The Nancy Starling

Their Finest

Director: Lone Scherfig

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Rachael Stirling

Danish director Lone Scherfig delivers another nuanced and unexpectedly unsettling film, Their Finest featuring a superb performance by Gemma Arterton (The Prince of Persia, Quantum of Solace) in one of her best roles yet. Director of The Riot Club, One Day and An Education, Scherfig is brilliant at capturing the peculiarities of the British social system, exemplified in The Riot Club and perfected in her latest film, Their Finest.

Set in 1940 during the Blitz, while London was being mercilessly bombed by the Germans at the beginning of World War II, Their Finest focuses on the art of propaganda about Arterton who is asked to become a scriptwriter on a film aimed to boosted the morale of the British public particularly from a woman’s perspective when most of the men were being conscripted to fight the war.

Arterton plays the feisty Welsh woman Caitrin Cole whose relationship with a struggling artist Ellis Cole played by Jack Huston (Ben-Hur, The Riot Club) is precarious at best. Caitrin’s co-writer is the cynical Tom Buckley wonderfully played by Sam Claflin (Me Before You) who keeps on advising her to trim the fat on any story which appears too verbose.

The story in question is how twin sisters managed to save some Allied soldiers off the French coast during the Dunkirk evacuation aboard their father’s fishing vessel The Nancy Starling.

The embellishment of the story and its natural progression to a morale boosting piece of cinema, aptly named The Nancy Starling is the task of Caitlyn and Tom who has to contend not only with the vested interests of the Ministry of Information represented by Roger Swain wonderfully played by Richard E. Grant but also the War Ministry represented by the Secretary of War played by Oscar winner Jeremy Irons (The Reversal of Fortune).

What elevates the grim narrative of Their Finest, a city under siege with Londoners being randomly killed off during incessant bombings is the appearance of fading film star Ambrose Hilliard acidly played with dark humour by character actor Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Pride).

There are some precious moments between Nighy and his new agent Sophie Smith played by Helen McCrory who takes over Hilliard’s career after her brother Sammy Smith, a brief cameo by Eddie Marsan, is unexpectedly killed in the bombings.

Based upon the novel by Lissa Evans entitled “Their Finest Hour and a Half”, Their Finest is a remarkably interesting war film about the art of propaganda, the process of scripting a film and a precarious love triangle, particularly noticeable when thwarted affections develop between Tom Buckley and Caitrin Cole.

The only criticism is that Their Finest could have been edited more efficiently as the dramatic pace of the film lags at times and this efficiency in getting the story across would have prevented the narrative from becoming slightly repetitive and drawn out.

Yet despite its imperfections, Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin are brilliant as the young creative screenwriters trying to negotiate a budding romance amidst their own artistic differences.

Audiences should look out for a particularly tart performance by Diana Rigg’s daughter Rachael Stirling as the propaganda film’s sharp tongued production secretary Phyl Moore.

Their Finest as a wartime dramatic comedy gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. This witty and poignant British film will be enjoyed by those that share the English sentiment of stoically soldiering on in the face of burdening hardships without resorting to emotional melodrama. Which is what the British did during the Blitz.

 

Princess of the Amazons

Wonder Woman

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya

Monster director Patty Jenkins delivers a feminine superhero film with DC’s Wonder Woman featuring the beautiful Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Princess of the Amazons.

Gal Gadot first appeared as Wonder Woman in the male-orientated film Batman v Superman and she certainly was no femme fatale, proving a viable counterpoint to Ben Affleck’s Batman.

The first fifteen minutes of Woman Woman, there is no man in sight as the tribe of Amazonian female warriors live blissfully unaware of external strife on an island Themyscira.

As a headstrong young woman, Diana (Wonder Woman) is heavily watched by her protective mother Hippolyta played by Danish beauty Connie Nielsen (Gladiator) while being influenced to train as a Amazonian warrior by her aunt Antiope played by Robin Wright soon to be seen in Blade Runner 2049.

The idyllic exclusion of Themyscira is shattered when the young Diana sees a plane crash into the distant sea and jumps into the ocean saving the bewildered WWI pilot Steve Trevor wonderfully played with bashful humour by Chris Pine (Hell or High Water, Into the Woods).

In an ironic female gaze, director Jenkins turns the camera on a naked Steve as he emerges refreshed from a luxurious infinity pool under the lustful eye of Diana who asks pointedly “Do all men look like that?”

The action moves swiftly to the gritty battle lines of World War 1 as Britain and the allies are about to sign a shaky armistice with Germany. There Diana sees the brutality of man first hand and director Jenkins does not shy away from a valid point that men are the cause of all the wars and the subsequent destruction in the world.

At this point, the audience assumes that the villain of Wonder Woman is the evil German officer Ludendorff played by Danny Huston (Hitchcock, Wrath of the Titans) who is developing chemical weapons with the help of poison specialist Dr Maru played by Elena Anaya.

Diana and Steve form a band of mercenaries set on destroying Ludendorff made up of smooth talking Sameer played by French Moroccan star Said Taghmaoui, Scotsman Charlie played by Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner and Red Indian chief played by Eugene Brave Rock.

Serving as an origins story and since Wonder Woman is immortal, this is a snapshot of bravery at time when the World was fighting the War to end all wars, circa 1918. What Jenkins manages to do so brilliantly is defy the conventional roles woman play in superhero and adventure films by making the heroine the woman that boldly saves the day, instead of just portraying her as a helpless damsel in distress, leaving the men bewildered, confused and looking like idiots.

As a superhero film, Wonder Woman delivers on all fronts, including lots of humour, copious amounts of action, sufficient visual effects and a surprising plot denouement to keep audiences engaged.

The strikingly gorgeous Gal Gadot holds her own in a big budget franchise film opposite a brilliant blue-eyed Chris Pine, while the period costumes by Lindy Hemming add to the effect of a superheroine stuck in the middle of an antiquated man-made war, which only leaves death and devastation in its wake.

Wonder Woman gets a rating of 8 out of 10. Soon audiences will see more of Wonder Woman as Diana, Princess of the Amazons will next be seen in the highly anticipated Justice League opposite Batman and newcomer Aquaman.

 

The Quest for Poseidon’s Trident

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Directors: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stephen Graham

Viewers can be forgiven for thinking that they are on a spectacular Disney theme park ride, when watching the highly entertaining opening sequence of Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge co-directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge was released in South Africa, Europe and the UK under this title but is also known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in America possibly for trademark reasons.

This fifth installment of the hugely successful Pirates franchise which made stars out of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, not to mention cementing Johnny Depp’s status as a massive box office drawcard, is maximum entertainment. Depp’s performance as the wayward pirate Captain Jack Sparrow was Oscar nominated back in 2003 for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

As the film opens we see Australian actor Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent, Gods of Egypt) as Henry Turner conversing miraculously underwater with his trapped father Will Turner played again by Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End).

Henry makes a pact to find Poseidon’s Trident which will undo all the curses which have befallen pirates and sailors alike in the turbulent waters of the Caribbean, thus freeing his father from his watery confinement.

Under another such curse is Salazar, the archetypal villain wonderfully played with a Spanish accent by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) who is a ghostly pirate trapped for eternity in an unholy state keen on exacting revenge on every pirate and sailor he encounters, more specifically Captain Jack Sparrow who he blames for tricking him into sailing into the Devil’s Triangle, cursing his Spanish crew forever.

After an attention grabbing opening sequence involving a chaotic bank robbery on the British controlled island of Saint Martin, Captain Sparrow reluctantly gathers his crew again including Henry Turner and newcomer Carina Smyth played by Kaya Scodelario as they escape the island and set sail in search of the elusive Poseidon’s trident. The bloodthirsty Salazar has made an unlikely pact with another of Sparrow’s enemies Hector Barbossa wonderfully played by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine).

While Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is fantastic entertainment with alluring special effects, the plot and direction is occasionally ambivalent lacking a unity of vision in certain sequences.

Besides the swashbuckling, the cameo appearances and a relentlessly fast narrative which taps into a pervasive Pirates mythology which subscribes to the notion that they are outlaws, reckless and merciless, this version of Pirates of the Caribbean is worth seeing especially since it deftly introduces the franchise to a younger audience with the love affair between Carina and Henry, promising of more sequels to come.

Perhaps the action might seem implausible or downright fantastical, but Pirates delivers on its franchise promise and gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Fans of the previous films, will enjoy this version especially the welcome re-appearance of its most notable anti-hero, the rum-sipping, wise-cracking and perverse Jack Sparrow played with suitable delinquency by Johnny Depp.

California Dreaming

20th Century Women

Director: Mike Mills

Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alison Elliott

Beginners director Mike Mills dramatic comedy 20th Century Women featuring a brilliant performance by Oscar nominated star Annette Bening as a single mother Dorothea Fields in Santa Barbara in 1979 struggling to raise a teenage son who does not have a paternal influence in his life comes off as long winded and self-indulgent.

The biggest problem with 20th Century Women is that while Mills effectively catches the zeitgeist of the late 1970’s as the decade is edging into the 1980’s and the sexual freedom of the seventies is being replaced by the punk rock hard core attitude of such bands as The Sex Pistols, the film itself does not sustain in terms of script for two hours especially with only five characters and less than clever dialogue.

What does come through clearly in 20th Century Women is that Jamie played Lucas Jade Zumann is being influenced by too many varying female perspectives which naturally causes friction among Bening’s character and her zany young lodger Abigail Porter played by Greta Gerwig who is recovering from ovarian cancer. Then there is Hollywood it girl Elle Fanning (Live By Night, Malificent) as the sexually promiscuous and outspoken teenager Julie who befriends Jamie yet does not offer any of the promised sexual pleasures which she so often hints at. This leaves him as a young teenage boy frustrated and confused.

Alison Elliott has a brief appearance as Julie’s mother. Elliott is best known for her roles in Birth and as the dying heiress in the stunning film The Wings of a Dove.

Whilst he tries to understand Feminism including reading The Politics of Orgasm and is introduced to drugs, alcohol and the legendary Californian free-spirited living, what he really desires is a strong maternal bond with his mother, who emotionally cannot deal with her teenage son.

Instead of being a mother to Jamie, the unconventional working mother Dorothea gives him free rein and he in turns sees her as lonely chain-smoking single mother who grew up in the Great Depression.

Despite superb performances by Bening and Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women is a feminist film from a man’s perspective that of the director Mike Mills and does not delve into the emotional crux of motherhood too deeply.

If audiences expect an eventful trajectory of a dysfunctional family drama, 20th Century Women does not deliver mainly due to a lacklustre script and a story line which essentially doesn’t really go anywhere significant beyond catching the mood of a decade which is about to close while the world is rapidly transforming into the consumerist 1980’s where the sexual liberties of the 1970’s are severely curtailed by the AIDS pandemic.

If a film is going to only have five characters in the story, the script better be absolutely superb and whilst 20th Century Women has its definable moments nothing stands out as particularly brilliant in the tradition of the recent film by Kenneth Lonergan, the Oscar winning Manchester by the Sea or even the riveting Stephen Frear’s French period drama Dangerous Liaisons which quite frankly is in a league of its own.

20th Century Women gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and one hopes that the extraordinarily talented Annette Bening can once again achieve onscreen recognition as she once did in her career defining performances in such Oscar nominated roles in Being Julia, American Beauty and The Grifters.

From Brothel to Kingdom

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Craig McKinley, David Beckham

Despite the miserably wet and cold weather, I popped off one Sunday evening to see director Guy Ritchie’s highly anticipated film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword featuring Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam who embodies all the muscular traits of a young would be king who has to fight his tyrannical uncle. That uncle is played by Jude Law (Wilde, Sherlock Holmes) as the vicious Vortigern.

Vortigern who has been seduced by far darker forces betrays his brother King Uther played by Eric Bana (The Other Boleyn Girl) and even murders his own wife. Talk about sibling rivalry.

Arthur who grows up in a pre-medieval London brothel soon learns to fend for himself against unsuspecting invading Vikings and toughens up enough to become a muscular young man who is selected to return to Vortigern’s castle to stand in line with a queue of brawny lads hoping to be able to pull the sword out of the stone.

That legendary sword Excalibur is rightfully pulled out by Arthur and Vortigern identifies his nephew as his true threat and plans to execute him in a spectacular fashion in front of all his ragged followers who out of fear have sworn fealty to a bloodthirsty deranged king.

Fortunately Arthur has some allies who are determined to shape his royal destiny including the sorceress The Mage played by Spanish star Astrid Berges-Frisbey (I, Origins) and Bedivere played by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) who both assist Arthur in avenging his father’s death and claiming his rightful place at the Table.

In King Arthur, Guy Ritchie employs all his trademark dexterous narrative techniques with lots of witty dialogue that he displayed in the Sherlock Holmes films while deftly maintaining the pace of a legendary action blockbuster, making this one of his biggest studio films.

Hunnam is perfectly cast as the dashing yet brawny King Arthur while Jude Law is suitably vile as Vortigern who believes the only way to quell the masses is through fear.

Whilst King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword could have used a romantic subplot, it remains a mythical and muscular popcorn film which shies away from resorting to loads of gore in order to keep the age restriction fairly low at PG 13.

Audiences should watch out for the deadly archer Bill played by Aiden Gillen last seen as Littlefinger in HBO’s Game of Thrones and the duplicitous maiden Maggie played by British star Annabelle Wallis soon to be seen in the Tom Cruise action remake of The Mummy.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an enjoyable action film heavily influenced by such hit series as Vikings and Game of Thrones but does not punch above its own weight and Ritchie keeps his quirky directorial style to a minimum unlike his previous spy caper The Man From Uncle.

With Hunnam’s box office star power on the rise and Guy Ritchie set to direct more Arthurian sequels, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Deconstructing Howard Hughes

Rules Don’t Apply

Director: Warren Beatty

Cast: Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Haley Bennett, Hart Bochner, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Taissa Farmiga, Oliver Platt

Legendary actor Warren Beatty returns after an almost fifteen year screen absence with his Hollywood film Rules Don’t Apply as he deftly deconstructs the later years of Howard Hughes in Hollywood in the mid-1960’s.

If Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning film The Aviator about reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes is the starting point then Rules Don’t Apply should be the bookmark on an extraordinary man whose legendary eccentricity almost exceeded his insurmountable wealth.

Unfortunately despite a handsome production design, Rules Don’t Apply should have garnered more critical acclaim than it got. The Warren Beatty film got released in the midst of Hollywood’s diversity debate and then to add to unwarranted attention Beatty and Bonnie and Clyde co-star Faye Dunaway got caught in one of the biggest live Television mix-up’s in Oscar history – the mistaken announcement of Best Picture at the 2017 Oscar Awards when they incorrectly announced that Damien Chazelle’s La La Land had won Best Picture when in fact Barry Jenkins’s film Moonlight walked away with the coveted trophy much to the world’s astonishment.

Personally I loved Rules Don’t Apply and have always been a fan of Warren Beatty’s work from his Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs Miller opposite Julie Christie to his later work opposite his wife Annette Bening in Bugsy.

What really shines through in Rules Don’t Apply are the outstanding performances of the two young stars Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich who was so brilliant in the Coen brothers skit film Hail, Caesar!

Beatty’s performance as Howard Hughes is superb and he captures the idiosyncratic obsessive compulsive nature of the truly eccentric billionaire who invested his inherited Texan oil drilling wealth in films and aviation, even becoming acquiring a majority share in Trans World Airlines TWA. However, Hughes developed a severely debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) so aptly portrayed by both Beatty in Rules Don’t Apply and by Leonardo diCaprio in The Aviator. Howard Hughes’s OCD  caused his lifestyle to become increasingly erratic and reclusive.

Hughes’s continuous occupation with flying around the world, his bizarre womanizing and his globetrotting adventures are all perfectly captured in Rules Don’t Apply as the film’s action moves from California to Acapulco to Nicaragua and to London then back to Washington D. C.

With his immense wealth, Hughes hired dozens of would be starlets to come to L. A. and be in one of his films, all expenses paid including accommodation at lavish Hollywood Hills homes. Lily Collins plays Marla Mabry a pampered and conservative young girl who comes to Hollywood to be wooed by Hughes and star in one of his pictures. Her natural attraction for her dashing young chauffeur is clearly evident upon their first meeting. Alden Ehrenreich plays Frank Forbes, the young entrepreneurial chauffeur who immediately takes a fancy to the naive star-struck Marla.  Although both of these young people are living in the shadow of an eccentric billionaire who is supporting their stay in Los Angeles.

A bizarre love triangle develops between Marla, Frank and Howard Hughes, the latter being three times the age of the naïve young starlet who is seduced in a bungalow at the Beverley Hills Hilton after imbibing copious amounts of champagne.

Rules Don’t Apply has a fabulous and glamorous old fashioned charm which is conveyed throughout the film ably assisted with smooth direction by Beatty who also casts some veteran supporting actors including Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now), Candice Bergen (Gandhi) and an excellent performance by Matthew Broderick (The Producers).

This Hollywood biopic which deconstructs the eccentric Howard Hughes gets a rating of 9 out of 10.

Essentially, Rules Don’t Apply about an extraordinarily bizarre billionaire makes for fascinating viewing. Highly recommended especially if viewers have seen The Aviator.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Hughes

 

 

 

Starlord’s Genealogy

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Sylvester Stallone, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn

Director James Gunn’s second foray into the Guardians universe is not as brilliant as his original film, mainly because the quirkiness of the characters of the first Guardians of the Galaxy has worn off slightly. If viewers enjoy psychedelic action with lots of CGI then Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 is for you.

All the original cast reprise their roles with a bigger screen time for Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana who both have familial issues to contend with. Pratt’s character Peter “Star Lord” Quill has to contend with unresolved father issues when he meets his dad aptly named Ego charismatically played by Kurt Russell who is definitely having a rejuvenation in his career. While Zoe Saldana’s Gamora has to contend with sibling rivalry with the unexpected arrival of her sister Nebula played by Karen Gillan.

Dave Bautista’s Drax seems to be more contented and has the best lines in the film. While Bradley Cooper who provides the voice of Rocket and Vin Diesel who does the voice of Baby Groot really just had to the star power.

The best scenes in the film are between Kurt Russell and Chris Pratt as Starlord discovers that his biological father is a slight megalomaniac with unresolved desire to consume the universe. Spoiler Alert there!

Sylvester Stallone pops up briefly as Stakar Ogord and unfortunately has too little screen time to give his character any credibility. Chameleon actress Elizabeth Debicki who was so brilliantly in the series The Night Manager and was seen in Macbeth and The Great Gatsby also unfortunately has too little screen time to really give her golden genetically enhanced character Ayesha – Ruler of the Sovereign race any menace although she does look absolutely gorgeous in all that gold.

Elizabeth Debicki should use her remarkable talents as an actress in a far better genre than psychedelic sci-fi  but then again Marvel are calling the shots. Marvel are certainly luring talented stars to play in their films. Just look at the cast of Doctor Strange.

Unlike Doctor Strange which was really well done with awesome special effects, James Gunn’s Guardians 2 with the tag line “Obviously” seems to much of the same and nothing remotely original. Strip away all the CGI and the plot is basically a father and son story about a son who slowly becomes disillusioned with the image of what his father should be, never mind the fatal legacy that Ego has install for Starlord and the rest of the gang.

Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy will certainly enjoy this hasty sequel but lets face it this version is never as innovative as the original film. Now what remains to be seen is how the Guardians will fare in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity movie scheduled for a 2018 release featuring a combination of all the Avengers, plus Spiderman and the Guardians – Should be fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 is a fantastic fun-filled popcorn film but nothing more. Viewers will be dazzled by fantastic CGI that the whole universe will be dripping with neon.  Although, the Guardians films are enjoyable they are not in the league of Star Wars but then again my loyalties lie elsewhere.

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 gets a rating of 6.5 out of 10 but is strictly for the fans of the first film. Its quirky, fun, but nothing spectacular despite the presence of Kurt Russell and Elizabeth Debicki both of whom add gravitas to an otherwise skimpy plot line. On the plus side – the music is fantastic and Baby Groot is really cute!

Live Fast, Die Harder

Fast and Furious 8

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kristofer Hivuju, Elsa Pataky

As if there weren’t enough Fast and Furious films, there has to be an eighth film less the appearance of actor Paul Walker who tragically died in a car accident in California in 2013, just after filming The Fast and Furious 7.

The Italian Job director F. Gary Gray assembles an international cast featuring most of the actors from the previous films including Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, Michelle Rodriguez as Letty along with Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Chris Bridges as Tej Parker. This time the chief villain is South African born Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster) as ruthless hacker Cipher who entices Dominic into working for him after she approaches him in a Havana Street. Cipher’s hold of Dominic turns to be blackmail and she constantly manipulates his familial duties and his bond to his gang of drivers.

To add some muscle to the cast are Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs and action man Jason Statham as Deckard who are recruited by a covert intelligence officer aptly identified as Mr Nobody played by Kurt Russell who is definitely experience a resurgence in his career. Mr Nobody’s sidekick Little Nobody is played by Scott Eastwood (Fury) son of veteran actor Clint Eastwood.

Let’s face it the screenwriters are not exactly imaginative with character names. Suffice to say is that audiences that enjoyed all the other Fast and Furious films will definitely enjoy this international joyride as the action swiftly moves from Havana, Cuba to New York and then onto an icy showdown in Russia which involves a nuclear submarine among all the fast cars and snowmobiles. The Manhattan action sequence might be implausible but is definitely not an advert for the benefits of self-driving cars which can be remotely hacked. See it to believe it.

Considering that Fast and the Furious 8 was number one at the South African box office for three consecutive weeks since its Easter weekend opening and that the action film has grossed over a $1 billion dollars worldwide there is definitely enough fan support to sustain this fast-paced action franchise for further films to come.

Judging by the packed cinema when I watched the film, Fast and Furious 8 or the Fate of the Furious has the winning combination of fast cars, gadgets, beautiful women and a healthy dose of Hollywood cameos. This is popcorn cinema at its most formulaic and these films certainly keeps many actors employed.

As the characters live fast and some of them die harder, Fast and Furious 8 is a fun-filled action film but don’t expect anything too highbrow. Audiences should look out for Game of Thrones stars Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey and Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivuju as Toretto’s musclebound enemy Rhodes.

Fast and Furious 8 gets a film rating of 7 out of 10. If you enjoyed the other films, then this film will satisfy even the most ardent speed racers who can visually salivate at fast cars and daring stunts.

Strength and Determination

Beyond the River

Director: Craig Freimond

Cast: Lemogang Tsipa, Grant Swanby, Garth Breytenbach, Ben Voss, Paul du Toit, Emily Child, Israel Makoe, Kgosi Mongake

It’s comforting to watch a really well made and engrossing South African film. Director Craig Freimond’s sports drama Beyond the River focuses on two men from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds who come together and team up to do the gruelling Dusi Canoe marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, a distance of 120 kilometres which takes place annually in February.

Audiences first glimpse Duma an athletic young man as he is persuaded to do cable theft in the township near where he lives in Soweto. His poverty-stricken background clearly inhabits Duma from reaching his full potential and his risk of being sucked into a life of crime is narrowly avoided when he escapes being caught by the police. His one-time canoeing coach Oupa played by Israel Makoe (Tsosti, The First Grader) encourages Duma to take up canoeing again, where discipline and sportsmanship are required.

In a different social spectrum is Steve Andrews brilliantly played by Grant Swanby, a determined man desperate to complete the Dusi canoe marathon yet his first attempt is scuppered when his canoe snaps in half and he literally runs to the finish line at the mouth of the Umgeni River in Durban.

Director Freimond does not shy away from the complex issue of racial inequalities and emphasizes that sportsmanship is the way to achieve one’s goals in a post-apartheid South Africa continually beset with socio-economic problems. Freimond does not dwell on divisive politics, yet wisely focuses on an uplifting story of how Duma and Steve form a sport man’s bond as they team up to train and compete in the Dusi canoe marathon.

The emotional crux of the story comes when both men let each other into their lives and gain a better perspective of where each man is coming from and what past occurrences have haunted their lives.

Duma, wonderfully played by Lemogang Tsipa who maintains a powerful screen presence, is battling to deal with the loss of his bread-winning mother and has to contend with his overbearing father and younger sister who is battling to be educated in a poverty-stricken environment.

Steve’s marriage to Annie played by Emily Child is on the verge of collapse as he battles to come to terms with the loss of their only son through a freak car accident. Eventually Steve and Duma both confide in each other in order to make their partnership stronger.

Beyond the River is a riveting tale of sportsmanship beautifully filmed in Gauteng and along the Msunduzi and Mgeni Rivers showcasing spectacular scenery in KwaZulu-Natal as the two men battle the raging rivers and eventually make it to Durban.

Through strength and determination both men manage to achieve their goal despite their apparent differences. Beyond the River also features some cameo’s by several South African actors including Ben Voss (Spud, 31 Million Reasons), Black Sails TV star Paul du Toit,  Garth Breytenbach (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). Kgosi Mongake (Invictus, The Bang Bang Club) is particularly noteworthy as Duma’s rogue friend Zama who unfortunately succumbs to criminal influences.

As an inspirational sports film, Beyond the River is solidly acted and beautifully shot gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing especially for Dusi canoe enthusiasts.

Dusi Canoe Marathon – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dusi_Canoe_Marathon

Vanity and Virtue

Beauty and the Beast

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Hattie Morahan, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack

When Disney does a live action version of a classic animated film, audiences know they are going to do it brilliantly. Beauty and the Beast is absolutely superb and extremely enjoyable viewing.

If audiences are going to pay for one cinema ticket this year, buy a ticket for Beauty and the Beast.

Originally based on the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, Beauty and the Beast is an extraordinary visual feast.

The first aspect Disney got right was the crucial casting of Beauty and the Beast. With a mostly British cast, Belle is played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) and the Beast played by Dan Stevens who rose to fame in Julian Fellowes BBC hit series Downton Abbey. For the real villain of the piece, Welsh actor Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) is cast as the arrogant Gaston and Josh Gad stars as his sidekick Lefou.

Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish called Wanda) plays Belle’s hapless father Maurice who during a journey to the market is side tracked by vicious wolves and lands up as an unwitting guest of the Beast in his cavernous castle with only talking furniture for company.

The flamboyant candelabra Lumiere is played by Ewan McGregor (Our Kind of Traitor) and the mantel piece clock Cogsworth is wonderfully played by Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, Mr Holmes) while the teapot Mrs Potts is voiced by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howard’s End). Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Concussion) plays Plumette and Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) voices the maestro Cadenza.

What really makes Beauty and the Beast so lovely is the music, the music and the music. From the director of Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters Bill Condon delivers a fantastic film retaining the story’s authentic fairy tale which deftly combines romance with action and music. Beauty and the Beast has gorgeous costumes designed by Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) accompanying the film’s exceptional production design by Sarah Greenwood.

Both the headstrong Belle and the grumpy Beast form an unlikely romance overcoming vanity and retaining virtue while they have to compete against the duplicitous Gaston and break the immortal spell cast on the Beast and his lively accompaniments.

Highly recommended viewing for all age groups, Beauty and the Beast gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

Although running at over two hours this Disney fantasy musical is worth watching and audiences should stay seated to watch the spectacular end credits.

 

Film Directors & Festivals
Reviews and Awards
Review Calender
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« May    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  
  • Stephen Colbert Appears on Russian TV, Jokes About Presidential Run
    Stephen Colbert made an appearance on Russian TV, where he appeared to jokingly mull a presidential run. In a video released Friday, Colbert appeared on “Evening Urgant,” a late-night style talk show that airs on Russia’s Channel 1. The back and forth between Colbert and host Ivan Urgant took place partly in Russian, partly in... […]
    Variety Staff
  • Broadcasters Look to Extend Lives of Veteran Shows With Cast Changes
    When “Taken” returns to NBC this fall, it will look different from the series that premiered last season. Clive Standen will still play Bryan Mills, the ex-Green Beret with the very particular set of skills. But the faces around him will have changed. Variety learned this week that six cast members will leave “Taken” ahead... […]
    Daniel Holloway
  • Disney Digital Network Touts Synergies in New Structure
    Months after announcing that its Maker Studios division would no longer operate independently, Walt Disney Co. is putting those assets to good use inside its newly blended digital network. Andrew Sugerman, executive VP of publishing and digital media for Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, touted the synergies already at work in a Q&A on... […]
    Andrew Wallenstein
  • Twitter Bans Account of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Hacker The Dark Overlord
    The Dark Overlord, a  group of hackers best known for leaking the fifth season of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” earlier this year, has been banned from Twitter. The group had its main Twitter account suspended Friday, most likely after leaking addresses and phone numbers of several well-known clients of a Beverly Hills-based health... […]
    Janko Roettgers
  • TV News Roundup: Heather Graham Joins Cast of ‘Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders’
    In today’s roundup, Heather Graham gets a part in “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” and HBO Films releases a first look at Peter Dinklage in “My Dinner with Hervé.” CASTING Heather Graham, Elizabeth Reaser, and Larry Cedar have been cast in “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.” Graham will play Judalon... […]
    Rebecca Rubin