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Movie Review: Noem My Skollie

Noem My Skollie or Call Me Thief is the story of Abraham and the Young Ones, a small-time gang that were separated for two years by a dangerous stint in Pollsmoor prison. The film is loosely based on the life of screenwriter, John W. Fredericks, marks a debut for director Daryne Joshua with Dann Jaques Mouton playing the title character. It's the second film in which Mouton is playing a character named Abraham after his titular role in Jans Rautenbach's Abraham and his likable and sweet nature endears us to him, despite his rebellious path, making it easier to get through the nastier side of gang and prison life.

Noem My Skollie is set in '60s Cape Town and the film-makers have gone to great lengths to recreate the life and times quite masterfully, giving the film an air of authenticity from production design to wardrobe and language. Broadcasts on the wireless, props from the '60s, fashion throwbacks, vehicles and a detailed depiction of life in the impoverished gang lands of the Cape Flats truly bring the era to life. This environment is further grounded by language, slang and even tattoos, which weave the characters into the backdrop.

The story is reminiscent of City of God as we track the lives of four troubled youths played by Austin Rose, Ethan Patton, Joshua Vraagom and Valentino de Klerk, who resort to crime in order to protect themselves, pave their way and exorcise their demons. It's not quite as beautifully shot or realistic and doesn't throb with the same life force, but does have its own flavour with an ensemble of earnest performances that make it difficult to tell who's acting and who's re-living a chapter from their own lives.

Noem my Skollie 2016

"...and it'll be called Straight Outta Cape Town."

The sincerity festers in this gritty prison drama as difficult-to-watch moments punctuate the film and create a taut and intense atmosphere. Noem My Skollie a captivating experience, which continues to fascinate with a charming lead and insightful behind-the-scenes drama from a man who witnessed much of what's going on. AB and Gimba's relationship goes through a series of twists-and-turns as the two gang "brothers" take different paths after committing a crime that lands them in jail. Dann Jaques Mouton and Gantane Kusch have some fractious undercurrents, which hint at a much deeper history, while "Gums" is quite terrifying as a devious and psychotic gang leader in the cell.

What stops this authentic, honest and gritty crime drama from reaching true greatness is that the storytelling is scattershot. We move from a sweeping multi-generational tale of blood brothers, into a gritty prison drama about a storyteller, onto a doomed romance for an ever-changing film that seems like it's trying to unearth a character portrait. In trying to check so many boxes, it compounds the running time, losing some edge in the process. While the story lacks focus, the film's underlying quality, earnest nature and authenticity are strong enough to hold us captive.

The bottom line: Veracious

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the latest iteration of Star Trek. The first two films, Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, were directed by J.J. Abrams, but since he's crossed over to the Star Wars camp with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they've forced him to pick a side to keep peace on earth. Star Trek Beyond was entrusted to Justin Lin, a director who has made a name for himself directing Fast and the Furious sequels, a series with a growing ensemble and big effects. Lin has shown his ability to wield the demands of an ever-broadening franchise, which probably made him a good choice for Star Trek.

Knowing that Lin was onboard is enough to know the direction that Abrams had planned for Star Trek, leaning on the audio-visual elements without losing track of the characters or their journeys. In this sequel, we find the crew of the Enterprise stranded and scattered across a mysterious planet following a surprise attack from Krall and his battalion, who are trying to locate a powerful ancient artifact.

Chris Pine's mature take on Captain Kirk shows a man who has grown weary of his ceaseless missions and seeking to start a new chapter. Zachary Quinto explores Mr. Spock's human traits more as he develops a buddy movie dynamic with Karl Urban as Bones, who gets much more focus. Simon Pegg also gets more screen time, giving each of the key characters more space to grow without the insurgence factor of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek Beyond movie review

"It's HUGE... but is it a flashlight or a 'flashsword'?"

Instead of Khan, we have Krall (do they just look them up in the phone book?), a foreboding enemy played by Idris Elba. You almost can't recognise the man under all the prosthetics and make up, but his voice, size and eyes have a familiarity. He's somewhat restricted by his get up, but the dictator's mysterious and sinister plans make him intimidating in an Idi Amin sort of way. The screenplay seems to be hinting at a political undercurrent, talking about struggle and even casting Elba, who's also known for his towering performance as Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, however this isn't fully explored.

It may have had more resonance if the film wasn't so geared towards full-speed-ahead action. Lin's experience shines through, managing to balance the performances against the visual effects and the deep space warfare against the hand-to-hand combat. After recovering from the initial flurry of outer space peril, this action-intensive sequel becomes even more relentless, only slowing down to catch jokes and then thrusting forward into the next action sequence. The visuals effects are seamless, drawing us into the futuristic world of the Enterprise and contrasting that against the wilderness of the strange planet they find themselves trapped on.

The audio is just as dynamic moving from starship collisions, force fields and hi-tech weaponry blasts to old school dance and alternative music. Star Trek Beyond has definitely been influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, incorporating a similar blend of action, comedy, teamwork, irreverence and mix tape charm and Sofia Boutella. It remains invested in Star Trek thanks to the classic line-up of characters, but there's a fresh attitude thanks to this influence, making the sci-fi adventure more of a rollicking yarn than a pensive allegory for the War on Terrorism.

This fun-loving tone makes Star Trek Beyond all about the entertainment: disaster movie, buddy movie, heist and survival adventure... this sequel has it all. From letting Chris Pine pull off some stunts worthy of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape to culminating in a colossal action moment to the tune of The Beastie Boys, Star Trek Beyond has a fearless streak to it. The wink-wink charm of the cast and the full-blown action are probably just what Abrams was wanting when Lin replaced him and they've managed to pull it off in a similar way to the roller-coaster ride that is Jurassic World.

Anton Yelchin's haunting performance is a strange coincidence when you think about Lin's connection with Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 7. However, apart from a credit tribute, the film-makers have opted to steer clear of any heartwarming in-movie moments. It's probably what Yelchin would've wanted, being the pro he was, yet it still feels tragic. The creeping sadness is offset by some hilarious moments, especially between the odd couple of Mr. Spock and Bones.

All in all, Star Trek Beyond is a great popcorn blockbuster, designed to entertain and carry the torch without taking itself too seriously. It manages to accomplish its objectives, borrowing the tone of the Guardians of the Galaxy and formula of The Fast and Furious to create a spectacular and entertaining sequel.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is a ridiculous movie title. Who is this Kubo and what exactly are these two strings? Are we talking about a kitten and a ball of twine or maybe this is a story about a kid who can snort noodles? Thankfully it's neither, although they've both got serious potential on YouTube.

This story is set in ancient Japan, where Kubo is an eyepatch-wearing young boy looking after his ailing mother in a village. After a spirit awakens an age-old vendetta, Kubo must find a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to survive. Probably better than watching a cute kitten play with string with two hours.

This animated film features a first class voice cast including: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConnaughey and Ralph Fiennes. Each of these actors brings great depth to their characters who draw you into the magic of Kubo's world. Although, it helps not knowing who they're voicing in order to slip further into the illusion. Art Parkinson plays Kubo, bouncing off the name stars quite effortlessly while there's even a credit for Star Trek's George Takei.

The mix of stop-motion animation is mesmerising, giving the film an other-worldly feel and leaving you breathless, wondering how they managed to create such a rich and detailed visual tapestry. The flow is seamless as the lovable characters interact against the backdrop of some dynamic scenes involving beautifully realised origami. The air fills with these paper creations as Kubo uses his shamisen (guitar) to draw life out of sheets of paper and leaves.

Kubo and the Two Strings 2016

"Made it ma, top of the world!"

The filmmakers have managed to concoct an enchanting atmosphere in which anything can happen to the tune of an authentic and beautiful soundtrack. To engender mystery they don't answer all our questions, allowing us to sink further into the enigma as one veil of reality peels away after the other. Japanese culture, symbols and traditions are swathed with a sense of mysticism in a similar way to the video game, Shadow of the Colossus, as our hero is tasked with defeating a series of gods and monsters using his wit.

While it has the epic artistic grandeur of Shadow of the Colossus it remains relatable, drawing the comedy, warmth and appeal of Kung Fu Panda. Our hero learns more about his powers as his quest continues, banding with a group of allies including a monkey, beetle and paper samurai who help him along the way. It's as dark and magical as Coraline, the transcendent spirituality of Miyazaki's films and then keeps us amused by tripping into the enjoyable mix of exhilarating action and clumsy levity of Kung Fu Panda.

It's a truly captivating tale that's set to become a classic. We're whisked away on an enchanting albeit perilous quest that has been so lovingly filmed that you can't help but admire every frame. The characters are endearing: Kubo's melancholic innocence, Monkey's thick-skinned disdain, Beetle's air-headed "Buzz Lightyear" heroics and most notably the kind old woman from the village. The universal themes around the power of memory and mourning are heartwarming and deeply touching for all ages.

Kubo and the Two Strings features the best of Hollywood and Japan. Like Pixar's Up, it's one of those rare films that sees everything come together so perfectly: a top voice cast, mesmerising animation, an enchanting atmosphere, a captivating story, a beautiful soundtrack, timeless themes... making it a definite must-see if you enjoyed any of its many influences!

The bottom line: Mesmerising

Movie Review: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor is based on the novel by John le Carré, an author whose film credits include: The Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His espionage thrillers are thought-provoking - more realistic than James Bond and less action-intensive than Jason Bourne.

Our Kind of Traitor fits into this mold once again, delivering a thought-provoking story about a couple who finds themselves caught between the Russian Mafia and British Secret Service. It's a cerebral drama turned spy thriller, following in the tradition of A Most Wanted Man, letting the performances drive the appeal instead of leaning on explosive visuals.

We're immersed in a holiday, not unlike Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. Instead of Jimmy Stewart, we have Ewan McGregor, playing a rather demure English professor and instead of Doris Day, we have Naomie Harries, playing a concerned barrister. It's got a slick contemporary overlay, which is reminiscent of the film Runner Runner with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, a relational dynamic reflected by McGregor and Skarsgård. The British couple cross paths with a Russian oligarch planning to defect, brought to life by Stellan Skarsgård and take his offer to barter with British Secret Service agent, Damian Lewis.

Our Kind of Traitor movie review

"No... you jump first, you can break my fall."

McGregor is more of a vessel for the audience in this The Man Who Knew Too Much style drama and while the vicarious journey is curious, we never fully immerse ourselves, making the experience a bit too detached to be memorable. There's good chemistry between McGregor and Skarsgård, which could have been leveraged more, but you can't really fault the actors who deliver on their promises with Lewis rounding off a first class cast.

Our Kind of Traitor's directed by British TV and film director, Susanna White, who turns her focus from television to film. Instead of action and suspense, this film is powered by solid performances and slow-burning espionage intrigue. The strong cast and sharp writing ground the drama as we get to grips with Russia-UK inside politics, secret agendas and power plays. It all sounds quite appealing, but despite the film's quality ingredients, it's a little underwhelming.

You get the impression that the film-makers used the BBC's Sherlock as a reference and possibly influence for the look-and-feel of this adaptation. However, instead of break-neck visuals and sharp interplay, there's a lethargic feel to the storytelling, which makes things seem more real, yet rather inconsequential. This could be attributed to le Carré's playground of subtleties or possibly a follow-through from White's wealth of TV experience. Unfortunately, the lack of foreboding danger makes the spy games seem rather pedestrian and routine.

Our Kind of Traitor's good enough to keep watching and has one or two moments, but it isn't recommended if Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A Most Wanted Man didn't appeal to you.

The bottom line: Intriguing

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