Californian Honour

Den of Thieves

Director: Christian Gudegast

Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Brian van Holt, Evan Jones, Kaiwi Lyman, Dawn Olivieri

First time director Christian Gudegast who was one of the screenwriters on another Gerard Butler film London has Fallen recasts Butler as the tough talking LA cop in the Californian crime drama Den of Thieves which is heavily influenced by the far superior Michael Mann directed thriller Heat.

Gerard Butler plays Big Nick O’Brien who heads up an elite team of L. A. detectives who are hell bent on busting a sophisticated crime ring which robs banks headed up by Merriman wonderfully played by Orange is The New Black’s Pablo Shreiber (13 Hours, The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi).

Merriman along with his second in command Enson Levoux played by Curtis 50 cent Jackson (Get Rich or Die Trying) put in place an elaborate plan to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank where they not only print new dollar bills, but also destroy old money, hoping to steal $30 million dollars before it gets incinerated.

What follows is a fascinating cat and mouse game between Merriman and O’Brien, which director Gudegast teases out the plot for maximum tension to create a gritty crime film that stretches from the seedier sides of L. A. to Long Beach, where there is no honour among thieves.

All the while, there comes between the two main protagonists, a nonchalant middleman and occasional barman Donnie Wilson wonderfully played by O’Shea Jackson Jr, (son of rapper Ice Cube), clearly taking inspiration from Kevin Spacey’s Oscar winning turn in Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects.

If audiences are looking for a macho action film, then go and see Den of Thieves.

There is a sufficient amount of action, plot twists and bromance to keep the action going, particularly the malevolent rivalry between O’Brien and Merriman which propels the crime caper to a tantalizing and violent climax shot in a Los Angeles traffic jam on a sun-drenched Californian underpass.

Den of Thieves gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing particularly aimed at male viewers.


History’s First Draft

The Post

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stulbarg, Matthew Rhys, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie

Before Julian Assange, before Edward Snowden, there was the Pentagon Papers.

A top level government study on how the Americans had been involved in Vietnam way before the infamous Vietnam War and how during that bloodletting fiasco, the Americans realized that they were losing the war in South East Asia, yet still continued to send troops in to fight the Viet Cong.

The leaking of the Pentagon Papers, firstly by the New York Times and then more pertinently by The Washington Post during the Nixon administration is the source of Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg’s fascinating film The Post starring two Oscar winners, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) as owner of the Post, Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) as Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post who seizes on the story of a decade and pushes for his newspaper to release the classified documents despite the possible legal or financial consequences.

Streep as usual, is superb as the doubtful and affluent socialite Katherine Graham who inherits her father’s newspaper The Washington Post upon her husband’s death and then is forced into an invidious position when she is called upon to make the critical decision on whether to let the newspaper publish the Pentagon Papers at a time when New York investors are eagerly awaiting The Washington Post Company’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) on the American Stock Exchange, which could hugely benefit the fortunes of the struggling newspaper.

Spielberg packs a lot into The Post, and it would be advisable for viewers to read up thoroughly about that crucial historical period in 1971 which was so decisive and widely regarded as the turning point of American press freedom. All these events occurred prior to the Watergate scandal.

The publication of the Pentagon Papers ultimately changed the American public’s sentiment on the viability of troops in Vietnam and the legal outcome after the Supreme Court ruling elevated Katherine Graham to a media doyenne, a feminist and a massively influential woman who changed the business world’s view on how a single woman can influence and transform a media empire.

There is a solid supporting cast of actors in The Post to add gravitas to a riveting tale of journalistic bravery, including Sarah Poulson as Bradlee’s wife Toni who gives her own feminine perspective on why what Katherine Graham was doing was vitally important and brave. Other supporting actors include Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Phys, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons and Tracy Letts.

In the age of the Internet, Fake News and a 24 Hour news cycle, The Post is a critical film to watch and be discussed and is especially relevant in 2018 as back then in 1971, which basically implies that at every historical junction, the media must always hold the country’s government accountable. After all, the news is History’s First Draft.

My only criticism is that screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer should have contextualized the dramatic events more efficiently so that a 21st century audience could appreciate the bravery of publishing critical information without fear or favour.

The Post is brilliant viewing and a highly recommended film about press freedom under a sinister government which makes the film’s ending all the more relevant. The Post receives a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Read more on Katherine Graham

Read more on Ben Bradlee




Seducing an Amphibian

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, David Hewlett, Martin Roach

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro reinvents cinematic magic realism in this darkly sublime fantasy adventure The Shape of Water featuring a stand out performance by British actress Sally Hawkins and character actor Michael Shannon.

Set in a covert government laboratory in Baltimore in the early 1960’s at the height of the cold war, The Shape of Water deftly weaves an extraordinary and compelling story of a young mute woman Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Blue Jasmine) who along with her co-worker Zelda Fuller played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) play observant cleaners in this secret facility ruled by the vain and cruel manager, Richard Strickland, wonderfully played with an ambivalent menace by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road).

Elisa lives with a repressed homosexual Giles who is struggling to reignite his graphic design business. Giles is played with an exuberant flair by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

What is so magnificent about The Shape of Water is the brilliant script co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor and the intriguing plot is underscored by a tantalizing musical score by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat who also provided the fantastic original score for director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Highlighting the duplicitous Cold War, is the fastidious scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler beautifully played by character actor Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Trumbo, Miles Ahead).

Eliza, the sexually charged mute cleaning lady develops a sensual bond of the most unusual nature with the Amphibian man played by Doug Jones, who is both exotic, dangerous and restorative. This Amphibian was discovered in the South American jungle and worshipped as a God by the indigenous tribes only to be snatched by sinister American agents to be used as a guinea pig in a space race against the murky and nefarious Soviets.

The Shape of Water is an intelligently woven allegorical tale about the exotic entering a decade of American consumerism which was as paranoid as it was dictatorial: the 1960’s. Set against the Cold War, this augmented paranoia is heightened through various well placed TV images of the rising tensions of the civil rights movements permeating in the background, along with many other counter-cultural movement which eventually undid the 1960’s completely and changed America forever.

Visually, The Shape of Water is rich with symbolic imagery and director Guillermo del Toro relishes in mixing the brutal with the gorgeous.

The love of cinema shines through in The Shape of Water, which I consider to be del Toro’s best work with the exception of his Oscar winning foreign language film, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The performances by a mostly ensemble cast are exemplary in a film that will dazzle the senses aided by exceptionally high production values and a quirky story which is both lyrical and tragic.

Highly recommended viewing, The Shape of Water gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.



The Whims of Powerful Men

Molly’s Game

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Graham Greene, Chris O’Dowd, Justin Kirk, J. C. MacKenzie

The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut in Molly’s Game featuring a powerfully hard core performance by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) who is basically in every frame of the 2 hour and 20 minute expose of the decadent world of illicit high stakes poker.

Chastain plays Molly Bloom a savvy and smart young woman who in a bid to escape the clutches of her persuasive and pushy father Larry Bloom, a stand out performance by Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), leaves Colorado and heads to Los Angeles where she starts working for a slimeball misogynist Dean Keith played by Jeremy Strong who asks her to set up and run a regular Tuesday night poker game with a $10 000 buy in.

Soon the shrewd and street smart Bloom takes the poker game away from Keith and sets up her own High Class games at a luxurious suite at a Beverley Hills hotel aided by the dubious Player X played by Canadian actor Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno).

Sorkin tells and retells Molly’s rise and fall from power through a series of carefully crafted narrative flashbacks in between scenes with Molly Bloom and her New York defense attorney wonderfully played by Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, Star Trek Beyond).

With Sorkin’s trademark flair for snappy dialogue and producing a distinct visual style of his own, Molly’s Game is a fascinating portrait of a young woman who gets dangerously and illegally caught up in the world of high stakes poker where she eventually becomes subjected to the whims of vain and powerful men, most of whom are gambling addicts and would think nothing of sitting at a poker table until dawn betting their fortunes away just to prove who is a winning player.

Within this highly competitive masculine world, Molly Bloom gets indicted for organizing poker games with among others the Russian mafia in New York as well as Hollywood film stars, producers, rock stars and East Coast Trust fund babies.

Jessica Chastain is stunning in Molly’s Game and keeps the pace of this lengthy film, portraying a decadent Madame who presides over a glamorous boudoir for men to gamble, drink and flirt with gorgeous supermodels or as her book publisher says, she was the keeper of a very expensive and indulgent man cave.

At the heart of the story, which could have been edited in sections, is Molly’s complex relationship with her father who she was always goading from her rebellious teenage years to her earlier childhood attempts at becoming an Olympic ski jumper in Salt Lake City.

If audiences enjoyed The Social Network and Steve Jobs, then they will love Molly’s Game, a decadent tale of one woman who bet her good name and reputation on the house.

Molly’s Game gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing for a remarkable performance by Jessica Chastain who really proves her talent as the heroine in this gritty, seductive tale about greed and power.



Parental Misguidance

Father Figures

Director: Lawrence Sher

Cast: Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, Ving Rhames, J. K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, June Squibb, Kat Williams, Ryan Cartwright and Ryan Gaul

Considering how packed the cinema was on a Sunday afternoon, one would have expected Father Figures to be a really funny family comedy.

Unfortunately, first time director Lawrence Sher’s Father Figures is very lightweight and not nearly as hilarious as such classic films as The Hangover despite pairing Owen Wilson and Ed Helms together as non-identical twins who go on a quest from Columbus, Ohio via Miami to upstate New York in search of who their biological father really was.

As brothers, Peter and Kyle Reynolds they couldn’t be more different.

Dr Peter Reynolds is a conservative surgeon who has to contend with a failed marriage and a teenage son who doesn’t communicate with him. Ed Helms (The Hangover) plays Peter Reynolds perfectly while Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris, The Internship) plays the blonde Hawaiian Kyle Reynolds who supposedly made his fortune off a BBQ sauce recipe and is now chilling back living off the imagined royalties.

The premise for the two brothers to go on a trans-America road trip is when their mother Helen, a briefly seen Glenn Close, whose presence in the film adds some credence to the otherwise inane plot of Father Figures. Maybe the Oscar nominated star of Dangerous Liaisons and Albert Nobbs decidedly to play comedy for a change.

Although it is wonderful to see Glenn Close on screen in a maternal role especially to two forty something men who are desperate to discover who their biological father is.

What follows is a episodic journey around America whereby Peter and Kyle get to know each other as well as an assortment of fatherly figures ranging from the shady con-man Roland Hunt played by Oscar winner J. K. Simmons (Whiplash) who is still living with his own mother played by Oscar nominee June Squibb (Nebraska) to veterinary doctor Dr Walter Tinkler played by Oscar winner Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter).

Kyle and Peter also land up on a train track with an unsuspecting hitchhiker played by Katt Williams as well as being caught up in a family brawl with Irish brothers Liam and Sean O’Callaghan played by Ryan Cartwright and Ryan Gaul.

Despite, the acting talent and the normally funny Ed Helms and Owen Wilson, Father Figures fails to lift off as a truly believable story – the only relatable part was the constant sibling rivalry between brothers and genuine conflict which ensues.

Father Figures is an extremely lightweight comedy which doesn’t take itself or the characters too seriously. The film gets a rating of 5.5 out of 10. Recommended for audiences that enjoy low brow jokes and some contrived comic situations which do not come across as original or particularly witty but are merely inserted into the plot to create some generated and thoughtless laughs.

75th Golden Globe Awards


Took place on Sunday 7th  January 2018 hosted by

the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in Beverly Hills, California


Best Film Drama: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Film Musical or Comedy: Ladybird

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Best Actor Drama: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress Drama: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: James Franco – The Disaster Artist

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Best Foreign Language Film: In the Fade directed by Fatih Akin (France/Germany)

Transactional Dynamics

Beatriz at Dinner

Director: Miguel Arteta

Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky

Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta directs Oscar nominee Salma Hayek (Frida) in an insightful comedy of manners Beatriz at Dinner which also stars Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny and John Lithgow.

It is so refreshing to see Salma Hayek take on a more unconventional role in an arthouse film which had its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Beatriz is a struggling massage therapist, a Mexican immigrant to a California who also works at a Cancer centre in Santa Monica. Beatriz loves animals and is deeply distressed when her goat dies, supposedly killed by a neighbour. After spending most of the day at the Cancer centre she has one last appointment: at the home of a wealthy woman Kathy’s whose plush and spacious residence in a gated community overlooking the Pacific in Newport Beach, California, which proves to be Beatriz’s emotional untangling.

Connie Britton from the hit TV show Nashville plays sickly sweet Kathy who initially treats Beatriz as one of her special paid friends even though she is essentially her Mexican massage therapist.

Things go haywire when Beatriz’s old car fades on her and she is left stranded at this gorgeous home where Kathy insists she must stay for a very glamorous dinner party. Caterers have been brought in, the Mexican maid is ready to answer the door and the well-heeled guests include ruthless property developer Doug Strutt wonderfully played with that obnoxious temperament by Oscar nominee John Lithgow (Terms of Endearment).

Among the other guests are Alex played by Jay Duplass and his fabulous wife Shannon played with the cool American chic by Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry).

Kathy’s husband Grant is hosting Doug Strutt to celebrate the ground breaking of a massive property development. As the evening progresses, Beatriz, a cat among the pigeons, sets everyone’s affluent artificiality on edge when she begins questioning their extravagant lifestyles and dubious moral choices.

The scenes between Salma Hayek and John Lithgow are particularly illuminating and form the backbone of a razor sharp film about class and socio-political transactional dynamics. About them and us.

About Beatriz realizing that in corporate America, ruled by a Trump presidency, there exists ruthless businessmen who will stop at nothing to obtain obscene wealth despite the environmental impact of building commercial resorts and hotels in poverty-stricken paradises like Guatemala and parts of Mexico, which have absolutely no benefit to the indigenous communities.

Salma Hayek is sensational in Beatriz at Dinner a return to her dazzling ability to portray eccentric characters like she did as the title role of Frida, director Julie Taymor’s colourful film about the acclaimed Mexican artist and revolutionary Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek definitely needs to make more arthouse films whereby her unique acting abilities can really shine through.

Beatriz at Dinner is a wonderfully poignant film, a gentle reminder that when seated at a dinner table everyone’s true identity is revealed especially after a three course meal coupled with several glasses of Californian chardonnay.

Despite the contrived plot device of a broken down car, Beatriz at Dinner is an insightful portrayal of contemporary America and receives a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.



Horrors Imagined


Director: Dayakar Padayachee

Cast: Kajal Bagwandeen, Zahir Bassa, Lihle Dhlomo, Geaneviv Pillay, Tazme Pillay, Joshua Milne, Yateen Dayaram, Ismail Ganie, Rizelle Januk

Please note Shadow is classified as a short film.

Shadow had its world premiered at the 7th Annual Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and  directed by first time Durban based Dayakar Padayachee who explores the psychological effects of guilt, bullying and hidden sexuality through a distinctly horror formula. Shadow is a short horror film created by Dayakar Padayachee and co-written with Edgar S. Rochev.

Shot on a limited budget and using local Durban locations, Padayachee’s first time film is an achievement in developing a story which includes the diversity of Durban’s population as well as giving ample opportunities for rising young actors.

Shadow focuses on a teenage schoolboy Tyrone Sharma whose parents are on the verge of a divorce, while he is grappling with his own sexuality and bullying at school. He confides most of his fears with his best friend.

Shadow also explores the hidden agendas and secrets that parents keep from their children while tapping into the angst ridden anxiety of a conflicted teenager whose life slowly unravels as he starts seeing a ghostly apparition which haunts his own inner turmoil resulting in a dramatic ending.

While the sound quality in Shadow needs to be improved, Shadow is an immense achievement for a first time director. Dayakar Padayachee’s achievement and his definite film sense should be applauded.

Padayachee’s passion for telling fascinating and diverse stories relevant to a contemporary 21st century South African cinema going audiences will benefit the rapidly developing South African film industry as a whole and I look forward to seeing more films from this innovative director.

Shadow as a short film gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and generated phenomenal South African interest especially in Durban when the film was released online in late 2017.


Celebration of Humanity

The Greatest Showman

Director: Michael Gracey

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Paul Sparks, Sam Humphrey

Set in the Victorian age, director Michael Gracey’s exuberant and brilliant film, The Greatest Showman is an outstanding musical inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) gives an inspiring performance as circus founder P.T. Barnum whose poverty stricken childhood stoked his ambitions to make something of his life. Barnum meets the wealthy Charity wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Manchester by the Sea).

Audiences should go into The Greatest Showman expecting superb musical numbers similar to Damien Chazelle’s La La Land without the contemporary Hollywood twist.

Barnum soon collects a host of freaks and outcasts to star in the Greatest show ranging from the Bearded Lady wonderfully played by Keala Settle to a Napoleonic dwarf played by Sam Humphrey, all the time justifying his curious show to outspoken critic James Bennett played by Paul Sparks from the Netflix series House of Cards.

To add credibility to the motley crew of performers, Barnum persuades the aristocratic and dashing Philip Carlyle wonderfully played against type by the blue eyed Zac Efron (The Paperboy) to join him as a junior partner in the entertainment business relinquishing Carlyle’s chance of a massive inheritance.

Soon the Barnum entourage are invited to visit Queen Victoria where Barnum meets the dazzling Swedish Opera singer Jenny Lind superbly played by Rebecca Ferguson, who I am glad to see is displaying her electrifying singing talents in The Greatest Showman and certainly makes an eye catching onscreen debut in the opening number in the New York performance scene.

The Greatest Showman is a wonderful musical featuring crisp cinematography by Oscar nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, Anna Karenina).

When the narrative needs some dazzling pace, the characters break out into song and audiences that enjoyed some of the best onscreen musicals including Rob Marshall’s Chicago and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, will love The Greatest Showman.

The Greatest Showman gets a film rating of 9 out 10 and is highly recommended viewing. Let’s see how this musical fares at the upcoming 2018 Awards Season.

What’s Up Bitches!

Pitch Perfect 3

Director: Trish Sie

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Lithgow, Matt Lanter, Ruby Rose, Guy Burnet, Esther Dean, Hana Mae Lee

The Barden Bella’s are back for a third instalment of the hugely popular Pitch Perfect franchise which sees the all-female a cappella singing group suffering from a mild quarter life crisis as the gang of struggling young girls all battle to hold down jobs, their fluctuating self-esteem and their friendships which were so tightly wound in Pitch Perfect 2.

While actress Elizabeth Banks directed and starred in Pitch Perfect 2 and that sequel proved to be absolutely hilarious, this third instalment doesn’t quite reach the same levels of hysteria or conformity. Most of the jokes are provided by the ever adventurous fat Amy wonderfully played by Rebel Wilson as her and the rest of the group travel to Southern Europe to help boost American troop morale at the various army bases in Spain and France, which is especially pertinent in a Trump era presidency.

Fat Army also has to content with her slimy Australian father Fergus, played with a dodgy accent by acclaimed American character actor John Lithgow who was so brilliant as Winston Churchill in the stunning Netflix series The Crown. What was he thinking appearing in Pitch Perfect 3?

Fergus, keen to get his hands on Amy’s stashed millions in the Cayman Islands, kidnaps the group of girls  and imprisons them on a luxury yacht aptly named Fat Dingo Bitch in the Mediterranean which Amy and the ever optimistic Bela played by Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) plan on rescuing the group from Amy’s evil father.

Admittedly, Pitch Perfect 3 is not as funny as the first two films but enjoyable enough and is recommended for audiences that loved the previous films.

Audiences should watch out for a cameo by Ruby Rose as the lead singer of a rival group. Unfortunately, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) does not have enough screen time in Pitch Perfect 3 to showcase her true talents, but makes the most of her fun-filled role as Emily.

The man candy is supplied by Matt Lanter as Lieutenant Chicago, a dashing army liaison officer and British actor Guy Burnet (Mortdecai) as music producer Theo who falls for Beca.

Pitch Perfect 3 is fun-filled and an ideal holiday movie especially the closing number a vibrant cover of singer George Michael’s hit song Freedom performed with exuberance by the Barden Bella’s.

Pitch Perfect 3 gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is the perfect film for taking a bunch of bored teenage girls to watch who will no doubt enjoy its delightfully comic moments.

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March 2018
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    Pat Saperstein
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    Owen Gleiberman