11/14/2019

Movie Review: The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019)


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It's all fun and filmmaking until someone almost loses an eye.

After years of building up her comfort level on horseback and getting in fighting shape to portray The Warrior Queen of Jhansi in the script she wrote alongside her filmmaker mother Swati Bhise and Olivia Emden, dancer-actress Devika Bhise knew it was time to get even more serious about her training. Studying Kalaripayattu, the world’s oldest martial art form with Jackie Chan’s instructor Gopakumar Gurukkal, Devika Bhise dove headfirst into her lessons so literally that she required emergency surgery after a shard of metal weaponry flew into her eye.

While most people would've jumped ship at this point, Bhise didn't let the injury sideline her for long. Latching onto another weapon — the long, thin, whip-like sword urumi — Bhise got right back on the horse in a move that no doubt would've impressed Rani Lakshmibai, the real life heroine she brings to life in Warrior Queen.


A headstrong commoner turned wife, queen, and widow of the maharajah by the time she’s in her early twenties, Rani finds a new calling when the royally aligned, corrupt mercantile trading corporation the British East India Company tries to steal back the land they'd given to India and claim Jhansi as their own following her husband's death.

Going from widowed queen to warrior general when diplomatic measures fail, Rani Lakshmibai begins training the women of Jhansi to fight in order to stand up to British tyranny and assert their independence, ultimately leading her countrywomen (and men) into war in producer turned first time feature filmmaker Swati Bhise's exciting if overwrought biopic.

Cramming hundreds of years of backstory into the film's slightly confusing first act, Warrior Queen is ready for action from the very first frame. In fact, hindered by a weak narrative throughline, Bhise’s film is so eager to get to the battlefield that — prioritizing conflict over character — it forgoes the vital step of endearing us to Rani, which is a major problem since she's the one at the heart of the picture marching us into the fray.

While chronicling Rani's efforts to unite her people as Jhansi's revolutionary war against the British gets underway in the 1850s makes the film seem like a natural fit for American audiences from an academic perspective, Queen suffers from the same affliction that most war movies do in that it's hard to care about characters that we don't know know very well.


Though her early actions, such as her bold refusal to shave her head (as is the archaic custom for women in mourning), speak volumes, the film doesn't trust itself enough to rely on more small acts of rebellion to help define our leading lady throughout.

Preferring instead to have Rani constantly voice her thoughts and goals aloud in anachronistic twenty-first century platitudes, while the undeniably well-intentioned feminist passion project wears its heart in its shots, the push-and-pull it faces between the film’s setting in the past and the script written in the present proves to be an even bigger battle than the one onscreen against the British.

Uncertain of precisely which tone it is that Bhise wishes to strike, the film opens like an epic from the 1950s (and indeed the last Rani Lakshmibai biopic, The Tiger and the Flame was made in 1953), but then veers into modern Wonder Woman territory as soon as our queen becomes a warrior. Collaborating with the stunt coordinators who worked on the Patty Jenkins helmed superhero film, Marcus Shakesheff and Glenn Marks turn Devika Bhise's Indian Joan of Arc into a wonder woman on horseback for the film's impressive battle sequences.

Veering away from the frenetic urgency of war shot in a breathless contemporary style to a classically framed walk-and-talk as we see Rani’s royal side, just when Bhise's film starts to draw us in, Warrior Queen loses its momentum by drifting back and forth unevenly between the two modes of filmmaking.


Giving Rani an ally and potential love interest in the form of Robert Ellis (Ben Lamb), a sympathetic British envoy who's inspired by the beautiful royal, as well as linking her plight as queen to that of Queen Victoria in England (played by Jodhi May), the screenwriters attempt to augment their one-note heroine in a study of compare and contrast. At this point, however, it's too little too late.

A handsomely photographed, thematically appealing tale of an underdog heroine standing up to injustice (as well as any man who crosses her path), while it's fine on the surface, the awkwardly paced and clunkily scripted film fails to find the rhythm it needs to work as well as it should.

With little in the way of staying power, thanks to the lack of a real connection to its titular heroine, although it's entertaining enough for a casual viewing, once the final credits roll, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi vanishes quickly from our minds. And unfortunately in this case, unlike the impressively skilled Devika Bhise, we’re unable to blame our filmic amnesia on something as cool as learning to fight and taking a shard of metal to the eye.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

11/09/2019

Movie Review: Papi Chulo (2018)


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When the heartbroken Sean (Matt Bomer) brings Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) home to paint his deck, one of the first things that the Latino day laborer does is turn the light in the tool shed on. A light that Sean didn't even know he had because the shed was the domain of his ex, Ernesto's ability to find the light and turn it on with ease is something that the single weatherman desperately wants.

Except, having been sent home on leave when he suffered a breakdown live on air, in Sean's case, the light he needs to locate is the one that will put his life back on track. And in Irish writer-director John Butler's first American movie, Papi Chulo, it's a light that Sean thinks Ernesto might be just the right person to help him find.

A gently comic tale of unlikely friendship between a white, gay, well-to-do white collar weatherman and a straight, married Latino day laborer who barely speaks English, on the surface, of course, it's just the latest in a long line of films about white people learning to navigate life better with the aid of a new minority friend.

Impossibly, however, Chulo works much better than it should, thanks to the performances of its two charismatic leads as well as the sensitivity of Butler's writing. Giving Ernesto his own conflicting views on the proceedings that mostly come to light in English subtitled, Spanish phone exchanges with his wife, Butler never lets us forget about the unequal power dynamic that exists between the two men.


Likewise, refusing to sugarcoat just how flawed Sean is (from mildly annoying to dangerously alarming), much like the winds of Santa Ana that he was covering when he broke into uncontrollable sobs on air, Butler's film is propelled by a strong undercurrent of sadness, both owing to the end of Sean's recent serious relationship as well as the feeling of loneliness that only a film set in L.A. can exude.

Waiting until an hour into the ninety-eight minute running time to let us in on a key detail that might have otherwise colored our understanding of the situation as early as the very first scene, Chulo meanders off course within its last act.

Focusing more on Bomer's lead, which makes us feel the absence of Patiño onscreen as acutely as Sean does, when the film veers away from the home court advantage of Sean's upper class existence to give us an all too brief glimpse of Ernesto's world, we feel the imbalance of power even more, which paints their dynamic in a new, melancholy light.

Bonded by a genuine affection for one another that transcends backgrounds, Butler reminds us that although the two men have fun singing Madonna's "Borderline" together in the backseat of a Lyft, the realities of their situations are vastly different, and we live in a world that wants to keep those border(lines) separate.


From the casual racism hurled at Ernesto where people make Driving Miss Daisy jokes to a grocery store employee mistaking one Latino day laborer for another, although as a gay man, Sean knows a thing or two about prejudice, it's nothing compared to what Ernesto endures on any given day. And while the aggressively friendly, lonely Sean latches onto Ernesto right away, Butler doesn't let you imagine that they're suddenly pals.

In a early scene that most would play simply for laughs, Sean takes the older man boating on what he views as a break but Ernesto (of course) considers work, insisting upon rowing the weatherman around the lake just like he insisted upon carrying the equipment from the hardware store into the house when Sean first brought him home.

In fact, it isn't until the two bond over family during a hike that we feel as though we're seeing "off the clock" Ernesto, even if he's still on it, and this duality keeps the film from playing like a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie from the 1990s.

Talking in paragraphs as he gives voice to his insecurities (even if Ernesto can't understand much of anything that Sean says), although the two do form a tentative friendship, we never forget that much of it is just what Sean is projecting onto a man to whom he pays two hundred dollars daily for his time. Liking Sean but needing the money, Ernesto feels similarly conflicted, and we know before they do that eventually these issues will need to be addressed.


Masquerading as just another chronicle of friendship against the odds, Papi Chulo is a film with much more on its mind than typical genre fare. Refreshing on the one hand, it's frustrating on the other when we discover that, just like the movie's characters don't know how to translate and decipher the words and thoughts of one another, it's clear that Butler doesn't know quite what it is in Chulo that he wants to say.

Brought to life by its immensely likable leads, while it's Sean's arc we follow from start to finish (and Bomer's star power could light up the entire state of California), Butler definitely misses out by not devoting more time to Ernesto, which is evident when the film falters in the home stretch.

A sweet, simple story told with dark complexity, in Papi Chulo, Sean takes the long way around to realize that, whether in a tool shed or on the water, we all must find our own source of light. Luckily however, the search goes much better if we keep our hearts open and bring someone along to guide the way.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: 10 Minutes Gone (2019)


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10 Minutes Gone is a risky title because if you multiply that by nine, you'll have what you'll feel at the end of this movie when you realize that it took eight-nine minutes (of your life) to lead you to a conclusion so predictable that it's telegraphed within the first five.

In a nutshell, Gone is one of those VOD heist flicks where a group of crooks said to be the best call each other by their real names during a big score that inevitably goes wrong. Only this time, Michael Chiklis is knocked out after a botched job and wakes up ten minutes later with the loot gone, his brother (and partner in crime) dead, and no idea who made it happen.

Not mano a mano but robber a robber, with Bruce Willis breathing down his neck because somebody pocketed the jewels that he hired them to steal from a bank vault, Chiklis tracks down everyone involved one by one to see if he can figure out just what exactly transpired during those ten crucial minutes.

Bringing along his brother's girlfriend who — hindered by a bad script and an unconvincing portrayal by Backtrace's Meadow Williams — reacts to the news that her lover died by flatly saying “That can't be right. Shit,” Chiklis travels from one shootout to the next.


An awkward film which suffers from third rate crime movie dialogue delivered by actors who look as though they had just been told their lines before cinematographer Peter Holland's cameras started rolling, what the script by first time feature screenwriters Kelvin Mao and Jeff Jingle lacks in logic, 10 Minutes Gone makes up for in guns and squibs.

By now a veteran of the video on demand filmmaking trade, perhaps knowing that on paper, this thing is not the sharpest tool in a safecracker's shed, director Brian A. Miller does his damndest to ensure that his action sequences are there to distract.

Spending a majority of the film's budget on visual effects to make each gunfight pop as though every battle was the standoff at the O.K. Corral — only set in nondescript warehouses with indistinguishable production design — 10 Minutes Gone serves up some of the most impressive shootouts of Miller's filmography so far.

While Willis' suave presence looks good on a poster and he turns in a serviceable, if slight performance, besides the action, the real thing elevating Gone from being a flat out awful movie is Michael Chiklis who carries everything on his ample shoulders.


Registering more emotion throughout the film than the entire ensemble cast combined, Chiklis reminds us just how effective he is on the screen in — as he acknowledges in a behind-the-scenes Blu-ray featurette — the same type of role he's played throughout his career while carving out a niche in the cops and robbers genre. And even though he deserves something worthier of his talent, he's routinely strong here, regardless of whom he shares a scene with or the wooden dialogue being exchanged before the bullets start flying.

Yet action and Chiklis aside, unless you're a superfan of the actor or it shows up on cable TV when you're in bed with the flu, in the end, there's just not enough to salvage Ten Minutes of being worth ninety of your time.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: My Son (2017)


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Original French Title: Mon garçon

You don't want to mess with Guillaume Canet.

Wrapping a lamp cord around the man he suspects might be responsible for abducting his seven-year-old son from sleepaway camp, when Canet's Julien doesn't get the answers he's looking for, he drives the bound man over to the police station himself for further questioning.

Unfortunately, while these sort of dad-on-a-mission tactics work well for Charles Bronson or Liam Neeson, they just don't elicit the same response in polite French society, which Julien soon finds out when the officers on duty slap their cuffs not on the man he delivered to them all tied up as if in a bow, but the quick thinking, lamp cord wielding Julien instead.


When the desperate father is released, Julien fine-tunes his approach to keep a lower profile. With his head down, he goes back to work, undeterred in his quest, and even more determined than he was before because the clock is running out and, with every minute he wastes, his son might just as well be getting further and further away.

A gripping tale of suspense about a parent's worst nightmare, brought believably to life by the strong, fiery performance by Guillaume Canet at its center, director Christian Carion went to the greatest of lengths to ensure that Canet's plight was nothing if not one hundred percent authentic.

Keeping his Joyeux Noel star in the dark in this, their third pairing together, after an extensive rehearsal period was completed with the rest of the film's cast using a stand-in for Canet, Carion dropped the actor into filming and let him go on instinct and intuition, without showing him a single page of the script.

Shooting the film in chronological order in quick succession over six emotionally draining days, My Son is improvised to mostly stellar effect, which is apparent very early into Carion's film as Julien gets into a fight with his ex-wife Marie (well played by Melanie Laurent) in a standout sequence of domestic strife.

Guilt ridden by the absenteeism in his son's life that he's created by putting his globe-trotting career ahead of everything else, Julien's pain borders on an anguish he knows he cannot fully stop and face if he has any chance of finding his son.


Eyes widening and foot on the gas, in Son, Julien proves that he's willing to do whatever it takes to bring the boy home, whether that means yanking out a lamp cord to use as a restraint or, when the investigation turns on him, buying a prepaid phone and sim card to go off the grid. And the way that Canet's head is on a constant swivel here — adrenaline maxed and ready to take in anything that might be a clue — you get the feeling that the Tell No One filmmaker would make one hell of a good detective, if he ever tired of cinematic storytelling.

While the film is in ardent need of at least one more twist to strengthen its sagging arc as Carion's experimental approach creates sections where the narrative feels meanderingly unfocused, the eighty-five minute film is wise to hold fast to Julien's primal mission.

Drawing us into the gripping narrative alongside Laurent and Canet as we chase down leads, the film asks us to check our own personal biases in the process. Picking up momentum as it speeds toward its conclusion and arrives at a snowy, desolate potential crime scene, My Son reaches a final showdown so unbearably tense that I caught myself actually holding my breath as if I could help Canet keep quiet.

Letting you into the unorthodox filming process, the film, which was recently given a brilliant transfer to Blu-ray from Cohen Media Group, arrives on disc complete with a making of documentary and behind-the-scenes featurette, . . . lamp cord not included.



Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Quartet (1981)


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When we hear the phrase "Merchant Ivory Productions," most of us picture handsomely photographed period costume dramas featuring ensemble casts of award-winning British actors. One thing we don't think of, however, is sex. But as director James Ivory explains in a fascinating interview included on the Blu-ray release of the newly restored 1981 feature film Quartet, adultery is a recurring obsession of Merchant Ivory's catalog, showing up as a major theme in at least seven different movies . . . and Quartet is no exception.

Embracing not only adultery but polyamory in the film's overt depiction of the seesaw like power dynamics that play out in a ménage à trois at the heart of its storyline, Quartet, based upon Jean Rhys' autobiographical novel, is set during the Golden Age of Paris in 1927.

With her Polish art dealer husband Stephan (Anthony Higgins) arrested for something that might relate as much to stolen artwork as to his tendency to talk about the Bolshevik Revolution — which made Parisian authorities nervous — the native "West Indian" Marya (played by Isabelle Adjani) is left penniless for a year, and with very few resources she can use to fend for herself.


"A decorative little person" used to being the subject of speculation wherever she goes, Marya makes the acquaintance of the wealthy, well-liked H.J. Heidler (Alan Bates) and his painter wife Lois (Maggie Smith) who offer Marya a place to stay in their home. A particular habit of theirs, unbeknownst to Marya when she accepts, it seems as though H.J. has an extensive history of seducing the young women or "crushed petals" whom he lets stay in his spare room.

Letting him indulge himself and sow his wild sexual oats, out of fear that otherwise the bored man might leave her, Lois puts on a good front to the world at the cafes and bars that she and her husband frequent with the young woman. In private, however, the passive aggressive artist sublimates her rage by playing mind games with Marya. And though the trio evolves into a quartet after Stephan's release, which —  coupled with feelings of love —  makes the dynamic even more complex, James Ivoy's film suffers by making the "open" relationship so closed off that the audience is never able to penetrate it.


Distant and icy, the film might take place during a hedonistic time where people sought to find themselves by ironically losing themselves in drugs, drink, or sex, but the unmistakably beautiful Quartet —shot by gifted cinematographer Pierre Lhomme — feels like a virtual museum piece, roped off and hung up in a temperature controlled room on a wall behind a thick pane of glass.

Bravely accepting what Ivory acknowledges is the undesirable role (of the wife who looks the other way but speaks her mind) that many actresses turned down, Maggie Smith is one of the film's saving graces, alongside Isabelle Adjani, who won the award for Best Actress for this film as well as Possession at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival where it premiered.


Championed by its strong performances that keep you watching when you might otherwise want to tune it out, Quartet is worth a look for Merchant Ivory completists but there's a good reason why Ruth Prawer Jhabvala knew instinctively that she didn't want to adapt the Rhys novel she had been reading when Ivory suggested the film.

Trying to make the characters much more dramatic than they were —  just drinking and sitting around — on the page, Prawer Jhabvala did her best to elevate what she felt was rather "downbeat" material. But even with the film's intriguing motif of mirrors, which beg the characters to take a real, hard look at themselves, in the words of 1920s Paris contemporary Gertrude Stein, "there is no there there."

A below average Merchant Ivory movie, although it resembles any one of their other productions on the surface, regrettably, just like Lois fears that her husband might get bored and leave, you're probably better off if you leave the dull Quartet behind. Then, after grabbing one of their other films that you prefer instead (like The Remains of the Day), you can pay homage to the production team's favorite theme, and — leaving Quartet aside to play something else  — go ahead and cheat.



Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

10/29/2019

The World is Tony's: A Scarface Essay & 4K UHD Blu-ray Review of Scarface (1983) - "The World is Yours" Limited Edition Set


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The World is Tony's: A Scarface Essay
By Jen Johans

(Note: Mild Spoilers Ahead)

Al Pacino wanted to be Paul Muni. Seeing the actor play a prohibition era mobster in what Robert Osborne dubbed "the granddaddy of all gangster films," director Howard Hawks' acclaimed 1932 movie Scarface, Pacino was as exhilarated as he was determined. Leaving L.A.'s historic Tiffany Theater to call his agent, the producer Martin Bregman, Al Pacino knew two things: that it was the right time to remake Scarface and that in it, he wanted to be Paul Muni.

Rather than try to repeat history by making a period film about Italian gangsters post-Godfather, Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon director Sidney Lumet made the wise decision to shift the action from the past to the present. No longer interested in chronicling the rise and downfall of an Italian thug, in the new film, Tony would be a Cuban criminal ready to climb the ladder in the drug trade after emigrating to Miami. And with that in mind, Lumet hoped to make Scarface a timely wake-up call about the policies of the Reagan administration in the same way that Hawks' picture begins with a warning that the film was "an indictment of gang rule in America and the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty."


Yet while Lumet's political aspirations didn't jive with Bregman and Pacino's desire to just make it more of a contemporary crime saga full stop, thankfully they adhered to his idea to set the film in Miami at a time when 125,000 Cuban immigrants (including an estimated 25,000 with criminal records) flooded southern Florida after Castro opened Mariel Habor in 1980.

With Brian De Palma taking up the reins as director, he tapped Midnight Express screenwriter Oliver Stone to pen the script, which he did only after talking to Lumet about his reservations to the film. Moving to Paris in order to write (and kick his own cocaine habit), Stone's script for Scarface was based upon not only the Ben Hecht original but also his in-depth research about the rise of drug violence and organized crime in Miami. Managing to capture the outrageousness of it all, Stone's final draft filtered the political and criminal realism of its subject matter into the entertaining structure of an action thriller. And leaning into the mindset of a power mad gangster, the end result feels operatic, with musical highs and lows ideally suited to De Palma (as well as Pacino).

Stepping into the role of Cuban immigrant, Antonio "Tony" Montana, as opposed to Paul Muni's Italian immigrant, Antonio "Tony" Camonte in the Hawks film, Pacino's off-the-charts charisma is on display in his very first scene in the film as he answers questions from tough, badgering authorities. The only one in the room commanding our attention, even as the Immigration officers voiced by an uncredited Dennis Franz and Charles Durning grow more belligerent, Chinatown cinematographer John A. Alonzo's camera stays on Tony for minutes before finally opening up the shot to include the entire office.

To misquote the ad slogan "The World is Yours," which inspired both Camonte in the original and Montana in the remake, in Scarface, the world is Tony's and he wants everything in it. As De Palma's film kicks off, we know even before Tony leaves the room that he'll do whatever he has to in order to ensure that his rise in America will be both meteoric and straight to the top.


Introducing us to the characters in his world, we meet Tony's loyal and handsome right hand man, Manny (played by the main cast's only Cuban actor, Steven Bauer), who joins him on his quest, and eventually, Tony's lovely nineteen-year-old sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whom he hasn't seen since she arrived in the states with his disapproving mother years earlier.

When Manny makes the mistake of saying aloud that Tony's sister is beautiful, we learn that the Achilles' heel of 1983's Tony is the same as it was back in 1932. Taking the conversation from a two to a ten in seconds, Pacino's Tony shouts, "you stay away!" before warning Manny that "she is not for you."

Needless to say, that definitely telegraphs the future for would-be forbidden lovers, Manny and Gina. Yet it also reveals that, although paternalistic, in place of their American father who ran out on them years earlier, Tony's need to protect the chastity of his sister borders on an obsession that De Palma frames in a creepily romantic light from their very first scene together.

From the knock on the door to Gina running after him into the night, the moment plays less like the return of a black sheep son and more like a boyfriend who's been banned from the house since he's not the kind you take home to mama. And although this incestuous undercurrent ran through the original as well, between Tony and his sister in both versions of Scarface and James Cagney's character's obsession with his mom in White Heat, you get the impression that Freud would've had a field day with these gangsters and their Madonna-whore hang-ups.


Still, while his love for Gina is covert, Tony's most overt object of romantic obsession in Scarface is undoubtedly Elvira, the blonde, leggy goddess played by then-newcomer Michelle Pfeiffer. The girlfriend of Robert Loggia's character Frank who, incidentally, is his boss, when Tony first sees Elvira, she wears a backless teal gown that, depending on the light, flashes green like money or as blue as the ocean he crossed on his way from Cuba. Pacing with her back to him inside a glass elevator like a caged tiger, even before he sees her face, Tony knows he has to have her.

A thing to be acquired that's much too wild for him, like the chainsaw used in a bathroom in an early drug buy scene that's straight out of a horror movie or an actual tiger that he brings home as a pet, Elvira is something he feels that needs to be tamed. And sure enough, when Tony makes an early play for her, Elvira asserts her dominance like a predator by telling him not to call her "baby" before swatting him away with her paw.

Finally, "freeing" her from her gilded cage of life with Frank by (of course) taking him out because this is the law of the jungle after all and only the strong survive, Tony pulls back the sheet on her bed in the middle of the night with her deceased boyfriend's blood still on his hand to tell her she's coming with him. Having never even kissed her (consensually), unlike the scenes where Tony gives his sister an engraved heart shaped locket or watches Gina try on clothes, throughout Scarface, there's nothing romantic about his interactions with Elvira.


Not sure what to do with her once he's gotten her, since it was most likely the thrill of the chase that was his strongest aphrodisiac, we realize even before Tony does just how incompatible the two are as lovers. In their first dance together, Tony insults her while trying to size up her sex life with Frank, which is intriguing because we're not exactly sure she's better off with him since, despite the fact that Tony talks a good game in front of Manny, for all we know, the two seldom make love as it's never shown.

For a film that's known for its excess, the lack of a love scene in Scarface is significant. In fact, the only time sex is even mentioned is when Tony and Elvira fight, which doesn't bode well for their satisfaction in that department. Tony wants her to have his children but there's a reason why animals don't mate in captivity (and that's before an avalanche of cocaine is added to the mix). Proposing marriage by tying it into his rise to the top only confirms this isn't a courtship, it's a business deal, after all. Tony takes her out of one cage and puts her right into another.

By then, however, he's as addicted to power and status as she is to cocaine. But as the film continues, he matches her enthusiasm in that as well, at one point snorting so much from a mountain of coke on his desk that the drug sits on his nose like a dollop of whipped cream, making him feel even more paranoid and invincible than before. Right on cue, of course, that's when the bullets really start flying.

Famous for its excess in both its ultraviolence and F-words totaling 226 mentions in 170 minutes, Scarface received a dreaded "X" rating the first three times it went to the MPAA regardless of the cuts (and before De Palma and company appealed the rating, complete with Roger Ebert championing on the film's behalf). Yet much like the 1932 film's producer Howard Hughes didn't bow to the censors and released it on his own in all of the states without them, when his appeal for an "R"rating came through, Brian De Palma went back and released the film's original cut exactly how he'd wanted it in the first place.


While understandably, both the Cuban community scoffed at what they believed was the film's conceit that all Cuban immigrants were as bloodthirsty as Tony Montana was and other filmgoers were appalled by its content, Scarface became a monster hit regardless, influencing an entire generation of gangster films and hip hop music in the process.

Overwhelmed not by the film's violence but by its "bombast," as Pacino described it in a 35th Anniversary Reunion Q&A at Tribeca, the first time I saw Scarface twenty plus years ago, I thought De Palma's approach was ridiculously over-the-top. But funnily enough, try as I might, I found that I could not get the film out of my head. Long after I hit eject, it rattled around in my brain like gunfire. Cinema is my addiction, after all, and because the right movie can get my adrenaline going, Scarface fired my synapses as if it were a drug to the point that I felt like I had seen the film multiple times before I actually sat down to watch it again.

By now, far more well-versed in De Palma's filmography (beyond, of course, my personal favorite, The Untouchables), this time around, I found myself far more easily caught up in the Montana family circus than before. The satiric epitome of the Me Decade as well as just a terrific gangster picture that comes (as they all do) with a warning against flying too close to the sun because you crave the feeling of warmth that you get from its rays, Scarface works extraordinarily well on a number of levels.


Matching Pacino's verbosity with a more understated turn, Steven Bauer's Manny is one of the film's most compelling characters. Conveying paragraphs of meaning with his eyes, first when he sees Gina and then later when he has to stop himself from intervening as Tony manhandles Gina to scold her for her behavior with a man, Manny grows more fascinating with each viewing, thanks to Bauer's lived in performance.

Yet, similar to the way that in that opening sequence we hardly leave Tony's gaze, the same can be said of the film overall. In Scarface, most of the action happens with Tony onscreen, and even in the rare moments that Tony isn't present in the frame (where he's frequently alone and/or centered in the shot), he's never too far from our mind. Inevitably, this nearly subjective approach makes it difficult to understand some of the film's periphery characters, especially the women who are often shortchanged in the genre. Yet, despite the fact that it's Tony's world, the rest of the actors do their level best to bring everyone in it to three dimensional life.

With the teals, oranges, purples, and reds of Alonzo's gorgeous cinematography more lushly vibrant than ever before, thanks to this luxurious new 4K restoration, it's hard not to watch Scarface without wondering how much of it might have inspired the look of the TV series that was set to bow a year later in the form of Miami Vice.


Of course, the film is most famous for its final sequence, which finds a defiant Tony determined to mow down every mercenary sent to kill him with his machine gun "little friend" after his fortress is penetrated. And while it remains thrilling, you can't discount the visual wizardry of earlier action scenes. Standouts include the aforementioned chainsaw hotel sequence which feels like it belongs in a John Carpenter or Wes Craven movie (but came directly from Stone's research) as well as a bravura sequence that paints Tony as the target of an attempted assassination in a nightclub before he barely escapes with his life.

Packaged together with a crisp Blu-ray release of the 1932 original by Howard Hawks —  to whom De Palma dedicates the 1983 film along with screenwriter Ben Hecht —  the 4K gift set of Scarface contains the new film on 4K, Blu-ray, and digital as well as a film geek worthy plastic recreation of Tony's gaudy "The World is Yours" statue.

Easily transported by the sound of Italian composer Giorgio Moroder's instantly recognizable score as well as the sight of Al Pacino's wolfishly hungry, ambitious eyes in his very first scene, this new release of Scarface reminds us that although the gift set might be ours, this world belongs only to Tony. Ultimately bringing Pacino's movie dream to life, in the end, what the new film lacks in Paul Muni, it definitely makes up for with Al.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

10/25/2019

Movie Review: Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)


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Looking for the right words to describe the late Alan Splet, David Lynch's innovative, Academy Award winning sound editor who collaborated with the filmmaker on some of his most iconic works including Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, Lynch barely hesitated. Dubbing Splet "a born soundman," he elaborated further, describing his friend, with a twinkle in his eye, as a "joyous experimenter."

And joyous experimentation seems to be at the heart of veteran sound editor turned USC professor turned director Midge Costin's newly released documentary feature debut Making Waves, which celebrates the adventurous spirit of professionals eager to contribute to what Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas agree is fifty percent of a feature film.

Chronicling the history of motion picture sound from the beginning, in Waves, we learn about the artists who performed music and sound effects live to accompany screenings of the Oscar winning 1927 silent film Wings to the advent of the talkie with The Jazz Singer that same year. From King Kong setting the bar for future sound design in 1933, we move from Orson Welles bringing the methods he pioneered on radio to his influential Citizen Kane and beyond, until later on when we circle back to Jack Foley working his magic on 1960's Spartacus in order to save Stanley Kubrick a fortune in reshoots.


With three decades of experience working in the industry on films such as Days of Thunder and Crimson Tide at her disposal, Costin's passion for and knowledge of her subject shines through in this ambitious, eye-opening documentary, which is sure to be of particular interest to both budding and established cinephiles.

Occasionally too ambitious for its 94 minute format, while rushing from one thrilling anecdote about recording the sound of animal roars in order to beef up the otherwise "wimpy" sound of jets for Top Gun to recounting what it was like to re-record "there's no crying in baseball," with the actors live for A League of Their Own, Waves struggles to cover too much ground.

At its most engrossing when it slows down enough to really sink its teeth into a topic, Costin's segments on Splet-like "born soundmen," Walter Murch and Ben Burtt — both of whom fell in love with the medium playing with tape recorders as children before ultimately making their own groundbreaking contributions to the field on Apocalypse Now and Star Wars respectively — stand out.


An MVP in any documentary (and richly deserving of his own), from his philosophical analysis about sound's importance going back to the womb when it was the first sense we could experience up through his revolutionary decision to treat each facet of sound design like a different instrument family in a symphony, the sophisticated Murch easily holds us in his thrall. And with Burtt revealing his painstaking process of eagerly cataloging a wide variety of sounds for George Lucas a year before a single frame of Star Wars was even shot in order to give life to Chewbacca and R2-D2, Waves illustrates how well sound can translate emotion to audiences around the world.

Not just a boys club despite its reputation — as a female sound professional herself now heading up a largely female production and post-production crew — Costin makes an effort to champion the vital contributions made by the industry's unheralded soundwomen in Waves. While many of the contemporary examples fly by the screen far too quickly, one of the most interesting sequences in the film is devoted to the little known role that Barbra Streisand played in bridging the divide between concerts and film.


Longing to bring to the screen the same interplay between the artist and the audience that could be experienced at one of her shows, Streisand not only rejected the use of tape playback in Funny Girl in order to sing live but also insisted upon using what was then a relatively new, two-speaker, Dolby sound format for A Star is Born. Offering to pay for the expensive, untested technology out of her own pocket — which would have amounted to a million dollars — when Warner Brothers studio heads saw the film played back in Dolby, they heard the difference immediately and reassured her that there was no need for her to foot the bill.

Featuring interview footage with filmmakers ranging from Ang Lee and Robert Redford to Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler as well as the expertise of a wide variety of sound designers and editors, once we reach the film's blink-and-you-missed-it section on composers, it feels as though most of the contemporary segments in Making Waves have gone by in a blur.

With so much to cover in all of the various subcategories of sound, Costin could have easily turned the documentary feature into a Ken Burns style documentary miniseries (which she could have also shown to her students at USC!). Though it's filled with amazing moments that play like an epic awards show montage, at times, the film flies by so quickly and with so much force that it feels like a Top Gun jet, complete with an animal roar added in by Oscar nominee — and Costin's Days of Thunder colleague — Cece Hall.


Although I would surely fail if I were to be tested on how much information presented to us in the rapid fire last third of the film I was able to retain, honestly the lovingly made Waves is filled with so many wondrous ideas that it makes Costin's film an undeniable success.

"Our ears lead our eyes to where the story lives," Steven Spielberg explains early into the documentary and even though it's meant to highlight the importance of the art form, it also stands out as a perfect descriptor of Waves, which makes us appreciate the role that sound plays on a number of levels evidenced therein.

Celebrating the link between what we hear and what we feel, Making Waves is as informative as it is indefatigable, despite its structural flaws. A passionate ode to creativity, Midge Costin's documentary might just inspire the next generation of would-be sound artists to do some joyous experimentation — the kind we'll have to hear to believe — of their own.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Strange But True (2019)


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"The last thing," that Amy Ryan's grieving mother Charlene wants "to hear is how goddamn happy" the girlfriend of her deceased son is, especially when five years after his death, the very pregnant young woman, Melissa Moody (Margaret Qualley), shows up at her door wanting to talk.

Convinced by her other son Philip (Nick Robinson) to go and hear her out, she begrudgingly follows him first into the living room and then later the bedroom of the deceased Ronnie (played in flashbacks by Connor Jessup), where Melissa plays them a recording of her recent session with a spiritual adviser who informed her that her baby is part of Ronnie.

Telling them that she's only ever been with one man in her entire life, she gazes at them in earnest and, with hope they decidedly do not share, reveals that Ronnie is the father of her child. Not wanting to listen to any more of the girl's claims — whether goddamn happy or sad — Charlene looks right at Philip and with a pained edge to her voice that could chop the room in half, tells him to "get her out of my house."


A psychological domestic drama that longs to be a thriller (and eventually morphs into one in the final act), Strange is the sophomore feature from Wasteland aka The Rise director Rowan Athale. Written by novelist turned screenwriter Eric Garcia, Strange But True was adapted by the writer from the eponymous book by John Searles, who shares in a fascinating making-of documentary included on the recent Blu-ray release that something similar to Melissa's visit — minus the immaculate conception from the grave — had happened to his family that inspired the mystery.

And overall, it's a film that has a lot in common with that aforementioned early scene which sets everything in motion. For while Strange starts out by asking a lot of philosophical questions about the possibility of an afterlife and/or God in a voice-over as though it aims to seek spiritual guidance alongside the guileless Melissa, eventually it settles into a Philip-like rhythm of wait and see . . . before finally giving into a goddamn clear-cut suspenseful resolution worthy of Charlene.


Serving its phenomenal cast well as a strong dramatic showcase for the actors involved, Strange But True is anchored by that fiery trio and provides proof once again (and after the recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) that Andie MacDowell's daughter Margaret Qualley is the real deal. But the further we get into Strange, the more excited we become by the addition of more character actors including Brian Cox, Blythe Danner, and Greg Kinnear as the film oh so slowly accelerates towards its thrilling conclusion.

Yet even though the cast is there to reel you in, Athale and Garcia struggle with not only the pacing of the picture but also are unable to decide upon precisely which tone it is that they wish to strike. We watch with interest as Charlene investigates the veracity of Melissa's claim. As she looks into the possibility of freezing sperm after death, Philip tracks down the same psychic Melissa visited, while, of course, going through the exact same existential crisis over how to deal with grief that has impacted all who knew Ronnie.

Torn over whether or not it's supposed to be a straight up mystery or if Strange should indulge in some of the . . . well, strange new age elements inherent in Qualley's announcement, the filmmakers try to do both by opting for an everything and the kitchen sink approach.


Although it might just lose viewers hoping for a more faith driven storyline (or those who might very well drop off during its admittedly dull second act), it's nonetheless an ambitious if muddled effort. Adhering to its novelistic origins in its use of foreshadowing, the film contains some lovely little plot echoes as Charlene recounts the events of a memory that then seems to happen the exact same way to Melissa. And from the very beginning, when these symbolic moments work, they undeniably elevate the film.

However, the movie is at its most compelling when it finally embraces the genre of suspense and gives its dynamic cast something of real consequence to do. Never quite able to nail the balancing act required in telling a story about how hard it is to cope with grief while also adding a mystery to the proceedings, even when Strange But True loses its way, with Amy Ryan, Margaret Qualley and company at the helm, we remain goddamn happy to follow them anywhere.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.