The Missing is one of Ron Howard’s best, most underrated efforts. I typically love his films when he goes with R-rated material, and this one has edge, intelligence, fantastic performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, and a roll-call of terrific character actors, and an extremely impressive visual atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Salvatore Totino, a dynamic cameraman who I’ve been impressed with for years. This is a unique, revisionist Western that plays on old-school genre touchstones within the classical narrative while also allowing for a modern sensibility to creep through, in terms of the attitudes and aesthetic. There’s a directness that I admired about this film, with Howard steering clear of overt and sappy sentimentality, and allowing for the desperate, rugged qualities of life in the old West to shine through. Blanchett cut a convincing portrait of a woman pushed to her mental and physical edge, with the production going to great lengths to show how hard life would have been during that time period. Jones is fantastic as her spiritual and literal guide to revenge and redemption, and it’s yet another performance where he’s able to do so much with that weathered face and amazing voice beyond the dialogue that he was given. Howard and Totino opted for a washed out, de-saturated color palette; we might be in John Ford territory but this doesn’t look and feel like your grandfather’s Western. The Missing feels cold and forbidding and dangerous and lawless, all attributes of that life and time, but what’s so special about this film is that it never feels softened at any point. This 2003 release flew under the radar with critics and audiences and deserves a higher profile, and it more than qualifies as overdue for a Blu-ray release, especially considering how well appointed the production was on a visual scale. And as usual, James Horner’s score popped in all the right ways, adding heft and dimension to the action on screen. A terrific roll-call of supporting actors are on display, including Clint Howard, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, Eric Schweig, Ray McKinnon POWER, Jenna Boyd, and Max Perlich, who is always terrific.
TRUE DETECTIVE 2.7 BLACK BLACK MAP AND MOTEL ROOMS
So much happened in this weeks episode. A tease to who the identity of the killer, Crow Head might be. Frank engaging in a full-out POINT BLANK mode, Ray and Ani transition their brooding rage and anger into intimate feelings for one another, and Paul is dead.
Let’s start with Frank. I am so completely satisfied with the transgressive story arc of Frank Semyon. Anyone who continues to ridicule Vaughn’s performances is now, undoubtedly an idiot, and has no idea what they’re talking about. Semyon rose to a successful gangsterless business man before we saw the first episode, and from that first episode we slowly watched Frank lose everything that he built, and now it’s time from him to rise like the phoenix from the ashes and completely obliterate anyone who has wronged him. The escalation of the last scenes with Frank were a direct homage to the epic preamble of the climax to THIEF. Remarkable writing. I truly hope that Semyon makes it out alive, out of all the characters that we’re given this season, Semyon is the most pure hearted one. He didn’t choose the life he has, it chose him, and he did his best to shake it. I can’t imagine a better thematic end to Semyon than to get LONG GOOD FRIDAY’D.
Ray and Ani’s final scenes in the episode together were beautifully poignant. They are two people who are completely burnt out by their lives. They are dead inside, partially from where they came from, but particularly the choices they made in the past and how they’ve dealt with their lives splitting. Whether or not if Ray and Ani are good people is irrelevant. They are good with each other, and trust and embrace each others shadows. They are the only ones that can ever really understand and accept one another.
Then there’s Paul. Wow. I was legitimately sadden by his fate. What made it even worse was cutting to his fiancée laying in bed, watching that old movie with Judy Garland embracing the baby. Wow. Just…wow. Out of all the characters, I think Paul was the one who had the hardest time coping with life. He was a killer, who lived the life of who he thought he should be. He hit a breaking point of either ruining the life of his beautiful fiancée, Emily, or trying to make it work. Maybe he couldn’t have, but he was going to try. And now, now it’s all over. He’s dead. And his baby is inside of a pure hearted good woman who is stuck in a hotel room with Paul’s awful mother. That might even be more profound and sadder than Paul’s death.
As for Crow Head. So, cult killings are out. Blake fessed up to killing Stan, giving Frank a glorious scene to showcase his well warranted brutality. My guess is Crow Head is either Tony, the Mayor’s son, or the girl from the diamond robbery where Caspere was the sole proprietor of. Maybe that little girl was the one who worked at Caspere’s office and was seen in that photograph from the party with him. Maybe she isn’t, and maybe it’s something bigger and/or completely different. All I know is that next week is the finale, and they have not announced a director yet. One can only hold out hopes for the likes of William Friedkin or HBO player Timothy Van Patten. Or, maybe, just maybe Nic Pizzolatto will direct it. That would be worth it if only to see all the rage hater’s heads explode. Either way, I am counting down the days and cannot wait for the conclusion of what I still say is, the best show on television.
All director Roger Michell has done throughout his career is make one terrific, underrated film after another, and one of his absolute best is Changing Lanes. Feeling like a movie from the 70’s in many respects, this is a thoughtful drama about personal morals and business ethics, and while it was well-received by critics (Ebert notably flipped out) and did solid box-office (close to $70 million domestic), I feel that this one qualifies as terribly under the radar, deserving of far more praise and reassessment. Starring the surprisingly combustible duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck as two men pushed and stretched to their respective breaking points by one another’s selfish, potentially dangerous behavior, Changing Lanes is ALL about character, motivation, decisions, and a constant sense of inner turmoil for everyone involved in the narrative. Jackson and Affleck both deliver excellent performances, with Jackson getting the chance to play sensitive which is a rarity, and Affleck doing some of his most effective dramatic acting as a young man who seemingly has it all figured out, but quickly realizes he’s swimming in a sea of vipers. The screenplay by Chap Taylor (an ex-assistant to Woody Allen) and Michael Tolkin never goes over the top even though at times you feel it might; everything stays believable within reason and I loved how there was never the thought to inject a phony action scene or shoot-out or something conventional into an otherwise unconventional (in many respects) piece of studio filmmaking. The film truly feels like a complicated exploration of the human condition, a lost relic from a different era.
The action centers on two men having a bad morning, which gets even worse when they’re involved in an traffic accident on the highway outside of NYC. They’re both late for court (Affleck is a lawyer; Jackson is going through child custody hearings) and Affleck flippantly dismisses the accident and throws a blank check at a dismayed Jackson, who wants to do things by the book. What Affleck doesn’t realize is that he’s dropped sensitive and super-important documents in the street, which Jackson snags after Affleck drives away. From there, the film becomes a desperate story about Affleck needing to retrieve the documents, and going to psychological war with Jackson, who is dealing with his new-found sobriety (William Hurt turns up for a great cameo as his AA sponsor) and the deep love for his children. Affleck is also forced to contend with his conniving father-in-law and boss (the perfectly smarmy and vicious Sydney Pollack) and his ice-cold wife (Amanda Peet, nailing her one big seen with pointed line delivery and casual, deceptive sexiness). And then there’s the subtly stylish cinematography from Salvatore Totino Asc Aic, which goes a long way in shaping the emotional textures to the characters and the story. It’s constantly raining in Changing Lanes – both outside and inside, literally and metaphorically – and the way Totino’s slippery camera moves captured water and its reflective quality brought an introspective level to the visuals that amps up the psychological and dramatic tension all throughout the film. I also loved the close-up on the back of Affleck’s head towards the film’s denouement; you feel like you’re travelling directly into his thoughts as his makes up his mind on how to handle the situation he’s found himself in. David Arnold’s moody and ambient score is also first-rate.
Ever since I was 19 years old I knew Salvatore Totino Asc Aic “had it.” That’s because I saw Any Given Sunday, and holy WOW, that film is a cinematographer’s dream come true. Of course, working with Oliver Stone would likely challenge any budding cameraman, and I can’t help but feel that a film as aggressive as Any Given Sunday would probably have been one of the craziest ways to make your big-screen debut as a full-fledged cinematographer. He arrived from a background in music videos, working with all of the greats (REM, Radiohead, U2, Bruce Springsteen), so feature films were the next logical fit. And over the years, Totino has brought a deceptively stylish and obscenely photogenic eye to every project that he’s worked on. He’s shot sports films, historical dramas, light comedy, intense action, and character-based dramatic thrillers, and no matter the genre, he always embodies his films with rich texture, motivation for his choices, and unique angles in which to cover all of the action and conversations. His name is one that I look for on posters and in the credits as a sign of quality, and I can’t wait to see his upcoming efforts Everest, a mountain climbing adventure with a massive cast, and his return to the football field with the NFL brain-trauma expose Concussion.
Watching Any Given Sunday can sometimes make the viewer feel dazed or drunk – there’s so much visual information being hurled at the viewer that it can be a challenge to keep up. But that’s exactly the point – Totino and Stone wanted you to feel the rush of the on-field action in a way you never had before; watching a football game feels boring in comparison to what they did with their film. Each image as a level of dynamism that feels hard-edged and forceful, with the camera wildly swerving from one side of the frame to the other, without ever losing clarity or spatial reasoning. This same sort of attention to geography would be demonstrated during the boxing scenes in Cinderella Man, a deeply burnished, sepia-toned period piece that feels lived-in and incredibly authentic. The ringside sequences sting with bloody realism, and while never going full-on heightened in the same fashion as Raging Bull, there’s an intensely stylish yet still honest aesthetic that comes into play during the many brutal bouts and emotionally draining family and home-life sequences. And then in something modern and contemporary like Changing Lanes, Totino was able to bring out character and emotion in a very grounded, cut-from-the-70’s manner which emphasized clean camera moves and a subtle sense of high-style. And while never calling attention to itself, Changing Lanes still stands out as distinctive, moody, and edgy, with an introspective quality to the images which helps to ratchet up the tension. No matter the film or style or the director that he’s working with, Totino has repeatedly proven to be one of the most versatile and dependable big-studio cinematographers for over the last 15 years.
A few nights ago, I viewed the Hungarian film White God. It affected me so much and on such a personal level that I’ve not been able to accurately summarize my thoughts and feelings concerning all that it covers as a piece of art. What I can say is this: No film this year has gotten to me on an emotional level like the way this one did, and while it’s not going to be a movie for everyone, I urge as many people as possible to seek out this important, brilliant piece of work. Simply put, it’s an uncompromising masterpiece, a film that feels like some sort of miracle, and one that holds an overwhelming sense of power and grandeur by its conclusion, while never forgetting to explore all of the intimate details that make this film truly special. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it, and on a technical level, I can’t even begin to understand how it was achieved. The level of patience involved is staggering to ponder. White God depicts some VERY graphic animal abuse, and if you know me in any-way-shape-or-form from my interactions on the Facebook, you know where I stand on animal abuse and how I feel animal abusers should be dealt with – they should be killed.
For those who are unfamiliar with this blistering motion picture, the devastating narrative follows two separate story-lines, one tracking a mixed-breed dog named Hagen, and the other involving his master, a young girl named Lili. When Lili moves into the apartment of her estranged father, bringing along Hagen, tensions begin to mount, and in a moment of heartless behavior, Lili’s father abandons Hagen after city officials demand that a tax be paid because the dog isn’t a pure-bred. Alone, scared, and confused, Hagen wants nothing more than to be reunited with Lili, and he sets off across the city in an attempt to be reunited. Along the way he’ll be captured by members of an illegal dog fighting organization who abuse and train him to kill, all before escaping, only to be rounded up by the soulless city workers who are more interested in euthanizing rather than helping. And then – enough is enough – Hagen busts loose, rips some people a new one, and attracts a pack of 250 other half-breed canines that start an uprising against anyone who stands in their way. The final moments of White God must be seen to be believed, as the last act of this riveting film is more than outstanding and cathartic.
There are some very, very tough scenes of animal cruelty in this film, all simulated of course, but what occurs in the final third makes the most harrowing of moments worth the punishment. Written and directed with visual elegance, a sense of provocation and extreme visceral intensity by Kornél Mundruczó, White God will be nearly impossible to shake off once you’ve seen it. What’s most sad about this film is that you know this sort of thoughtless behavior is being thrust upon animals that aren’t able to adequately defend themselves, and while the film should probably be treated more as allegory than anything else, it’s a further reminder that how one treats an animal says much about their inner qualities as a person. Marcell Rév’s landmark cinematography is nothing short of awe inspiring; how any number of shots in this film got accomplished I’ll never understand. There’s a primal clarity to the images, and while Rév’s camera never exploits the sad carnage around the edges of the story, he’s not afraid to get up close and personal to a certain type of ugliness that is all too real. This is a film that’s going to be very, very hard for me to stop analyzing and pondering.
Podcasting Them Softly is extremely proud to present our first Special Edition CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER POWERCAST with two time Oscar nominated director of photography Seamus McGarvey. For the last 25 years, Seamus has been putting together an amazing and eclectic body of work that stretches all genres and styles, with just some of his credits including THE WAR ZONE for Tim Roth, HIGH FIDELITY for Stephen Frears, THE HOURS for Stephen Daldry, Oliver Stone’s THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, the unforgettable and chilling family drama WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN from director Lynn Ramsay, Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, last summer’s blockbuster GODZILLA, this past winter’s worldwide phenomenon 50 SHADES OF GREY, and four huge collaborations with director Joe Wright including ATONEMENT, ANNA KARENINA, THE SOLOIST, and this Fall’s extremely exciting looking PAN, which is a new spin on the classic tale of Peter Pan. He two upcoming projects are Gavin O’Connor’s THE ACCOUNTANT staring Ben Affleck and Tom Ford’s next film NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. He’s one of the most in demand cinematographers of his generation, and it was an honor to speak with him. Enjoy!
Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday is now over 15 years old and thanks to the Blu-ray format, this visually expressive blitzkrieg-of-a-sports-film just bleeds off the screen. Featuring a supremely aggressive audio/visual package, this is totally-in-your-face filmmaking at all times, featuring hurtling, stylized, frenzied cinematography from master cinematographer Salvatore Totino that shakes the senses; it boggles the mind to think that this was his first big studio feature as a director of photography. The amount of coverage, the insanity of the camera placement, the constant ramping of film speed and visual distortions and augmentations are staggering to witness, and if you’re a cinematography junkie like me, this film is a constant source of maxed-out pleasure. The hyperactive yet still lucid editing is in perfect tandem with the over the top subject material and everything is played at just the right tone and pitch. The eclectic musical score compliments every wild and crazy scene, mixing rap, metal, and classical songs with the techno stylings of Moby in more than one instance. Al Pacino is at his Shouting-Mad best here, and he gets some seriously good dialogue from John Logan and Stone; his “inches” locker room speech is one for the ages, ridiculously quotable, epitomizing the idea of coaching ferocity. Stone brought major directorial intensity to each and every scene in this scathing indictment of professional football; in retrospect this film feels very ahead of its time, with a cold and cynical message purveyed at all times, feeling more relevant now than it did upon first release. The absurdly deep cast all deliver deeply committed performances; standouts are an icy Cameron Diaz, a perfectly weathered Dennis Quaid, sleazy James Woods pushing pain killers on the players, and of course, the flashy and confident work of then-acting-newcomer Jamie Foxx, who held his own with all of the veteran actors, knowing when to ease up and allow others to have their space, while still getting a chance to cut loose with his arrogant, show-boating character. The sequence where he has dinner with Pacino and the chariot race from Ben-Hur is playing in the background is still one of my favorite scenes in any film. And let’s not forget about the in-credits stinger during the final credit roll – so nasty! Great football action, sharp satire, fantastic visuals, and dynamite sound design help make this one of the best sports movies of all time.