Archive for November, 2019

Dancer Dysphoria

Girl

Director: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart, Katelijne Damen, Valentin Dhaenens

Flemish with English Subtitles

Warning this film is not for sensitive viewers and contains a strong adult theme.

Nominated for a 2019 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Belgian director’s Lukas Dhont’s intimate and controversial examination of gender dysphoria in Girl is a fascinating and touching film to watch.

Girl examines the fictionalized story of Lara a fifteen year old cisgender person who is in the transitional process of having gender reassignment surgery from being a boy to a girl, all while dealing with puberty and her desire to be a ballerina in Ghent. Girl is inspired by the true story of Nora Monsecour a professional dancer and transwoman in Belgium who experienced gender dysphoria.

Traditional definitions of binary gender roles are smashed in this explicit examination of what a trans-teenager has to deal with in a society which has preconceived stereotypical notions of what defines masculine and feminine and the roles associated with those binary definitions.

In society, there is still stigmatization of boys wanting to do ballet and director Lukas Dhont examines this intense stigma with a far more psychological twist as Lara has to not only deal with the rigours of training as a female ballerina but also the shame associated with having a penis. Lara even uses a separate change room from the other traditionally female ballerinas.

In a particularly poignant scene, Lara’s French father Matthias asks a group of young men to help carry heavy furniture upstairs as they move apartments, whilst Lara flits around uninterested in the heavy lifting.  Played by Arieh Worthaler, Matthias is supportive of his cisgender person’s decision to psychologically and physically transform from a boy to a girl with all the associated trauma involved.

While Girl fixates too much on the actual genital transformation highlighted by one particularly disturbing scene when Lara cuts off the penis with a pair of scissors in front of a mirror, Girl ultimately is a psychological film about transition, shame and stigmatization and has divided the transgender community in Europe and America and will continue to produce some fascinating post film conversations.

Director Lukas Dhont is young and brave enough to tackle such a controversial subject in his debut feature film Girl, helped enormously by the transformative acting of Belgian actor Victor Polster who is in virtually in every frame of the film. Girl gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is an incredibly brave cinematic debut from a first time director. Recommended viewing for those that savour discerning cinema.

Girl deservedly won the Queer Palm award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival is now going to be shown in South African cinemas at the European Film Festival – https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/. Be sure to catch this fascinating Belgian film at Cinema Nouveau in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria from Friday 29th November  to Sunday 8th December 2019.

Hopefully in 2020, Durban can once again be included on the itinerary for the European Film Festival and we can galvanize support for this important cinematic event.

7000 Revolutions Per Minute

Ford v Ferrari

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Jack McMullen, Ray McKennon, Noah Lupe

Walk the Line and Logan director James Mangold expertly tackles the world of motor racing in the exhilarating and brilliantly filmed Ford v Ferrari starring Oscar winner Christian Bale (The Fighter) as Ken Miles and Oscar winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) as American car designer Carroll Shelby.

Shelby and Miles form a formidable bond as they become corporate pawns by Ford Motor Company based in Detroit, Michigan headed by Henry Ford II superbly played by Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) who aided by his ambitious marketing executive Lee Iacocca played by Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street) and VP Leo Beebe played by Josh Lucas is determined to build the fastest American racing car to beat Ferrari at the international grueling 24 hour race Le Mans, in France in 1966.

Ford v Ferrari establishes the corporate politics and the sheer desire to win before the historic race at Le Mans along with the growing friendship that Shelby and Miles cement over fast cars, adrenalin and the absolute need for speed much to the amusement of Shelby’s wife Mollie Miles played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe (Now You See Me, Money Monster).

Balfe holds her own in a predominately male film about motor racing particularly highlighted in a superb scene when her character Mollie confronts her husband Ken about his racing ambitions while she is driving the family station wagon. More significantly is the poignant relationship Ken has with his young son Peter wonderfully played by Noah Lupe as they bond over the power of speed racing and the thrill of the racetrack.

Aided by a comprehensive script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, Ford v Ferrari is an insightful look at the 1960’s world of professional motor racing, the Adrenalin and the human cost incurred by the drivers as they battle to win and control the cars they are driving at vicious speeds in order to impress their corporate sponsors like Ford or Ferrari.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s intelligent on screen performances hold this two and a half hour Adrenalin fueled period film together about the historic events that led up to the Le Mans race in 1966.

Ford v Ferrari is a powerful film expertly directed and edited and is highly recommended viewing for those that love motor car racing. It’s a beautifully crafted film in a similar vein to Ron Howard’s 2013 film Rush starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl.

Ford v Ferrari gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing not only for the superb acting but also for the unbelievable racing supplemented by the handsome production design. Highly recommended viewing but not suitable for young children.

Zeus of the Soccer Field

Diamantino

Director: Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt

Cast: Carloto Cotto, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Carla Maciel, Margerida Moreira, Chico Chapas, Hugo Santas Silva

Portuguese with English Subtitles

Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt utterly bizarre allegorical fantasy about celebrity, cloning and refugees is set in the world of Portuguese football and focuses on a gorgeous but vacuous young soccer player Diamantino played by Carloto Cotto who is unwittingly controlled first by his father and then his evil twin sisters played by Anabela and Margerida Moreira.

Diamantino is clearly a thinly veiled reference to the most famous Portuguese soccer star in the world Cristiano Ronaldo a professional Portuguese soccer player whose fame and good looks has immortalized him on and off the field. Ronaldo’s brand has been commodified and sold as one of Europe’s most successful and talented soccer players. Ronaldo even has his own underwear brand!

If viewers are expecting the Portuguese language film Diamantino to be an intelligent allegorical tale about Ronaldo then they will be completely surprised.

As the directors are clearly influenced but not enhanced by famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, Abrantes and Schmidt turn the film Diamantino into an utterly bizarre tale of celebrity, cloning and the plight of refugees while also making comments about Portuguese nationalism.  

Besides the fluffy puppies that Diamantino’s imagines that he sees every time he scores a goal, this sports, espionage tale gets truly strange as Diamantino gets tricked by the Portuguese secret service in the form of two lesbians one of which is Rahim who pretends to be a refugee named Aisha from Cape Verde and gets inadvertently adopted by the clueless soccer player.

In the meantime, the evil twin sisters plot to have Diamantino’s gorgeous body and his football skills cloned by a bizarre geneticist named Dr Lamborghini which is in actual fact working for the Portuguese National Front that plan on using Diamantino’s star power in a propaganda media campaign to convince the citizens of Portugal to leave the European Union

Set mainly in Lisbon and the surrounding coastline, Diamantino is an utterly strange and bizarre film not even saved by the cardboard box acting of Carloto Cotto, who despite his beautiful looks does not convincingly portray Diamantino with an ounce of character dimensionality or willpower.

Diamantino might be the Zeus of the soccer field, but this film lacks any credibility as an original allegorical fantasy and turns out to be utterly weird in a terrible way.

Diamantino gets a film rating of 6 out of 10 and perhaps will find a unique audience in Portugal or Brazil but certainly not in mainstream international cinema.

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 7.5 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.

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