Friday, February 1, 2019

Feb. 1 film wars: An Oscar nominee, a startling doc, and squabbles over art

Polish lovers Kulig and Kot help capture an era of "Cold War."
Three films featuring some serious conflict debut on northeast Ohio screens today, with two of them among the best leftovers from 2018.

Leading the way, at least in the area of Oscar nominations, is "Cold War," an epic period love story from Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowsi ("Ida," "My Summer of Love"). Already named Best Director at this spring's Cannes Film Festival, Pawlikowski now finds himself, perhaps surprisingly, among the year's five Academy Award candidates. Also in the mix, of course, are his impressive movie (for Best Foreign Language Film) and nominated cinematographer Lukasz Zal (for the stunning black and white images that mesh perfectly with a fatalistic tale that takes place mostly behind the bleak glare of the former Iron Curtain).

Pawlikowski's combustible lovers (the electric Joanna Kulig and lanky Tomasz Kot), who are reportedly patterned after the director's own parents, initiate their 15-year affair in 1949. She is a hopeful singer/dancer trying out for a government-controlled, traveling folklore group. He is the group's conductor/musician and one of only two judges appointed to pick the performers for a European tour to entertain the masses as much as to preach the Soviet party doctrine.

Their first-sight attraction during what might seem like just a so-so audition for Kulig's zestful Zula quickly takes them to forbidden places with no return. Kot's Wiktor gets hooked, and so do we with various excursions to France, Yugoslavia, and Germany along the way.

Amazingly, Pawlikowski  gets there and back in less than 90 minutes by letting us fill in huge time gaps that might take us to even more intriguing places if we legitimately think about it. This seriously is some good, spare stuff.

Rated "R": some sexual content, nudity and language; 1:29; $ $ $ $ out of $5 

Old film gets masterfully restored and colorized in Jackson's WWI doc.
Even more relentess -- and as real as it gets when it comes to war -- is director Peter Jackson's "They Shall Not Grow Old," a bombardment of words and pictures so powerful that you might feel under attack yourself.

The words are spoken by British World War I veterans sorted through and assembled by supreme storyteller Jackson, whose first directing foray into documentary becomes as memorable as anything he's ever done, including his heavily honored "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Here, he superbly unfolds his stirringly moving tale with century-old BBC and Imperial War Museum footage meticulously selected, digitally restored, colorized and presented in topnotch 3D.

It's a Herculean effort directly from front-line trenches filled with suffering, piles of rats, blood, death, and continuous smiles on the faces of sacrificing young soldiers who quickly learned that war is hell and dealt with it for their homeland and the rest of the free world.

Rated "R": some serious war images; 1:39; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally this week there's "Velvet Buzzsaw," a contemporary satire about the Los Angeles art world now streaming on Netflix. It comes from writer and director Dan Gilroy, most famous for his superior "Nightcrawler," whose stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene "Mrs. Gilroy" Russo, lead another competent cast here.

Ashton, Gyllenhaal and the art of "Velvet Buzzsaw."
The former plays a prententious art critic, while the latter is an ultra-successful gallery owner with an assortment of friends and enemies. Numbered among them are the likes of an artist (John Malkovich), an ambitious museum employee (Toni Collette), and an assistant (Zawe Ashton), who probably knows where all the bodies lie.

In fact, near the end of a what seems like a predictable first act, Ashton almost stumbles over one that belonged to a prolific painter unknown to just about everyone. The event shifts Gilroy's film into another genre that might make you laugh as much as squirm, but we won't give away any secrets or surprises right now.

As was the case in his previous two films, LA itself becomes a major player, too, with its assortment of attractive skylines appearing as regularly artistic as just about anything else on screen.

Rated "R": violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and brief drug use; 1:53; $ $ $ out of $5

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