Sylwia’s Stalker

Sweat

Director: Magnus Von Horn

Cast: Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski

Polish Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

The Polish entry for the European Film Festival is director Magnus Von Horn’s intimate examination of the moral duplicity of a social media star and fitness trainer Sylwia wonderfully played by the beautiful actress Magdalena Kolesnik in his film Sweat set in Warsaw and surrounding areas. Sweat was also part of the official selection for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival held virtually this year.

Sweat presents Warsaw as a glossy and sophisticated contemporary European capital complete with upmarket apartment buildings and thriving shopping malls and the main character Sylwia is a vain and ambitious social media star whose only concern is how many followers she has on Instagram and whether her beloved dog Jackson is loved.

Director Von Horn follows his main character Sylwia around as he guides the viewer through her hollow and utterly vacuous existence as she tries to deal with her mother Basia played by Aleksandra Konieczna and her new boyfriend Fryderyk played by Zbigniew Zamachowski (Three Colours: Red, Three Colours: Blue, Three Colours: White).

Sylwia also has a rather weird relationship with her male fitness star Klaudiusz wonderfully played by Julian Swiezewski who she sexually manipulates to beat up a male stalker who has been following Sylwia and become erotically obsessed with. An incident occurs late at night whereby Klaudiusz forces Sylwia to directly confront and assist her stalker.

Besides the moral repugnance of the main character, Sweat is more of a direct commentary on the age of obsessive social media and as the overly long film portrays Sylwia does not come clean about her ordeal with a stalker but rather seeks the self-congratulatory limelight of Polish Television as she does more to increase her social media visibility and her brand by ironically portraying herself as a victim of her own success.

Sweat is a fascinating and incisive portrayal of social media obsession but unfortunately it needed to be drastically edited since basically every frame of the film focuses on the life of Sylwia and her media obsessed fitness world and its inherent darkness. This microscopic obsession does tend to drag the film down and perhaps the viewer might find the subject matter tedious without their being any form of cathartic release or even an alternative point of view.

Sweat gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and unfortunately is not the best Polish film I have seen, but is certainly the most bizarre in terms of subject matter: vanity and self-obsession.

Desert Fox and the Informant

Curveball

Director: Johannes Naber

Cast: Sebastian Blomberg, Thorsten Merten, Dar Salim, Virginia Kull, Michael Wittenborn, Franziska Brandmeier

German Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

German director Johannes Naber’s brilliant political satire Curveball is an absolute must see and this year’s European Film Festival held virtually in South Africa and scheduled to be released in Germany in November 2020. Curveball premiered in the Berlinale Special section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival held in February 2020.

Sebastian Blomberg (The Baader-Meinhof Complex, The People vs Fritz Bauer) plays the unassuming but slightly naïve German chemical weapons expert Dr Wolf who unwillingly gets roped into a political conspiracy to prove that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president was harbouring chemical weapons.

Set between 1998 and 2003, Curveball is the terrifyingly true story of an Iragi fugitive Rafid Alwan wonderfully played by Iragi actor Dar Salim who has also appeared in Lee Tamahori’s brilliant film The Devil’s Double opposite British star Dominic Cooper.

Alwan is questioned by Dr Wolf on the existence of anthrax and other chemical weapons and their existence in Baghdad, which he eventually concedes that there could be such weapons driven around Iraq on trucks which is flimsy and unreliable intelligence at best. What makes Dr Wolf rely on this informant even more is that in Curveball they form a formidable friendship with Wolf teaching Alwan how to use a snow sleigh and Alwan proving that he is quite an unreliable source especially after his drunken escapades with whiskey.

Thrown into this bizarre friendship, is Dr Wolf’s feisty and ruthless CIA agent Leslie played by Big Little Lies star Virginia Kull who exploits Dr Wolf’s naiveté to steal the informant from the Germans to assist the Americans to construct a premise for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. No matter that both the German and American espionage service know that the Intel that Alwan has fed them is entirely fabricated.

Director Johannes Naber skilfully guides the audience through the key events of that period from the chemical weapons experts employed by the UN to search for biological weapons in Iraq in 1998 to the election of George W. Bush as U. S. President in November 1999 to the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in New York City.

Curveball is both surreal, hilarious and utterly unbelievable made more bizarre by the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the intelligence services of America and Germany.

Thorsten Merten plays Dr Wolf’s ambitious boss Schatz while Michael Wittenborn plays the more pragmatic Retzlaff.

Curveball is fascinating viewing especially as it deals with recent historical events and demonstrates that the truth can be constructed for a political purpose in this case used to invade a foreign country. Curveball gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those that enjoy incisive political satires.

Zaheer’s Journey

Mogul Mowgli

Director: Bassam Tariq

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Andrea Hart, Alyy Khan

British Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed’s fame in Hollywood rose quite substantially after his initial big screen performance opposite Kate Hudson in Mira Nair’s stunning film The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Since then Ahmed has gone on to star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Venom and Jason Bourne.

Riz Ahmed and director Bassam Tariq co-wrote the British Pakistani film Mogul Mowgli which will be screened virtually at the 2020 European Film Festival, which focuses on the unlikely tale of a Pakistani rapper in a British city, the son of a traditional Pakistani family who immigrated to the UK to make a better life for their children.

Riz Ahmed plays Zed which is short for Zaheer a loud-mouthed and confident rapper who has proven his worth against a group of Nigerian immigrants at a rap competition and is on the cusp of a British tour aided by his manager Vaseem played by Anjana Vasan when tragedy strikes.

Zaheer, after an altercation in an alleyway with a disgruntled rap fan, collapses and is admitted to hospital. After several tests done, Zaheer is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease and his muscles are slowly deteriorating. The diagnosis comes as a shock to Zaheer and his parents particularly his father Bashir played by Alyy Khan.

Zaheer’s reflection on his condition which forces him to revaluate his hopes and dreams and specifically the side effects of the stem cell treatment which will make him infertile, makes up the basis of director Bassam Tariq’s over-directed film Mogul Mowgli which is saved by a stand out performance by Riz Ahmed who is basically in every scene of the film as he shows all of Zaheer’s vulnerability and subsequent humiliation especially as he has to rely on others to survive.

There is a particularly touching scene between Zaheer and his father in the hospital bathroom. Overall Mogul Mowgli is confusing to watch and the script is lacking some form of closure as to the real destiny for Zaheer, but nevertheless it’s his personal journey that counts. Riz Ahmed carries Mogul Mowgli and although this film has a niche appeal, it does showcase the lives of an immigrant community in contemporary Britain.

Mogul Mowgli is an interesting film, but it will not have a broad appeal as it deals with a very specific immigrant community and the strange and difficult choices they have made in attempting to integrate into a Western culture.

Mogul Mowgli gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 is a flawed film about a performance artist that has to deal with a devastating disease.

Clarke’s Catastrophe

Greenland

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, Hope Davis, David Denham

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Angel has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh reunites with his star Gerard Butler for the latest doomsday disaster film Greenland. The hunky Scottish actor Gerard Butler who become a household name after the smash hit 300 and then went onto star in the Fallen trilogy plays American structural engineer John Garrity who is trying to reconcile with his wife Allison Garrity played by Homeland star Morena Baccarin (Deadpool, Spy) who both live a comfortable life in suburban Atlanta.

That comfortable life is shattered into a million pieces when John and Allison have been selected to survive an extinction event after a Comet called Clarke’s Comet hits Earth and breaks up into a million asteroids which demolish cities and towns across the planet. The Garrity’s only chance of survival is to head towards a secret government facility to house survivors located in Greenland. The only problem is how to get there.

To add to John and Allison’s woes their young son Nathan played by Roger Dale Floyd is diabetic and cannot be without his insulin injections which proves difficult when the entire family get separated and Nathan gets kidnapped by some desperate hillbilly’s Ralph and Judy Vento played by Hope Davis (Proof) and David Denham (Logan Lucky, 13 Hours).

In the meantime the world is literally going to hell in a handbasket as fiery asteroids start striking the earth and the Garrity’s need to reunite at Allison’s father’s ranch in Knoxville. Allison’s father Dale is played by Scott Glenn (The Bourne Legacy, The Paperboy). Fortunately once the family gather there John confesses to his father-in-law that he hasn’t been the best husband.

Whilst Greenland’s doomsday scenario could be the metaphor for a broken marriage, the rather lacklustre script by Chris Sparling is fortunately punctuated with some dramatic action sequences including the airport chaos sequence and the asteroid crushing car sequence on an American interstate.

Greenland is great entertainment and doesn’t pretend to be anything superb. It’s a good old fashion disaster movie in the tradition of director Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact and Michael Bay’s 1998 smash hit film Armageddon. Greenland is worth seeing on a big screen and is a reasonably enjoyable action disaster film which certainly needs cinematic support in these uncertain times when audiences are not rushing back to cinemas in a hurry.

It did help that the star Gerard Butler did broadcast a preview message thanking South African audiences for supporting Greenland in cinemas. With that being said, audiences should watch Greenland – it’s an exciting two hour family adventure film which gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

The Emperor’s Saviour

Mulan

Director: Niki Caro

Cast: Yifeu Liu, Gong Li, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Ron Yuan

Film Rating 7 out of 10 – Catch Mulan in Cinemas now or on DisneyPlus

Disney’s bid to attract the massive Chinese cinema going audience with Mulan which was scheduled for a worldwide release on the 27th March 2020 was an ill-timed affair as the leap year that is 2020 brought along a vicious virus from the Far East and ravaged the world, closing down cinemas and forcing cities into lock down.

The effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on world cinema in 2020 has been devastating and only films like Christopher Nolan’s exceptionally brilliant Tenet will attract reluctant audiences back into the cinemas. Many big budget film productions have postponed their release dates until 2021.

Nevertheless, the New Zealand director of Whale Rider Niki Caro did a fairly good job of taking on Mulan, an adventure tale set in ancient China with a completely Chinese cast. Built on the premise that a young and feisty girl from a Chinese village Mulan disobeys her father Zhou played by Tzi Ma (Skyscraper, Arrival, Million Dollar Arm), disguises herself as a man and joins the Imperial army to fight Northern invaders led by Bori Khan played by Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee (Alaska is a Drag) and aided Xianniang, a witch played by Gong Li (Coming Home, Curse of the Golden Flower, Memoirs of a Geisha).

Mulan is played by rising Chinese actress Yifei Liu (The Forbidden Kingdom) who rises above her male counterparts in the Imperial army and comes to the rescue of the Emperor played by Martian arts legend Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Hero, Kiss of the Dragon).

Although the script of Mulan leaves much to be desired and the dialogue seems stilted and uninspiring, the action sequences are great and at least the cast is authentic although it would seem better if this film’s dialogue was in Chinese with English subtitles, but director Niki Caro was obviously appealing to Western audiences while paying homage to her Disney employees.

Unlike Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther which successfully captured the zeitgeist of 2018. Black Panther was released by the Disney owned Marvel Films and was part of the Marvel franchise of superhero films with sufficient legacy to back up the main character.

Mulan on the other hand was a Disney produced film which while brilliantly shot and cinematically constructed, the storyline was predictable and didn’t offer enough depth for this multi-talented cast of Chinese actors who have all appeared in far superior Chinese films including Coming Home, Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower.

Despite some flaws, Mulan is an enjoyable action film set in ancient China, a land filled with loyalty, honour and unbridled patriarchy. Some interesting aspects of ancient Chinese culture are examined but not in the elegant fashion done by far superior directors such as Zhang Yimou in Raise the Red Lantern in his breakthrough film in 1992 which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mulan is enjoyable but unfortunately might be overlooked amidst the current existential health crisis engulfing the world. Mulan gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is spectacular watch but the storyline is not original.

The Grandfather Paradox

Tenet

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Howard, Himesh Patel, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Clemence Poesy, Wes Chatham, Martin Donovan

If a man goes back in time and kills his own grandfather then he would never have been born.

That is the Grandfather Paradox and the basic notion of director Christopher Nolan’s stylish and innovative, time-bending espionage action film Tenet set in Kiev, Ukraine, Mumbai and Oslo in Norway.

Besides the mesmerising action sequences, the critical part about Tenet is the clever casting of the son of Denzel Washington, Golden globe nominee John David Washington (BlackKKlansman) as The Protagonist opposite the dashing British actor Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis, Twilight, Queen of the Desert) as Neil.

Tenet is like Inception but set within the rough estimates of a spy genre, superbly written and directed by Christopher Nolan and featuring an outstanding original music score by Swedish film composer Ludwig Goransson who won an Oscar for original score for Black Panther.  

To describe the plot of Tenet as a paradox is an understatement. It is a carefully constructed set of semiotic images punctuated with some astounding action sequences especially on a Norwegian highway and on an opulent skyscraper in Mumbai.

While the protagonist is in Mumbai, he comes across his Tenet contact Mahir wonderfully played by Yesterday star Himesh Patel, which leads him into the murky world of international arms dealing and he discovers a nefarious inversion machine that can alter both the past and devastate the future.

From the eye-catching hostage scene in an Opera house in Kiev, Ukraine to the final time-bending battle sequence spliced with a rather poignant confrontation by the femme fatale Kat superbly played by Elizabeth Debicki (Widows, The Great Gatsby, The Tale) with her vicious misogynistic Russian arms dealing husband Andrei Sator, played with an Oscar worthy performance by Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, My Week with Marilyn, Murder on the Orient Express) aboard a luxury yacht off the coast of Vietnam, Tenet is an exotic, elegant and asymmetrical action film, with an innovative plot that will challenge the viewer to watch carefully.

For sheer originality and perfect casting, Tenet is worth seeing. For incredibly intricate and carefully orchestrated action scenes especially those involving a transport plane crashing into Oslo Airport, Tenet is phenomenal.

After months of being deprived of real original and ground breaking cinema, Tenet is a must see film on the big screen with surround sound and should be a good reason to get back to the auditorium to see this spectacularly complex and clever piece of cinema.

Tenet gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing.

Once again, the multi-talented director of The Batman Trilogy, Dunkirk and Inception, Christopher Nolan does not disappoint.

The Valley of Darkness

Saloon

Director: Dayakar Padayachee

Cast: Mbale Mavimbela, Kwenzo Ngcobo, Yateen Dayaram, Caitlin Goulding, Preston Kyd

Please note this is a Short Film

Nominated for the Best Short Film at the Kosice International Monthly Film Festival and a nominee for the South African Indie Film Festival, Durban based film director of Shadow, Dayakar Padayachee has compressed a Western style bar sequence into an impressive 11 minute short film with a distinctly South African flavour.

The two main characters Nkanyamba played by Kwenzo Ngcobo and the Bar Lady wonderfully played by Mbale Mavimbela exchange a short and tense dialogue written in Zulu, in which Nkanyamba, a washed up hitman who yearns for redemption seeks a safe place to quench his thirst in a saloon where he meets the tenaciously deceptive Bar Lady who questions his previous life with an aim of uncovering his weaknesses.

As the Bar Lady and Nkanyamba ‘s conversation intensifies, the dialogue is looked on by three shady observers Set played by Preston Kyd, Lilith played by Caitlin Goulding and Rudra played by  Yateen Dayaram who also starred in Dayakar Padayachee’s groundbreaking feature film Shadow which won Best Original Song at the 2017 Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

These observers sip strong drinks in dark shadows as they clutch their hidden weapons waiting for the moment when The Bar Lady confronts Nkamyamba and a Saloon style gunfight ensues. Just as the climax of the short film is reached, director Dayakar Padayachee cuts the action and leaves the ensuing bloodshed up to the audience’s imagination. Saloon is an impressive and atmospheric short film produced within a South African context which is severely lacking in good quality short films.

This is an innovative and original short film and the best part is that viewers can watch it on various mobile devices.

Highly recommended viewing and I do hope Saloon gets some more local and international recognition.

Saloon gets a Short Film Rating of 8 out of 10.

Concise and to the point. Catch this South African original short film now online.

SAFTA Winners in the 2020 Film Category

Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic in 2020, the South African Film and TV Awards were given out virtually – The following are the winners in the Film Category. The SAFTA Awards are usually held in March every year in either Johannesburg or Sun City.

South African Film and TV Winners 2020 – Film Category:

Best Film: Fiela se Kind

Best Director: Jahmil X.T. Qubeka – Knuckle City

Best Actor: Bongile Mantsai – Knuckle City

Best Actress: Clementine Mosimane – Poppie Nongena

Best Supporting Actress: Anna-Mart van der Merwe – Poppie Nongena

Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Ndlovu – Knuckle City

Best Costume Design: Trudi Mantzios – Back of the Moon

Best Cinematography – Willie Nel – Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer

Best Original Score – Chris Letcher – Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer

Best Script – Brett Michael Innes – Fiela se Kind

SAFTA Winners in the 2018 Film Category

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA’S) were held from the 22nd to the 24th of March 2018 at Sun City Resort and Casino in the North West Province, South Africa

Best Film: – The Wound

Best Director: John Trengrove for The Wound

Best Actor – Feature Film:
Nakhane Touré – The Wound

Best Actress – Feature Film
Crystal-Donna Roberts – Krotoa

Best Supporting Actor – Feature Film
Bongile Mantsai  – The Wound

Best Supporting Actress – Feature Film
Nomonde Mbusi – VAYA

SAFTA Winners in the 2017 Film Category

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA’S) were held on March 2017 at Suncity Resort and Casino in the North West Province, South Africa

Best Film: – Sink

Best Director: Oliver Schmitz for Shepherds and Butchers starring Steve Coogan, Andrea Riseborough, Deon Lotz and Marcel van Heerden

Best Actor – Feature Film
Dann-Jaques Mouton – Noem my Skollie

Best Actress – Feature Film
Shoki Mokgape – Sink

Best Supporting Actor – Feature Film
Abdurahgmaan Adams – Noem my Skollie

Best Supporting Actress – Feature Film
Hlubi Mboya – Dora’s Peace

Best Original Screenplay: Brett Michael Innes and Nicholas Costaras – Sink

Film Directors & Festivals
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