Prosperity and Indulgence

Emma

Director: Autumn de Wilde

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Bill Nighy, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Amber Anderson, Connor Swindells

Thank you to United International Pictures for the UIP Film Preview of Emma held on Wednesday 4th March 2020 at Suncoast CineCentre in Durban, South Africa.

Director Autumn de Wilde’s sassy interpretation of the Jane Austen novel Emma into a gloriously lavish film version is not to be missed.

Mia Goth (left) as “Harriet Smith” and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

This delightful and devilishly romantic comedy of manners set in the early part of the 19th Century in rural England before the Napoleonic wars during the crest of romanticism in English Literature features a fabulous cast of hot young American and British film stars including Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma, handsome and blonde blue-eyed British actor Johnny Flynn as George Knightley, Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) as the impressionable Harriett Smith and Callum Turner as the dashing and incorrigible Frank Churchill who survived solely on prosperity and indulgence.

Emma ill-advises the sweet and innocent Harriett not to accept the marriage proposal of tenant farmer Mr Martin played by Connor Swindells, while into the mix of romantic intrigue is thrown the fascinating and musically accomplished Jane Fairfax played by Amber Anderson (The Riot Club) whose talents prove to rival that of our rich and clever heroine.

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) as “Emma Woodhouse” and Johnny Flynn (right) as “Mr. Knightley” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

Through gorgeous balls, dinners and sumptuous afternoon teas and the obligatory summer picnic, romances blossom and are duly crushed while throughout Emma Woodhouse has to re-evaluate her own feelings for the ubiquitous George Knightley who has a convivial relationship with Emma’s hypochondriac father Mr Woodhouse wonderfully played with sly comic genius by Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Bookshop).

Other superb supporting actors in Emma include Rupert Graves (A Room with a View, Death at a Funeral, Maurice,) as Mr Weston, Miranda Hart (Spy) as Miss Bates and Gemma Whelan from HBO’s hit series Games of Thrones as Mrs Weston.

Director Autumn de Wilde’s refreshingly bright and gorgeous cinematic retelling of Emma is definitely worth seeing and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy clever romantic comedies especially inspired by the smart writings of Jane Austen naturally infused with the dry British sense of humour.

Hopefully, this version of Emma will inspire the millennials to pry their eyes away from smartphones and rediscover the witty literature of Jane Austen whose refined comedy of manners included an array of famous romantic novels including Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility.

Marching Forward

Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Louis Garrel, James Norton, Bob Odenkirk

Ladybird director Greta Gerwig skilfully adapts Louisa May Alcott’s bestselling 19th century American novel Little Women for 21st century audiences although her non-linear approach to storytelling could confuse viewers that are not familiar with the original story of the trials and tribulations of the March sisters in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War.

Fortunately for Gerwig she manages to assemble an exceptional cast in her gorgeous cinematic remake of Little Women including Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Ladybird) as the headstrong writer Jo, Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) as the more grounded older sister Meg and the dazzling Florence Pugh as the younger sister Amy.

Oscar winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story) plays the four sisters mother Mamie and Bob Odenkirk briefly appears as the girls’ wayward father. Eliza Scanlen plays the youngest sister Beth who is excellent at piano playing.  

What is most impressive about Little Women is the brilliant casting of the male parts in this version, particularly Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation) as Laurie’s grandfather Mr Laurence and French actor Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Saint Laurent) as Jo March’s love interest Professor Friedrich Bhaer.

There is also British actor James Norton who was dazzling as Stephen Ward in the BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler who is cast as Meg’s love interest John Brooke, a penniless tutor.

Little Women is gorgeously shot and the costumes are beautifully designed by Jacqueline Durran who deservedly won her second Oscar for Costume Design for this film.

Equally invigorating is the absolutely brilliant performances of both Saoirse Ronan as the headstrong writer Jo March and that of Florence Pugh as the gorgeous but spoilt younger sister Amy, who received her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Little Women.

Florence Pugh is really a young star to look out for as her performance is formidable especially opposite screen legend and multiple Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Kramer vs Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, The Iron Lady) as the wealthy and righteous Aunt March as she accompanies the affluent relative to Paris.

Little Women is a gorgeous film, beautifully directed and should be applauded for giving so many young actresses a chance to shine in an exceptionally well-cast and directed film.

Little Women gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing for everyone. A sparkling triumph set in 19th century America where men had every opportunity and women had to fight for everything or marry a rich husband.

From Miami to Mexico City

Bad Boys for Life

Directors: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, Paola Nunez, Kate del Castillo, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio, Theresa Randle

Michael Bay directed the first Bad Boys back in 1995 and then there was a sequel Bad Boys II made in 2003 both featuring buddy cop duo Mike and Marcus played respectively by Oscar nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) and comedian Martin Lawrence.

So it’s been 17 years since this franchise had a glossy revamp with the new film Bad Boys for Life featuring the same actors as the same fast talking Miami cops who go after evil gangsters.

Fortunately, directing duo Ardi El Arbi and Bilall Fallah do justice in the 2020 reboot Bad Boys for Life as Mike and Marcus considerably much older and now assisted by an Ammo taskforce as they collectively take on the ruthless Mexican drug cartel when the vicious head of a Mexico City cartel Isabel Aretas played by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo orders her son Armando Aretas viciously played by Jacob Scipio to kill Mike in downtown Miami.

Both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have terrific screen chemistry as the cop duo and this is reinforced by the fantastic new additions to the cast of the Ammo crew: namely, Kelly played by Vanessa Hudgens (Second Act, Suckerpunch), Dorn played by Canadian hunky actor Alexander Ludwig best known for his pivotal role in the brilliant historical series Vikings and Rafe played by Charles Melton (The Sun is Also a Star). Ammo is headed up by the gorgeous Rita played by another Mexican actress Paola Nunez.

What is most impressive about Bad Boys for Life besides the glossy cinematography, the fantastic visual shots of Miami and Mexico City, is the fast-paced action and the surprisingly well written storyline.

This film is fun, funky and definitely worth seeing for those viewers that enjoyed the first two Bad Boys films and also for those viewers unfamiliar with the franchise. Most notable is the gripping Miami nightclub action sequence as well as the spectacularly gripping finale set in the Palacio di Hidalgo, a beautiful ruined Palace, in Mexico City.

If audiences want decent action, witty one-liners and superb plot twists, then go and see Bad Boys for Life as Mike and Marcus battle the cartel from Miami to Mexico City.

Bad Boys for Life gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is thoroughly entertaining. Judging by the audience popularity for this film, there will definitely be a Bad Boys 4.

Gotham’s Girl Power

Birds of Prey

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco

Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya; Bombshell) reprises her role as Harley Quinn the now ex-girlfriend of Joker whose character was first introduced in 2016’s Suicide Squad in a new standalone film called Birds of Prey which doesn’t unfortunately pack the same gender affirming punch as director Patty Jenkin’s groundbreaking film Wonder Woman.

Although both Birds of Prey, Suicide Squad and the Oscar winning Joker all fall under the Warner Brothers DC Comics franchise, Birds of Prey is not as brilliant as Wonder Woman but rather resorts to being too much of a garish man-hating super-hero film which doesn’t link back to Suicide Squad or even Justice League.

Birds of Prey features a suitably evil villain Roman Sionis devilishly played with camp enthusiasm by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge) along with his equally psychotic blonde haired side kick Victor Zsasz superbly played by Chris Messina (Argo, Live By Night)  who both go after Harley Quinn with a vengeance.

The crazy Harley Quinn soon teams up with a range of butt-kicking awesome females showing off Gotham’s Girl Power including hard drinking disgraced cop Renee Montaya wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Rosie Perez (Fearless), The Huntress played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man, Kill the Messenger) whose alter ego is Helena Bartinelli who is the daughter of one of Gotham’s famed mob families and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance aka Black Canary who betrays Roman after watching his misogynist treatment of women in his zany nightclub.

This gang of Gotham girls aim to protect a local thief Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco who purposefully swallowed a sought after diamond wanted by the mob.

Not evolving beyond being a garish fantasy piece without a solid storyline and inadequately directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey aims to confuse the viewer more than actually help them identify with Harley Quinn as a crazy but lovable blonde villain.

Problematically, Birds of Prey was released in cinemas too soon after the absolutely brilliant Todd Phillips film Joker in which Joaquin Phoenix has just won his first Oscar award for Best Actor.

With an ultra-saturated Gotham, Birds of Prey should have spent more time in post-production or with some decent script rewrites especially considering that the main theme of the film seems to be that it’s alright for violent girls to kill boys or even vice versa. The action was tasteless and the setting was confusing.

Birds of Prey gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and Margot Robbie should have known better than to do a questionable film version of Harley Quinn without a decent director and brilliant script on board. Even if there is a pet Hyena thrown in! Watch Birds of Prey at your own risk but it doesn’t touch the brilliance of Joker.

92nd Oscar Awards

92nd Academy Awards took place on Sunday 9th February 2020 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Best Picture: Parasite

Best Director: Boon Joon HoParasite

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

Best Actress: Renee Zellweger – Judy

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura DernMarriage Story

Best Original Screenplay: Boon Joon HoParasite

Best Adapted Screenplay: Taika WaititiJojo Rabbit

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins – 1917

Best Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran – Little Women

Best Make up & Hairstyling: Bombshell

Best Visual Effects: 1917

Best Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari

Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari

Best Sound Mixing: 1917

Best Production Design: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Documentary Feature:  American Factory

Best Documentary Short Subject:Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You are a Girl)

Best Live Action Short Film: The Neighbour’s Window

Best Original Score: Hilda Gudnadotter – Joker

Best Original Song: Elton JohnRocketman

Best Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 4

Best Foreign Language Film: Boon Joon HoParasite

It’s a Zoo Out There

Dolittle

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Harry Collett, Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, Marion Cotillard, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Carmel Laniado, Kumail Nanijani, John Cena, Frances de la Tour

(from left) Dog Jip (Tom Holland) and Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) in Dolittle, directed by Stephen Gaghan.

Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder) takes on the mischievous role of Victorian animal doctor John Dolittle who has an amazing ability to communicate with animals which includes a menagerie of beasts and birds including a timid Gorilla, a Polar Bear and a bossy Parrot voiced by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howards End) in the heart-warming film Dolittle which is definitely an ideal film for parents to accompany their children to.

Dolittle is a delightful film if slightly boisterous at times with a really simple plot about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins played by Harry Collett who accidentally shoots a squirrel and then takes the poor creature to the infamous Dr Dolittle to seek his assistance. Stubbins is roped into assisting a young and comatose Queen Victoria played by Jessie Buckley (Judy) by a Lady Rose played by Carmel Laniado.

Both Stubbins and Lady Rose ask for the assistance of the eccentric and reclusive Dr Doolittle wonderfully played by Robert Downey Jr to assist in finding the source of Queen Victoria’s condition.

Soon Dr Dolittle and Stubbins plus the menagerie embark on a nautical adventure to a mysterious island to find a cure for Queen Victoria but along the way they get stranded in Montevideo, an exotic island run by the crazy King Rassouli played by Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) who also happens to be Dolittle’s belated father-in-law. Doolittle’s gorgeous wife Lily Doolittle has mysteriously vanished.

While Dolittle’s storyline is slim, it really is a fun filled film about a doctor who has the amazing ability to talk to animals with an overall message of conservation and appreciation of animals which the younger generation will be able to enjoy.

The villain in Dolittle is Dr Blair Mudly marvelously played by Michael Sheen (Frost, Nixon) and there is also a cameo appearance by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) as Lord Thomas Bagley who is suspiciously watching over young Queen Victoria’s supposed demise.

Dolittle is a raucous animal film with a fantastic voice cast including the talents of Oscar winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Tom Holland, Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) which all help bring the screen animals to life with vitality and without the pretensions. The visual effects are extraordinary.

Dolittle is recommended viewing, a crazy fun-filled family film with a fabulous cast of characters and animals and is suitable for the entire family.

Dolittle gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is by no means a masterpiece nor does it pretend to be cinematic gold. It’s a light enjoyable adventure film filled with sufficient animals to populate a zoo.

Blonde Battleground

Bombshell

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Josh Lawson, Ben Lawson, Kate McKinnon, Liv Hewson, Rob Delany, Mark Duplass, Stephen Root, Mark Moses, Amy Landecker

Trumbo director Jay Roach tackles the Fox News sexual harassment scandal of 2016 in his latest film Bombshell when blonde TV anchor woman Gretchen Carlson played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) sues Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes wonderfully played with a creepy sense of self-denial by Oscar nominee John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, Terms of Endearment) for sexual harassment.

Now for viewers that don’t follow American politics or media scandals then do not see Bombshell, this film has a very limited appeal outside of the United States.

The real revelation of Bombshell is the fantastic transformation of another Oscar winner South Africa’s very own Charlize Theron (Monster) as she plays Fox News primetime anchor woman Megyn Kelly thanks to the brilliant work of prosthetic makeup designer Kazu Hiro who won an Oscar for transforming Oscar winner Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

Charlize Theron is absolutely brilliant as Megyn Kelly as she navigates her way through a thoroughly conservative and toxic media environment at Fox News as she attempts to cover the controversial presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump who inevitably became the next President of the United States.

Add to the mix of beautiful blondes that work at Fox News, is the newcomer Kayla Prospisil played by Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I,Tonya) who experiences sexual harassment first hand when she has a private meeting with Roger Ailes in a cringe worthy scene in which the media executive keeps asking Kayla to lift her skirt higher and higher.

At the times of the Roger Ailes scandal, the conservative Television broadcaster Fox News was owned by the Australian media conglomerate Newscorp which comprised of Rupert Murdoch played in Bombshell by A Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell and managed by his two sons Lachlan and James Murdoch played in the film by Australian brothers Ben and Josh Lawson.

Director Jay Roach does not make a brilliant film and Bombshell appears to be extremely confusing for those viewers that are not familiar with this particular conservative American media scandal which occurred in the summer of 2016.

What Bombshell does do is highlight the extent to which women were sexually harassed in the American work place and this happened a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal shocked Hollywood in 2017 and gave birth to the vociferous and extremely relevant MeToo movement which aims to end sexual harassment in the highly contested American media industry and beyond.

For those interested in American media scandals, Bombshell is recommended viewing and gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

For a flawed film, Bombshell is saved by two phenomenal performances by Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie.

77th Golden Globe Awards

Took Place on Sunday the 5th January 2020 in Los Angeles hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – Here are the 2020 Winners in the Film Categories

Best Film Drama: 1917

Best Film, Musical or Comedy: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director: Sam Mendes – 1917

Best Actor Drama: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

Best Actress Drama: Renee Zellweger – Judy

Best Actor, M/C: Taron Egerton – Rocketman

Best Actress, M/C: Awkwafina – The Farewell

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite directed by Boon Joon Ho (South Korea)

Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Animated Feature: Missing Link

The Intimacy of War

1917

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George McKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Claire Duburcq, Richard Madden

After being entangled with the Bond franchise and directing two films specifically Skyfall and Spectre, director Sam Mendes returns to a more intimate yet visually astounding portrait of war in the spectacular film 1917.

1917 is a major cinematic achievement as the entire film is done in one shot echoing Joe Wright’s astounding directing achievement in his World War Two drama Atonement. Mendes does something better. He directs 1917 from the point of view of two soldiers Lance Corporal Blake played by Dean-Charles Chapman (Blinded by the Light) and Lance Corporal Schofield played by George Mackay (Captain Fantastic, Pride).

Set in less than a twenty-four hour period on the 6th April 1917, this incredible film follows the terrorizing journey of two young British soldiers who are tasked with delivering a message deep in enemy territory that will prevent 1,600 men from walking into a deadly trapped set by the Germans in Northern France.

What makes 1917 so utterly riveting is not so much the acting as the visual interpretation of this harrowing journey beautifully photographed by Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner: 2049) with a haunting original score by Thomas Newman.

1917 is the reason to still watch films in the cinema – it is absolutely perfect and as war films go, this is one of the finest multi-layered interpretation of trench warfare ever conceived on film. Sam Mendes does a sterling job in memory of his Grandfather who fought in World War One.

1917 is a masterpiece of film making, poignant, riveting and epic, a massive landscape punctuated by the most intimate and heart wrenching scenes especially the night sequence in a burnt out French Village which has a fiery backdrop or the spectacular river sequence which eventually leads to the final scene which is equally explosive, while portraying all the intimacies and horrors of War.

With brief scenes by supporting actors including Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Oscar Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), 1917 belongs to the two relatively unknown young actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay, who betray all the horror, devastation and exhaustion of trench warfare combined with the nonchalance of killing.

1917 is an incisive portrait of courage and bravery and of men finding their compassion while being tested under the most brutal circumstances. Everyone should watch this film. Sam Mendes has achieved his cinematic masterpiece.

Cinematically and historically, 1917 is highly recommended viewing and gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10. Experience this film in a cinema. It’s breath taking.

The Talk of the Town

Judy

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Richard Cordery, Royce Pierreson, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Darci Shaw, Gus Barry

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Based on the Stage play by Peter Quilter, End of the Rainbow, director Rupert Goold’s poignant musical drama Judy features a mesmerising performance by Oscar winner Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) as Judy Garland in the autumn of her career.

Zellweger transforms herself into Judy Garland as she becomes the film Judy with herself in virtually every scene as she battles with drug addiction and alcoholism in a desperate attempt to revive her flagging musical career in a series of shows in London in the winter of 1968 at a cabaret club in the West End, called The Talk of the Town.

With insightful flashbacks of herself as a young Judy Garland when she became the breakout child star of the 1939 hit Musical The Wizard of Oz for MGM. During this time, the young Judy played by Darci Shaw is under a strict contract by the formidable head of the studio Louis B. Mayer played by Richard Cordery. As a young star she forms an attraction to another young child star Mickey Rooney played Gus Barry. Yet the studio had the young Judy Garland on a stringent diet of appetite suppressants, uppers and downers as she always had to watch her figure, becoming a slave to the merciless studio system which exploited young actors and actresses who were under severe contractual obligations.

Fast forward to 1968, Judy Garland meets the dashing Mickey Deans wonderfully played by Finn Wittrock (Unbroken, The Big Short) at her elder and more famous daughter Liza Minelli’s house party in the Hollywood Hills. Liza is played by Gemma-Leah Devereux.

Judy is having a custody battle over her two younger children with her fourth ex-husband Sid Luft played by Rufus Sewell (Carrington, Gods of Egypt, Hercules). Her financial difficulties force her to take up a Gig in London performing at the glamorous Talk of the Town cabaret venue where she forms a veritable bond with her personal assistant Rosalyn Wilder played by Irish actress Jessie Buckley as Judy belts at some fabulous numbers on a glittering stage.

Psychologically, Judy Garland is dealing with some traumatic emotional issues while always pretending to be a consummate performer. Zellweger expertly gives a nuanced heart-wrenching performance as Judy Garland, a legendary Hollywood star in the autumn of her career who also become a champion for London’s gay community in the 1960’s.

At the centre of Rupert Goold’s film Judy is a staggeringly brilliant performance by Renee Zellweger who definitely deserves another Oscar for her excellent portrayal of a Hollywood icon. In a particularly hilarious scene with a doctor, who asks her what do you take for depression?

Judy candidly replies four ex-husbands!

Judy gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy films about Hollywood Divas. For those that enjoyed My Week with Marilyn, they will love Judy, a gem of a British film featuring a staggering performance by Renee Zellweger.

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    Shirley Halperin
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    Shirley Halperin
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