Jagveld is an outback crime thriller based on the novel by Deon Meyer, which tracks the journey of a young woman, who is pursued by a gang of drug smugglers after she witnesses them killing a traffic officer. Byron Davis makes a directorial debut working with a notable South African ensemble in Leandie du Randt, Neels Van Jaarsveld and Tim Theron, with support from Tertius Meintjes, Albert Maritz, Edwin van der Walt and Bouwer Bosch.
Jagveld is in the same league as Beyond the Reach and Desierto, as a cat and mouse hunt unfurls over a dry and dusty landscape. While similar, Meyer's story has a fresh twist turning the prey into a wiley predator as we get up-to-speed with a Tomb Raider style heroine. It would have been much edgier if the film had hinged on current socio-political issues in South Africa with a similar bent to Desierto, but it's more concerned with kicking ass and driving its vengeful brand of feminism, despite the overt sexualisation of its lead.
The casting of Leandie du Randt, makes it seem like the part of Emma was written with her in mind, taking us from her pre-school teacher job and pacifist mindset into much darker and dangerous terrain. While being blonde and wearing hot pants puts her in a box, it's her hiking boots, MacGyver temperament and tough-as-nails determination that makes the character relentless and complex like Bambi with an AK-47. While Neels van Jaarsveld is dealing with a fairly stereotypical Western style villain, he oozes cool menace, looks imposing against the skyline and it would've been great if they'd unpacked the character of Bosman more. Tertius Meintjes adds his weight as Emma's father, who could warrant a spin-off film, while Tim Theron looks like he spent a lot of time bulking up and while breaking new ground as a bad guy, adds brute force as the second-in-command, Piet.
"Have you seen this boy?"
Jagveld is a low budget production, but it's incredibly resourceful, leaning on the talents of its posse and using the desolate outback terrain to good effect. The visuals are compelling, taking notes from epic Westerns as tracking and survival tactics come into play. Unfortunately, Jagveld gets bogged down by inconsistencies, far-fetched story ideas and fundamental flaws. A smaller crew of criminals would've given us a chance to know the henchmen and leaders better, giving depth and realism preference over body count.
It's promising yet tonally-challenged, starting like an indie crime thriller and then deviating into a Tarantino-style action comedy caper, never completely comfortable in its own skin or with its overarching vision. While suspenseful, a few unintentional laughs and some cheesy one-liners loosen and break the grip. The intensity is dissipated by comic relief as it moves from a cold-blooded thriller in the vein of Desierto into the pulp kingdom and comic book stylings of Hollywood. Contrivances and a few missteps spoil its arthouse ambitions, yet it remains entertaining as a lightweight "skop, skiet en donner" thriller.
Part of the joy is in watching the cast turn to their dark sides, and while a mixed bag, its refreshing and admirable to see a trickier genre film emerge from South Africa. The twists-and-turns keep it loosely compelling if you're able to just roll with it and the father-daughter back story keeps it emotionally present like a reverse version of Taken. The screenplay is flawed and some of the dialogue is clunky, but Jagveld is a fun ride if you liked Beyond the Reach and Desierto.
Nocturnal Animals tells the story of a wealthy art gallery owner who is haunted by her ex-husband's novel. Juxtaposing the cold, artistic reality of a divorcee, now remarried and alienated, with the dusty, gritty world of a self-reflecting novel, we experience a dark, disconcerting and tense atmosphere.
Tom Ford's A Single Man is a conventional drama by contrast... both films have style, both are enhanced by strong performances, except it seems as though Ford is taking a page from David Lynch . Switching between a surreal reality and a novel reflecting a symbolic rehash of a failed relationship, we try to make sense of a woman's current turmoil and the events that led to her divorce.
This drama is loaded with first-class actors. While Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal essentially drive each of their worlds, they're supported by Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Adams delivers a strong performance as a jaded woman suffering pangs of nostalgia, a role that underlines her Oscar nomination for Arrival. Gyllenhaal has established himself as a dependable and bankable actor, whose dark drama empire continues its steady expansion with a more vulnerable turn in Nocturnal Animals.
"You are baby, you are."
Shannon is the real deal... an actor who's so committed to the craft that it's become a battle with himself rather than awards season. Then, to top off an already strong ensemble we have Aaron Taylor-Johnson who's almost unrecognisable in the kind of dangerous and unwieldy performance you'd expect from someone of Sam Rockwell's calibre.
While Adams and Gyllenhaal deliver the sort of quality performances we've come to expect from them, the scene-stealing is left to Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Shannon's small town "Sheriff" role is beautifully controlled and he slips into the performance behind the moustache and drawl of a seasoned campaigner. Taylor-Johnson is more unpredictable, delivering a wacky performance, which leaves us on edge as he commandeers one of the film's most suspenseful scenes. His despicable, self-contained and psychotic alter-ego keeps the atmosphere electric.
We're mesmerised by the visuals and entranced by the vivid performances, but this is a case of style over substance. Ford's visual poety is compelling and he creates some truly tense moments, but the storytelling does seem somewhat scattered like the last traces of a dream. The experimental slant and unsettling violence certainly keeps you on edge, but the story doesn't hold together as beautifully as the visuals would have you believe. It's a must for Lynchland fans and will appeal to fans of the strong ensemble, who deliver maniacal charm and fire.
We're living in an age of superhero origin stories, reboots, spin-offs and stand-offs. The superhero craze continues to reinvent and elevate comic books into the realm of film with an ever-burgeoning list of heroes and villains. One success story has been Wolverine, one of the few X-Men characters who has appeared in every media adaptation of the X-Men franchise. From being part of the team to branching out in several stand-alone films, Hugh Jackman has made the character of Wolverine almost like an alter-ego thanks to his considerable range of talents. Having played Wolverine in nine X-Men films, it's getting to that point where like most Bond actors, he doesn't want the role to define him. While Jackman has already developed a strong association with the character, it was time to mix things up.
With a so-so outing in X-Men: Apocalypse, which seemed like the rise and fall of an '80s metal band, it became apparent that the franchise's success hinged largely on Wolverine's screen time. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of Bryan Singer, the X-Men franchise needed to be grounded for some self-reflection. This is what makes Logan refreshing. Director, James Mangold, has reinvented his own Wolverine concept... following up with a gritty, realistic and grisly film in favour of the CGI-heavy Highlander style, The Wolverine.
Signalling his intent to zero in on the character, they've dropped any mention of X-Men and gone with the title, Logan. Set in the near future, we're introduced to a husk of the man as we know him, as Logan's attempts to hide and reduce the legacy of Wolverine are thwarted by the arrival of a young mutant in need of his help. Instead of another claw smash-and-grab, we're taken on a more introspective journey with a cast including: Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant and introducing Dafne Keen.
"No, Freddy Krueger got the idea from me."
It's as if a Mel Gibson star vehicle script was reinvented as a Wolverine film, not shying away from extreme violence but retaining its rogue underdog nature. Much like Blood Father and Get the Gringo, there's a similar energy in terms of characterisation, cold-blooded killing and tongue-in-cheek comedy. We're slowly immersed into this "foreign" world, which seems a lot more like the earth we know than the X-Men universe. Instead of an over-reliance on effects, Mangold allows his talents to act, giving them more face time and creating some touching moments through the rich relational dynamics.
The performances help us bridge the gap into this gritty, real and deconstructed take on Wolverine. Jackman is a versatile and celebrated actor, who doesn't need a moment to get into the head space of Logan, delivering a self-doubting, vulnerable and troubled man. While it is difficult to watch him struggle as a bedraggled Wolverine, he remains strong for those around him. This makes his journey more enjoyable for his undying commitment and veteran skills, much like the Taken action thriller trend. Then, Stewart also relishes the opportunity to add some humanity and ragged texture to a latter day Professor X. Together with young Dafne Keen, it's a strong co-lead unit, deftly delivering punishing action and touching drama.
While we're used to seeing superhero films that overwhelm the senses with CGI and over-the-top superpowers, James Mangold has decided to put the franchise in reverse. He's reinvented the typical Marvel format by creating a gritty on-the-run action drama sci-fi thriller. Borrowing aspects from action franchises like Mad Max, Terminator, Die Hard and Rambo, he's tailored a dusty and realistic on-the-run road movie, which has many similarities to Mercury Rising and even Little Miss Sunshine.
The post-apocalyptic feel and desert car chase showdowns have a Mad Max: Fury Road feel about them. The killing machine entrusted with protecting instead of destroying is reminiscent of the Terminator's trajectory. Having an outgunned, seasoned underdog like Logan at the helm against an army of henchmen has echoes of Die Hard, while Rambo: First Blood comes to mind as we witness heroic armed forces action against the backdrop of nature. Elements from Little Miss Sunshine come into play as key characters follow similar paths and share parallels on this borderline quirky road movie. Logan also serves as a tribute to the classic western, Shane.
Logan has many strong influences as it leans on tough-as-nails old school action of the '80s instead of churning out yet another slick superhero flick. There are several big laughs and a few unintentional ones when you take a step back from the action. While Mangold has pulled off this ambitious take with flair, it didn't need so much explicit violence, which intensifies to the point of saturation.
The seemingly limitless hordes of henchmen give Wolverine enough trouble along with "middle management", but Logan had a conglomerate when it needed a stronger nemesis. Mangold's thoughtful direction and several strong performances make this ambitious take entertaining and refreshingly different with many memorable moments.
Moonlight is a coming-of-age drama that chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he tries to cope against the flow of everyday adversities while growing up in a rough Miami neighbourhood. The film deals with a range of negative social themes such as: drugs, bullying and gangsterism. Ordinarily, these hard living themes would translate into a gritty and difficult-to-watch film, but this is the magic of Moonlight, turning the ugliness of real-life into a thing of luminescent beauty.
Director Barry Jenkins has composed an elegant drama that treats all of its subjects with great dignity and respect in spite of their transgressions. This is a very human experience, viewed from a nonjudgemental perspective and powered home by an ensemble of equally sincere performances. Mahershala Ali's towering performance is tough yet heartfelt, and he manages to captain a strong ensemble of performances, despite his limited screen time. The lead role is played by three fine actors, namely Alex R. Hibbert as Little, Ashton Sanders as Chiron and Trevante Rhodes as Black. All the while, the mercurial Naomie Harris tries to keep them in check as troubled mother, Paula.
Richard Linklater delivered a similar coming-of-age film about a white lower middle-class Texan boy approaching adulthood with docudrama realism. While Moonlight doesn't enjoy the continuity of having a single actor as its lead like Boyhood, the casting is convincing and the chapters are equally realistic. There is a poetry and sombre depth to this filmmaking, which transcends other dramas with its natural ebb and flow, maintaining a curious tension as we revisit a character whose neighbourhood, family and social constraints have shaped him. While the realm is harsh, the heart is tender, turning this drama into a deeply moving, subtle and beautiful piece of cinema.
"You want to be like Jimi? You got to kiss the sky!"
Jenkins could have used this platform to launch a scathing attack on race and sexual politics in America. However, he's taken a much more gentle approach in relaying his message, using a lens of acceptance to help shape attitudes. By presenting a vicarious and disarming experience of what it must be like to grow up poor, black and gay, we are forced to either empathise or reflect on our own prejudices. This makes Moonlight powerful in the way it can touch your soul and haunting as its pure elegance sinks into your bones.
As a low-budget drama, this film speaks volumes and is a testament to great writing, fine casting and visionary direction. Its multitude of Best Picture awards are important in demonstrating that art can trump budget and it serves as a huge inspiration for budding filmmakers around the world. One can only hope that the widespread attention it has received as a result of the award season will convert into people taking the time to see it.