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Cold War

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Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) are Polish musicians trying make ends meet after the fallout of the Second World War in 1949. Wiktor, a quiet man with a composing background, makes ends meet by auditioning talent for a travelling music troupe. Zula, a little more outspoken, is a struggling young woman with aspirations to be a singer. Zula was also accused of trying to murder her father. They meet at an audition. So, begins Pawel Pawlikowksi slowly lyrical romance, Cold War, the follow-up to his 2014 film Ida, also shot in black-and-white.

Filmed in a boxed 4:3 ratio, Cold War’s compositions and aspect ratio often feel like a prison. Neither can escape their lives, their country, their past – each other.

It is not just the framing of Cold War which is typified by an undercurrent of claustrophobia and silence – it’s the atmosphere of Cold War Poland, it’s in the lovers’ feelings about their homeland, their looks.

The film uses dialogue sparingly. Recalling other minimalist European works of the ‘50s (Dreyer, Bresson); the romance trails the constricted courtship of the two lovers from 1949 through to the ‘60s, as they change partners, cities, attitudes.

Wiktor flees Poland illegally for upbeat Paris to become part of the burgeoning art scene – seeing the rise of Jazz and Cinema. Zula stays with the music company, travelling around Europe but still living in depressed Poland.

Pawlikowksi flashes forward in time; Wiktor is a successful composer for films. Zula goes on to marry an Italian, become a recorded singer, have an album released, and eventually even a child.

Still they think of each other.

At each and every point, every few years, the couple reacquaint themselves, spend a few nights together, talk about their partners, separate, forlornly vow to see each other again.

It is a passion rekindled and marked by music. Pawlikowksi uses the device as a token of their relationship. It is the only respite they get. This is in a number of scenes, nearly giving the film the feel of a musical.

But despite how free and divergent they are, away from the spectre of worse times in Poland, both lovers’ lives are still empty. There’s a longing.

There are no ‘big’ scenes. This is not a grandly made epic. There are no bursts of laughing and elation. Shot by Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal, Cold War’s photography is spare. The film is populated by quietness, looks, stares.

The compositions are subtle. The only thing that punctures this, is music.

There are unanswered questions in Pawlikowksi’s film. Why the two don’t get together at all costs when they can – multiple times – is never quite addressed. Why didn’t Zula join Wiktor and go to Paris, instead choosing Poland, when she could have? Perhaps they can’t quite bring themselves to leave their pasts.

The film was loosely based on the director’s family. Pawlikowksi leaves audiences with a note at the end – For My Parents.

This is a softly played musical contemplation of life in the midst of a harsh life, which is vibrantly on-song.



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The Predator

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week 4 Comments

Do you measure The Predator against cinema as a whole, or do you measure it by the modest achievements of the franchise so far? It’s an interesting philosophical question, given that of the previous five films to feature the man-hunting, mandible-sporting aliens, only John McTiernan’s 1987 original could be called great, while every other iteration of the series runs the gamut from fun-but-flawed (Predator 2, Predators), to holy-god-what-were-you-thinking (Alien Vs Predator:Requiem). Which is the key to enjoying The Predator, Shane Black’s sequel and hopeful franchise re-starter: it’s not a great movie per se, but it’s a pretty enjoyable Predator flick.

And that’s because it’s a B movie, and it knows it. Black (and yes, he was Hawkins in the original, lest we forget) and his co-writer, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, House) have sharply defined B movie sensibilities, having both come up at a time when the drive-in fodder of the ’70s was turning into the tentpole blockbusters of the ’80s (see Black’s own screenwriting breakthrough, Lethal Weapon). That trend has continued and these days pulp-as-mainstream is the default, but even in these heady times where superhero films are taken seriously and people actually argue about the potential merits of a Masters of the Universe movie “where they get it right”, The Predator may take it a step too far for most audiences.

Which is a damn shame, because if you’re open to the film’s throw-everything-against-the-wall charms, it’s a hoot. This is a film that pits a brain-damaged Dirty Half-Dozen against alien killing machines, after all, with everyone (well, chiefly Keegan-Michael Key) rattling off Black’s trademark filthy testosto-zingers in between the gunfire, explosions and viscera.

To get there takes a few ungainly plot machinations and tonal shifts, though. After special forces sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook of Logan) has a run-in with a Predator and his whole squad is minced, he’s packed off to the funny farm, but not before he manages to mail off some Predator technology that, for reasons that don’t need going into at this juncture, wind up in the hands of his young, autistic son (Jacob Tremblay). When an even bigger, badder Predator drops out of the sky to recover the missing gadgets, Quinn has a busload of fellow damaged military veterans, including the aforementioned Keegan, former Punisher Thomas Jane, Game of Thrones dickputee Alfie Allen, and Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes, to call upon in the fight to save his kid and estranged wife (Aussie actress Yvonne Strahovski, a long way from Gilead here).

There’s a bit more to it, including Sterling K. Brown showing up to complicate matters as a shady government agent ala Gary Busey in Predator 2 (Jake “son of Gary” Busey has a brief cameo), but that’s basically your lot: The A-Team’s stunt doubles vs ferocious extra-terrestrial big game hunters in Spielbergian suburbia.

Which sounds great, but when you’re operating at this particular pitch of drive-in insanity, you pretty much have to include some bad ideas, which in this case involve some nonsense about the Predators harvesting their prey species’ DNA, and a big ol’ sequel hook that will never, ever, be acted upon – The Predator is all but destined to be derided and ignored on first release, and adored a decade or two down the track. Why? Because Thomas Jane’s character has Tourette’s, someone’s legs get sliced off by a force field, and there are Predator hunting dogs, one of which becomes the movie’s cute pooch. Those aren’t bugs though – they’re features. Like the pickle on a good cheeseburger, they exist to add piquancy. Perfection is boring.

If it sounds messy and slipshod, it is. Whether that’s by design or through last minute panicked editing is hard to say, although word is that some serious retooling went down right up to the release date. If that’s the case, we would love to get a look at whatever insanity Black and Dekker originally intended – if this is The Predator with the weirder angles sanded down, the prototype must be mind-blowing.

Perhaps the irony is that, for a film designed to resurrect a 21 year old franchise, The Predator feels about 30 years out of date. If it actually were a relic of the late ’80s sci-fi actioner direct-to-video boom, it’d be regarded as an absolute cult classic – a trait it shares with the recent and rather wonderful Beyond Skyline. If you have an affection for that kind of thing, run to The Predator – it has the fix you need. If you don’t, a matinee of The Book Club is no doubt playing somewhere nearby.

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Directed by poet/activist/filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, whose 2012 film When I Saw You was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Academy award, Wajib is a portrait of a father/son relationship within the Palestinian community of the Northern Israeli city of Nazareth. The story follows a father and son as they travel through the city, in a sort of slow-moving road movie.

Shadi (Saleh Bakri, who has starred in two of Jacir’s previous films) has returned to Nazareth from Rome, for the wedding of his sister, Amal (Maria Zriek). Riding shotgun with his father, Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri), the two men cruise around the city in his dad’s beat-up Volvo, hand delivering invites to the prospective wedding guests.

While Abu Shadi is a creature of tradition and dutifully carries out this ritual, his son has no patience for it and sees it as pointless. It’s this tension that leads to the numerous discussions as they drive. Abu Shadi is dismissive of his son’s life in Rome with his Palestinian girlfriend and attempts to spruik him as a viable partner to the single daughters of several of the families they visit. Shadi tolerates being pimped out by his father, knowing that the real reason for it is his father’s dislike of his girlfriend’s father and their affiliation with the PLO, an organisation his father sees as out of touch with the everyday problems of Palestinians.

This free-flowing (or rather free-wheeling) discussion piece, meanders along with the pair as they move through and around the city encountering relatives, Shadi’s old flames and an Israeli friend of Abu Shadi, prompting discussion on any number of fronts about the realities of life in Israel for the Palestinian people.

Real life father/son Mohammad and Saleh Bakri are terrifically engaging, with the relaxed back-and-forth and off-the-cuff venting that is only possible when sparring with a close family member. Largely, the meandering discussions amount to a single verbal bout from two opposing viewpoints: the Arab who embraces the difficulties of staying in their homeland and those who choose to take it with them in their heart and live overseas.


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Widows: Channelling Lynda La Plante

At the Toronto International Film Festival, writer Gillian Flynn, co-writer/director Steve McQueen and composer Hans Zimmer discuss how a Lynda La Plante miniseries from the ‘80s became one of the most anticipated and contemporary films of 2018.