Thursday, 9 February 2017

February 9 2017:  
Toni Erdmann
Fifty shades Darker

We're on the countdown to the Oscars, and still the candidates keep coming. This week brings top-notch performances in Fences (4 nominations), nuanced but zany humour in Toni Erdmann (nominated for Best Foreign Film), and a lot of steamy eroticism in Fifty Shades Darker (no nominations!)

Toni Erdmann
Director: Maren Ade
Length: 162 min

© Madman - zany touching and quirky examination of 
father/daughter  relationship
Winning the prestigious Critics Prize at Cannes last year, this ultra-long, super entertaining and very quirky film about a practical joker father and his workaholic daughter is a delight. Winfried (Peter Simonischek), aka Toni Erdmann, can't see eye to eye with his daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller). He is always playing pranks, while she is an intense, serious career woman. When he visits her unexpectedly in Bucharest, where she works, they clash and he agrees to head home to Germany. However he reemerges in the guise of Toni Erdmann (complete with false teeth and ghastly wig), pretending to be the personal coach of Ines's boss. He shadows her life, and as things get zanier, we live in the hope that Ines may lighten up and make a move towards her father and take life less seriously. One doesn't know whether to be embarrassed by, laugh at, or fall in love with Winfried/Toni. He is a unique and wonderful character who is deeply human, despite his wackiness. The father/daughter story is not new, but the way writer/director Ade and her actors explore it is nothing less than inspired. 

4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Director: Denzel Washington
Length: 139 min

© Paramount - Washington & Davis give soaring performances
This very long and extremely wordy film is based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and its theatrical roots show. In many ways it feels like a play has been filmed, with limited settings, and towering monologues that showcase the actors' talents. And some talents they are, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis having already garnered the Golden Globes for their lead performances. Denzel plays Troy Maxson, a hardworking man in 1950s' Pittsburgh. He feels a strong sense of responsibility for his family, though he treats his children with more sternness than love. The Maxson household is filled to bursting with Troy's resentments - that he never got to play baseball as a kid, that his brother Gabe was injured in the war, that his kids don't pay him the respect he feels he's due. He rants and raves to whoever will listen, drinks too much, and professes that wife Rose is the best woman he's ever met. The early portion of the film feels too verbose and too theatrical, but when the second half kicks in, showcasing Davis as the wounded wife, and bringing more of the children's roles into the spotlight, the film really soars, and feels painfully truthful as a heartbreaking study of the travails of ordinary folks and the self-destructiveness of resentment. Despite my reservations, it is totally worth seeing for some of the best performances you'll watch this year! 

4 - Wholeheartedly recommended!
For a longer review from Bernard Hemingway go to:

Fifty Shades Darker
Director: James Foley
Length: 118 min

© Universal - Dornan & Johnson  (Aka Christian Grey
& Anastasia Steele) work up a sweat in this steamy sequel
Mills & Porn? Lustful erotica? Good spanking fun? Or simply the best one can do with the film version of a ragingly successful trilogy of novels that serves a purpose, but is definitely not good literature. People love to demonise films and books that border on the trashy/sexy/forbidden territory boundaries. But their very success proves there is definitely a market for it. The trouble with the books is that they are simply about a young girl's fantasy fulfillment of falling in love/lust with a dashingly handsome billionaire who just happens to be a kinky SMBD freak (that's Sado-masochism - bondage-discipline for the uninitiated!). Not much happens other than the standard narrative of how they meet, break up, get back together, how all the  women in his past are ragingly jealous, and how one can spend gratuitous billions on yachts, jewellery, cars, helicopters and the like. Oh, and of course sex - plenty of it! Minor elements of plot tension are introduced with lurking threats to the couple's happiness. Within these limitations the film manages to look classy, and the sex is steamy and clever - not enough is shown to get it an R-rating, but enough for a high raunch experience. There is strong chemistry between the two leads, Jamie Dornan as billionaire Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as sweet innocent Anastasia Steele (who rapidly discovers her own hidden pecadilloes). Both have stunning bodies worthy of gracing the big screen! If you're in the mood for a bit of self-indulgent titillation, this could be for you. 

2.5 - Maybe!
For your interest I link you to critic Jake Wilson's excellent review which ponders some  philosophical issues raised by this film:

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