The Cunning Art of Thievery

The Goldfinch

Director: John Crowley

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Willa Fitzgerald, Anuerin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard

Irish director John Crowley (Brooklyn) brings to cinematic life Donna Tart’s immersive and poignant Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch in a sprawling and beautifully acted film version featuring an international cast including Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) as Mrs Barbour, a wealthy Park Avenue woman who graciously takes in the young Theo Decker brilliantly played by Oakes Fegley, after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at New York’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Theo having survived a thoroughly traumatic event, is introduced to the extremely wealthy Barbour family who he stays with while he awaits to hear from his wayward con-artist father Larry played by Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Concussion, 3:10 to Yuma). Larry eventually swoops in with his hard as nails girlfriend Xandra expertly played by Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) to whisk Theo off to the brilliant shiny desert of Nevada away from the old world charm of New York City.

As The Goldfinch expertly weaves multiple story lines into a dazzling picaresque tale, it is more essentially about Theo’s friendship with the mysterious antique dealer Hobie beautifully played by Jeffrey Wright (Skyfall).

The Goldfinch is gorgeously photographed in all its blinding contrasts by Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner: 2049) who adds lustre to a fascinating tale of a boy who inadvertently steals a priceless Dutch painting by 17th century portrait painter Carel Fabritius a budding young student of Rembrandt.

As the actions flits between, New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, The Goldfinch is a gripping, fascinating tale of art theft, addiction and loss as the film examines the effects of parental loss on a young boy. Utterly superb viewing. Audiences should watch out for a rather energetic performance by Dunkirk star Anuerin Barnard as the older version of Ukrainian Gothic friend Boris who plays an integral part in achieving his destiny which is inevitably entwined with a rare painting by an early Dutch master. The older version of Theo Decker is adequately played by rising star Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, Billionaire Boys Club).

Elegant and absorbing, with stunning performances, The Goldfinch is a sophisticated drama about the conflicts between the old and new world and the shadows that lie in between. Those that have read Donna Tartt’s brilliant novel will appreciate this gorgeous film adaptation.

Highly recommended viewing, The Goldfinch gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

It’s Crazy Out There

Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert de Niro, Zazie Beetz Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleishler, Leigh Gill

The Hangover director Todd Phillips plays a sick and twisted joke on audience members that expect Joker to be a conventional superhero origin story.

Joker won the Best Film at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival and is absolutely brilliant, diabolically clever and deeply disturbing thanks to an unbelievable onscreen performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a struggling clown and stand-up comedian in a garbage ridden Gotham who transforms with nefarious elegance into Joker, the arch enemy of Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

Joaquin Phoenix has delivered some stunning film performances first in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and then for his Oscar nominated roles as the vicious Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator (2000) followed by his performance as musician Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s Walk the Line (2005) and more recently as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012).

Phoenix’s performance in Joker is utterly phenomenal as he physically transforms into Arthur Fleck, whose sinewy body holds a promise of vicious intent as he discovers that his mother Penny who he has to wash and bathe was discarded by the wealthy Thomas Wayne played by Brett Cullen (The Dark Knight Rises).

Arthur is told by an unsympathetic counselor that Gotham is cutting social services which includes his medication while in the mean streets his clown gigs are becoming increasingly hostile. He is attacked by juvenile delinquents for holding up a sign saying Everything Must Go.

Arthur’s desire to be a stand-up comedian is ridiculed on live Television by professional Talk Show host Murray Franklin superbly played by Oscar winner Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II).

Amidst the gritty streets of Gotham, Arthur Fleck’s sanity slowly unravels, the ties that bind him to conventional behaviour prove useless as he comes off his meds and psychopathically starts killing entitled bullies on subway trains. An incessant smoker, Arthur watches the deterioration of his mother Penny played by Frances Conroy (The Tale, Shopgirl, Broken Flowers). After being invited onto Murray Franklin’s sarcastic talk show, Arthur paints on the clown make up and delivers a masterful narcissistic monologue, whereby the Joker is born. The results are riveting.

Arthur Fleck violently disregards the advice of his fellow clowns Randall played by Glenn Fleischer (Suburbicon) and Gary played by Leigh Gill (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in a particularly disturbing scene which is both funny and scary. 

Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Arthur Fleck who transforms into Joker, a psychotic violent lunatic that thrives on chaos and disenchantment in a crowded Gotham overrun by ruthless men and an uncaring upper class. Not since Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, has there been an equally spine-chilling performance of this perennial and chaotic comic book villain.

Joker gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 is essential viewing, a dark mirror for a 21st century society which accurately reflects just how crazy it is out there. The politics of fear reign supreme.

Arizona Revenge

Rambo: Last Blood

Director: Adrian Grunberg

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Adriana Barraza, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Yvette Montreal, Oscar Jaenada

If an interview with Sylvester Stallone on SkyNews where he stated that the underlying theme of cross border human trafficking was the central tenet of Rambo: Last Blood, then this film piqued my curiosity.

More so because Stallone is not young any more.  At 73 years old, Stallone is still making Rambo movies, so I definitely had to see him back in action even if it was to satisfy my 1980’s nostalgia for the original Rambo films. The first Rambo was released in cinemas in 1982 entitled Rambo: First Blood just to give audiences a sense of the character longevity and it’s enduring legacy.

Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone returns (Rocky, Creed) as Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood set in rural Arizona just across the border from Mexico. Rambo’s headstrong niece Gabrielle played by Yvette Montreal is determined to track down her biological father in Mexico much to the horror of her mother Maria Beltran played by Mexican star and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel).

Across the border, Yvette gets inadvertently caught up with a human trafficking and prostitution ring run by the nefarious Martinez brothers psychopathically played with vigour by Spanish stars Sergio Peris-Mencheta starring as Hugo and Oscar Jaenada (Snatched, The Cold Light of Day, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) starring as the cocaine sniffing Victor.

Naturally everything goes tragically pear-shaped down South, forcing Rambo to come to Mexico and confront the Martinez brothers. After being mercilessly beaten up, Rambo is nursed back to health by freelance journalist Carmen Delgado played by Spanish star Paz Vega (Grace of Monaco, Kill the Messenger, I’m So Excited!) who is determined to avenge the death of her younger sister who was killed by the Martinez brothers.

When Rambo suffers his own personal tragedy, all hell breaks loose as he fortifies his ranch and lures the heavily armed Hugo Martinez back to Arizona for a final bloodthirsty, knife throwing revenge filled finale which is so violent that it makes the Emmy winning HBO series Game of Thrones look like Noddy’s Picnic.

If audiences love a bloodthirsty action-packed revenge thriller, then Rambo: Last Blood is definitely recommended viewing. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed Rambo: Last Blood more than I expected mainly because the pacing of the film was balanced so that as an audience member you do feel thoroughly vindicated once the last Mexican heart has been ripped out of their bloodied chest.

Rambo: Last Blood gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 is strictly for fans of violent revenge thrillers.

Please note that the action packed finale sequence is extremely brutal viewing and that most of the dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles which adds to the authenticity of the story.  

The Downstairs Revolt

Downton Abbey

Director: Micheal Engler

Cast: Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Tuppence Middleton, Hugh Bonneville, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Penelope Wilton, Robert James-Collier, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Kate Phillips, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Geraldine James, Jim Carter, Max Brown, Stephen Campbell Moore, Michael Fox, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Cartwright  

Lovers of the hit BBC TV series Downton Abbey can now watch all their favourite characters on the big screen, with the highly anticipated film version called Downton Abbey which has just been released. The story follows the wealthy Crawley family in 1927 when they are asked to entertain royalty. King George V and his wife Queen Mary are coming to visit the Yorkshire area and the royal retinue will spend one evening at Downton Abbey much to the consternation of the fiercely loyal staff of Downton Abbey led by Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes.

Expertly scripted by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), Downton Abbey is a royal treat with sumptuous costumes by Anna Robbins and gorgeous production design by Donal Woods.

The best lines in the film are given to Oscar winner Maggie Smith (California Suite, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) who plays the formidable matriarch Lady Violet Crawley who exchanges numerous barbed comments with a mysterious cousin Maud Bagshaw played by Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) who has an unnatural attachment to her lady maid Lucy Smith played by Tuppence Middleton (The Current War).

As the Crawley’s entertain the royal couple, there is much intrigue afoot provided by the disgraced butler Barrow played by Robert James-Collier who discovers a secret world to experience his hidden sexuality while the dashing chauffeur turned son-in-law Tom Branson played by Allen Leech (Bohemian Rhapsody) discovers a covert plot to assassinate the king.

Lady Edith played by Laura Carmichael has some exciting news for her husband Bertie Hexham played by Harry Haddon-Paton while the cook’s assistant Daisy Mason played by Sophie McShera (Cinderella) flirts with the hunky plumber Tony Sellick played by James Cartwright much to the consternation of her beau the ambitious footman Andy Parker played by Michael Fox (Dunkirk).

Whilst the upper classes are dining and having balls, there is a downstairs revolt led by Mr Carson played by Jim Carter and Mrs Hughes played by Phyllis Logan who plot to get rid of the royal servants so that they get an opportunity to serve the royal family at an evening banquet held at Downton Abbey with a rather surprising result.

Downton Abbey is ravishingly filmed with a witty script by Fellowes who injects a suitable balance of humour and poignancy into the narrative to make this British period drama both entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable and absolutely thought provoking.

With an existing fan based already created by the hugely popular BBC series, Downton Abbey is a film not to be missed and it’s no wonder it become a Box Office sensation in both America and England on its opening weekend in September 2019. Highly recommended viewing for those that cherish elegant British period films in the vein of The Remains of the Day, Brideshead Revisited and Howard’s End.

Downton Abbey gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 is strictly for fans of the series and beautifully written and acted by a truly noble ensemble cast.

2019 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

Golden Lion (Best Film): Joker directed by Todd Phillips

Grand Jury Prize: An Officer and a Spy directed by Roman Polanski – no poster available at time of publication

Silver Lion (Best Director): Roy Andersson – About Endlessness  – no poster available at time of publication

Best Actor:   Luca Marinelli – Martin Eden

Best Actress: Ariane AscarideGloria Mundi – no poster available at time of publication

Best Screenplay Award – No. 7 Cherry Lane by Yonfan  

2018 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

Golden Lion (Best Film): Roma directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Grand Jury Prize: The Favourite directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Silver Lion (Best Director):  Jacques Audiard – The Sisters Brothers

Best Actor: Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

Best Actress: Olivia Colman – The Favourite

Best Screenplay Award – Joel and Ethan Coen – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

2017 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

Golden Lion: (Best Film) – The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo del Toro

Grand Jury Prize: Foxtrot directed by Samuel Moaz

Silver Lion (Best Director):  Custody directed by Xavier Legrand

Best Actor: Kamel El Basha for The Insult

Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling for Hannah

Best Screenplay Award – Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Acting as Artifice

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Maya Hawke, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley

Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, writer and director Quentin Tarantino returns to the big screen with his 9th feature film the brilliantly titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brad Pitt as buddies actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth in a fictional tale set in Los Angeles in 1969.

1969 was the year that the real life film director Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by the followers of the Charles Manson cult which shocked the American film industry to its rotten core.

Firstly two disclaimers: this is an extremely long film and secondly it’s really only aimed at serious movie buffs and serves as Tarantino’s ode to the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age before the film making industry got taken over by corporations, sequels, digitization and streaming.

Margot Robbie as actress Sharon Tate

Tarantino artfully pays homage to the act of buying a ticket and going to the cinema in a rather poignant scene when the young actress Sharon Tate superbly played by Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) actually pays to watch a film she is starring in at a Westwood cinema.

The rest of this marvelously meandering film belongs to the two major stars, DiCaprio who is superb as the washed up TV actor Rick Dalton who is desperately trying to make a Big Screen comeback but lands up starring in a string of Spaghetti Westerns in Rome.

Oscar nominee Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys) is phenomenal as the stunt double past his prime Cliff Booth in one of his best onscreen performances yet especially the gorgeous scene when he takes his shirt off on the roof of Dalton’s Hollywood Hills mansion in the scorching Californian sun to fix the TV aerial.

Booth also inadvertently stumbles across the hippie cult followers of Charles Manson in an abandoned studio lot in Chatsworth, California featuring some great cameos by Dakota Fanning (Ocean’s 8, War of the Worlds) as Squeaky Fromme , Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska) as George Spahn and Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys) as the seductive hippie hitchhiker Pussycat.

Tarantino expertly captures the zeitgeist of Los Angeles in 1969 at the peak of the counter-culture movement with lurid production design by Barbara Ling and costumes by Oscar nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips (Walk the Line, A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals, W. E.).

With some expertly placed cameos including Oscar winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) as hot shot producer Marvin Schwarz and Damian Lewis as real life star Steve McQueen.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is slowing moving in the first two acts of the film, while the third act is phenomenal especially the hippie flame throwing sequence.

Tarantino could have quickened the film’s pace in the beginning to actively propel the narrative forward but he is a notorious auteur and not interested in packaging films to please audience expectations.

Unbelievably, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did get a standing ovation at its glittering film premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival so Tarantino did something right.

This film gets a rating of 8 out of 10 and accurately portrays acting as artifice.

This is not Tarantino’s best work but written and directed in the vein of his crime thriller Jackie Brown, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is strictly recommended for Tarantino fans and those that enjoyed Pulp Fiction, Django Unchanged and Inglourious Basterds.

These Words Paid for My Dream

Blinded by the Light

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Hayley Atwell, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nell Williams, Sally Phillips, Frankie Fox

Sometimes it’s the small British films which are the most impressive.

Bend it like Beckham and Viceroy’s House director Gurinder Chadha returns with a delightful coming of age story Blinded by the Light a comic snapshot of an Immigrant Pakistani family living in Luton, Northern England in the dark end of the 1980’s during Margaret Thatcher’s iron grip on Britain.

Blinded by the Light is set in 1987 and focuses on the dreams and aspirations of Javed beautifully played by Viveik Kalra whose struggling to find his identity as a British Asian young male who is harbouring dreams of becoming a successful writer.

Viveik Kalra has already won the breakthrough actor’s award at the Seattle International Film Festival and his performance as Javed is spot on, a tortured teenager dealing with an overbearing father, a claustrophobic family and an urge to break free out of Luton, which in 1987 was rife with racial intolerance, economic recession and hardship.

When Javed is sent to the local college to do his A Levels he is encouraged to continue writing poetry and find his own voice by his free thinking English Literature teacher Ms Clay played by Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited, The Duchess). More significantly he befriends Roops played by Aaron Phagura who introduces him to the working class music of The Boss, the New Jersey singer Bruce Springsteen who become famous in the early 1980’s. Instantly Javed identifies with the lyrics of Springsteen who becomes his role model.

Springsteen’s music helps Javed find his writing voice much to the horror of his conservative father who keeps thinking that Springsteen is a Jewish American.

Blinded by the Light deals with more than one teenager’s musical obsession, as director Gurinder Chadha makes insightful comments on racism, following one’s dreams and the economic sacrifices an immigrant family has to make when moving to a new country: in this case Britain in the 1980’s.

Soon Javed discovers his inner writing talent, learns to stand up to his father and even travels to New Jersey after winning a literary competition. Blinded by the Light is a wonderful musical drama focusing on one young man’s dream to leave his bigoted hometown and discover his real talent. In a poignant scene when Javed confronts his hard-working conservative father Malik played by Kulvinder Ghir, he states that “These words paid for my dreams” after he writes an article for the Luton Herald about the local Mosque being threatened with imminent closure.

Blinded by the Light is a gem of a film and gets a rating of 8 out of 10.

Audiences will love this heartwarming story of Javed whose literary dreams are inspired by the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, although this distinctly British film is personal, relevant and less flashy.

The Salient Usurper

Angel Has Fallen

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Gerard Butler, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Morgan Freeman, Frederick Schmidt, Piper Perabo, Tim Blake Nelson, Martin Behrman, Lance Reddick

Shot Caller director Ric Roman Waugh directs the follow up to 2013’s Olympus has Fallen and 2016’s London has Fallen with muscular Scottish actor Gerard Butler (Den of Thieves, 300) reprising his role of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning in Angel has Fallen also starring Oscar winner Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) as President Trumbull and Danny Huston as the ruthless Independent Defence Contractor Wade Jennings.

When Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of President Trumbull in a dramatic drone attack, chaos reigns as Banning fights to clear his name and discover the real perpetrators behind the merciless attack which annihilated all of President Trumbull’s other secret service agents.

In a similar gritty style to Olympus has Fallen and London has Fallen, Angel has Fallen is extremely violent action packed and absolutely thrilling to watch made more enjoyable by the appearance of veteran actor and Oscar nominee Nick Nolte (Warrior, Affliction, Prince of Tides) as reclusive Ex-Vietnam veteran and father to Mike Banning, Clay Banning, who proves just as able as his macho son to ward off any unseen attackers in his West Virginian hideout.

As the action moves from rural West Virginia to the corridors of power in Washington D. C. and to an explosive hospital scene in Maryland, Angel has Fallen is a suitably thrilling conclusion to this violent but enjoyable trilogy. For viewers that saw Olympus has Fallen and London has Fallen, Angel has Fallen follows the same generic pattern of a high body count, tense action sequences and betrayals that shock the audience as Banning realizes that there are few allies in the secret service and that his trusted friend Jennings is his most worthy adversary.

Female stars to lighten the macho cast include Piper Perabo (Looper) as Banning’s wife Leah and Jada Pinkett –Smith (Collateral, Magic Mike XXL, Matrix Reloaded) as the decisive Agent Thompson. Other stars include Tim Blake Nelson as the slimy Vice President Kirby and Frederick Schmidt (Mission Impossible: Fallout) as Travis Cole, Wade Jennings’s second in command.

Angel has Fallen gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is recommended viewing for hard core action fans and this film’s rather predictable storyline is saved by a brilliant performance by Nick Nolte who lifts the entire story out of obscurity and makes this action packed thriller worth watching.

Be sure to stay after the opening credits for a very humorous scene….

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