Archive for October, 2018

To the Moon and Back

First Man

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Corey Michael Smith

Thanks to a preview screening organized by United International Pictures at Suncoast Cinecentre, Durban, I was fortunate enough to see director Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated Neil Armstrong biopic First Man starring an excellent Ryan Gosling and Golden Globe winner Claire Foy as his wife Janet Armstrong.

First Man was based on an intelligently written screenplay by Josh Singer based upon the James R. Hansen book First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong.

In the space race between America and the Soviets in the 1960’s, there was a desperate bid to successfully land a man on the moon, a pledge that iconic President John F. Kennedy made to the American public which in turn put pressure on NASA to not only train astronauts but successfully prepare them physically, psychologically and emotionally for a lunar trip.

What the Oscar winning director of La La Land Damien Chazelle does so beautifully is contrast the massive effort and technical implications of sending men to the moon with a complex family drama about Neil and Janet Armstrong as they desperate recover from the death of their young daughter Karen from a Brain Tumour.

Not only does this tragedy pull on the fabric of their marriage, but its Neil Armstrong’s absolute determination that he is going to be the first man on the moon and be the best astronaut America has ever seen. Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) gives a nuanced performance as Neil Armstrong, a father continually haunted by the death of his young daughter while the moon taunts him every evening, as if to say when are you actually coming to visit me?

Janet Armstrong superbly played by Claire Foy who deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance grows increasingly frantic at the prospect that while she has to be a mother to two young boys, there is a real danger that her husband might not return from a dangerous mission to the moon because of the infinite dangers involved.

In contrast to the familial tension at home, the actual attempts to get to the moon are impressively captured onscreen with mesmerizing sound effects suitably accompanied by an incredible musical score by Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz (La La Land) which truly makes First Man a remarkable and utterly impressionable film – This is truly great cinema held together by cerebral images and perfect on point portrayals of Neil and Janet Armstrong by  Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, who both brilliantly hold the film together emotionally and psychologically.

Audiences should watch out for a superb cameo by Corey Stoll as the outspoken Buzz Aldrin who feels nothing about remarking about an astronaut’s failure at his own funeral or how he was not a good pilot.

First Man is a complex, intelligently directed portrayals of one of the defining moments of the 20th century – Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon and the build up which preceded this significant event.

Highly recommended viewing, First Man receives a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is truly a cinematic achievement that will take audiences literally to the moon and back. Utterly superb.

 

 

You Will Never Be Alone

A Star is Born

 

Director: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Alec Baldwin, Ron Rifkin

Three time Oscar Nominee Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper, American Hustle) gives a superb no holds bar performance as the frequently inebriated singer Jackson Maine in the third remake of A Star is Born, which he also boldly directs.

The key to the 2018 version of A Star is Born is to fill the part played by Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version in which she starred opposite Kris Kristofferson who won a Golden Globe for Best actor Musical Comedy in the 1970’s version.

Enter pop icon and music superstar Lady Gaga who plays the significant role of aspiring singer Ally who is discovered by Jackson Maine in a Gay Bar (it’s not what audiences think!) as she enters on stage amidst a bevy of Drag Queens singing Edith Piaf.

The onscreen chemistry between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sizzles and it’s what makes the 2018 version of A Star is Born so palatable and such entertaining viewing.

Besides some fantastic cutting edge cinematography by Black Swan Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique, who really captures the chaotic energy of live music performances, the actual songs, the music and Bradley Cooper’s superb Oscar worthy acting makes this version of A Star is Born worth seeing.

As the awards season approaches, I am sure that both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will get Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor and Actress in a Musical or Comedy. As for the 2019 Oscars, it’s too early to predict, but this is without a doubt the best performance I have seen Bradley Cooper do onscreen as he inhabits the complicated role of Jackson Maine a singer whose addictive personality cannot handle the sudden and glittering fame bestowed upon his protégé Ally.

Ally is egged on at every turn in her rise to fame by a ruthless music manager Rez played by Rafi Gavron. Audiences should also watch out for a solid supporting performance by Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother and manager Bobby.

A Star is Born is superb viewing, fantastic singing and a brilliant film to watch ably assisted by Oscar worthy performances by its two main leads whose onscreen chemistry dazzles from the first musical number.

A Star is Born gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 and is a musical treat. Highly recommended viewing.

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.

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