Film critic Calum Cooper takes a look at some of the past week’s additional releases – Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest triumph Cold War; the irritating antics of Action Point; and Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie
Cold War – ★★★★★
Show don’t tell is one of cinema’s quintessential rules. Like it or not, film is a visual medium that thrives off of our minds being able to register what’s happening from our eyes alone. 2018 has been a golden staple of this rule, with masterful works like Leave No Trace and You Were Never Really Here. Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, his first film since the Oscar-winning Ida, also revels in this art form, resulting in, like the aforementioned films, one of the year’s finest cinematic entries.
Cold War is an unorthodox romance told over the course of 15 years. In Poland 1949, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is in charge of a propaganda troupe. As he auditions for singers he becomes infatuated with Zula (Joanna Kulig). Traditionally a beautiful romance would bloom between the two, but both characters are faced with the hostile environment of the film’s setting. Taking place across various mainland European countries, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the two feel a lasting love is impossible due to their origins and circumstances. Yet, the two keep running into each other, and are unable to deny their attractions to one another, no matter how strenuous or potentially dangerous.
As the romance gradually evolves, so too does our captive investment in its provocative story and stylish nature.
The film has enormous subtext, including the life of artists and passionate people under a Communist state. This is a time where strong feelings are best kept hidden after all. The black and white cinematography, and the tight aspect ratio evokes a feeling of claustrophobia these characters are no doubt experiencing. This serves as a perfect backdrop and creative choice for this romance. To some, the film may appear to be a mere collection of random moments between the two across different countries and years. Yet, it’s not just the relationship between these deeply complex characters on display. It’s the relationships between time, culture and the State, and what compromises may be needed in order for love to conquer such things.
Musically euphoric and making the most of two immensely vibrant performances from the leads, this film doesn’t waste a single second of its runtime. As the romance gradually evolves, so too does our captive investment in its provocative story and stylish nature. It’s the kind of film that demands repeated viewings so one may spot all the most obscure details. Romantic, powerful, and hauntingly gripping, Cold War could possibly, and rightfully, be Pawlikowski’s second shot at the Foreign Language Oscar. A triumphant addition to this year’s cinema.
Action Point – ★☆☆☆☆
Action Point is told through flashbacks as Johnny Knoxville dons his Bad Grandpa makeup to tell his granddaughter about the time when he used to run the anarchic theme park of the same name. Too bad the audience is in for the ride too.
For a film that primarily concerns a park thriving on freedom and recklessness, its narrative trundles mechanically along like that dune buggy ride on the Largs seafront. This is a very by-the-numbers story with little intellectual, or even entertainment, value. A rival theme park opens nearby, driving away customers from Action Point and its dangerous management. Sure they’ve got more money, bigger rides and snooty caricatures in business suits, but Knoxville and his crew have the heart. That’s what counts right? Try telling that to the kid who just split his leg open on the water slide.
These characters are numerous levels of aggravating, with few redeeming qualities outside of the redundant. Knoxville is best known for Jackass, which featured similar stunts to what this film offers. However, while Jackass’s antics were bizarrely engaging due to the chemistry of everyone involved, Action Point’s feels idiotically juvenile. The characters exist to laugh maniacally as their colleagues get hurt or embarrassed, yet are able to rapidly switch gears when the script shoehorns in sentimental moments. Except those moments are your very basic fear of growing up woes that have been done before in supremely better flicks. You can see every forced moral coming from a mile away.
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Oh, and the movie isn’t funny either. It’s not funny as it insists on doing variations of the same gags over and over again. Someone falls over, gets punched in the nuts, is drunk, caught engaging in sexual activity, or injures themselves in some elongated stunt. Rinse and repeat for 85 minutes, and it’s amazing how quickly your patience thins. The crew did do their own stunts in fairness, which is committed of them, but shouldn’t the pain be reserved purely for the people on screen?
Knoxville is a likeable performer, but he and the studios gravely miscalculated with this one. Lacking in wit, charm, spontaneity, or anything remotely similar to the fun one feels at a theme park, this film is ridiculously tiresome. You’d be better re-watching the old Jackass films instead. Placing leeches on your eyeballs has never looked so appealing by comparison.
Yardie – ★★☆☆☆
Idris Elba returns to our screens, this time in the director’s chair for his debut, Yardie. Based on the novel of the same name, Yardie stars Aml Ameen as D, a man who watched his brother Jerry die in a shooting as he attempted to broker peace in a violent district. Ten years later and D has been recruited by a crime lord (Sheldon Shepard) to deliver a package of drugs from his native Jamaica to Hackney in London. Unexpected consequences arise, and D finds himself torn between seeking revenge, doing the job he was told, and finding tranquillity in this new city.
There’s a good story with complicated ethics and questions in here somewhere, but it’s unfortunately muddied and lost due to rather uninspired direction. I like Idris Elba as much as the next person, but his lack of experience behind the camera does sadly show. Themes on grief, childhood trauma and the cyclical nature of violence are all present, but there’s little visual language to emphasise their importance. camera movements are stagnant and rely too much on the basics, such as your typical shot reverse shot. The editing feels all over the place as well. Freeze frames are overly used on characters to explain their relevance to the plot, and moments of tension or gun violence are cut together erratically to evoke reactions that you’re already mentally prepared for.
The film does have its moments, both narratively and occasionally with how it portrays some scenes, but there just isn’t enough flare to its story or how its gritty themes are presented.
The process simply feels rushed. There’s clearly powerful source material on display, but its craftsmanship is far too conventional. The script can’t successfully juggle its various characters and plot points, often forgetting about key events until it conveniently needs them again. It could’ve done with being a few minutes longer to flesh out its themes better and allow us to learn even more about its conflicted anti-hero.
Credit where credit’s due however: the film boasts strong performances and a magnificent soundtrack that relishes in many Jamaican music genres wonderfully. The film does have its moments, both narratively and occasionally with how it portrays some scenes, but there just isn’t enough flare to its story or how its gritty themes are presented. Elba will hopefully direct something great in the future, but he’ll need to refine his skills some more first.
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