Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

Poor Things-2023

Poor Things-2023

Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #1,413

Reviewed December 27, 2023

Grade: A

Yorgos Lanthimos is a peculiar director and the suggestion is for potential viewers to be familiar with his work before seeing his latest film release, Poor Things (2023).

I’ve said recently that other directors like Alexander Payne, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorcese can easily be added to this list with a style not for everyone but that Cinemaphiles will salivate for style and texture alone.

Anyone who has seen Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) or The Lobster (2016) will know exactly what I mean.

With Poor Things, he hits a grand slam home run that might garner him some Academy Awards in what can be arguably classified as his most progressive film.

Mentions like the art direction, cinematography, set design, and fantastic performance by Emma Stone must be immediately celebrated and called out as highlights.

The film is hardly mainstream or conventional and way out there channeling a parallel to Frankenstein with frightening and gothic sets and sequences galore.

All with a twisted and refreshing feminist quality.

Ultimately, I was satisfied with the knowledge that I had witnessed a cinematic marvel that encourages repeated viewings.

During the nineteenth century in London, England, Bella Baxter (Stone), is a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who is referred to as ‘god’.

He inserts the tender brain of the baby she was carrying when she leaped from a bridge to her death suicide style.

Under Baxter’s protection and supervision, Bella is eager to learn but acts like a toddler with limited speech and motor skills. She teeters around smashing plates with gleeful joy as she discovers her surroundings.

With superior intelligence and a hunger for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and horny lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents from Lisbon, Portugal to Paris, France, and back to London.

Free from the knowledge and the prejudices women of her time were forced to endure, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation. She challenges societal norms with her vision and determination.

I can’t think of anyone else to play the role of Bella other than Stone. With wide eyes filled with wonder, she infuses her character with comedy and wit as she asks questions many women have but never dare to utter aloud.

Especially in Victorian London.

Ruffalo is outrageous and Dafoe is hideously stoic. Both actors bring star quality and wacky performances in different ways.

The look of the film is to die for as Lanthimos offers a looming fairy tale set design led by cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

The European cities of Lisbon, Paris, and London are given their chapters in the film and their focus. The waterfront in Lisbon in particular resembles the real city in a gothic and foreboding way.

The hotel in Paris where Bella becomes a prostitute is regal and polished. Bella wonders aloud why the male customers get to decide which woman they want to spend time with instead of the reverse.

It’s a fair question.

Her friend and fellow prostitute introduces her to socialism while Madame Swiney (Kathryn Hunter) explains capitalism.

Finally, the musical score by Jerskin Fendrix offers shrieking classical strings mixed with haunting pizazz and perfectly timed arrangements. They promote tension and drama at just the right moments.

2023 was a fabulous year for women in cinematic terms but not so much by the United States Supreme Court but that’s another story. The bombast and box office enormity of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is followed by Lanthimos’s celebration of the thought-provoking Poor Things.

Both elicit insightfully quirkiness that successfully bulldozes over traditional gender norms with messages that women can do whatever they set out to do which is a vital quality for young minds to be exposed to.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Actress-Emma Stone (won), Best Supporting Actor-Mark Ruffalo, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won)

Fantastic Mr. Fox-2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox-2009

Director Wes Anderson

Voices George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray

Scott’s Review #1,329

Reviewed December 30, 2022

Grade: B+

I have fond memories of, either reading or being read, Roald Dahl’s famous 1970 children’s novel entitled Fantastic Mr. Fox. The story involves the clever and hungry Mr. Fox and how he outwits his farmer neighbors to steal food from under their noses.

In 2009, it was adapted into a stop-motion animated film by Wes Anderson and includes the voice of George Clooney and Meryl Streep as Mr. and Mrs. Fox.  Anyone familiar with Anderson’s work knows well that an added dose of eccentricity will inevitably be included as well as a unique narrative.

I confess to either being in the mood for an Anderson film or not but at least I know to know what I’m in store for.

Anderson co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach known for making witty and intellectual comedies like The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Greenberg (2010).

Fantastic Mr. Fox pairs well with 2018’s Isles of Dogs if we are talking about Anderson films. Both include the thoughts and peculiarities of animals, similar stop motion, and a story about trickery and revenge pitting man against animals.

There is an eerie and prominent comparison to Animal Farm, a 1950s George Orwell novel and film adaptation, that I noticed.

The farm, animals, class system, and desire for power and authority.

When Mr. Fox’s nightly raids on three nearby farms raise the tempers of three selfish farmers who are losing their chickens, he must outwit the outrageous plans to catch him.

After all, in his mind, he is merely trying to feed his hungry family and neighbors, and Mr. Fox must find a new way to get his paws on the bounty.

Billed as a children’s film probably because it’s based on a children’s novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox contains aspects that will go way over kids’ heads. This suits me well however because I have a fascination for animation that pushes the envelope or moves beyond the overdone ‘safe genre’.

Think of it as a kid’s film for adults.

It would appear difficult to side solely with Mr. Fox since he is a thief. We are all taught at a young age not to steal but it’s difficult not to root for Mr. Fox. He steals not to gorge himself but to feed his family and community.

Of course, he is addicted to being a cad and quickly returns to his thieving ways finding his calling and strong satisfaction.

A good lesson for kids and adults is the neighborly aspect of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is a camaraderie amongst the animals that I find lovely and inspiring. They band together and cohabitate in an underground community and later the sewer always having each other’s backs.

The farmers are portrayed as the villains though we can certainly understand their hardships at having their animals stolen and eaten. But Anderson hits home that the farmers are greedy and obsessed with their wealth, happy to kill any animals they see fit.

It’s satisfying to see them get defeated.

The story is outshined by the visuals though. It’s difficult not to focus on the technique and stunning attention to detail, especially in the tunnel sequences. The character performances and shadowy framework make one realize just how far stop motion has come.

The autumnal colors of red, orange, and yellow, perfectly enhance the visual style and season that Anderson and team create. Even the cue card titles between scenes are meticulous art that harkens back to sophisticated cartoons of yesteryear.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is a creative, edgy, and intelligently written and scored production. Multi generations are featured with means young kids, parents, and grandparents with a hunger for a left-of-center and thought-provoking approach will be well satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score

Wild at Heart-1990

Wild at Heart-1990

Director David Lynch

Starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern

Scott’s Review #1,230

Reviewed February 19, 2022

Grade: B+

David Lynch has created some weird films. Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (1992) are masterpieces that skew the odd and peculiar facets of human behavior. But Wild at Heart (1990) takes the cake as the strangest in the lot.

Fascinatingly unhinged, yet hard to understand, it’s got the Lynch handprint from start to finish, but only a warm-up act as stacked against those other films.

Somehow the film is classified as a comedy. It’s got to be one of the darkest of dark comedies. Anyone who is not a Lynch fan will not appreciate or get this film- I am a Lynch fan and I’m not sure I even got it. I do appreciate it though.

It’s also the best role of Diane Ladd’s career in which she plays a fiendish, witchy mama. The graceful actress belts a home run in her storied performance.

A situation occurs during the opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) serves prison time for a self-defense killing and reunites with his girlfriend Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) when he is released.

Lula’s mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), is desperate to keep them apart and hires a hitman to kill Sailor. But those are only the start of his troubles when he and Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe, an old buddy who’s also out to get Sailor, try to rob a store.

When Sailor lands in jail again, he may be destined never to reunite with Lula ever again.

Wild at Heart is a love story about Sailor and Lula and the many obstacles they must overcome to live happily ever after.

Cage and Dern are terrific though I fantasized while watching how nice it would have been to see Kyle MacLachlan in the role of Sailor. A Blue Velvet reunion would have been splendid since his chemistry with Dern in that film was top-notch. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching Cage and Dern as the romantic leads.

The many references to The Wizard of Oz are delightful like when an image of Marietta flying through the air on a haggard broomstick appears just like the Wicked Witch of the West. When Lula desperately clicks her red heels three times to no avail we strangely wonder where the home she wants to return to is.

The film is one of those that is hard to take seriously or focus on the plot too much. This is evidenced by the inclusion of Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017) alumni Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, and Grace Zabriskie. They play The Good Witch, Girl in Accident, and Juana Durango, respectively.

Each character is indescribable in their strangeness.

The nuttiness continues with bizarre turns from Crispin Glover and Harry Dean Stanton.

Interesting is how Wild at Heart was released the same year as Twin Peaks was. The inclusion of a seedy bar named One-Eyed Jacks which appears in both productions is about all that is comparable with each other. The main events in Wild at Heart are in Texas and Washington for Twin Peaks.

Forgetting the storylines, the best part about Wild at Heart is the cinematography. Enough dark and dusty highway sequences emerge using glowing and moody lighting and foreboding cracks and crevices in other visceral scenes. Cigarette smoking has never looked as sexy or dangerous as it does in this film.

Despite there being admirable and perfectly Lynch-y elements to Wild at Heart (1990) the film is just too far overboard for me to fall in love with.

I’ll pull out my copies of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive any day before Wild at Heart.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Diane Ladd

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Male-Willem Dafoe, Best Cinematography (won)

The Grand Budapest Hotel-2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel-2014

Director Wes Anderson

Starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham

Scott’s Review #143

70295915

Reviewed July 30, 2014

Grade: B+

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is a witty and unique film by director Wes Anderson, who has also directed similarly quirky films,  notably Monsoon Kingdom (2012) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

The famous story of the history of the Grand Budapest Hotel is recounted, over dinner, by the current owner Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham), and an inquisitive guest (Jude Law).

The film then goes back to the 1930s and shares the story of the actual history of the hotel.

The main story centers on the head concierge, Gustave, (Ralph Fiennes), and his antics involving older wealthy blonde women, a murder, stolen art, and a missing will.

Gustave is a ladies’ man, and bisexual, who spends time with the rich women who stay at the hotel.  Fiennes does an excellent job as the quick-witted, almost manic Gustave.

This sets off a series of interesting, mysterious events for the remainder of the film that turns into a whodunit yarn.

The visual aspects usurp the story. The art direction is amazing. The sets are constructed so perfectly and ingeniously that they almost look like animated sets or like a dollhouses.

The costumes and makeup are flawless.

The story tends to be tough to follow at times and is just not as strong as the other aspects of the film, although this is not to be interpreted as the story is not good- it is entertaining, but nothing more.

It’s just that the other aspects of the film are magnificent and the story is secondary. It’s an odd film, certainly, but unique and interesting.

Well-known Hollywood stars appear- Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, and Harvey Keitel.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Wes Anderson, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing