Archive for August, 2018

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.

 

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