The Lego Batman Movie is loving parody/homage done right
Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (10/02/17)
2016 was a rough year to be a DC Comics fan at the movies. Between the (overzealous) critical evisceration of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad and the ongoing success of Marvel offerings like Civil War and Doctor Strange, the days of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy reigning atop the pile seem very far away indeed.
Fear not though, because redemption is at hand, and from an extremely unlikely source! I’m sure this joke is being used ad nausea, but screw it: Lego Batman is the hero Bat fans deserve and the one they need right now.
Following the great reception of the character in 2014’s The Lego Movie, it was only a matter of time until he got the solo treatment. And as with its precursor, rather than just being a shameless cash-grab, the new film is also far smarter and sharper than one would suspect from its premise. Will Arnett’s excellent voice-over work does a wonderful job of selling the riffs on the idea of Batman as an overachieving jack-of-all-trades loner.
The film begins with a hilarious play on rom-com tropes. Thwarting yet another excessively-complicated scheme by the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), Batman hurts his feelings when he suggests that he doesn’t view the Joker as a special arch nemesis and that he’d prefer to ‘fight around’. Heartbroken, the Joker vows a particularly unorthodox revenge scheme, pulling in much of the hero’s rogues gallery at the same time.
Going into further details would really spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that the story adopts the same ‘playing in the toy box’ approach that the Lego Movie took, with unexpected cameos popping up at every turn.
Key to the film’s success is the number of levels that it works on simultaneously. Parody is always most effective when it’s affectionately making fun of something, and this is particularly true of Lego Batman.
The film is an endearing tribute to the character and hardcore fans will have their hands full trying to spot all of the rapid-fire references, nods and homages to every incarnation of his 78 year existence which are peppered throughout. Crucially though, being able to recognise these Easter eggs is not essential to enjoying the story, and it is remarkable what a great Batman tale the film turns out to be. Never fully reverting to the campiness of 60s Adam West Batman and never reaching total Zack Snyder gloom either, Lego Batman achieves the extraordinary feat of presenting a version of the character which sums up a bit of every incarnation. And it works.
There are only two major points where Lego Batman doesn’t hit the mark: the finale (which possibly pushes the ridiculousness a little too far) and then the musical numbers. The ingenious score features a number of subtle nods to the memorable Batman themes of films past, but I wish that they had splurged a little more on getting the right people in for the film’s lyrical entries. They’re entirely forgettable and don’t come close to the genius of Tegan and Sara’s Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie (or even Batman’s “Darkness, No parents” song from the same film for that matter).
While these niggling issues prevent the film from attaining outright classic, they don’t really hamper it from being an absolute blast from start to finish. Highly recommended for fans and non-fans alike, The Lego Batman Movie is loving parody/homage done right and a glowing reminder that when one removes all the brooding and angst, there was a reason these characters resonated so strongly in the first place.
Tim Leibbrandt is a freelance writer and musician based in Cape Town. He is co-editor of the online South African contemporary art magazine ArtThrob and plays bass for Cape Town thrash band Infanteria.
RINGS Gore Verbinski’s 2002 version of The Ring is fondly remembered for creating an atmosphere of slow-burn dread with a strong emphasis on unsettling and grainy surrealist VHS imagery rather than jump scares and gore effects. It remains the undisputed king of the 00’s wave of Hollywood remakes of Japanese cult horror films.
15 years later, and the creative team behind Rings are presented with a number of intriguing possibilities about where to take the premise of a killer VHS tape when increasing dematerialisation of video and smartphone streaming is the order of the day. Unfortunately Rings largely opts out of really playing with these avenues and tends to be self-consciously restrained when it does. Rather than looking at how big bad Samara Morgan would deal with having to off millions of Youtubers simultaneously (for instance), it contents itself with copy/pasting of digital rips of the original tape, which doesn’t really shift the core dynamics that much. In other words, Rings plays it safe and the film is largely unmemorable as a result. Sure looking at how the film’s premise would practically play out is a hugely ambitious task and runs the risk of being excessively campy, but at least it would take the concept further and justify a new 2017 film rather than just treading water.
Following a truly silly opening sequence – which should have been left on the cutting room floor due to how irrelevant it is to the rest of the plot – the majority of the new film is reasonably watchable. There are a few standout performances (Vincent D’Onofrio and Johnny Galecki’s tweaked reinterpretation of his Big Bang Theory character come to mind) and the middle act in particular does an alright job of being entertaining. The trouble is that Rings is never quite as innovative as it thinks it is and nothing here will be remembered as a standout moment for the franchise. It also cribs a number of core ideas which were far better explored in the 15 minute short film of the same title (directed by South African Jonathan Liebesman and released as a bonus feature on the original’s DVD in 2005). There are a few interesting elements added to Samara’s increasingly tragic backstory, but the character remains a tad one-dimensional.
There have certainly been some very strong mainstream Hollywood horrors of late (Lights Out, Don’t Breathe and Mike Flanagan’s masterful Ouija: Origin of Evil for instance) and Rings is left feeling rather lacking in comparison. In its unwillingness to develop the source material in any way, it suffers from many of the same problems as 2016’s Blair Witch. Light on both scares and atmospheric dread, Rings is what you could call a ‘mild peri-peri’ horror. It resists being particularly inventive (which the original certainly was for its time) and series stalwarts are likely to be left feeling disappointed. Newcomers will also probably be wondering what the fuss was all about.
Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt.
SPLIT It should be heartening for M. Night Shyamalan that after roughly 15 years of failing to live up to the promise of The Sixth Sense and the heinously underrated Unbreakable, audiences still seem to want him to succeed. Even after one of the most appalling final act own-goals in cinematic history (Signs) and a string of high budget clunkers (looking at you The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth). So when the campy low budget 2015 horror comedy The Visit turned out to be wickedly enjoyable, phrases like ‘career resurgence’ were tossed about prematurely. Sure it was fun, but Split is the real comeback film. Financing the film himself to reduce the pressure of studio commercial returns, Split bears the fruit of Shyamalan’s apparent recent soul-searching and contains far more of the DNA of an “M. Night Shyamalan film” than The Visit did.
James McAvoy is absolutely outstanding as Kevin. As of now this is almost certainly his career defining role and every personality is completely fleshed-out and distinct, even when the personalities are fighting for control and he is forced to switch sentence by sentence. The success or failure of the film hangs entirely on his portrayal of Kevin (and Dennis, and Miss Patricia and Hedwig and Barry and and and…) and he throws himself into the role with such gusto that it could easily have been a one-man show and remain eminently watchable. Which would also be a pity as Anya Taylor-Joy proves that her phenomenal performance as the lead in last year’s The Witch was no fluke. The scenes between her character, Casey, and Hedwig (Kevin’s naïve, Kanye West-loving 9 year old boy personality) are an absolute masterclass, delivered so effortlessly that it’s only really when you reflect on the absurdity of what you were watching in retrospect that the strength of the performances become fully apparent.
Shyamalan gives both Kevin and Casey wildly unpredictable story arcs, veering between the horrifying, the tragic and the strikingly poignant. Sure there are a few aspects of the plot which don’t really add-up or are undercooked, but the strength of Shyamalan at his best has always been that the audience is so caught up in the emotional centre of the core characters’ journey that you don’t even notice. Split is a dark, shocking and occasionally hilarious story with phenomenal performances from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy that sweeps you up and holds you captive until the very end.
Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about Split
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY Conceived as a stopgap to fill the two year wait between ‘Episode’ instalments (and presumably to ensure a continued return on Disney’s multi-billion dollar investment), Rogue One marks the first of a series of Star Wars one shots which seem to be aimed at filling in the sizeable gap between Episode III and Episode IV. Set directly before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One tells the story of how the rebel alliance were able to obtain the plans for the Death Star, paving the way for their crucial victory at the end of A New Hope. Helmed by director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, 2014’s Godzilla), Rogue One has a number of things working for it straight off the bat. Due to the setting, it exudes the look and feel of the original film. Classic stormtroopers, classic Star Wars ships and vehicles. Darth Vader. The nostalgia-feels are strong with this one, and following a significant difference in tone with the prequel trilogy (and a semi-throwback Episode 7), the argument could be made that this is all Star Wars fans have ever really wanted; more of what they originally loved. In this department, Rogue One smacks it out of the park, this feels like a story taking place at the same time as the original films.Another crucial box which it checks is in the characters. The core rebel team is a ragtag band of flawed individuals who are just doing the best they can to make a difference. The characters are distinct and likeable and while they are not given very much (or any) backstory, they display a number of idiosyncrasies, quirks and foibles which make them come across as very human. Ironically it is the re-programmed imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who displays the most personality and characterisation. Nonetheless, Felicity Jones’ Jyn Ers, Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook all give particularly great performances. Prequels are tricky in that the endings are largely precluded, but Rogue One achieves the admirable task of making you care about its characters, which is arguably a huge reason the original trilogy is so beloved. Ben Mendelsohn’s suitably arrogant and self-absorbed turn as Orson Krennic is another standout performance.That being said, it’s just as well that the cast were able to flesh-out their characters in physical/gestural ways because the dialogue is by far the weakest part of the film, often exceptionally cringe-worthy and clunky. As the film moves at a rapidfire pace, jumping from planet to planet at a hyperspeed, it often feels rushed and could have used a tighter edit to cut some of the unnecessary stuff (a scene with Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera and a tentacled alien thing is a particularly mindblowing moment). It’s great that it’s a self-contained story rather than obviously holding-off details for later installments (I’m looking at you Force Awakens!) but it still asks the audience to just accept things which are happening without much motivation or explanation.Rogue One is the kind of film which lends itself to trailers in the sense that there are a number of spectacular moments which hit all of the right notes, but the film doesn’t necessarily cohere as well as it should. There are also far too many clichés (a lone imperilled child separated from its parents, a ‘Bond villain’ monologue) and the repetition of certain Star Wars tropes is becoming a bit tiresome (although Rogue One has far more legitimacy to pitting rebels against a Death Star than Force Awakens’ slacker approach). It’s not a perfect film, but Rogue One delivers in one crucial area which has been missing from everything since Return of the Jedi: it reintroduces heart to the Star Wars universe. It’s a character-centric story which doesn’t allow the effects to overshadow its emotional core. And it really does feel like an authentic return to the world of the original trilogy. Even for casual fans of the series, it’s worth watching once at least, if for no reason other than to fill one of A New Hopes’ gaping plot-holes. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
INFERNO It’s always amused me that in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown describes Robert Langdon as looking like “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed” but they cast Tom Hanks instead. I’m not suggesting that Hanks hasn’t done well in the role (2009’s Angels and Demons was highly enjoyable and a huge improvement over its iffy predecessor), but somehow it seems to encapsulate the woes of translating the book series into film. Which is funny really, because Dan Brown’s writing should really lend itself to film. Its popularity has little to do with the writing itself (which could charitably be described as clunky) and the page-turning intrigue has always stemmed from the tangible historical references and plot twists; which are easily translatable. When it comes down to it, the appeal of Brown’s work has always sat in the illusion of authenticity. For instance, The Da Vinci Code famously opened with the hugely refuted suggestion that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents… and secret rituals in this novel are accurate”. Throughout the internal logic of the Robert Langdon series, the inclusion of the art historical codes and symbols has been justified by the recurring usage of ancient secret societies for the Big Bad: Priory of Sion/Opus Dei in Da Vinci Code, the Illuminati in Angels and Demons and the Freemasons in The Lost Symbol (which the makers of the Langdon film series opted to skip).Inferno has a doomsaying billionaire geneticist (Ben Foster’s Bertrand Zobrist) who has engineered a virus. w00t. Obsessed with Dante Zobrist may well be, but this doesn’t change the fact that it’s an extremely tenuous setup for Langdon and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to go hobnobbing through Italian art history.Clearly aware of this, Brown had an ace up his sleeve in the book to counter the utter ridiculousness of it all: a completely unexpected and polemic conclusion that is probably the best thing he’s ever written. The conclusion served to justify Langdon’s presence and without it, Inferno is a drab generic mess heaped in pointless shtick. Why the filmmakers (and screenwriter David Koepp in particular) then decided to cut that masterstroke and to force in a stale ‘Hollywood’ ending is beyond me, because consequently Ron Howard’s Inferno is a drab, generic mess heaped in pointless shtick. It really has nothing to recommend it: the cast sleepwalk through it, the story makes little sense and the tacked-on doomsday imagery is outrageously silly and poorly executed. You know it’s a dud when even Tom Hanks can’t save a film, and he in fact spends its duration looking as though he is contemplating what he’s going to do to the agent who convinced him to sign a multi-picture deal. If one were to closely examine Botticelli’s Map of Hell (a work which is central in the film’s plot), I’m willing to bet that the punishment in the 9th circle of Hell is in fact watching Inferno on repeat. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
A UNITED KINGDOM London and Bechuanaland had something in common in 1947 in British Empire-influenced southern Africa. For viewers of this superb historical drama, who just happen to be of that generation that saw Botswana become independent, the film presents a slowly predictive script that doesn’t disappoint. For ‘millennials’, the film becomes a lesson about the pervasive racial ‘south’ that even highlights how fellow Africans played political cards against each other in order to save their racial selves. Thanks to the perceptive direction of Amma Asante (Belle), herself a child actor and notable filmmaker, this film holds true to historical fact without deviating towards the usual souring emotions seemingly embedded in black/white relationships which the commercial film industry endlessly highlights. Asante makes falling in love look so easy and gentle. Staying in love, through episodic and often cataclysmic events, which actors David Oyelowo, ( Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) so convincingly portrayed, kept the dramatic effects centered on the couple’s mission of historic proportions. This is good scriptwriting, staying true to history. In spite of the appropriate music score of the era, portraying a jivey, rock ‘n rolling Seretse with his lady Ruth, one’s romantic wish dwindles as home ground realities emerge in Botswana politics. Director Asante amassed convincing hordes of ‘tribal’ followers, as per those times, in a dusty Serowe town, to witness their Bangwato leaders, basically Seretse’s dour-faced Uncle, cast judgement on the deviant Seretse. Scriptwriter Guy Hibbert wrote a consistently historical perspective of the segregationist mentalities displayed by the Anglo protectionists, who became shocked by a small group of Africans who challenged, and finally defeated, British attempts to maintain control over the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Powerful monologues emerge from the colonized collective. Their peaceful protests enable a popular democracy to unfold. Lighting effects played a large role in casting either dishonour on the dark episodes of African disappointments and colonial incursions by the gun. However, camera shots of Ruth always showed her radiant, hopeful side which predictively saw Independence march in at the film’s end. This film centered reality more on the storyline, and less on the acting which was quite slow moving, yet appropriately messaging. The polite strains between Seretse and Ruth, and their relatively dull personalities did not detract from an otherwise unique African historical drama having significant consequences. Reviewed by Carol Martin. Read more about the film
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM Five years after helming the final four Harry Potter films, director David Yates is back in the Potterverse with the first in a new ‘prequel’ series. Yates’ distinct direction, the familiar soundtrack and immediately recognisable visual style all help to ease the transition as we are introduced to a fresh new batch of JK Rowling’s colourful cast of magical and non-magical characters. Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander- the author of the film’s titular textbook used by the young wizards in the Harry Potter stories – who has travelled to New York for reasons which are not immediately explained. The eccentric Scamander carries a suitcase with him which magically contains all manner of weird and wonderful creatures that he has accumulated on his travels. He is a very typical Redmayne character in the sense that he has an exceptional gift (his empathetic connection and understanding of magic critters in this case) but is not so hot on understanding the human relationships on the periphery of his life’s work. By and large, the characters are not particularly fleshed out by the plot, but are still successfully brought to life through the charm of the actors portraying them. This is especially true of Redmayne, Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski (the audience’s muggle surrogate) and Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein; who all have marvellous chemistry. The jury is out on Katherine Waterston’s Tina for now. Without doubt though, the creatures are the star of this show. Understandably, the Harry Potter movies became almost unbearably overburdened with the weight of the mythology; at the expense of the wondrous world Rowling had created. There was a greater catharsis at play which completely justified that, but it’s nice to get the opportunity to just revel in the marvels of the world for a bit. And revel Fantastic Beasts does. Visually the film is absolutely gorgeous, the titular beasts are wild, inventive and equal parts majestic and adorable (I don’t think anyone will come out without a yearning desire to adopt a niffler!) and the idiosyncrasies of the wizarding world, this time set in 1920s New York, are as enchanting to behold as ever. The location switch offers a chance for the film’s setting to remain familiar but still feel fresh as do elements such as the cheeky throwbacks to the Harry Potter soundtracks. The New York locale allows for some wonderful new spots (such as a jazzy Goblin speakeasy) and greater sense of global scale (the British Hogwarts is referenced a number of times). One could argue though that the plot doesn’t fully utilise the setting in any significant way and this ties into the weaker part of the film, which is its story. Fantastic Beasts is the first film in the Potterverse to not be directly based on a book (the 2001 book of the same title takes the form of an encyclopaedia which Newt Scamander is working on during the course of this story) and, as such, Rowling was free to go anywhere with its plot. Scamander’s reasons for being in America turn about to be very straightforward and inconsequential and the bigger story of political intrigue that he and the main cast get caught up in is a tad patchy and undercooked. It is only right at the end that the arc which will support the remaining four films in this new series is hinted at. Fantastic Beasts is a great romp, thoroughly enjoyable, gorgeous to behold and indeed full of fantastic beasts (and likeable characters). In terms of setting up the story, it contents itself with only popping a few pieces on the board; but as the narrative inevitably builds up to a grand Dumbledore/Grindelwald showdown four films later, I suspect hindsight will reveal the benefits of taking in the sights before plunging back into the heavy lore. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
DR. STRANGE Bursting out of the gates with an enthralling opening scene, Marvel’s latest superhero film Dr Strange immediately distinguishes itself from the rest of the canon by introducing a sect of sorcerers well versed in mystical magic and the ability to bend space-time; travelling between parallel dimensions. Throughout the film, entire city blocks are manipulated/folded in a manner which recalls Inception but in a far more visually complex and, for lack of a better word, trippy manner. At times veering into the psychedelic, the introduction of this sort of mysticism immediately makes the film appear fresh; no mean feat in the oversaturated world of superhero flicks. Crucially, these visuals are far more than just window dressing and serve a strong practical purpose. Moving past the visuals (and core selling point), Dr Strange’s narrative is familiar territory. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange is an arrogant, self-absorbed neurosurgeon who, much to the annoyance of his co-workers, is also prodigiously skilled. When his hands are mangled in a career-ending car accident, Strange exhausts all avenues of rehabilitation. Out of desperation, he heads to Kathmandu, hearing word of a mysterious figure known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who may be his last hope for regaining the full use of his hands. After plunging Strange head-first into the wild world of astral travel (in a sequence where the visuals do verge dangerously close to trance party flier territory), the Ancient One sets him off to train in the mystic art, paving the way for the full realisation of his superhero persona. The argument could be made that Strange’s aptitude for learning these techniques happens far too quickly and smoothly, but let’s face it: pretty much everyone knows one or two of those absurdly talented people who are frustratingly able to master just about anything in record time; and that is exactly the sort of person Strange is. Perhaps in the interests of keeping things moving, the rest of the characters are left tragically undeveloped. There’s a love interest with little to do beyond reacting to stuff (Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer) and an antagonist who we see criminally little of (Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius). As a tourist in the world of Marvel, the roster of villainy in the Cinematic Universe seems to me to thus far comprise of Loki and Ultron in the upper tier; and a horde of dull, forgettable one-shots encapsulating pretty much everybody else. More’s the pity as Kaecilius is certainly intriguing. Mikkelsen doesn’t have to do much more than show up in order to make a compelling villain; carrying with him, as he does, the sinister presence of past roles such as Hannibal Lecter and Le Chiffre. Unfortunately while you want to see more of him, he is given far too little screen time to be anything other than the ‘bad guy’. Here’s hoping that he’ll be given an opportunity to return to fight another day. From beginning to uncharacteristically sharp end, Dr Strange hits the usual Marvel highs (It’s entertaining, seldom boring and full of witty quips. The cast is also great) and lows (under-developed villain and love interest, generic-ish origin story plot). It’s the visuals which allow it stand out with a distinctive personality. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a game changer, but this esoteric new layer has the potential to really inject some new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How they’re going to balance its complexity with the million other characters and stories leading up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War is anyone’s guess. Good luck to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely I guess. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt Read more about the film
HATCHET HOUR As a South African-made film, Hatchet Hour doesn’t have to have Hollywood scripting or acting to be engaging from beginning to end. The story writers are Director Judy Naidoo and actor/writer Salah Sabiti, both seasoned filmmakers, who present phases of suspense in this dark and thrilling drama that creep around intriguing character development, hazy, dusty veld shots near the big bad city of Johannesburg, and a worthy story line. Essentially, three main characters become entangled in their respective secrets, showing varying degrees of personal strength and cunning. The unemotional criminal lawyer, ‘Bell’, competently played by Erica Wessels shows little fear or remorse about her misdeed, and continues her professional cover with manipulative tact towards her best friend and confident, Jade, played by a young, innocent-looking Petronella Tshuma. The close up camera shots of these two women provide insights into their own intrigue and beguilement with Bell persistent that Jade stick with her because of their mutual sisterly love for each other since childhood. The fact that Jade is a woman ‘of colour’ never enters into this contemporary drama with its universal themes of loyalty, lies, and betrayals. One sees only a few, but not many, worrisome episodes from Bell. Jade’s visage remains in a permanent state of disbelief; we are little shocked by her need to tell the truth to someone. This holds the film as the women weave their lies and disloyalties towards each other onto the other suspecting public. In this regard, Nai’s scripting excels, with unsuspecting twists and turns in the women’s relationships. There’s also an ironic comedy aspect to the film, cleverly orchestrated in a comedy club setting with a troubled comedian, played by the dashing Adam Croasdell, who casts satire about the dead which surprisingly relates prophetically to what is happening with the two ladies. He is partnered with Jade and suffers lawyer Bell’s intense dislike. It is this tension, scripted not as jealousy but as the challenge Bell has in keeping Jade by her side, which makes the film thrill and entertain. Surprise twists of fate and reprieve last right to the end: even though a criminal defence lawyer, Bell didn’t realize that her case lacked incriminating evidence. The music score in the film moves the psychological intrigue from a jazz motif that suggests free living with lies and secrets, like with the song, “Mack the Knife” whose lyrics speak about missing bodies, to more morose bass rumblings when secrets become borderline revelations of truth. Director Naidoo’s cinematographic lens also films mirrors and glass reflections eerily to highlight the women’s fears and betrayals which are creatively revealed by showing destitute faces framed with tree branches or picture frames. Her scripting and camera methods construct a powerful and gripping story unlike many genres of South African films to date. This suggests that contemporary crime fiction that engages such psychological intensities can become, like with book fiction, the popular film flavour for the years ahead. It also means that a woman not coming from the predominantly white male filmmaker groups (in South Africa) can make a stellar and engaging first feature film worthy of universal acclaim. Review by Carol Martin. Read more about the film
THE ACCOUNTANT A combination of Jason Bourne and Ray Babbitt from Rain Man, The Accountant’s Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a decidedly unusual candidate for action movie protagonist. Living out of a caravan (for ease of relocation) and changing his identity every few years, Wolff is a loner who uses his near-supernatural proficiency for accounting (a consequence of his autism) to ‘uncook’ the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal syndicates. In addition, he regularly enacts a bizarre flagellation/self-medication ritual, is lethally proficient with weapons and combat and is constantly plagued by relentless daddy issues on account of his military upbringing by his father. Clearly there’s a lot thrown in the mix here. Taking into account a parallel investigation trying to hunt Wolff down by the US Treasury’s financial crimes unit (largely phoned-in by J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson), an encroaching hitman on a killing spree (Jon Bernthal being Jon Bernthal ), a prison stint and an increasingly convoluted embezzlement scam and it’s not clear that the books ever had a chance in hell of balancing by the film’s end. Part of the problem is clumsy way in which the numerous subplots are structured. The story jumps around a lot in a manner which is no doubt intended to be revelatory, but more often than not just confirms things which the audience figured out long ago. Some of these plot points veer dangerously closely to full-fledged shark jumping (See: the martial arts sequence in the middle of the film for instance). As the film begins to whirrs through the motions – wrapping everything up a bit too neatly – the underwhelming conclusion’s twist is obvious from miles away. It’s Bond, it’s Bourne, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. And curiously, you wouldn’t mind seeing more. For all of the film’s cliché, Affleck’s portrayal of the autistic Wolff is surprisingly endearing; he certainly has more heart than his afore-mentioned action hero contemporaries. Through a number of scenes that show Wolff helping others in ways which don’t benefit him in any way, to a sequence which depicts his immense pleasure in auditing 15 years of a robotics company’s finances overnight, to the idiosyncrasies of his autism, there’s something resembling a personality beneath the discomforted exterior. Ultimately, The Accountant is a film where the titular character is far more interesting than the über-clunky story. Now that the awkward introductions are out of the way, the prospect of looking at some of his more unsavory clients in a future installment is strangely enticing. Review by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS Based on the novel by Chris Marnewick, Oliver Schmitz’s Shepherds and Butchers is a harrowing and visceral fictionalised account of the devastating effect of capital punishment in South Africa during apartheid. Set in 1987 (a year in which a record 164 people were executed), the film centres on Leon Labuschagne (expertly portrayed by Garion Dowds) a 19 year-old death row warder at a Maximum Security Prison in Pretoria who is on trial for shooting an entire football team travelling by minibus. His lawyer Johan Webber (played in a genre-switch by Steve Coogan) intends to argue that he is not directly responsible for his actions and that they instead result from the traumatic effects of being forced to work on death row since he was 17. The film makes it clear that Webber is historically an outspoken and unpopular critic of the death penalty; at some point or another, almost every character accuses him of using the case to push his own political agenda. Webber’s public history of aversion is never really delved into. Despite its overwhelming contention of the horrors of capital punishment, Shepherds and Butchers does make a concerted attempt to look at the effects of killing in a number of different contexts; breaking down the complexities of the arguments for and against the death penalty (“No one remembers the victims” a character argues at one point against the right of perpetrators to live).The execution by hanging scenes are sure to be a talking point of the film and there is no glossing over the piss and shit as the bodies void themselves at the moment of death. In some instances an individual’s neck fails to break and, writhing in utter agony, they have to be hoisted and dropped repeatedly until it finally does. The depiction of the barbaric ritual of institutionalised hanging is disturbing, shocking and likely to stick with the viewer for a long time.In terms of making a case for the immorality of capital punishment and the relationship between its ideology and that of the apartheid state, the film is a resounding success. As a courtroom drama it is less compelling. The direction of the case is rarely in doubt but, at the same time, some of the closing arguments seem improbable as holding up in a court (but maybe that’s my own ignorance?).Nonetheless, Shepherds and Butchers is a bleak but important film because of its focus on an aspect of apartheid violence which is often overlooked: the dehumanisation and psychological trauma of those forced to be aggressors for the apartheid state. As the film’s personification of this patriarchal evil, the unspeaking but seemingly omnipotent presence of Deon Lotz’s Warrant Officer Rautenbach is as legitimately frightening as any horror movie villai. Review by Tim Leibbrandt Read more about the film
INDIGNATION Male stress manifests in this psychological drama love story as the film, skilfully directed by its script writer, James Schamus, sets out various dysfunctional themes. The intellectually and physically well-endowed teenage Marcus moves away from his Jewish parents still distraught from WWII’s Holocaust horrors, as he enters his first year in College. Emotions run high from the beginning: dialogues about ethics in the early 1950s era which don’t understand that Marcus, a freer thinker for his time, can defy his Jewishness; a vulnerable yet ravishingly pretty girl student, Olive, who captures his heart; twists and turns as Marcus suffers various misunderstandings, leaving one sympathizing with resultant dark matters that arise. The most convincing attention-grabber in the film, is a lengthy, but revealing expose of Marcus’s defences against the logically designed grilling by the College Dean Caudwell about Marcus’s personality issues, indiscretions, and Marcus’s various philosophical critiques, like, atheism is OK, his choice. This dialogue, perhaps influenced by actor Tracy Letts, himself a screenwriter, who plays the Dean, is riveting and worth hearing several times for its logic of argumentation, as Marcus reveals his debating prowess from prestigious high school days. Even under sweating stress, the cocky Marcus actually becomes shocked at his own brave retorts, a marvellously heroic revelation from Schamus’s script. Portraying 1950s America requires a casting of actors who can well craft dysfunctional characters. Both Lerman and Sarah Gadon, who plays Olive, his psychologically unstable lover, both show the bluff of innocence, even including Lerman’s voice-overs to express his Marcus’s mental ironies. The increasingly strained, yet disciplined facial expressions of actor Lerman, defending himself against an intriguingly expressionless Dean, showed superb acting from this seasoned child actor. One feels the young man’s pain. Soft white lighting on the two lovers’ faces brought out what seemed as innocent sexual flutters and youthful teenage passions. But then, the camera blurrs focus and switches to very dim lighting indicative of the darker, deceitful rumblings in the characters’ lives. We see Olive’s mysterious persona and prurient interests with focus on her bright blue listening eyes, expressionless gazes and arm movements as she performs her exploits on this vulnerable virgin, laying in his hospital bed, while they both engage in meaningless chatter. Herein lies director Schamas’s creative expression. One picks up both actors’ obsessions from these cinematic effects which remind one of similar effects used in ‘The Danish Girl’, for instance. It is no wonder that the insecurities in relationships dealing with love and loss echoed actor Letts’ own scripting in the award-winning film, August: Osage County. Equally, Schamas’ adaptation of the Philip Roth novel, upon which this film is based, has lucked out in producing such a real portrayal of wobbly relationships. Review by Carol Martin Read more about the film
DEEPWATER HORIZON When the BP Oil Spill hit in 2010 (considered to be the worst environmental disaster in US history), the media coverage focussed extensively on the horrific consequences to the environment as oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after the initial incident on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. With this in mind, Peter Berg’s film Deepwater Horizon takes it as given that the audience is well aware of the catastrophic consequences of the event and instead focuses on what actually happened on the rig itself on April 20, 2010; placing particular emphasis on the human toll. Family man Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and steadfast installation manager Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) provide the empathetic centre of the film as honest, blue collar heroes who just want to do their job properly. On the flipside are seedy BP execs Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland), who are pushing to bypass security checks and start drilling asap as the project is six weeks behind schedule and costing the company millions. John Malkovich goes out of his way to portray the profit-chasing Vidrine as despicably as possible, and is undoubtedly loathsome. That being said, I can’t help but feel that by setting the two BP execs up as sacrificial lambs who acted in their own capacity, the film does let the broader company off the hook a bit; to some extent they were just towing the company’s neoliberal line after all. Wahlberg, Malkovich and especially Russell are all superb in their roles and keep the audience attached to the characters. Deepwater Horizon’s filmmakers seem to have captured the complexity of life on an oil rig impressively well, highlighting the massive scale of the machinery and the abundant roles which need to be in synch for the complex drilling operation to work. The terminology is likely to frequently go over one’s head (I’m still not sure what a ‘negative pressure test’ is) but the film does a good job of balancing jargon and audience hand-holding. It helps that the characters are rather endearing and clearly portrayed fulfilling their roles, helping the audience to fill in the blanks. A brilliantly conceived sequence near the beginning between Williams, his daughter and a can of coke ensures that the audience is well equipped to understand what happens when disaster strikes on a practical level (if not a theoretical one). One of the film’s strongest points, the action sequences and images of burning industrial machinery are exceptionally well executed and, in a sense, quite beautiful. Experiencing the film on a large cinema screen is highly recommended to capture the vast sense of scale. While these scenes are gorgeous to look at, Berg ensures that they are never wanton; the human toll and underlying stakes are never in question and the film remains utterly gripping as the tension mounts. While the environmental outcome of events is already well known, the film’s new perspective on proceedings remains engrossing and likely to anger audiences all over again; especially when the lack of consequences for those responsible is taken into account. Equal parts exhilarating and heart-breaking, Deepwater Horizon is a tense, stirring film which gets its message across resoundingly clearly. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film.
BLAIR WITCH When it came out in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a cultural phenomenon, not the least due to its snazzy viral marketing campaign (before that was a thing) and cunningly-conceived website which simultaneously cultivated a sense of mythology and authenticity around the film. Pertaining to be actual found camcorder footage; the film’s originality launched a horror subgenre which continues to imitate its form to this day. 17 years later and its finally time to head back to the Burkittsville woods as James Donahue (James Allen McCune) – the brother of the original film’s Heather – embarks on a quest to find some answers about his sister’s disappearance after catching a glimpse of her in footage uploaded to Youtube. Film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez) decides to capture the trek for a documentary and kits out James and his friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) with all manner of cameras to capture footage; which is what makes up Blair Witch’s visuals.
Basically, the found footage approach is a throwback gimmick here. Where the original used (seemingly) genuine handheld camcorder aesthetics to add to the tension of the film, the new one is too obviously designed to fake the impression of digital HD cameras. This in effect kills any sense of authenticity in the found footage (please show me a head-mounted camera which can capture crystal clear surround sound!) which renders the form an annoying detraction from the overarching narrative. Clearly the much-maligned (but underrated) Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 from 2000 deserves more credit for taking a complete opposite, conventional film approach; even if the results were messy.
The frustrating thing about 2016’s Blair Witch really is that it introduces a number of clever elements near the beginning which could have made for a far better film had they been properly utilised. For instance, imagine the terrifying possibilities offered by the drone cam which the team brings. Instead it basically gets stuck in a tree early on and abandoned. A bizarre parasitic worm creature grows in the foot of one of the characters and proceeds to do precisely nothing upon emerging. Offering a moment of topical social commentary, when Peter (an African American) notices a confederate flag inside Maryland locals Talia and Lane’s house, there’s a brief show of disgust that never leads anywhere. One innovation is an interesting incorporation of time relativity which is a highlight, but that’s about it really.
By the time Blair Witch shifts into full-on horror mode, it’s amazing how slavishly it sticks to original, albeit in a far less compelling manner. While it was not really outright scary, a huge part of what made the first Blair Witch get under your skin was its ambiguity. It was never clear what caused the events to take place: whether the Blair Witch was indeed real, if something else entirely was stalking the three students or, in fact, if anything supernatural had occurred at all. The subtle mind games prompted the viewer’s imagination to make sense of the footage and it was unnerving as hell. Blair Witch 2016 opts for sneaky flashes (and not so great CGI) which rule out any question as to the nature of the threat.
This is not to say that the film lacks scares (particularly of the jump variety), just that it ultimately succumbs to the temptation of being just another found footage horror flick. If you’re a casual fan or know someone who scares easily then you might enjoy it. If you’re looking for a found footage horror which really kicks, try to find a subtitled version of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s 2007 [Rec] (the dubbed version has some awful voice acting) or – if you’re looking some cerebral witch horror- do yourself a favour and give Robert Eggers’ brilliantly bleak The Witch a go. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt Read more about the film
THE INFILTRATOR Walter White switches sides! Bryan Cranston’s return to the world of drug trafficking (albeit on the side of the DEA) in The Infiltrator comes with an aura of anticipation; like at any moment the story could morph into Breaking Bad. It’s an unfair expectation to be sure, but having Cranston so close to the role that made his career is an obvious selling point. And in a weird way it adds a level of tension to the experience of The Infiltrator. There’s a palimpsest of Walter White hovering as he switches between family man Robert Mazur and his undercover alter-ego Bob Musella which certainly adds another layer of menace to the ‘will he/ won’t he succumb to the dark side’ which is the dramatic crux of the film. The standout scenes are definitely the instances where the talented cast are allowed to shine; particularly when the worlds of Robert Mazur and Bob Musella collide and the entire operation looks set to derail. One moment in particular (set in a restaurant) affords Cranston the opportunity to really get his hands dirty as he is abruptly forced to shift character to avoid blowing his cover; leaving the viewer as shocked and shaken as his unsuspecting wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). As the film progresses, Evelyn serves as Mazur’s anchor to his real life as the temptation to give it up and fully become the far more glamorous Bob Musella grows. When ‘Musella’ lies about having a fiancée early on, the FBI are forced to assign another undercover agent to play the role (Diane Kruger’s Kathy Ertz). The chemistry between Mazur/Musella and Ertz is palpable as they attempt to get close to the Medellín Cartel’s cash collector Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) in order to take down Pablo Escobar’s US money-laundering operation. As a viewer, you often find yourself guiltily rooting for them to commit to being an item and grow fond of their burgeoning friendship with Alcaino and his wife. When things come to a head, this leads to a surprisingly emotional and cathartic climax. When it comes down to it, much of what works about The Infiltrator can be attributed to the exceptional cast. It’s perhaps a minor gripe, but based on a true story or not, the plot often feels like it’s playing it too safe with rehashed undercover cop tropes. With a lesser cast, the film may have even been boring (especially when compared to something like Netflix’s Narcos!). With Cranston, Bratt, Kruger and John Leguizamo all delivering fantastic performances, The Infiltrator will pull you in far deeper than you’d expect it to. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
THE SAUSAGE PARTY Packaged phallic sausages muse with packaged voluptuous hot dog buns and create hilarious scenes in a supermarket that make this adult animation adventure very entertaining. The script offers sexy innuendos as the packages hope to enter their dream world outside, a perspective driven by the animators’ comic characterization of gorgeous humanoid women who pick them into shopping baskets. The beginning verbal profanity and raucous visuals that end the film clearly indicate a bash at diplomacy and decency in modern human discourse. But coming from comic writers like Seth Rogan of Saturday Night Live, it’s not surprising that his actors team aim to shock and offend. Relief occurs in between plots when the script effectively uses wit to deliver a serious moral code, if one tolerates the occasional spewing of fowl swear words, couched as humour. The food collective eager to get off their shelves don’t know their real fate. But we humans know, and find the dialogues between foodstuffs rich and funny as we view their excitement and anticipation, ever so innocent, to finally journey outside with their customers, only to discover hell. Directors Conrad Vernon (Shrek series) and Greg Tiernan make sure the viewers identify with the various emotions and sometimes uneasy allegiances displayed by the food caricatures: one bun losing her sausage man as he is whisked away; shelf foods reacting in horror from stories told about their comrades escaping their fate in a boiling pot or under the knife; the evil Firewater, superbly voiced by funnyman Bill Hader (Inside Out). There’s always that political theme of stepping on toes, made funny by the various riot scenes and protest language of the collective foods who compete to be ‘chosen’ for the shopping basket, only to riot at the evil intentions of exploiting humans. The voices hurdling loud abusive slogans shows how the clever scripting and steady messaging held the tensions and suspense as the film journeyed through catastrophes and unlikely caring food partnerships, such as between the Arab chapatti wrap and the Jewish bagel. The film’s R rating also relates to the slippery encounters of foods with drunken or drugged humans. The cooing between sausage and bun effectively steered the story without appearing raunchy because good scripting seduced the viewer, not the suggestive visuals. What may appear to be offensive narratives really points to morals: the innocent sausages find out their real purpose in life and, in horror, return to shelves to alert all other foodstuffs to their fate. Those who enjoy late night adventure and parody will be entertained by burlesque comedy that is fast-paced. As an adult animation, it sequels late night TV series like Saturday Night Live or the film, The Night Before which was also written by the same Ariel Shaffir/Kyle Hunter team. Review by Carol Martin. Read more about the film
NOEM MY SKOLLIE This film perfectly captures a somber Capetown township mood and atmosphere of a gangster’s world in the 1960’s. Period drama is evident in the character’s costumes and cars of that era. Real items are displayed, such as a worn, old Royal typewriter, tapped one finger at a time, as scriptwriter John W. Fredericks (on whose life the film is based) has done in real life. His dialogue provides a jaw-dropping realism about what it was like as a teenager to be harassed, threatened, sodomized, and slammed up in Pollsmoor prison with other gangs. The cinematography make you feel at times helpless and sad as local Cape actors superbly enact bleak scenes of their gangster underworld under low lighting with dark colours. There is little sun in this film, even though its message of hope, and even love, shines through the dusk camera lens. The sound effects are also gripping with a musical score by local jazzman, Kyle Shephard, adding a ghoema inflection to the Cape township dialogue. Melodies suggest fear, sadness, surprise, and violence and the dark realities of living in the windowless prison cell. The score keeps pace as young gangsters run frantically to avoid cops, pistol shots, or knife stabs from their rivals. The gang members’ freedom of movement around the ‘hood’ is noisy and unsettling as members argue loudly, hurling threats and fowl language at each other. Again, superb sound effects. Inside the uncrowded prison cell, one experiences the calming effect of the storyteller who manages to quieten the atmosphere as he whispers his story to eager, spell-bound fellow inmates so that the wardens do not catch on. This forbidding silence, and very subdued sound except for slams of prison gates, casts a surprise effect as director, Daryne Joshua, turns the story towards peaceful, almost redemptive strategies for survival. We breathe a sigh of relief as storyteller/prisoner, called, AB, portrayed convincingly by actor, Dann-Jaques Mouton, finds his God-given gift. The camera’s close-up shots capture AB’s his fears and sadness, his temptations for vengeance, and even a new-found love. Terrific acting came from other cast members which has made this film seem so spot-on about gang realities. Mouton also played the lead character in Abraham (2015) which has a similar bent towards fear, violence and redemption in the gritty gangster underworld. Reviewed by Carol Martin Read more about the film
THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX This film fulfills some desires for entertainment on the one hand, and spiritual inquiry and surprise on the other hand. A psychologist who attends to a 9-year old boy, Louis Drax, who has suffered a near-fatal fall finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality. The drama entertains as it twists and turns events effectively holding the suspense. The human fight for survival leads the viewer to wish angelic reprise on this presumably innocent child, who actually throws us surprises through his talkative subconscious. Fiction, which has a documentary edge, collides with fact, as we grapple with borderline fantasy having a spiritual bent, wondering what is actually believable or real, at least to the boy. We constantly question whether the boy has genuine premonitions and psychological imbalances, or if he is simply an ‘indigo’, a precocious soul, lucky to stay alive. For instance, is he believable, when he queries his therapist about contents of the latter’s book which the boy says he has read? The flip side is some convincing dialogue that rises from the boy’s uneasy subconscious, cleverly scripted by Max Minghella. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography captivates as it perfectly captures the solemn, and at times, hostile moods that make Louis’s own truth believable as he blurts out perspectives that suggest demonic karma; dark colour tones convey further mystery and the secretive obvious. Light and blurred subjects suggest the out-of-body spiritual realm reacting. You do become absorbed. Suitably casted actors held the sense of surprise. Jamie Dornan who featured in Fifity Shades of Grey, presented a sometimes confused but committed Doctor whose unorthodox techniques to connect with the comatose boy sometimes seemed not quite feasible. Yet, connections were made that shock. The boy, Aiden Longworth, comically shrugs off his previous eight near-death accidents, yet effectively conveys shocking insights about truth through his coma. Breaking Bad’s bad boy Aaron Paul conveys similar conniving themes of violence. The no-nonsense investigative cop, played by House of Cards politician Molly Parker, added realism to solving the mysterious. If you liked ‘The Sixth Sense’ or ‘Gone Girl’, where children ‘see’ things or experience abductions (when parents aren’t looking), or films dealing with memory loss, the supernatural, and falling off cliffs, Louis Drax will awaken a different reality – one of really not knowing what survival is, but eventually playing with the concept. If you like professional cop investigatory methods, these feature realistically. The dysfunctional romantic partnerships add opportunistic ventures which add to the mystery dilemma with its shocking revelations. In this, French Director Alexandra Aja has succeeded in skilfully weaving surprises in this thriller drama that sustains interest and intrigue about the child’s comatose state and how adults deal with it. Reviewed by Carol Martin. Read more about the film
DORA’S PEACE In the first scenes, colour sets the mood and purpose of prostitute Dora’s world, with splashes of bright red – the dress, bloody face wounds, overlayered lipstick, the apartment’s suggestive red lamp, even her auburn weave. Her girlhood rural farm flashback splashes bright yellow veld. A stunning music sound track keeps the fast-paced events of Hillbrow’s underworld of sex, drugs, and money as unpredictable as the surprising alignments between characters trying to survive in their violent cosmos. Dora slinks through people’s lives on Hillbrow streets, as the camera rapidly captures the chaos of struggles. Even loud door knocks startle. Locations are real, as is the well-scripted story line of a prostitute’s life – until 12 year old Peace, a gifted artistic child of a murdered neighbour, enters, orphaned by horrors of this underworld. The camera zooms into his innocent wisdom and fear, and stays at child level, making you experience empathy. The acting isn’t great, but the storyline holds suspense as character liaisons are cleverly nuanced: the ugly pimps, and Greek bookie-cum-lover, the prostitute wanting a better emotional life and desire to protect the boy who acquires by chance all that money. This story portrays how one doesn’t survive in these gun-and- knife-ridden streets and alleys; the Greek melodies and rhythms express this mournfully in the impressively orchestrated music score. This is a riveting film with a I-didn’t-see-that-coming ending, refreshingly leaving one spellbound, as the plot twists and finds a resolution – for Peace, at least. As an adult drama action film, it will appeal to those hardened, aware, and determined to learn more about survival challenges of this underworld. Those who enjoy the TV series Muvhango, Isidingo, and Rhythm City will enjoy watching lead actor, Khabonina Qubeka, in this convincing film. Other South African films, like Jerusalema and iNumber Number, relate similarly in capturing underworld violence in cityscapes. Reviewed by Carol Martin. Read interviews with director Kosta Kalarytis and screenwriter Andrew Herold
NERVE Nerve is a thrilling and daring chess game between fantasy and reality, passive voyeurism and active feats, where young love is tested to the extreme. Emma Roberts shines as a shy, straight-arrow high-school senior Venus “Vee” Delmonico, who breaks out of her comfort zone when she impulsively signs up for Nerve, an adrenaline-fueled competition that streams live over the internet. Young thrill-seekers challenge each other to a series of dares that rapidly escalate from mildly embarrassing to downright deadly, as an anonymous community of “watchers” instigates the action. Under imaginative direction by Henry Joost en Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3), from a sharp screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story), based on Jeanne Ryan’s bestseller, se novella, Nerve offers exciting entertainment. Michael Simmonds’s vibrant cinematography perfectly captures cyber mania, with an effective music and effects soundtrack by Rob Simonsen, Randall Poster and Meghan Currie that strengthens the emotional journey with its pulsating rhythm. It’s a unique romance where two lost souls desperately try to escape the guilt of past tragedies that imprison them, and become entangled in a web of deceit and a deadly cat and mouse game that threatens their lives. Nerve is a refreshing wake-up call for Internet junkies who recklessly pursue anonymous encounters in their search for love, money and fame. It’s a tense race to fame that stylishly unmasks the seductive power of social-media, and its sometimes tragic consequences. It’s equally an important warning for younger viewers, who visit the Internet, to stay clear of strangers who dazzle them with blind promises and foster wild ambitions and cheap thrills. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen, published with permission in Die Burger (19/8) Read more about the film
SUICIDE SQUAD Following hot on the heels of the flawed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is the 3rd move towards building a DC Comics’ cinematic universe; this time focusing on a rag-tag team of supervillains forced to work together by the cunning Amanda Waller in exchange for reduced jail time. Seemingly as a response to the criticism that BvS was too dark and bleak in tone, the marketing and trailers for the new movie have gone out of their way to portray it as a wild colourful ride with rapid-fire wisecracks (think along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool). Suicide Squad begins in exactly this way, as a lively extended introduction to the cast includes onscreen neon text flashing factoids about each character (such as their golf handicaps and Captain Boomerang’s fetish for pink unicorns). Having put many of the characters behind bars in the first place, Battfleck makes a couple of very welcome cameo appearances here, alongside one or two surprise appearances from other Justice League members. As things progress though, this initial spark starts to fizzle.There has been very little revealed about the story of the film prior to its release. As it turns out, this is due to the fact that it’s largely non-existent. The plot focuses on the team’s first mission and, after an excellent start, it peters out to just follow boring superhero tropes, complete with legions of dull, faceless villains and a climax with flashy lighting coming from the sky. The jumps from scene to scene are often jarring and it feels like large chunks of the story are missing.Despite this however, the film is still quite entertaining to watch. This is largely because of the degree to which the cast have fun with their characters. Viola Davis as the Squad’s scheming puppet master Amanda Waller is utterly superb and commanding. Will Smith and Margot Robbie both demonstrate their star power (although Robbie’s butt probably deserves its own cast credit given the amount of screen time it receives). The rest of the cast, playing relatively obscure supervillains, nonetheless succeed in making these characters interesting and watchable. The one major exception to this is Jared Leto’s take on the Joker. This isn’t entirely the actor’s fault, and comes down to the way in which the character has been written. Besides having white skin and green hair and laughing every so often, Suicide Squad’s pimped-out, sadistic mob boss never behaves like the Joker. Granted he is in the movie for a surprisingly short period of time (given his prominence in the marketing) and this could change in the future but it’s odd to see a character of his stature used in such a throwaway manner. Ultimately, Suicide Squad mirrors the journey of its characters: it begins life as a bright quirky schizoid prankster and – having been pulled in too many directions – ends up just falling in line with the generic status quo. Which is a pity, the potential was strong with this one. For an example of the Suicide Squad done right, you could do far worse than to consult the misleadingly titled 2014 animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham. As a story (and as an onscreen representation of the characters), it is superior in almost every way. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt Read more about the film
THE MEDDLER Susan Sarandon is understandable, quirky, funny, and really irritating as Marnie, as her story stings with humour in the right places: insensitive blurps from Mom and double meanings as characters argue, such as about Lori’s unfaithful boyfriend. Realistic tension moves the story, sometimes awkwardly, towards positive resolve as both mother and daughter fret, respectively, with their irking issues, like making comic Lori’s mistaken pregnancy. Relief comes when JK Simmons, a retired cop, and looking old in this film, adds a teasing dimension that somehow tickles Marnie’s emoting funny bones. He didn’t mine. Even his name, Randy Zipper, seems hilariously odd – to me, at least. The film adequately shows Marnie scared, if not confused, as events cleverly camouflage her romantic desires with long-distance travel away from the ‘Zipper’. The masterful script writing and production shows actor Sarandon, drawling with a thick New Yawk accent, convince the viewer that her Marnie can find joy and purpose in her newfound single life. With scenes fast-paced depicting Marnie in practically all of them, we saddle along chuckling and admiring how she helps a myriad of distraught characters realise their dreams. These scenes are heart-warming and sustain the film’s worth, depicting the ‘meddler’ becoming a facilitator to happiness and, actually, pleasant to be around. Anyone knowing family tensions with meddling parents will enjoy the wit and humour which this feel-good film brings. It relates to the 2016 independent drama, Mothers and Daughters, also with Sarandon. Review by Carol Martin. Read more about the film.
WONDER BOY FOR PRESIDENT Arriving on the eve of one of the most crucial municipal elections in democratic South Africa’s history, John Barker’s Wonder Boy for President presents itself as a timely satire on the state of leadership in South African politics. The story goes that a fictionalised underperforming Braamfontein branch of the ANC is in dire need of a PR boost. Morally-dubious party stalwarts Brutus (Tony Miyambo) and Shakes (Ntosh Madlingozi) are ordered to recruit Wonder Boy (Kagiso Lediga) – a popular and charismatic figure residing in a village in the Eastern Cape – to be built up as the party’s next big thing. Their jobs of course depend on it. As he is groomed, Wonder Boy’s good natured moral compass repeatedly finds him at odds with toeing the party line and Brutus and Shakes are forced to take action. Kagiso Lediga is arguably the film’s greatest asset and he absolutely nails the title character. From the moment he emerges au naturel from the sea, Lediga’s quick witted performance imbues Wonder Boy with an endearing sincerity as he struggles to make the adjustment from village life to grubby big city politics and is a big part of what makes things work. The film’s scripted set pieces are seldom as funny as when he’s just talking directly to the camera and winging it with dry observational humour.As a result of the cast’s history with shows such as Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola and The Pure Monate Show (where director John Barker cut his teeth) it is perhaps unsurprising that Wonderboy works best as sketch comedy. Making good use of the mockumentary format, the film shines when the talented cast are left to bounce adlibbed zingers off of each other and it seems to know it; the story is kept largely unobtrusive and serves primarily to provide the characters with new scenarios to riff off. It hits a peak around the time a forbidden ANC/DA love affair is introduced after which the plot starts to dip. Truth be told, Wonder Boy for President is not really a devastating take-down of current South African politics and in many respects feels like a throwback to a ‘simpler’ time when SA politics was seen as an ANC vs DA thing; before the EFF entered the fray and Nenegate, National Assembly bouncers, state capture allegations and Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s SABC were branded into national consciousness. It is of course the inevitable consequence of the film’s lengthy production cycle that the satire feels slightly incongruous with the present state of South African politics (5 years is a long-ass time in a rapidly shifting political climate).Given the prominence of alumni in the cast, it’s disappointing that Wonderboy never quite reaches the same level of biting satire which Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola managed frequently. That being said, moments such as a scene in which Brutus and Shakes attempt to procure a hitman (telling him that to be paid he must “register as a vendor on the website”) had me in stiches.One of the major draw cards are the actual politicians who make cameo appearance throughout. These vary in their effectiveness, depending on their individual willingness to roll with it or not. Most use it as an opportunity to go into campaign mode, but Zwelinzima Vavi and his prescient words of wisdom on the treachery of politics are a definite highlight. The filmmakers clearly pulled off a number of audacious stunts in order to capture some of this footage, most notably gate-crashing the 2012 ANC conference in Mangaung and seem to have enjoyed themselves immensely doing so. While Wonder Boy for President is by no means a Great Dictator in terms of insightful political satire and is occasionally reductive, it is nonetheless an entertaining, frequently witty film which is never boring. “It’s only been 20 years of democracy, we can’t afford to be bored,” quips a character along the way. And Akin Omotoso’s superb straight-faced political correspondent does makes a surprisingly strong case for the need for a Wonder Boy personality in SA political leadership. Right about now we could probably do with a naïve but decisive figure unopposed to canoodling with a member of the opposition party. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film / Read an interview with writer-director John Barker
NOBODY’S DIED LAUGHING It’s hard to laugh at relevant worldly issues these days, given levels of collective and personal violence occurring in many societies. Satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys, a master of solo performance, shows that laughter can be dignified, without swear words, and its messages can convey warnings and opinions that make people think afterwards. These include white paternalistic attitudes towards ‘those blacks’, black African exclusivity or entitlement, and the pandemic of corruption at political levels. Even political and social digs and innuendos that may offend die-hard white conservatives of yesteryear are cleverly slipped into the satirical punching glove, like the utter futility of racial separatism. This is Edutainment at its best, proving Uys’ sharp humour drawing laughter from the heart, and not necessarily from the gut or mind. One learns a lot, about his early theatrical days, and disappointments with a strained sister relationship. Blurps from other celebrities bring humourous perspectives about Uys’ character as well. The documentary worked effectively as it depicts a younger Pieter and his enigmatic parents, his sometimes lonesome childhood, and his adult realization about apartheid evils which echoed the oppressive days his German Jewish mother experienced living in Nazi Germany. A powerful segment reveals his attempts to reach a German audience about his sentiments, and in his limited German. Even fellow national Charlize Theron oozed tears at how the activist-dramatist-comedian could portray serious controversial issues without fear. The documentary includes four sentences by notable commentators, followed by an example video clip of Dirk Uys in those particular situations. His commentators add value to the rationale behind Dirk Uys’s contemporary voice, reflecting his visit to London and Germany in 2014. He educates with humour. Reviewed by Carol Martin
Comedians, artists, and political commentators as well as an enlightened public will enjoy this film which reminds one of satirical series, like “Mash” spoofing Vietnam War vagaries and the madness of war.
FREE STATE OF JONES I liked the film, more for its portrayal of moral principle and human rights integrity in defending a flogged national constitution than for its gory fight against uniformed secessionists who preferred the slave-master status quo. Except for, at times, inaudible drawly language, the script brought out important and forgotten historical realities: Christian biblical tenants that we are all children of God, and therefore equal, worked in favour of ex-slaves wanting ‘justice for all.’ The cinematography scanned not-so-lush farm landscapes and creepy silent mangrove swamps, with facial closeups revealing wary intent. Impressive. This film calls to mind other US scenarios of slavery, like in ‘Amistad’ and ‘30 years a Slave’, but without the gross treatment of slaves. Rather, a more compassionate and gentle side of whites disenchanted more with Confederacy ethics than with racial relationships evolves, enabling the story to highlight how laws are interpreted (and practiced) to suit the respective ethics from both sides. For this, I found the film worthy entertainment, even if it forgot to mention that ‘emancipated’ ex-slave women couldn’t vote as could their men, constitutionally speaking. Reviewed by Carol Martin. Read more about the film
FREE STATE OF JONES Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones is a somewhat uneven and fragmented account of one of the most outright fascinating individuals to emerge from the American Civil War; Newton Knight (superbly portrayed by Matthew McConaughey who bears an uncanny resemblance to the man). A medic for the Confederate army, Knight is driven to desert when it becomes apparent to him that the war is one fought by common folk to preserve the wealth of Southern Plantation owners. The ‘Twenty Negro Law’ – which exempted one male son for every 20 slaves owned by a household from conscription into the Confederate Army – serves as the final straw and inspires him to take off on his own; amassing a growing rag tag band of rebels who take it upon themselves to protect the farming communities from Confederate exploitation. Ross makes it very clear that any parallels drawn to current anti-neoliberal politics are very much intentional (“I’m tired of it. You, me, all of it! We’re all out there dying so they can stay rich!”) Avoiding the slavery porn which is usually part and parcel of films of this nature, the first two acts focus on Knight and a rag-tag band of Confederate deserters, escaped slaves, women and children giving the Southern armies hell. After a particularly great second act however, the script tries to cover too much ground and begins to substitute story for vignettes in order to trace the trajectory of Southern racial oppression after the end of the Civil War. It’s tricky to think of a better way to handle this perhaps (and it would be dishonest to suggest that slavery was actually abolished at the end of the Civil War) but Ross ends up trying to make too many points and dilutes the potency of the really good ones by dragging the film out for longer than necessary. A series of jumps interspersed throughout to a court case taking place 80 years after the events depicted in the film are awkward in context and don’t quite deliver a satisfying conclusion when they are resolved at the film’s end. Despite this, it’s a tribute to the stellar performances from McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali that the audience is inclined to tough it out. Free State of Jones is a film which has a number of important points to make and, despite its spotty, fragmented narrative will be remembered for specific moments rather than its whole. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
Film reviews (Listed alphabetically)
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE If there’s one film that will definitely be the most talked about film in years, it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane.Telling the story of three people trapped in an underground bunker, this daring and no-nonsense psychological thriller will rip your nerves to pieces and truly blow your mind.After a shocking opening sequence that will knock you out of your seat, you are plunged into a realm where everything is dubious, and a dark cloud of mystery keeps you in suspense until all is revealed in the awesome finale. Nothing is more exciting than uncovering dark secrets and unraveling foreboding fear. 10 Cloverfield Lane offers an ultimate emotional and physical exploration of the unknown and is a journey that leads to surprising twists and turns around every corner. Review by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI The heated fury of fictional reality explodes dramatically in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay’s profound exploration of warfare that is a brutal and hard-core assault on the senses. Loaded with suspense, Bay intimately takes us behind the headlines of what happened on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 in Benghazi, when Libyan militants attacked six American CIA contractors who defended a U.S. diplomatic outpost. In 2012, Benghazi, Libya is named one of the most dangerous places in the world, and countries have pulled their embassies out of the country in fear of an attack by militants. The United States, however, kept a Special Mission (Embassy) open in the city. On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic militants attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Stationed less than one mile away are members of the Annex Security Team, former soldiers assigned to protect operatives and diplomats in the city. As the assault rages on, the six men engage the combatants in a fierce firefight to save the lives of the remaining Americans. Bay takes us into the heart of conflict through the eyes of an outsider, where six members of a security team fight for their lives to defend the American diplomatic compound, with a potent screenplay written by Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves, The Strain), based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book 13 Hours. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review
A BIGGER SPLASH A sensually-charged character study film that is endearingly quirky and quite hard to pin down tonally. There are elements of comedy, drama and thriller and for all of their eccentricities, the characters seem familiar; as if based on people you know rather than being cliché. The film’s premise is a reliable set-up for brewing trouble based on jealousy and desire: Tilda Swinton’s character is recovering from a throat operation by vacationing on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria with her photographer boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts who, as the ‘boring one’, doesn’t have much to do but mope). Unexpectedly, Marianne’s friend – and former lover- Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) pop in for a visit; destabilising the couple’s prior tranquility. As is usually the case when the past rudely intrudes upon the present, things rapidly escalate out of control towards the film’s end where the tone shifts significantly (and the film begins to drag). Through all this, there are some surprising insights to be found and the play between revelation and ambiguity is exceptionally well handled. It should appeal to those who enjoy slightly erotic films which pitch the libidinal desires of a group of sexy people of various ages against each other. Think François Ozon’s Swimming Pool or Jacques Deray’s La Piscine (of which this is largely an uncredited remake). While being a vastly different film in terms of characters and story, there’s some underlying essence to the black humour and left-field conclusion in A Bigger Splash which makes it a kindred spirit to the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading (it’s not just the presence of Swinton in both either). You may just have to take my word for that. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt
ABRAHAM Abraham is undoubtedly one of the best South African films ever made, a profound and consummate masterwork from industry legend, Jans Rautenbach that marks his first film in 30 years.It tells an unforgettable tale that will break your heart, a story that connects with who we are as South Africans and how we fit into the bigger scheme of things. It’s an open and honest film that invites us to make sense of our lives in a world where those who live in the shadows of society have to survive on nothing but hope in their hearts, and those who own the world feed this desolate hopefulness with unimaginable dreams.Rautenbach powerfully reveals these two disparate worlds; one is filled with the shiny clutter of worldly possessions that form a shrine to Western art and culture and civilisation that is as cold as the stone it is built from, and the other world is a home that is warm and homely, where the comfort of a fire in the hearth and oil lamp illuminate the dark void of humble existence.The two extremes powerfully reminds one of how easy it is to observe the world from comfort and ease without ever getting involved in the lives of less fortunate people. Rautenbach takes us into the intimate spaces of these derelict lives, where happiness and love blossom and combat the harsh reality of outsiders who have no understanding of how difficult it is to be dirt poor. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING For all intents and purposes, A Hologram for the King is another of those angsty salesman midlife crisis films which Charlie Kaufman ruthlessly satirised in Anomalisa. What saves it from this fate is Tom Hanks’ performance as Alan Clay, capturing the good natured but depressive lethargy of a man internalising his blame for his lot in life rather than selfishly pointing to everyone else like Anomalisa’s Michael Stone. Hanks is relatable and there is a kind of cheery sincerity in his interactions with his go-to cab driver Yousef; even if it is irksome to see yet another white American actor cast as an Arab character. Casting and a few stereotyping issues aside, the scenes between the two are enjoyable and are the most focused aspect of the film by some margin. Clay’s interactions with Sarita Choudhury’s doctor Zahra are another strong point, although their development comes across as hurried. Going through the complexity of Saudi Arabian divorce from her husband, Zahra is at least a counterpoint to the ‘evil ex-wife’ trope which strains Clay’s relationship with his daughter. The remaining story arcs of the film (and there are quite a few surprisingly) are largely rushed and fragmented. The most glaring of these is definitely Clay’s team – who are assembled in a tent in the desert to demonstrate hologram technology for the absent Saudi king – and are routinely abandoned for days at a time without food or water. They are nonetheless somehow always ready to perform at full capacity whenever the story requires it. There is some carpe diem-esque affirmation to be found throughout, but like the holograms which Clay and team are peddling, it’s a gauzy projection rather than the genuine article. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
A PERFECT DAY Everyone seeks a day that is perfect, and as the delightful A Perfect Day reveals, you will only know what a true perfect day is once it has happened, and then its reward turns out to be a gratifying surprise. t is the same with film, every once in a while, a film like A Perfect Day sneaks up on you and shows that big rewards lie in unexpected explorations. Spanish filmmaker Fernando León De Aranoa has a wicked sense of the absurd that is grounded in a reality we all know; setting A Perfect Day in a world that is foreign to most people, that of an armed conflict zone, an improbable tourist destination that no-one will visit without trepidation. De Aranoa succeeds in emphasising the absurd, the irrationality of the human being. For him the ﬁrst victim of any armed conﬂict is reason, and that’s why ‘’irrationality might be the most fearsome enemy in the ﬁlm.’’ We always look at the ruins of warfare without knowing what happens in the wasteland of humanity, where the lives of families are ruled by war, and have to survive in unforgiving circumstances. Now, De Aranoa takes us into this intimate death zone, and allows us to discover its mystery through the eyes of a group of humanitarian aid workers in a mountain area a microcosm in which all the participants in the war are present: soldiers, civilians, blue helmets, journalists…Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review/ Read more about the film
BASTILLE DAY It was alright as far as these sorts of action films go. The frenetic camera work was the star of the show and managed to convey urgency and panic while still clearly showing what was happening. The politics of the film were odd and it couldn’t decide if it wanted to draw a parallel between #Occupy and Anonymous ‘We are the 99%’ type protests and the French Revolution or to deride those protesters as gullible morons. The way in which the villains shouted “Launch the final hashtag!” as if it were a weapon failed as social commentary and was unintentionally hilarious. People who like Idris Elba, fans of the later (lesser) Die Hard movies, V for Vendetta. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about Bastille Day.
BASTILLE DAY Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman In Black) uses France as a backdrop to this action film and makes good use of the national landmarks and rich history. The title is a reference to the national French holiday celebration the Fête de la Fédération – the storming of the Bastille in France, which took place on the 14th July 1790. In the film, the French Bastille Day Parade ties cleverly into a plot point towards the end of the movie. The film has an authentic European feel and adds to the international appeal of this crime-caper-meets-heist hybrid. The script is entertaining, thanks to first time feature screenplay writer, Andrew Baldwin.Many of the terror-plot themed films churned out by Hollywood tends to focus on the Middle East as the enemy, yet refreshingly this film has a local French terror network as the shady entity. This leads to a far deeper conflict – perhaps when it’s closer to home, the acts of violence and terror seem a little more sinister – a little harder to fight? We, the audience, feel the vulnerability as the nation takes to the streets for celebration. Tension builds as acts of police brutality ignite an online campaign to unite in the streets. As innocent protesters rally against the government, they are all the while unaware of the true dangers lurking in their midst. Elba is a powerhouse of macho action man and dominates the screen and towers above his costars, unflinching. The personality clash and slowly simmering bond between agent Briar and unlikely hero, Michael, is also entertaining, peppering the action sequences with humour. The story arc of the naive ‘ordinary Joe’ thrust into chaos and having to quickly adapt to help the hero fight the bad guys is reminiscent of many action movies of yesteryear (think Die Hard’s John McClane helped by LAPD Sgt. Al Powell, or Kyle Reece helped by a then timid Sarah Connor in The Terminator). The story itself has good ‘bones’, and packs ample old fashioned action into the 90 minutes – enough to warrant a watch. There are plot twists to keep us on our toes, intermittent subtitles and capable well-known French actors to give the film credibly and firm roots. If shoot-em-up action is what you’re after, with a little intelligence in the mix too, it’s waiting for you in Bastille Day. Reviewed by Farren Classe.Read more about Bastille Day.
BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE I’m going to start this off by getting straight to the point. No, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a particularly good movie. Having said that, it is not nearly as big of a disaster as the critical panning on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic would have you believe. It is no better or worse than Avengers: Age of Ultron, for instance, and I suspect that much of the loathing directed at the film comes from critics using it as a sacrificial lamb to vent frustration at the heinous over saturation of superhero movies lined up for their viewing pleasure over the next five years (at least). “It’s too late to stop the Marvel films from snowballing out of control, but perhaps if we crucify this one, we can put a halt to this universe,” the logic goes. In reality, BvS is frustrating because alongside its many failings, it does a number of things quite well. Barring tumultuous CGI lightning flashes during the climax, the visuals effortlessly skirt the line between reality and comic book fantasy and the character design is great. There is a lot of background attention to detail that only fans of the source material would pick up and, on the whole, the Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL soundtrack collaboration is exceptional. While permanently set to director Zack Snyder’s trademark blunt-force trauma mode, there are some well-conceived action sequences peppered among the mass destruction (this time in uninhabited areas we are repeatedly assured). Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read full review.
BRIDGE OF SPIES Spielberg wears his serious hat for Bridge of Spies, giving us a heated close encounter of spies during the cold war of deep-seated feelings of animosity and distrust that existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 50s.Inspired by true events, it follows the inspirational bravura of Schindler’s List, which landed Spielberg his first Oscars for Best Director, and his films Munich, and Lincoln, where epic intimacy provides grand spectacle and emotive human drama. Bridge of Spies offers rewarding viewing for anyone seeking escapism that is sophisticated and meaningful. It’s like reading a book you want to keep on your bedside table, and often revisit. In our world where communication is hampered by those who cannot speak our language, Bridge of Spies shows that there is only one way to solve misunderstanding, simply do the human thing, and this will open up a world of understanding where people are united through action and not divided by ignorance. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film
THE CONJURING 2 The terror reaches across two continents in this installment – from America to gloomy, raining London. The dank coldness seemed to seep of the screen (I may be tempted to say that inside the cinema the temperature dropped a few degrees). Similar films include The Haunting in Connecticut, The Amityville Horror, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Anabelle. The ‘true story’ events of The Conjuring 2 – are based on the real life ‘Enfield Haunting’. For me at least, this was not nearly as creepy as the first film, but I was still in my element (half squinting through my fingers throughout!). Worth a watch is the exceptional 2015 British TV Series, The Enfield Haunting, starring Timothy Spall and Michael McFadden, from the director of The Killing). You might also find yourself Googling the true recorded Enfield events after watching The Conjuring 2, as I did. Just do it with the lights on. Reviewed by Farren Classe. Read more about the film
THE CONJURING James Wan’s original Conjuring film from 2013 has held up as one of the best mainstream horrors in recent years. The film contained a number of iconic moments (the scene with the clapping game induces shivers just thinking about it), introduced extremely likeable protagonists in the form of real-life paranomal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) and established some notable nasties (such as the possessed doll Annabelle, who has subsequently featured in her own sub-par spinoff). The Conjuring certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel and relied heavily on well-worn tropes (some might say clichés), but it was all done so effectively that it didn’t matter. To an extent, Wan plagiarises no one more than himself with The Conjuring 2, and this new entry feels increasingly like a crossover with his equally good Insidious franchise. The two demons who serve as the main antagonists in Conjuring 2 have more than a little in common with Insidious 1 and 2’s Bride in Black and Insidious 3’s Man Who Can’t Breathe; to be honest they’re even a little less interesting. The set pieces will feel extremely familiar to fans of Wan’s previous films (double storey houses, noisy children’s toys, long-suffering mothers etc) but what remains impressive is Wan’s ability to keep it all fresh. Together with cinematographer Don Burgess, they keep The Conjuring 2 moving like a roller coaster, building escalating tension and suspense to unbearable levels before dropping the viewer into increasingly vast plunges. This isn’t just tenuous metaphor, the way in which the camera moves throughout the house gives the audience a distinct impression of being strapped in to a moving vehicle.
Noticeably ‘bigger’ than the previous film The Conjuring 2 loses some of the intimacy of its predecessor and in the process, its claustrophobic intensity. This is not to say that the film lacks scares, just that it devotes a bit more breathing room in between them to developing the central characters. Wilson and Farmiga very effectively bring across the sincerity of their characters and Madison Wolfe deserves special mention for her portrayal of the tormented young girl Janet Hodgson. At the end of the day, a third excursion with the Warrens would be more than welcome – there is certainly no shortage of material from their real world counterparts to draw from – and that in itself is an impressive feat. However it will require more of a shake-up than simply moving things to a different country in order to avoid the onset of déjà vu.Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
CRIMSON PEAK Crimson Peak is a spectacular journey into a surreal fairy-tale reality where ghosts are real and rule supreme. As a teenager in the 70s I spent most of my time in the cinema where you bought a ticket for 50 cents and could watch movies all day long. It was here where my life was transformed by the tragic heroines and charming cavaliers from the Golden Era of cinema in Gothic Romance films like Great Expectations, Rebecca and Jane Eyre (from the 30s and 40s).Guillermo Del Toro’s masterful Crimson Peak gloriously celebrates this long-lost era of great classics, where epic intimacy, tragic romance, and beguiling horror provided ultimate entertainment. Crimson Peak is not a horror or supernatural film, but a Gothic Romance, where passion and the grotesque are celebrated artistically and emotionally, laced with insane encounters and fantastic delusions. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film.
THE DANISH GIRL The extreme truth of his hidden identity and acceptance of his true self sets an impassioned artist free in the exceptionally soulful The Danish Girl. It’s the much anticipated new film from Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables), and one that will make its mark in history. The visual sensibility and commanding artistry of director Tom Hooper astounds. From the first frames he sets a poignant and spiritual tone with imagery of the natural beauty of Copenhagen where revered landscape painter Einar Wegener lived during his formative years; these crisp images are perfectly balanced and significantly underscored by the emotional and lush score by Alexandre Desplat (who also lensed Hooper’s The King Speech). The Danish Girl boldly celebrates the valour of those who embrace their true identity and are not shamed of who they are, and salutes those whose kind-heartedness makes the world a place everyone wants to share equally. If you are looking for a film that offers a sincere and profound journey into the heart and soul of those who walk a different path, The Danish Girl should definitely not be missed. It is a film that will transform the way you see the world of those who live outside your comfort zone. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film
DIS EK ANNA A woman soulfully redeems her innocence in Dis Ek, Anna, a powerful South African film that shows how the vicious cycle of the sexual abuse of children destroys lives and families. Truthfully revealing the evil face of a silent killer that turns the domestic bliss of happy families into a war zone where children are sexually abused by those they trust most, it is a commanding and relevant film about a woman who is imprisoned by the guilt of falling victim to a sexual predator as a teenage girl, and tormented by the memories of this tragic incident that results in her taking action to revenge the perpetrator. There is no graphic or tasteless exposition, but a stylish and well-crafted film that showcases the best talent South Africa has to offer. The film is based on Anchien Troskie’s best-selling fictionalised autobiographical novels Ek, Anna and Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer, written under the pseudonym Elbie Lötter, and was aptly adapted for film by writer, dramatist and director Tertius Kapp, who also explored violence in society in his play Rooiland. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film
THE DRESSMAKER If there is one film that is divinely unique in every possible way, it’s the quirky Australian charmer The Dressmaker, a film that transforms you in many ways. This enchanting creation was written by husband-and-wife team Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan , based on the novel The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, with Moorhouse in the director’s seat – Hogan will always be remembered for his cultish Muriel’s Wedding and most recently helmed Pan, and Moorehouse made a great impact with her feature film debut Proof, which starred Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe. Moorhouse and Hogan understand the world and people they write about with loving care, compassion and a great sense of twisted humour; it’s a universal story anyone can easily identify with and sink their teeth in. It’s through their vibrant and dynamic characters that we immediately fall hopelessly in love with their respective journey and will to survive living in a small town reminiscent of classic Western films. At its heart, The Dressmaker is a spicy mother-and-daughter story, with Kate Winslet and Judy Davis perfectly cast as a devilish duo that explodes with fervour and zest. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. / Read more about the film
ELVIS & NIXON Based on one iconic photo of Elvis meeting then president Richard Nixon, this film kept me entertained from start to finish – weaving a strangely compelling story. I found Kevin Spacey to be hypnotic as Nixon and without the two lead male performances (Michael Shannon as The King) the two titular characters would plummet into gaudy caricature. Those who love films that build an unusual story around one true event (Saving Mr Banks, Foxcatcher, Charlie Wilson’s War, Frost/Nixon) are likely to delight in the writers’ creativity for this film. Through the humour and weirdness leaks an almost child-like (and for me a somewhat cringe-worthy and tragic) depiction of Elvis Presley. This gives the film depth and made it so much more than a celluloid frolic into absurdity. I found it to be a charming trip into the history books, albeit with the writers dipping rather liberally into the well of “what if”. Being a fan of ‘slow burn’ stories, the length of the film was also perfect at 83min – a bite size, easy to watch gem. Not one special effect or gadget… now that’s great story telling. While it won’t go down as a classic, give this film a chance – don’t expect anything stellar and you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised. During the entire film there’s not one rendition of an Elvis song, not one signature Elvis dance move or performance, and still – it manages to captivate. Truly commendable in this day and age. Review by Farren Classe
ELVIS & NIXON The end credits of Elvis & Nixon inform us that the photograph of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley in the oval office is the most requested image from the US National Archives. Much of the preceding film feels as though the writers decided to cap history at the point where the photograph was taken and construct the events which led to its taking. As such, Elvis & Nixon doesn’t really establish the irony and contradictions which made their meeting such an unlikely and iconic moment; only loosely alluding to the later downfalls of at least three of its main characters (Elvis, Nixon and Egil Krogh). Perhaps this was intentional, but presenting these figures purely as fundamentally cheery individuals lends the film a light-heartedness which history has suggested should contain a tad more fallibility. The glaring issue with Elvis & Nixon really is the two leads. Michael Shannon comes across as an Elvis impersonator well past his prime. The King himself was 35 at the time of meeting Nixon and the film’s depiction of a washed-up manchild is a little hard to accept given that in reality, the film’s events take place three years prior to the career pinnacle of Aloha from Hawaii. It may capture Elvis’ deluded sense of reality, but it it’s hard to buy Shannon as a quintessential American sex symbol par excellence. In all honesty, Rick Peters achieved this balance far better in 1997’s looser comedic take on the same story Elvis Meets Nixon. Kevin Spacey is on total autopilot as Nixon and makes no attempt to match the lofty highs of Frank Langella in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon. We’ve seen House of Cards, we know how well Spacey can do conniving president! Elvis & Nixon is okay as a lazy watch, with a few chuckles along the way, but it doesn’t excel in any particular area. Nonchalant is a good way to describe it. For the record, it may not be the greatest Elvis film in existence, but Bruce Campbell’s portrayal of him in Bubba Ho-Tep remains the best cinematic depiction of the King in my mind. Review by Tim Leibbrandt.
THE ENDLESS RIVER An ambitious South African film which conveys its often bleak story through narrative glimpses. As a result, it moves at a rapid pace and by the end, you are left with a desire to see it again because it feels as though you may have missed something. There are quite a few threads which don’t seem to add up (and one gaping elephant in the room). In retrospect, some of the plot holes could be seen as a critique of the assumptions of racist prejudice but a slightly more assured narrative hand would have been beneficial in making sure that they were read that way rather than as holes in the story. Visually the film is exceptional and there are certainly moments (particularly the arc set in the Garden Route) where the audience is completely sucked in and the weight and trauma of the earlier section of the film is (temporarily) forgotten. Crystal-Donna Roberts is outstanding as the film’s long-suffering female lead Tiny. The Endless River should appeal to those who appreciated (enjoyed isn’t the right word perhaps given the subject matter) director Oliver Hermanus’ previous films Skoonheid and Shirley Adams as well as films such as Disgrace and Monsters Ball. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! It’s an odd film in that nothing really happens (besides a whole lot of frat partying) but it somehow manages to come across as quite profound by the end. This is mostly due to the fact that the audience warms to the characters so thoroughly that they feel like part of the group by the end. There’s a sense of carpe diem and embracing the joy in fleeting moments that actually seems quite profound; it’s an abstract feeling that the audience is left with rather than an explicit message. Yes, it has all the trappings that usually accompany a horny frat boy comedy (and adding a faux sense of nostalgia by setting it in the 80s doesn’t automatically alleviate these issues) but through the strength of the performances and the low key sincerity of the film, it remains quite endearing regardless. The 70s/early 80s rock soundtrack is great. People who enjoy “the epic quest to get laid”/ coming of age comedies with heart (like American Pie). There are a lot of parallels to director Richard Linklater’s earlier 1993 film Dazed and Confused as well and the two could largely be seen as companion pieces. While they are all baseball players, the sport aspect is almost incidental to the fact that they are all on a team (and have bonded as a result). I think largely because of the time in which the film is set, I think people who enjoyed Cameron Crowe’s films like Singles and Almost Famous would enjoy it too. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! Richard Linklater does it again and takes us down memory lane for the ride of a lifetime. If you enjoy an astoundingly authentic retro slice-of-life film, Everybody Wants Some will not disappoint. Although the film is set entirely in and around a few campus houses – this film has a lot more flesh on its bones than your clichéd college romp. Don’t let the baseball themed sports-talk put you off (after all the film is written and directed by Richard Linklater). The film is frothy on the surface, but what lies beneath is pure magic… it’s worth noting that this film feels more like the elder brother to ‘Dazed’, and a tad more authentic. Perhaps due to the more mature-looking cast and the fact that Linklater cast a bunch of former athletes who had their own careers. There’s a chewy centre underneath all the beer guzzling and wild antics that populate most of the scenes. The acting is good, and Jake’s character is gentle, unassuming and sincere. We’re rooting for him when he decides he’s after more than a notch on his belt and heads out to grab the attention of Fine-Arts major, Beverley (Zoey Deutch). It’s refreshing that the main female role is that of an educated, equally grounded woman. In fact, other than the wonderful Beverley, there aren’t any notable female characters other than the collective ‘females of campus’ to which the men concentrate all their attention. Again, Linklater forgoes that which is non-essential to his masterpiece. Everybody Wants Some was definitely a home run for me. Not only is the film’s title a Van Halen song, but the jam-packed 117 minutes lives by the ‘more is more’ maxim and yet it has a simple and deep message. Reviewed by Farren Classe.Read more about the film.
FINDING DORY In the age of franchise cinema, it is easy to cynically view Finding Dory as an unnecessary milking of one of Pixar’s undisputed triumphs of yesteryear. However, after a mandatory period of easing the audience back into the world of Finding Nemo (it has been 13 years after all), the new film wastes no time in establishing itself as its own thing. Sure it builds on ideas from the original story but, as it turns out, Finding Dory can easily hold its own as a standalone film and there is surprisingly little by way of cameo appearances in favour of a largely new cast of colourful characters. The central theme of the film is the overcoming of disability and most characters are afflicted in some way. Dory has short-term memory loss, Hank the octopus is missing a tentacle, Destiny is a near-sighted whale shark, Nemo has a deformed right fin, the list goes on. What is key though is that rather than assuming the stance of shlock like Me Before You (which continuously seems to emphasise that those with disabilities are a burden on their loved ones), Finding Dory instead steadfastly asserts that ‘there is always a way’ and challenges posed by disabilities can always be surmounted. Finding Dory is inventive and outlandish and often pushes the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the limits (particularly for anyone who has ever had pet fish and knows about the schlep of acclimatising them to new water). It nonetheless remains exceptionally fun. The direction of the narrative strays far enough from the usual structure of family movies that it is never from predictable. Against all odds, Pixar have pulled-off a successful sequel yet again (see: Toy Story 2 and 3) and Finding Dory is anything but a lazy cash-in. It will undoubtedly make mountains of moolah too. A word of warning: nobody is able to turn on the waterworks quite like Pixar. If you have even a semblance of a soul, you will spend a large part of the movie fighting back rivers of tears; ultimately a Sisyphusian gesture. Review by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film.
GOOD KILL War becomes a deadly video game in the powerful Good Kill, except that the targets are not pixels, but flesh and blood. This astounding film from New Zealand-born filmmaker Andrew Niccol, who made his debut in 1997 with Gattaca, and although he has established himself in the world of science fiction with his original ideas about what the future might look like, Good Kill,is far more grounded in the world as it is today than any of his previous work (The Truman Show, Simone, Lord of War, In Time, The Host). Good Kill goes inside the world of military drones with Ethan Hawke playing Major Thomas Egan, an Air Force pilot stationed at a base outside Las Vegas where he flies drones over Middle Eastern regions, both for surveillance and to take out potential terror threats. It’s a difficult job that starts to affect Egan’s home life with his wife (played by January Jones), especially after his team are assigned to work for the CIA, who are a lot less concerned with the collateral damage of innocent lives in order to take out “enemies.” Drone warfare is very much a hot topic right now and although Good Kill doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with the politics behind drone strikes, it does make one wonder how far the government might go to protect its citizens. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review / Read more about the film
GHOSTBUSTERS Having made a point of watching the original two 80s Ghostbusters films to accurately gauge how the new installment sits (rather than relying on nostalgia goggles), I can safely say that the despite what the vitriolic Internet legions may feel about an all-female Ghostbusters, the reboot holds up. It is important to stress here though, that saying it holds up doesn’t mean that it’s a brilliant film. None of the entries in the series are cinematic masterpieces – the first (and obviously best) installment is perhaps better described as iconic/cult – but all three are at least highly entertaining and quippy. Despite being 1-for-1 female substitutions of the original roles, McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon and Jones’ characters are probably better written than their male counterparts, tending to have more motivation and backstory. This doesn’t always work in the new film’s favour; as events become increasingly ridiculous the straight-faced approach isn’t as effective as Bill Murray’s sleep-walking Peter Venkman (who served as a knowing wink that the original films weren’t taking themselves too seriously). Ghostbusters 2016 suffers the same fate as Ghostbusters II in the sense that it does a good job of setting up its own story before ultimately succumbing to the temptation to simply repeat the originals’ triumphant climax of something big and unexpected tromping through New York city. One area where the film absolutely nails the tone of the series is in the special effects. They don’t even try to make the ghosts look realistic and instead aim to capture the feel of the original films. Glowing purple, green and blue, the cartoony ghosts all feel like Ghostbusters ghosts. Complaining that they’re cheesy or unrealistic really misses the point; I highly doubt that’s ever been a goal of the series given how stylised the creatures have always been. Slimer especially looks exactly how you remember him.At the end of the day, rather than ruining the series, Ghostbusters 2016 is silly, enjoyable fun that is at least on par with the second film. Its only major crime is bringing the catastrophic train wreck that is Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot’s rejig of Ray Parker Jr’s classic theme tune into the world. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
HARDCORE HENRY This film will appeal to fans of first person shooter (FPS) gaming. The first of its kind – the whole film is filmed from POV of the audience, complete with avatar (Hardcore Henry), a slew of variable enemies, and a quest to save your one true love. If you’re up to the challenge of advancing through action-packed scenes/levels peppered with extreme violence, then this film will thrill you. Films in a similar vein include Crank, Existenz (a must-see), or the video games Mirror’s Edge and Call of Duty. Personally, this was not my ‘cup of tea’ – I rather wished I’d had a shot of whiskey to get through it. Reviewed by Farren Classe. Read more about the film.
THE IDOL Based on the real-life story of Mohammed Assaf, Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol is a refreshing film in many respects. It’s a take on Gaza which is actually created by and starring Palestinians. It is also one of the first international productions to shoot on location in Gaza. For the most part, it is also an exceptionally human story which doesn’t gloss over the harsh reality of lived experience there, but keeps its focus on a group of characters who remain optimistically driven to achieve their dreams regardless. It’s also a pretty unbelievable story; Assaf was an aspiring singer from a refugee camp in Gaza who snuck into Egypt in order to enter 2013’s Arab Idol, which he eventually won. The first half of The Idol focusses on Mohammed and his sister Nour as children attempting to form a band. Their dream is to escape Gaza with their music (with Mohammed front and centre as their singer) and perform at the Cairo Opera House. It is not clear how much of this account is fictionalised – in reality Assaf has six siblings for instance – but the children are incredible and it is by far the strongest part of the film. All of the first time child actors (who were allegedly auditioned over Skype) are naturals in front of the camera, bringing warmth and heart to their characters. Hiba Attalah who portrays Assaf’s tomboy sister Nour is especially great as the brains and ambition behind the group’s desire to transcend their circumstances. Kais Atallah is by no means a slouch in his portrayal of the kid-version of Mohammed Assaf, but Nour just steals the show. Watching the children walk around a devastated Gaza cityscape plotting how they are going to find the instruments to put their band together is captivating, and a part of me wishes it comprised the entirety of the film. The second half which centres on the adult Assaf’s journey (played by Tawfeek Barhom) to enter the second season of Arab Idols lacks this magic and rushes through things a bit. There are one or two tense moments (particularly a scene on the border between Gaza and Egypt) but the over- use of actual Arab Idols footage and some very dodgy lip syncing disrupts the flow and ends what should have been an emotional, cathartic and triumphant climax on a somewhat bland note. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE It’s hard to think of a more definitive 1996 movie than the first Independence Day. I was in Grade 3 (Standard 1) at the time and that film dominated every playground conversation for months. Nothing else that year came close. Re-watching it again in anticipation of the new installment, it still holds up as fundamentally silly, plot-holed fun. Much of this comes down to the fact that scenes of global destruction were still a novelty and, more importantly, the diverse cast of characters was lively, idiosyncratic and fleshed-out; it was enjoyable to watch them. They were everything that protagonists in current Hollywood blockbusters are not. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Independence Day: Resurgence, where the returning characters (Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner) are greeted as old friends and serve to emphasize how awful, lame and cookie-cutter the rest of the cast is (particularly Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Jessie Usher, Angelababy and Travis Tope). The old characters are given interesting things to do and the plot actually resurrects a number of running gags from the first film to great effect. The new characters however have horrifically clichéd, predictable storylines and you could easily channel-hop between Pacific Rim, Battleship, Transformers etc and not miss a beat.Consequently, the film is split between being enjoyable and boring (generally depending on which characters the muddled story is focusing on). The visuals do at least make global destruction seem destructive again, but nothing is particularly new. When it borrows from far cleverer films such as District 9, it is at least interesting. As can be expected, the story makes little sense; but neither did the first film really (they defeated the alien hordes with a computer virus after all!). Unfortunately, instead of just letting this be a one-off capitalisation on the nostalgic goodwill that the original holds, the film insists on blatantly trying to set-up a franchise towards the end which hollows the final act. If the original holds a special place in your heart it’s worth revisiting the world of Independence Day. If you’re going in fresh though, you may well fall asleep. Review by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
JOY As with emotion, Joy the film is full of outstanding surprises, where an optimistic dream turns into a heated warzone where self-expression, individualism in a tightly-knit family, and the empowerment of identity and ownership clash head-on. t springs from the extraordinary mind of writer-director of David O. Russell, who gave us the equally magnificent The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and based this delightful tale loosely on the life and rise of inventor and home shopping star Joy Mangano.Russell describes it as genre-blurring story that boldly fuses reality with fantasy, linear narrative with inventive flashbacks and flash-forwards, convention with experimental explorations, and an old-fashioned family drama with a contemporary women’s film. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review / Read more about the film
LEGEND Crime lies in the eyes of the beholder in Legend, the heart-breaking true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray from Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential,Mystic River).It’s a controversial story that most people know but, if this is your first encounter with the devilish Krays, be prepared for a story proving that truth is stranger than fiction. Legend is a film for discerning audiences or anyone looking for meaningful escapism. As with many films based om true events and lives, try and see Legend without knowing too much about the story. This is your chance to take a journey into the past that strongly informed our world today where gang warfare, corruption and violence is still as glamorous and prevalent as it was in the 60’when the Kray brothers ruled. The names and faces might have changed, but it still tells the same tragic story that continues to destroy families and communities. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film.
LIFE If ever you wanted to spend a week with James Dean, the superb Life is an outstanding film that transports us to New York of the 50s when Dean was at the beginning of his career. Inspired by the true story of a friendship that developed between Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) and actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) when Stock was commissioned to photograph the actor for LIFE magazine in 1955, Australian screenwriter Luke Davies’s heartfelt screenplay is strikingly brought to life by director Anton Corbijn (A Most Wanted Man). Stock was 26 and old before his time when into his buttoned-down world came fledgling star James Dean, a free spirit who would change popular culture from suits to jeans and from matinee idols to teenage heartthrobs. The assignment for LIFE magazine, which took the pair on a photographic journey across the US, from LA to New York and on to Indiana, would change Stock’s life and produce some of the most iconic images of the age. Pattinson and DeHaan are perfectly cast and embody the true spirit of their characters, with equally brilliant performances by Ben Kingsley as the enigmatic producer Jack Warner and Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) as John Morris. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film
‘N MAN SOOS MY PA The deeply moving ‘n Man Soos My Pa is one of those exceptional films steeped in the tradition of classic films like East Of Eden that grabs hold of you emotionally and never lets go, and with its powerful finale, makes its mark significantly as a spiritual cinematic experience you will remember long after watching the film. Its epic intimacy is hushed and quiet, filled with a wonderful sense of nostalgia. It’s a film that leaves you wanting more at the end of its rousing emotional journey. Writer-director Sean Else has a unique gift as storyteller and storymaker: as a consummate storyteller he knows how to tell a story well, his vision as a filmmaker breathes life into his words, and his astute sensibility as director in making characters truthful is evident in the sincere and honest performances he draws from his talented cast. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review / Read interview with writer-director Sean Else
‘N PAWPAW VIR MY DARLING Family. You want to live without them, but can’t survive without them. That’s the essence of Koos Roets‘ quirky satire ‘n Paw Paw Vir My Darling, which takes us on a humorous and heartfelt journey into the hearts and souls of a needy Afrikaner family living in the fictional Damnville in 2003.Based on an idea which Roets skilfully adapted from Jeanne Goosen bestseller that offered an intelligent and her sharp observation and understanding of the pshyce of characters and their reactions to the social, cultural and political mileu in which they find themselves, the film adaptation aptly celebrates the core of Goosen’s work. Although at heart it’s a brilliant social satire in the tradition of Siener in die Suburbs and Triomf, it’s equally a women’s film that acutely addresses issues of woman finding their worth in work and home, but also a human drama about a family that tries to unite dramatically and comically, and also addresses serious issues like cancer with dark overtones. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review/ Read interview with director Koos Roets
THE KEEPING ROOM The Keeping Room very effectively built tension and dread over the course of its first two acts. The sound design was spectacular and added substantially to the bleak, slow burn atmosphere. The film and its lead actresses are very successful at letting audiences get to know the characters slowly and progressively without being obvious. That they achieve this when most of the dialogue comprises wails of pain is impressive. Having said that, it did feel slightly anticlimactic by the end of the third act; like it was wrapped up too swiftly and neatly. The final twist incorporates a rapid tone shift and points to a story potentially more interesting than the film itself ultimately is. The film should appeal to those who enjoy Westerns/Civil War period pieces/Home Invasion thrillers with a strong female angle. Meek’s Cutoff, The Homesman , True Grit, Panic Room. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt
KNIGHT OF CUPS With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick is very much a storymaker in search of meaning, and through his journey of finding an answer to the essence of life, love and art, he allows us to reconnect with our own personal journey into ourselves and our place in this world. Malick explores the excess of nothingness and the extreme of everything, where complete silence and feverish chaos form an incongruous symphony of emotions in this story of a lonely comedy writer Rick (Christian Bale) living in present-day Santa Monica who longs for something other, something beyond the life he knows, without knowing quite what it is, or how to go about finding it. With Knight of Cups Malick evolves as an artist, never allowing the narrative to dictate or manipulate his artistry, or impede its infinite magnitude. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read the full review.
MODDER EN BLOED In this emotional journey into the heart and soul of a war that divided a nation, reconciled revenge forces underdogs to triumph in the spirit of togetherness.It’s a poignant story of man versus himself when incarcerated with other Boer prisoners-of-war on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, but also the story of Afrikaner men tortured emotionally and physically by a monstrous British tyrant during the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902, as well as the story of a British woman who redeems herself through the horrors she witnesses. These three narratives are neatly woven into a tapestry of suspense and drama, where the humanity of tortured souls is tested and the evil of dark souls are confronted. Boer prisoners-of-war are subjected to the most brutal violence and degrading treatment. They are constantly humiliated by the British commander and his soldiers in an effort to break them down emotionally, and to physically cripple them. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read more/ Read interviews with writer-director Sean Else and producer Henk Pretorius
THE REVENANT A heart wrenching story of survival, transformation and ultimate redemption. Last year Alejandro G. Iñárritu blew our minds with Birdman. Your heart will bleed watching his latest masterwork, The Revenant, a spiritual odyssey into humanity and a man’s soul, and a brutal story of survival that will drain everything out of you emotionally. With Birdman, Iñárritu took us on an extreme physical excursion into the mindscape of an impassioned actor, now our senses implode with this heart wrenching story of survival, transformation and ultimate redemption on the American frontier in the 1800s. ‘’Revenge is in God’s hands,” says legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man coming into touch with his own mortality on his expedition into the uncharted wilderness, where he becomes ‘The Revenant’ who undertakes a 200-mile odyssey through the vast and untamed West on the trail of the man who betrayed him. What begins as a relentless quest for revenge becomes a heroic saga against all odds towards home and redemption. If you are looking for a film that showcases the art of filmmaking and the power of storytelling, commanding performances and an emotional experience that will live in your heart forever, The Revenant offers a meaningful and rewarding cinematic tour de force. It is films like The Revenant that make one fully appreciate the power of film, and its ability to uplift the human spirit, shining a hopeful light on humanity during its darkest hour. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review / Read more about the film
THE ROAD WITHIN This drama revolves around three young adults – all with various mental illnesses – in a centre for experimental treatment. It’s a film that pulls no punches in addressing a variety of serious illnesses (Tourette’s syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa), while remaining respectful. The film contains genuine poignancy in parts and a good dose of humour to lighten the deep subject matter. If you enjoyed films such as Girl Interrupted (1999), Garden State (2004) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – and you’re able to forgive this film its adolescent naiveté – then you’ll probably enjoy this Dramedy. The film does not come close to the aforementioned films (in my humble opinion), but a 20-something audience is likely to connect to the message of self-acceptance.The story deals with the universal truth that being human inevitably means struggling with various issues – be it mental illness, anger or loss. Be warned – certain scenes seem a little heavy handed and one or two moments were too saccharinely sweet (for my taste anyway). Nevertheless, the ending to this ‘feel good film’ was unexpected and hit the right note, proving that with a little care and respect for audience intelligence, the sweet spot of a movie is sometimes right at the end, after navigating the pothole-covered road. The film contained genuine poignancy in parts and a good dose of humour. If you enjoyed films such as Girl Interrupted (1999), Garden State (2004) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – and you’re able to forgive this film its adolescent naiveté – then you’ll probably enjoy this Dramedy. The film does not come close to the aforementioned films (in my humble opinion), but a 20-something audience may connect to the message of self-acceptance. Reviewed by Farren Classe. Read more about the film.
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY The Man Who Knew Infinity is quite a typical “based on a true story” biographical film, sometimes veering on formulaic. It is effective at making the audience empathise with the frustrations of the main character, Srinivasa Ramanujan’s encounters with racism and prejudice in England during World War I and at Cambridge. The audience also empathises with his wife’s helplessness in her confrontational relationship with his deceitful mother. Jeremy Irons is good as Ramanujan’s mentor/later partner at Cambridge, but much of the other cast exist to be antagonists and are quite one dimensional. It’s odd that so much promotional emphasis was placed on renowned mathematicians being consulted on the film as the mathematical formulas themselves are never important to the plot, only the fact that Ramanujan is able to conceive of them. Those who enjoy biopics about gifted mathematicians overcoming adversity should get a kick out of it; think The Theory of Everything, A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting and, to some extent, The Imitation Game. Reviewed by Farren Classe. Read more about the film.
TRUTH For me, there’s nothing better than a film about journalistic integrity and the quest for the truth. Cate Blanchett is truly remarkable in this film as Mary Mapes, and Redford masters CBS anchor Dan Rather’s inflections and manner. Highlighting the controversy surrounding the ‘Killian documents’ (which threatened to damage US President George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign), the film is taught with anticipation and suspense. If you enjoyed films such as All The Presidents Men, Spotlight, and The China Syndrome, this one is not to be missed! Reviewed by Farren Classe. Read more about the film.
SPECTRE Watching Spectre, the 24th Bond film, I could not help thinking about a quote from William Friedkin’s Boys In The Band, where a gay man admires a striking young stud and says: “How can his beauty ever compare with my soul?’’ That pretty much sums up Spectre: It is gorgeous to look at contextually, but is has no emotional core. Although the villain (Christoph Waltz) in Spectre makes a profound statement like “A man lives inside his head. And that’s where the seed of his soul is,’’ it is merely words without meaning. And even when Bond invites Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) over to hand him a parcel containing the remains of Skyfall, and he reflects on M’s demise, a potentially meaningful scene dissolves into shoddy sexual conquest. In Spectre, a cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, and as Bond ventures towards the heart of Spectre, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, and is encounters the daughter of an assassin who understands Bond in a way most others cannot. With eye-candy, multi-million dollar spectacles like Spectre, commercial cinetainment is in fast gear with bigger-than-ever-seen-before explosions and kinetic wizardry. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review / Read more about the film
THE WALK A definitive dream is magnificently celebrated in The Walk, a film that showcases the craft and art of filmmaking at its finest.Although it’s a story we all treasure from the Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, through the eyes of visionary filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, it’s a new and fresh incarnation that takes us to New York of 1974, where Philippe Petit, an consummate French aerialist, surprised the city of New York with a high-wire walk between the towers of the almost-completed and partially occupied World Trade Center. In the film Petit, guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy (another superb performance from Ben Kingsley), is aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, who overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan.Robert Zemeckis, the master director of such marvels as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future, Polar Express and Flight, again uses cutting edge technology in the service of an emotional, character-driven story. It’s a walk you will never forget and culminates in a tense and emotional experience. When Petit (brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), it was an overwhelming and tearful moment. Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen. Read full review. Read more about the film.
WARCRAFT Making a film such as Warcraft is a bit of a thankless task in the sense that, while up to 12 million gamers subscribe to the videogame World of Warcraft at any given time, the characters, settings and backstory are far less ubiquitous than DC/Marvel superheroes and Star Wars. As a result, a film adaption has to balance the fine line between catering to people unfamiliar with the property while appeasing fans who are intimately acquainted with every minute detail. Warcraft the film aims firmly at the former by simplifying the complex story underlying the games to make it accessible, while working on the assumption that fans will be happy just to get a movie. The film does at least often look and feel like Warcraft. The idiosyncratic proportions of the fantasy characters, the design of the armour and the look of the structures in the orc encampments are straight out of the games. There are a few Easter eggs peppered throughout (such as the ‘Polymorph’ spell which turns an enemy into a sheep) and nods to things which become important later in the games’ storyline. The filmmakers have given a concerted effort to subvert a few fantasy tropes; there are a number of strong female characters and the orcs are presented as an empathetic race rather than solely as the bloodthirsty savages of Tolkein’s stories. Truth be told, the CGI characters are all far more likeable than the hugely uncharismatic human characters (who either come across as sleepwalking or as a deer-in-headlights). Ultimately, Warcraft doesn’t really have much to offer fans or the general public besides a rather average fantasy yarn and some very good CGI shots. A lot of this comes down to the restrictions of the 2 hour movie format. Something like Warcraft really needs to be reworked as a series to be given enough space to establish the world, characters and narrative. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT The film struggles with trying to balance the comedy and drama elements and also lacks the kind of pointed critique that makes the best films of the war dramedy genre successful. It doesn’t really have much to say about the nature of US media coverage or US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan except that they continue long after audiences are bored of hearing about them. It ultimately ends up being more of a “personal growth” vehicle for Tina Fey. It’s not a bad film and Fey and Martin Freeman are effective and sympathetic leads. Alfred Molina as an Afghan politician doesn’t work (he’s so obviously not of Islamic descent) and that role should probably have been re-cast. Someone like Borat’s Ken Davitian would have been far better at conveying the character. The few scenes with tension are done very well and if there was a greater focus on what was being covered, the film may have been more gripping and captivating. People who like Tina Fey will enjoy the opportunity to see her flex her dramatic muscles. Also people who enjoy films that look at the relationship between media coverage and war: The Bang Bang Club, The Hunting Party, The Men Who Stare at Goats. Even A Perfect Day in that it looks at the relationship between US intervention and the local population who are not involved in the fighting. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE Widely regarded as one of the stronger superhero franchises, X-Men: Apocalypse has the unenviable task of following X-Men: Days of Future Past which was exceptional and a genre classic. Having wrapped most of the original X-Men cast’s tenure in the previous film, they are back to fully focussing on the younger, sexier versions of the characters. The trouble is that keeping the films set in the past means that ‘prequelitis’ sets in and there is no real threat to the majority of the principal characters. Unlike First Class and Days of Future Past, there is no engagement with the actual political events of the time (the Cuban Missile Crisis and Nixon Presidency in their respective cases) and the 1980s setting becomes a bit stifling this time around. Apocalypse – who should be utterly terrifying and an interesting big bad in relation to the underlying themes of the series- is severely neutered in his incarnation here and a bit clichéd. James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence remain engaging but Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is becoming tiresome. He is unable to bring the same gravitas to the role that Ian McKellen did and the Charles Xavier / Erik Lehnsherr relationship is coasting a tad on the great work that McKellen and Patrick Stewart did in the first two X-Men movies. On a positive note, they do seem to be planning to develop Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey properly this time around, something that 2006’s The Last Stand botched royally. Apocalypse is still enjoyable, but is far less innovative and interesting than most of its predecessors, relying a little too-heavily on repeating past-highlights (the Quicksilver scenes for instance). Fans of the X-Men film franchise and superhero films in general will enjoy it. Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt. Read more about the film.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE If you’re a Marvel Comic connoisseur – or just a fan of marvelous big budget special effects – X-Men Apocalypse 3-D is a full throttle 144 minutes of absolute cinematic decadence. The opening sequence is chillingly tense, and right from the fabulous title sequence we know we’re in for a wild ride. This latest installment in the X-Men franchise from Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns) is set ten years since X-Men: Days of Future Past, in the year 1983. This makes for wonderful introductions to key X-Men personas while their mutant powers are un-checked and newly-discovered. The fact that we are in essence viewing the future leaders of the X-men before they even realize it adds a great layer to the film. All X-Men films have a super-villain, of course, but none have come close to the epitome of evil …enter the titular En Sabah Nur AKA Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac brings a solid and terrifying magnetism to this character). This dark force is the world’s original all-powerful mutant born in ancient Egypt, entombed with the help of his four horsemen – until now. Packed with goose bump inducing moments (yes, you will want to stand and cheer at some point in the film) X-men Apocalypse is a declaration of love for one group – and one group only – the true fans. One moment in particular is sure to delight the hardcore X-fan. Without giving too much away, watch out for the marvelous tie-in moment with Jean Grey in the bunker of Agent Striker’s Weapon X facility. There is also a stand-out scene at Professor Charles Xavier’s educational institute set to Annie Lennox and The Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) – one that will be talked about for a while.Sadly, as most fans know, it seems Hugh Jackman will be hanging up his Wolverine claws after the next Wolverine film. This week the Internet was ablaze with the rumour that Singer has pitched an idea for a female clone (X-23) of Wolverine for the upcoming X-Force movie (a paramilitary spin-off of the X-men franchise). I guess we’ll need to wait and see, so watch this space folks; it’s going to be interesting to say the least. Lastly, for the franchise fanatic, stay seated till the very end of the X-men Apocalypse credits for an extra surprise. You’re welcome. Reviewed by Farren Classe.Read more about the film.
Copyright © 2016 The Writing Studio