Archive for October, 2019

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.  

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