Archive for December, 2013

Noble Stags

Last Vegas

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Director: Jon Turteltaub

Stars: Michael Douglas, Robert de Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Michael Ealy, Mary Steenburgen, Roger Bart, Romany Malco, Curtis Jackson, Joanna Gleason, Jerry Ferrara

Four Oscar winners team up for The Hangover with Pensions version aptly titled Last Vegas. Veteran Hollywood stars Michael Douglas (Wall Street, The Game), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Meet the Parents), Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption) and Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, The Big Chill) play four friends in the autumn of their lives who reunite 58 years later for a debauched bachelor party in Sin City as one of them prepares to marry a bride half his age in a bid to retain his vanity.

National Treasure Director Jon Turteltaub’s comedy about men in their seventies who rediscover the spunk in them is both hilarious and poignant as Last Vegas charts the character journey of these friends, referred to in 1950’s Brooklyn as the Flatbush Four, when they were kids stealing a bottle of Whisky named Noble Stags from a drugstore.

As the gang reunite 58 years later for an explosive Vegas weekend, it’s the  brilliant scenes between smooth talking Billy played by Douglas and mean looking and grumpy Paddy played by De Niro, that stand out in this comedy. Both these hugely talented actors flesh out their onscreen characters in Last Vegas who share a rivalry and a bitterness dating back to a mutual infatuation with a childhood sweetheart. That rivalry is reignited when they meet has been Vegas Lounge singer Diana wonderfully played by the glamorous Mary Steenburgen (The Proposal, Philadelphia).

In between the rivalry between these two, is Kline’s character Sam who has been given a hallpass by his wife to get laid in Vegas and Freeman’s character Archie who develops a winning streak at the roulette table in an effort to escape his smothering son Ezra played by Michael Ealy.

If the fountains at The Bellagio were for rejuvenating then this film is definitely a mature version of  the hugely successful The Hangover trilogy with ample jokes about prostate, hair transplants and Viagra as the Flatbush four conquer Vegas from poolside Bikini Contests, to roulette to a fabulous Bachelor’s party whose guests include acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, strippers and Drag Queens (look out for a wonderful cameo by TV actor Roger Bart (Revenge, Desperate Housewives) along with Rapper turned actor 50 Cents (Curtis Jackson) of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ fame.

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Last Vegas proves that it’s never too late to have fun especially in Vegas and at the expense of the naive and youthful, embodied in the character of Dean superbly played by Jerry Ferrara of Entourage TV series fame. This is a wonderful and hilarious comedy proving that all these Oscar winners especially Douglas and De Niro are still at the top of their game, helped by the ever talented Freeman and the expressive Kevin Kline.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a more mature and poignant comedy, less vulgar than The Hangover, but just as funny. Last Vegas definitely promises a sequel especially with the onscreen chemistry of these four versatile Hollywood stars.

 

 

Navigating Hostile Waters

Captain Phillips

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Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Michael Cernus, Max Martini

From the acclaimed director of United 93, Green Zone and The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass delivers another phenomenally brilliant docu-style thriller about modern day piracy in the harrowing film Captain Phillips. Two time Oscar Winner for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia; Tom Hanks delivers a sterling performance as the main character and proves his worth as a critically acclaimed superstar.

Captain Phillips tells the incredible true story of the 2009 hijacking of the US flag Maersk container ship MV Maersk Alabama off the Somali coast enroute from the Gulf to Kenya. Maersk – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk, a Danish based container shipping company is noticeable in any major port in the world from Durban to Rotterdam, from Dubai to Singapore and has offices in over 135 countries.

 Captain Phillips begins in the safety of Vermont, North Eastern America as the conventional Richard Phillips leaves home with his wife Andrea (a very brief scene by Oscar nominee, Catherine Keener) and flies off to the Middle East to captain a massive container ship travelling from the Port of Salalah in Oman to Mombasa in Kenya. Meanwhile back on the wild Somalian coastline, warlords are hustling up heavily armed potential pirates to go and capture one of these mammoth vessels using manoeuvrable skiffs to board these huge vessels so that the shipping company can pay a massive ransom for its valuable cargo.

What elevates Captain Philips from just another sea drama story is the superb direction of Paul Greengrass coupled with two equally dazzling and terrific performances by Hanks and the main Hostage taker, Abduwali Muse, a desperate Pirate Leader, wonderfully played by Barkhad Abdi, whose breakout performance has already garnered critical attention by the Hollywood Foreign Press and has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actor.

For Tom Hanks, who let’s be honest has really wowed viewers on the Big Screen recently from Larry Crowne to Cloud Atlas until this film. Hank’s Captain Phillips is terrifyingly accurate of a normal sensible man who is caught in an utterly extraordinarily dangerous situation which rapidly spirals out of control in hostile waters. Captain Phillips’s absolute fear and complete shock at dealing with a situation which soon becomes so traumatic that it’s impossible to imagine is completely believable and palpable.

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Captain Phillips with a screenplay by Billy Ray based upon a book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty is a must see true life thriller and if viewers loved United 93 then Captain Phillips will keep audiences absolutely riveted.

This is top-notch entertainment from a director who really deserves more Oscar recognition. Captain Phillips is not to be missed and will retain its critical acclaim for years to come.

Farewell to an Icon

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Riaad Moosa, Jamie Bartlett, Deon Lotz, Seelo Maake, Garth Breytenbach, Kgosi Mongake

British born director of The Other Boleyn Girl Justin Chadwick brings to the big screen Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with the assistance of Durban based producer Anant Singh and international stars Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) and Naomie Harris (Skyfall). The timing of this film couldn’t have been more perfect or more poignant with the recent death of Nelson Mandela the Leader of the ANC and the first black South African president making international headlines. Mandela’s passing actually occurred during the British premiere of the film in London on the evening of Thursday 5th December 2013.

Leaving politics or current affairs aside, is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom worth watching? The answer is a definitive yes especially so for the generation of young South Africans that will be able to vote in the 2014 national elections. But also for those viewers who didn’t realize just how close South Africa came in the early 1990’s to a fully fledged near civil war as the leaders at the time including Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were negotiating a relatively smooth transition from an authoritarian Apartheid state to a country that South Africa has become today, progressive and internationally hailed and supposedly democratic.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is primarily an historical drama but also a love story between Mandela and his second wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela who is brilliantly played by Naomie Harris. Idris Elba does a superb job portraying such an iconic leader who went from political prisoner to President of a nation. Director Chadwick who also made the superb Kenyan film The First Grader, crafts an ambitious narrative whilst leaving all the burning issues as emotive and significant as ever showing a particular period of South African history that of the 1990’s similar to the 2010 film The Bang Bang Club, which was plagued with optimism, racism, militarism and brutal political violence.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela choose a path of negotiated discussion with the then nationalist government headed by F. W. de Klerk, which makes that pivotal time in South African history so interesting and integral to the development of the rainbow nation as it is affectionately known today. The film follows Mandela’s early days in Johannesburg in the 1940’s right through the Rivonia trials and to his eventual incarceration on Robben Island and his historic and subsequent release.

Producer Singh has a knack for acquiring high profile stars for his films, so the signing of Elba and Harris in the lead roles of Long Walk to Freedom is crucial to the film’s success. The fact that both stars portray such political leaders so poignantly and powerfully is too their credit and will surely be acknowledged during the 2014 award season. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is long, at times difficult to watch if you are fully versed in South Africa’s turbulent and extraordinary history, but stands on its own as a cinematic tribute to an iconic leader who has now been immortalized in all spheres of South African society from Sport and Commerce to Politics and Art.

This film is probably at times too long but is certainly recommend viewing for superb acting and lovers of historical political dramas. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom also stars South African comedian Riaad Moosa (Material) as Ahmed Kathrada and Terry Pheto of Tsotsi fame as Evelyn Mase.

Dark and Lurid Victory Tour

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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 Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcolmson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

The Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the largely allegorical tale of an alternative version of contemporary American society by flicking through channels on TV with alternating images of award shows, reality Series and brutal wars occurring in distant countries over the last decade from Afghanistan to Syria.

The sequel to the hugely successful Hunger Games film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Austrian Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) follows the Victory Tour of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, victors of the Hunger Games which for those that don’t know is a brutal invented arena in which teenagers fight to the death to claim spoils for their respective district, each of which owes enforced allegiance to The Capitol, for which the Hunger Games becomes a televised Bloodsport.

Each Tribute, teenage sacrifices as they are known are paraded in a lurid fashion at the outrageously lavish Art Deco inspired Capitol while the brutal games are televised live. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes this vicious propaganda spectacle of the victory tour a step further in the gladiator like parade of the Quarter Quell a quarterly sequel to the annual Hunger Games, a fantastic and dazzling scene out of a contemporary Ben Hur.

The victorious tributes and the heroes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are Alright) hold their own along with Katniss’s other love interest the hunky Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemworth.

The ever versatile Lawrence really makes The Hunger Games and Catching Fire her own as her feisty and resilient Katniss is the central force in a bizarre world of brutality, repression and becoming the symbol of hope and defiance against a vicious ruler, the sinister President Snow, wonderfully played by screen veteran Donald Sutherland, who views the Hunger Games as a way of keeping the twelve districts of Panem entrapped in a terrifyingly civil obedience to the decadent Capital with its outrageous fashions, increasingly lavish spectacles and bizarre cosmetic trends.

Remember this is allegory and in this form of narrative, the story line can be as outlandish and brutal as possible, as removed from reality, but mirroring a recognizable world that is to close for comfort. Think of modern day America with reality TV series including the rise of the Kardashians, The Amazing Race and Survivor along with a plethora of increasingly lavish Hollywood Award Shows with the infamous red carpet. So perhaps The Hunger Games trilogy although allegorical is more close in commenting the dichotomies of an increasingly digital 21st century American culture where alternating images of brutality and glamour are available at the flick of a switch.

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

For The Hunger Games viewers and its more stylized and lurid sequel Catching Fire, its best to read the novels first otherwise the unfamiliar world of Panem would seem too bizarre to comprehend and the fortunes of its heroes Katniss and Peeta would not be plausible, whether it’s their fight for survival or their covert acts of defiance.

Watch out for a particularly menacing performance by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as the mysterious game maker Plutarch Heavensbee  along with another over the top performance by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows humanity’s depth for cruelty and spectacle much like the gladiator games were meant to placate the salivating audiences of ancient Rome, except this film takes the images much further, to a darker more lurid and unexpected act of defiance.

The cast also includes  Woody Harrelson as the heavy drinking Haymitch Abernathy, Lenny Kravitz as the flamboyant fashion designer Cinna along with Jeffrey Wright as tech savy victor Beetee and Amanda Plummer as Wireless.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an innovative piece of cinema, recommended for the dazzling sets, the lurid costumes and crisp sound editing and the captivating if not truly bizarre storyline, see it at a cinema soon and be transported into Panem, a world unlike anything imaginable…

 

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