Posts Tagged ‘Willem Dafoe’

Carving with Compassion

Poor Things

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter

Running Time: 2 hours and 21 minutes

Film Rating: 9 out of 10

Please note this film contains explicit sex and nudity

Think Mary Shelley’s cinematic version of Frankenstein with Salvador Dali as the production designer and that is how one should view the gorgeous and gawky masterpiece that is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos latest Gothic Victorian dark comedy Poor Things starring an absolutely superb Emma Stone in the role of a lifetime as the creation Bella Baxter, a recreated creature with the impulses of a child and the body of a lithe, sexually rapacious young woman.

At the heart of Poor Things is the sexual, sociological journey of Bella Baxter, a Victorian experiment who gets whisked away from her macabre overprotective creator and keeper Godwin expertly played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Shadow of a Vampire) by the dashing cad Duncan Webberburn, a star performance complete with a posh accent a desire to please polite society by Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) as he takes her sometimes forcibly from a grey and grim London to an iridescent and lavish Lisbon and then from Lisbon aboard a ship to Alexandria.

While Bella is entranced initially by the elegant Duncan Webberburn particularly in the film’s iconic dance sequence which is absolutely enthralling, Bella soon learns that Duncan actually starts behaving like every other man in her life so far, over-protective, possessive and deeply controlling. Duncan starts acting petulant when Bella takes his money and unknowingly gives it away, supposedly to the destitute in Alexandria and soon they both literally become poor things.

While landing up penniless in Paris, Bella discovers the economic advantages of a Parisian boudoir where she can get paid for sex so that she can become her own economic entity.

Back in London, Godwin creates another creature lacking in emotional while him and his protégé Mark McCandles played by Ramy Youssef pine for Bella’s illustrious return and soon via letters she learns that she needs to return to London while abandoning the overtures of a demented rejected Duncan. It is at this juncture that the brilliant and wacky storyline, takes a bizarre turn, thanks to a superb screenplay by Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray whose novel the film is based upon.

With captivating production design by Shona Heath and James Price and beautiful cinematography by Robbie Ryan, Poor Things expands on some of director Yorgos Lanthimos fascination with female emancipation and male folly which he began so cleverly in The Favourite and now expands with a broader, brighter and utterly bizarre canvas. This surrealist film is filled with illustrious characters, beautifully mingling fantasy with sexual emancipation, death with desire and revenge coupled with a coroner’s careful carving up of cadavers with compassion and medical ingenuity.

Poor Things is certainly not a film for everyone, it will fascinate viewers and repel them in equal measures but as a mesmerizing cinematic experience it is dazzling, daunting and delightful. At the heart of this unique, bizarre Victorian melodrama are three exceptional performances by Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe. Ultimately Bella Baxter gets her revenge and becomes her own means of production.

Poor Things gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 and is utterly bizarre, repulsively fascinating and a cinematic experience that no one will forget. Recommended for those that love challenging films.

Stargazers and Space Cadets

Asteroid City

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Steve Park, Hong Chau, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Edwards, Sophia Lillis, Bob Balaban

Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Celestial flirtations abound in director Wes Anderson’s latest fluorescent theatrical film, Asteroid City featuring a blossoming cast headlined by two excellent performances by Jason Schwartzman and Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story) as theatre actors Augie Steenbeck and the glamorous Midge Campbell who find themselves acting in the eccentric playwright Conrad Earp wonderfully played with deadpan flamboyance by Oscar nominee Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X, Birdman)’s new play Asteroid City set in a one horse town in Arizona in 1955 complete without a candy coloured diner and a nuclear testing site.

Asteroid City has a population of 69.

Visually and aesthetically, Asteroid City is beautiful to watch as a film, like a trippy popup book with fabulous colours and eccentric characters from singing cowboys and random socialites, from military personnel to perilous children who comprise the space cadets of the town.

At a random event celebrating the arrival of an asteroid in a desert, the entire town is gathered and listening to an articulate speech by General Grif Gibson played by Jeffrey Wright (No Time To Die) when out of nowhere a cheeky alien arrives in a garish green UFO and unexpectedly steals the asteroid while the town looks on in horror and curiosity.

Luckily Augie who is a reluctant father of four children, a son named Woodrow wonderfully played by Jake Ryan and triplet daughters known collectively by their grandfather as The Witches, managed to photograph the alien. Then the military step in and quarantine the town, a suitable jibe by screenwriter Wes Anderson at the weird lockdown restrictions imposed by Governments across the world during the Covid19 pandemic in 2020.

Despite the ensemble cast, it is really Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson’s film as they both shine in a complex self-reflexive narrative which takes inspiration from American playwright Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Jason Schwartzman who played King Louis XVI opposite Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and is soon to star in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s new film Megalopolis, really shines as a talented stage actor and part time homosexual Augie Steenbeck in a role which is equally quirky and subversive.

Asteroid City is a highly theatrical comically absurd film serving as a dazzling critique on the bizarre nature of events in 2020 and cleverly presents the concept of The West as a construct to be interchanged and taken down again, much like a cardboard city. Notable turns in the film go to Tom Hanks as Grandfather Stanley Zak, Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) as Dr Hickenlooper and Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) as The Host.

Take yourself on a journey and see the visually splendid Asteroid City, which is not perfect as a film, but it is enchanting in a celestial way and will find a cult following everywhere much like the Space Cadets that follow the Milky Way. With impressive set designs, Asteroid City should win an Oscar for Production Design in the 2024 Academy Awards.

Not as brilliant as The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Asteroid City gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10, a quirky self-reflexive play about a city that doesn’t exist and an alien that possibly does.

Wes Anderson outdoes himself with a script and a bizarre film which received a 6 minute standing ovation at the film’s glittering premiere at the 2023 Festival de Cannes.

This isn’t a Carnival Trick

Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Toni Colette, David Strathairn, Ron Perlman, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Anderson, Holt McCallany, Clifton Collins Jr

Film Rating: 9 out of 10

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Based upon the pulp fiction novel by William Lindsay Graham, Nightmare Alley, Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) turns his deft hand to the genre of film noir in this 1941 American thriller featuring brilliant performances by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett.

Starting in the mid-west, we follow a low life con artist Stanton Carlisle expertly played by Cooper who gets off a train and follows a dwarf into a Carnival where he meets an assortment of weird and equally morally subversive characters from the sultry Tarot Card reader Zeena played by Toni Colette to Clem Hoatley played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire, The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate) who controls a man in a cage who eats live chickens.

The first half of the spooky Carnival scenario is vividly captured on film by del Toro as Cooper’s character proves that he is a fast talker and a suave mentalist, easing gullible folk out of their money but he has bigger dreams. He yearns for the big grift: the wealthy clients of the urban metropolis.

Dragging his equally suspicious girlfriend Molly Cahill wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Rooney Mara (Carol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) along to Chicago, they decide to turn their glamourous tricks on wealthy city folk until he is caught in the cross hairs of psychiatrist Dr Lillith Ritter, the ultimate femme fatale in a brilliant and sassy turn by double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), who wears brilliant red lipstick and carries an ivory handled pistol in her evening gown.

Dr Ritter psychoanalyses the suave Stanton skilfully manipulating him into going after some wealthy clients including the eccentric recluse Ezra Grindle superbly played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water, The Visitor) who is paying him a fortune to conjure up the image of his dead wife.

From the authentic production design, to the expert pace and tension of the film, director Guillermo del Toro delivers a first rate film noir thriller about the rise and spectacular fall of mentalist and trickster Carlisle played by Bradley Cooper in his career best performance.

Cooper does a superb job of holding this entire film together from the seedy Mid-Western Carnival scenes, which are both dazzling and daunting to the exquisite scene between himself and Dr Ritter in one of the best scenes in the film, in which the dialogue crackles with manipulation, seduction and desire amidst temptation and cigarette smoke.

Nightmare Alley is a long film, in which the first half entirely foreshadows the second half but the talented ensemble support the two stars of the show in this riveting, psychological thriller which eventually leaves blood on the passageways. From the gorgeous golden Art Deco interiors, to the beautiful costumes, Nightmare Alley leaves nothing to chance.

This isn’t a carnival trick, it’s authentic cinematic entertainment which the supremely talented director Guillermo del Toro excels at delivering. In this case, it’s a pure cinematic homage to the original 1947 film starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker.

Strictly for sophisticated cinema goers, soak up the atmosphere of sinister intentions in 1941 America and watch the film noir Nightmare Alley, which gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

Definite Oscar nominations for Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and David Strathairn as the drunkard trickster Pete.

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

Spiderman: No Way Home

Director: Jon Watts

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Benedict Wong, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Charlie Cox, J. K. Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Angourie Rice, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Tom Hardy, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori

Film rating: 7.5 out of 10

Running Time: 2 hours and 28 minutes

Director Jon Watts went all out in the third Spiderman film to feature Tom Holland in Spiderman: No Way Home, capitalizing on both the success of all the previous Spiderman films and expertly capitalizing on Sony’s new deal with Marvel Studios to incorporate Spiderman into The Avengers as part of a multi-million dollar trademark agreement between Sony and Disney Studios.

The sprightly Tom Holland reprises his role as Spiderman, but now he has completed school and him and his friends are applying to go to MIT which is the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Before Peter Parker aka Spiderman can enter college, he has to deal with the immense media fallout of his alter ego being blown wide open by the previous villain Mysterio played by Jake Gyllenhaal in 2019’s Spiderman: Far From Home.

With pure imagination and skill, director Jon Watts makes Spiderman: No Way Home a far darker comic book adventure as Peter Parker has to contend with some uninvited guests from his previously unknown past, courtesy of a spell which he requested the pompous wizard Doctor Strange to cast on everyone forgetting that Peter Parker is in fact Spiderman. The spell obviously goes terribly wrong….

Much to his horror, some past evil villains emerge to take revenge again on Spiderman including Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray) as Electro; Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire, The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate) as the Green Goblin and Alfred Molina as Doc Octopus.

Spidey has to contend with these new villains as well as pressure from an increasingly gruff Doctor Strange played again by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who continually treats the young Peter Parker like an irresponsible college kid, which he essentially is.

Without giving any spoilers away, Spiderman: No Way Home is a fun filled Super hero film which will be sure to satisfy all the fans of the previous films. Audiences must stay beyond the closing credits to catch a glimpse of another Marvel monster who is desperate to meet the wayward web slinger.

Tom Holland does a wonderful job as Spiderman and even looks quite buff in the role compared to the first to films, but it is really director Jon Watts that makes the entire 2 and a half hour spectacle visually impressive channelling all that influence which acclaimed British director Christopher Nolan had on him. Clearly, Inception played a big part in Jon Watt’s directorial maturity.

Spiderman: No Way Home gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is immensely enjoyable family viewing.

Judging by how full the cinema was, this film is the theatrical blockbuster that 2021 so desperately needs. Watch it in cinemas now.

2018 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

Golden Lion (Best Film): Roma directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Grand Jury Prize: The Favourite directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Silver Lion (Best Director):  Jacques Audiard – The Sisters Brothers

Best Actor: Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

Best Actress: Olivia Colman – The Favourite

Best Screenplay Award – Joel and Ethan Coen – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

King of the Seven Seas

Aquaman

Director: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Julie Andrews

DC Comics highly anticipated Aquaman floods onto the cinema circuit in all its technicolour luminescent glory. Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa embodies the role of Aquaman with a muscular charm that clothes the gorgeous actor throughout this odyssey from his origins as the son of a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis wonderfully played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman who channels a blonde sea creature glow reminiscent of Daryl Hannah in Splash, to his showdown with evil younger brother King Orm of Atlantis.

Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna

As Aquaman grows up he learns that there is great turmoil below the seas as his wicked younger half-brother King Orm played with a camp villainy by Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace, Little Children) is about to wreak havoc on the surface people.  

Patrick Wilson as King Orm

Luckily Aquaman has the fiery red head Mera wonderfully played by Amber Heard to assist him as they embark on an epic oceanic adventure which takes them from Sicily to the depths of the hidden ocean where he must retrieve the Golden Trident so he can rightfully claim his title as King of the Seven Seas.

Fast and Furious director James Wan directs Aquaman with flamboyance and panache clearly making it an exceptionally lavish and startling superhero film aided by stunning visual effects and fabulous costumes by Kym Barrett.

Willem Dafoe as Vulko

Aquaman is equally well cast with an array of established stars including Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Shadow of a Vampire, Platoon, The Florida Project) as Vulko, Aquaman’s mentor as well as Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays the ferocious Manta out to avenge his father’s death against Arthur Curry aka Aquaman.

The onscreen chemistry between Jason Momoa and Amber Heard sizzles especially during the Sicily sequence and Nicole Kidman adds some maternal reasoning as the gorgeous Queen Atlanna who aims to restore peace between her warring sons as their battle for the supremacy to become Master of the Oceans.

DC Comics did everything right with Aquaman and the neon underwater cities add a gorgeous sparkle to the glow of this superhero universe which has seen the likes of Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman appear. Aquaman can rightfully take his place as one of the stronger and coolest members of the Justice League.

Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus

Audiences should be prepared to embark on a cinematic odyssey complete with menacing sea creatures and a ripped and muscled superhero as they watch a story laced with metaphor about rising pollution which is destroying the earth’s oceans.

This is a socially conscious and relevant superhero film with a very likeable star and no doubt there are plans for a sequel to Aquaman as we all want to see more of the tattooed Jason Momoa.

DC’s Coolest Superhero by Far – AQUAMAN

Aquaman gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and audiences should suspend their disbelief as they get dazzled by the city of Atlantis and the hidden treasures of the seven seas.

A Tangle of Strangers

Murder on the Orient Express

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Lucy Boynton, Olivia Colman, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr. Tom Bateman

Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) both stars as the infamous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot  and directs another remake of the classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express featuring a stunning cast including Oscar nominees Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street) and Oscar winners Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love).

Sporting a profoundly massive mustache, Branagh takes Hercule Poirot to new extremes in this 21st century remake which is glossy and possesses sumptuous production design but like all extremely long train journeys is boring in the middle, despite the spectacular scenery.

Murder on the Orient Express is set in 1934 and starts off promisingly with a fantastic opening, attention grabbing scene at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and then moves on to the Orient Express, a luxury train service which travels from the chaotic train station in Istanbul right across Europe to Paris.

As the gangster Edward Ratchett is found murdered in his compartment, stabbed multiple times everybody becomes a suspect on the Orient Express and soon Poirot has to interview all the cast as the train is stuck in an icy tunnel somewhere over Yugoslavia. A tangle of strangers confined to a luxury train which has gone off the rails.

Everybody is not what they seems, which is natural considering this is an Agatha Christie novel and while the cast does an admirable job, it is really Michelle Pfeiffer who wows audiences with her demure yet slightly vicious portrayal of globetrotting husband seeker Caroline Hubbard who stands out among a fairly impressive ensemble cast. Pfeiffer really acts.

Dame Judi Dench’s turn as Princess Dragomiroff is hardly noticeable, while the best scenes in the film are between Pfeiffer and Branagh.

It is refreshing to see Michelle Pfeiffer making such a glorious big screen come back as she truly is a brilliant actress, not to mention singer – for she also sang the film’s original song at the end.

Without revealing who the killer is, needless to say Kenneth Branagh will be returning with another big screen adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, Death on the Nile. Should be fascinating if only he would curb that mustache.

Audiences that enjoyed the original seventies film adaptations of the Agatha Christie novels, will enjoy this ambitious if slightly flawed remake. Think Evil Under the Sun.

Recommended viewing but whether the film will dazzle at the box-office in an increasingly cluttered 21st century CGI film line-up remains to be seen. Murder on the Orient Express gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

 

 

 

Monsters and Black Powder

The Great Wall

Director: Zhang Yimou

Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Tian Jing, Lu Han, Eddie Peng, Kenny Lin

Chinese director Zhang Yimou has contributed immensely to Chinese cinema and that of the world. His exceptional films include Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern which won the Bafta for Best Foreign Language Film back in 1993. His more recent works include Hero, Flowers of War and more recently Coming Home.

Almost all of Yimou’s films are in Chinese featuring an oriental cast yet after he made Flowers of War with Oscar winner Christian Bale it was only natural that Hollywood would court him with the lucrative offer of making a Big Budget action film. The Great Wall starring Oscar winner Matt Damon and Chilean actor Pedro Pascal recently seen in HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones has been ridiculed for its casting and its implausible plot.

Yet despite all its detractors, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, a historical fantasy epic is still breath taking to be hold even if the script and the acting needed some rescuing. Damon and Pascal play European mercenaries who land up at the Great Wall of China only to be imprisoned by Commander Lin played by Tian Jing. The Europeans so oddly out of place in ancient China especially when Pascal’s character Tovar keeps on saying amigo are embroiled in an ancient battle against the Tao Tse, vicious monster like creatures which periodically attack the historic fortification.

Damon stars as William and Pascal plays Spanish mercenary Tovar who join the fight aided by a desire to steal gun powder from the Chinese and take back to Europe to bolster the many continental wars raging far away in England and Spain. Instead they are unwillingly co-opted by The Nameless Order to fight these savage beasts and protect the ancient Chinese city from being invaded and destroyed.

Whilst the battle sequences are breath taking and the fight sequences are watchable, this is by no means Zhang Yimou’s best work. Perhaps he should stick to an all Chinese cast and rather do imperial films about ancient China which he was so brilliant at directing especially the visually spectacular Raise the Red Lantern.

The Westernization of this great Chinese director is not good if The Great Wall is anything to go by. Whilst the action fantasy film is enjoyable it’s by no means brilliant.

And what was Matt Damon thinking? He did The Great Wall after The Martian, which as in both films he is equally out of place in. Even Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire) looks bewildered in The Great Wall playing Ballard, a double crossing European trader who is only after the Black Powder.

Despite all the monsters and lavish battle sequences, director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall only scores a 6 out of 10 which doesn’t bode well for future Chinese American co-productions especially considering that this film bombed at the North American box office.

On the up side, The Great Wall remained number 2 on the South African box office for a second consecutive week.

The Art of Surveillance

A Most Wanted Man

A most_wanted_man

 Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rainer Bock

Dutch director of The American, Anton Corbijn skilfully brings to cinematic life the spymaster John le Carre’s novel A Most Wanted Man set in the German port city of Hamburg, the site in which the 9/11 terror attacks emanated from.

Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in one of his last onscreen performances before his untimely death in New York in 2014, plays German intelligence officer Gunther, an overweight heavy drinking, chain smoking yet patience man who engineers a web of intrigue and surveillance when a Chechen Muslim illegal immigrant arrives in Hamburg seeking asylum.

The immigrant is half Chechen and half Russian and his true reasons for arriving in Hamburg is to claim access to a private bank account held by his Russian father who stashed funds after several covert and illegal Russian/Chechen wars.

american

The most wanted man, Issa is a Muslim convert, played by Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin, who seeks shelter with a Turkish mother and son. They in turn seek advice on his precarious existence with a human rights lawyer and refugee sympathizer Annabelle Richter played against type by Rachel McAdams.

Gunther with the help of his surveillance team including Daniel Bruhl (Rush) as Maximilian and German actress Nina Hoss as Irna Frey who manipulate Annabelle into setting up a play to gain the confidence of Issa whose sudden wealth is being held by a suave German banker Tommy Brue played by Willem Dafoe (Nymphomaniac).

The German surveillance team is interested in where the funds might go, namely to a prominent Muslim businessman Abdullah in Hamburg who is funneling cash to jihadist groups in the Middle East through a shipping company based in Cyprus.

A Most Wanted Man’s opening scene focuses on the murky swirling waters of the river Elbe running through the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam, a fitting motif for the tricky surveillance and bureaucracy involved in the gathering of intelligence on suspected terrorists post 9/11. This is an intricate geopolitical affair, with allegiances and deception as part of the cold business of espionage in the tradition of Zero Dark Thirty and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Into the play comes the seemingly sympathetic CIA officer, Martha Sullivan played by Robin Wright, last seen in the excellent series House of Cards. As Gunther increasingly manipulates both Issa and Annabelle to his own advantage without wanting a full scale extradition, the tension and strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a well plotted gritty thriller without the flashy car chases or violent fight sequences synonymous with The Bourne Trilogy. Director Corbijn opts for a more sedated, yet carefully paced spy narrative, slow moving in parts, rather emphasizing the mental and emotional strain on all those involved especially Gunther, with his unraveling coming to a head at the film’s rather poignant unexpected conclusion.

At just over two hours, A Most Wanted Man could have been edited in parts, but is nevertheless a fascinating study of the excruciating art of surveillance. Recommended for cinema goers who enjoy well-plotted intelligent spy thrillers without the glamour or excitement of a Bond film.

Love = Lust + Jealousy

Nymphomaniac Vol: 1 and 2

nymphomaniac_ver16

Director: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Udo Kier, Mia Goth

Unlike 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen’s handsome New York set film about sex addiction, the highly acclaimed Shame, starring a gorgeous yet libidinous Michael Fassbender, Danish director and auteur, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2 is on an entirely different level.

Explicit, provocative, brutal and shocking, this is von Trier’s seminal work on Freudian psycho-analytic film theory, the nature of sexuality and of society’s views on sexual deviancy and obsession. Warning these two films, making up a total of four hours viewing time is NOT for sensitive or prudish cinema goers.

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Von Trier’s favourite muse Charlotte Gainsbourg (Anti-Christ) stars as Joe, a relentless nymphomaniac who is discovered beaten in a dark city alley way by a seemingly kind mysterious bachelor Seligman played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Girl with The Dragon Tattoo). As Joe recovers with copious cups of tea in Seligman’s drab apartment she frankly recounts in episodic form her life thus far as a nymphomaniac and the events leading up to her supposed downfall.

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The younger version of Joe is played by Stacy Martin who as a young licentious teenager seduces all the men on the train in a bet with her friend B, played by Sophie Kennedy Clark. The sex scenes are graphic and unrelenting. Her insatiable sexual appetite is temporarily quelled when she meets Jerome wonderfully played by Shia LaBeouf, who has definitely come a long way from his Transformers movies. LaBeouf proves to be superb as the equally lustful Jerome, who apparently sent a sex tape to von Trier as part of his audition for this part in Nymphomaniac. It proves that Shia LaBeouf is willing to take major risks as an actor and more recently as a notorious performance artist.

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Joe as a young girl displays her close relationship with her father played by Christian Slater (True Romance) and her non-existent relationship with her aloof mother played by Connie Nielsen (Gladiator). As Joe’s sexual awakening becomes more ferocious she ventures into some dark territory particularly as she resumes a relationship with Jerome and attempts to settle down and lead a normal existence. All this is shot in grey colours with lots of graphic nudity and sex, with von Trier intentionally deglamourizing sex and sensuality on screen and deliberately punctuating these pornographic images with bizarre directorial screenshots of fly fishing, predators, sunsets and forests.

In between Joe’s sexual adventures all done in flashbacks, is the frank discussion between the mature Joe a scarred Gainsbourg and the supposedly asexual Seligman, who provides some intellectual insights into her sex addiction along with Freudian psychoanalysis and historical anecdotes. As Seligman explains in Volume 2, that all children are born with polymorphic sexual perversions according to Freud which gradually are repressed or discovered  latently as the child becomes an adult and thus manifests itself in later life. This is classic Freudian psychoanalysis. Even Love is equated to Lust+ Jealousy.

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So despite all the subliminal theory and explicit pornography, is Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2 any good? Volume 1 is better than Volume 2, a more superior and controlled film but the entire diatribe about Nymphomania could have been edited into a more concise and elegant film. Then again Von Trier is not one to bow to Western film aesthetics and has never done so. His film 2003 Dogville was shot without sets in a sparse Brechtian style about a close knit community who does not accept outsiders with Nicole Kidman in the lead.

 nymphomaniac_ver11

Nymphomania Volume 1 and 2 is not easy or comfortable viewing, but that its point. Especially Volume 2 where Joe’s sexual addiction takes her into the dangerous world of Sadomasochism, cue a rather sadistic master K played by Jamie Bell of The Eagle and Billy Eliot Fame. There are also brief appearances by Uma Thurman as a wronged wife Mrs H. whose husband has fallen for the nubile, precocious and younger Joe, bravely played by Stacy Martin and Willem Dafoe as Joe’s last employer a shady debt collector.

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What should really be applauded is the bravery that these actors show in starring in such an explicit, unconventional and shocking film including Stacy Martin, Christian Slater, Shia LaBeouf and naturally Charlotte Gainsbourg (Anti-Christ). Audiences might want to walk out in several particularly disturbing scenes, but it’s worth staying until the end of Joe’s confession to Seligman, as all is not what it seems… Those not familiar with Lars von Trier’s previous films should definitely stay away.

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