The Royal Courts of Justice

The Children Act

Director: Richard Eyre

Cast: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Ben Chaplin

Notes on a Scandal director Richard Eyre adapts an Ian McEwan novel The Children Act featuring another Oscar worthy performance by Emma Thompson who plays a British judge Fiona Maye who has to decide the complex case of Jehovah Witness teenager who has leukaemia and whose parents are refusing to allow the hospital to give him a blood transfusion which is against their religious beliefs.

Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead plays the young seventeen year old boy Adam Henry who takes a shine to the supposedly impartial judge Maye after she visits him in hospital to determine how critical his medical condition really is.

The Children Act is masterfully directed by Richard Eyre and ably supported by an articulate screenplay by Ian McEwan who adapted it from his novel.

At the centre of The Children Act is a superb performance by Emma Thompson who is not only having to deal with legally and morally complex court cases but has to grapple with the failure of her marriage to English lecturer Jack Maye wonderfully played against type by American actor Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada).

Thompson who cut her teeth in some early Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations including King Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, has come into her own as a respected British actress.

She later blossomed under the artful direction of now Oscar winner James Ivory, who at age 88 adapted the screenplay for the superb 2017 film Call Me by Your Name. Emma Thompson starred in two major Merchant Ivory productions Howards End and Remains of The Day both opposite Anthony Hopkins. She won an Oscar in 1992 for Best Actress for portraying Margaret Schlegel in Howards End.

In later years, Thompson has not really featured in many complex roles but her turn as Fiona Maye in The Children Act has redeemed her star quality which peaked in Ang Lee’s handsome film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility opposite Kate Winslet, for which she picked up another Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Children Act is a sophisticated British legal drama about the moral boundaries of the law and the psychological impact such judgements can make on those suffering from terminal diseases. An intelligent handling of a complex and deeply polarizing subject matter, held together by a flawless performance by Emma Thompson.

The Children Act gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 is highly recommended viewing for those that prefer substantial British dramas which are not easily weighed down by melancholy or prejudice.

 

 

 

Behind the Facade

The Wife

Director: Bjorn Runge

Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Glenn Close, Max Irons, Christian Slater, Elizabeth McGovern

Oscar nominee Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons) gives a highly nuanced performance as The Wife opposite Carrington star Jonathan Pryce in a film directed by Bjorn Runge.

Pryce plays acclaimed Connecticut based novelist Joe Castleman who receives news that he is to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature for his life’s work. Castleman is egotistical, vain and still relishing in the literary glory which is about to be bestowed upon him in the Swedish capital Stockholm.

Glenn Close is utterly brilliant as his wife Joan, a subtle performance which is stylish and challenging and proves that she is more than capable of acting opposite men that assume they are much bigger stars than she is.

Close should have won an Oscar years ago and is an exceptionally talented actress especially for her dynamic roles in Stephen Frears’ acclaimed French period drama Dangerous Liaisons (1989) opposite John Malkovich and later in Rodrigo Garcia’s superb 2011 film Albert Nobbs.

Opposite Jonathan Pryce, Glenn Close revels in all the attention, particularly in the second half of The Wife, whereby the marital strains of a literary relationship unravel during a glittering European awards ceremony, revealing an extraordinary secret.

The Wife is a fascinating portrayal of glory bestowed upon a man that clearly does not deserve the accolade and a vengeful wife who is determined to expose her husband’s flaws without exposing the cracked marriage to their children, particularly their rebellious son David, wonderfully played by Max Irons, who is the son of Oscar winner Jeremy Irons.

Incidentally is quite ironic that Glenn Close who acted opposite Jeremy Irons when he portrayed Claus von Bulow in director Barbet Schroeder’s fabulous 1990 film Reversal of Fortune, a performance which won him an Oscar, is now acting opposite his son Max.

Audiences should look out for brief cameos by Oscar nominee Elizabeth McGovern (Ragtime), who more recently appeared in the hit BBC show Downton Abbey penned by Julian Fellowes and Christian Slater as a persistent journalist who is determined to uncover the truth about Joe Castleman’s literary legacy.

The Wife is a complex portrayal of a marriage unravelling at the critical point when the couple should be solidifying their lifetime achievements.

The Wife gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing.

Our Own Private World

The Guernsey Literary &

Potato Peel Pie Society

Director: Mike Newell

Cast: Lily James, Glen Powell, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay, Michiel Huisman, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Nicolo Pasetti

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has to be one of the longest names for a film ever. Yet despite its convoluted title is a richly rewarding film directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral).

At the centre of this extraordinary tale set during and immediately after World War II in London and in Guernsey is a remarkable performance by British star Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton who discovers that the population of Guernsey have so immensely courageous World War stories to tell during the German occupation of this island.

In fact, not only did they survive the war, the close knit community even formed a literary and potato peel pie society – a private world whereby a small group of book lovers could discuss English literature from Shakespeare to the Bronte sisters over an extraordinary dish a potato peel pie, made without butter or cream.

In the midst of the private literary society is a mystery which Juliet Ashton uncovers about one of Guernsey’s more infamous residents Elizabeth McKenna wonderfully played with daring bravado by Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay (Victor Frankenstein).

Members of this private literary society include the dashing pig farmer Dawsey Adams played by Dutch heartthrob Michiel Huisman from Game of Thrones fame, Amelia Maugery played by Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Eben Ramsey played by Oscar nominee Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass, Nicholas Nickleby, Doctor Zhivago, The Dresser).

Juliet’s extravagant and confident American boyfriend is played by Glen Powell (Hidden Figures, Expendables 3), by what really makes The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so fascinating is the layered historical story it tells about the inhabitants of the Channel Islands during the German Occupation.

Without giving the story away, this is a richly rewarding British war film held together by a strong classically trained cast, superbly directed by Mike Newell.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing for lovers of uniquely British historical war films.

The Acapulco Suite

Hotel Artemis

Director: Drew Pearce

Cast: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, Brian Tyree Henry, Jeff Goldblum

A film’s originality is always a bonus. In this case director Drew Pearce’s bizarre yet crazy action thriller Hotel Artemis set in Los Angeles in 2028 is a stark reminder of how chaotic a world can become when law and order breaks down and climate change ravages a city.

A Multi-National Corporation has control of downtown L. A.’s water supply and riots have ensued. In the midst of this anarchy, two brothers codenamed Waikiki and played by Sterling K. Brown and Honolulu played by Brian Tyree Henry get injured in a bank robbery as well as steal some precious diamonds from the Wolf King of L. A. a crime overlord played by Jeff Goldblum.

The only refuge the wounded brothers can find is at Hotel Artemis run by the Nurse, an embittered, heavy drinking nurse, superbly played against type by double Oscar winner Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused).

Hotel Artemis set in downtown L. A. is a Hospital for gangsters and has amongst its guests a lethal assassin codenamed Nice played by Algerian actress Sofia Boutella and a cocaine sniffing arms dealer codenamed Acapulco played by Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Horrible Bosses).

Written and directed by Drew Pearce, who cleverly makes full use of his diverse cast and wisely gives sufficient screen time for Jodie Foster who really holds Hotel Artemis together as the Nurse who suffers from agoraphobia and alcoholism whilst coming to terms with the demons in her own past, namely the death of her son from a drug overdose.

Action man Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) plays Everest, the Nurse’s able bodied assistant, while Zachary Quinto plays The Wolf King’s son and heavy weight gangster Crosby Franklin, who breaches the criminal hotel.

While Pearce devotes the first half of Hotel Artemis to building up the characters and creating the chaotic atmosphere, he wastes no time in the second half with action, as each prisoner/guest turns on each and The Nurse realizes that her best hope for survival in this ruthless criminal underworld is by escaping it.

Despite its originality, Hotel Artemis gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

I felt that writer/director Drew Pearce needed to spend sufficient time fleshing out the backstory to make the ending more palatable. Audiences that enjoyed Blade Runner 2049, will enjoy Hotel Artemis, a dystopian action thriller without the replicants and sophisticated imagery.

 

 

 

39th DIFF Winners

Winners of the 39th Durban International Film Festival #DIFF2018

announced at Suncoast Casino Supernova Cinema on Saturday 28th July 2018 –

https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Best Feature Film: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Director: Constantin Popescu – Pororoca

Best Actor: Bogdan Dumitrache – Pororoca

Best Actress: Maisa Abd Elhadi – The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Screenplay – Jennifer Fox – The Tale

Best South African Feature Film – High Fantasy directed by Jenna Bass

 

Boxing and Drag Shows

Alaska is a Drag

No Film Poster available at time of publication

Director: Shaz Bennett

Cast: Martin L. Washington Jr, Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho, Nia Peeples, John Fleck, Kevin Daniels

As seen at DIFF 2018 – https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

Director Shaz Bennett takes cinematic Indie Hip to a new level in the cleverly poignant coming of age drama Alaska is a Drag featuring a standout performance by Martin L. Washington Jr as Leo an aspiring drag queen who has ambitions of leaving isolated Alaska where he is packing and gutting fish for a living and looking after his sister Tristen played by Maya Washington.

When the heavy drinking boxer Declan arrives in town and also starts working at the fish cannery, there is immediate attraction but as director Shaz Bennett explores so deftly that often affection between men can quickly evolve into violence.

Leo ditches his drag ambitions which are clearly influenced by such pop diva’s as Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt and takes up the extremely masculine sport of boxing where he also fights his repressive former friend Kyle played by Christopher O’Shea.

Heavily influenced by Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Alaska is a Drag was a treat to watch at the 39th Durban International Film Festival  https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/ and would surely be a hit at many Queer film festivals both in South Africa and abroad.

Audiences should watch out for Fashion Police’s Margaret Cho as the surly bar tender who decides to host a drag competition with hilarious results.

For all its quirky characters and a beautifully poignant ending, Alaska is a Drag is a complex yet amusing film about beautiful people with dazzling dreams stuck in a small town community. Highly recommended viewing.

Alaska is a Drag gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is original, hilarious and gorgeously shot. A cinematic treat.

 

Expropriating my Sawmill

The Forest

There is no film poster available at the time of publication

Director: Roman Zhigalov

Cast: Oleg Shibayev, Natalya Rychlova, Oleg Feoktistov, Maria Avramkova

As seen at DIFF 2018 https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

As the 2018 Durban International Film Festival coincided with the BRICS Summit happening in Johannesburg and the BRICS Film Festival which ran concurrently with DIFF2018, there were many films from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Whilst I am a fan of all films from these countries, I have also been particularly impressed with Russian cinema as its cinematic style is so refreshingly foreign and opposite to commercial American cinema. Director Nikita Mikhailkov’s brilliant and cutting political drama Burnt by the Sun (1994) comes to mind, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1995.

At DIFF 2018, I watched director Roman Zhigalov gut-wrenching family drama The Forest set in rural Russia.

The Forest is a depressing tale about the implosion of a nuclear family, whereby the father’s sawmill gets expropriated by the state (the government actually burns it down as the father is unwilling to hand it over to the state), which should be a lesson about the economic consequences should South Africa’s ruling party’s proceed incautiously with the ridiculous decision to expropriate land without compensation, a burning political issue ahead of the 2019 National Elections.

The ideology of expropriation is essentially communist and director Roman Zhigalov makes this statement very clear in The Forest as well as highlighting many of the social ills currently plaguing Russia including rampant alcoholism, rape, teen pregnancy and a clearly disillusioned working class, who are constantly bullied by state officials.

The Forest tells the story of sixteen year old boy Danila who has an illicit affair with Katya a woman twice his age which leads to devastating and violent consequences both in their community and beyond.

Beautifully shot and well edited, The Forest is a stark reminder that poverty stricken rural Russia is a far cry from the tourist friendly images of Moscow and St Petersburg which frequently flashed across the international media during the recent 2018 FIFA World Cup held across Russia.

Stylistically brutal and uncompromising, The Forest is for serious viewers of Russian cinema and those that are not easily offended by rape scenes, drunken violence and nuclear families being torn apart by sexual repression and betrayal. Not for sensitive viewers.

The Forest gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is possibly one of the most depressing films I have seen all year. Clearly it was director Roman Zhigalov intention to show cinematic realism in all its horrifying detail.

 

On The Border

The Recce

Director: Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl

Cast: Greg Kriek, Christia Visser, Marius Weyers, Grant Swanby, Albert Maritz, Elsabe Daneel, Maurice Carpede

Set in 1981 in Angola and Apartheid South Africa, The Recce seen at the film’s premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (insert website) DIFF 2018, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl combines some stylistic flourishes to create a vivid and tense depiction of the experiences of the films main hero Henk Viljoen a Recce who is caught behind enemy lines and presumed Killed In Action.

South African star Greg Kriek brilliantly plays Henk who leaves his pregnant wife Nicola played by Christia Visser behind as he ventures forth deep within enemy territory, behind the Angolan border in a treacherous guerrilla war which claimed many lives and was a clandestine Southern African war of attrition fought by the Apartheid South African government far north in the then Soviet infiltrated Angola, just above Namibia which was then known as South West Africa.

With the dialogue mainly in Afrikaans, The Recce is a brave portrayal of a soldier’s desire to survive in an increasingly cruel and hostile landscape where no one can be trusted.

Grant Swanby (Beyond the River) plays Henk’s English speaking corporal Corporal Le Roux, who realizes that they are all fighting a pointless war in brutal terrain. Also featured in the cast are well known South African stage and screen actor Marius Weyers (Blood Diamond, Gandhi) as the hard-drinking General Piet Visagie and Maurice Carpede as Impi Buthelezi.

Watching The Recce is like watching the Afrikaans version of Peter Berg’s nail biting military drama Lone Survivor and those that enjoy a well-orchestrated war film should see this South African film depicting a distinct period in this country’s history which left an indelible mark on the South African older white male psyche particularly those that were military active in the early 1980’s prior to the transition to democracy in 1994.

Despite some tangential scenes in the film’s first half, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl’s The Recce is as engrossing as it is terrifying and has a particularly brilliant ending, one which will shock audiences and leave them questioning the futility of warfare.

Due to its very specific subject matter, The Recce will obviously have more resonance in South Africa than internationally as the film refers to the 1980’s, a turbulent decade in this country’s fascinating and multi-dimensional history.

Strictly for fans of decent war films, The Recce gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Damaging Boundaries

The Tale

Director: Jennifer Fox

Cast: Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Common, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Frances Conroy, Isabelle Nelisse, John Heard

Spoiler Alert Valid until airing on M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018

Please note that this is a Made for TV film and will not be released in commercial cinemas.

Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox creates a searing autobiographical film called The Tale which had its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival DIFF 2018 https://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/.

The Tale features a superb performance by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Laura Dern (Big Little Lies) who plays a fictionalized version of director Jennifer Fox who has to confront strange and uncomfortable memories of her past as a young girl, when her mother played by Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen about an illicit affair that she had with a creepy gym coach, 40 year old divorcee Bill played with suitably skin-crawling detail by Jason Ritter.

As the narrative of The Tale unwinds through a series of carefully constructed flashbacks, Jennifer is forced to confront the fact that while she was doing horse riding on a farm in the Carolina’s with the strict Mrs G, crisply played by The Night Manager star Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) she was not only groomed for child abuse but becoming the victim.

The Tale confronts in horrific detail the strange and bizarre almost Lolita like affair that Bill initiates  with the young Jennifer expertly played by Isabelle Nelisse in many scenes that would be deeply disturbing to sensitive viewers.

Released by HBO films, The Tale is a made for Television film. Director Jennifer Fox beautifully reveals to audiences the nature of memory and the action taken by the grown-up Jennifer to confront her abuser. This significant film is a harrowing and brave account of child abuse which is especially pertinent in the era of the #MeToo Campaign.

Anchored by nuanced performances by both Dern who is nominated again at the 2018 Emmy Awards and Ellen Burstyn, The Tale is highly recommended viewing and intelligently explores the elusive nature of forgotten childhood memories which frequently blur the lines of morality and shows that any form of abuse damages boundaries both psychologically and sexually.

The Tale won Best Screenplay at DIFF 2018 and is also nominated for Best Limited Series or TV Movie at the Primetime Emmy Awards which is taking place in September 2018. The Tale will be aired on the South African subscription channel M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018.

The Tale gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

 

 

 

Of Your Best Intentions

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Wes Bentley, Michelle Monaghan, Angela Bassett, Frederick Schmidt

If the formula works, stick to it. Better yet, embellish on it and make it superb. If this is the maxim that brought superstar Tom Cruise to work again with writer director of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, then it proves that it works in the highly thrilling adrenaline fuelled sequel Mission Impossible: Fallout set mainly in London and Paris.

Cleverly bringing elements of the original 1996 Mission Impossible, the tightly controlled script adds some new characters in the form of the gorgeous blond femme fatale White Widow wonderfully played with suitable panache by The Crown star Vanessa Kirby who plays the daughter of the elusive espionage facilitator Max, played by Vanessa Redgrave in the original Mission Impossible.

Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Michelle Monaghan reunite with Tom Cruise once again reprising his role as the IMF agent Ethan Hunt in a convoluted double crossing narrative in which arch enemy Solomon Lane played by Sean Harris is extracted in a daring sequence on the Parisian streets.

Newcomer to the franchise is Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) as CIA assassin August Walker who brings a whole new level of male rivalry in the testosterone fueled action sequences containing Walker and Hunt.

Rebecca Ferguson returns as the lethal Ilsa Faust who is moonlighting as a Mi6 agent but secretly helping Ethan Hunt and his team.

From a spectacular rave sequence in Paris to the exteriors of The Tate Modern in London, Mission Impossible Fallout is a brilliant, gritty action film which proves that the combination of McQuarrie as writer and director and Tom Cruise as star is a winning formula.

Unbelievable helicopter stunts over Kashmir and a chase sequence in Paris, makes Mission Impossible: Fallout a must see action films especially recommended for fans of Rogue Nation and Ghost Protocol.

Ethan Hunt’s best intentions fallout as everything goes south literally in this superb sixth installment of the hugely successfully spy series.

Highly recommended viewing and possibly one of the best so far, Mission Impossible Fallout gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

 

 

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