Champions in the Other Room

King Richard

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott, Noah Bean, Demi Singleton, Kevin Dunn, Tony Goldwyn, Dylan McDermott

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Running Time: 2 hours and 24 minutes

Oscar nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) portrays the overbearing and protective father of the tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams in the oddly titled film King Richard directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Initially set in Compton in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990’s Richard Williams is determined to turn his daughters into world class tennis stars but lacking the resources to do so, he often takes Venus and Serena to more plush parts of the city for them to practice in affluent country clubs.

As a father he sees the potential in Venus played by Saniyya Sidney and Serena played by Demi Singleton while also contending with three other daughters and a sceptical yet supportive wife Brandy played by Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk, Ray).

As a biopic about the inspiration behind the phenomenal success of the Venus sisters in the World Tennis circuit, King Richard is an oddly dysfunctional film, lacking in a smooth directorial style by Reinaldo Marcus Green and at over two hours, the film could have been edited more efficiently, especially in the drawn out first half.

Will Smith is brilliant as Richard Williams, the pushy and controlling father who sees the sporting potential in his daughters yet is often at odds with the snobbish attitudes of the tennis circuit and its country club and also frequently fights with the smooth talking eager tennis coach Rick Macci superbly played by Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Baby Driver, Fury) in one of his best on screen performances.

It’s only in the second half, when the Williams family moves to Florida, does the film find its footing. Unlike such flashy films as Ron Howard’s Rush or Bennett Miller’s contemplative Moneyball, director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard is an uneven film held together by an excellent performance by Will Smith, who along with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith were also producers on the film.

With the exception of Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn and Dylan McDermott have hardly any screen time and not enough emphasis is placed on the actual success of the now international tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Even the actresses that play the younger versions of themselves have limited exposure in the narrative.

It’s only in the second half of King Richard that their determined characters shine through. Unfortunately at times, Will Smith takes over too many scenes as the overbearing father Richard Williams, which was probably intentional. Whether his performance will get recognised during the 2022 Oscar season remains to be seen.

King Richard gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is an interesting film about the origin story of two unbelievably talented tennis stars: Serena and Venus Williams, who become an inspiration for many and achieved international fame.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a fascinating biopic and of course tennis.

2021 Cannes Film Festival Winners

Palm d’Or:  Titane, directed by Julia Ducournau

Best Director: Leos Carax for Annette starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver

Best Actor: Caleb Landry Jones Nitram

Best Actress: Renate Reinsve – The Worst Person in the World

Best Screenplay: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe – Drive my Car

That Dark Cathedral

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Director: Andy Serkis

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, Scott Reid, Stephen Graham

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Running Time: 97 minutes

Oscar nominee Tom Hardy (The Revenant) reprises his role as struggling San Francisco journalist Eddie Brock aka Venom in the sequel to the 2018 film Venom, now called Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Directed with a sort of Gothic efficiency by fellow actor Andy Serkis, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a fun-filled monster flick about Brock who is fighting with his dark alter ego Venom who continuously wants to eat anything in sight, while trying to maintain a semblance of a routine existence.

Venom is soon drawn into the world of insane serial killers when he is asked to interview Cletus Kassidy aka Carnage wonderfully played with a crazy attitude by Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (The People versus Larry Flynt; Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) who is incarcerated in an insane asylum and longs to be reunited with his one true love, the equally devilish Frances Barron played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris (Moonlight).

Soon Cletus Kassidy and Frances Barron break out of their respective institutions and are ready to infect chaos in the life of Eddie Brock including his gorgeous ex-girlfriend Anne Weying played by Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn) and her new boyfriendm, the straight laced Dr Dan Lewis played by Reid Scott.

But Eddie firstly has to find Venom who escapes his body and goes on a gaudy Halloween jaunty only to discover that Brock’s body is the best place to host this symbiosis.

The four main actors made this film savagely enjoyable and director Andy Serkis fortunately did not make an overly cluttered production of this sequel and kept the running time to about 97 minutes while successfully linking Venom into the greater Sony/ Marvel Cinematic Universe as seen by the hilarious end scene in the closing credits. It’s definitely worth staying in your cinema seat for as the film ends.

Venom: Let There be Carnage does not pretend to be high-brow but it is loads of fun particularly for fans of the first film and Tom Hardy relishes in playing the role of Eddie Brock, a struggling journalist who has a hard time reconciling with his inner demon in this case the increasingly ravenous Venom.

Hardy’s body language throughout the film is amazing and so is Woody Harrelson and the final showdown in a dark Cathedral outside San Francisco is dripping with murky B-Grade Horror film references particularly the attempted marriage scene between Cletus Kassidy and Frances Barron.

Audiences should also look out for the clever animation sequence inserted in the middle of the film.

So relax and go watch Venom: Let There Be Carnage, it’s a fun-filled crazy superhero film which does not take itself or the entire caper scenario very seriously.

Efficiently directed by Andy Serkis, Venom: Let There be Carnage gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is not brilliant but a worthy sequel to the 2018 original.

Fall of the House Atreides

Dune

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes

Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

After its impressive premiere at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve’s eagerly anticipated Dune has finally arrived on Commercial cinema screens globally.

Unlike David Lynch’s equally ground breaking film version of Dune back in 1984, this absolutely superb version of Dune is a film for the 2020’s – a vision of the future quite attuned with the current state of the geopolitical world.

Assembling an unbelievably fantastic cast including Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) as the pivotal hero Paul Atreides, there is also Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk) and Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) rounding off a truly international and talented cast.

To add some much required muscle there is Jason Momoa (Aquaman) as Duncan Idaho and Dave Bautista (Spectre) as Beast Rabban Harkonnen nephew to the brutal and slimy Baron Vladimir Harkonnnen superbly played by Stellan Skarsgard, who is hell bent on destroying the House Atreides, headed by the pompous Duke Leto Atreides played by Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi).

On every level, visually and technically, Dune is a truly ground breaking cinematic achievement, a carefully constructed allegorical tale on the fall of colonialism, the collapse of a nobility and more significantly the journey a young heir has to take, from boyhood into manhood.

Dune is equally an astute comment on paternity, the expectations brought onto sons by arrogant fathers, the brittle strength of masculinity, which is often a combination of skill, strength and ingenuity and the complex relationship between mothers and sons, as betrayed in the pivotal scenes between Paul Atreides and Lady Jessica Atreides, beautifully played by Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson.

Visually Dune is an epic, a science fiction story about the fall of the House Atreides, but at its emotional centre is the unique character growth of Paul Atreides, wonderfully played by Timothee Chalamet, who at times does get overshadowed by the grandeur of Denis Villeneuve’s vision of this Science Fiction epic.

Based on the acclaimed series of novels by Frank Herbert, Dune fans will not be disappointed at this brilliant reimagining on the big screen. Dune is both a comment on fragile power structures as it is on the effects of climate change, Dune is at once insightful and incredible, remarkable and respectful.

In a pivotal scene and key to the whole film is the remarkable scene between the young Paul Atreides and the Reverend Mother Mohiam expertly played with an austere aloofness by the commanding Charlotte Rampling, whereby the young heir is tested on his capacity for fear, endurance and leadership?

The Reverend Mother promptly tells Paul’s mother Lady Jessica Atreides exceptionally well played by Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Greatest Showman), that she was told only to give birth to daughters, because a son would challenge the intergalactic order.

Dune should be a front runner for Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score.

Director Denis Villeneuve has outdone himself in his brilliant film about the epic fall of the House Atreides and done justice to the legions of Dune fans globally. From the colour palettes, to the amazing costumes, to the visual and sound effects, Dune is next level entertainment, a film to savour on the big screen, impressive, spell bounding and legendary.

Dune gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is absolutely a testament to the new decade of the 2020’s, a political society that has been revolutionized, whereby humanity’s existence is fragile purely because they ignored the yearnings of a planet that refused to be mined, colonised and mistreated.

Dune is highly recommended viewing, a visual feast about nobility, patriarchy and greed.

The Mermaid and the Magic Lotion

Save Sandra

Directors: Jan Verheven & Lien Willaert

Cast: Sven de Ridder, Darya Gantura, Rosalie Charlies, Charles Aitken, Kaisa Hammerlund, Christopher Dane

Running Time: 100 minutes

This film is in Flemish, French, Dutch and English with English Subtitles

Despite this film being a true story, the co-directors of this interesting Belgian film Save Sandra Jan Verheven and Lien Willaert have created quite a schizophrenic narrative.

Is this film about Palliative Care? Is this film about the media? Is this film about the evil multinational drug companies that create orphan drugs to treat rare diseases?

Aspects of Save Sandra are beautifully told, centering on the heartbreaking plight of the parents of six year old girl Sandra who receive the shocking diagnosis that their only daughter has a rare muscular degenerative disease. The parents are a young couple in Belgium, William and Olga Massart played by Belgian actors Sven de Ridder and Darya Gantura and Sandra is played by Rosalie Charles.

Olga is devastated that her daughter could possibly die within a year, while her energetic husband William decides to investigate every drug available to arrest Sandra’s degenerative disease coming across a rare drug which has not been properly patented in Belgium.

William and Olga travel to Copenhagen and then to Rotterdam to plead with the drug company to allow Sandra to qualify for this orphan drug, however the problem lies in the prohibitive cost per dose in Euro’s, which is money the young couple do not have.

To complicate matters further, the original drug company gets bought out by a massive multinational company based in Basingstoke in the United Kingdom. So the film’s action moves from Belgium to the British countryside and the white cliffs of Dover.

William Massart starts raising funds for Sandra’s treatment through various events in Belgium soon attracting media attention and even that of the Belgian Princess. Unfortunately, the more awareness he creates about his daughter, the worse Sandra gets, quickly becoming confined to a wheel chair.

The best parts of the film are the bed side stories that William, a devoted father tells Sandra covering up her muscular disease in fantasy and fairytales about princesses and mermaids, wonderfully illustrated through animation.

Save Sandra is worth seeing although at times the subject matter is heavy going especially regarding the entire story being about a sick child that isn’t going to recover. Unfortunately with two directors, the film lacks a unifying version and becomes a much lesser version of similar films like 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil or the Oscar winning The Constant Gardener in 2005, which expertly tackled the lack of ethics associated with big multinational drug companies.

Based on a true story, Save Sandra is an interesting Belgian film but it is not brilliant. It gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

The Actor and the Wrestler

Robust

Director: Constance Meyer

Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Deborah Lukumena, Lucas Mortier

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

This film is in French with English subtitles

Screened virtually at the 2021 European Film Festival

Oscar nominee for Cyrano de Bergerac Gerard Depardieu returned to the 2021 Cannes Film Festival with a self-reflexive film entitled Robust also starring an amazing Deborah Lukumena as Aissa a trained wrestler who takes on the rather strange job of protecting a famous actor past his prime Georges.

Gerard Depardieu as aging actor Georges

Georges is wonderfully played by the bad boy of French cinema Gerard Depardieu (The Life of Pi, The Secret Agent, La Vie en Rose), a character that is larger than life and is essentially a spoilt and needy actor who constantly requires attention and someone to assuage his prickly ego.

A fretful hypochondriac, Georges is preparing for a new role in a 19th century period film in which he is required to play a French land owner who is timid, vanquished and lost. And he must learn fencing.

Yet like all aging film stars, Georges who lives in a plush apartment in Paris is constantly misbehaving until he gets assigned a new protector the aspiring female wrestler Aissa who takes none of his nonsense or his masculine foibles.

Deborah Lukumena as Aissa

Aissa is trying to make a life for herself in Paris as she casually dates her co-worker the vacuous Eddy played by Lucas Mortier who is really using Aissa for sex.

Directed by Constance Meyer, Robust is essentially a slow moving study of two completely opposite characters who find an unlikely connection and form a bond. Aissa is not bothered by Georges supposed fame, while Georges feels secure knowing that Aissa is available even when he frequently disappears or goes off the rails.

Robust is not a dazzling film, but a wonderful character study of two fascinating people at the opposite end of their lives. Aissa is just starting out as a body guard and protector while Georges is constantly fretting over his fading stardom, even though he takes his wealth and privilege for granted, falling off motorbikes and getting inebriated.

The best scene in the film is when Georges gate crashes Aissa and Eddy’s romantic dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the 20th arrondisement of Paris and the young Eddy does not take to the cantankerous actor who is oblivious to how he burdens other people with his demands.

Robust gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is an enjoyable and light hearted French film and viewers will relish watching the delightful Depardieu on the screen again.

The Provider for Both Worlds

After Love

Director: Aleem Khan

Cast: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia

This film is in English, French and Urdu with subtitles

Screened virtually at the 2021 European Film Festival

British Pakistani film director Aleem Khan makes his impressive feature length debut with his thought provoking film After Love starring the amazing British actress Joanna Scanlan (Tulip Fever, Notes on a Scandal, Testament of Youth) and French actress Nathalie Richard who share a unique bond, which is complicated, maternal and at times malicious.

After Love shot mainly in Dover and in Calais, centres on a British woman who converted to Islam to marry her adoring Pakistani husband Ahmed briefly played by Nasser Memarzia.

Unfortunately, Ahmed dies of a sudden heart attack leaving his wife Mary beautifully portrayed by Joanna Scanlan who inhabits every frame of the screen, is left adrift.

Mary soon discovers that her late husband had a lover living in Calais, France just 21 miles away across the English Channel. Summoning all the courage in the world, Mary makes the journey to Calais to meet her late husband’s lover, a vivacious blond named Genevieve wonderfully played by Nathalie Richard who is not only coping with being a single mother but is in the process of moving to a bigger home in Calais.

Genevieve has to contend with Ahmed’s biological son Solomon played by Talid Ariss who constantly resents his mother and is harbouring sexual secrets of his own, a teenager bristling with attitude and deceit as he constantly wonders where his wayward father is.

In a careful plot twist, Genevieve mistakes Mary as an agency housekeeper coming to help her tidy up and move home. Mary knowingly insinuates herself into the complex lives of Genevieve and her obstreperous teenage son, while keeping her real identity private until all the secrets and lies are revealed in one final family dinner.

Joanna Scanlan is amazing in her first major role as the protagonist playing a white British Muslim woman who has to not only deal with her late husband’s death but the wider implications of discovering that he had a mistress and son across the Channel.

After Love is a careful study of the complex lives people live without becoming preachy or didactic, held together by a superbly understated performance by Scanlan who holds the entire film together even as her character’s world is both figuratively and literally changing around her. Joanna Scanlan deserves an Oscar nomination for this role. She is absolutely superb.

After Love debuted at the Cannes and Thessalonki Film festival in 2020 and now viewers can catch this fascinating film at the 2021 European film Festival online.

It’s highly recommended viewing and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

The Skarderud Hypothesis

Another Round

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt

Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10

This film is in Danish with English Subtitles

Running time 1 hour and 55 minutes

Watch Another Round without any moral prejudice. Watch this film without judgement, because Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s stunning film Another Round is truly superb, expertly exploring the psychology and comraderies’ of male friendships.

Focusing on four male friends in their mid-forties, they decide as teachers at a local college in Copenhagen to explore the Skarderud Hypothesis, based on Norwegian psychotherapist Finn Skarderud who believed that human beings are born with a 0.5% alcohol level too low, which in turn is based on an untested premise from an 1880 book called “On the psychological effects of wine” written by Edmondo de Amicis.

Another Round follows the raucous misadventures of Martin brilliantly played by BAFTA nominee Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Charlie Countryman, Doctor Strange) as he and his friends test this hypothesis with vodka, wine, absinthe and many other intoxicating drinks all during the day, when they are meant to be functioning as productive and intelligent college lecturers.

While the inebriating effects of their experiment start affecting their relationships with their wives and with their students, director Thomas Vinterberg expertly shoots this film without taking any moral stand. He shows the actors in a film which is both raw, nuanced and utterly plausible. There is no American slant on this film. It is refreshingly Scandinavian and perfectly Danish.

While the men slightly drunk become better teachers and coaches, they even begin to inspire some of their students specifically the extremely anxious Sebastian played by Danish actor Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt. Then tragedy occurs unexpectedly, because life isn’t hypothetical. It is messy, real and unpredictable.

Then Another Round does something brilliant, the film ends on a triumphant note celebrating life and all its subsequent misdemeanours, its irreverent messy complicated affairs but also everything that makes being human a celebration and something to applaud, despite our complex flawed existence. Catch the astounding dance sequence at the end of Another Round as the students celebrate their graduation. This is European cinema at its best.

Another Round deservedly won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2021 Oscar Awards and is by far one of the best films I have seen this year and is available at this year’s European Film Festival online. Another Round gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is exceptionally brilliant.

This Danish film is highly recommended viewing, beautifully photographed, with superb acting by Mads Mikkelsen who deserved to get an Oscar nomination for his role as Martin.

Casting for Confidence

The Bright Side

Director: Ruth Meehan

Cast: Gemma-Leah Devereaux, Siobhan Cullan, Karen Egan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Kevin McGahern, Barbara Brennan, Claire O’Donovan

European Film Festival 2021https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/films/

This film is from the Republic of Ireland and has no subtitles

This film gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10

Irish director Ruth Meehan tackles the subject of breast cancer in her charming first full length feature film The Bright Side, starring a wonderfully off beat performance by rising star Gemma-Leah Devereaux (Judy) as thirty something Kate McLoughlin who has a budding career as a stand-up comedian and is the reckless sibling of responsible brother James played by Kevin McGahern.

Kate’s career is stopped dead in her tracks when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and has to undergo chemotherapy and a partial mastectomy. Kate’s wicked sense of humour endears her to her fellow breast cancer sufferers who she meets during chemotherapy including Tracey played by Siobhan Cullen and the ever glamourous Fiona played by Karen Egan.

Writers Ruth Meehan and Jean Pasley do not gloss over any of the psychological trauma of women undergoing treatment for breastcancer especially the effects of chemotherapy and the associated body image issues that women might have with losing their hair or having their breasts removed.

There is a wonderful scene, both empowering and beautiful when Kate decides to go for a night on the town and in the ladies room at the local disco, she is standing next to voluptuous young women in their twenties who are glamourizing themselves in front of the mirror, when Tracey appears. Both Kate and Tracey take off their wigs, much to the horror of the young women and stand together in solidarity, looking at their reflection in the mirror.

Obviously this is a female focused story, but there is room for a male character, the shy pharmacist Andy played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor who takes a shine to Kate and then even offers to take the chemotherapy group on a fly fishing excursion in his van which has the words Casting with Confidence on the side. Andy has lost his wife to breast cancer and he decided to encourage breast cancer sufferers to take up fly fishing to help their lymphatic glands get better, with casting for confidence.

The Bright side is a bitter-sweet comedy featuring an amazing performance by Gemma-Leah Devereaux which encompasses all the dark humour that the Irish are known for.

The Bright Side gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing, held together firmly by some strong female performances.

Both courageous and hilarious, this charming Irish film is highly recommended viewing for both men and women.

The Prague Remedy

Charlatan

Director: Agnieska Holland

Cast: Ivan Trojan, Josef Trojan, Juraj Loj, Jiri Cerny, Jaroslava Pokorna

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Czech and German with English Subtitles

Running Time: 118 minutes

Charlatan is screened virtually at the 8th European Film Festival from 14th – 24th October 2021 – https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/films/

In a similar vein to director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Polish director Agnieska Holland’s handsome period drama Charlatan tackles the life and love of famed Czech healer Jan Mikolasec  played by Ivan Trojan who developed an uncanny knack for prescribing herbal remedies to patients based on their urine, a diagnosis determined by age and gender.

Ivan Trojek stars as Jan Mikolasec

Most notably, Mikolasec managed to navigate the political and social turmoil of mid 20th century Czechoslovakia as the country was first invaded and by the Nazi’s and then after World War 2, Czechoslovakia fell into the grip an equally totalitarian regime, the soviets as it got incorporated into the Iron Curtain until its liberation into glorious freedom during the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Oscar nominated screenwriter and director of Europa Europa (1990), Agnieska Holland returns to the big screen with this touching film Charlatan about the tormented journey of Mikolasec and his hidden and rapturous love affair with his beautiful assistant Frantisek Palko, a truly stunning and muscular young man perfectly played by Slovakian actor Juraj Loj.

Both Mikolasec and Palko are married to women as a means to conceal their homosexuality as it was completely illegal both under the Nazi’s and under the equally cruel Soviet regime.

What director Agnieska Holland perfectly does is capture the conflicting emotions of this fascinating man, Mikolasec as he is tormented, cruel and gifted. Agnieska Holland who has featured prominently in directing several episodes of the brilliant political series House of Cards, once again highlights the slippery boundaries of sexuality amidst the shifting geo-political landscape in Czechoslovakia from the late 1930’s until the late 1950’s through the Nazi era and onto the Soviet era, a theme she returns to as she did so brilliantly in House of Cards.

Charlatan is a tough watch, it is both beautiful and horrific, and equal parts a semi-mythical tale of a talented herbalist and his beautiful assistant and their forbidden love affair, as they set up a business prescribing herbal remedies to the local population and earning money off their respective ailments.

The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks to Mikolasec’s youth, the younger version of himself ironically played by Ivan Trojan’s son Josef Trojan as he learns the secret of his tradecraft from a mysterious herbalist Mrs Muhlbacherova played by Jaroslava Pokorna.

Beautifully filmed, Charlatan gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is a fascinating period piece about a Czech herbalist who didn’t achieve fame outside of Eastern Europe but went through a harrowing time in his own country. This film is recommended viewing.

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