Wednesday, 26 December 2018

December 26th
The Favorite
Cold War
The Wild Pear Tree

Overindulgence in turkeys and plum pudds is over (hopefully) and it's time to hit the cinema. Although we have no more Hobbits or Lord of the Rings, Boxing Day releases this year are strong and all (that I've reviewed) are highly worthy of seeing.

Dir: Adam McKay
Length: 132 min 
© E-One - Christian Bale has gone the whole
hog to look like Dick Cheney
Already nominated for SIX Golden Globes, Vice is the story of President George W Bush's 2-IC - Dick Cheney. From Wyoming boy, to major White House power broker, Cheney was definitely the war-mongering power behind the throne, taking the US into Iraq while heading up large armaments company Halliburton. (That's integrity for you eh?)  The film is billed as a comedy, and in many ways it is - if the scurrilous doings were not so serious. McKay uses fabulous editing devices to create visual metaphors for what is going on, but the truly impressive aspect of the film is just how well the lead actors inhabit their roles. Bale, behind a pile of prosthetics and weight, has been subsumed by his character, while Sam Rockwell as Bush captures every nuance of the idiosycratic president's style. Steve Carell, who just gets better with every role he plays, is Donald Rumsfeld while Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney. Dick's wife was definitely a force behind him, and the whole concept of a little power going to people's heads is amply displayed by both Cheneys. You don't have to be vitally interested in US politics to get a lot out of this film, both informationally, satirically and entertainment wise. For me, it's a winner.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

The Favourite
Dir: Yiorgos Lanthimos
Length: 119 min 
© 20th Century Fox -  two cousins slug it out to be
Queen Anne's favourite
Here's another worthy nominee for five Golden Globes. In 1708 Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the British throne. She's an insecure monarch and allows her adviser (and secret lover) Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough, (Rachel Weisz) to make most of the decisions, especially in regard to the ongoing war with France. Then along comes impoverished Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah's cousin, who sees an opportunity and ingratiates herself into the Queen's favour. So begins a rivalry and love triangle, rich with female hostility, jealousy, scandal and humour. I'm no history buff, but this film is a major entertainment, with the trademark, off-kilter touch of a creative director (think The Lobster, Dogtooth, neither of which I particularly liked, but I love this one.) The three women are simply splendid in their roles, all three being nominated for leading actress awards. Production values are superb, and the sweeping cinematographic angles make for a handsome film, which is, nevertheless, also surprisingly intimate.
4 - highly recommended!

Cold War
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
Length: 88 min 
© Palace  -  musically talented lovers
do battle with the effect of the Soviet Bloc
on their  star-crossed lives
Short and sweet - and winner of Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Cold War is inspired by the lives of the director's parents. In post WW2 Poland, pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is commissioned by the ruling Soviets to form an ensemble to rekindle national pride through music. Searching for singers, he meets the beautiful, sultry Zula (Joanna Kulig) and the two fall madly in love. But escape from the Iron Curtain bloc is difficult, and so over 15 years the couples meet and part, as they traverse Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia. The film looks impossibly beautiful, in a way that only black and white cinematography can achieve. The singing of the various choirs is beyond heavenly, but the romance for me lacks something - it seems more style than emotional substance (putting me at odds with most of the swooning critics). The director says he deliberately left out large slabs of the protagonists' lives, to leave the audience to fill in the gaps. Possibly the runtime is simply too short to allow for real expansion of the characters' lives, and the dire effect repressive politics had on those lives. Nevertheless as a musically sublime, visually gorgeous story of star-crossed, possibly incompatible lovers, it's well worth a look.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Kusama: Infinity
Dir: Heather Lenz
Length: 78 min 

© Madman - talented and eccentric, this Japanese
artist is an eye-opener
Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world - yet, until this film, I'd never heard of her! With a career spanning six decades, Kusama has worked in the fields of painting, sculpture, installation art, writing and more. The film outlines her challenging life - from a traumatic childhood and dysfunctional family in post WW2 Japan, to mental illness, sexism in a male-dominated sphere, among many other obstacles. Despite all, her devotion to her craft has won the day for the nearly 80-year-old. The artist states "I am making art to spread the joy and the love", as she paints polka dots everywhere, including on naked bodies she employs for her publicity. Though I don't profess to understand modern art, this beautifully crafted film certainly gives a great insight into the unusual psychology of a highly talented and fascinating figure.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

The Wild Pear Tree
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Length: 188 min 
© Sharmill - a long but beautifully 
shot film
With six nominations for best film in some high profile festivals this year, Ceylan's beautiful, but extremely long  film is both engrossing and infuriating. His last two films (also very long) Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia were, for me, somehow more accessible than this one, which tells the story of  aspiring writer Sinan, who returns to his home village after finishing uni, only to find his father, Idris, is gambling heavily and owing money to all and sundry. When the film deals with the son, his literary aspirations and his relationships with family and friends, particularly his father, it works a treat. Everything feels ultra authentic. But Ceylan introduces two characters - local imams, - and allows them and Sinan to walk and talk, segueing off into lengthy pontifications upon religion, and its place in modern Turkey. For me the film's major strength is the wonderful cinematography, but perhaps one needs to be in maximum concentration mode to totally appreciate what is going on here (and I obviously wasn't!) 
3.5 - well recommended!    

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