Living with Memories

Ella Blumenthal: I am Here

Director: Jordy Sank

This is a Feature Length Documentary and is available online at the Encounters: South African International Documentary Film Festival from Thursday 10th June until Sunday 20th June 2021 – https://www.encounters.co.za/ #Virtuallyeverywhere – https://www.encounters.co.za/film/i-am-here/ and at select physical venues in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

After his South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) nomination for best short documentary The Locket in 2017, SA documentary film director Jordy Sank tackles a fascinating subject, the horrific memories of a still living holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal in his directorial debut feature length documentary Ella Blumenthal: I am Here, which was part of the official selection at the 2021 Miami Jewish Film Festival https://miamijewishfilmfestival.org/ and winning the Audience Award at the 2021 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival https://www.ajff.org/film/i-am-here and now is available to watch online at the Encounters South African Documentary Film Festival.

In a plush apartment in Seapoint in Cape Town, South Africa, Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal celebrates her 98th birthday surrounded by her children and grandchildren. During this auspicious occasion, Ella Blumenthal reveals the secret of her horrific past as a Holocaust survivor.

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1921, Ella Blumenthal was 18 when the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939 igniting World War II. Her and her family were immediately transferred to the Warsaw ghetto until it burnt down. Ella and her niece Roma were then transferred to various concentration camps , while her survival skills were paramount she went onto survive both Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camp where eventually n 1945, World War II ended and the Holocaust survivors were freed by the Allied troops.

Director Jordy Sank films his subject matter with a compassionate gaze from Ella walking briskly on the Seapoint promenade to her emotional retelling of her horrific experiences of being a prisoner of some of the most notorious concentration camps of World War II at her 98th birthday celebration in 2019, surrounded by friends, children and grandchildren, educating them about the past.

Perceptively and rather cleverly, the flashbacks to the concentration camp horrors are told in a strategic combination of documentary news reel and beautiful animation provided by Greg Bakker, giving the documentary a palatable and heart-warming tone.

Impressively it is the shot of the 98 year old great grandmother swimming in a heated pool with the magnificent skyline of Cape Town in the background as her voice over describes the relief at being rescued by the allied troops and being brought to a camp with well-made up beds and running water, basic necessities which we nowadays take for granted.

Ella Blumenthal: I am Here is a captivating and brilliantly shot documentary about an extraordinary woman, a 98 year old Jewish woman who came to South Africa to make a new life and it offers a message of hope and forgiveness as she recalls how her and her grandson visited Auschwitz in 2004 to make peace with the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Ella’s message is simple, love everyone and be grateful to be alive.

This is an amazing documentary, skilfully educating a new generation about the survivors of the Holocaust and a formidable woman who has learnt to live life through memories as most of her family from Poland were killed during World War II. With the exception of her niece who now lives in New York, Ella Blumenthal is one of the few survivors of a generation that got brutally obliterated by pure hatred and rampant Anti-Semitism.  

Highly recommended viewing and an important documentary to watch, Ella Blumenthal: I am Here gets a documentary film rating of 8 out of 10. Catch this insightful documentary online at the Encounters Film Festival –

Divas and Dalmatians

Cruella

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Emma Stone Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, John McCrea, Emily Beecham, Kayvan Novak, Kirby Howell-Baptiste

Disney’s retelling of 101 Dalmatians paid off in the lavish and expertly crafted live action film Cruella featuring Oscar winner Emma Stone (La La Land) channelling her inner psycho diva as the fashion mad anti-heroine  Estella who becomes the villainous Cruella de Ville.

I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie sets Cruella in the vicious fashion world of the 1970’s as Cruella and her arch rival the narcissist and extremely evil Baroness wonderfully played against type by another Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howard’s End, Sense and Sensibility) as she draws inspiration from Meryl Streep’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada. In this Avant-Garde and fabulously retro Cruella, the battlefield is the infamous Liberty’s department store in Central London, the playground of 1970’s fashion.

Thompson and Stone are perfectly cast as arch rivals who are determined to rip each other to shreds both figuratively and physically using everything at their disposal from Dalmatians to deception.

With double Oscar winner costume designer Jenny Beavan (A Room with a View, Mad Max: Fury Road) creating the most outrageous costumes for both Cruella and The Baroness, the costumes and makeup are unbelievable and absolutely amazing. The musical score is another winner, adding to the film’s funky and swanky feel.

The male actors in Cruella take a notable backseat to the main plot of a rag to riches Cruella who fights her way literally to the top of the London fashion scene.

There is the exception with Cruella’s fellow thieves Jasper expertly played by Joel Fry (Yesterday) and Horace played by extremely talented character actor Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya; BlackKklansman; Richard Jewell). Both Horace and Jasper become Cruella/Estella’s aides and assistants as she effortlessly slips between two opposing personalities, one good and the other evil, almost like a fashionable female version of Joker which garnered an Oscar win for Joaquin Phoenix in 2020.

Naturally evil triumphs over good as Cruella soon realizes that to beat a formidable opponent like the vile Baroness who treats all her staff as lowly minions, you have to become a cold hearted and ruthless Diva. Something which Cruella can relate to.

British actor Mark Strong (1917, Shazam!, Zero Dark Thirty) who plays the obsequious and loyal valet represents the stabilizing force in both Cruella and the Baroness’s lives as he delicately shifts the war between the two powerful female forces in favour of the younger, while revealing a devastating family secret.

Disney hit gold with this lavish version of Cruella thanks to two equally brilliant performances by two exceptional actresses: Emma Stone and Emma Thompson.

Cruella is tantamount to the Joker seizing editorial power over Vanity Fair. This elegant Disney version gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is insightfully directed by Craig Gillespie.

Rivers Lead to Towns

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aiden Gillen, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry

Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted) lights up the screen in Taylor Sheridan’s adaptation of a novel by Michael Koryta entitled Those Who Wish Me Dead which centres on a fire jumper Hannah played by Jolie who becomes the protector of a young boy named Connor played by Finn Little after he witnesses his father being murdered by two heartless assassins Patrick and Jack played respectively by Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite, A Single Man) and Aidan Gillen (Bohemian Rhapsody, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).

The father Owen, a forensic accountant came across some dodgy financial dealings and was targeted by a crime boss Arthur played by Tyler Perry (Gone Girl).

Unfortunately, the writer of Hell or High Water and Wind River, Taylor Sheridan who also directs this explosive action thriller does not provide sufficient background information on the motives for the killings or even frame the plot within a larger context which is the inherent weakness of a film, which should have been great, but turns out to be average. This is despite the star power of Angelina Jolie who simply looks too beautiful to be a fire jumper in the Montana wilderness.

Jolie should stick to doing more prolific roles like Maleficent.  Even Nicholas Hoult who was so good in the Oscar winning film The Favourite opposite Rachel Wiesz and Olivia Colman, was wasted in a film with minimal dialogue although due to Hoult’s massive physique he was impressive as the ruthless assassin Patrick who has to battle Hannah as she attempts to protect Connor during a raging forest fire.

Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street) stars as the county sheriff Ethan who gets caught up in the middle of the action as the assassins go after Connor as he is left to fend for himself with the help of Hannah in the Montana wilderness. Hannah keeps telling Connor to run to the rivers which leads to the towns and to safety.

The action scenes in Those Who Wish Me Dead are very impressive and the forest is almost a character on its own, however the dialogue and the back story for this confusing action thriller needed to be clearly developed. Which is considerably disappointing since director Taylor Sheridan was the writer and director of such brilliant films as Wind River and the Oscar nominated Hell or High Water.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is an explosive action thriller with Angelina Jolie taking the lead as the gung ho gorgeous heroine, which is light on dialogue and heavy on action and suspense. This film is fun and enjoyable but the story is too weak to make the viewers empathise sufficiently with the plight of the characters.

For those that enjoy an action heavy adventure story, catch Those Who Wish Me Dead in cinemas now. This Montana set action thriller gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is now showing in Cinemas

The Black Friday Heist

Wrath of Man

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Jason Statham, Scott Eastwood, Holt Collany, Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Andy Garcia, Eddie Marsan, Chris Reilly, Niamh Agar, Eli Brown

Stylistically not as brilliant as The Gentlemen, maverick British director Guy Ritchie has produced an enjoyable and twisty action thriller with his new film Wrath of Man set in a smoggy Los Angeles.

Ritchie has assembled a mostly male cast for this heist revenge thriller, headed by action man Jason Statham (The Fast and the Furious, Snatch) as the mysterious H; along with Josh Hartnett (Lucky Number Slevin, The Black Dahlia) as Boy Sweat Dave, Holt McCallany as Bullet, Jeffrey Donovan (Let Him Go, Honest Thief) as heist co-ordinator Jackson and Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood (Pacific Rim Uprising, The Fate of the Furious) as the villainous Jan. All the action takes place in a murky downtown Los Angeles and centres on the ruthless world of cash-in-transit robberies.

Taking inspiration from the far more glossy Christopher Nolan film Tenet, Guy Ritchie reconstructs the action from several different timelines so initially audiences will be slightly confused but as the narrative unfolds in four parts, all the players will emerge from an intricate plot as H goes on a revenge mission to discover who killed his son Doug played by Eli Brown, who unfortunately happened to be in the car near a vicious robbery and became collateral damage.

While the dialogue in Wrath of Man does not match up to the macho innuendos of Ritchie’s previous British action film The Gentleman, the action and bravado in this film is extremely hectic as H gets embroiled in a plot dreamed up by Jackson to rob the cash in transit depot after all the armoured trucks have received the cash from Black Friday also known as the biggest shopping day on America, the day after Thanksgiving.  

Naturally everything goes south as H. has to defend himself against a ruthless gang of thieves who feel nothing at slitting each other’s throat to get a bigger slice of the spoils. Jackson and the blue-eyed Jan are the main perpetrators and Jeffrey Donovan and Scott Eastwood are well-cast in these parts.

Wrath of Man is a gritty, old fashioned action film about robbers betraying each other and features a surprise cameo by Cuban born actor and Oscar nominee Andy Garcia (The Godfather Part III) as the mysterious Agent King.

Viewers that enjoy a good twisty action film, will love Wrath of Man as they watch H, the tough guy faithfully played by Jason Statham rip out the Lungs, Liver, Heart and Spleen of his victims specifically the vicious psychopath who killed his innocent son during the bloodiest Black Friday heist ever seen.

Certainly not as good as Guy Ritchie’s other films like Sherlock Holmes, The  Gentleman and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Wrath of Man is worth seeing for the action sequences and gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

Catch Wrath of Man in cinemas now.

93rd Oscar Awards

93rd Academy Awards took place on Sunday 25th April 2021 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the Union Station in Los Angeles, California and at The British Film Institute in London, United Kingdom

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father

Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Nomadland

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung YounMinari

Best Original Screenplay: Emerald Fennell –Promising Young Woman

Best Adapted Screenplay: Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton – The Father

Best Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt Mank

Best Costume Design: Ann RothMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Make up & Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Best Film Editing: Mikkel E. G. NielsenSound of Metal

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Documentary Feature:  My Octopus Teacher (South Africa)

Best Documentary Short Subject: Colette

Best Live Action Short Film: Two Distant Strangers directed by Trevon Free and Martin Desmond Roe

Best Original Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon BastisteSoul  

Best Original Song: Fight for YouJudas and the Black Messiah

Best Animated Feature Film: Soul

Best Animated Short Film: If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Foreign Language Film: Another Rounddirected by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark)

The Vanishing Frontier

Nomadland

Director: Chloe Zhao

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

Beijing born and London and Los Angeles educated Chinese American director Chloe Zhao has made an extraordinary film Nomadland about the vanishing frontier, about the concept of homelessness and leading a nomadic existence, shot in some extraordinary locations in America including Arizona and South Dakota.

Backed up by an extraordinary performance by two time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as the widowed Fern, who repels from any form of human commitment and prompted by the sudden death of her husband and the economic collapse of their hometown, Empire, Nevada after a major factory shutdown in 2011 as a result of the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis, Fern bravely embraces all the hardship and wonder of the nomadic lifestyle in the vast outback of America.

Frances McDormand is in every scene of Nomadland under the expert direction of a genius director Chloe Zhao who has made a beautiful picaresque tale about loss, hardship and the human desire to explore. Fern is completely against settling down in a property but prefers her nomadic lifestyle driving around America in an old van kitted for human habitation, picking up odd jobs at various locations including ironically the pantheon of American capitalism, the giant online shopping and delivery company Amazon.

Fern’s journey is peppered with intimate encounters with real nomad travellers, as they briefly discuss their life and their journey whether it’s towards love or death.

The most extraordinary encounter is the scene with herself and a young guy from Wisconsin who is trying to write to his love in another state and Fern suggests a Shakespearean sonnet, number 18 – Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day? Fern recites the entire sonnet as Zhao expertly edits a beautiful montage of gorgeous scenes, bringing an elevated harmony to a life which is essentially that of a pioneer.

Nomadland is beautifully shot, brilliantly edited and superbly acted by both Frances McDormand and her male counterpart Dave played by Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) a fellow nomad who ultimately decides to settle down with his son and grandson in a beautiful home in South Dakota, a betrayal to Fern who sees giving into a static life as relinquishing her nomadic life and more significantly her freedom, her ability to travel wherever and not be tied down to a fixed abode.

In Nomadland, director Chloe Zhao chooses to focus not on Millennials or 40 somethings but on the elderly, on the sixty somethings that are grappling with the death of a spouse or a child, to that age group which has suffered loss and have been turfed out of the capitalist cycle, that have been disposed of and are ultimately dispossessed.

Nomadland is a gorgeous, fascinating film, complex, intimate and ravishing, held together by a superb performance by Frances McDormand who makes Fern the embodiment of all that bitterness of a ruined town like Empire, Nevada which becomes symbolic of a vanishing frontier.

Nomadland gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended.

THE 74th BAFTA AWARDS / THE BRITISH ACADEMY FILM AWARDS

Took place on Sunday 11th April 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England

Best Film: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao

Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father

Best Actress: Frances McDorman – Nomadland

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari

Best British Film: Promising Young Woman

Best Original Screenplay: Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Best Foreign Language Film: Another Round directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark)

Scorpion’s Revenge

Mortal Kombat

Director: Simon McQuoid

Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Max Haung, Tadanobu Asano, Laura Brent, Mehcad Brooks

The original Mortal Kombat video game was released on the 8th October 1992 with subsequent versions being released in 1993, 1995 and then culminating in Mortal Kombat Trilogy in 1996, much to the delight of every video game playing teenager growing up in the 1990’s.

The first film version of Mortal Kombat was released in 1995, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Pompeii) and starred French film hunk Christopher Lambert who become famous when he starred in the 1984 classic Greystoke: Lord of the Apes.

So the 2021 film version of Mortal Kombat has arrived in cinemas and is directed by first time director Simon McQuoid and stars an array of fresh young stars including Lewis Tan as Cole Young, Australian actors Jessica McNamee (Battle of the Sexes) as Sonja Blade and the hilarious Josh Lawson who played James Murdoch in the Oscar nominated film Bombshell as the loud mouth and macho Kano.

Well known Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada (Mr Holmes, The Railway Man, The Wolverine) stars as Hanzo Hassahi aka Scorpion who at the beginning of the film set in 17th century Japan, has his wife and young son killed by the vicious Bi-Han played by Joe Taslim (Fast and Furious 6).

Cole Young, the MMA fighter teams up with Sonja Blade and Jax played by Mehcad Brooks along with Kung Lao played by Max Huang to fight the Outworld villains lead by Bi-Han.

The action in Mortal Kombat is mainly mixed martial arts trimmed with lots of blood and gore especially a couple of head bashing. There are even a fair share of ninja’s and other ghastly beasts which attack the good guys.

To viewers not familiar with the Mortal Kombat game and the universe it inhabits, the plot could be slightly confusing, but just ask any thirty-something and they will tell you exactly what is going on, with them having grown up in the 1990’s when the popularity of the games were at their peak.

The visual effects and the production design of Mortal Kombat is eye-catching and the action, bloodshed and raucous banter is relentless, sufficient to keep any ardent fan satisfied.

Mortal Kombat is a fun filled martial arts sci-fi action film and is worth seeing especially if you enjoyed playing the video game. In this 21st century attempt of transferring a successful video game to the Big Screen, Mortal Kombat as a an entertaining action film stands its own ground and there is bound to be a slew of sequels to follow.

Catch Mortal Kombat in cinemas now and the film gets a rating of 7 out of 10.

The cinematic release of Mortal Kombat should hopefully draw a crowd of people back to the theatres to watch this action-packed bloodthirsty reinvention, depicting Scorpion’s revenge.

Leaves Falling off a Branch

The Father

Director: Florian Zeller

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss

Film Rating 9.5 out of 10

French playwright Florian Zeller, deftly converts his play about a father suffering from dementia into a beautifully wrought and touching film called The Father featuring two absolutely brilliant performances by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) as Anthony, a retired engineer living in a plush London apartment and his daughter Anne played in a heart wrenching performance by Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite).

Sir Anthony Hopkins at the age of 83 inhabits every frame of this beautiful film, as the ageing Anthony, deceptively clinging onto an imagined reality which is forever shifting, an emotional minefield made treacherous and poignant by the enduring love of his daughter Anne, who has to not only take care of her father but make the extraordinarily difficult decision to place her father in a care facility so that she can continue with her life.

Hopkins won the 2021 Best Actor Oscar for this film. His performance is incredible, utterly nuanced and touching, at once witty and incorrigible but endearing and extremely moving.

Olivia Colman is also extraordinary, conveying all the emotional difficulty of a middle aged daughter who is desperate to move on with her life, especially at the urgent request of her charming but ruthless husband Paul played by Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist, A Knight’s Tale, Judy).

What makes The Father such an impressive film is the complex script co-written by Oscar winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) along with Florian Zeller and the ever-shifting non-linear narrative is expertly edited by Yorgos Lamprinos, deceptively drawing the audience into a world which is both imaginary and instantly recognizable. The last battle ground in a family is always the home.

Significantly, The Father is a sharp and relevant film commenting on how the elderly are treated and how they can suffer emotionally, psychologically and mentally, without fully grasping what is happening to them. How this old age deterioration of dementia can have a devastating effect on their children.

Intelligently acted and elegantly crafted, The Father is a stunning work of dramatic art expertly transferred to the cinema.

Based on the play by Florian Zeller, The Father is a masterclass of screen acting and gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing.

The Apex Solution

Godzilla vs Kong

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Lance Reddick, Shun Oguri, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Kaylee Hottle

There is something magical about watching a film on the big screen. It’s the brief, tense moment, when a deaf little girl manages to communicate in sign language to the biggest gorilla on the planet: King Kong. It’s that moment when a passive bay adjacent to a coastal city like Pensacola or Hong Kong is disrupted by the appearance of Godzilla’s menacing lizard like body, foreshadowing the impending destruction which will occur.

Director Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs Kong is the reason that cinemas should not be closed down in favour of fashionable streaming services. It’s that amazing cinematic film which has to be seen on the Big Screen.

Wrapping up the Godzilla trilogy and tying in as the sequel to Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla vs Kong has a fantastic cast include Golden Globe winner Alexander Skarsgard (Big Little Lies) as Nathan Lind, Rebecca Hall (Frost/Nixon) as Dr Irene Andrews and British star Millie Bobby Brown who reprises her role as Madison Russell along with Kyle Chandler who plays her father Mark Russell. Also in the cast are Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows, Hotel Artemis) as conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes and Oscar nominee Demian Bichir (A Better Life) as the evil corporate villain and head of Apex industries Walter Simmons who develops a mechanical Godzilla to take out the real Godzilla.

The star of Godzilla vs Kong is the deaf actress Kaylee Hottle who plays the little girl Jia who manages to communicate with Kong much to the surprise of Dr Andrews.

In monster films, the script and characterisation takes a back seat to the action sequences and Godzilla vs Kong is no exception. The story is action packed ably assisted with dazzling special effects leading up to a spectacular fight sequence in between the neon lit skyscrapers of Hong Kong, in which much of these mega-skyscrapers topple like a house of cards as Kong and Godzilla battle it out, two primordially massive beasts tearing the planet apart only to be confronted by an even greater mechanical monster.

If audiences enjoyed 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s Godzilla, King of Monsters, then they will love 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong which is a fitting finale for a monster film trilogy. With excellent special effects and monsters that create empathy for the audiences, viewers will either be on team Kong or team Godzilla.

Godzilla vs Kong is big budget action film best to be seen in a cinema and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a kick-ass Monster film. This action packed film gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is highly recommended for escapist fantasy and is suitable for the whole family.

Support your local cinema and buy a ticket to watch Godzilla vs Kong.

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