Archive for December, 2019

The Papal Tango

The Two Popes

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Luis Gnecco, Cristina Banegas, Sidney Cole, Libero de Rienzo

Please note The Two Popes is only available on Netflix and did not receive a comprehensive theatrical release.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (Constant Gardener, City of God, 360) brings us a sumptuous glimpse into the conclave or the voting of a new Pope behind the magnificent walls of the Vatican City in Rome in his latest Netflix film The Two Popes starring Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) as Cardinal Ratzinger who become Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce (The Wife, Carrington) as the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who eventually becomes Pope Francis.

The Two Popes focuses on a clash of ideals between a conservative Cardinal Ratzinger expertly played by Hopkins who is intent on holding the Catholic church back from any contemporary reforms or even discussing any recent controversies that have recently tainted the Catholic Church including the sexual abuse scandal which the Oscar winning film Spotlight so brilliantly explored in the American archdiocese in Massachusetts and in other states.

Cardinal Bergoglio superbly played by Jonathan Pryce is a progressive thinking Cardinal who would like to make the Catholic Church accessible to the impoverished masses especially in Latin America where Catholicism dominates so proficiently.

Bergoglio has endured his own dark history in Argentina as he desperately tried to protect the left wing subversive Jesuit priests in Buenos Aires from a brutal right wing military junta which gained power in Argentina in a 1976 coup killing thousands of dissidents known as The Dirty War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War .

Controversially, Bergoglio was viewed in his own country as compromising with the military junta and was exiled in Argentina for many years as punishment for colluding with a regime which forced thousands of people to disappear in Argentina’s most brutal decade until democracy was eventually restored in 1983 following the Argentine military defeat by the British during the Falklands War.

The younger Jorge Bergoglio is wonderfully played by Argentinian actor Juan Minujin (Focus) as he deals with the moral dilemma of remaining true to his faith while supposedly appeasing a harsh military dictatorship.

With an insightful script by Anthony McCarten, the most rewarding scenes in The Two Popes are the brilliant scenes between Cardinals Bergoglio and Ratzinger as the older Cardinal announces his intention to renounce the papacy. Both Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce nail their roles as the respective diametrically opposed Cardinals, speaking in multiple languages who form a formidable bond over Roman pizza and Argentinian football.

The Two Popes is a stunning portrait of two men who hold the fate of the entire Catholic world in their hands yet seemingly toy with subjects ranging from confession to modernization while both revealing their own inner demons. Fernando Meirelles directs the film with his usual visual flourish as the action alternates between the lavish grandeur of the Vatican City to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires.

The Two Popes is a stunning portrait of two men who hold the fate of the entire Catholic world in their hands yet seemingly toy with subjects ranging from confession to modernization while both revealing their own inner demons. Fernando Meirelles directs the film with his usual visual flourish as the action alternates between the lavish grandeur of the Vatican City to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires.

A Night at the Egyptian

Cats

Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Laurie Davidson, Robbie Fairchild, Ray Winstone, Steven McRae, Danny Collins

Based upon Modernist poet T. S. Eliot’s poetry collection, Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats the musical has been a Broadway and West End hit for decades.

The film version of Cats directed by Les Miserables director Tom Hooper is fascinating, surreal but also quite lacklustre and this is due to the uneven casting of the film.

Cats as a film has superb production design with brilliantly realized costumes and sets, but viewers must be familiar with the Theatre production of Cats which was primarily about movement, dancing and singing.

To turn such a successful theatrical production of Cats into a hit film is a daunting task for any director. Despite Tom Hooper’s success with such films as Les Miserables, The Danish Girl and The King’s Speech, he unfortunately misses a golden opportunity to make the cinematic version of Cats absolutely dazzling and that has a lot to do with the strange casting choices for the roles.

While Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) adds gravitas as Old Deuteronomy, Idris Elba’s green eyed Macavity is just plain weird and as for Rebel Wilson and James Corden, they should not have been cast at all as their interpretation of Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones is utterly cringe worthy.

What saves Cats is Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson’s interpretation of Grizabella as her solo numbers are superb and she really anchors the film with a brilliant onscreen performance and fantastic singing.

All the professional singers cast in Cats are really good, including a mesmerizing performance by Taylor Swift as Bombalurina whose onscreen entrance is clearly inspired by Nicole Kidman’s entrance in Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece Moulin Rouge. Jason Derulo equally holds his own as Rum Tum Tigger and Laurie Davidson’s interpretation of Mr Mistoffelees is spot on and charming.

The narrative arc of Cats goes completely off track but audiences must remember that the musical was loosely based on a collection of lyrical poems, so there was never a strong story to begin with. The middle of Cats is entertaining especially the tap dance scene performed by Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks. Newcomer Francesca Hayward holds her own as the novice feline Victoria.

Unfortunately the beginning and ending are terrible and audiences get a sense that director Tom Hooper was a bit out of his depth with this film production. But perhaps if Baz Luhrmann had directed it, viewers would have gotten an entirely unique interpretation.

Cats as a film is enjoyable but not brilliant, saved by magnificent soloist performances, solid production design and generally speaking the cinematic effort should be applauded and not so universally mocked as it has been on social media.

Despite the dubious casting choices, Cats only gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is really aimed at ardent fans of the hit musical production.

An Interminable Battle

Marriage Story

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty, Lucas Neff, Merritt Wever, Azhy Robertson

Please note Marriage Story is only available on Netflix and did not receive a comprehensive theatrical release.

The Squid and the Whale director Noah Baumbach brings an incisive story of a contemporary marriage disintegrating in his Netflix’s released film Marriage Story starring Oscar nominated actor Adam Driver (BlackKklansman) as Charlie the husband and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) as Nicole who make up a trendy young New York couple.

Nicole is an aspiring stage and screen actress who falls in love and marries Charlie an off-Broadway theatre director. The couple have an eight year old son Henry played by Azhy Robertson (Juliet, Naked). Very rapidly and much to Charlie’s shock and surprise, their marriage starts disintegrating when Nicole discovers that her husband had a brief affair with a theatre intern.

Expertly played by Scarlett Johansson, Nicole moves back to Los Angeles where she stays with her mother Sandra played by Julie Hagerty (Flying High). There, she enlists the assistance of a hard as nails California divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw superbly played by Oscar nominee Laura Dern (Rambling Rose, Wild).

When the hard reality of divorcing Charlie comes into focus, Nicole has to grapple with all sorts of issues such as child custody and marital finances especially since Charlie has just received a massive Arts Grant to direct a Broadway production with a group of theatre actors back in New York.

Charlie, featuring an outstanding performance by Adam Driver, is suddenly forced to go to Los Angeles to also enlist a divorce lawyer, a cut-throat shark named Jay Marotta wonderfully played by Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Kill the Messenger).

Writer and director Noah Baumbach incisively dissects the dissolution of a marriage as Charlie and Nicole become embroiled in a bitter divorce battle which is overshadowed by the vicious divorce lawyers as each of their lives becomes an incriminating portrait of how a marriage, a partnership shatters into a million pieces with their son Henry caught in the middle.

In Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach perfectly examines the emotional effects of a divorce on a couple who really haven’t considered all the ramifications of a traumatic separation. Adam Driver expertly portrays the emotional toll a father has as he uproots his career in New York to try and sort out a divorce which is being sued for in a Californian courtroom.

Adam Driver is terrific as Charlie and is really a brilliant actor, whose talent was exceptionally displayed in director Spike Lee’s masterful dissection of race relations in 1970’s Colorado in his Oscar winning film BlackKKlansman.

Set between New York and Los Angeles, Marriage Story is the 21st century version of the Oscar winning 1979 film Kramer vs Kramer and is recommended viewing for those that have the Netflix streaming service. The performances are brilliant.

Marriage Story gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

The Destiny of a Jedi

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Director: J. J. Abrams

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Richard E. Grant, Domnhall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong’o, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams returns to the director’s chair to head up the final instalment of the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and astutely pays homage to the original Star Wars trilogy which made the franchise so famous and utterly unique: Star Wars released in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back released in 1980 and The Return of the Jedi released in 1983.

Along with the full complement of cast from the recent Star Wars films including Oscar nominee Adam Driver (BlackKklansman) as the conflicted Kylo Ren, along with Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, there are also brief glimpses of the original cast members including the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

In a genius stroke of casting, Billy Dee Williams reprises his role as General Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as he was last seen in The Return of the Jedi and had a key role in the betrayal of Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt in The Empire Strikes Back.  

The Dark side or in this case the First Order is represented by the ghoulish Emperor Palpatine played by Ian McDiarmid (The Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith) who is naturally revealed as the arch villain along with General Pride played by Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?).

The Rebels struggling to fight the First Order include Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac along with a gang of droids lead by R2-D2, C-3PO and BB-8 and of course the roaring Wookie Chewbacca who is insanely missing Han Solo.

If viewers are not a fan of the Star Wars franchise then don’t bother seeing The Rise of Skywalker as this film is strictly for Star Wars fans and those very familiar with the original trilogy which director J. J. Abrams deftly gives a nostalgic nod to.

With as many plot twists as the galaxy, The Rise of Skywalker will keep audiences guessing while they are absolutely dazzled by the superb visual effects especially the final battle and of course the Jedi versus Sith showdown with blazing lightsabres.

Star Wars Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10  is strictly recommended for Star Wars followers.

Let’s hope once parent company Disney starts turning a profit on its international streaming services that the gigantic studio will decide to roll out another three films to answer all the questions regarding the destiny of the remaining Jedi and her mysterious identity.

Manipulated Intelligence

Official Secrets

Director: Gavin Hood

Cast: Keira Knighley, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Northam, Indira Varma, Tamsin Greig, Jack Farthing, Conleth Hill

Set in London in 2003, South African director Gavin Hood’s British political film Official Secrets revolves around the complex story of Katherine Gunn who broke the Official Secrets Act and leaked highly classified Government information on British and American efforts to sway the vote in the UN in favour of a resolution legitimizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the dubious premise that Saddam Hussein was harbouring chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

Oscar nominee Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) stars as the morally conflicted Katherine Gunn who despite working for a highly classified division of the British Foreign Office and Mi6 deliberately leaked a politically sensitive memo to The Observer newspaper in London whereby political news reporter Martin Bright played by The Crown star Matt Smith.

Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) reunites with Keira Knightley onscreen after their starring roles in director Saul Dibb’s magnificent costume drama The Duchess as he stars as human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson who decides to take on Gunn’s case in which she could be charged by the Crown prosecution for treason and for being a spy.

Official Secrets was Britain’s entry into the recent European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which had recent screenings in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria in November before being released on the general circuit in December 2019.

Official Secrets is an engaging political thriller about manipulated intelligence and about the length powerful nations will go to, to legitimatize a foreign invasion even if the premise for such an invasion are both legally and morally flawed.

Featuring an array of British stars including Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode and Rhy Ifans along with Jeremy Northam and Poldark star Jack Farthing, Official Secrets is an engaging if slightly dark political thriller about recent events that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British forces.

Recommended for those that enjoy murky political thrillers, Official Secrets gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is interesting but not nearly as brilliant as such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Constant Gardener.

London at its worst

Last Christmas

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Boris Isakovic, Rob Delaney, Patti LuPone

After watching director Gurinder Chadha’s cleverly written British film, Blinded by the Light inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen, Spy and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig’s romantic musical Last Christmas was such a disappointment.

Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke (Me Before You) plays a Yugoslavian emigrant Kate who works in a year round Christmas shop in London run by a woman called Santa played by Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Tomorrow Never Dies, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) while she falls in love with the mysterious guy called Tom played by Malaysian star Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians). Kate is desperately trying to avoid going back to stay with her parents especially her over-bearing mother Petra played with a Slavic accent by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howard’s End). 

What was the exceptionally talented Emma Thompson doing starring and co-writing in such a contrived piece of cinematic rubbish as this film?

Surely she has better judgement than this.

Last Christmas was just terrible, sickly sweet, historically inaccurate and absolutely shocking saved only by some gorgeous nocturnal shots of the British capital.

I sat through most of this film thinking what nonsense this film was and when the final reveal came it didn’t even touch me emotionally. Last Christmas is a terrible holiday film and both Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson’s talents were wasted on a film in which its basic premise revolved around the music by the late George Michael and the 1980’s pop group Wham.

After seeing such a deluge of brilliant cinema in the last couple of months including Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman and Joker, Last Christmas is terrible.

Last Christmas was badly cast, badly acted and its storyline was utter nonsense, displaying only the worst aspects of London without even showing a capital city that normally shines in its historical elegance. Emma Thompson definitely should have known better.

Recommended only for viewers that love sickly sweet romantic musicals without any substance, Last Christmas gets a film rating of 5.5 out of 10.

Betrayal and Remorse

The Irishman

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano, Jack Huston, Jesse Plemons

Please note this film is currently only available on the Streaming Service Netflix and had a very limited theatrical release in cinemas.

When I heard that the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman was only going to have a Netflix release I was deeply perplexed. Scorsese has always championed the art of cinema, of audiences watching films in a cinema. Especially his films. Scorsese is also passionate about film restoration both digitally and for preservation purposes.

Considering that The Irishman runs for 3 and a half hours, I can understand why Scorsese choose the world’s most famous streaming service to release his latest masterpiece. Most of Scorsese’s other films run for under 3 hours which is manageable in a cinematic format and palatable for audiences to sit through.

The Irishman is exceptionally long but it is worth the reward considering the talent that Scorsese procured to act in this exceptional film about the mafia, hitmen and Union boss Jimmy Hoffa. His long-time collaborator Oscar winner Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II) is sensational as Frank Sheeran who is basically in every frame of this digital masterpiece as is Oscar winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) who is utterly captivating as the Union Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa who mysteriously disappeared in Detroit in 1975.

Equally brilliant is Oscar winner Joe Pesci (Goodfellas) who came out of acting retirement to star as mafia heavyweight Russell Bufalino who answered to the Detroit and Chicago mafia.

Unfortunately, the part of Frank’s disapproving daughter Peggy Sheeran played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin (The Piano) is underwritten and not fully utilized especially in the crucial scenes between her and her father who is basically a hitman for the mob or as some people like to say “I Heard You Paint Houses”.

Al Pacino really steals the show as Jimmy Hoffa a larger than life character who refuses to buckle to pressure from the Mafia even when he allowed them to use the union’s immense pension money to fund the mob’s gambling operations in Las Vegas and Atlantic City in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The Irishman could have had 30 minutes shaved off the film and Scorsese could have released it in cinemas as I personally found the last section of this epic tale dragged considerably especially when trying to view it on a mobile device.

Superb performances by De Niro, Pesci and Pacino make The Irishman worth watching but viewers be sure to have three and a half hours spare. It’s a stunning film but could have been edited sufficiently to condense the exceptionally large canvas that Scorsese always tries to paint, except in this case it’s a streaming canvas which has made Netflix even wealthier.

The Irishman gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing purely for the phenomenal acting of such veteran stars as De Niro, Pesci and of course Pacino who is a revelation.

Let’s see how The Irishman fares during the 2020 Awards Season although if Al Pacino doesn’t win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, then that is a great cinematic injustice.

A Reason to Kill For

Knives Out

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanford, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, Marlene Forte

Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson takes a delicious stab at the murder mystery genre in his quirky new film Knives Out featuring an all-star ensemble cast headed by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners).

With an original screenplay by Rian Johnson, Knives Out centres on the mysterious death of crime writer Harlan Thrombey on the night of his 85th birthday at his sprawling estate in Massachusetts.

Thrombey expertly played with a sly viciousness by Plummer has his multi-generational family gather for his birthday which includes his daughter Linda Drysdale played by Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda), his son-in-law Richard Drysdale played by Don Johnson (Django Unchained) and his son Walt Thrombey played with evil intent by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road) and daughter-in-law Donna Thrombey played by Riki Lindhome.

Then there is the widow of the dead son, Joni Thrombey played by Toni Colette (Muriel’s Wedding, Madame) who is hanging onto the family for financial security.

Harlan Thrombey’s grandchildren is headed by the spoilt playboy apparent heir, aptly named Ransom Drysdale played by Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), followed by the sneaky granddaughter Meg Thrombey played by Australian actress Katherine Langford (Love Simon) and the nerdy youngest grandson Jacob Thrombey played by Jaeden Martell (St Vincent).

The two characters which really steal the show are the Southern detective Benoit Blanc played against type by Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Logan Lucky, Snatch) and more significantly Harlan Thrombey’s devious yet devoted South American nurse Marta Cabrera played by rising Cuban star Ana de Armas (Blade Runner, Overdrive).

Knives Out is a classically original murder mystery expertly written and directed by Johnson who is clearly influenced by Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock whereby every character has a reason to kill for.

As the plot unravels like an Egyptian cobra revealing several motives for killing the patriarch of this eccentric family is to claim from the his vast fortune and inherit the sprawling country estate.  

If audiences love a superb murder mystery filled with a fantastic ensemble cast and originally written to dazzle and surprise the viewer, then be sure to catch the quirky and murderous Knives Out. It’s vastly entertaining.

Knives Out gets a film rating 8 out of 10 and is strictly for lovers of a classic murder mystery in the vein of the Oscar winning Robert Altman film Gosford Park, while making subtle hints at the themes of patronage, inheritance and immigration.

Film Directors & Festivals
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December 2019
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    PMC
  • Angry Blizzard Entertainment Staffers Share Their Salaries to Protest Pay Inequities
    Disgruntled employees at games developer Blizzard Entertainment — some of whom reportedly earn only minimum wage — have shared their compensation details in an internal document, hoping to spur the company to pay workers more fairly. According to a Bloomberg report, a company employee created a spreadsheet and encouraged others to share their compensation info […]
    Todd Spangler
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    Dwayne Johnson made headlines earlier this week for acquiring the XFL, and the good news kept on coming for the former WWE star, as his NBC show “Titan Games” was the highest-rated programming on Monday night. The athletic competition series scored a 0.7 rating among adults 19-49 and around 3.7 million total viewers. That’s pretty […]
    Will Thorne
  • Mumbai Film Festival Postponed Until 2021 Due to Coronavirus
    The 22nd edition of the Mumbai film festival has been postponed to 2021 in light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis in India, the organizers announced Tuesday. The festival, run by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) and sponsored by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s telecommunications giant Jio, was originally scheduled for November. The festival will […]
    Naman Ramachandran
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    Constantin Film has acquired the rights to hit novel “Perfect Addiction,” set in the world of boxing, partnering up once again with producer Jeremy Bolt, with whom they worked on the “Resident Evil” blockbuster movie franchise, assassin action movie “Polar,” starring Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens, and the upcoming video-game adaption “Monster Hunter,” starring Milla […]
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