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Movie Review: Hands of Stone


Roberto Duran and Ray Arcel are boxing legends, who each deserved their own respective biopics. Duran, a Panamanian professional boxer, is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all-time and American boxing trainer, Arcel, trained 20 world champion boxers. Hands of Stone, the nickname Duran earned for his devastating punching power, tries to encompass their uneasy relationship and both of their stories. While ambitious, this is probably where writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz went wrong, trying to bundle two larger-than-life characters and their stories into one film.

Robert De Niro is a luminary of the sports genre, having starred in the black-and-white Scorsese classic, Raging Bull and more recently, Grudge Match. Instead of casting someone like his Grudge Match co-star Alan Arkin as Ray Arcel, the film-makers have given the big name star the duty, which he does with his usual vigour. While it's punted as a co-lead role, it was probably intended to be a supporting role to Edgar Ramirez as the cantankerous, Roberto Duran. There's some good sparring between the actors as Arcel tries to rope Duran's ego in, but you just feel they could've done more to foster the tension.

The cast is bolstered by the presence of Ana der Armas, Ruben Blades, John Turturro, Ellen Barkin and Usher Raymond, who plays Duran's main rival, Sugar Ray Leonard. The exquisite Ana der Armas lights up the screen taking on a role similar to that of Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. Ruben Blades is the unscrupulous manager, who parades like a drug kingpin. John Turturro brings the mafia's influence while Barkin keeps De Niro honest at home in the complete antithesis of his role as Jake LaMotta.

Hands of Stone movie review

"They came here to see a fight, now please... let me punch you!"

Having a fine cast and captivating performances gives Jakubowicz hooks to hang his story on. Unfortunately, it seems like the scope is too broad as he attempts to check as many boxes as possible whilst keeping within the confines of the sports genre. We get a view of Duran's upbringing as a poor Panamanian kid during a turbulent political time, his tempestuous relationship with Felicidad, his escalating egomania, his lack of education and some of his big boxing match ups. This is punctuated by a behind-the-scenes on Arcel's journey, his troubles with the mafia and the nature of the sport through its transition to television.

Hands of Stone should have been two biopics, but tries to coast on its 2-for-1 deal by keeping you off-balance with its frenetic pace and dynamic visuals. It's as if Jakubowicz is trying to relay Duran's very nature through the tone, delivering a fierce, exciting, hedonistic and unpredictable film. The colours, panache and vigour with which its presented keeps you locked into the action, even if the drama's a little formulaic and undercooked. The boxing matches are one of Hands of Stone's highlights, delivering raw, visceral boxing sights and sounds like never before. You feel every punch and jolt vicariously thanks to some sharp cinematography, editing and foley work.

The amazing true story may be diluted by the glut of similar pugilist dramas out there, but the excesses of fame and fortune make this biopic fascinating and drunk with power. Hands of Stone swaggers around like it owns the screen but never really gives you a reason to care for Duran, whose self-destructive tendencies make it difficult to identify with his arrogant, rags-to-riches brawler. The by-the-numbers script doesn't give us anything fresh to chew on, making this one more about style than substance. It's entertaining and has enough power to follow-through but you should probably only consider watching it if you enjoyed films like Southpaw and The Wolf of Wall Street.

The bottom line: Fierce

 
Talking Movies with Spling - Queen of Katwe, The Girl on the Train and The Girl in the Book


Spling reviews Queen of Katwe, The Girl on the Train and The Girl in the Book as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: Queen of Katwe


Queen of Katwe is a coming-of-age Disney drama about Phiona, a Ugandan girl from Katwe, who is made aware of a world of opportunity after displaying a remarkable talent for the game of chess. It's based on an ESPN magazine article and book by Tim Crothers, which has been adapted for film by William Wheeler. It's a colourful movie, accentuating Uganda's rich spectrum of colour even further through architecture, fashion and decoration. While a relatively impoverished nation, the people are exuberant and forcibly entrepreneurial, giving the culture a wonderful vitality. Perhaps these parallels with India are what inspired the choice for Mira Nair to direct.

At first it's disappointing to think that an inherently African film was awarded to an "outsider". There are many up-and-coming talents from the continent, like Philippe Lacôte (Run), who could do wonders with this kind of film. However, you can understand why Disney would want a more bankable and seasoned director to helm the project and to Nair's credit, the parallels with India make her a great choice. If Danny Boyle can be charged with directing the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, then why shouldn't Mira Nair get a chance to wow audiences with Queen of Katwe.

Both Slumdog Millionaire and Queen of Katwe have their similarities. Instead of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, we're dealing with the age-old game of chess and instead of embracing the charms, poverty and kaleidoscope of India, we're dealing with a similar scenario in Uganda. Queen of Katwe isn't specifically striving for 'authentic' or 'gritty' like Four Corners did for Cape Town, but does enmesh these factors into the storytelling, by lacing social issues into Phonia's struggle. The visual tapestry makes it seem like an adaptation of a Coke advert, imbuing a similar upbeat spirit and trying to dilute the "African" dream and Coca-Cola imperialism into a rags-to-riches underdog tale.

Queen of Katwe 2016

"Who cares what Kasparov said, you're a Katwe fighter!"

In this climate of financial insecurity and renewed focus on gender equality, Queen of Katwe serves as a timely and empowering drama. The true story that inspired this dramatisation, gives this film more clout despite its tendency towards Disney formula. This underlying kernel of truth is further cultivated by sincere and stirring performances from David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o. Both actors bring their international class to the production and make a wonderful support for young Madina Nalwanga, whose open-faced acting is convincing, honest and refreshingly present.

Queen of Katwe is delightfully funny and touching with the chess club kids charming their way into our hearts with fish-out-of-water comedy and their flippant yet endearing attitudes. This helps create a light-heartedness to the film and instead of bemoaning poverty and pointing the finger, it demonstrates the power of encouragement in building self-esteem and confidence. It may not have a fully-fledged education to fall back on, but Phiona's natural abilities and drive are inspiring and the activation of these by her tireless mentor is heartwarming.

There are many cliches to this resilient underdog tale, but Queen of Katwe shines in spite of its Disneyfication. We live through the quality of the performances, the vibrant other-worldliness of the backdrop, the sincerity of the humour, the nuances of the direction, the naive spirit of the journey and the feel-good beauty of this wonderful true story. It may be familiar, but it bursts with goodness and will have you finger-flicking like Phiona in no time.

The bottom line: Spirited

 
Coming Soon: 'Shepherds and Butchers' (28 Oct)


Shepherds and Butchers directed by Oliver Schmitz and produced by Anant Singh, will open nationwide on the South African theatrical circuit on Friday, October 28th through Times Media Films.

Award-winning filmmaker, Oliver Schmitz (Life, Above All) directs the screen adaptation penned by Brian Cox. The gripping courtroom human drama is based upon the acclaimed South African novel of the same name by Chris Marnewick, a former advocate for the Durban bar, who based on the book on meticulously researched factual information amassed from his years as a defense attorney.

Academy Award® nominee, Steve Coogan (Philomena) heads up the cast in the role of defense advocate, Johan Webber, who is up against Prosecutor Kathleen Murray, played by Andrea Riseborough (Shadow Dancer), in an intense courtroom battle to save a 19-year-old warden (Garion Dowds) working on death row from his death sentence for murdering seven men.

Shepherds and Butchers 2016

Singh, known for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Sarafina!, commented that he is pleased that Times Media Films is giving the film such a wide release throughout the country. “We believe that Shepherds and Butchers is an important film for South African audiences as it has particular resonance of the damage done to an entire generation of South Africans, both Black and White, who, respectively, were forced to endure and perform horrific acts against their will in the draconian system of punishment of the apartheid regime. The film sets a platform for critical debate, on a global scale, on the issue of capital punishment.”

Follow @SplingMovies on Twitter or Like /SplingMovies on Facebook to keep up-to-speed in the build-up to this important film's release.

 
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