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Movie Reviews
Movie Review: Tess


Tess, is a film adaptation of Tracey Farren's novel, Whiplash, which follows the heartrending journey of a sex worker who falls pregnant, and the difficulties she encounters on the streets of Cape Town.

Directed by Meg Rickards and starring Christia Visser, this important and hard-hitting drama is a passion project. Important, because it sheds light on long-standing social issues such as the abuse of women in a country deemed as one of the worst affected in the world. Hard-hitting, in the way the filmmakers don't spare the audience from some unsettling scenes, which while graphic, are necessary in representing the plight of a lowly sex worker and a violent rape culture, which has shaped her view of the world.

Christia Visser delivers a full range performance as the title character, Tess. Jaded and somewhat numb, she captures the essence of a woman who has been sidelined by an unforgiving society, destined to a rinse-and-repeat lifestyle trading her soul in exchange for a meagre existence. While she captures the nature of the character, it's also a brave and gritty performance.

Supported by Brendon Daniels as an unhinged criminal, Dann Jaques Mouton as a sincere patron and Nse Ikpe-Etim as a concerned neighbour, it's easy for Visser to immerse herself in the role. The ensemble's inherent quality extends to smaller supporting roles with Mark Elderkin playing a violent misogynist and Greg Kriek a family "friend". Each of the actors is forced to push the limits of comfort, portraying a range of men with deep-seated social and psychological issues. Rickards isn't clustering all men as evil, but conveying the tragedy and terror of Tess's past and present circumstances.

Christia Visser - Tess Movie 2016

"Nobody should ever own anybody."

It must have been quite painful for Rickards to direct this film, going through hell along with the actors to establish intensity and realism. While harrowing, it also has a raw beauty as evidenced by the artful cinematography and rich symbolism at play. Set in Muizenberg village and along the Baden Powell beach road, the seaside vistas and blue skies give the film a sense of hope as they contrast this freedom against the confines of her apartment block.

While the intention is to expose abuse and create awareness, Tess does walk a tightrope in effecting this message. While unsettling at times, this harsh realism gives the film clout, delving into the devil's playground to create impact value and hopefully provoke the right conversations. It's a challenging film that will undoubtedly haunt audiences and Rickards hasn't shied away, giving Tess dramatic tension instead of simply churning out propaganda.

It's been sparsely scripted, allowing the beautifully shot visuals to tell a deceptively simple story about a vulnerable sex worker trying to decide whether she wants to keep the baby or not. The gritty, minimalist and poetic treatment of this character portrait drama makes it a niche film, laced together by an excellent lead performance and a hard-hitting story.

While Tess maintains good tension, it does become a bit repetitive in translating the day-to-day routine, adding to the kitchen sink reality and distancing itself simultaneously. The third act subverts what would have been a deeply depressing and tragic ordeal, however this doesn't seem to match the tone of the rest of the film. While a welcome relief, you wonder how much more powerful and thought-provoking it could have been if they had gone colder and darker. Still, despite its shortcomings, it remains steadfast and a fine achievement all things considered.

The bottom line: Gritty


 
Movie Review: Resident Evil - The Final Chapter


Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the sixth installment in the Resident Evil series starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Paul WS Anderson. Very few people would have guessed that the Resident Evil series would be a trilogy never mind a six part series. It's arguably the best video game to film adaptation, possibly owing to the fact that the character of Alice wasn't part of the original game, giving the filmmakers creative licence to create a film and character loosely based on Ridley Scott's Alien.

Who better to herald the series then Milla Jovovich, who had already proven herself worthy in The Fifth Element and continues to be an actress who can command the physicality of a demanding action role without compromising the allure of femininity in the process (Spling's Interview with Milla Jovovich). It's been more than a decade since the first Resident Evil set the franchise in motion and while the series hasn't always been met with critical acclaim, it's continued to satisfy zombie action junkies and fans of the game. Writer-director Paul WS Anderson and leading lady Milla Jovovich have a good understanding, which is just as well considering they are married!

This installment of the Resident Evil film series finds Alice and her friends betrayed by Albert Wesker as he summons the forces of Umbrella to launch a decisive blow against the apocalypse survivors. This sequel is a culmination of sorts, seeing the reprisal of Claire Redfield, played by Ali Larter, Dr Isaacs played by Iain Glen and Albert Wesker played by Shawn Roberts. New additions to Alice's ragtag crew include: Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy and Fraser James.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

"Don't make me come down there..."

The post-apocalyptic series has become more and more CGI heavy over the years. It's understandable, recreating Raccoon City and furnishing an environment which switches between futuristic technology, dilapidated urban sprawls and dusty wastelands is no easy feat. The filmmakers decided to shoot the film primarily in South Africa, yet it still has a universal could-be-anywhere feel to it. Being in post-production for over a year gives you an impression of just how much visual artistry is involved in completing the picture.

While typically stylish and replete with trademark Resident Evil shoot 'em up turned Matrix kung fu action, it does seem slightly more frenetic than usual. This in-your-face post-apocalyptic roadie action seems to have been partly inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road, which released a few months before The Final Chapter commenced shooting. The film does settle into its own rhythm, returning to some familiar set piece territory, although you do find yourself wishing you could slow down the action frame rate. Happening primarily at night, some of the nuances of the visuals are lost, heightening the realism but detracting from the overall spectacle.

While it features a promising and charming cast of up-and-coming talent, the real showdown is between cool heroine Alice and the evil Dr Isaacs, played by Milla Jovovich and Iain Glen respectively. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is first and foremost an action movie and it's no secret, relying on minimal dialogue and some fun one-liners to power home rivalries. Post-apocalyptic mayhem is all about the cool set pieces and cult appeal when it comes to appeasing Resident Evil fans. Being the sixth installment, Paul WS Anderson's latest actioner is dedicated to the fans. He sticks to his guns, delivers more of the Resident Evil carnage we've come to expect and ties things up with a big red bloody bow.

You're bound to find a number of flaws and a lack of emotional connectedness in the script and way they have mounted this production. However, if you're looking for anything more than mindless entertainment, a fun jaunt and an action sci-fi horror thriller blockbuster, you're probably forgetting it's based on a video game. While lightweight, Jovovich and Glen's star quality and performances go a long way to cementing the film's pop culture credibility and anchoring the visual overload and escapist fare.

The bottom line: Frenetic


 
Movie Review: Live by Night


Live by Night is produced by, directed by and stars Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel. Set in the 1920s and 1930s Prohibition Era, we journey with Joe, the troubled and wayward son of a Boston police captain, who becomes involved in a life of organised crime. After serving a prison sentence he's relocated to the neighbourhood of Ybor City in Tampa, to take revenge and build a rum-running empire in balmy Florida.

The first thing you'll notice about Live by Night is its amazing cast and first-rate production values. Ben Affleck headlines a film of superb character actors including but not limited to: Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper, Matthew Maher and Robert Glenister. In front of camera, behind the camera, on the front page and behind-the-scenes, Live by Night is a labour of love for Ben Affleck. Wearing so many hats, you can understand why his performance is diffused, almost trying to sidestep the spotlight like a circus conductor.

He does this to his own detriment, distancing us from the character and preventing Live by Night from becoming a true gangster classic. While Affleck shies away from the limelight, he opens the stage for his supporting cast flourish. Brendan Gleeson is always immense, so much so that you wish they had made more of the father-son relationship. Live by Night is further complemented by a host of fascinating character performances. Sienna Miller is feisty and poisonous as a mob boss's girlfriend. Elle Fanning is haunting as a prodigal daughter in a role that is complex enough to warrant a spin-off film. Her police chief father, played by Chris Cooper, also deserved more unpacking in his attempt to rise above a sea of hypocrisy and moral ambiguity. Then Matthew Maher deserves a special mention for his malevolent and unpredictable role as a diabolical Ku Klux Klan "clown".

While the story has an old-fashioned air to it, the finishes are modern. We are immersed in Boston, where vintage cars line the streets and old world charm abounds in the form of fashion and pop culture from the time. Then, we're transported to the balmy panache of Ybor City. The details in the pageantry are quite exquisite and the film is beautiful to look at, also largely thanks to its hand-in-glove cinematography. It's a tip of the hat to the Warner Brothers gangster films of the '30s and '40s as we chronicle the life of a reluctant gangster in this handsomely mounted crime epic.

Live by Night

"I said... we'll always have Ybor!"

Live by Night slots in somewhere between Public Enemies and The Untouchables. It matches Public Enemies for machine gun action and star quality, but dwarfs this film with its scope as a saga. It's not quite as involved, meticulous or weighty as The Untouchables, but carries a similar prestige and grandeur in terms of its visual poetry and sense of importance. While flawed, it's one of the better Prohibition era crime dramas to emerge from Hollywood over the last two decades, enchanting us with a sprawling tale, gripping performances and a vicious elegance.

It's refreshing for Live by Night to tackle the Ku Klux Klan and racial prejudices of the time. Unfortunately, while it splays these social anomies wide open, it fails to truly grapple with the underlying tensions in the same way A Time to Kill managed to exploit them. As a chronicle of Joe Coughlin's life, these forces seem like a series of hurdles rather than protracted local tensions. While a little slow in places, it's free-ranging enough to keep us constantly entertained, distracted and hungry to link characters and outcomes. There are many powerful moments and quotable quotes, but Live by Night seems content to circle greatness.

While it has tremendous scale, Live by Night would have benefited from a sharper focus on Joe Coughlin's inner struggles. The story would have maximised its dramatic tension by dwelling a little longer on the unresolved father-son issues, the strife caused by racial prejudice, his projected daddy issues and the inner turmoil of a man trying to shield his heart from the shadows of his criminal enterprise. While passable, Ben Affleck and Zoe Saldana's on-screen chemistry seemed a little underwhelming given the circumstances.

All in all, Live by Night's top production values, sharp cast, fascinating supporting characters, entertaining storytelling and elegant cinematography make it a cut above your average gangster crime epic. While it's not in the same league as The Godfather, Goodfellas or Gangs of New York, it shows glimmers of brilliance and amounts to more of a missed opportunity than a misfire. While somewhat sporadic, it has enough fine qualities to lean back on, making it fleeting yet enjoyable for moviegoers wanting to immerse themselves in a haunting, swirling and violent magpie of a gangster picture.

The bottom line: Respectable


 
Movie Review: Collateral Beauty


Collateral Beauty had amazing potential. On paper, this film seemed destined to rank alongside the likes of Seven Pounds. Both films star Will Smith and you get the impression that director David Frankel was aiming to deliver something similar in terms of content and tone. While Will Smith certainly echoes this sentiment, he's not alone, playing a hollow lead to an ensemble of Hollywood heavyweights, including: Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris and Helen Mirren. "Hollow", because he's playing a husk of a man ravaged by grief and because most of the talking is done by the supporting cast.

Frankel directed The Devil Wears Prada, which probably makes him more adept at dealing with sleek, high-flying office dramas. Collateral Beauty tells the story of a visionary advertising agency director who retreats within himself after a tragedy and starts writing letters to Love, Time and Death as a catharsis. This is only the beginning as the drama revolves around his partners and their feigned "concern" for him and the well-being of the company. Resorting to a ridiculous scheme in an attempt to seize a controlling interest of the company over Christmas, they are forced to confront their own projections.

Collateral Beauty just goes to show that if your script is fundamentally flawed, even the best of intentions and an all-star cast can't save your film from nosediving. While we're introduced to Will Smith's character, we never assimilate a full picture of what the man was like before the tragedy, leaving him something of a mystery. While his domino-building art and reclusive status certainly keep him interesting amid antisocial grunts and distant gazes, we never get a chance to latch onto the subject of all this "collateral beauty". Alienated from the lead, our only point of entry is through his conniving associates, whose ulterior motives make them cold and unlikeable.

Collateral Beauty

"Well, who did you expect... Oprah?"

The Christmas miracle theme help soften the line between reality and fantasy, however if anything Collateral Beauty needed to be more geared towards magic realism. Frankel never really gets the balance right, tending towards chocolate box sentimentalism and melodrama, when the film needed to go 21 Grams serious or August Rush elemental. Instead of picking a side, we navigate the grey area like a cheesy holiday movie ensemble piece, believing the best based on the esteem and quality of the actors.

It all seems rather misguided, turning what should have been a high concept dark comedy into an airy fairy tearjerker. Apart from a few heartstring plucks, almost every moment rings false... moving forth with pomp like the naked Emperor, contrived and preposterous. Stumbling onto and intercepting his letters, conveniently cottoning on to an over-the-top gameplay and never truly testing the thinly veiled scheme, we're forced to simply accept everything blindly. It's as if David Frankel has tried to stuff a Gary Marshall holiday movie into Seven Pounds Christmas stocking without you noticing.

It's difficult to come to terms with just how flawed a movie starring Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Naomie Harris could possibly be. Collateral Beauty's not aggressively bad, just fatally flawed, forcing us to lean on the charm of the dedicated ensemble and the heartwarming intentions of the filmmakers, as unintentionally funny and ludicrous as it gets. Collateral Beauty is a bit late for Christmas, but will undoubtedly flummox everyone who gets a whiff of the wealth of acting talent.

The bottom line: Ludicrous

 
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