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Review | The Champion of Auschwitz

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“I don’t know who I will be but I know who I want to be.”

Director Maciej Barczewski’s feature debut brings us the true story of Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski, a boxing champion of Warsaw who was amongst the first prisoners to arrive at Auschwitz during the Nazi regime.

During his time in the camp, the officers learn of his sporting history and recruit him to compete in a series of fights in exchange for extra rations of food and medicine for him and his fellow inmates. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ takes on a different meaning, where Teddy’s work of fighting in the ring is not just to stay alive, but also to free himself and others from the hardship, pain and suffering. At the same time, there becomes a desperate desire by the German officers to not maintain a hero nor produce a martyr.

Indeed, Piotr Głowacki offers an extremely nuanced and layered performance as the central protagonist, a role which demands a strong physical performance and he certainly delivers. Not only must Głowacki provide the expertise of a champion in the boxing ring, he must also simultaneously portray the weariness and weakness of someone in his position. Even beyond the obviously physical nature of his performance, Głowacki shines even more so in the more subtle moments of physical performance, able to convey vast emotions through a fleeting smile or a pointed stare. However, it is a shame that at times it feels as if he was acting within himself; confined by the commitment to realism, Teddy must act within himself as a character due to his situation. His outward performance versus his inner struggle, aided by both external and internal strength.

The cast is composed entirely of Polish actors, even in the roles of German officers and such. Even if unintentional, such a choice reminds of how Taika Waititi – a Polynesian Jew – portrayed Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit.

Like Głowacki, the film generally strives to achieve a fine balance between action and drama, between horror and beauty, between the external and the internal, and, at times, arguably between reality and fantasy.

The grim realism of Auschwitz is a consistent throughline, illustrated through all aspects of the film’s production, both narrative and technical. The omnipresence of violence is not concealed, but instead the audience is constantly reminded of the grim reality through harrowing depictions that never feel exploitative. The orchestral score is necessarily haunting, yet offers uplifting turns in moments of triumph.

The cinematography, courtesy of Witold Plóciennik, is largely impressive and helps to maintain the reality of the story. Particularly interesting in this regard was the decision to capture the boxing scenes almost exclusively with wide shots and long takes that were not too stylised or edited at fast pace. Such an approach can be typical with fighting scenes but instead, here the actual actor is consistently on screen without the aid of a stunt double, enabling the viewer to feel constantly connected to Teddy. The typical, more rapid approach of boxing scenes in films would likely have overpowered the fundamental themes and undermined the believability of the narrative.

The Champion of Auschwitz [Iron Films]

The colour grade too adds to the darkness of the story, a dim, washed-out look adorns the screen; the only uses of truly warm tones are in a single flashback sequence during the opening scene and then somewhat of an amalgamation of this light with the darkness of Auschwitz during an epilogue. Narratively, comparisons may be drawn to other titles such as Schindler’s List. Yet, where that film uses red prominently and brightly for attention, here the red of blood is merely dark and dirty. Agnieszka Kukulka and Miroslawa Wojtczak from the makeup department provide some truly grisly and brutal work, whilst the costumes too feel real.

Although the film depicts the harrowing events with painful authenticity, there is almost an untapped element of fantasy running under the surface. Prominent symbolism and consistent references to faith and religion – from carvings and paintings of angels, to introspective dialogue and even the camp spotlight taking on an almost angelic presence – remain a consistent presence.

The film does border on being too sentimental at times; more generic elements such as a training montage offer nothing new; and sympathetic sentiments towards some German characters may be undeserved. In addition, some rushed subplots resulted in an emotional disconnect from some characters or situations, but overall this is a tightly woven narrative that would have benefitted from a slightly longer run time than its 91 minutes and could have been slightly more refined, by reducing or even removing some sections entirely.

However, whether you know about Tadeusz Pietrzykowski or not, it is certainly worth checking out The Champion of Auschwitz for yourself.

 

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Action

Twisters: A Swooping Storm of Entertainment

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Twisters [credit: Warner Bros/Universal Pictures]

Twisters was on a lot of people’s most anticipated lists for the year, and rightly so given the cast and crew involved. We don’t see a lot of big-budget disaster movies in mainstream Hollywood these days. So the idea of a modern reboot of Twister although slightly strange and sudden, seemed like a breath of fresh air in this world of superhero flicks and silly action comedies. Everything about the project says that the studio was dead serious about this one and was going all in.

 

Universal’s modern adaptation of the classic is helmed by Lee Isaac-Chung and co-produced by Steven Speilberg. It has a story by Top Gun: Maverick helmer Joseph Kosinski and an ensemble cast that includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, David Corenswet, Sasha Lane, Maura Tierney, Kiernan Shipka, Daryl McCormack, Katy O’Brian, Brandon Perea among others. Basically, every young star that has the potential to be a movie star is in this movie.

 

The movie opens with a long action sequence, where we get introduced to some of the characters including Daisy Edgar-Jones. This tornado sequence sets the tone and expectations for what’s to come. It tries to start off with a bang, but it is a little rocky at the beginning and takes a lot of formulaic tropes. Someone who has seen a lot of blockbuster action movies or disaster movies would almost start to get worried in the first 20 minutes because some of the scenes feel half-backed and lackluster. But once Daisy’s co-lead is introduced, that’s when the movie really gets going.

 

Of course, I’m talking about a little-known actor called Glen Powell. His screen presence is arguably as strong as anyone in the industry right now. He plays a “tornado wrangler’ named Tyler Owens, and his character is as badass as his name. But most importantly, he brings a much-needed injection of energy into the screenplay. Then we go into some exposition and the story goes a lot deeper than one would expect. The characters are well-built and the viewer really starts caring about each one of them.

Twisters [credit: Warner Bros./Universal Pictures]

The movie is shot with 35mm, which works perfectly for the landscape that Isaac-Chung is trying to capture. This is just his second directorial and his first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and it shows in his style as he opts to play it safe. he rarely takes big swings or shows ambition in some sequences. Most of the action sequences are thrilling and the tornadoes keep you on the edge of your seat. The visual effect work is also commendable and justifies the massive budget.

 

While the story is effective, the screenplay can be a little up and down at times, mostly in the first half. Another negative is the music choices. While the sound design is splendid, the score and the song choices are not so much. Some of the songs that played in the background were extremely distracting and did not fit at all. The movie also underdelivers on its own standards of brutality that it sets very early on. It also lacks a bit of warmth and is a little lightweight on humor.

 

Twisters succeeds at being a fun, thrilling blockbuster cinematic experience anchored by a magnetic Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The visual aesthetic is on point and tornado sequences make you feel like you’re right in the eye of the chaos. The cast is charming and the characters are treated with care. It may lack warmth and ambition, but it makes sure to entertain you and makes for an exciting summer blockbuster. Definitely worth an IMAX watch.

Twisters will be released in cinemas on July 19.

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Reviews

‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ Review (TRIBECA) | A Brilliant Fusion of Comedy and Social Commentary

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Julia Aks
Julia Aks in a still from 'Jane Austen's Period Drama' (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

We are in 2024 and sadly, the subject of periods or menstruation is still considered to be taboo in several cultures and societies. In cinema, we have seen a lot of titles talking about the issue with great sensitivity. However, none has been so effective and powerful as Julia Aks and Steve Pinder’s Jane Austen’s Period Drama. The short film, which is set against the backdrop of Georgian England, starts with a joyous moment of Miss Estrogenia receiving her much-awaited marriage proposal. However, things go upside down when she realizes that her period has arrived and her dress is drenched with blood. Upon seeing the blood, Mr Dickley takes Estrogenia to her home and calls for a doctor. Although Estrogenia has decided to tell Dickley about menstruation, her mother stops her from doing that because she feels that Mr. Dickley would drop the idea of marrying her daughter.

The movie’s narrative is clever, and witty, and intertwines traditional themes of love, social status, and marriage with contemporary issues of feminity and bodily autonomy. The unique mixture of both these elements creates a distinctive storyline that feels timeless and relevant at the same time. In this narrative, the unexpected period serves as a metaphor for the often unspoken aspects of womanhood that clash with societal expectations of decorum and propriety. This bold narrative allows viewers to be a part of Estrogenia’s life and how she navigates the balance between honesty and societal pressures.

Jane Austen Period Drama

A still from ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

The writing is quirky, yet thought-provoking and explores the subject with sensitivity. The direction by Steve Pinder and Julia Aks is skillful, balancing the film’s comedic elements with its more serious undertones. Another aspect that makes the film such a brilliant watch is its cinematography. The cinematography captures the elegance of the 18th-century setting and opulent interiors that take viewers to a time when things were pretty different. The costumes and period-accurate set designs enhance the movie’s authenticity. Acting-wise. Julia Aks steals the show with a mesmerizing performance. Her performance enhances the viewing experience, giving viewers a glimpse of her impeccable talent. Meanwhile, the supporting cast delivers strong performances, adding richness and complexity to the story. The dynamics between characters are well-developed, with each interaction contributing to the overall narrative.

Overall, Jane Austen’s Period Drama is a brilliant and charming take on the genre of period drama. The film masterfully combines humor, thought-provoking storylines, and heart most extraordinarily. Additionally, the film does occasionally lean into modern sensibilities but never forgets its true destination. Solid performances, engaging script, and beautiful cinematography make this film a must-watch for everyone who loves literature and contemporary comedy.

Jane Austen’s Period Drama had its premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

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HORROR

Longlegs: An Atmospherically Distressing Exploration of Evil

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Longlegs [credit: neon]

Longlegs has been the talk of the town with early screening reactions terming it as “the scariest movie of the decade”, which not only raises eyebrows but also significantly raises expectations. Neon is backing it with a strong marketing campaign that has got many horror fans extremely excited about it. Oz Perkins’ latest horror feature stars Maika Monroe, Nicolas Cage, Blair Underwood and Alicia Witt.

 

The official synopsis says “In pursuit of a serial killer, an FBI agent uncovers a series of occult clues that she must solve to end his terrifying killing spree.” Maika Monroe plays Lee Harker, the FBI agent on the hunt for Longlegs, described as highly intuitive and sensitive, while Nic Cage who also produces the movie, plays the horrifying serial killer. Perkins sets the standard right off the bat with the very first scene of the movie, which proves to be just an appetizer for what’s to come.

 

Longlegs [credit: neon]

The movie is divided into 3 parts that act as the standard three acts in a feature. The first two acts are heavily focused on Lee as we get to know her and follow the FBI’s pursuit of a serial killer on a spree. Lee is a single child, lives alone in a cabin in the woods, and is highly intuitive, maybe even psychic. She is able to decode the clues left behind by Longlegs at the locations of the murders. Her performance is restrained yet penetrative and often symbolizes how the viewer feels while watching Longlegs.

 

Nicolas Cage is horrifyingly creepy as our serial killer. He is the best horror villain since Bill Skarsgaard’s Pennywise in my opinion. His screen time is limited but, highly impactful. The makeup and costume design deserves a lot of credit for his extremely gross appearance and at times you won’t be able to recognize that it’s Cage under that wig. He has a certain mannerism that is extremely distressing and just his words are enough to scare the hell out of you. Perkins manages to get the best out of both his leads, while the supporting cast is decent as well.

 

When it comes to the visuals, this is a very aesthetically strong film. Perkins manages to create atmospheric tension and fear with constantly changing aspect ratios and his color grading choices which are supported by a crisp sound design. Where he falls short is the writing. The movie is too slow at times which causes it to lose its intensity. Some of the dialogues also feel very generic or amateur, with jokes that feel abrupt and unnecessary.

Longlegs [credit: neon]

The movie also slips into multiple genres, most of which are intentional but do not necessarily work. It is a horror movie at the outset but also a serial killer crime drama, an investigative thriller with shades of noir and supernatural. The writing really falls off a cliff in the third act, with a twist that makes sense, but massively underwhelmes. That said, the way it explores evil is intriguing and offers a lot of food for thought. I would suggest going into this movie without any knowledge, the lesser you know the better.

 

Longlegs may not be the scariest movie of the decade but has more than enough to crawl under your skin and deliver pulsating chills. It has strong lead performances, effective jumpscares, and a beautifully unnerving aesthetic and works best when it explores evil and focuses on its characters. Horror fans should definitely experience this suffocating and haunting ride. Perkins’ latest feature is his best so far, but that said, it gets buried under its immense expectations.

Longlegs will be released in cinemas on July 12.

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