to watch this very strange and surreal instructional video has the Kitano character reveal how sadistic things will be as two students are killed immediately before the games begin. It’s a moment where it’s a taste of things to come where the violence becomes far more brutal with gunfire, slashes, and all sorts of crazy things as some have no idea what to do. Even as the number of survivors dwindle where both Nanahara and Nakagawa realize that they have to grow up and do whatever to survive in order to break whatever rules the game has. Overall, Fukasaka creates a very captivating yet unsettling film about a children being pitted against each other in a sick violent game in a world that is falling apart.

Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography to play into the low-key look of the film with its approach to lighting for the scenes at night while being more straightforward in the daytime interior and exterior scenes. Editor Hirohide Abe does excellent work with the editing with its use of rhythmic cuts, slow-motions, and such to play into its suspense and the intensity of the film‘s violence. Production designer Kyoko Heya does nice work with the minimal set pieces from the base where Kitano and the government track the kids to the abandoned places where some of the kids hide out. The sound work of Kunio Ando is terrific for the way it builds into the suspense as well as the chaos that plays out in the film‘s violence. The film’s music by Masamichi Amano is brilliant for its soaring orchestral score to play into the drama and suspense while its soundtrack also uses some classical pieces by Giuseppe Verdi, Johann Strauss, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The film’s cast is phenomenal as there’s some notable standout performances from Minami as Kawada’s old girlfriend Keiko who died so he can survive while Chiaki Kuriyama is awesome as Chigusa who deals with a deranged classmate who has a crush on her. Sosuke Takaoka is terrific as Chigusa’s friend Sugimura who carries a GPS tracker to find whatever survivors are left. Takashi Tsukamoto is excellent as the hacker Mimura who tries to break into the system so that the collars can be disabled while Takayo Mimura is wonderful as Sugimara’s love interest Kotohiki who tries to hide from the violence. Kou Shibasaki is amazing as the very troubled Mitsuko who kills with no remorse as she goes after those she had been ostracized by as she just goes for blood. Masanobu Ando is fantastic as the silent psychopath Kiriyama who just kills for fun as he creates some of the most memorable kills in the film.

Taro Yamamoto is brilliant as Kawada as a transfer student who had played and survived the game before as he helps out Nanahara and Nakagawa in surviving the game. Takeshi Kitano is great as the teacher Kitano who watches over everyone in the game while having some strange fascination towards Nakagawa as he is also dealing with his own troubled personal life. Aki Meada is superb as Nakagawa as a young woman who tries to deal with the horror of her situation as she knows she is scared and such while trying to ground herself in dealing with reality. Finally, there’s Tatsuya Fujiwara in a marvelous performance as Nanahara as a young man still reeling from his father’s death as he has to watch those he know be killed as he tries to make sense of all of the violence that he encounters as he tries to protect Nakagawa at all cost.

Battle Royale is a balls-to-the-walls and terrifying film from Kinji Fukasaku. Armed with a great cast and themes about violence and society, it is a film that refuses to play it safe and unveil the dark world of humanity at its most nihilistic. Notably as its idea of kids killing kids is something that won’t be for everyone as far as the film’s violence is concerned. In the end, Battle Royale is an extremely fucked up yet tremendous film from Kinji Fukasaku.

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Knife in the Water




Directed by Roman Polanski and written by Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Jakub Goldberg, Noz w wodzie (Knife in the Water) is the story about a hitchhiker who joins a couple on a weekend yacht trip where sexual tension and a troubling storm causes all sorts of trouble. The film is an exploration into a world where only three people are in the middle of a lake where two men both want the same woman as they play a game of psychological one-upmanship. Starring Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, and Zygmunt Malanowicz. Noz w wodzie is a captivating yet entrancing film from Roman Polanski.

The film is a simple story about a couple who decides to spend the weekend going boating on a lake where they pick up a hitchhiker and invite him where things suddenly go wrong. Largely as this young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) is someone who hasn’t had enough experience boating but is attracted to Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) much to the chagrin of her husband Andrezj (Leon Niemczyk). Eventually, Andrezj and the hitchhiker try to outdo each other in a game of wit where a troubling storm eventually creates more problems. It’s a film that is about three people stuck in a boat in the middle of a lake as they all try to see how they can live with one another where these two men find themselves at odds of sorts but also try to impress this woman who is intrigued but also realizes that something won’t go right as her husband is definitely trying to showoff and teach the young hitchhiker how to run a boat and such.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t carry much of a plot yet makes up for it with its sexual and psychological tension between three people in the story. Largely as Andrezj is a man with a lot of experience while the hitchhiker is just a 19-year old student who had never been in the water as he doesn’t know anything about boating as he also doesn’t know how to swim. Still, the hitchhiker does find a way to learn while he also carries a pocketknife that he uses whenever he needs it as it also brings some suspense to the story. For Krystyna, she knows what is happening as she watches from afar as she is definitely more intrigued by the hitchhiker as she notices the similarities in the two men as they’re both immature in some ways as they both try to show off. Much of the film’s first two acts is more low-key in the suspense in favor of something a bit more comical but it does get darker in the third act because of a storm and the rising tension that is occurring in the film.

Roman Polanski’s direction is very stylish as he largely sets the film on a boat in the middle of a lake in Poland. While the film early on is in the road where there is that sense of style of how Andrezj and Krystyna meet the hitchhiker where they nearly hit him with their car. Much of the direction has moments where Polanski keeps things simple yet he creates some dazzling compositions in the way he puts the actors in a frame that really keeps the film so engaging to watch. Even at one point where he would have one actor in a close-up where another is nearby in a medium shot while another person is way in the back. It is all part of the sense of style and dramatic tension that Polanski creates where the boat and the lake that they’re in also acts as characters in the film.

The element of suspense is very low-key in the way Polanski builds up the tension where it’s obvious that Krystyna is an object of desire for the two men as she often appears in a bikini while there’s a couple of moments where she’s stripping down. In some ways, she’s trying to seduce them very subtly to see who will in this battle of wits. Yet, the tension does eventually build up to the point where Andrezj and the hitchhiker finally start to get at odds with each other as it creates this very intense climax that is more psychological instead of physical while it has this ending that quite complex to play into everything that had just happened. Overall, Polanski creates a very smart and engrossing film about three people stuck in a boat in the middle of a lake.

Cinematographer Jerzy Lipman does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into that sense of style in its look as well as creating some exotic imagery to play into the tension and landscape of the film. Editor Halina Prugar does excellent work with the editing as it has this element of style with its jump-cuts and rhythms to play into its suspense. Production designer Boleslaw Kamykowski does nice work with some of the interiors of the boat to play into cramped it is for three people. The sound work of Halina Paszkowska is terrific for the intimacy that plays out in the boat as well as some scenes set in the lake when they stop the boat. The film’s music by Krzysztof Komeda is fantastic for its jazz-laden score with its mixture of rhythmic piano playing and blaring saxophones courtesy of Bernt Rosengren.

The film’s small yet brilliant cast do astounding work in the performances as Zygmunt Malanowicz has this very youthful yet cool look to his performance as a young hitchhiker trying to prove himself though his dubbing is provided by Polanski himself. Jolanta Umecka is radiant as Krystyna as this woman who sort of looks prim and nerdy but is smoldering with sex appeal when she’s in a bikini as she brings a lot of depth as this object of desire while her voice is dubbed by Anna Ciepielewska. Leon Niemczyk is superb as Andrezj as this man who thinks he is the man as he has everything as he tries to challenge the hitchhiker in a game of wits that intensifies due to Andrezj’s cockiness.

Noz w wodzie is a magnificent film from Roman Polanski. Armed with a great cast and an intriguing premise, it’s a film that showcases Polanski’s mastery in the art of suspense as well as the unique interplay between two men and one woman in a boat. Notably as it showcases the element of foolishness between two men as they fight for a woman. In the end, Noz w wodzie is an outstanding film from Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski Films: Repulsion - (Cul-De-Sac) - The Fearless Vampire Killers - Rosemary's Baby - Macbeth (1971 film) - (What?) - Chinatown - (The Tenant) - Tess - (Pirates) - Frantic - (Bitter Moon) - (Death and the Maiden) - The Ninth Gate - The Pianist - Oliver Twist (2005 film) - The Ghost Writer - Carnage - (Venus in Fur) - (D)

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Black Dahlia


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/17/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Based on James Ellroy's novel that is based on the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia is the story of two detectives who investigate the murder of an aspiring actress as it would take a mental and emotional toll on the two men as well as their relationship for a young woman as a doppelganger seduces one of them. Directed by Brian de Palma and screenplay by Josh Friedman, the film is an exploration into a mysterious murder that occurred in the late 1940s as two men become lost in the mystery of who kill this woman. Starring Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Patrick Fischler, John Kavanagh, Jemima Rooper, Fiona Shaw, Rachel Miner, Rose McGowan, and Hilary Swank. The Black Dahlia is a stylish but very underwhelming film from Brian de Palma.

After a charity fight to raise the salary of L.A. policeman, local street cop Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) become opponents for the fight publicized by Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler) as the two later become partners in the Warrants division as Bleichert also befriends Blanchard's girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). The two become successful in their work while Bleichart and Lake realize they're attracted to each other but keep their feelings intact out of respect for Blanchard. During a case to catch a child rapist where they encounter a shootout, the two find the body of a dead woman cut in half as she's revealed to be Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). With news of the release of a criminal in Bobby DeWitt (Richard Brake) and the graphic nature of Short's death, Blanchard starts to unravel who wants to go after DeWitt but has to work on the Short case with Bleichert who learns a lot about Short and her aspirations to be an actress.

Bleichert's investigation leads him to clues that includes a journey into the underground lesbian bars where he meets a Short doppelganger in socialist Madeline Linscott (Hilary Swank) who later invites him to to a family dinner. Bleichert and Linscott would have an affair as he later retrieves a stag film that featured short and her friend Lorna Mertz (Jemima Rooper) which makes Blanchard more uneasy as he is later taken out of the case while an earlier case to lead to a falling out between him and Bleichert. Kay later reveals some information about Blanchard's state of mind and why he's become uneasy as things eventually get worse where Bleichert learns a deeper connection between Short and the Linscott family as he gets closer to close the case.

While the film has all of the elements of a stylish, 1940s film-noir and crime stories, it also has the style that Brian de Palma is known for when it comes to suspense considering his often ode to Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, despite all of de Palma's efforts to create a fascinating, intriguing mystery. It loses its sense of direction right into the third act. While screenwriter Josh Friedman does create a faithful adaptation the Ellroy novel. What is lost is many of the psychological and character study aspect of Ellroy. Instead, the script loses some insight into the characters, the murder, and most of all, Bleichert's obsession with Short.

The changes from the book to script are unfortunate since it loses some of its suspense and the style of Ellroy's writing which weaves and entrances its audience. While the first two acts are faithful with some stuff along with major subplots and characters not making it into the film adaptation. The third act is crucial yet misses a lot on the psychological aspect of Ellroy's work where a lot of things is lost and the suspense in the book gets crammed up in too many moments. Notably the confrontation between the Linscott and Bleichert where too much goes on where in the book, Bleichert confronts the Sprague family on a series of suspenseful sequences.

The fault is really to Friedman and de Palma for wrapping things up a bit too fast while having some bizarre sequences, notably the DeWitt confrontation which in the book, is set in Tijuana, Mexico but in the film, it's in Los Angeles where it doesn't entirely work. It ends up overwhelming itself where a lot of the drama and action is forced and de Palma seems to have rushed things a bit too quickly. Still, de Palma does create some fascinating work that is reminiscent to his past films like a boxing fight scene between Bleichert and Blanchard. Some scenes are definitely borrowed from 1940s films with soft lenses on some scenes that adds style to the film. The only real falter in de Palma's directing is the ending. It feels totally false and not true to the character of Bleichert where his character in the end is forced to grow up and confront some inner demons. In the film, it wraps up to quickly with no resolve and comes out very lame. Overall, despite some strong moments in the film, de Palma loses sight of everything by the third and final act.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does some wonderful work in the photography whether its some lovely, soft touches in some emotional sequences between Bleichert and Kay to some of the shading of windows that is true to the noir-style. Zsigmond's work also shines in many of the film's exterior's shot in Los Angeles while the interiors are very intimate with some great long shots from de Palma's directing as the veteran cinematographer does some fascinating work. Production designer Dante Ferretti and art directors Pier-Luigi Basile and Christopher Tandon adds a lot of flair and style to their extravagant presentation of 1940s Los Angeles including the worldly Linscott home and the lesbian bar scenes that all of the interiors were shot in Bulgaria. Costume designer Jenny Beaven also does some great work in the 1940s costume work from the suits and Fedoras that the men wear to the black clothing Kirshner and Swank wear along with the more loose, silvery, grey clothes of Johansson.

Editor Bill Pankow does some nice cutting into the film while adding some great, curtain-like cuts that owes to the old, 1940s film editing style that adds flair to the film while doing great work in not cutting on some great long shots de Palma did. Sound designer Paula Fairfield also does some great work in the sound including an earthquake scene that does add atmosphere along with the sounds of gunshots and things that adds an intensity to the film. Score composer Mark Isham plays to the world of 1940s style of jazz while the orchestral score works in conveying the emotions and intensity of the suspense. The soundtrack also includes an old Cole Porter jazz number performed by k.d. lang in a cameo appearance that is fun in one of the film's lesbian bar scenes.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled that includes some small appearances from Rose McGowan, Kevin Dunn, Richard Brake, Troy Evans, Ian McNiece as the coroner, William Finley as the Linscott patriarch George Tilden, James Otis as Bucky's demented German father, and Scarface actor Pepe Serna in a cameo as Tomas dos Santos. Rachel Miner is good in the role of Martha Linscott but her character is underwritten since the book has more information on her. Miner isn't the only actress to suffer from the underwritten script as Jemima Rooper's Lorna Mertz is also underwritten since her character has more to hide despite a good performance from Rooper. Patrick Fischler is indeed, Ellis Loew as the publicity-driven D.A. who controls the investigation while trying to make a public thing for himself though the book had more of his plans. John Kavanagh is really good as the slimy, charming Emmett Linscott while noted character actor Mike Starr does some great work as the veteran good cop Russ Millard who unfortunately, is underused since Millard is a great character though Starr doe some great work.

In a performance that can be described as over-the-top, British actress Fiona Shaw gives a performance that goes way overboard as Ramona Linscott as she just goes all out to the point that it becomes unintentionally hilarious. Mia Kirshner delivers one of her best performances in the film's title role as she brings an innocence and sadness to Elizabeth Short as well as a troubling sexiness that is entrancing to watch. Hilary Swank continues to play interesting characters as she brings a lot of vamp in her role as the femme fatale Madeline Linscott. While the book portrayed Madeline as a more psychotic, seductive character, Swank does excellent work in playing sexy with a strange, Irish accent and a presence that is troubling. Though the performance is a bit over-the-top, it's nonetheless entertaining despite the fact it's underwritten. While Scarlett Johansson can transform herself into a true, 1940s starlet with her undeniable beauty. Her character however, suffers the most from the script since it's very underwritten in her connection with DeWitt as well as in her relationship with Bucky. Johansson still manages to be very good as the more guarded, traditional woman who loves the company of two men while often smoking a cigarette and being worrisome to everything around her.

Aaron Eckhart is really the film's best performance as the troubled Lee Blanchard. Eckhart has all of the sensitive tough guy qualities that Kay adores while his character ends up being more troubled with great reasons and a darker past beneath it. Eckhart is Lee Blanchard like the book though the script puts him in strange situations that isn't true to the character though Eckhart manages to do some fine work. Josh Hartnett isn't a great actor and never will be but he does manage to do some of his best work as Bucky Bleichert. While his narration and some of his performances, notably his scenes with the main actors are good. It's inconsistent since he often looks a bit wooden and sometimes, a bit smug including a confrontational scene between him and Johansson. It's not his best work, that goes to The Virgin Suicides, but Hartnett ends up being decent though the script fails to make his character into being far more complex and interesting.

While it has some moments that keeps it from being a disaster, The Black Dahlia is an over-stylized yet un-engaging film from Brian de Palma. While it has a good cast, great settings, look, and style, fans of the book will indeed be disappointed in what got cut and its psychological aspects of it. Fans of noir films will probably lean to the more successful and brilliant L.A. Confidential by Curtis Hanson that is also a novel by James Ellroy. In the end, while the film is entertaining and has style but lacks a lot of substance. In the end, The Black Dahlia is a very disappointing film-noir suspense film from Brian de Palma.

Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) - (Greetings) - (The Wedding Party) - (Dionysus in ‘69) - (Hi, Mom!) - (Get to Know Your Rabbit) - Sisters - (Phantom of the Paradise) - (Obsession) - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) - Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface (1983 film) - (Body Double) - (Wise Guys) - The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito’s Way - (Mission: Impossible) - (Snake Eyes) - Mission to Mars - (Femme Fatale) - (Redacted) - (Passion (2012 film))

© thevoid99 2013