Warsaw is the Paris of the East

Cold War

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Kahn

Polish and French with English Subtitles

Polish British-based director Pawel Pawlikowski gives the cinematic world another beautiful masterpiece in all its stark complexity with the poignant film Cold War which was nominated for three Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.

As part of the 6th European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which will have screenings at Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, South African audiences will get a chance to watch Cold War and admire filmmaking at its best.

Pawel Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize at the prestige 2019 Cannes International Film Festival and watching Cold War viewers can understand why. This film’s stark beauty is mesmerizing and seductive.

Pawlikowski’s masterful story centres on the epic romance of Zula beautifully played by Polish actress Joanne Kulig and Wiktor played by actor Tomasz Kot as they first encounter each other at the rudimentary auditions for a Polish folk song competition whereby Wiktor immediately spots the sultry Zula as a talent to behold. Cold War is set between the years 1949 and 1964 when Poland was under strict Soviet control and the harshness of this oppression is accentuated in the gorgeous black and white cinematography which heightens the plight between these two star crossed lovers.

Gradually as the action moves from rural Poland to East Berlin to Paris and then the former Yugoslavia and then back to Poland, Zula and Wiktor experience a tempestuous relationship laced with all the ironies of betrayal, fear and lust as the Soviet Party apparatus attempt to intervene in their lives and control the Polish folk singing group for propaganda purposes and to further push forward the agenda of Communism and Populism.

Joanna Kulig as Zula and in the background Tomasz Kot as Wiktor

Against this harsh setting, Cold War weaves a fascinating tale filled with brilliant music from traditional Polish folk music to Elvis Presley all gorgeously shot by two time Oscar nominated cinematographer Lukasz Zal (Ida, Cold War) as Zula and Wiktor‘s relationship is examined, dissected and reconfigured through the 1950’s when Wiktor decides to defect to Paris and work as a film musician.

Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a beautiful examination not just of a relationship between a man and woman through music and love, but also of the brittle and distrustful relationship between the Soviet Bloc of Countries and the West which defined the political stagnation which the film gains its distinctive title.

Cold War is a superb film and anyone interested in quality cinema should make an effort to see this flawless film, which gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and deserves all the international recognition heaped upon it. A cinematic gem.  

How To Ruin Your Life Brilliantly

A Rainy Day in New York

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Elle Fanning, Timothee Chalamet, Selena Gomez, Liev Schreiber, Jude Law, Diego Luna, Rebecca Hall, Cherry Jones, Will Rogers

Oscar winning director and veteran scriptwriter Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall) delivers another witty slice of New York life filled with paranoia, lust and intrigue featuring all the hot young stars of the Instagram generation: Elle Fanning (The Beguiled) Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) and music celebrity turned actress Selena Gomezn (Rudderless) in his new film A Rainy Day in New York.

Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) plays Gatsby Welles a disgruntled privileged millennial who accompanies his sweet and sometimes naïve girlfriend Ashleigh Enright wonderfully played with a bubbling effervesce by indie film darling Elle Fanning (Mary Shelley, The Beguiled, Maleficent)  to New York City to interview the difficult middle aged film director Roland Pollard superbly played by Live Schreiber (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Spotlight) who goes off the rails after the screening of his latest film and suffers an artistic breakdown.

As Ashleigh and Gatsby get inadvertently separated in the Big Apple, Ashleigh gets caught up with the foibles of hot movie star Francisco Vega played by Mexican star Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Milk, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and scriptwriter Ted Davidoff wonderfully played with just the right amount of neurosis by Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr Ripley) who confronts his wife Connie played by Rebecca Hall (Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) for having an affair.

Gatsby meets the wise cracking Shannon in a breakout performance by Selena Gomez on a student film project and they hit it off while afterwards he attempts to drown his sorrows at a glamourous cocktail bar in Manhattan where he meets a mysterious beautiful blond woman.

Back in his own territory, Woody Allen delivers a very funny scripted film about a day in the life of paranoid New Yorkers as the weather deteriorates along with their moral values. Chalamet and Fanning are brilliant as the two main protagonists proving once again director Allen’s ability to cast the hot young stars of contemporary cinema.  

There are some terrific cameo performances especially by Cherry Jones (Boy Erased, Whisky Tango Foxtrot) as Gatsby’s supposedly snobbish society mother who reveals to him her rather bizarre past much to her son’s utter despair.

For those that love classic Woody Allen films, make a plan to watch A Rainy Day in New York – it’s hilarious, funny and smart with a suitable twist at the end.

 A Rainy Day in New York gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is superbly scripted by Woody Allen with some great one liners including how to ruin your life brilliantly and ably uses all of New York’s legendary locations including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Avoiding Mirrors

Gemini Man

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge

Film Rating: 6 out of 10

Two time Oscar winner for Best Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) approaches the action genre with less than satisfactory results in Gemini Man much like the 2003 flop that was his interpretation of Hulk before Marvel Studios got properly straightened out by Disney.

Will Smith (Bad Boys, Aladdin, Concussion) plays an over the hill assassin Henry Brogan for a shady government department based in Virginia headed by Clay Verris played without compassion by Oscar nominee Clive Owen (Closer) who is wasted as the villain in this rather bizarre CIA revenge story that sees Brogan being cloned without his knowledge so that a 25 year old version of him called Junior comes after him in some exotic locations including Cartagena in Colombia and Budapest in Hungary.

Narrative gaps abound in a poorly written script with a contrived storyline which appears to get more irritating as the film progresses with zero onscreen chemistry between Will Smith and the female lead Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kill The Messenger) who plays intelligence operative Danny Zakarweski who gets planted by the covert agency to run surveillance on Brogan while he is fishing off the coast of Georgia, USA.

What follows is a classic tale of a cat chasing its own tail as Brogan soon discovers that the man trying to kill him is himself, hence the title Gemini Man. This is a paint by numbers thriller whose storyline is less solid, while the visual effects are about the only redeeming feature of this below average action film.

Considering Ang Lee’s impressive body of work including Sense and Sensibility; Lust, Caution; Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gemini Man falls flat as an action film although there are some fantastic visual sequences which make up for the completely dubious premise of this film’s faulty storyline. Such a pity to see great talent as Will Smith and Clive Owen wasted in a poorly scripted film directed by a more than accomplished film director.

Unfortunately, Gemini Man gets a film rating of 6 out 10 and judging by the fact that Alibaba Pictures financed this film, this was a grudge project for Ang Lee to appease the studios which are churning out content with Chinese capital investment.

If audiences like flawed action films with dubious plots, then Gemini Man is for them. 

Aurora’s Curse

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Director: Joachim Ronning

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley, Harris Dickinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Robert Lindsay, Juno Temple

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales director Joachim Ronning directs the highly anticipated lavish sequel to Disney’s 2014 fantasy film Maleficent. Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted) reprises her role of Maleficent the Fey protector of Aurora in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and this time she is up against Queen Ingrith wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (Love Field, Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys).

In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Maleficent and Queen Ingrith first meet at a pre-marital dinner for Aurora played again by Elle Fanning (Mary Shelley, The Beguiled) and her beau Prince Philip played by Harris Dickinson last seen on the small screen as the kidnapped J. Paul Getty III in the excellent TV series Trust directed by Oscar winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).

Immediately Queen Ingrith and Maleficent do not hit it off, as the vivacious and calculating Queen sets a trap for the fairies at the impending wedding of Aurora and Prince Philip.

Soon Maleficent is sent wounded into the underworld where she is rescued by Conall played by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and the hunky looking Borra played by Ed Skrein (Deadpool, The Transporter Refuelled).

British stars Juno Temple (Atonement, Wonder Wheel, Black Mass), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) and Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) reprise their roles as Thistlewit, Flittle and Knotgrass respectively.

Whilst the plot of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is certainly not as original as the 2014 film, the stunning visual effects and marvellous pace of the film make up for any shortcomings. The best casting choice was Michelle Pfeiffer playing the vicious Mother-in-Law to be much to the consternation of the utterly oblivious son and husband.

Fans of Maleficent will certainly savour this fabulous sequel even if it is to watch the gorgeous Angelina Jolie make her big screen comeback, post her highly publicized divorce from Brad Pitt.

All the secondary characters pale in comparison to the diva rivals onscreen namely Jolie and Pfeiffer as they battle it out in this glittering fantasy adventure to truly claim the nefarious title of Mistress of Evil.

While not as brilliant as the original, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil gets a Film Rating: 7 out of 10 and will surely keep audiences entertained while giving viewers further ideas for future Halloween ensembles.

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, Luke Kleintank, Denis O’Hare

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

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