Connect with us

Featured Review

Cold War ★★★★★



Released: 31st August 2018

Directed By: Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Whatever happened to the classic movie romances? There’s romantic movies out there still, sure, but those sweeping, smouldering passions that positively crackled on the screen – say, Casablanca, Brief Encounter or My Fair Lady – seem cast away to a bygone era of monochrome celluloid and swelling orchestras.

In the form of Cold War – the latest from director Pawel Pawlikowski – the classic movie romance returns. But it’s different – weather-beaten and embittered by the intervening years. A lovingly-realised tribute to his parents, Polish-born, British-raised Pawlikowski has crafted here something inherently, misty-eyedly classic, yet starkly, bleakly modern – the romance of Hollywood colliding with the harsh realism of cold war-era Eastern Europe.

Spanning about a decade of European history from the late 40s to near the dawn of the 60s, Cold War is beset with a ubiquitous sense of unease and paranoia from the start. Sudden cuts to black signal jarring leaps forward in time, while scenes of terror and trepidation are consumed in a cacophony of ambient sound.

But wrapped in this blanket of wartime discomfort is a fiery, enduring romance for the ages, with a star pairing of immense calibre and appeal. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are the kind of match whose power is indefinable and impossible to manufacture – two excellent performers egging each other on to bolder and more surprising feats of actorly craft.

What starts in a tremendous, uncomfortable imbalance of power – Kot’s Wiktor is the stern, demanding conductor of a travelling folk music troupe and Zula (Kulig) is his precious, prodigious protege – quickly tilts into a fiercely equalised tug-of-war. Diametrically opposed, yet intrinsically bound, Wiktor and Zula lose and find each other in numerous wrenching, tragic episodes across the ensuing years – their connection gradually deepening, but their differences quietly festering, as they challenge and explore each other.

Kot is excellent – persistently stoic and impenetrable, allowing Wiktor fleeting moments of vulnerability amid a life of uncertainty and continual escape – but Kulig is truly spellbinding.

Sporting a face that at different times recalls a number of modern leading ladies – Jennifer Lawrence, Léa Seydoux, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain among them – Kulig has the look of a vintage romantic lead. As Wiktor’s junior, she plays Zula at once childlike and wet-eyed, but with enigma and irascibility that begins as a knowing wink and slowly unspools across the piece into a furious disarray of volatile, intrinsic feeling.

Written with celebrated Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki, Pawlikowski’s script crackles with immortal barbs and one-liners that bring Zula and Wiktor palpably to life. Populated with humbly touching confessions, withering put-downs and deep wisdom, it is a humane, full text lifted from the page and made tangible by two players at the height of their powers.

Pawlikowski, whose cinematic career started with 2000’s desolate, lo-fi immigration drama Last Resort, emerges here as a confident, self-assured directorial hand. As his earlier efforts indicated a shift in identity and approach with each new film, Cold War serves to confirm his more clearly-defined voice, first cultivated in 2013’s stellar Ida – the director’s first effort in his native Polish language.

In sharp, dreamlike black and white, Pawlikowski generates an Old Hollywood fairytale aura with slow, steady cranes and serene long takes, often harshly punctuated with tight, claustrophobic close-ups and uncomfortable edits. Working in monochrome, his cinematographer Łukasz Żal plays deep blacks and soft whites against each other, playing with the struggle between east and west that permeates so much of the film – this is also realised in the prevalence of traditional Polish mountain folk music that slowly gives way on one side to burly Stalinist anthems and on the other to the booze-drenched excitement of free jazz and burgeoning rock and roll.

The interplay of diametric opposites – as much between Zula and Wiktor as the titular struggle between western liberalism and eastern communism – bisects Cold War. It creates a piece of cinema at war with itself, but deftly brought together by a director with inherent trust in his colleagues. Blissfully romantic, but inherently downbeat, it is a film with vision and passion at its heart – a sweeping, classical romance keeping one foot in our sad, real world.

London-based journalist moonlighting as flailing amateur film critic. Waiting for Greta Gerwig and Barry Jenkins to team up and save the world. Terrified of inevitable Star Wars over-saturation. Proud Yorkshire kid.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★



Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

Continue Reading

Featured Review

Hurricane ★★★



Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: David Blair

Starring: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson

Reviewed By: Van Connor

What is it about a good old brim ’n’ bluster war tale that lets a bit of charm and a whole heap of cheekiness carry a movie? There’s a bit more to David Blair’s Hurricane than that, but the prominence of its cheek ’n’ charm approach is undeniable. From the moment Game of Thrones baddie Iwan Rheon struts his way through a daring escape from the Nazis, the fun’s on for this engagingly peppy and likeable true story.

 This tight and tidy hundred and ten minute war story concerns the  formation of the RAF’s 303rd squadron in the wake of their exile from Poland, and the prejudice afforded them by their British allies. “England needs all the help it can get,” Rheon’s Zumbach explains; his fellow pilots, however, are more interested in seeing them remain on the ground. Add into this mix the friendship of a group of young female war clerks – including a rather fine performance by Stefanie Martini – and the stage is set for the 303rd to prove themselves worthy of history.

It’s not entirely unlike Red Tails, with the tale of Tuskagee airmen and their treatment by American pilots sharing similar beats. As you’d expect from any war story, there’s a lively cast of supporting players bringing up the ensemble – including winning turns from Marcin Dorocinski and Krystof Hádek – and even an amusingly thankless part for the token yank, in this case a role fulfilled by Milo “son of Mel” Gibson. Rheon’s the star here, though, with swagger and charisma to match the admirably-produced (for what’s presumably a lean budget) fireworks going off in the skies above them.

Blair helms with an able hand. He’s noticeably more confident in the dramatic quotient of the tale, but is aided immeasurably by some impressive VFX work. A misjudged score by Laura Rossi proves periodically distracting, though, its tone faintly too whimsical and overblown to remain in keeping with the smaller scale sensibilities that keep Hurricane focused and confidents. It’s down to a deadpan sense of humour that Hurricane ultimately takes flight, piloted largely by the charms of Rheon and a game cast, and emerging rather an endearing World War II biopic.

Continue Reading

Featured Review

Final Score ★★



Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: Scott Mann

Starring: Dave Bautista, Pierce Brosnan

Reviewed By: Van Connor

If you’ve ever surfed the wasteland that is the home platform-centric side of post-nineties action – that void off to the side of where the mainstream were being distracted by Bourne movies and Michael Bay – you might have caught the faint whiff of a particularly nasty little actioner back in 2009 by the name of The Tournament. Essentially a Playstation-plotted Contest of Champions romp, the tight-and-tidy beat ‘em up made director Scott Mann a fleeting name to watch out for; fleeting only because his rather forgettable sophomore effort, Heist – which starred Robert de Niro and Dave Bautista – came and went with none of the same fanfare. Now he’s back, and (to put it in genre terms)  he’s out to make Die Hard. Unfortunately, he’s landed closer to Sudden Death.

OK, that’s unfair. Call it two-thirds of the way between Sudden Death and Under Siege 2 (remember how that was subtitled Dark Territory? That got lost to history) with all the individual plot mechanics of Die Hard. Mann reunites with Bautistae, with the WWE-star-turned-surprisingly-loveable-actor starring, of course, as Navy SEAL Uncle Mike,   who’s suffering from one of those failed missions that’s left him minus his best friend, but plus a fallen bro’s widow and daughter, who he visits in London on a regular basis. 

Uncle Mike’s  ‘niece’ is one of those fun Kim Bauer types who seem sharp as a tack in conversation, but then merrily wander into danger at the most inconvenient moments. She’s probably the wrong person for Uncle Mike to take to see West Ham play on a regular day, let alone one on which there happens to be a group of terrorists stealthily laying siege to the grounds in search of an amnesty-exiled former warlord. There’s a frankly hilarious pandemic-style simulation displaying “Projected Civil Unrest” if the terrorists get ahold of their quarry, but it mostly just plays like the whole General Radek element of Air Force One, without the sense of dread.

The intentions behind Final Score appear to have been, in their entirety: “they’re demolishing West Ham, let’s make Die Hard there”, but even there this rather overlong and startlingly uninteresting effort falls vastly far off the mark. Bautista is back on WWE Studios autopilot (we all ironically like 12 Rounds, calm down), and nobody else involved seems in the faintest bit interested in being there either. To pick far from the lowest hanging fruit, Pierce Brosnan – star of I.T. – has never been so visibly bored, and, in a movie featuring such wince-inducing penmanship as “why did my dad have to do it? Die…” it’s hard to begrudge him the right.

Meanwhile, a bevy of genre clichés litter a pretty uneventful go around the action wheel, featuring stops to pick up everything from Token Hot Girl Terrorist: Kink Edition to a panicky Argyle-like sidekick  that the script (boasting the talents of no fewer than three writers) uses entirely for the purposes of eyebrow-raising racially-driven humour. 

As far as the laugh factor goes, it’s here that Final Score actually gets one in the net, though  that depends on how alluring you find it to mock a feature this unironically silly. On that front, it’s no Geostorm, by any means – it’s not even a Gamer, certainly no Shoot ‘Em Up – but there are arguably enough mechanically-derived set pieces and plot beats in there to appease the baser wants of genre die-hards (sic). The final score’s not a great one, but if you’re game for Sudden Death all over again, it’ll scrape through for you on penalties.

Continue Reading