An Independent Woman

Gloria Bell

Director: Sebastian Lelio

Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Brad Garrett, Michael Cera, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Caren Pistorius, Barbara Sukowa, Sean Astin, Holland Taylor

Foreign Language film Oscar winner for A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio recreates an English language version of his Chilean film Gloria called Gloria Bell set in contemporary Los Angeles and starring Oscar winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice).

Moore plays a fifty something divorced woman Gloria Bell who has a mundane insurance job during the day in a downtown L. A. company but who trawls the disco nightclubs in the evening sipping martini’s and dancing with strange men.

Whilst Julianne Moore is brilliant as Gloria Bell a woman who is prone to people pleasing which includes her rather awkward interactions with her grown up children Peter played by Juno star Michael Cera and Anne played by South African born immigrant Caren Pistorius (The Light Between Oceans, Mortal Engines).

Gloria even tries to placate her anxious co-worker Melinda who is on verge of losing her job in a particularly noteworthy scene on an office balcony overlooking downtown L. A. Melinda is played by famed German actress Barbara Sukowa (Atomic Blonde, Hannah Arendt, Lola).

When it comes to men, Gloria despite her disco dancing antics does not have as much luck as she meets the divorcee with serious baggage issues Arnold wonderfully played against type by John Turturro (Fading Gigolo, Barton Fink, Jungle Fever).

Gloria desperately tries to navigate this new relationship with the weird Arnold as he battles to cut ties with his ex-wife and children and is desperately jealous when Gloria introduces him to her ex-husband Dustin played by Brad Garrett and his new wife Fiona played by Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, The Firm, Mickey Blue Eyes). The only two women Gloria can rely on in times of crisis are her best friend Vicky played by Rita Wilson and her wealthy mother Hillary, a superb cameo by comedic star Holland Taylor.

Director Lelio lets many scenes linger too long for a film which lacks a fast moving storyline yet Gloria Bell is held together by a fabulous performance by Julianne Moore as she inhabits all the garish interior scenes of L. A. nightclubs and Vegas casinos.

Gloria Bell is an interesting portrait of a woman’s journey of self-discovery as she truly becomes an independent woman after she realizes that she cannot rely on her children or the men in her life.

Whilst I have not seen the original 2013 Chilean film Gloria which Sebastian Lelio also directed, audiences might find this Americanized version Gloria Bell slightly bland and very slow moving despite the superb performances and catchy musical score.

Gloria Bell gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is saved by Julianne Moore’s terrific performance but unfortunately becomes a slow moving story of a woman finding her own independence.

My impression was that Gloria Bell simply did not translate well into a contemporary American version despite the auteur efforts of director Sebastian Lelio.

Another Handsome Stranger

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Director: Joe Berlinger

Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, John Malkovich, Angela Sarafyan, Jeffrey Donovan, Haley Joel Osment , Brian Geraghty, Terry Kinney, Kaya Scodelario, Jim Parsons

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile stylishly directed by crime documentary film maker Joe Berlinger is a fascinating and deeply disturbing portrait of a devilishly handsome sociopath, the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy superbly played by the gorgeous Zac Efron (The PaperBoy, The Greatest Showman, We are Your Friends) in a determined departure from his comic roles.

Elizabeth Kendall is played by Rules Don’t Apply star Lily Collins who gives a mesmerizing performance as a young girl captivated by Bundy’s killer good looks, his charm and his demonic charisma. Kendall first meets the handsome stranger in a bar in Seattle in 1969 and Berlinger’s film is told from her perspective and rather than focus on the heinous crimes that Bundy committed in several states across America from Utah, Colorado to Florida.

Always maintaining his innocence even when he was arrested for multiple murders in Florida, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile chooses rather to focus on the glamourous media attention that Bundy received both in the Florida courthouse and earlier in Aspen, Colorado where he brazenly escaped from a courthouse in broad daylight in 1977.  

It is really the Florida trial where Bundy even was allowed to defend his own innocence against a unimpressed judge Edward D. Cowart wonderfully played by Oscar nominee John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons) where Berlinger’s film comes into sharp dramatic focus and where Efron excels in some superbly written dialogue between a clearly delusional and narcissistic Bundy and Judge Cowart who is desperately trying to avert the trial from becoming a sensationalist media circus.

As serial killer films go, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is original in the way it handles its subject matter but is no means gripping or scary like Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning fictional film The Silence of the Lambs which won both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s Oscars for Best Actor and Actress respectively back in 1992.

What is so disturbing besides Zac Efron’s handsome movie star face masquerading as the real Ted Bundy is the apparent ease with which Bundy eluded law enforcement agents in several states and managed to kill, decapitate and rape over 20 young women in the 1970’s before eventually being caught and sentenced to death. Viewers have to bear in mind this was decades before DNA analysis and pervasive social media.

Nevertheless Zac Efron does give a brilliant performance as Bundy aided by Lily Collins as the denial ridden ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall who once trusted Bundy with her young daughter.

Worth seeing for its originality and audacity, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and is helped by a fantastic supporting cast including Jim Parsons, Jeffrey Donovan and Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense).

Read more about the terrible crimes of Ted Bundy –
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy

The Ultimate Time Heist

Avengers: Endgame

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Karen Gillen, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Letitia Wright, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Angela Bassett, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Linda Cardellini, Frank Grillo, Hiroyuki Sanada, James D’Arcy, Bradley Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson, Ty Simpkins    

Ironman

Marvel Cinematic Universe continues with the highly anticipated sequel to Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame featuring all the famous superheroes that fans have grown to love including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Antman, Hawkeye and Captain Marvel as they band together to go back in time to retrieve the infinity stones to reverse the evil Thanos’s ultimate revenge at the end of Infinity War where he made half the population vanish including such beloved heroes as Spiderman, Black Panther and Doctor Strange.

Thor

As Endgame starts, Ironman is stuck in space, Thor takes to drink in the New Asgard and Captain America is despondent that the Avengers are at their lowest point ever.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel played by Brie Larson rallies the troops along with Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. Jeremy Renner returns sporting a fantastic haircut as Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye to assist the remaining Avengers as they devise a time travel device to allow them to go back in time to three separate intergalactic locations to retrieve the highly precious and powerful Infinity Stones. It’s the ultimate Time Heist as Antman points out.

Hawkeye

What follows is a fantastic feast of Superheroes which directors Anthony and Joe Russo will have hard core Marvel fans both laughing and crying at the deluge of their cinematic idols as they all band together to destroy the evil Thanos.

Black Widow

While some of the plot points in this three hour long superhero extravaganza don’t all get resolved, it certainly opens up a whole lot of new possibilities such a possible separate Hawkeye film? Sequels to the hugely successful Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy are both on the cards as well as another Spiderman film. So there is no shortage of geek fan crushing that will occur in Avengers: Endgame and the subsequent films to follow. Once again Marvel knocks it out of the park judging by the lucrative response at the international box office.

The Hulk

Avengers: Endgame is a culmination of all the Marvel films of the last decade and hints at a new start for some of the lesser known superheroes to flesh out their story lines. Let’s face it with an overcrowded universe, audiences will battle to identify with any one superhero but rather applaud and cheer at the massive team of Avengers and all their trusted sidekicks. Audiences should look out for cameos by Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier and of course Thor’s malevolent brother Loki played by Tom Hiddleston.

Antman

Avengers: Endgame is definitely for Marvel fans and trust me everyone from the previous films are in it. It’s definitely worth seeing and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Fighting the Seven Deadly Sins

Shazam!

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Michelle Borth, Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Adam Brody, Cooper Andrews, Grace Fulton, John Glover

D. C. Comics finally made a feel good superhero film without too many dark undertones in director David F. Sandberg’s hilarious and quirky kid turned adult superhero film Shazam! featuring Zachary Levi (Thor: Ragnarok) in the title role as the grown up caped crusader and the younger boy version whose real name is Billy Batson wonderfully played by Asher Angel.

British actor Mark Strong (Kingsman, The Golden Circle, Miss Sloane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is cast as the evil villain Dr Sivana who unleashes the monstrous Seven Deadly Sins onto an unsuspecting population in Philadelphia and eventually battles Shazam! in a wonderful amusement park showdown. 

Whilst Wonder Woman and Aquaman were real grown up superheroes Shazam is an orphaned kid Billy Batson who inherits superhero powers including super-human strength and the ability to charge cellphones with large voltages of electricity from a mysterious wizard played by an unrecognizable Djimon Hounson Oscar nominated star of In America and Blood Diamond.

Shazam! is not to be taken too seriously but is terrifically entertaining especially when the adult version of the superhero is played with such mirth by Chuck TV star Zachary Levi in one of the dorkiest superhero costumes ever invented. Shazam! is a great family film and will particularly resonate with ten year old boys and teenagers.

Like with Wonder Woman and Aquaman, DC Comics got it right with the light hearted humorous film Shazam! This caped crusader action film is definitely worth seeing and gets a film rating of 7 out 10.

Audiences should look out for cameos by Adam Brody (Lovelace, Mr. and Mrs Smith), Michelle Borth from Hawaii 50 fame and a particularly brilliant performance by Jack Dylan Grazer as the crippled orphan boy with a sharp mouth Freddy Freeman who becomes Billy’s sidekick. 

Displaying Lolita

The Bookshop

Director: Isabel Coixet

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Jorge Suquet, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber

Elegy and Endless Night Spanish director Isabel Coixet brings to the screen Penelope Fitzgerald’s poignant novel The Bookshop set in a small East Anglian town in 1959. The story centres around a relatively young widow Florence Greene wonderfully played by British actress Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, The Sense of an Ending, Hugo, Shutter Island) who decides to open a book shop in this remote gossip ridden environment.

While naturally stocking the classics like Thackeray, Dickens and George Eliot, Mrs Greene decides to sell more controversial literature including Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 and Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous novel Lolita.

In a genteel correspondence with a mysterious reclusive bibliophile Edmund Brundish superbly played by British screen legend Bill Nighy (Their Finest, Pride, Wrath of the Titans), Florence gradually draws Brundish out of his reclusive liar as she continually sends him fascinating literary works.

However. like in many conservative small towns, the idea of a progressive bookshop which could disseminate radical ideas soon finds opposition amongst the townsfolk headed by the snobbish and influential Violet Gamart, played with menace and sophistication by Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April).

Violet’s wicked emissary is the slippery playboy Milo North played by James Lance (Bel Ami, Marie Antoinette) who ultimately betrays Florence Greene as slowly but surely each of the town’s inhabitant’s turns against her best literary endeavors.

The Bookshop is a slow moving poignant drama about a women’s wish to fill a lifelong dream and a community who finds repulsion their best way to combat any radical innovative changes such as a well-stocked and resourceful bookshop. Director Isabel Coixet displays her art house aesthetic in The Bookshop to comment incisively on the cruelty of a small English town which is just emerging out of the post-World War II shock and horror, only to find themselves not quite ready to embrace an innovative literary aesthetic, which eventually become fashionable in the 1960’s.

This film’s theatrical release was later in other parts of the world

Spanish director Isabel Coixet’s The Bookshop receives a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is a subtle portrait of narrow mindedness which will not give audiences that expected cathartic release that accompanies happy endings.

The Bookshop is recommended viewing for those that enjoy European Art House cinema even though this literary themed film is set in Britain.

The Circus has Come to Town

Dumbo

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger

Director Tim Burton reunites his stars Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito from the 1992 smash hit sequel Batman Returns in Disney’s live action remake of Dumbo also starring Colin Farrell and Eva Green.

The setting is a travelling circus in post-war Missouri where Dumbo is born to a mother elephant and whose long ears enable the baby elephant to fly at the coaxing of a feather with the help of children Milly and Joe Farrier played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins.

The children’s father and returning World War I hero Holt Farrier is played by Colin Farrell (Roman J. Israel Esq, The Beguiled, Widows).

Danny DeVito (Big Fish, The War of the Roses, Get Shorty) stars as Max Medici who comically runs the travelling circus. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger does take a while to get the story of Dumbo off the ground and the first half of the film does appear to be slightly unexciting.

Luckily, the moment Michael Keaton and Eva Green appear on screen, Dumbo becomes a fascinating tale of intrigue, dreams dashed, benevolent dictatorships and corporate greed which allows for the wholesale exploitation of animals for circus tricks which naturally is an overarching theme in this Disney tale of reunions, captivity, animal cruelty and entertainment.

In any case, what is a Disney movie without a moral cause and Dumbo is no exception.

Visually, Dumbo is fascinating and the production design and costumes are brilliant and slightly garish which is what to expect in a Tim Burton film who directed such classics as Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Ed Wood, Big Eyes and Alice in Wonderland.

As the action moves swiftly from the Missouri plains to New York where Keaton’s flamboyant entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere played with a chilling panache by Oscar nominee Michael Keaton (Birdman) buys Medici’s circus to be supposedly incorporated into Vandevere’s lavish amusement park Dreamland financed by a ruthless banker J. Griffin Remington played by Oscar winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) .

It’s at Dreamland where Dumbo has to perform daring circus tricks which prompts him to fly around the tent with precarious set pieces collapsing all around the poor elephant. It’s also at Dreamland that Vendevere’s wicked intentions are revealed much to the horror of Medici and the one armed Holt Farrier.

Eva Green’s sympathetic Parisian acrobat is a breath of fresh air amidst the CGI heavy retelling of Dumbo which is entertaining and certainly spectacular but does fall short of the mark.

Unfortunately director Tim Burton misses the mark with Dumbo but the gorgeous production design outshines the lacklustre story line which might not produce tears in viewers’ eyes.

Dumbo gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 but as a lavish post-war circus film it could have been absolutely phenomenal but remains adequately entertaining. Ideal viewing for children and is definitely a film worth seeing on the Big Screen.

SAFTA WINNERS 2019 in the Film Category

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA’S) were held on Saturday 2nd March 2019 at Suncity Resort and Casino in the North West Province, South Africa

Best Film: Sew the Winter to my Skin

S

Best Director: Daryne Joshua – Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story

Best Actress: Jill Levenberg – Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story

Best Actor: Jarrid Geduld – Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story

Best Supporting Actor: Zoliswa Xaluva – Sew the Winter to my Skin

Best Supporting Actress: Ilse Klink – Stroomop

Killing Viking

Director: Hans Petter Moland

Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Micheal Richardson Michael Eklund, Emmy Rossum, John Doman, Julia Jones, Gus Halper

The originality of Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s thriller Cold Pursuit cannot be ignored.

The revenge action film set in Colorado is an American remake of a Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance which artfully combines deadpan humour with witty one liners featuring an array of strange drug dealing gangsters in Denver, Colorado who Nels Coxman systematically takes revenge on after his son is supposedly killed by a heroin overdose.

Coxman is played by action man Liam Neeson who has reignited his career after the success of the Taken franchise and followed with such films as Non-Stop and The Commuter

Nels’s son Kyle is played by Liam Neeson and the late Natasha Richardson’s son Micheal Richardson and his wife Grace is played by Oscar nominee Laura Dern (Rambling Rose) although Dern’s scenes in Cold Pursuit are extremely minimal.

Emmy Rossum (Poseidon, The Day After Tomorrow, The Phantom of the Opera) stars as the down to earth Kehoe cop Kim Dash as she witnesses the turf war heat up between the drug gangs of the local Colorado Red Indians and a ruthless group of Denver based gangsters headed up by the psychotic Viking wonderfully played with just the right amount of nefarious imbalance by British rising star Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express).

As the bodies pile up and the vengeful Coxman slowly starts circling in on the lethal Viking, a final showdown occurs in the ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado, where nothing really happens except wealthy Americans come and ski and get high. Until now that is.

Cold Pursuit is a deadpan revenge thriller with a Nordic twist, featuring a fascinating supporting cast of thugs and middlemen with names like Speedo, Dante and Limbo including a brief cameo by True Crime: The Menendez Murders star Gus Halper as the sex crazed Bone, who has a penchant for seducing motel maids.

Audiences that enjoyed such dark crime films as Fargo and Things To Do in Denver When You are Dead, will love Cold Pursuit, a snow covered revenge thriller with a body count to rival Taken.

Action fans who love Liam Neeson’s style of cinema, will enjoy Cold Pursuit, which gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

Surf City

Deep End

Durban based film director Eubulus Timothy makes superb use of Durban Beachfront in his cross cultural surf drama Deep End starring Carishma Basday and Greg Kriek (The Recce).

Corey teaching Sunitha how to surf

Deep End centres on the story of an independently minded South African Indian young woman who is desperate to escape the clutches of her father played by TV personality turned actor Mahendra Raghunath as she embraces the surf culture of Durban which historically was only made up of young white people.

The competitive surfing world clashes with the arranged marriages family orientated world of a Hindi South African family as the main character Sunitha Patel takes to the waves in a bid to surf where she meets disgraced American surfer Corey Taylor who is lying low in South Africa. Corey is ironically played by South African actor Greg Kriek who was so brilliant in the South African Afrikaans war drama The Recce which has just won Best Foreign Feature Drama at the Idyllwild indie film festival in California – http://www.idyllwildcinemafest.com/awards-iifc-2019/

But back to Durban and what better way to show off the city’s miles of beautiful beaches and warm Indian Ocean, by making a surf film set in a city synonymous with some of the best surfing in the world.

Deep End is by no means a brilliant film and at times the storyline and script is slightly contrived but director Eubulus Timothy does the best he can with a film that not only shows off Durban’s delightful coastline but focuses on two very fascinating subcultures – the surfing community in Durban as well as Durban’s unique Indian cultural dynamic which is exemplified in the forbidden cross-cultural romance between Corey Taylor and Sunitha Patel.

There is also some comic moments thrown in to Deep End and the middle section of the film could have been edited more efficiently. Overall if you want to support South African cinema then Deep End is a fun filled cross cultural surfing movie which fantastically showcasing Durban as a surfing city with beautiful beaches and a superb vibe especially showcasing urban locations including North Beach and the hip Florida Road precinct in Morningside.

Deep End is a fun filled surf film and gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10. Recommended viewing for some light home grown entertainment.

Retro Intergalactic Superhero

Captain Marvel

Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounson, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Rune Temte

Just before Avengers: Endgame hits theatres, Marvel had to introduce one more superhero to the galaxy of stars. It’s the Retro intergalactic Captain Marvel wonderfully played by Oscar winner Brie Larson also known as Airforce Pilot Carol Danvers who gets whisked into space to become indoctrinated by the Kree Civilization, an advanced alien race headed up by the mysterious Supreme Being icily played by Annette Bening in her Marvel Comics debut.

Audiences can be forgiven for thinking that they had bought cinema tickets to a Star Trek reboot as the first twenty minutes of Captain Marvel is entirely set in space. Until Captain Marvel miraculously escapes an intergalactic feud between the Kree and the Skrull tribes and lands up in Los Angeles in 1995 in a blockbuster video store of all places, the film effortlessly shifts its location from outer space to a particular time and place.

In California, Captain Marvel teams up with a youthful Nick Fury wonderfully played by Samuel L. Jackson whose screen chemistry with Brie Larson is electrifying.   

Like all the other Marvel films and particularly those that loved Avengers: Infinity War, then Captain Marvel is a fun mixture of superhero and Guardians of the Galaxy and fits right in with the current trajectory the Marvel films are going. More significantly it is the first entirely female centred superhero film, with Brie Larson doing a sterling job, although admittedly the film does not quite match up to DC Comics’s brilliant Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins.

There is sufficient plot twists, location changes as Captain Marvel and Nick Fury travel to Louisiana to discover her real human identity as Airforce Pilot Carol Danvers as they team up with fellow co-pilot Maria Rambeau played by rising British star Lashana Lynch.

Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr Ripley) plays the arrogant Kree commander Yon Rogg who proves to be a worthy adversary to Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel is a fun filled retro intergalactic romp of a film engagingly written and populated with some witty one liners. Brie Larson pulls off the role of the latest female action superhero with credibility and nuance as she struggles to discover her real identity and where her role as Captain Marvel fits in to the larger Avengers scheme of things.

Flashy visual effects and some great onscreen chemistry save Captain Marvel from being just another superhero film and this gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

Audiences should definitely see Captain Marvel before watching Avengers: Endgame. Recommended Viewing for Marvel fans only and regular attendees of Comicon.

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