This Beautiful Fantastic  Is A Great Film To Escape Into

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (15/ 06/17)

The emotional truth British writer-director Sam Aboud forms with his utterly charming contemporary fairy tale This Beautiful Fantastic tells the alluring story of the unlikely bond between a reclusive, agoraphobic young woman and a cantankerous old widower. Read interview with Simon Aboud.

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It’s a sentimental and life-affirming film about hopeful dreams, lost love and newfound friendships, showing how rewarding it is escape from the prisons of privacy we create for ourselves, and welcome other people into our lives to awaken our humanity.

Jessica Brown Findlay is superb as the reclusive Bella who dreams of being a children’s book author, with Tom Wilkinson in top form as her wealthy landlord and amazing horticulturalist Alfie, with great support from Andrew Scott as a single father and ‘housekeeper/ cook’, and Jeremy Irvine as an impassioned inventor of mechanical toys.

At the heart of this story lies Bella’s neglected garden, and when she is forced to bring the garden back to life or face eviction, a magical friendship blossoms as Alfie teaches Bella about life and love through the metaphor of gardening and Bella reminds Alfie of what it feels like to be alive.

Ultimately, Aboud’s wonderful script is not simply a romantic story of blossoming love and a coming-of-age comedy, but a deceptively layered narrative that reveals the touching story of a man making his way to death and a young woman struggling to make sense of life who find each other and form an unlikely friendship.

This Beautiful Fantastic is a great film to escape into and make sense of the unnecessary complications that cause us to withdraw from life, instead of living it to the fullest and making the most of what is within our reach.

If there’s one thing this film will achieve, is for you to step out into your garden and bring it to life. And even if you don’t have a garden, you will create one no matter where you live, as The Beautiful Fantastic reminds us of the connection we should have to nature and how important it is to celebrate its magic.

Wonder Woman: DC finally hits a home run

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (07/06/17)

The DC Extended Universe has not had an easy ride. The three previous entries – Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad – all suffered critical lashings for their messy plots, morose demeanour and patchy edits. Perhaps unexpectedly for fans and studio execs alike, after Batman and Superman dropped the ball, it now falls on Wonder Woman to save the day both in her debut solo outing and in the DCEU itself.

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The good news is that Wonder Woman is more than up to the task! Clearly, it was no fluke that Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman stole the show in the few scenes which featured her in Dawn of Justice, and she’s every bit as magnetic and show-stopping here. She effortlessly captures the character’s sheer strength, determination and unwavering belief in the fundamental good of humanity, while counterpoising these with just enough fish out of water naiveté and uncertainty to make for a thoroughly engrossing lead.  It is the small moments that make her relatable and thoroughly believable in the role and she owns it.

Under the assured direction of Patty Jenkins (who directed Charlize Theron to Oscar glory in 2003’s Monster) the film is easily one of the most enjoyable comic book films in recent memory. It is also a resounding triumph in the face of ridiculous Hollywood logic that would seek to downplay the viability of female-centric superhero films.

This is surely a residual hangover from the failure of Elektra and Catwoman over a decade ago, which is hugely unfair given what godawful hack jobs they were. Wonder Woman marks the first time that a female-fronted superhero film has seriously been attempted, and it shines.

Broadly speaking, it doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel or aim to deconstruct the genre. It follows the standard Superhero origin movie arc quite closely and, in the hands of a less competent team, would be easily forgettable. What makes all the difference is how exceptionally well everything is handled. The script is sharp, concise and astutely avoids the inconsistencies that arose from severely over-complicating Dawn of Justice.

It is a story with something to say for itself about courage, love, acceptance and choices of morality. It’s aware of the significance of its characters and themes, and their growth is clearly motivated and supported throughout the story. Particularly effective are the subtle ways in which the supporting characters learn to accept themselves through their interactions with Diana, while simultaneously helping to shape her understanding of the world of humanity in the process.  Chris Pine excels as WWI pilot Steve Trevor and the chemistry between him and Diana becomes a driving force of the film rather than a tacked-on obligatory romance.

The exhilarating action sequences also rely on a number of well-worn tropes like slow motion camera panning, but do so in a way that feels entirely fresh and exciting.  The camera work is exceptional and is noticeably distinct from generic fight cinematography, making great use of unusual angles and closer shots. Even at its most intense, things are never so hectic that you lose track of what’s going on and where you should be looking. Every punch, kick and leap has impact.

Jenkins builds the intensity slowly, revealing Diana’s abilities progressively so that audiences learn along with the characters. Whether charging into a hail of bullets in no man’s land, bursting through walls, and hurling tanks you’re invested in the character’s development and rooting for her all of the way.  Even when the film suffers its one major misstep and veers into flashy CGI lightning territory for the climax (which at this point needs to be outright banned in superhero films), it’s at least set against a backdrop of serious emotional catharsis.

Contributing greatly to Wonder Woman’s success (in genre terms at least) is how self-contained the whole thing feels. While we know that the Justice League team-up is due at the end of the year, there is nothing deferred to sequel resolution in the current film.  It sets out to tell a story and does just that. Ironically, the fact that it’s so satisfying leaves one wholeheartedly wishing to see more of Gadot in the role; far more than a post-credits hype nugget could ever muster.

Wonder Woman is a triumph of stunning visuals, engrossing characters and thrilling action sequences topped off with affecting emotional resonance.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s so enjoyable that the flaws largely fall by the wayside while watching it. As the accolades pour in, we can but hope that it will blow open the door for a wave of female-helmed and fronted blockbusters in the future; it is so blatantly a perspective that we need.

Darkly gothic prequel an uneven mix of xenomorph action and bloated pretension

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (27/05/17)

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant has its work cut out for it. While its predecessor Prometheus was initially intended as a standalone epic set in the Alienverse, it ultimately deferred a wealth of unanswered questions which the new sequel has to deal with. At the same time, the story is now firmly entrenched within the continuity of the Alien franchise and is thus beholden, at some point in the future, to segue into that seminal first story of the Nostromo.

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While Prometheus was visually stunning (and featured spectacular use of 3D to create depth inwards rather than trying to make things jump out) it ultimately made little sense. There were very few answers to the intriguing questions posed in the earlier scenes of the film, and far too many plotholes. Also, the characters were ridiculously dense and, almost without fail, would act in the exact opposite way to which they were specifically trained; to catastrophic effect. In a nutshell, the film was drop dead gorgeous, but severely lacking in grey matter and the capacity to deal with its lofty philosophical conundrums.

Alien: Covenant has a different set of strengths to Prometheus, but also retains many of its weaknesses. Once again, the plot is largely unsatisfying. The writers more or less admit defeat at being able to deal with the grandiose scope promised by Prometheus and what answers they do offer really don’t feel like adequate payoff for the 5 year wait.

The plot holes are back in full force. The turning point which sets the course for the direction of the story relies on such a spectacularly unlikely coincidence that it could only make sense if the Covenant was fitted with the Infinite Improbability Drive from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Without a hint of subtlety, characters actually declare things like “I’m going to wander off by myself into the woods to take a leak”. There is also an apparent homage to one of the most universally reviled aspects of Alien3’s story that is just as dissatisfactory here.

On the positive side, the film is again visually stunning, but in a very different way to its predecessor. Trading-in the gorgeous, expansive landscapes of the prior film, Covenant instead assumes a darkly Romantic, gothic tone that bears more than a few markers of screenwriter John Logan’s outstanding Showtime series Penny Dreadful. It’s the first time in quite a while that HR Giger’s seminal influence on the first film starts to poke it’s head out in spirit.

In many ways, Alien Covenant is carried by the outstanding performance of Katherine Waterston as terraforming expert Daniels “Dany” Branson. Waterston’s performance more than holds its own in a franchise defined by the looming figure of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Her presence is magnetic, balancing naivety, self-assurance, grief and determination, and Waterston effortlessly does more than her fair share of work to keep the audience invested.

Michael Fassbender’s dual turn as androids David (returning from Prometheus) and Walter (an updated model and part of the crew of the Covenant) serves as the symbol of the film’s stately self-importance and is effective in conveying two different riffs on the same character; even if he frequently veers on outright onanism. Surprisingly, Danny McBride is actually excellent as Tennessee Faris, the cowboy-hat sporting chief pilot of the Covenant. For the most part, the rest of the colonists form an extension of the idiocy of Prometheus’s crew and Weyland-Yutani would do well to start screening their crews for common sense before sending them off on interplanetary colonization missions.

Another area where the film shines is that it manages to make some of the well-worn tropes of the Alien life-cycle fresh and horrifying again. It’s been a while since a chestburster had the kind of impact of the legendary scene with John Hurt in the 1979 Alien film. While the first burst is always the deepest, the SFX team do at least manage to bring back some of that sense of visceral horror. The creature effects are fantastic and the new variation on the xenomorph is utterly chilling. There are a few moments which perfectly capture the biomechanical look and feel of the original.

Ultimately, How one feels about Alien: Covenant as a whole really depends on what you think about the direction that the franchise is being taken by Scott. If you’re of the school that finds the ambiguity of the universe and lack of defined origin stories to be a part of what makes the first two Alien films so enjoyable,  then the explanations offered here are unlikely to spin things in a positive direction. If you’re willing to go with the pompous but grand thematic arc that is being built, you’ll probably find Covenant rewarding and occasionally insightful.

For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the former camp. There’s a fine line between exposition and revealing your tricks.  The ‘Nazis ate my sister’ backstory of Hannibal Rising did nothing but detract from the sublime inexplicable terror of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, and I find this new Alien backstory to be shifting the dynamics in a similar direction.  As it stands in the franchise, Alien: Covenant is in the same category as Alien3 and Alien Resurrection:  chockfull of big ideas and occasionally exhilarating xenomorph action, but just as frequently cringey, misguided and silly. Far from the worst entry in the series, it is steered off course by its own hubris.

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King Arthur is a hyperactive, story-less mess

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (12/05/17)

If ever there was a concept that should have been a home run it’s Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Mix equal parts knightly lore, razor sharp humour and East End street smarts and you should have a fail safe recipe for success. And indeed the trailers suggested that this was one to be excited about, an exhilarating Knight’s Tale-esque reinvention of a beloved medieval yarn. Sadly however, rather than achieving full-fledged sword-pulling glory, Ritchie proves a false claim to the throne and only manages to wiggle the sword a bit.

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The first twenty minutes of the film comprises a patchy montage of Vortigern’s (Jude Law) insidious usurping of his brother – Arthur’s father – King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). There is an accompanying epic battle sequence including massive CGI war-elephants, evil mages and zero context whatsoever. It feels like watching a recap of a hypothetical previous instalment. The key point to take home is that Uther’s son is the only one who can wield the sword Excalibur (currently embedded in a rock) and end Vortigern’s reign. As such, he has been hidden from Vortigern as a peasant.

Relying on the fact that the audience is familiar with the basic points of the King Arthur legends, the story quickly moves to Londinium, where we watch young Arthur grow up in another montage sequence. Here we actually legitimately get something resembling Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur, where the signature template set by classics like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (rapid-fire dialogue, a million quips a minute, cheeky heists, schizoid continuity and plenty of cockney swag) is transposed on Arthurian legend. The next 45 minutes or so are hugely enjoyable as adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) and his lads find themselves at odds with the law and staging audacious escape plans.

The ultimate tragedy is that the film can’t keep this up. Far too soon, it resumes the ‘highlights package’ approach to editing, dropping the Ritchie-isms in favour of generic action fare. By the end, everything that was interesting and unique about this take has fallen away and you’re left with the kind of mediocre action mess we’ve seen many, many times before. Yes there are a few fun set pieces, but nothing that really hits the mark or warrants a recommendation.

What’s puzzling about the way that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword rushes through things is that rumour has it that Warner Bros. were hoping to score a six movie franchise out of it. If that’s the case, why edit the first installment like it’s a (poor) summary of at least 3 films? Why not take your time and build the world and its characters if there’s no particular hurry?

As it stands, King Arthur is an extremely flimsy base on which to build a franchise, a hyperactive, story-less mess that ultimately has nothing by way of compelling narrative or interesting characters to offer. More’s the tragedy given the 45 minutes or so that point to what it could have been.

A significant South African film – a vibrant visual experience with profound food for thought

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen  (5 May, 2017)

Johnny 1With Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie,  writer-director Christiaan Olwagen delivers a refreshing film that is as radical as the Voëlvry music movement that rebelled against the autocratic dictates of the apartheid government and changed the hearts of a generation of South Africans who wanted to break free from oppressive separatism.

 

 

A charming and inoffensive yarn

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (28/04/17)

In Going in Style, three senior citizens and life-long friends, Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Al (Alan Arkin), find themselves in a moment of crisis.  The company which they have given several decades of their lives nukes their pensions in a corporate restructuring scheme, threatening the trio with homelessness and an inability to receive much-needed medical attention if they are unable to find money within 30 days. In response, they hatch a scheme to rob the bank which is facilitating the company’s plan. A loose remake of 1979 film of the same name, Going in Style is not above trolling viewers who expect that story to follow the same direction as the original.

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The issue with Going in Style is that it is in fact rather lacking in style. It never taps into the energy or sets the mood required to make a compellingly audacious caper. Truth be told, it just doesn’t seem smart enough to pull its ambitions off. The film certainly means well and makes a valiant effort, but the whole thing has the overarching pace of a leisurely stroll which detracts from the down-to-the-minute tension which should pervade a daring heist story.

It’s certainly fun to watch the leads enjoy themselves, and the film’s treatment of aging is refreshing. Also to its credit, the story has some crucial and relevant points about growing inequality, neoliberalism, corrupt banking systems and the disregard of employees for profits, and these do go a fair way in generating empathy for the leads. Going in Style’s strength is definitely in the interactions between the main trio characters; with a special mention of Joe’s relationship with his granddaughter which is thoroughly endearing too. You believe that their actions are motivated by love and that is at least a welcome twist to the usual self-enrichment of heist films.

But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that things ultimately don’t quite adds up. There’s a scene involving a grocery store that muddles things tremendously and is very sloppily handled. Constraints are placed on the big heist to create tension and then largely ignored. There are a number of gaps in the plan. Most of the law enforcement and banking figures serve as cartoonish archetypes in order to retain a moral high ground for the main trio.

If you’re looking for a sly, exhilarating heist film, this probably isn’t the one.

If you enjoyed the dynamics of the pub reunion scene in The Sense of an Ending and wished that Jim Broadbent and co followed it up by attempting to rob a bank, you’ll probably find plenty to enjoy in Going in Style.

It’s a charming and inoffensive yarn that, while prone to plodding quite a bit, is elevated to ‘pretty good’ status by Freeman, Caine and Arkin’s performances.

Silence Is Golden

By Daniel Dercksen (21/04/17)

Rating: 5/5

It’s not easy to fully understand what Faith means, believing in your God, trusting that your moral compass is unshakable; devoting yourself to it with heart and soul, and having full confidence in your convictions.

With Martin Scorsese’s masterful and epic Silence, you embrace all of it from the opening when the imperious sounds of nature on a black screen falls silent, until it greets you at the end of a soul-shattering journey.

(L-R) Andrew Garfield as Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira in the film SILENCE by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films

(L-R) Andrew Garfield as Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira in Silence

Silence is a labour of consummate passion that tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who undertake a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing mentor in Japan at a time when feudal lords and ruling Samurai were determined to eradicate Christianity in their midst; Christians were persecuted and tortured, forced to apostatize, that is, renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death.

Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 award-winning novel, it faithfully examines the spiritual and religious question of God’s silence in the face of human suffering, with a brilliant screenplay by Scorsese and Jay Cocks.

Andrew Garfield delivers one of most powerful performances of his career as Father Rodrigues and will break your heart with his impassioned journey into the soul of a man whose belief is tested to the extreme. Equally brilliant is Adam Driver as Rodrigues’s fellow priest, and Liam Neeson adds authority as the all-important Father Ferreria.

Also unforgettable is Tadanobu Asano as the wily and treacherous Interpreter who walks a frightening path between devout Christian villagers and their Samurai tormentors.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto perfectly captures 17th century Japan, particularly the emotional landscape of the characters, allowing us to feel their anguish, desolation and torment, exquisitely contrasted by the lushness of the rural landscape, complimented by Dante Ferretti’s magnificent production and costume designs.  Editor Thelma Schoonmaker allows us to feel the heartbeat of the story as she captures the serenity of isolation as well as the severity of Mother Nature with storming seas and torrential downpour of rain.  Underscoring the tender emotional impact is the musical score by Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge.

Silence is a must-see and eye-opening odyssey into humanity that has never been more relevant than today, where people still contemplate faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition.

It is impossible to fully understand or explain the solitude of our souls, those moments when we take a journey into the essence of ourselves.

With Silence, Scorsese poignantly shows that it is those silent, meditative moments that shape our humanity and respective destinies, and how important it is to respect and revere the differences that cause conflict and torment.

It’s a film like Silence that showcases the transformative power of film, as well as the magical allure of the art of filmmaking at its best, and the craft of storytelling at its most powerful.

Silence is most definitely a rewarding and meaningful cinematic experience, and equally important for those who feel lost in their lives and need to be reminded of how fragile the human condition is when darkness descends.

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Ghost in the Shell: US Remake lacking a ghost in its shell

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (03/04/17)

When it comes to reviewing something like the long-awaited US live action take on Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell –  though officially it’s an adaption of the manga by Masamune Shirow which that film was based on – the inevitable pressing question is ‘Does it suck?’ The short answer is not nearly as much as it could have; although it’s not a masterpiece either. Rupert Sanders’s Americanised remake gets just enough things right that the parts where it drops the ball are decidedly frustrating.

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017.

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017.

The story mixes it up with the lore from the various films and animated series, sticking closely to the core plot of the 1995 film with a surprising amount injected from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. While these tweaks keep things fresh for long-time fans, I’m not convinced that the changes were for the better, especially with regards to the story’s themes. All of the major set pieces which have been carried across from Ghost ‘95 have changes which diminish their impact significantly, particularly the infamous ghost-hacking scene (which curiously is never referred to as such. Licencing maybe?)

While the film is rather attractive visually and goes to great lengths to create an immersive world, it lacks the sense of ‘lived in-ness’; that the original and films like Blade Runner nailed. Everything is a little too glossy and pristine. It often feels like walking through a Samsung Electronics store rather than the grime-tinged world of the anime original. To be frank, it could use a little more ghost in its shell. That being said, it is at least an ambitious and coherent cinematic world. The VFX team hit a number of home runs: the mechanical geishas are exquisite (and terrifying!) and the task of believably pulling-off Batou’s (Pilou Asbæk) augmented eyes in a live action context is no mean feat.

Where the film blatantly stumbles is in trying to deal with the philosophical issues of humanity, technology and mind/body dichotomies so effortlessly handled by the original. The filmmakers are out of their league here and awkwardly forcing characters to spout philosophical babble at random moments does not a profound film make. (Especially when you look at how Alex Garland did so much more with much less in the far superior Ex Machina.)

The remake was obviously met with a lot of white-washing controversy when Scarlett Johansson was cast in the lead as Major Mira Killian (originally Major Motoko Kusanagi); which is not such a black and white an issue, given that the character’s humanoid ‘shell’ is entirely artificial. Taken for what it is, Johansson does fine in the lead but only really has one standout moment of capturing the character’s central identity conflict. It’s not clear that Paramount’s logic that the film needed a recognisable Western name like Johansson for the film to be successful holds any water (the film has currently only made half of its $110 million budget back).Of the cast, Takeshi Kitano’s Chief Daisuke Aramaki is the only character to really pull off being legitimately ‘cool’, and is definitely a much needed highlight.

In a nutshell, it’s hard to argue for Ghost in the Shell 2017 as an essential watch. It hits enough of its marks that it can’t be dismissed outright, but it’s definitely not a substitute for the original either. If you’re a fan then you’re likely to flit between like and dislike the more you reflect on it. For first-timers, it’s accessible enough to enjoy, but unlikely to persuade you as to why the franchise enjoys such acclaimed cult status.

Gritty and Violent Jagveld

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (17/03/17)

While Afrikaans cinema is unquestionably synonymous with syrupy rom coms (the cinematic equivalent of sokkie treffers), there certainly seems to be a move into darker, genre territory if Byron Davis’s Jagveld and last year’s serial killer outing Die Onwaking are anything to go by. This movement is still finding its feet, and neither of the afore-mentioned films have quite managed to synthesise their cinematic influences into a homogeneous whole just yet. Or at least not to the same degree as Kalushi effortlessly managed recently. Nonetheless, Jagveld is certainly something very different for its cast, and it’s going to be tough not to picture these roles next time we see Leandie du Randt, Neels Van Jaarsveld and especially Edwin van der Walt pop up in something.

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Written by Deon Meyer (who is also the film’s producer), Jagveld tells the story of Emma le Roux (played by du Randt), a sweet, pacifist school teacher on her way to visiting her family on their farm in the Great Karoo. Along the way in the thick of the desert, le Roux accidently witnesses a clash between a police officer and a drug smuggling syndicate resulting in the officer’s death. Realising that Emma has seen everything, the syndicate – a nasty bunch lead by Van Jaarsveld’s Bosman and sporting names such as Baz, Boela and AJ – turn their attentions to hunting her down in order to snuff out the loose end. As it transpires, Emma may not be the easy target they were expecting.

Jagveld is as gritty and violent as one would expect and there are certainly some superbly crafted shots of grizzly action and glistening blood. Largely, it fits into a subgenre of revenge exploitation films which would include films like I Spit on Your Grave and, to an extent, The Last House on the Left.  At times, the film seems a tad uncritical in its embracing of these tropes and is occasionally extremely uncomfortable (rape and attempted rape scenes always are). In this respect, it’s curious to see who the sponsors are that made the film happen.

There’s an important distinction between self-awareness and self-consciousness, and Jagveld often flits between them a little too sporadically. The tone shifts quite a bit, being bleakly serious one second and striving for the nonchalant cool of Kill Bill the next (it must be mentioned that du Randt does a pretty great Uma Thurman). The conclusion’s sudden veer into absurdity pushes these tonal jumps a little too far. If Jagveld had fully committed to a ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ approach to genre critique it would have been one thing, but it was jarring to see the characters in question act so blatantly against their own self-interest in order to set up a standoff action sequence.

If you ignore the massive plot-holes and hugely questionable morality, Jagveld is a well shot, atmospheric and occasionally exhilarating revenge thriller, albeit one which you’ve seen many times before. It’s no better or worse than the majority of its Hollywood counterparts and if nothing else, the marketing team deserve a huge pat on the back for getting targeted South African film promotion right. Here’s hoping for more South African genre cinema.

Miss Sloane will seduce your sensibility

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (16/03/17)

If you are looking for a first-rate political thriller with bite that is savvy and shrewd, Miss Sloane will seduce your senses and twist your perception.

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We are fed politics on a daily basis through television, print and social media and gossip, and are awestruck by the power it has, and intrigued by the back-stabbing, corruption and mendacity that feed this beast.

Miss Sloane takes us on an intimate and invigorating journey into the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, with Jessica Chastain in the title role of the most sought-after and formidable lobbyist in D.C.

Known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win. But when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds that winning may come at too high a price.

The crafty narrative by former lawyer Jonathan Perera marks the writer’s first screenplay sizzles under John Madden’s direction; Madden fully understands the world and lives of the characters and respectfully brings the story to life, perfectly capturing its enigmatic allure, cruel callousness , and dazzling power games.

If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s for Chastain’s captivating performance, as she skillfully walks the tightrope between a highly secretive personal life, and an even more guarded cutthroat career.

When she needs to satisfy her sexual urges, we meet a gloomy and lonesome woman who is fragile and vulnerable, when she faces her shrewd adversaries and conniving rivals, Sloane is a cold and calculated killing machine, a ferocious predator who pushes legal and ethical boundaries to ensure the passage of a controversial law.

It is through her eyes that we pull back the curtain on the secretive and powerful lobbying industry, revealing how Capitol Hill games are played — and won (or lost).

Sam Waterston is excellent as the head of an old-school lobbying firm, allowing Miss Sloane to do whatever it takes for her clients — even if that means bending the rules.

But when the head of the powerful gun lobby calls on her to help convince women to oppose a bill that will impose new regulations on the sale of firearms, she turns him down flat and instead joins a scrappy boutique firm representing the backers of the law.

Alongside the firm’s CEO (Mark Strong) and a group of young up-and-comers, Miss Sloane schemes, manoeuvres and manipulates her way to what could be a stunning victory, but her zeal for winning threatens both her career and the people she cares about.

The film is at its most powerful when Sloane is severely compromised, vulnerable and under investigation by the Senate, and meets her match in the form of Senator Sperling, a long-serving Democratic legislator who chairs the Senate committee investigating Miss Sloane, featuring a brilliant performance by John Lithgow.

Miss Sloane is a powerful character driven narrative that showcases some other great acting talent: Mark Strong is ruthless as Sloane’s new boss, the brilliant CEO of a boutique DC lobbying outfit who fights hard to win for his clients, but never crosses the line, legally or ethically; Gugu Mbatha-Raw is riveting as a poised, well-informed associate lobbyist who becomes Sloane’s new protégée and for whom gun safety is a major issue; Alison Pill is perfectly cast as a junior associate who turns against Sloane; and Jake Lacey impresses in his role of a male escort who develops an unusual connection with Sloane.

Miss Sloane is one of those rare films that cunningly manipulates its audience just as a master lobbyist can, and when a vicious twist is ultimately revealed, we fully understand how politics work, and awaken to realise that the art of politics is the art of manipulating, where you cannot believe anything or trust anybody.

One thing you can absolutely trust is that Miss Sloane is a well-crafted film with top performances that provides first rate entertainment for discerning audiences seeking savvy viewing that leaves plenty food for thought.

Revenge is bittersweet in Nocturnal Animals

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (10/03/17)

Writer-director Tom Ford spins his magic in the provocative mind bender Nocturnal Animals, a captivating narrative of a story-within-a story where two different worlds, and disparate lives collide head-on, where nothing seems to be what it is, and everything becomes twisted.

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Ford adapted Austin Wright’s 1993 book Tony and Susan, telling the intriguing story of one woman caught between her past and her present, while she consumes and is consumed by a story in the here and now.

Amy Adams is ideally cast as a cold and calculated woman whose world is painted in money. When she leaves a passionate but poor young writer for greener pastures, she soon discovers that money cannot buy love and happiness. When the writer re-enters her life in the form of a book he wrote and dedicated to her, she reluctantly reads it and falls in love with the man she thought she knew.

In the novel a man tragically loses his wife and daughter to lustful psychopaths, and seeks to solve the mystery. As we delve deeper into the mystery, we also dig deeper into the fragile disposition of a lonely woman .

Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational, delivering another powerful performance in the dual role of a young, impassioned writer, and his fervent fictional alter-ego who suffers an equally devastating loss.

Love spurting from an imagined scenario in Nocturnal Animals is more lethal than the real world, it is this potent combination of both extremes that strikes a mean blow and leaves lovers battle-scarred.

Ford skillfully manipulates our emotions through the severe actions of the characters in both narratives, we experience their agony and ecstasy, and live our own truth through their respective destinies.

Ford’s ‘’cautionary tale about coming to terms with the choices that we make as we move through life and of the consequences that our decisions may have’’, is relevant in our increasingly disposable culture where everything including our relationships can be so easily tossed away.

Ford is a great observer, his direction is never intrusive, he allows the stories to speak for themselves, and the actors to spontaneously breathe life into their characters.

Sometimes we hurt those we love the most, and with Nocturnal Animals, the cruel intentions of a scorned lover results in ultimate revenge.

Nocturnal Animals shows us how easy it is to hurt someone we love without even seeing them, probing their intimate thoughts and seducing their fragile emotions, abusing them when they are at their most vulnerable, then twisting the fantasy of love and awe into a warped and hurtful reality.

Although the hurt inflicted in the fictional reality of Ford’s duel-tale, it is the torment in the real-life story that cuts the deepest.

Yes, love hurts in Nocturnal Animals, but Ford also shows us the healing power of love, when love is real, and not corrupted by pretentious fabrication.

As Ford states: ‘’This is a story of loyalty, dedication and of love. It is a story of the isolation that we all feel, and of the importance of valuing the personal connections in life that sustain us.’’

Nocturnal Lives will most definitely alert your senses when love comes knocking on your door, knowing that love is not a toy, but a force to be reckoned with.

If you are looking for discerning entertainment with bite, filled with suspense, intrigue and mystery, Nocturnal Animals will definitely not disappoint.

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The Grotesque Fantasy Of Hero Worship

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (08/03/17)

In a world obsessed with hero worship, where we adulate glory and eminence, and forget about the person behind the idol, Ang Lee gives us a refreshing satirical view of what it takes to be trapped between being a hero and a person with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

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During a time where American patriotism is rebooted and the mighty dollar rules, and the War in Iraq has become a stale memory,  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a socially relevant film that shows how revered hero’s – on the sports field, music world,  cheer leaders, or in battle during war – become adulated puppets on a string.

When Billy Lynn receives a medal for bravery for saving his platoon leader and instinctively killing the enemy during a one-on-one skirmish in Iraq, the medal blinds those who worship him, and frightens the people in his life who become outsiders in his life.

Lee brilliantly contrasts four different points of view during Lynn’s walk to fame during a Victory Tour, a young man who is passionate about being a soldier and being ‘loved’ for who he is and what he is willing to do to save his fellow Bravo Squad brothers;  a soldier who fails to understand the blind worship and gets caught up in the glory of fabricated fame and becoming a trophy;  a brother and a son who becomes an outsider to his family; and a young man who falls in love with another trophy (a cheerleader played by Makenzie Leigh) .

These different viewpoints inject the narrative with tension and skilfully draw us into an intimate connection with the character and how he relates to the different situations.

The film reminds strongly of Milos Forman’s Hair, who equally ridiculed the essence of war and the fate of young men destined to serve for glory, and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, where the soldier almost becomes a clown trapped in a war of horror.

Lee’s visual sensibility astounds. After working on Life of Pi (2012), Lee wanted to up his use of technology in film-making, especially in terms of frame rate, since he thought pursuing a higher frame would help him find answers. For Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Lee used an unprecedented shooting and projection frame rate of 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K HD resolution, which Lee terms the “whole shebang”.

It marks is the first feature film ever to be shot in such a high frame rate, over twice the previous record (Peter Jackson’s 2012 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, shot at 48 fps) and five times the standard speed of 24 fps

Lee undertook such a bold step after reading Ben Fountain’s novel, since he wanted the film to be an “immersive” and “realistic” experience of the reality and emotional journey of soldiers.

British actor Joe Alwyn shines radiantly as Billy Lynn, brilliantly capturing the heartache, fear and elation of a young man who becomes of age during his valour.

The reality and fantasy of war clash head on in the film during the super spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, where the glory of being a war hero outshines the reality of what really happened to the squad.

A blood stained military uniform tarnished during battle becomes a costume during a grotesque live stage broadcast to millions of TV viewers, where soldiers are forced to entertain, just as they are trained to follow the harsh rules of war.

War has become mass entertainment in a zillion dollar industry, a frivolous amusement to quench the thirst of bloodthirsty worshipers who have become bored with their video games.

It shows that war is definitely not an entertaining and amusing spectacle, and that the tragedy and horror that befalls its victims can never compete with the fantasy of war ruthlessly staged by oblivious worshipers.

If there’s one scene you will always remember from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, it’s the touching ending, where Billy Lynn bravely confronts the motive that inspires heroism and redeems his fear.

Jackie – a commanding and introspective journey

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (03/03/17)

Film allows us the unique opportunity to share the intimate mindscape of iconic legends, and with Jackie, screenwriter and journalist Noah Oppenheim, probes the most private thoughts of Jacqueline Kennedy, one of the most famed, admired and envied figures in the world.

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Oppenheim’s conscientious screenplay, masterfully envisioned with gentle sensibility by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, and brought to life with Natalie Portman’s commanding performance, unveils what we think we know, and reveals a flawless portrait of woman who was trapped in a web of mendacity when she was at her  most vulnerable shortly after John. F Kennedy’s assassination.

Portman never attempts to mimic or impersonate Jackie, but embodies the character physically and emotionally, with fervent passion and complete understanding; the emotional truth of her Oscar-worthy performance is heart-breaking, to such an extent that you want to reach out and hold her in your arms, comforting her desperate outcry.

The ultimate goal of film is allowing us to feel.

Jackie most definitely affords us a wonderful opportunity to share the path the characters walk, and experience their emotional state. When you leave the film it is as if you are walking away from Jackie’s private residence and waving goodbye to a trusted friend.

Billy Crudup is equally brilliant as the journalist who probes the vulnerable disposition of a woman whose fragile state of mind exposes the truth as she carefully manipulates her revelations.

As always, Peter Sarsgaard is in top form as Jackie’s equally  shattered brother-in-law who was also the Attorney General of the United States,  Robert F. Kennedy — an icon in his own right, who would be assassinated  while running for President in 1968.

John Hurt delivers a memorable performance as Jackie’s priest, who really sees Jackie be herself, her most confessional self, and wrestle with why God would ever create this amount of pain.

If there’s one aspect of the film that really hits home, it’s the gut-wrenching moments Jackie shared with Kennedy when he collapsed in her lap after his assassination; action is character, and what Jackie does shows her integrity and allows us to share her pain and tragic loss.

The authenticity of Larrain’s fictional reality is mind-blowing; you will take a step into the past and relive the shocking truth of a story that is as relevant today as when it hit the headlines in 1963.

It shows the strength of a woman who had to face the world with pride and dignity when she was stripped of her status and lost a great love in her life.

If you enjoyed a film like The Iron Lady, that transcends the traditional biopic-genre, and brings to life a refreshing new interpretation, then you will enjoy Jackie. Although it is set against the world of politics in the 60s, it is not at all a political film, but simply the story of a woman whose love of a man and family was destroyed by malevolent powers beyond her control.

It poignantly shows the face of humanity at its most vulnerable, and the importance of never allowing the past to become a jaded memory, but something we should always carry in our hearts and treasure with utmost respect and dignity.

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As a commentary on nostalgia, T2 is completely on point

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt (24/02/17)

Trainspotting 2 is very much like a 20 year high school reunion in that it relies on a nostalgic desire to reconnect with the past and one leaves it unsure as to whether or not it was a particularly good idea to do so.

It’s not that the film is bad, it definitely isn’t. It’s beautifully shot and the fully reunited cast still very much own the iconic roles that more or less launched their careers. By the same token, there is something crushingly depressing about how little the characters have grown over the past two decades. This is certainly intentional and a fundamental part of the film’s conceit, but it makes for some pretty bleak watching.

 T2 moves away from the biting social commentary of the original, which is a huge pity as current Scottish views on independence and the post-Brexit world could have made for fertile ground indeed.

When the plot does veer in that direction (a ridiculous scene involving a European development fund scheme and an improvised music number called “There Were No More Catholics Left!” for instance) it tends to be far too incredulous to really make a statement. The inevitable update to the “Choose Life” monologue doesn’t really hit the mark either.

T2 instead focuses on being a character piece, the youthful idealism of the original replaced with the crushing regret of 20 subsequent years of wasted lives. The entire gang have returned and have taken to calling each other by their first names (which is unexpectedly jarring to say the least!) and there is certainly a pleasure in seeing them together once more.

T2 provides an answer to the questions posed by the end of the original and, in emphasising how entrenched in their own self-destructive cycles the characters are, it is a rather depressing and hopeless resolution.

The film goes for an ironic take on nostalgia, with Jonny Lee Miller’s Simon (Sick Boy) telling Ewan McGregor’s Renton at one point: “Nostalgia: that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth.” This is as much addressed to the audience as McGregor’s character and being meta doesn’t change the fact that the film methodically revisits all the major locations and events of the first film, right down to awkwardly forced cameos.

The same is true of the soundtrack, which starts off trying to be as iconic as the original, and when nothing quite sticks, it falls back on the safety net of Underworld’s  Born Slippy.

When it comes down to it, there is really only one standout scene (involving a chance encounter in a toilet stall) that ever truly recaptures the unhinged energy of the original and the feeling in the cinema noticeably shifted for those 5 minutes. It’s a fantastic, memorable moment that really brought home the fact that the rest of the film wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as one might hope.

As a commentary on nostalgia, T2 is completely on point: the relapse will never recapture the fond memories of an earlier time because life goes on whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.Put into practice as a cinematic experience, this translates into a rather bleak portrait that leaves viewers in limbo; not disappointed but not elated either.

They do at least find the perfect way to sum up the new film’s sentiments in the closing scene.

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.

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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.

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TIMTim 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.

 

 

RINGSRINGS 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. 

Split4SPLIT 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-oneROGUE 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

tom-hanks-inferno-2016INFERNO 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-rosamund-pike-and-david-oyelowoA 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

2-jk-rowling-fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-1FANTASTIC 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-strangeDR. 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-hourHATCHET 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 AccountantTHE 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-butchersSHEPHERDS 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

23-indignationINDIGNATION 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-2DEEPWATER 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-witchBLAIR 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-infiltratorTHE 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

Sausage partyTHE 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 2NOEM 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

louisdrax-1024x576THE 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

doras peace 2DORA’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 2NERVE 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 SQUADSUICIDE 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 MEDDLERTHE 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 2WONDER 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

Nobodys-Died-Laughing-Pieter-Dirk-UysNOBODY’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 JonesFREE 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 1FREE 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 LeibbrandtRead more about the film

Film reviews (Listed alphabetically)

10 Cloverfield LAne10 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 

Left to right: Pablo Schreiber plays Kris "Tanto" Paronto and David Denman plays Dave "Boon" Benton in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from Paramount Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment / Bay Films in theatres January 15, 2016.

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

BIGGER SPLASHA 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 

Abraham2ABRAHAM 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-hanksA 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 DayA 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-1461242986045_largeBASTILLE 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 DayBASTILLE 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-v-superman-fightBATMAN 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 Spies2BRIDGE 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-trailer-is-here-and-it-s-terrifying-781302THE 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.

The-Conjuring-2-645x370Noticeably ‘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 2CRIMSON 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-6-1200x678THE 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

Filmmaker Charlené Brouwer, who also delivers a commanding performance in the title role of Dis Ek, Anna

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-movieTHE 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

Kevin Spacey stars as Richard Nixon (left) and Michael Shannon stars as Elvis Presley (right) in Liza Johnson’s ELVIS & NIXON, an Amazon Studios / Bleecker Street release.

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-and-Nixon-1-1024x539ELVIS & 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. 

Endless RiverTHE 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 some3EVERYBODY 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 2FINDING 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-009GOOD 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

GHOSTBUSTERSGHOSTBUSTERS 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_03HARDCORE 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---hany-abu-assadTHE 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

IndependenceDay2_trailerINDEPENDENCE 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

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

LegendLEGEND 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. 

LifeLIFE 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

Man soos Pa 1‘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

Pawpaw poaster‘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 3KNIGHT 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 9MODDER 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

Revenant 3THE 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

TheRoadWithin-5THE 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-infinityTHE 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-cate-blanchettTRUTH 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-tsr-poster1-1280jpg-8ae50f_1280wSPECTRE 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-posterTHE 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-movie-trailer-orcWARCRAFT 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

WTFWHISKEY 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.

Apocalypse - Oscar Isaacs and Jennifer LawrenceX-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

Mutants and mayhem equals pure magic – whatever the year

Review by Farren Classe

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 is a film that is visually spectacular and epic on every level. So, Popcorn is a must.

Apocalypse - Oscar Isaacs and Jennifer Lawrence

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. A teenage Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, recently named one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch and set to star in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of the best-seller ‘Ready Player One‘) is escorted by his brother Alex to Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in New York to learn how to control his new found powers. A young Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner) is also a resident there, as protégé to Xavier / Professor X (James McAvoy) and is struggling to grasp her own powers. Beast / Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) is already teaching at the Institute, while Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver (Evan Peters) makes his way to Xavier’s school for his own reasons.

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 – Bryan Singer says “And now that we’ve altered the timeline (with 2014’s ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’), there are endless possibilities.” This is the darkest chapter so far, chillingly somber, but by no means dull. The tie-ins throughout are perfectly fitted to the time frame are fantastically intricate.

Into the deepest, darkest depths

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. Determined to cleanse the world, En Sabah Nur uses his malevolent powers to gather a new batch of horsemen – each representing a specific facet of the doomsday prophecy: Pestilence (Olivia Munn’s Psylocke), War (omitted to avoid spoiler), Famine (Ororo Munroe’s Storm), and Death (Ben Hardy’s Angel / Archangel). All this for our X-Men to deal with plus the added stress of a determined Agent Stryker (Josh Helman): hell-bent on developing a solution for the “mutant problem”.

Fear not, the favourites are also on hand – fellow X-men Mystique / Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is on the run and in hiding in Berlin since becoming the most wanted fugitive after the incident at the White House ten years prior.

There she finds a star struck Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Similar to Raven an incognito Magneto / Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) has been living in Poland and now has a family of his own.

Rose Byrne reprises her role as CIA Agent Moira McTaggert who fell in love with Xavier in X-Men: First Class and is investigating an ancient Egyptian Cult with ties to En Sabah Nur (unbeknownst to her). Interestingly, Xavier and McTaggert are essentially strangers in this film as he wiped her memory clear of the X-men and of their relationship at the end of First Class. This makes for welcome poignancy in such a high-octane movie.

X-tremely fulfilling

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 marvellous 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 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.

 

Apocalypse is still enjoyable, but is far less innovative and interesting than most of its predecessors

Reviewed by Tim Leibbrandt

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 focusing 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).

 

 

An emotional journey into the heart and soul of a war that divided a nation.

Review by Daniel Dercksen

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.

Modder en Bloed 3

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.

But, despite the untold torture they had to endure and the inhumane suffering they had to bear, their resistance and quest for vengeance, by whatever means, became stronger and stronger by the day.

So, when the gauntlet was thrown down, Willem and his fellow prisoners rose to the challenge, eventually leading to sweet revenge in the most important rugby match of their lives.

Under the thoughtful direction of writer-director Sean Else, the ensemble cast shines, particularly Sian Bam as a Boer warrior and family man, whose wife and only child were killed by British soldiers; Grant Swanby as a hot-headed Imperialist who is in charge of the English concentration camp and rages with a consuming hatred for the Afrikaner. It’s difficult to single out individual performances in such a strong cast, but it’s hard to ignore Marno van der Merwe as the cocky Boer, Altus Theart as a heroic stalwart, and Charlotte Salt as the British Imperialist.

The cast also features Bok van Blerk, Albert Maritz, Michael Richard, Edwin van der Walt, Jacques Bessenger, Altus Theart, Albert Pretorius and Deon Lotz. The British cast includes Charlotte Salt (Beowulf / The Tudors), Patrick Connolly (Inferno / Crushed), Nick Cornwall (Blood Loyal / Retribution) and Josh Myers (The Sweeney / Anti-Social).”

Read an interview with producer Henk Pretorius

Take A Nerve-Wrecking Trip Down 10 Cloverfield Lane – uncover dark secrets and unravel foreboding fear!

Review By Daniel Dercksen

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.

John Goodman as Howard; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle; and John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE; by Paramount

John Goodman as Howard; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle; and John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett in 10 Cloverfield; by Paramount Pictures

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.

A major factor that keeps you on the edge of your seat is stepping into the shoes of a young woman who finds herself in an underground bunker, and gradually uncovering the truth as the film progresses, and when all is revealed, the mystery remains.

It’s an intimate experience with terrific performances by John Goodman as the unnerving tyrant who rules his kingdom in the bunker, with John Gallagher Jr and Elizabeth Winstead as two strangers whose lives intertwine and are radically altered.

There are moments that you really feel at home in the bunker, without a care in the world, and times when you feel trapped and will do anything to escape its claustrophobic embrace.

Under Dan Trachtenberg’s imaginative direction, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a cinematic experience that absolutely delivers what it promises.  Trachtenberg allows us get lost in moments of nothingness, where everything comes to a halt and the outside world ceases to exist, and then, as if waking from a nightmare, we suddenly realise that this trip down the rabbit hole is not as cosy as it seems.

It’s a must-see thrill you will definitely want to experience again and one you should not know anything about before seeing it.

Don’t know anything until you do, really don’t, you will cheat yourself out of a great experience.  And even when you do, don’t spoil it for anyone else.

10 Cloverfield LAne

The Truth Behind 10 Cloverfield Lane

Everything about 10 Cloverfield Lane has been a complete surprise since it was announced:  its out-of-left-field announcement, its tightly-held plot secrets, and the fact that it’s the first time audiences have been able to see what director Dan Trachtenberg can do with a feature film.

The film forms part of what producer JJ Abrams refers to as ‘’sort of part of a Cloverfield anthology and part a larger idea’’, turning what is is now being called “the Cloververse” into a Twilight Zone-esque way of telling original stories.

Cloverfield was released in January of 2008 to similar mystery and buzz. (So much mystery that, for the longest time, people thought it was a movie about five robotic lions that combine to form the robot Voltron.) What we ended up getting was a movie about a group of people trying to escape the wrath of a monster or alien (it was never 100 percent explained) that was ravaging New York City.

Now, eight years later, here comes 10 Cloverfield Lane, a (as it’s being called) “spiritual sequel” that doesn’t have much to do with the original other than tone and secrecy. All anybody who hasn’t seen it yet knows is that three people are living in an underground bunker and something crazy will probably happen. about three people trapped in an underground bunker (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.)

It is not a literal Cloverfield 2, but there is some connection. It is the second film in the Cloverfield franchise and was developed from an “ultra low budget” spec script penned by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken, titled The Cellar, but under production by Bad Robot Productions, it was turned into a spiritual successor of the 2008 film Cloverfield, written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle.

Says Abrams: ‘’There are a number of connections, some obvious, some not. Things that I want people to sort of find on their own. Some are thematic, some are genre. But what defines a Cloverfield movie is part of a kind of bigger idea we had. This is sort of part anthology and part a larger idea. And the fun of having a movie that is connected to Cloverfield, but not a literal Cloverfield 2, which is of course what we would have called it had it been a literal sequel. It would have been a more obviously titled sequel. This is something that hopefully if we get a shot to continue this idea that we have, we can have a lot of fun with and come clearer what constitutes a Cloverfield movie.’’

Producer Lindsey Weber (who produced 10 Cloverfield Lane) introduced Trachtenberg to producer  JJ Abrams when he was searching for a director.

‘’What I was mostly impressed by was the clarity and strength of his vision for how he would do this movie,’’ says Abrams. ‘’He had a confidence that I think is apparent in the film. A strong sense of tension and focus and he did this really beautiful work with the actors, with the camera, with modulation. I think that the tension of the movie, it’s not just creepy and scary, but there’s a great sense of tension to the movie that I think is really all about what Dan brought to it. So I would credit Lindsey for finding him and credit Dan for what the movie is.’’

I think that because the premise of this movie is so strong, meaning it is so singular in point of view, I feel like one of the many cool things that Dan did was allowed the audience to vicariously experience moment to moment what Michelle is going through. And part because Mary Elizabeth Winstead is so good. And that is there’s no strategy behind that other than I think Dan telling a story very well.’’

The spirit of it, the genre of it, the heart of it, the fear factor, the comedy factor, the weirdness factor, there were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place that Cloverfield was born out of,” said Abrams

Trachtenberg has made impressions before, appearing as one of the hosts of The Totally Rad Show and directing commercials for the likes of Nike and Lexus, before really getting attention in 2011 with Portal: No Escape, a short film set in the world of the popular video game series. But after developing several projects, 10 Cloverfield Lane  that would prove the 34-year-old director was a polished and studied new voice in genre filmmaking.

(L-R) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dan Trachtenberg (director) and John Goodman on the set of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, by Paramount Pictures

(L-R) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dan Trachtenberg (director) and John Goodman on the set of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, by Paramount Pictures

At a press conference, Trachtenberg spoke about how they kept things so secret, the film’s big Steven Spielberg influences, and the larger plans for a potential expanded universe of Cloverfield films.

The one question that everyone else in the world — keeps asking is, how did you keep this thing secret?

It’s a really easy answer: we just didn’t talk about it. That really is the truth. And for someone like me who loves movies, and loves talking about movies — here I was, making my first movie! — it was absolutely excruciating to not be able to talk about it with my friends. But at the same time, I think it’s going to be so much more rewarding for them and for everyone to see the movie and be surprised by it. And the movie is really filled with surprises. It was all carefully designed, and I’m excited that now people get to really see it as it was intended.

J.J. Abrams has said that this movie is a “blood relative” of the original Cloverfield. What does that actually mean?

Really, I think it’s taken on this meaning of being this signal to the audience that the movie is of a certain tone and certain genre, and really, that it’s a movie that is a play on genre. That first Cloverfield was a very unique take on a very familiar genre, and this movie is a different, but still unique, take on a familiar genre, and I think now the Cloverfield “thing” can really be this platform to tell really interesting and fun and original stories.

So thinking of Cloverfield almost like an umbrella brand, under which Bad Robot can reinvent certain kinds of genres?

I think so, yeah. It sort of plays on genre and things that are really scary, but still fun, and funny, and always character-oriented. And it’s in some ways part anthology, part something a little bit bigger, but only time will tell.

So much of this film seems to be about how expectations shape the way we perceive things around us — both for the characters and the audience. Michelle thinks Howard is crazy, then she finds out that things really are bad outside, and that changes everything. Then you flip things around again. With the surprise trailer and Cloverfield title, that same kind of expectation and subversion is happening with the marketing campaign, too. Was it all designed as part of a cohesive whole?

There’s been this really cool, conscious choice through all the marketing: there’s been no traditional trailer for the movie. All that we’ve been doling out are these really interesting teaser pieces. And I think not only does that preserve the surprises of the movie, but it also really celebrates anticipation, and I think it’s cool to see the marketing pieces evolve. At one point we only saw Mary see something outside that was scary, and then later we got a glimpse of what that thing might have been, and next we’re sort of hearing her describe a part of what she might be seeing outside. They’re all constantly evolving and shifting our expectations, just the way that the movie constantly shifts expectations.

The opening — a woman waking up alone in a concrete room — mirrors your short Portal: No Escape. Was that an intentional callback, and was that short part of how you got involved on this film?

They definitely saw that short, but since then I’d been developing other movies elsewhere, and been in and out of Bad Robot pitching them my own ideas, and talking about some other scripts that they had. Then when this one showed up, they thankfully thought of me for it, and I pitched them my take and they dug it. But I think that beyond the literal concept of “woman wakes up, doesn’t know who she is or how she got there” — which happens in both instances — I think there’s also this through-line in my Portal short and in this movie.

This movie is all told through [Michelle’s] POV. We never really see a scene that’s outside of her perspective, we only know what she knows, and it’s a unique experience in that the audience gets to put the pieces of the puzzle together at the same time the main character’s putting the pieces together, which really more firmly plants you in their shoes and makes the movie that much more experiential. And I think that’s a special kind of rewarding experience for an audience, one that that short showcased and one that this movie works on as well.

This film also feels like a throwback to some of the movies Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin produced back in the ‘80s. Some of J.J.’s films, like Super 8, definitely have that vibe, to the point where it almost seems like we’re in the middle of an Amblin renaissance. Were those movies an influence on you growing up?

I’m an Amblin kid through and through, and though this doesn’t quite qualify as an Amblin movie, Jaws is one of my favourite movies of all time. What I love about it, is that it’s all things. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious. When it’s scary, it’s terrifying. When there’s drama, it’s the most sincere stuff on screen. And when there’s adventure, it’s swashbuckle-y. And that’s something that Spielberg did so well — the family drama in Poltergeist and in Jaws, it was always so authentic. In Close Encounters, he had actors really speaking over each other and made those familial sequences so realistic in a way that movies didn’t always feel like then and certainly still don’t today. Combining that realism with the extraordinary was always so profound and awesome, and certainly something I wanted to maintain with this movie was having it feel authentic, and also super suspenseful and certainly extraordinary.

You can feel that, particularly in that extended dinner scene with Howard, Michelle, and Emmett. It feels like one of those Spielberg family scenes, undercut with a supremely messed up dynamic.

That is one of my favourite scenes in the movie, and even though it didn’t totally make its way in, we looked a lot at the dinner scene in Jaws, when they’re sharing a bottle of wine and it’s all told largely in one take. Which our scene certainly isn’t, but we looked at that, and some stuff in Empire of the Sun as well.

You mentioned Cloverfield being a larger platform, but the way this movie ends it could be The Terminator, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character heading off to fight whatever is out there. Is there a sequel idea in the back of your mind, or is this particular story more of a one-off?

I think both of those things are cool. I certainly geek out over what the next kind of movie she could be in would be like. But I also think it’s more bad-ass if that is all that you got, that is all that you saw, and there is something that feels complete about her story. Especially in an age where we have so many sequels and reboots, it’s kind of cool that it’s like “Nope, that’s just it.” But at the same time it would be super rad to make more. I think yes, like Ripley [from Alien] and Sarah Connor, Mary’s character could go on to do some really cool things.

You were on this movie before it was a Cloverfield movie. How did you find out this was happening?

Yeah, it was a spec [script] Bad Robot had acquired. Then Damien Chazelle came in to rewrite it to make it much more like the movie you see today. So, even when I got to it, it was something that already fit into the Cloververse.

So, at what moment was it changed to 10 Cloverfield Lane? Were you called into a meeting?

We were spitballing titles throughout the entire course of production and J.J. had an epiphany one day. Because we were trying to find a way for it all to be incorporated smoothly and for it to sound really cool on its own. And when he mentioned 10 Cloverfield Lane, it was so smart because not only does it incorporate the name in the title, it invokes Twilight Zone.

So, what’s that like? I could see that being exciting from a marketing standpoint, but also could see it being shocking to have this original thing you were working on morphed into an existing franchise?

I certainly felt all of the emotions you described. On the one hand, not thinking about what the expectations are is helpful – and there not being any expectations, or overselling and under delivering is an exciting thought, but there’s downfall to that, as well. And then having expectations that have to be met are also equally daunting. I was constantly having to work on the movie up until the bitter end, so there was never a point I was done with the movie and thinking about the marketing. The marketing team at Paramount has been doing an awesome job, but even while that’s been happening, I’ve still been working on the movie. And as you can imagine, that was my primary focus and a really stressful one. I knew that mattered more.

I know we can’t say anything about that third act…

Awesome. Awesome. I’m excited for people to be with the characters in such a pressure cooker, and having it erupt so fiercely is one of the more exciting parts of the movie for me.

In the first act, John Goodman’s Howard is trying to convince Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle that there’s been some sort of large-scale attack. That seems like a thin line to toe between tipping the audience if he’s telling the truth or not.

It is exactly as you say. There was a balance that we were always placing on the teeter totter; we were always placing more plates on one side, then take them off and put more plates on the other side and we finally struck the right chord. That’s why I was so stoked to get John Goodman, because I thought he could be kooky and weird and crazy, but also very convincing. That speech he gives about “building an ark after the flood’s already come,” that wasn’t in the original script and I wanted it to be there because I wanted to empathize with his point of view and think for a second, “Well, maybe he is right?”

You don’t wait the whole movie to give the audience the answer.

Right. But, on the one hand, there are so many threats in the movie, that even when you establish that, there’s a new one there. But, even still, I found people questioning the veracity of what Michelle is told and hears until the very end. Well, not the very end, but very close to the end. For some reason, we are always wondering, “it could be this or that.” People really are pursuing the truth constantly that things are even taken at face value even where there is a face with a lot of value telling you something.

IMAX-approved spectacle doesn’t smokescreen fragmented narrative and morality issues

Review by Tim Leibbrandt

batman-v-superman-fight

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.

The box office of course has other ideas.

Well-conceived action sequences peppered among the mass destruction

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).

When it comes down to it then, the problem with BvS lies primarily with screenwriters David S. Goyer’s and Chris Terrio’s story. With a tighter rein on the narrative, a greater focus on the characters (and their motivations in particular) and a substantial trimming of the fat, the end result could have been far more satisfying.  It is ultimately maddening how unnecessary and avoidable its failings are when many of the tricky ingredients are served-up just fine. Lengthy dream sequences , bizarre but significant changes to characters’ personalities (which serve no narrative purpose) and the prioritising of setting up ‘what’s coming next’ instead of focusing on the story at hand are all superfluous pitfalls which drag the film down. This is the first cinematic meeting of two of the most iconic characters of all time after all, it should feel significant. Unfortunately the weight of their meeting is diminished by the urgent rush to pile things on, assuring everyone that a Justice League movie is on the way and that it will be thiiiiiis big.

BvS’s approach to trying to do too many things at once is to split the film into disconnected vignettes of interactions between characters. This keeps things moving over the film’s lengthy 150 minute running time, but also allows them to get away with leaving most of the ideas and themes largely undeveloped.  They don’t really commit to any kind of stance, and one of the film’s central conflicts is questionably resolved by a coincidence. This was a problem with 2013’s Man of Steel as well. In fact, the iterations of some of the Superman characters carried over from the previous film do a disservice to their MoS incarnations, in particular Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. (What on earth is she doing during the last 20 minutes of the film’s climax?)

The strong cast do the best they can with what they are given to work with. Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luther (basically a coked-up, evil doer reprisal of his Social Network character) is the most radical reinterpretation but lacked the intellectual menace that the ‘smartest man on earth’ should carry. Gal Gadot and the Ben Affleck dominate every scene which they appear in. What the audience takes away from this is that the inevitable standalone Batman and Wonder Woman films with Ben Affleck and Gadot respectively are likely to be far more interesting than BvS; particularly the latter which is being helmed by Monster director Patty Jenkins.

Batman

This draws attention to one of the fundamental issues with the current film. While Goyer and Terrio have no problem whipping up a distinctly different take on Batman to the previous film versions and basically have a blank slate to work with for Wonder Woman; they can’t seem to figure out what to do with Henry Cavill’s Superman. Cavill is a great Superman, but spends most of the movie looking either disappointed or angry and saving Lois Lane against odds so improbable they must have a telekinetic link. With the exception of a nifty line delivered by Neil deGrasse Tyson in a cameo as himself, the filmmakers fail to deliver on their promise of looking at what Superman might mean to the world as it exists today.  By the end, they’ve more or less just hit reset and left it to the writers of the forthcoming Justice League movie to figure out how to make Superman/Clark Kent work. At this point, that job will fall to Terrio again.

To be blunt, it may be time to get some input from a writer who has a fresh perspective on the character and in fact the tie-in comics which were published in the lead-up to BvS’s release achieved that far more effectively than the actual film did. Writers like Scott Snyder, J. Michael Straczynski and Grant Morrison have produced excellent contemporary looks at the character in the comic realm, why not be draw on that resource?

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-ben-affleckBy contrast, Batfleck is definitely one of the stronger points of the film and the interactions between him and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth are eminently watchable. Pinching heavily from Frank Miller’s iconic 1980s take on the character, he is an older, wiser and more disillusioned version than previous onscreen representations. Having got so much of the character spot on, the liberties which screenwriters Goyer and Terrio take with the character’s morality are puzzling and, for me at least, detract substantially from the film. I am going to pick this up momentarily in a postscript rant.

In essence, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could have been a far stronger entity in the pantheon of superhero movies if only it was more ambitious and coherent.

In fact, the “It’s a superhero movie” argument should be scrapped altogether. It’s not an excuse for lazy storytelling, and does a huge disservice to these iconic characters who are so beloved because of the quality of their stories. Bombastic ADD spectacle is not adequate compensation for an absence of emotional investment.

Having said that, I did enjoy the film infinitely more when I saw it a second time in the IMAX format where the spectacle could at least shine (and without hoping for an engrossing storyline). In the murky depths of a small 3D cinema, the fragmented narrative and issues of morality are harder to ignore.

*Postscript Rant*

Two of the core defining traits of Batman are that he doesn’t kill and doesn’t use guns. In the comics’ mythology, both rules stem from witnessing his parents’ murder as a child. BvS’s incarnation of the character is trigger-happy and directly responsible for the deaths of at least 12 people during the course of the film (excluding dream sequences). A Batman who kills is not particularly interesting because he could, for instance, just shoot the Joker and be done with the whole thing. You lose the central conflict which separates the character from hundreds of other morally lax anti-heroes: It is only his belief that life is sacred which distinguishes him from the villains which he fights against. That BvS makes no attempt to justify these liberties suggests sheer laziness on the part of the filmmakers.

As an example, there is a scene in which Batman is trying to follow a truck containing illicit cargo. He begins by shooting a tracking dart onto the truck so that he can hone in on its position. When it departs, he leaps into the Batmobile and recklessly gives chase. The henchmen occupying the truck attempt to evade their pursuer while firing rockets at him. The resulting action sequence leads to the Batmobile causing untold amounts of destruction and intentionally killing at least six henchmen. Their deaths are far from ambiguous, as Snyder doesn’t do subtlety.  The severely damaged truck ultimately gets away because the Batmobile runs into another conflict and is stalled.

Now the fact that this Batman has caused rampant destruction and a number of deaths is bad enough, but what is ultimately so frustrating is that the scene serves absolutely no purpose as he just follows the tracking beacon to its destination the next day. He could just as easily have shot the dart, called it a night and gone home and the result would have been the same (minus the carnage and unnecessary deaths). If we absolutely have to have serial killer Batman, can his massacres at least serve the story somehow?!

Michael Bay takes us into the heart of conflict.

Daniel Dercksen reviews 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.

Left to right: Pablo Schreiber plays Kris "Tanto" Paronto and David Denman plays Dave "Boon" Benton in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from Paramount Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment / Bay Films in theatres January 15, 2016.

Left to right: Pablo Schreiber plays Kris “Tanto” Paronto and David Denman plays Dave “Boon” Benton in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from Paramount Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment / Bay Films

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.

With war-themed films like 13 Hours inspired or based on true events (Pearl Harbor, Unbroken, American Sniper, Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty), it is important to realise that it is a fictional reality realised on film, and not a documentary documenting fact.

A challenging genre to tackle

Michael Bay, Oz, author Mitchell Zuckoff, and Tig on the set of 13 Hours.

Michael Bay, Oz, author Mitchell Zuckoff, and Tig on the set of 13 Hours.

It is a fantastic (but immensely challenging) genre for any visionary to tackle and fits Bay like a glove; he is a major exponent in the arena of directing big-budget action films during his 20-years career,  characterized by fast cutting, stylistic visuals and extensive use of special effects, including frequent depiction of explosions in films like the science fiction disaster thriller Armageddon (1998), the epic war film Pearl Harbor (2001) and the science fiction action films in the Transformers film series.

What makes it challenging for the filmmaker and those involved in the crafting of film is that their interpretation has to ultimately respect the memory of those who died during these wars, as well as those who are still alive, and not merely sensationalise the truth and feed the box office.

13 hoursWith 13 Hours Bay and his actors spent a vast amount of time researching and interviewing those who were involved in the event and it shows in the utmost detail of the production design and execution, as well in the emotionally driven performances by the strong ensemble, with James Badge Dale as Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods,  John Krasinski as Jack Da Silva, former Navy SEAL, unidentified in real life, Max Martini as Mark “Oz” Geist, former Marine, Dominic Fumusa as John “Tig” Tiegen, a former Marine and one of the members of the security team, Pablo Schreiber as Kris “Tanto” Paronto, a former U.S. Army Ranger, David Denman as Boon, an elite sniper, former military, surviving ‘secret soldier’, and Toby Stephens as Glen “Bub” Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) officer, security team member, and good friend of Jack Da Silva.

The cinematography by South African born Dion Beebe perfectly captures the essence and action of war, you will never believe that production designer Jeffrey Beecroft transformed locations in Malta into the real-word of Benghazi, and the wild tempo and rhythm of editors Pietro Scalia and Calvin Wimmer fully supports Bay’s insane pace.

A gritty and definitive realism

It’s interesting how Bay has matured as a filmmaker since making Pearl Harbor 15 years ago; Bay’s romanticised and idealistic version of war in Pearl Harbor stands in stark contrast to the gritty and definite realism of 13 Hours, he skilfully handles the serious and controversial subject matter with steadfast passion and wholehearted commitment.

13_hours-_the_secret_soldiers_of_benghazi-1Yes, he still seduces the senses with his signature images of blood spattered cloth blowing symbolically in the wind in the aftermath of devastation, or patriotic images of battering and damage of the American flag,   but Bay never shies away from his identity as a proud American filmmaker who is cofounder of The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, co-chair and part-owner of the digital effects house Digital Domain, and co-owns Platinum Dunes, a production house which showcases the talents of emerging filmmakers.

Bay’s passion is not purely objective; although he focuses on the brutal attack on Americans, but poignantly reveals the pain and heartaches of innocent Libyan bystanders, families mourning the death of loved ones.

Bay knows how to keep his frame alive and offers action that is so realistic that you will be breathless when the soldiers ‘’puts the fear of the USA into the attackers.’’

Whereas the American heroes have idyllic visions of their loved ones as depicted in flashbacks, the start reality of senseless death is not sugar coated.

Just as Alejandro G. Iñárritu masterfully married sound and image to heighten the realism in The Revenant, so does Bay intonation of music and sound effects, and visual artistry bombard the senses relentlessly – it is not often that you find audiences shrieking out loud during a screening when the militants launch a mortar attack on the compound, as if the attack was happening in the cinema.

Whereas The Revenant has a serene and temperate nature,  13 Hours plunges us into the heat of warfare and an orgy of explosions and firepower.

Still, Bay allows for Lorne Balfe truly emotive and spiritual music, layered with chanting, to soften the hard-core and shocking violence, crossfading the horrific sounds of death destruction to mournful singing that underscores the emotional impact.

13 Hours is a film about war, camaraderie and heroism that relentlessly plunges you into the action when Libyan militants declare open season on Americans.

A Powerful And Important Film

Although it is brutal and will upset sensitive viewers who are not prone to violence, it is a powerful and important film that shows what happens when the masses take violent action to justify prejudice.

And for those ant–Bay naysayers, 13 Hours showcases the art of filmmaking and the craft of storytelling, it is not a special effects spectacle filled with action, but, as with all Bay’s other films, it is a character-driven narrative that gives us characters we fear and empathise with, and characters we can relate to that opens a window to our own lives.

As stated in 13 Hours, ‘’the event was relived in nightmares when the reality of life faded into surreal obscurity.’’

There is an amazing moment of revelation in the film when Da Silva questions his fate as a soldier and states that he never gets scared when bullets fly around him;  fully believing that God has a sense of humour and will save him.

For Da Silva and the unsung heroes of Benghazi, there was no reward when they returned back home; the reward was not in medals, but being able to return home safely to their families.

Joseph Campbell’s quote that is used in the film: ‘’All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you,” has never been more relevant.

Make sure to experience 13 Hours on the biggest screen possible, it will blow your mind and leave you with a profound understanding of this sometimes senseless world we live in and a shed an important and relevant light on humankind trying desperately to balance the best and worst of humanity.

Thankfully we have filmmakers like Bay who dares to go the distance and journey to places where angels fear to tread.

13 hours - Michael Bay

A Perfect Day is well worth watching

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.

A Perfect Day

 

It 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…

Here we have a small group of aid workers who try to remove a hefty corpse from a well it was thrown into, too contaminate the water, a primitive but effective form of biological warfare.

It seems to be a problem apparently easy to solve, but as De Aranoa shows, the first victim of any armed conflict is common sense, which could be why their cars drive back and forth along the narrow mountain roads like a maze, searching for a way out that may not even exist.

The concept of the film is brilliant, allowing us to enter a world that is unfamiliar to us, and discovering a world that is no different from our own.

From the outset the hushed intensity unfolds at a gentle and relaxed pace, setting causality into motion that results in a high-risk human drama and adventure filled with intrigue, humour and wonder, uniting the vibrant characters and revealing their respective life stories and conflicted points of view.

In their own minds, each of the characters’ perfect day is unique, and they will do anything to make sure it doesn’t turn to dust.

It’s a great ensemble film, with a stellar cast bringing the characters to life with passion and heartiness.

Benicio del Toro is fantastic as the leader who maintains the balance of the group, or at least tries to.

Tim Robbins is a veteran logistics expert whose mischievousness results in some amusement, realising that a sense of humour and a certain level of wilderness is necessary to survive during wartime and can handle the craziness of war because he understands it well.

Mélanie Thierry is perfectly cast as the group’s water purification expert and the group’s newest member whose innocence reveals a heartfelt truth.

Fedja Stukan brings elegance and dignity to the character of the group’s interpreter, a local worker who is also the group’s weakest link: his life there is worth less than the others. He’s a character who represents dignity, pride and the self-composure of the Balkan people during the tragic years of the war.

Olga Kurylenko is equally brilliant as the strong, sharp, and intelligent watchdog that needs to report on their situation.

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Nine-years-old Sergi López will steal your heart as a young boy whose innocence, tenderness, and determination, forces him to face adulthood; his connection with the humanitarians is remarkable.

You will never forget when you discover the secret that shapes his destiny, it’s a heart-breaking scene that shows the harsh reality and impact of war on innocent bystanders, and how it destroys blameless lives.

It is indeed a powerful moment that you will never forget and shows how important it is to sometimes turn a blind eye.

What is really remarkable about A Perfect Day is how Aranoa reveals the extraordinary exposés that cause conflict and drama and how he skilfully uses music to heighten the emotional impact of the film; ‘’Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’’, sung by Marlene Dietrich has never been more effective as during the final act.

Aranoa’s A Perfect Day reveals a different but important face of war, and avoids recurring war scenarios and focuses the silent war, ‘’the one that goes beyond the fronts and peace accords, and endures in landmines and armed children, in the military checkpoints, in the simmering hate for one’s neighbours, and in a mother’s fear.’’

If you are looking for a character-driven narrative about people who try to make the most out of life to make the world a place for all to share peacefully, A Perfect Day, is well worth watching.

And, at the end of watching a very unique film, you will learn three important things that will save your life in a conflict zone: never waste rope and keep it handy, avoid dead cows in the middle of the road, and always follow a Granny, who takes her cattle grazing through a field of landmines, to stay on the right path.

Knight of Cups breathes its own life

Review by Daniel Dercksen (March 1, 2016)

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.

Knight-of-Cups-Trailer

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.

His father (Brian Dennehy), bears a sense of guilt for his brother’s death, and he tries to get his surviving brother (Wes Bentley) back on his feet.

Rick seeks distraction in the company of women: Della (Imogen Poots); Nancy (Cate Blanchett), a physician he was once married to; a model named Helen (Freida Pinto); Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a woman he made pregnant; A stripper named Karen (Teresa Palmer); and a young woman who helps him to see his way forward, Isabel (Isabel Lucas).

Women seem to know more than he does. They bring him closer to the heart of things, closer to the mystery. The highs haven’t added up. The parties, the dalliances, the career none has satisfied. And still each woman, each man he’s met through the course of his life has served him in some way as a guide, a messenger.

The story in Knight of Cups is loosely inspired by and at times quotes directly from both the 1678 Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the passage Hymn of the Pearl from the Acts of Thomas.

The film is divided into eight chapters, plus a prologue, each loosely based around the central character Rick’s relationship with somebody in his life. Every chapter is named after a tarot card (as is the title of the film), except for the final chapter Freedom: The Moon – Della (Imogen Poots), a rebellious young woman; The Hanged Man – His brother Barry (Wes Bentley) and father Joseph (Brian Dennehy); The Hermit – Tonio (Antonio Banderas), an amoral playboy; Judgement – His physician ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett);  The Sun – Helen (Freida Pinto), a serene model;  The High Priestess – Karen (Teresa Palmer), a spirited, playful stripper; Death – Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a woman he wronged in the past; and Freedom – Isabel (Isabel Lucas), an innocent who helps him see a way forward.

Beauty cradles Malick’s soulful and existential  exploration

It is like taking a walk through the serenity of a the Karoo, contemplating the allure of its divine inspiration and stillness, and then plunge into the madness of peak traffic in a big city, bombarded by the chaos unleashed by the rat race.

Beauty cradles Malick’s soulful and existential  exploration; even when an earthquake  strikes, it is the exquisiteness of water flowing across the concrete surface of a pavement that brings Rick to his knees and forces him to touch it, allowing the tranquility to obliterate his fear.

It’s the ethereal wonder that mesmerizes as we follow Rick and the other characters on their respective journeys, constantly yearning to find balance in their relationships and personal conflicts.

Through this they utter a few meaningless words to each other, but speak directly to us through hypnotic and whispered voice over narration, welcoming us into their mindscapes as they question how others perceive them, and reevaluate their existence.

Knight of Cups

Terrence Frederick Malick is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. In a career spanning over four decades he has directed seven feature films. He made his directorial debut with the drama Badlands in 1973. After the release of his second film, the 1978 drama Days of Heaven, Malick released no film work for twenty years, until the 1998 war drama The Thin Red Line. He is known for maintaining a low-key lifestyle. Malick has received consistent praise for his work and has been regarded as one of the greatest living filmmakers. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life, and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Thin Red Line, as well as winning the Golden Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival for The Thin Red Line, the Palme d’Or at the 64th Cannes Film Festival for The Tree of Life, and the SIGNIS Award at the 69th Venice International Film Festival for To the Wonder. Terrence Malick was born in Ottawa, Illinois, or Waco, Texas.(one of the settings of his film The Tree of Life.) Malick studied philosophy under Stanley Cavell at Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965. He went on to Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. After a disagreement with his tutor, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Malick left Oxford without a doctorate. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick’s translation of Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. Returning to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist. Malick started his film career after earning an MFA from the AFI Conservatory in 1969, directing the short film “Lanton Mills”. At the AFI, he established contacts with people such as Jack Nicholson, longtime collaborator Jack Fisk, and agent Mike Medavoy, who procured for Malick freelance work revising scripts. He is credited with the screenplay for Pocket Money (1972), and he wrote an early draft of Dirty Harry (1971). After one of his screenplays, Deadhead Miles, was made into what Paramount Pictures felt to be an unreleasable film, Malick decided to direct his own scripts.

Malick keeps this vibrant visual and verbal dialogue between the characters and the audience alive through inspirational moments of pure ecstasy, underscored emotionally by Hanan Townshend music, the sounds of nature, or even utter silence, respectfully celebrating the harmony that exists between the soul and the body.

It’s amazing how Malick liberates Townshend as an artist,  who is equally fascinated by the relationship between music and visual art specific to film –Townshend was a music licensee on Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or winning film The Tree Of Life; this is where he received his first significant recognition. Since then, Townshend has continued composing for many feature films, including working as the composer on Malick’s recent film To The Wonder.

Townshend’s music reflects the broad background of inspiration from which he draws – the poetic soundscapes of his Texas (where Malick was also born), the eager patterns of popular music, and the refinement of classical training and studies in art composition. Because of this, he has a penchant for approaching film music from a less conventional perspective and producing clever, memorable pieces that support just as much the picturesque as they do the auditory experience.

Knight of Cups’ spiritual meditation forms the next chapter of A New World, Tree Of Life and To The Wonder.

Tree Of Life unfolded symphonically, like a piece of music divided into movements, or the limbs of a towering tree, tracing the evolution of a single life – that of a man who tries to square a series of lingering questions about his father’s anger, his mother’s love, his brother’s death, and his own struggles with meaning and faith.

To the Wonder was a compelling poetic exploration of love, the demise of humanity and spiritual and physical infidelity.

With A New World we gracefully discovered new territories and cultures, with Tree of Life Malick took us into the heart of creation and the soul of a family, and with To The Wonder he gave us an exceptional opportunity to scrutinize different aspects of love, being loved, intimacy and the sanctimony of human relationships and between us and the world we live in.

Knight of Cups 3

Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale

With Knight of Cups Malick evolves as an artist, never allowing the narrative to dictate or manipulate his artistry, or impede its infinite magnitude.

Although there is a story imbedded in a story told to Rick by his father – that of a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep – and we follow Rick’s journey to fulfillment, Knight of Cups is not about the story, but about the emotions that flow out of the interaction between characters, allowing us to feel the emotion, rather than someone telling us how we should react.

Knight Of Cups is definitely not your usual cinematic experience; this is film that dares to slice the human condition open and allows emotions to bleed into our own existence.

It’s incredible to experience the end result of the intimate and unusual working relationship Malick has with his actors.

He allows his actors to become completely vulnerable by being present in the moment of each thought and action, like blindfolded children meandering through an enchanted forest.

This unique approach to filmmaking creates an honesty that connects with our own reality; we view film through the filter of our own experiences, and get lost in its maze of hypnotic allusions.

When questions surface like: ‘’Am I dreaming?’’ or ‘ ’What am I searching for?’’, you often wonder whether or not is is yourself asking the question, or the characters?

In a sense, we become the film and part of its fictional reality, and the film merely becomes a projection of our own existence.

Meaning becomes meaningless when the realization occurs that everything is about the now, about how we should live in the present and make the most of our lives and those who enter our arena of humanity.

Malick profoundly reveals how we as individuals matter in the bigger scheme of things, and that it is sometimes better to simply enjoy life for what it is, and try and suffocate it with unnecessary reason.

In Knight of Cups, Bale is very much grounded in an austere reality, dressed immaculately in black like a priest ready to take confession; it is the world that surrounds him that becomes ridiculous – a woman wearing a tutu and a unicycle cycling up the road, a Mary Antoinette like character wandering through the deserted streets of a film set, strippers seductively seducing their amorous admirers, children playing only as children can, traffic battling traffic, or even a dog desperately trying to grab hold of a ball doddering in a pool.

It’s this frenetic and sometimes surreal imagery of a world spinning out of control – with editors Geoffrey Richman, Keith Fraase, and A.J Edwards skillfully fusing Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography – that forces Knight Of Cups to come to a standstill, wrapped in a protective celluloid cocoon.

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Natalie Portman

After watching Knight of Cups you feel cleansed of commercialism, as Malick purges the conventions and notions of how film should be told and in a way, continue to reinvent himself as a creative being.

The artist and artisan enter a new realm of exploration, experimenting with endless new inspired possibilities, just like the cavemen carved out their dreams on a rock to preserve their imaginings.

Film is ultimately an art that communicates thoughts and ideas through created imagery and sound.

Malick is indeed a ‘Knight of Cups’ and ‘Prince of Dreams’, constantly creating new ways of communicating, celebrating the gift of creation, and cherishing the talent for expressing the kingdoms of make-believe and the imagination.

He makes it clear that anything is possible if you dare to dream, and that nothing is impossible if you ignite your imagination.

It is this definitive freedom that allows a film like Knight of Cups to breathe its own life, and allows it to be without rhyme or reason, but filled with a significant truth that gives meaning to our existence and our reason for wanting to celebrate life to its fullest extreme.

Copyright © 2016 Daniel Dercksen  All rights reserved

 

Let The Dressmaker change your world. You won’t regret a second of it!

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.

Dressmaker

Kate Winslet is The Dressmaker

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.

The soul of the film is found in a poignant romance in the tradition of great love stories, with Winslet as the fiery and hot-headed damsel whose heart is conquered, and wild spirit tamed by a handsome Prince Charming in the shape of hunky Liam Hemsworth.

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The Dressmaker is equally a heartfelt coming-of-age story, with Winslet seeking redemption for a tragedy that occurred during her childhood, and one that caused her to leave the town and branded an outcast.

There are also many other ’ugly ducklings’ townsfolk who are imprisoned by conservatism and tyrannical parents and teachers, who transform into dazzling swans when the Dressmaker gives them a makeover of a lifetime.

These magical and outrageous makeovers are satirical in nature and remind of Fellini creations dressed in Dior that strut around the dusty town, looking like heavenly cartoon creations.

In some ways, these creations remind of another Australian cult classic, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, where colourful couture inject the stark desert landscape with a vibrant energy.

Hugo-WeavingThe Dressmaker showcases a fantastic ensemble cast, with Hugo Weaving stealing many of the scenes as a zany cross-dressing policeman, whose fondness for lady garments causes much uproar on and off the screen.

The Dressmaker is also exceptionally funny, filled with robust with and laugh-out-loud one-liners, particularly from Davis.

If there’s one scene that borders on absolute hysteria, it’s one where Davis escorts Winslet and Hemsworth on their first date to watch a screening of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

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During the screening Davis screams loud comments to the onscreen characters, and at one precious moment, when tragic heroine Gloria Swanson grabs hold of William Holden’s face to kiss him, Davis shouts: ‘’Run!”

The refined and witty comedy of The Dressmaker allows its characters to burst out of their shells and do some crazy stuff; it’s scenes like these that make us yearn for our very own Dressmaker!

These comedic interludes are wonderfully balanced by melodramatic and thrilling overtures that allow us to experience a gambit of emotions.

Its dark comedy infuses some darker moments with a breath of fresh air, allowing is to connect with issues that could easily become overstated.

If you are looking for a film that offers first rate entertainment and ultimate escapism, let The Dressmaker change your world.

You won’t regret a second of it!

A significant and profound celebration of individuality

Review by Daniel Dercksen Rating: *****

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.

Eddie

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).

Hooper then reveals Wegener’s stark painting of this landscape, showing us the similarities found between the real world and imitation, powerfully revealing the dilemma Wegener faces when he uncovers the reality of his hyper-feminasation, and alter ego that lies buried and dormant inside him.

It’s interesting that the character’s transgender journey is not portrayed as that of an obvious stereotypical young Gay man who explores ‘the woman inside’ – as Quentin Crisp did in The Naked Civil Servant – but that the story is set within the conventional and traditional 6-year marriage between Wegener and his wife Gerda in a conservative Copenhagen of 1926.

The Danish Girl does not give us a melodramatic or dismal human drama, but delivers this life-affirming, yet heart-breaking story, as an ultimate and unforgettable romance.

It’s a striking love story between a husband and wife, exploring their sexual and platonic union; it’s also a superb love story between a man and a woman, looking at how each gender infuses its inborn and inbred nature with that of the opposite sex.

Hooper intensifies the romance with immense sensuality, allowing us to feel Wegener’s heroic journey into the soul of Lili, who challenges him and ultimately transforms him into how he sees himself, and not the image he has to stare at in the mirror every day.

This reflective and sensual journey into the gentleness of women is truly magnificent and takes us into the heart and soul of a man who is willing to sacrifice everything to find true happiness and understanding.

Commanding performances

Eddie Redmayne delivers a tour de force in his dual roles as man and woman; it is astonishing how he never imitates or impersonates, but becomes, immersing himself wholeheartedly into the character of Lili, allowing his transformation to be truthful.

Redmayne’s passionate performance is layered with immense sadness, but equally presents us with the blissful joy of true fulfilment and absolute enlightenment.

What’s truly admirable about Redmayne’s courageous performance is how he perfectly captures the innocence and essence of a man who falls in love for the first time when he unleashes the goddess inside.

Alicia Vikander impresses as a wife whose loyalty and devotion to her husband knows no bounds, and has to succumb to her husband’s journey of re-discovering himself as a woman.

It is remarkable how Vikander’s sensual beauty and feminity gradually dissolves as the story progresses, and how the mutates into a more masculine nurturer, physically and emotionally.

Ben Whislaw (Perfume, Spectre) once again manages to transform himself into another remarkable character as a gay man who falls in love Lili and becomes her trusted confidant.

Equally impressive is Sebastian Koch as Wegener’s childhood friend who becomes Gerda’s confidant and their guardian angelic.

Emotional narrative

Besides its rich content, skilfully scripted by playwright and screenwriter Lucinda Coxan (based on David Ebershoff’s debut novel), The Danish Girl is contextually flawless,  offering abundant spectacle and awe that supports its emotional narrative.

Cinematographer Danny Conen (who lensed Hooper’s The King’s Speech and Les Miserables), strikingly captures the colourful tapestry of the film’s landscape, allowing us to experience the contrast of the diverse emotions that surface.

The visual imagery is aptly complimented by Eve Stewart’s outstanding production design and Paco Delgado’s sumptuous costumes.

The impact of design and implementation is mesmerising and incredibly detailed.

Wegener’s apartment becomes a cathedral, with a window in the background revealing an illumined cross, accentuating the spiritual and sacred world of the characters.

In contrast to this, the Wegener’s apartment in Paris shouts of decadence and opulence, revealing the threats and corruption of an unconventional society.

The filmmakers allow us to see the story through the eyes of an artist; the composition, colours and textures of the natural world are not only visible in the paintings, but vice versa; in one scene, when Wegener crosses underneath a bridge, the bottom of the bridge is painted like the dome of a cathedral.

Once again, fantasy and realism merge to give us the opulence of both realms, showing how the contrast compliments and enriches the ordinary world.

Hooper firmly keeps his fingers on the pulse of The Danish Girl

Hooper firmly keeps his fingers on the pulse of The Danish Girl, masterfully erasing ignorant and pre-conceived notions of the perverse nature of its subject matter, bringing to the surface a significant and profound film about identity and love.

Hooper never infringes or invades the mindscape of our tragic hero; he does not rely on visual dynamics to reveal Wegener’s childhood through conventional flashbacks, but allows the character to gradually reveal this information through dialogue, drawing the audience into a trusting and confidential conversation.

When we see the world Wegener talks about, the payback and emotional impact of the intimate dialogue overwhelms the senses.

Although The Danish Girl is set in 1926, nothing has really changed in our world where transgender people are still frowned upon, and where those who want to celebrate their unique individualism are regarded as outcasts whose outcry for compassion is severely ignored.

The Danish Girl boldly celebrates the valour of those who embrace their true identity

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.

 

A heart wrenching story of survival, transformation and ultimate redemption

Review by Daniel Dercksen

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.

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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.

That emotionally charged confrontation with mortality also becomes entwined with an unusual father-son love story: that of a man who in his moment of loss becomes more devoted to life than ever.   Without revealing too much of the story, there are moments between Glass and his son that will break your heart.

The Revenant is poetry in motion, an epic story in which visual imagery are selected for their beauty, sound and power to express feelings.

It’s a perfect union of sound and image that speaks a serene and emotionally charged language that results in a musical beat created through rhythm, rhyme and repetition imperiously perfected by Iñárritu’s long-time cinematographer, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, sound designer Lon Bender, editor Stephen Mirrione , composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, production designer Jack Fisk,  Visual Effects Supervisor Rich Mcbride, and picture-perfect composition by Iñárritu that burns into your memory.

When we fade in at the beginning of the film we follow water flowing upstream and with the first of several long, fluid, continuous shots that have become Iñárritu and Lubezki’s signature, we venture into uncharted wilderness as the water ripples through a forest landscape, until Glass and his son step into frame, armed with rifles, hunting deer.

This hushed and tranquil serenity soon erupts into hell when the Arikara, a band of tribesmen already settled along the banks of the Missouri River, savagely attack Captain Henry’s fur trapping expedition; this explosion of violence is a raw and relentless assault that erupts in the splendour of nature, a magnificent dance between existence and death.

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At the end of the film the water rapidly streams towards us, bringing the stream of consciousness to a breath taking conclusion.

These images are underscored emotionally by the constant, crisp sound of flowing water, reminding us that this is what life ultimately depends on to survive in a world of peril  where nature persistently challenges the endurance of the human spirit.

It’s this continuous and lulling sound of water and nature that reminds us how precious life is, and when Iñárritu takes us on an intimate and surreal introspective journey reflecting Glass’ haunted mindscape where he desperately tries to unite his broken family, we fully understand the value of life.

There is dignity in death in The Revenant, death is poetic and revered: the carcass of a horse protects a man from freezing to death, when a woman dies staring up into the heavens a tiny bird escapes from her dress and flutters away, when Glass experiences loss, it’s a religious out-of -body experience.

The scene where Glass redeems his humanness and loss in the ruins of a cathedral is profound with its surreal and abstract spirituality, where the emotional and the physical connect in a heightened reality that shows the immense impact of Iñárritu’s visual sensibility and artistry.

The imagery and sounds are so fresh that you can almost feel yourself walking through the forest and snow landscapes, smelling the air.

When Iñárritu lingers on a close up of snow-covered leaves or icicles, its breath taking, the wild ferocity of confrontations with nature, humans and animals offers an epic intimacy, set against the magnificent splendour of God’s wilderness.

It’s this textured contrast of visual imagery that gives The Revenant its mystical spiritually where the beauty of man and nature have to find a way to survive the overwhelming hardships.

This heightened realism awakens our senses and places us on edge, we become as alert, and fully aware of the danger that lurks behind the splendour and threatens life as the characters are.

The tension is palpable and when danger strikes there are scenes that will definitely rip your guts out. “

The action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one.  Film is taking place.

This ‘communication’ began with Iñárritu, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mark L. Smith, based in part on Michael Punke’s  The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, and created the idea for the film, using film as the medium for communicating and expressing the idea.

Iñárritu wanted to explore the lives of trappers who grew spiritually even as they suffered immensely physically, and though much of Glass’s story is apocryphal, Iñárritu and Smith tried to stay very faithful to what these men went through in these undeveloped territories by subjecting themselves to the difficult physical and technical conditions to squeeze every honest emotion out of this incredible adventure.

Iñárritu was fascinated by how stark peril strips us down and allows us a glimpse into what sustains us; how it can unearth things that might have remained hidden if that door to mortality had never been opened.

Iñárritu always envisioned the look of The Revenant as a chiaroscuro painting, full of light and shade, come to visceral life and as Birdman was inspired by music, The Revenant  was inspired by painting, with Lubezki  playing an incredible role in creating this film as a visual work of art.

Iñárritu and Lubezki made several key decisions early on that set the rules for the production and resulted in a cinematic experience you will never forget.

They decided to shoot the film chronologically, to maintain the natural flow of Glass’s journey, and  committed to shooting the film relying on only the sun and firelight, bringing in no artificial lighting from later centuries, and working with the light of nature in creative ways.  Finally, they wanted to explore the long, fluid, continuous shots they’ve become known for to a very different kind of effect than in Birdman.

Shooting outdoors in Canada and Argentina, in snow, wind and often at high altitude, the cast and crew of The Revenant faced remnants of the same dangers and conditions that people living in the South Dakota region of 1823 would have faced.

This was by design to further inspire an authentic wellspring of storytelling and to put audiences into the very center of a wilderness, which is not a park but a zone of mortal peril where survival is not guaranteed.

“Today, we’ve really lost touch, or we’ve lost the intimate kind of contact with the natural world that these trappers had then,”says Iñárritu   ‘’Yet the wilderness is always a part of us — we are clouds, we are rivers, we are formed by the same elements.   I think when you see these places, there is a connection there that reminds you where you come from and where you are going. One of the blessings of the film was being able to bring environments that do that to the screen,” says.

It was a daunting task finding landscapes and weather raw enough to replicate the American West of 1823 was daunting, and it took Iñárritu and his team five years to get it right.

“I was very interested in the film presenting locations that hadn’t been touched by human beings so we searched for locations that would be almost that pristine.  There was something pure and poetic about them.”

What further contributes to the authenticity of The Revenant’s fictional reality are Fisk’s production design – Iñárritu sent Fisk a copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev to give him a sense of the roughhewn design he had in mind – costume designer Jacqueline West wanted to go beyond the clichés and drew her influences from a broad range of artists, including paintings and sketches by two renowned artists of the period:  Alfred Jacob Miller, who headed to the Rocky Mountains in the mid-19th Century and was one of the few to capture life there as it unfolded; and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss painter known for his portraits of Native Americans, especially the Mandan tribe of South Dakota.

Then there’s the incredible make-up design by Sian Grigg, who has been collaborating with Leonardo DiCaprio for 20 years since they first worked together on Titanic.  The Revenant required the most intensive make-up DiCaprio has ever undergone.

“Everything Glass endures had to show on screen,” says Grigg. “But the advantages of shooting in chronological order were tremendous for our work. It meant we could do really subtle make-up changes every day to reflect Glass’s physical state.”

Leonardi DiCapprio delivers the performance of his career as Glass, an incredibly difficult and arduous role as he has to perform some of the most memorable and heart-breaking moments in the film in utter silence, and only through expression.  The quiet intensity he delivers is unequivocal, laced with a profound wisdom and deep sadness.

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Tom Hardy

The dark mirror to Hugh Glass’s journey of survival is John Fitzgerald’s journey into paranoia, recrimination and haunted bitterness.  To portray Fitzgerald, who both betrays Glass and becomes his spark for enduring, Tom Hardy delivers another riveting performance, giving us a glimpse of his monstrous soul.

Equally excellent  are Irish  actor Domhnall Gleeson as  Captain Andrew Henry, a real-life historical figure who was one of the founders of the Rocky Mountain Trading Company and a leader of the expedition up the Missouri River;  rising English actor Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) stars as Jim Bridger who went on to become one of the West’s most legendary guides;  sixteen-year old Forrest Goodluck, who makes his impressive big screen debut as Hawk, Hugh Glass’s fictionalized son by a Native woman, is a a member of the Diné, Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian Native American tribes who lives in New Mexico;  and the powerful Arikara warrior Elk Dog, who is in search of his captured daughter, Powaqa, is portrayed by Duane Howard, a First Nations actor who hails from Vancouver Island, Canada.

A resonant character amid the tapestry of The Revenant is Hikuc, a solitary soul encountered on the plains who becomes Hugh Glass’s unexpected savior.  He is played by Arthur Redcloud, a Navajo.

You will never forget the scene between Glass and Hikuc when they are sitting in the snow and lapse up the falling snow with their tongues; it’s a powerful scene that reveals the fragile humanity of two characters from disparate worlds.

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.

To quote the film: ‘’The wind cannot defeat a tree with strong roots. When there is a storm and you stand in front of a tree, and you look up at its branches, you see its fragility. But when you see its trunk, you see stability. “

A pawpaw has never been this delicious!

Deon Lotz and Deirdre Wolhuter

Deon Lotz and Deirdre Wolhuter

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.

PAW DOGThe soul of the film belongs to a pavement special mongrel Tsjaka (voiced by Tobie Cronje), who is the narrator of the story and observes the Beeslaer family from his point of view, delivering his own unique social commentary and sharing his cunning canine opinion with other dogs in the neighbourhood.

PAW POEDELTsjaka, the main character, is the Beeslaers’ always ravenous and anxious dog – a dog with a free spirit who is imprisoned behind the closed gate of 24 Frik du Preez Street.

However, there is a glimmer of hope when he falls in love with Mignon, a lost poodle ‘girl’ from Waterkloof.

Other dog friends are Knoffel, the one who imagines greyhound blood runs through his veins; and Makkie, the plump ‘lady’ dog who also visits Tsjaka at the front gate.

At first it seems odd to have this mongrel as the ‘hero’ of the story, but once you grasp the wonderful contrast and dynamics that Roets creates between the two disparate worlds, it’s an entertaining and amusing journey that is engaging and delivers what it promises.

The story revolves around the Beeslaer family who lives at 24 Frik du Preez Street in Damnville, where Vleis (Deon Lotz) and Soufie (Deirdre Wolhuter) Beeslaer and their children Elvis (Hannes Brümmer), Rusty (Martelize Kolver) and Mabel (Jana Nortier) try to live a normal life.

The Beeslaers are representative of white Afrikaners who experienced an existential confusion post-1994 and who, despite their best intentions, often lose their way in their attempts to adjust to a new political system, and when addressing social issues.

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Lida Botha

But life is no picnic for the Beeslaers, not with Sally Caravan (Lida Botha),  Soufie’s tough-as-nails grandmother living in her caravan in the Beeslaers’ backyard and raises hell whenever she gets a chance.

Or when Vleis’mother Girla (Marga van Rooy) gate crashes their peaceful existence with her latest boyfriends, at first the fast-talking ‘swank’ Tango du Toit (Marcel van Heerden) – who is a ‘man of mystery’; and later the humourless Salty Sprinkelgras, portrayed by Jan Engelen.

Then there’s two gossipy neighbours who keep their eyes on the Beeslaers: Hannie van Oorkant (Sandra Prinsloo) and the eccentric Huibie Hozapfel (Hèléne Truter), and their next door neigbours

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Brümilda van Rensburg and Willie Esterhuizen

Basil (Willie Esterhuizen) and Gissie (Brümilda van Rensburg) Bonthuis causing havoc with their unruly children.

It’s unwise to take sides in this zany scenario.  On the one hand you have the Beeslaers’ rowdy partying on their front and back porches with their friends Hillies Grobbelaar (Ester von Waltsleben) and Wouter Bungalow (André Odendaal);  on the other hand, the Bonthuis’ twin daughters never stop messing about on an off-tune piano; combined with the smelly chicken coop on the border of his property.

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Kaz McFadden and Jana Nortier

And then there’s the outsiders that intrude hysterically on the narrative:  their gardener Cyril Phosa (Fezile Mpela), police officer Sergeant Kennedy Banda (Dambuza Nqumashe);  their son Elvis’ Indian girlfriend Minah Naidoo (Roshila Jarosz) ,  their gay daughter Rusty’s girlfriend, Thalita (Hanli Rolfes), and the suave prince charming Giepie Briel (Kaz McFadden) who bedazzles Mabel.

Shakespeare would have had a field day with this assortment of characters.

Its characters we can relate to and easily understand; we see ourselves in them and through their meanderings and comedy of errors we take a closer look at our own people.

It’s a crazy circus that showcases the best acting talent South Africa has to offer, it would be unfair to single out any one of the cast, for all actors do complete justice to their colourful characters.

Marcel van Heerden and Margot van Rooy

Marcel van Heerden and Margot van Rooy

The film makes one realise what exceptional talent South Africa has to offer, and with writer-directors like Koos Roets, and storytellers like Jeanne Goosen, we really have the best of both worlds, with the extra bonus of superb technical teams and creative artists creating proudly South African films.

Visually, the film works well and gives us a great sense of the world of the characters, taking us into familiar spaces.

‘n Pawpaw vir My Darling is a film you can escape into without ever get lost, and then discovering at the end of the viewing that South African films offer just as much as any other film internationally, if not more.

 

Joy offers ultimate joyfulness

Review by Daniel Dercksen

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.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Edgar Ramirez share a magical moment in Joy.

It 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.

It follows the wild path of a hard-working but half-broken family and the young girl who ultimately becomes its shining matriarch and leader in her own right.

joy-jennifer-lawrence-trailerDriven to create, but also to take care of those around her, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) experiences betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love as she finds the steel and the belief to follow her once-suppressed dreams.

The result is an entertaining emotional and human comedy about a woman’s rise – navigating the unforgiving world of commerce, the chaos of family and the mysteries of inspiration while finding an unyielding source of happiness.

Russell’s previous films gave us vibrant characters in search of happiness and belonging, with Joy he gives us equally colourful characters who stand their ground and are vividly brought to life by an excellent ensemble.

Lawrence is superb in the title role and manages to effortlessly change her persona and appearance with confidence and fired motivated action, skilfully drawing us into the mindscape and world of a dreamer who refuses to give in to insurmountable demands that challenge her drive.

Diane Ladd

Equally brilliant are Diane Ladd as Joy’s insightful and influential grandmother, Isabella Rossellini as her father’s well-off Italian lover, Virginia Madsen as Joy’s soap-opera addicted mother, Dascha Polanco as Joy’s life-long friend and confidante, and Elisabeth Rohm as Joy’s rivalrous sister.

It’s a powerful  female ensemble facing some great male contenders, with  Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband, a struggling musician living in the basement, Robert De Niro as Joy’s hot-tempered yet hopelessly romantic father;  and Bradley Cooper as the mogul-style home shopping executive who becomes both Joy’s ally and adversary.

If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s for its marvellous cast, offering a wonderful barrage of contrasting emotions that is captivating and alluring.

Robert de Niro and Isabella Rossellini

The lives of their characters impact effectively and dramatically on Joy’s desperate search for recognition and understanding.

Russell cleverly dedicates the film to powerful women who dare to take risks and launches the story through a delightfully camp soap TV serial that shrewdly reflects the ordinary world of the characters, but also allows the characters to escape from their mundane existence.

Soon, Joy’s life does indeed become an absurd soap opera, filled with childhood dreams, grown-up dramas, and magical fantasy.

It’s these different emotive landscapes that gives Joy its alluring contrast and magnetism that build tension and offers great diversity.

It’s a story within a story and beyond, just as dreams only become real when they manifest, filled with hopeful aspiration and desperate loss if they evaporate.

We live in a world and society that feed off dreams, where everyone wants to be a product of the fantasy dominions created in television, film and the media.

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Bradley Cooper

Joy profoundly shows how easy dreams can imprison visionaries, but also how easily it can release us from our own mundane existence, and there is reward in perseverance.

If you are looking for a well-made film about people that open a poignant window to humanity and our plight for success, Joy succeeds on every level.

War Of The Drones.

War becomes a deadly video game in the powerful Good Kill, except that the targets are not pixels, but flesh and blood.

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Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in Good Kill.

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.

Imagine going through your daily life when a bomb or rocket takes out others around you. You never know when it’s coming and there’s very little you can do about it, and it poses the question when the unfair advantage the government has over those declared enemies should be considered terrorism just as much as their attacks on us.

It’s a long distance war fought between the USA and the Taliban, with a fighter pilot turned drone pilot, based in Las Vegas, fighting the Taliban by remote control for twelve hours a day, then goes home to the suburbs and feuds with his wife and kids for the other twelve.

It’s  a bloody and relentless war that erodes the conscience of drone pilots, and in Good Kill, Hawke’s character is a family man who drowns his guilt in booze to escape the families that are destroyed in clouds of dust.

It’s a frightening prospect and what makes it even more horrific, is that the film is based on true events, showing how these drone wars keep a watchful eye on its targets, no matter where you think you might be hiding.

The film reminds strongly of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, where a man watches helplessly as murder is committed, and had to decide whether or not to follow his conscience.

Says Niccol:  ”It’s about the new schizophrenia of war. After fighting the Taliban for 12 hours a day Tommy goes home to the suburbs to feud with his wife and kids for the other 12. Set during the greatest escalation of drone strikes, it’s about the moral conflicts and dilemmas of using this new technology. But it’s very much a personal story. Tommy is becoming a casualty of a war he’s fighting from half a world away, all the while in absolutely no danger. He is a pilot, grieving the death of actual flying and suffering from shell shock while also feeling guilty that he’s so far away from the shells. He is becoming disconnected from real life, relating more to the targets he’s watching and their families than his own family.”

 

Jump on the Bond-wagon for mindless entertainment

Review by Daniel Dercksen (November 23, 2015)

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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.

Still, with four screenwriters, a bullet-proof formula, and solid history, there are no surprises in Spectre as it delivers everything and more, relentlessly and vigorously with clichés abound and a feeble attempt to provide wit and humour.

At a cost of $250 million there should be no disappointments, but there are; it is custom-made entertainment to satisfy the masses, nothing more.

It is understandable why a significant director like Sam Mendes announced that this would be his last Bond.

But, that is the nature of a Bond beast, artificial intelligence with super powers to dazzle and wow with utter awesomeness, leaving one breathless, but brainless.

Yes, it’s not ‘’that kind of artsy film where you have to think’’ some people will argue, but can Spectre in any way compare with the richly textured emotional and physical action in Skyfall?

Spectre’s intelligence lies in the plotting and execution of the action sequences, and how people kill each other without remorse; Spectre glorifies violence and candy wraps it.

Ultimately it’s a film where people hurt each other, the harder and more brutal, the more amusing entertainment it provides; there is satisfaction in its pain, a sad adulation that enshrines death.

There is no dignity in death and destruction. Even a funeral scene for Bond is simply an introduction to seduce.

And after a deadly fight sequence on a train, the ferocity simply becomes foreplay for a sex scene.

It undermines audiences’ intelligence by skilfully spinning its magic, and simply giving ardent fans what they want, perhaps not what they need.

With films like Man of Steel and Batman, cardboard stereotypes have become flesh and blood heroes we care about, evolving to reflect pertinent issues relating to the chaos of the human condition, providing soulful entertainment.

Even films like the latest Mission Impossible or Man from U.N.C.L.E allowed for some great emotional connection and development of its characters.

When the Bond franchise was resurrected with Daniel Craig starring in Casino Royale, we experienced a Bond film unlike ever before, it turned the stereotypical 007 into a man who went on an emotional journey, showing the humanness of the character.  Now, with Spectre, he slides back into the Bond stereotype: he is back in business, dressed and licensed to kill, rearing into action looking a million dollars.

“I’m a killer,’’ he confesses candidly in Spectre and when that poignant moment arrives when he is questioned about his fate, he simple replies: ‘’I haven’t had time to think about it?’’

It’s difficult to care about a character if there is nothing to care about, and even when the ‘’great reveal’’ happens, it means very little.

There is no logic in Spectre as we move effortlessly from one location, with the characters posing beautifully on each breath-taking location.

Strangely, the most exciting and emotional part of Spectre is it’s Danny Kleinman’s stunning title sequence, featuring Sam Smith performing Writing’s On The Wall,

Is Spectre the greatest Bond ever?

Definitely not, but it’s worth a shot.  Jump on the Bond-wagon and catch a thrill ride, just don’t ask for anything more.

A remarkable new South African film that will break your heart

Review by Daniel Dercksen (November 15, 2015)

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.

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Neels van Jaarsveld delivers an emotionally gripping performance as Attie, a man whose dreams is bigger than his impoverished lifestyle

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.

Although it is an Afrikaans film, it is subtitled in English and accessible to anyone looking to escape into a proudly South African story.

In ‘n Man Soos My Pa we follow the lives of 3 fathers from the 70’s to the year 2015.

It tells the affecting story of fathers whose flawed humanity destroys their families, and whose love for their relations ultimately sets them on a powerful path of transformation and redemption.

It’s about guiltless children and compassionate women who are subjected to their atrocious and immoral behaviour and have to build their own lives on broken dreams, and through their sacrifices shine a bright light on the importance of family.

Else’s sincere introspective journey into these shattered lives is heart-breaking and soulful, taking us from the tragedy of a father who is poisoned by alcoholism, to the torment of an abusive father, and balances the two extremes with that of a father who struggles to find reason and is drowning in a sea of mindlessness.

If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s for its powerful ensemble cast, showcasing the best talent South Africa has to offer.

Neels van Jaarsveld delivers an emotionally gripping performance as Attie, a man whose dreams are bigger than his impoverished lifestyle, and who tries to escape from reality, losing himself in a world of fantasy and booze to the detriment of his wife Nakkie (Antoinette Louw) and son, Juan (Vaughn Else)

Else is great as the young Juan, with Vilje Maritz shining as the spirited teenage Juan who desperately tries to find his way in the world and create a meaningful bond with his father.

Greg Kriek is mesmerising with his moody performance as the adult Juan, a husband and father who badly wants to overcome his hatred for a man who has ruined his life.

As the older Attie, Albert Maritz delivers a moving performance, capturing the essence of a father and husband who embraces his weakness to combat his battle with alcoholism.

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Greg Kriek and Albert Maritz

Deon Lotz is equally brilliant as the atrocious Colonel Nieuwoudt, a single father and soldier whose violent and tyrannical behaviour sparks heated conflict that leads to a shocking conclusion.

As the women in the lives of these men, Zonika De Vries is radiant as the young Ellie, with Lara De Bruijn brittle and fragile as the teenage Ellie, and Elma Postma delivering a strong performance as the adult Ellie who cradles the guilt and hostility that threatens her happiness.

Antoinette Louw is sensational as Attie’s young wife Nakkie, who has to cope with her husband’s fragile disposition, and Sandra Prinsloo is magnificent as the older Nakkie whose unfortunate illness brings a sad but poignant resolution.

‘n Man Soos My Pa is a layered story that spans four generations and could easily have spun out of control and become complicated, but with Else’s meticulous script and sensible direction, the plot seamlessly takes us through the lives of these colourful characters with ease and comfort.

To underscore the rich emotional journey of the characters, Else’s choice of music is excellent.  The evocative score by Benjamin Willem and songs like Koos Du Plessis’ Kinders Van Die Wind result in a nostalgic journey that allows us to bond with the characters and share their lives.

In an age where families are striving to heal festered wounds and unite peacefully, ‘n Man Soos My Pa succeeds admirably, reminding us of how important it is to honour a past that informs our future and seals our respective destinies.

Yes, it is a tearful (but not depressing) experience that will leave you with a lump in your throat and showering your loved ones with gifts of gratitude, but it is ultimately a fulfilling and uplifting film that will make you feel good about having the power to love wholeheartedly, and to right the wrongs that challenge your humanness.

If ever there was a film to bring families together, it’s ‘n Man Soos My Pa, and even if you do not have a family, it’s time to reflect without any regrets.

‘n Man Soos My Pa releases nationwide on November 20.

Close encounter of spies

Daniel Dercksen reviews Bridge of Spies

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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.

Austin Stowell as downed Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers

Austin Stowell as downed Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers

The Story: In Bridge of Spies, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers’ only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.

Bridge of Spies deals with an issue as simple as the exchange between a Soviet Spy and an American pilot, that is unreasonably complicated by those who make up the rules, and eventually conquered by those who know how to break the rules.

It’s this wonderful daredevil dance between defeat and success that fuels the drama and humour in Bridge of Spies; constantly  opening the gap between result and expectation and keeping us involved with every action and reaction.

If there’s one thing Spielberg is truly a master of, is creating immediate suspense that provokes the imagination and promises that something extraordinary is going to happen out of an ordinary situation.

Just as he captured the essence of the brutality of war with his opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan,  Spielberg  flawlessly draws us into a world of spies and their secret manoeuvres with the opening of Bridge of Spies.

The first image of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel is that of an artist painting a self-portrait, trying to capture the spirit of a man who has lost his true identity. He receives a phone call and is soon followed by man in black, followed by another man, and then another until it explodes in a wonderful crescendo of mystery and hyper excitement.

We immediately grasp the essence of the hunter and the hunted, big boys playing ‘I catch a spy’ with agents closing in on the enemy, launching a rousing human drama that leads to a satisfying resolution.

We take this journey with ease and comfort and soon find ourselves drawn into an intellectual political warzone that is cold and calculated, a playful and polite power game bantering between two giants in the history of politics.

You don’t have to be a political animal to enjoy the film or understand its political landscape; ultimately it’s about people who become pawns that are swallowed by conceited political protocols and fraught hidden agendas.

The crackling screenplay by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers sizzles with emotional depth and has a sentimental understanding of the world and dilemmas the characters find themselves in.

It is a dialogue driven narrative supported by rich visual splendour and aptly fulfills the function of dialogue in film: to ultimately reveal character and allow us to grasp a deep and involving understanding of their humanity.

BridgeOfSpies-worryIn particular, the humanity of two strangers whose destinies intertwine and change their worlds, that of a Soviet spy, featuring a brilliant performance by Olivier Award winner Mark Rylance, and Oscar winner Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an insurance claims lawyer from Brooklyn who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA enlists his support to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot.

Tom Hanks comfortably crawls under the skin of Donovan, allowing us to empathise with the fragile disposition of his character, a man whose confidence and calm demeanour overrides his nervosity.

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.

It’s not a Bond or Bourne Identity type of action spy thriller, but follows in the tradition of classic films adapted from the realistic spy novels of Len Deighton and John le Carré, with relatively serious Cold War thrillers which dealt with some of the realities of the espionage world like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Deadly Affair (1966), Torn Curtain (1966), and the Harry Palmer series, based on the novels of Len Deighton.

At the end of Bridge of Spies one is reminded of Spielberg’s Close Encounter of The Third Kind, where strangers meet and how their unison is bathed in a sea of lights.

This shows that although he dons his serious hat for discerning films, there will always be the child inside of him as a consummate storyteller and storymaker that reminds us of that magical light of hope that will never fade.

Bridge of Spies is released on November 6 in South Africa.

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Copyright © 2015 Daniel Dercksen

 

 

 

Extraordinary fear destroys ordinary lives in Legend

Daniel Dercksen reviews Legend

Tom Hardy delivers commanding performances as London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray

Tom Hardy delivers commanding performances as London’s most notorious gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray in 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.

The enigmatic and iconic Kray brothers didn’t just rule the East End; they owned London.

Ruling over London in the middle of the Swinging Sixties and with Ronnie fresh out of prison, the brothers set about consolidating their power in the East End of London, taking on the ruthless South London gangster, Charlie Richardson and his gang, and working with the American Mafia, who are keen to move from Havana into London. Hailed as celebrities, the Krays are courted by the rich and famous, and their influence extends to the higher levels of the British Establishment. They were unstoppable.

While the Krays were imprisoned, a subculture grew around them, including dozens of books about their lives. One of the first, The Profession Of Violence, was written by John Pearson, a journalist who had first-hand experience with the Krays. Their lives were captured in several documentaries and in 1990 Peter Medak’s film  featured Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp as the twins.

LegendNow Tom Hardy delivers the feat of a lifetime playing both roles that will definitely earn him an Oscar nomination. Wouldn’t it be interesting is he was nominated in both the lead and supporting actor categories, for both performances in Legend deserve a nomination.

Hardy succeeds admirably. He crawls under the skin of both brothers and immerses himself heart and soul into their diverse personas, revealing the souls of monsters.

The sinister and creepy Ronnie has a twisted dark side that is destructive and when he loses it, his aggression is volatile and unsavory.

As Ronnie, Hardy perfectly captures a man who was openly Gay and ruled his gang of cocky lads, and a monster who instilled fear, even in his twin brother.

Hardy is suave and dynamic as the Capone-like Reggie, and allows us to understand his power trip but also the puppy-dog romantic that ruled his sensibility.

Without spoiling too much, there is a violent clash between the brothers in the film that says it all, capturing the physical power and emotional weakness of two men who desperately tried to dominate and love each other without destroying their undying bond of friendship and loyalty.

These two extreme opposites and layered nuances result in captivating viewing, a gentle portrait of a time when fear ruled the lives of many people and the men who advocated the rules.

Legend is not a gangster film or a film about violence, but an intense human drama told from a woman’s point of view.

Australian actress Emily Browning, who has established herself as one of the industry’s most versatile and exciting young talents and was great in the musical film God Help the Girl,  is superb as Reggie’s ill-fated wife, who tells the story of the Kray brothers.

It is interesting how both The Krays and Legend are told from a woman’s point of view:  The Krays is told from their mother’s viewpoint as she mourns the birth of her ‘two monsters’, and Legend is told from a young and vulnerable woman”s perspective, showing us how she was seduced into the world of these two monsters.

It is this view of an outsider in Legend that allows us access into an intimate world of male dominance, where brutality and swagger stripped them of their humanity.

Writer-director Brian Helgeland is no stranger to the underworld of crime and corruption in film and explored it strongly as a screenwriter in L.A Confidential, Man on Fire, Green Zone and Mystic River, and a writer and director of A Knight’s Tale and Payback.

He paints a vivid portrait of a world tainted by corruption and violence and allows the tragic characters who are imprisoned by glory to shine.

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.

Legend is showing from October 30.

Copyright © 2015 Daniel Dercksen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tragedy of monstrous love

Daniel Dercksen reviews Crimson Peak

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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.

“This is a genre that was important at the end of the 18th century as a romantic reaction to the Age of Reason,’’ says del Toro.

‘’It marries things that are seemingly dissimilar: heightened melodrama layered with a lot of darkness and the Gothic atmosphere of a dark fairy tale that is both creepy and eerie.  It combines these elements to produce a unique flavour. Crimson Peak is designed to be gorgeous and beautiful, not only as eye candy but as eye protein.’’

What is Crimson Peak?

It’s Allerdale Hall, a vast Gothic mansion set atop a subterranean mine where blood-red clay seep through the snow and stains the mountain.  Reminiscent of the iconic house in Pscycho, it’s a creepy haunted house where angels fear to tread.

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The house is not just a house, but an important character in the film unlike anything you have seen before; it’s an abysmal but gorgeous creature that is very much alive and fearful.  With gaping holes in its roof and snow and withered leaves constantly blowing into the cavernous interior, the walls are bristling with thousands of moths flapping around and it is populated by ghoulish apparitions trapped for eternity and yearning to be set free.

Unruly Outsiders discover the power of love

Set in the year 1901, Edith Cushing is an aspiring writer who dreams of becoming Mary Shelley. She is an outsider in high society who finds herself torn between two rival suitors: her childhood companion Alan Michael (Charlie Hunnam), a brilliant intellect who stimulates her mind, and the irresistibly seductive Thomas Sharpe )Tom Hiddleston.

Just like Red Riding Hood’s encounter with the wolf, Edith soon finds that everything is not what it seems, when she meets Sharpe’s wicked sister, the mysterious and alluring Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

When the house takes on a life of its own, the characters discover “the power that love has to make monsters of us all”.

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Crimson Peak is not your average Gothic Romance

It’s the latest from Giulermo del Toro, who astounded us 15 years ago with his unforgettable The Devil’s Backbone where a young boy questions ‘’What is a ghost?” ‘’Is it a tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again?’’ ‘’… an instance of pain perhaps … an emotion suspended in time, like a blurred photograph?’’

Now, with Crimson Peak, the first line states that ‘’Ghosts are real.”

It’s not a ‘’I see dead people’’ supernatural film, or a ghost film, but one with ghosts in it, and from the blood curdling opening sequence, we know that we have to suspend disbelief and let our imaginations run wild.

But somehow we forget about the ominous introduction when we are swept off our feet by Del Toro’s magical allure as he relentlessly coaxes us into a captivating mystery of betrayal, deceit and mendacity.

The beauty of horror

Steeped in classical tradition, del Toro’s Hitchcockian approach and mesmerising visual style, is operatic and plays like a magnificent symphony of sound and image.

For Del Toro, “Horror has to be a beautiful thing” and his awe-inspiring vision is richly brought to life by the artistry of production designer Thomas E. Sanders (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), costume designer Kate Hawley (who worked on all 3 Hobbit films and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim), Visual Effects wizard Dennis Berardi (who also created the magic for Pacific Rim and Fight Club), and beautifully underscored by Spanish-born composer Fernando Valázques (who composed the music for Mama, produced by Del Toro).

Please make sure to stay for the title sequence at the end of the film. It is and truly exquisite work of art.

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Merging extreme emotions

Del Toro’s meticulous manipulation is spellbinding, seducing you into a hypnotic state of idyllic compliance and ultimate reverence.

But, be warned! Don’t be fooled by del Toro’s charming and magical powers. He has a wicked dark sense of fear and there are moments of pure gasping horror when he strikes a mean blow like a wounded tiger.

He plays a delightful and mischievous cat and mouse game with his audience, drifting from reality to fantasy, from fear to adoration, sometimes merging these extreme emotions into untarnished melodrama that forms the life blood of Gothic Romance.

Just like the tragic heroine of the story, del Toro slowly lifts the veil of mystery and reveals dark (and bloody secrets).

Superb performances

Crimson Peak is not only a rewarding visual experience, but offers a meaningful emotional experience with a superb cast vividly bringing their vibrant characters to life.

Jessica Chastain is sensational as a dark and tortured soul whose passion knows no limitations, with Tom Hiddleson equally brilliant as a wounded opportunist who is relentless in his quest to find happiness.

Chastain and Hiddleson sizzle as two champions who want to rule, no matter what the cost; there is an incredible sadness in their union, a desperate outcry for answers to their suffering and torment.

Mia Wasikowska perfectly captures the wide-eyed wonder of a tragic heroine, with Charlie Hunnam delivering great support as a young idealist who wants to protect the object of his affection.

Verdict

If you are looking for a cinematic experience that provides ultimate escapism, Crimson Peak delivers on all levels.

It’s a film you completely immerse yourself into, getting lost in the maze of mysteries and spectacle that devours logic and reason.

For once, we can believe in ghosts and at the rousing finale of Crimson Peak realise that they are simply as lost and misguided as those who fear them, desperately trying to protect the malevolence that killed them.

Take a trip to Allerdale Hall and dare to stay overnight. You won’t regret it.

It is released on October 30 in South Africa.

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Copyright © 2015  Daniel Dercksen

 

The Haunting Memory Of Abuse

Review by Daniel Dercksen (October 21, 2015)

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.

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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.

In Dis Ek, Anna, Kapp reveals the four distinct faces of men: a loving father and family man who turns monstrous, a sexual predator who perpetuates his crime relentlessly, a protector of society who needs to find a way to stop the shocking crimes against woman and children; and a man whose love can set an abused woman free.

Director Sara Blecher paints a stark portrait of how women rally up against brutal onslaught:  revenge is bitter for a woman who takes action to revenge the man who sexually abused her when she was a teenager,  a mother who becomes a silent witness is crucified in guilt, and one of the most interesting scenes in the film actually occurs where a woman sits smoking on her porch and silently watches what happens when someone revenges a sexual predator living inside her house, and when the deed is done and they leave the house, she picks up a bucket and a mop and enters the house to clean up the mess.

Blecher knows how to tell a story in pictures and skilfully merges the contrasting realms of Dis Ek, Anna, allowing for graceful but potent transitions between the world of a young girl whose life is a nightmarish hell, and that of a woman who awakens from the nightmare.

There is potent drama in Blecher’s vision that is never intrusive, she keeps a wary distance observing broken lives and slowly reveals the haunting shadows that lurk beneath the surface or ordinary existence.

We journey into the lives of people we think we know well, and gradually uncover hidden secrets that ultimately reveals their true nature.

 

Charlené Brouwer delivers a heart-breaking performance as a woman who confronts the man who destroyed her innocence; it is a difficult role to portray and Brouwer succeeds in perfectly balancing the cold and calculated physicality of her character with the intensity of her brittle emotional torment.

Morné Visser is superb as Anna’s stepfather who is crucified in his sexual perversion, his Jekyll and Hyde persona is chilling; we cannot help but love the perfect family man and absolutely detest his dark psyche.

As a mother who becomes a silent witness to the tragedy and the demise of her daughter’s innocence, Nicola Hanekom will break your heart when she is forced to confront her weakness as a mother who failed her duty. Here stands a woman who knows everything but does nothing.

Izel Bezuidenhout who plays the young Anna manages to draw us into the intimate horror that befalls a young girl and also brings the rebellious and provocative nature of her character to life.

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Izel Bezuidenhout, Morné Visser and Nicola Hanekom

Marius Weyers delivers another emotionally driven performance as a hardened policeman, whose life is drastically changed, allowing us to journey into Anna’s fragile disposition.

There’s also a memorable performance from Drikus Volschenk as the lawyer who dares to break down the barriers that prevents Anna from finding peace, and one whose love can hopefully set her free.

The multi-layered and flawed characters in Dis Ek, Anna offers drama for discerning audiences that is riveting and captivating, drawing us into a reality that we often ignore, and sadly remains the shameful whisper of an unspoken truth.

It’s not only a film about abuse, but an equally important film about the healing power of love;  Anna finds escape from her past in the arms of a man she wants to trust and one what will honour and respect her as a woman.

The film clearly shows that being helpless is not a hopeless situation, but a motivator that inspires action to transform lives and heal wounds.

We need films like Dis Ek, Anna to remind us of how important it is to own our human right for dignity and respect, and to open up a conversation between silent sufferers and passive observers.

Read more about bringing Dis Ek, Anna to the Big Screen

Copyright © 2015  Daniel Dercksen

ABRAHAM

Abraham is a profound and consummate masterwork

Daniel Dercksen reviews Abraham (October 15, 2015)

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.

Dann-Jaques Mouton delivers a riveting performance as Abraham, an artist and dreamer from Kannaland in the early 1980’s;  an area in the Little Karoo that stretches from the Swartberg in the north to the Langeberg in the south, and from the Anysberg in the west to the Gamkaberg in the east.

Abraham is a dedicated husband and father who struggles to provide for his young wife Katie (a superb performance by Chantell Phillipus) and their four year old daughter. But through his creative determination and undying passion he finds patronage in Jong Jans (Hannes Muller) and his wife, Almeri (Franci Swanepoel).

Muller delivers a sensitive and heartfelt performance as a young Jans Rautenbach, who travels from the big city where he works as a filmmaker, to the peace and serenity of his family in Kannaland.

Rautenbach introduces us to the story and narrates it. It is as if he invites us into his home, his own personal space where he shares some wonderful memories of a past that shaped our future.

When Abraham and Katie settle into their new home working for Jong Jans and Almeri, Abraham fiercely supports his wife who battles with mental illness and alcoholism, and fights his own ambitions as an artist.

Abraham is a dreamer who wishes to rise above his station in life and make his mark on the world, but the harsh realities of his dire circumstances becomes the deterrent to his happiness.

There are moments in the story where you can feel the story creeping into your soul.

One such moment is when a drunken Katie lies passed out on a dirt road, resting her head on the lap of her four-year-old daughter as the fluid from her spirits bottle seeps into the dry earth.

What makes this scene remarkable is that it does not only signify the emotional death of a woman who desperately cries out for understanding in a world that shuns her, but how the young girl finds life in the muddy soil and starts creating a clay figure, just as her father breathes life into wire frames sculpting glorious cement animals and birds.

An Open and Honest Film

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.

Beautifully captured by cinematographer Koos Roets, the visual tapestry of Abraham is as soulful as the Karoo,

When Abraham receives as much as R1 for one of his cement chickens that he spent days crafting, he humbly dances with joy and is filled with the gratitude of millions.

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Abraham is grounded in an isolated reality that cuts you off from the rest of existence; like it’s characters, you are imprisoned by the world they live in in Kannaland,  with cars and trucks cutting across the highway as an only reminder of life outside its horizon.

It is a film you feel, and one you contentedly succumb to with utter joy.

An inspiring and tragic tale, filled with an evocative music score by Riku Lätti that richly underscores the intimate mindscape of its rich characters’,  Abraham offers an intimate and emotional viewing experience that is meaningful and will change your life, creating an awareness of how important it is to embrace our humanity and those who share our lives, even the strangers who dare to remind us of the unpleasant realities outside our comfort zones.

The world deserves to see Abraham and hopefully it will be in consideration to be submitted for an Oscar in the Best Foreign film category.

Abraham is in Afrikaans with English subtitles.

Copyright © 2015 Daniel Dercksen     Published with permission on Biz Community, Oct 15, 2015

 

Life

The Face of Fame

Daniel Dercksen reviews 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.

The film is not just a biopic about Dean’s life, but the heart-warming story of a photographer who desperately wanted to capture the soul of a fledgling star and free spirit who would change popular culture from suits to jeans and from matinee idols to teenage heartthrob.

It’s takes a look at how obsession can blind our ambitions and force us to take a closer look at what really is important in our lives.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by success or fail to find meaning in life, and it’s on this journey to find answers to the bigger picture that two strangers unite to see the real beauty in life, and finally set themselves free from a prison created by society.

Life is an ideal film for anyone who has ever had a love affair with movies, and also a film for discerning audiences looking for a film that captures the essence of true friendship and how strange encounters can alter our lives.

I am sure that after watching Life, you will delve into the life of Dean, who was truly one of a kind, and explore his films.

Go behind the scenes of Life                                   More on Life

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Celebrating a Consummate Dream

Daniel Dercksen reviews 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.

Don’t be surprised if you still feel shaky and unstable after watching the film, particularly in its IMAX format.

It’s a film that is ideally suited to 3D, and particularly in the IMAX format; you live and breathe very moment of the momentous walk, as well as other scenes where Petit practises his craft.

What contributes to the overall emotional impact of the film is that it is a passionate and poignant love letter to Paris and New York City in the 1970s, but most of all, to the towers of the World Trade Center.

It’s not simply a story about a man who defeats an impossible dream, but one that celebrates the joy of making the most of life, and not wasting our talents.

If you want to time travel back to 1974, The Walk guarantees to immerse you heart and soul into a story that shows how important it is to feed our dreams, and that nothing is impossible.

Make sure to see it during its first week at IMAX. I am sure you will be watching it again. It’s most definitely one of the best films of the year and one that will surely garner a few Oscars.

The Walk releases exclusively onto Ster-Kinekor’s five IMAX 3D screens around the country on Friday, 09 October, a week before its national release in 2 and 3D.

Go behind the scenes of The Walk

Extreme solitude tests human endurance in The Martian, with Matt Damon as an astronaut who becomes a spaced-out Robinson Crusoe on Mars when his crew leaves him behind for dead.

An ultimate trip to Mars turns into man’s worst nightmare when Damon has to find a way to survive or become a statistic. Damon, who shot to fame after his role as a paratrooper who went missing in action during World War II in Saving Private Ryan, and turned action-hero as Jason Bourne in the Bourne series and the war thriller Green Zone, steps into familiar territory as man who is lost and on a mission.

Director Ridley Scott has always been a man on a mission since changing the face of science-fiction film with Alien, directed the landmark science-fiction classic Blade Runner, and plunged a team of explorers to the darkest parts of the universe in Prometheus (a prequel to Scott’s Alien).

This time there’s no creepy face-hugging organisms, weird mechanical beings or a race of benevolent godlike beings, but just an astronaut, lost in space.

Tom Hanks had to find a way to survive and combat ultimate isolation in Cast Away, and now Damon has to brave the cosmos. At a running time of 2-and-half hours The Martian is a challenging prospect that succeeds in holding our attention, allowing us to share the intimacy of loneliness, and grasp the fear of dire desolation.

And as Damon’s character proclaims in The Martian: ‘’I’m going to science the shit out of this planet,” and he does, with several daredevil stunts filled with humour and pathos.

The Martian allows us to question our mortality and the importance of loyalty towards those who share our dreams. Don’t spoil the adventure by knowing the ending or too much about the story. Just take a trip to Mars. It’s well worth it.

Behind the scenes

Sitting among the rocks and dirt on Stage 6, Matt Damon is about to complete the final days of shooting at Korda. It’s late February, and every other cast member wrapped two weeks ago. “It’s just been me and Ridley on Mars,” Damon jokes.

The unusual dynamic of working alone in nearly all of his scenes was a new experience for Damon, who comments, “This movie is essentially three separate but connected storylines. Watney is a Robinson Crusoe figure. I really like the character and admire the way the story celebrates the courage and ingenuity of these astronauts. As Drew (Goddard) said to me, it’s a love letter to science.”

Working in the gravitational orbit of Ridley Scott was another irresistible lure for Damon, who says Scott has elicited performances from actors that are “too good to be an accident. He’s willing to break a rule if it buys a bigger emotional connection from the audience. He paints on a much bigger canvas than most people, and it’s exciting to do things on that scale.”

Damon mentions that Scott essentially had the movie in his head before shooting began, so was able to walk him though specific camera shots, coverage and setups. “He allows his actors to see the movie as he envisions it, which is incredibly useful for performance.”

Throughout nearly five weeks of solo acting, Damon had been asked to not only carry the story but at times a substantial amount of astronaut gear on his back. His unfailing high spirits and good humor buoyed the entire crew during some intense and strenuous moments.

Through much of shooting he says his mind would reflect on the touching lengths that people go to save Mark Watney.

“He represents more than just one life. He embodies humanity’s pioneering instincts and our hopes for the future. It’s been a privilege to play this character

Read more reviews