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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 25, 2019)

24 Jan 2019

The solid Best Oscar Foreign Film nominee from Poland COLD WAR opens this week.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Family:

Mary Poppins  Returns

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Roma

Capernaum

 

Best Drama:

Ben is Back

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book

 

Best Doc:

They Shall Never Grow Old

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

COLD WAR (ZIMNA WOJNA) (Poland/France/UK 2018) ****
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

 

The director of the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner IDA three years ago, Pawel Pawlikowski returns with a new film, dedicated to his parents (as stated at the end of the film) and based loosely on their lives. 

The film is set in Poland in the year 1949, just after the War.  The film is a period love story.  The film begins with several songs accompanied by various musical instruments played by assorted villagers in Poland.  Director Pawlikowski slowly but surely draws the audience into the subject of his film.  A musical scout is impressed with one rural dancer that begins a tempestuous romantic relationship that survives through time, trails and tribulations.  The film traces the remarkable journey of this troubled love relationship that survived the cold war.   But the lovers endure a cold war of their own where nothing is black and white. 

What is black and white, however, is the film’s stunning cinematography (Director of Photography is Łukasz Żal), capturing the atmosphere of the period after the war where Poland indulged in popular propaganda.  The exterior shots of the peasant farms and village amidst the trees and snow combined with the interiors of the old buildings create the atmosphere.

Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) the musical director of a dance troupe falls in love with a recruited rural dancer, Zula (Joanna Kulig).  Wiktor is warned that Zula is serving time for murdering her father.  Her feisty nature is shown when questioned on the incident: “My father mistook me for my mother and I used a knife to show him the difference.”

They travel together to different cities.  She fails to show up when he decides to defect, while in Paris.  They meet again at different times in different cities proving that their love is true - though plagued with jealousy.  The intensity of the love is vividly portrayed by the two actors and the setting of the dance troupe (with some excellent dances) add a super backdrop to the story.  Lots of metaphors in the film including the hilarious ‘pendulum that kills’ metaphor that got those watching the preview screening at TIFF (where I first saw the film) laughing.

As mentioned, the film is lovingly dedicated to the director’s parents.  Pawlikowski is quoted here from a Hollywood daily, Deadline: “I dedicated it to my parents, because it’s somewhat inspired by their tempestuous relationship—they had [both] a great love and a great war. Their separations, betrayals, getting together again, moving countries, changing partners, getting together again—that story has always been in the back of my head, as a kind of a matrix of all love stories. So I knew I had to do it.”

COLD WAR that premiered at Cannes last year has received universal acclaim.  It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where Pawlikowski won the award for Best Director.  Other awards include: the Golden Lions Award at the 43rd Gdynia Film Festival, five 2018 European Film Awards, and was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. At the 72nd British Academy Film Awards the film earned four nominations, including Best Direction and Best Film Not in the English Language. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPkDdFeTk8

DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Karyn Kusama

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind - not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival. 

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim's identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang's leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas' girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas' new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris' child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqHaLUoiWZU

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE (THE IMAGE BOOK) (Switzerland 2018) ***

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

 

It is what it is.  LE LIVRE D’IMAGE (THE IMAGE BOOK) is a Godard film.  So, one would know what to expect.

When Godard was speaking at the Q & A after the screening of his film LE COLEUR DE LANGUE at the Toronto International Film Festival, he described the transition of one scene in the film to another.  The description made no sense at all and no one would, in his or her right sense of  mind even guess the intention of the director. The same can be said for Godard’s LE LIVRE D’IMAGE.  Nothing much makes sense in the film and there it is pointless to try even to make some sense of the images.

The film can be described as a Swiss avant-garde horror essay film. Initially titled Tentative de bleu and Image et parole, Godard had started shooting the film for almost two years "in various Arab countries, including Tunisia”.  It is supposedly an examination of the modern Arabic world.  Godard told Séance magazine that he was shooting without actors but the film would have a storyteller. The Image Book is composed of a series of films, paintings and pieces of music tied together with narration and additional original footage by Godard and his partner, Anne-Marie Miéville

Godard’s film contains plenty of clips from films through the decades with a clip even from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s THE LAST DAYS OF SODOM.  How these films are connectedly to for example the Joan Crawford classic, JOHNNY GUITAR is anybody’s guess.  There is a spill of a complaint  on human’s lies being told when the JOHNNY GUITAR clip was played, so one can guess at Godard’s dissatisfaction on human’s and likely politician’s speeches.

Still, there are pleasures derived from a Godard film.  Godard is inventive and has disregard for the rules of the cinema (his jump cuts in  A BOUT DE SOUFFLE or BREATLESS, the film’s English title, put him instantly in filmmaking Nouvelle Vague fame).  So best thing is to sit back and to enjoy the collage of images (many in over-saturated colours, which appear to be his favourite from his past two films; cinematography is by Fabric Aragno) that flash on the screen, the assemblage of classic films over the decades of filmmaking and his own philosophical sayings.  It does not matter if much sense or continuity can be made.

THE IMAGE BOOK was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.   Although it did not win the official prize, the jury awarded it the first "Special Palme d'Or" in the festival's history.

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE has a special engagement run at the Bell Lightbox.  Venture to see Godard’s latest film if you dare.  Remember it is a avant-garde horror essay - the best words (taken from Wikipedia) that best describes the film.

According to Godard, the film is intended to be shown on TV screen with speakers at a distance in small spaces rather than in regular cinemas.  It was shown in this way during its first run at the Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne in November 2018.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcXn1LRyNq8

 

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (USA/UK 2019) ****

Directed by Joe Cornish

The film title THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is likely used due to familiarity with the medieval hit, John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adaptation of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.   Don’t let either the title or the fact that this is a family film discourage you from seeing this picture.  Despite the film’s limitations of targeting a family audience, there is plenty to enjoy for adults. Also ignore the silly ad” “Kids Rule” that would turn off adults. 

The story follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) a young boy who is picked on at school and does not appear to be very special at all.  However, that soon changes when he finds and pulls King Arthur's famous sword Excalibur in the neighbourhood construction site.  He discovers that he is destined to form a new round table for an upcoming battle with the medieval villain Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who summons evil forces to rule the world, after being banished by King Arthur.  All this information is revealed at the film’s prologue - animation style.  The wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie) assists Alex in his quest. He is depicted as a young incarnation of Merlin in the film but capable of transforming to his old self (Sir Patrick Stewart).

If Morgana’s evil forces, creatures made up dark black with infra-red eyes look familiar, these creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to the invading aliens in ATTACK ON THE BLOCK, a small first feature that was a hit.  And with solid reason.  KID is directed by that film’s same director Joe Cornish who has the talent of bringing his films filled with spirit, humour and imagination.

Performances are surprisingly spectacular.  Deserving of mention is relative newcomer Angus Imrie who plays the young Merlin, who suddenly appears as a new student to help Alex in his quest to save the world.  Also delivering a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching performance is Denise Gough, an Olivier Award (British Theatre) winner who plays Alex’s mum.

The location where the fights and setting take place is stunningly captured on film by cinematographer Bill Pope.  The film is shot in the Cornwall area, south coast of England.  The film can also be considered to be a super action hero film, with Alex as the young schoolboy King Arthur type hero saving the world.  The film also has plenty of special effects to go with it - so action fans will be delighted.  The special effects is dished out small doses at a time with nothing much at the first half of the film but then coming out strong at the end creating a solid climax for the film.

Cornish’s clever script contains plenty of messages as if to mock films with messages.  These come on strong even at the beginning of the film.   “Telling the truth and doing the right thing.”  “The world doe not change - you do!”  “You do not need what you already have!”  “Use your enemies as your allies.”

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is an often imaginative super hero adventure cleverly blending medieval times with the modern with lots of good messages from the director Joe Cornish who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded the Best First Feature way back when for his equally impressive 2011 ATTACK ON THE BLOCK.  This film rules!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJlxP5P9v9c

 

RACETIME (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Benoit Godbout

If the Canadian (Quebecois) animated feature’s characters look family, you might have seen the film THE DOG WHO STOPPED THE WAR which RACETIME is based on or SNOWTIME which is its prequel.  RACETIME, as its title implies is a race of sleds. 

The subject is the  spectacular sled race through the village. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team, including Sophie as the driver, take on the newcomers: the mysterious and conceited Zac and his athletic cousin Charly.  The fantastic sled designed by Frankie disintegrates right before crossing the finish line.  This becomes the most bitter loss for Frankie who refuses to accept that he might have made some building mistakes.  Frankie gets into  a fight with Sophie who blames the sled.  Together with his friends, Frankie manages to prove that Zac cheated during the race.  Frankie demands a rematch; which Zac accepts on condition that Frankie build an entirely new race track. Frankie and his friends build a spectacular race track. Zac realizes he is up against a worthy opponent so he raises the stakes even more by cornering Frankie into betting the barn.  As the two teams prepare for race day, Zac has no scruples about cheating even more to weight the outcome of the race in his favour.  But Frankie and his team have a few surprises of their own in store for him.

The Canadian animation can nowhere be compared to the animation of Disney and Pixar studios.  But RACETIME holds it own.  What it might lack in technology is compensated by creativity.  The animation fo the races, the one at the start and the climatic one are both brilliantly conceived and executed with the sleds soaring into the air, while the sleds turn as if cameras were placed in the real sleds.  The snow in the animated scenes also looked remarkable real.

The film could do with a solid villain or a nastier Zac than one who merely cheats.  The part where Frankie befriends his nemesis treads clichéd territory.  However, this can be forgiven for a family film.

The film contains a few scenes with blurry images and a few where objects are flung out (like snow pellets) of the screen.  RACETIME must have been conceived as a 3-D film at one point.

Of all the voice characterizations, the best one is Frankie’s.  Frankie is voiced, surprisingly by a female, Lucinda Davis, who has to ability to make even the most ordinary of lines like ‘How dare you?’  funny.

For the audience who likes a bit of romance in the story, there is a sub-plot involving the strongest kid in the village, Chuck and Charly, the sister of the cheating Zac.  The film also contains a few messages for the young audience - put in for good measure.

There are a few song and dance numbers -the songs courtesy of Cindi Lauper.  The animated dance sequence at the end to celebrate the winner  of the race is also sufficiently lively.

RACETIME turns out to be an entertaining harmless family romp (never mind the one fart joke), credit to the Canadian and Quebec filmmakers.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EV5OpotW6S8

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