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Movie Reviews
Movie Review: Gold


Gold is based on a true story. While it may be set in the '80s, instead of the '90s, change a few names and conjoin a few characters... the essence of the story lives on in this film about hitting the big time. Gold is something of a character portrait, blending adventure, entrepreneurship and biographical drama to tell the rags-to-riches story of down-on-his-luck prospector, Kenny Wells. Acting on a vision, he finds himself partnering with a geologist on a promising mining expedition in the jungles of Indonesia.

Matthew McConaughey outplayed Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, a Scorsese film that made McConaughey seem better suited to the titular role in a scene that was just too brilliant to leave out. While he ultimately won an Oscar for a transformative and career-best performance in Dallas Buyers Club, this chapter of his acting career wasn't over. In fact, it seems as though McConaughey's character in Gold is modeled or loosely inspired by these two performances. Carrying the audacious spirit and energy of his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street and mixing it with the drastic body transformation he underwent for Dallas Buyers Club, it boils down to Kenny Wells, an ambitious, balding and overweight self-starter.

No dream is too big for Wells, whose exuberance, lack of finesse and physique make him an underdog, despite his Homer Simpson complex. He may be a clown to his contemporaries, but his fighting spirit and surprising charm earns him respect in the big pond. It's a joy to see McConaughey relish the performance, deftly lacing together the romance of jungle adventure and minefield of big business. He's not alone, accompanied by the enigmatic Edgar Ramirez and heart-on-her-sleeve Bryce Dallas Howard, who act as wings for his likable yet bolshie performance.

Gold Movie

"We're going to be billionty rich!"

While the timeless themes, true story anchor and lead performance make Gold attractive and captivating, the screenplay and direction need polish. You get the impression the filmmakers were trying to make it look like it was filmed in the '80s for an added layer of authenticity. However, this just gives it a trashy overlay, which is accentuated by the shallow script. Perhaps they were going for something similar to The Infiltrator, which also leveraged a strong lead performance, a period setting, a true story and a gritty borderline trashy treatment. Unfortunately, while it aspires, it doesn't add up to the same level of entertainment value and seems like a missed opportunity.

Gold is tarnished by a lazy script, familiar notes and fairly uninspired direction. Yet, it's difficult to overlook Matthew McConaughey's transformation, his captivating full tilt performance, the incredulity of the true story and the entertaining yarn in all its flaws. Who doesn't want to watch a pulpy film about striking gold in a mysterious jungle and potentially realising your wildest dreams? Unfortunately, Gold makes this outlandish tale ordinary and mediocre.

The bottom line: Okay

 
Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell


Ghost in the Shell is based on a manga series, which was later adapted into an animated feature in 1995. Partly inspired by Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine and partly an inspiration for The Matrix, this much-loved Japanese series continues to inspire. Now unveiling its latest iteration, an almost inevitable live-action adaptation, starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Rupert Sanders, we get a chance to see Major come alive... even if her shoes seem too big for her.

The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, as we're introduced to Major... a cyber-enhanced human designed to be the perfect soldier and weapon against the world's most dangerous criminals. It loosely covers the same ground as the anime Ghost in the Shell as a complex hunt for a mysterious hacker unfurls with great revelations around Major's identity, the criminal mastermind and the crime-fighting organisation she represents.

While Johansson has worn skintight outfits playing Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers, she's gone as skin tight as it gets in playing Major, adopting a translucent costume. The visual effects around this outfit make it almost like a character in itself, which certainly helps since Johansson is playing Major in a performance, which is almost as alien and robotic as her take in Under the Skin.

She's supported by Pilou Asbæk, of Game of Thrones fame, who makes the best animation to live-action transition as her beefy and loyal sidekick. Takeshi Kitano is tremendous as Aramaki, rooting Ghost in the Shell at home and delivering most of his lines in Japanese. Juliette Binoche echoes her role in Godzilla as the conflicted Dr. Ouelet, while it's great to see Michael Pitt getting some more prominent screen time.

"I'm Major... in Japan."

While faithful in terms of basic plotting and some direct adaptations of scenes from the original Ghost in the Shell, the film has its own flavour. "Own" may be a bit generous when you contrast their effort with influences like The Fifth Element, Johnny Mnemonic and Blade Runner, tent poles for the live-action adaptation. While watching the 1995 anime film draws direct parallels with The Matrix, it's almost like they've fought against this contrast with the live-action film.

Major is reminiscent of Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Both beings are secret weapons and find themselves in a similar urban environment in terms of design and infrastructure. Ordinarily, this role would've been awarded to Milla Jovovich, who has become the quintessential kick-ass female lead, powering this type with The Fifth Element and recurring roles in Resident Evil. While Jovovich may have been a better casting call, Johansson's star power makes her more bankable.

The Johnny Mnemonic chicken-or-egg factor and Keanu Reeves correlation with The Matrix makes its release in the same year as 1995's Ghost in the Shell, quite curious. The opening scene has some synergies with Johnny Mnemonic, which while inferior and locked into the '90s, covered similar stylistic terrain in terms of Yakuza-inspired cyber criminal warfare.

While Blade Runner is scheduled for a reboot with Blade Runner 2049 later this year, Ghost in the Shell has incorporated a similar mix of decaying environment, dark mood and ominous atmosphere. This will help warm fans up for the reboot, but also shows how safe and magpie-orientated the new Ghost in the Shell really is under the direction of Sanders.

The cinematography is quite dazzling and the environment has depth and weight, a surprising amount, considering the degree of CGI. The translation of style is mostly on target and the film-makers have used an enhanced version of the soundtrack from the anime version. The strongest changes are made in the character's origin story, a few revelations and in the casting department... a point, which while criticised, has been handled quite deftly.

Ghost in the Shell is a beautiful and serviceable adaptation, which doesn't tarnish the series or break new ground. While we're not as invested in the characters as we'd want, the treatment is brooding and the stylistic choices are familiar and eye-popping enough to smooth over rough edges. The experience isn't entirely satisfying, but it does deliver on its promise of escapism.

The bottom line: Mesmerising

 
Movie Review: Jagveld


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.

Jagveld film

"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.

The bottom line: Fun

 
Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals


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.

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.

The bottom line: Spellbinding


 
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