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Movie Review: Spud 3 - Learning to Fly

Spud 3: Learning to Fly is the third part of the popular series of boarding school misadventures by John Van De Ruit. The film sees many actors reprise their roles, including stars Troye Sivan as John "Spud" Milton and John Cleese as "The Guv". As if having three Johns wasn't enough, they've gone and added another with director John Barker picking up the series after Donovan Marsh directed Spud and Spud 2: The Madness Continues.

It's 1992 and our reluctant hero, Spud Milton, returns to school as a senior. As he stumbles through the uncertain and awkward teens, trouble at home and slipping grades force him to dig deep as he attempts to secure another year with the Crazy Eight by achieving top honours in the classroom and on the sports field.

Spud 2 was an all-out school romp, focusing on the exploits of the Crazy Eight as they create a legacy.Spud 3 has toned down the pranks to concentrate on more of the personal drama of peer pressure, growing pains and school politics. It's more melancholic and hesitant as Spud tries to keep a lid on his home and school life, while hurdling life's obstacles and learning to take responsibility.

His love life is on the rocks, his parents are not seeing eye-to-eye and everything seems to be weighing down on him to the point of questioning the meaning of it all. The screenplay touches on a number of issues, tuning into various aspects of Spud's life and lacing it all together with a to-do list in order to ostensibly fix it all.

It's not to say there's no fun, because being at a traditional boarding school and collaborating with a sister school for a Shakespeare production means there are plenty of opportunities for mischief. While mostly faithful, the adaptation skips over a key character, reduces the importance of others and adjusts some outcomes. While you can understand the need to home in, some might not enjoy the fresh take as much as they ought to.

Spud 3 - Learning to Fly

What, me worry?

Troye Sivan just seems more comfortable with the character as a somewhat melancholic and self-doubting Spud, leaning into the drama and situational comedy more readily. It's his third appearance and Sivan just seems more in tune with the character than in Spud 2.

John Cleese is back as Spud's mentor and friend, "The Guv". It's always a joy to see Cleese on film and he doesn't disappoint, delivering some great wisecracks and chiming in with the special bond that "The Guv" and Spud have developed from the previous films. While he's still there for the fireside chats and some hush-hush banter, we see his character enjoying a sweet romantic subplot of his own.

Spud 3: Learning to Fly sees the introduction of YouTube sensation, Caspar Lee, who plays Garlic the weird Malawian kid. We also see the inclusion of the housemaster's snarky second-in-command, Norman Whiteside, played to great effect by Luke Tyler in a role that deserved more versus antagonism. While the focus isn't on the Crazy Eights, the gang are back with a bang and instead of breaking the rules, they begin a race for the prestige of being inducted as house prefects.

Aaron McIlroy and Julie Summers get more screen time as Spud's parents. McIlroy is energetic as usual with his cringe-worthy antics and the two have more emotional ties in the story as finances and a vivacious new neighbour put pressure on their marriage.

While John Barker has been brought on as director and the story has new focus areas and characters, theSpud series is mostly consistent, thanks to its core ensemble and coming-of-age themes. Although it would have felt more authentic if more of the teachers had remained and the main boarding school shooting location had stayed the same throughout the series.

Spud 3: Learning to Fly has grown with its audience and cast, offering more in the way of an existential crisis. The slightly darker, more serious tone gives the drama more weight without diminishing the vitality of the comedy. As John Cleese once said "comedy is very much like tragedy, the only difference being that comedy lacks sympathy". We see Spud's life in a tragic light and while he suffers in silence, there's bittersweet comic relief at the heart of it all.

Spud 3 may not be the bag of fun you saw in Spud 2, but works well enough off its "bucket list" concept to keep us invested in our hero as he undergoes a series of trials and misadventures. He's still the same Spud you'll want to cheer over the finish line and while his circumstances aren't light-hearted, he gives us an opportunity to share our burdens with him in these tough times.

The bottom line: Bittersweet

Movie Review: Leading Lady

Leading Lady is the latest film from up-and-coming South African director, Henk Pretorius. His previous film, Fanie Fourie's Lobola, demonstrated his ability to create a surprisingly touching, funny, street smart and distinctly South African romantic comedy. While it's another opposites attract "romcom"... he's broadened the scope by turning Leading Lady into a film with more international appeal.

We journey with Jodi (McGrath), an idealistic British school teacher and aspiring actress, who finds herself in South Africa on a mission to prepare for a lead role in an upcoming Afrikaans war drama epic. Upon arrival, Jodi meets Kobus (van Blerk), a cynical South African farmer, who forgoes his better judgement to assist her in exchange for her help with the town's annual concert.

Leading Lady's leading lady is Katie McGrath, an up-and-coming actress, who also stars in Jurassic World. With a countenance that falls somewhere between Jennifer Connelly and Kate Winslet, she holds an icy beauty, which works quite well for her character. As with all modern day fairy tales, her ice princess looks melt away as we discover a warm, vulnerable and attractive down-to-earth character in Jodi.

She stars opposite the enigmatic Bok van Blerk, who while stubbornly set in his ways, finds a damsel-in-distress worth rescuing in addition to his family farm. McGrath and van Blerk have a sweet chemistry and it's a pleasure watching them interact as their worlds collide. McGrath is great at essentially playing an "ugly duckling" and van Blerk's understated closed door performance helps emphasise their smouldering relational dynamic.

"Ground control to Major Tom... commencing countdown."

They're supported by Gil Bellows as big shot director, Daniel Taylor, in an emphatic, larger-than-life performance. His key role helps set the journey in motion, while injecting some energy and international flair. Brümilda van Rensburg adds her experience to the ensemble, playing a rather eccentric and amusing small town widow with peculiar taste. The ensemble is bolstered by André Stolz, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Craig Palm and Mary Twala, who each make great comedy counterpoints.

While Leading Lady starts off slowly as we narrow the focus from Big Ben in London to a small South Africa farm, things only really begin to take off as we start to warm to the hard-shelled characters. While their exteriors take a while to soften, the visual contrasts of the culture shock and the ensuing fish-out-of-water comedy help keep us entertained.

While not an entirely original concept, Henk Pretorius and Tina Kruger's script crackles with life and a quirky sense of humour. Leading Lady has an earthy freshness, standing on "romcom" genre conventions without being swallowed by them. We're slowly drawn into the story, continually amused by the interplay of the locals as we warm to the co-leads.

There are one or two questions surrounding "area code" policy, however the effects aren't distracting enough to derail the film. While there are plenty of amusing and quirky "small town" chuckles, you're almost taken by surprise at how emotionally connected to the characters you've become, with one particularly powerful moment involving Brümilda van Rensburg.

Leading Lady is a captivating and compelling romantic comedy and passion project from Henk Pretorius. From cast to crew, there's an understanding and love for the characters and film, presenting a pleasing story with heart, humour and intrinsic entertainment value. Ultimately, solid performances, steady direction, artful cinematography and a typical-yet-not-so-typical "romcom" script drive an enjoyable and satisfying film.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

Movie Review: The Hunger Games Mockingjay - Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 picks up the story after The Hunger Games have been destroyed. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, discovers District 13 has been decimated before moving onto District 12, where President Coin convinces her to become a symbol for the revolution. All the while, Peeta's increasingly dire situation is being transmitted via talk show interviews with Caesar Flickerman, making an attempt at rescuing him seem inevitable if not impossible.

Katniss Everdeen without The Hunger Games is like Harry Potter without Hogwart's. After two similar movies building up to the series selling point of teens in a lethal Lord of the Flies game of Survivor, it would have been a yawn to go there again. However, without the underlying tension of a relentless tumbrel on its path to a kill-your-buddy-or-be-killed scenario, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1feels like a different movie altogether.

Peeta and Katniss have been separated, the Districts are playing up some Wag the Dog propaganda with Katniss and a guerilla film-making crew and it's now a much broader war game. The concept of an insider bringing down "The Man" by playing according to his rules helped create a wonderful sense of irony and tension. Watching Katniss being groomed to be a figurehead for a revolutionary struggle, without truly questioning it herself, doesn't have the same appeal.

While The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 feels somewhat adrift, it's still a finely crafted film. Francis Lawrence has a more mature grip on the series, as demonstrated by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. He continues to exert this influence, providing us with a grittier, darker and ominous vision of The Hunger Games aftermath. While on the brink of revolution is dead serious business, it would have been good for there to have been some levity to a fairly joyless experience.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Movie Review

"Guns, roses, jungles... sweet child o mine!"

The lead trio return with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth reprising their roles. Lawrence is still on-form continuing where she left off, although a few of the vulnerable moments don't quite work. Hutcherson is good but less prominent, and we literally see less of him as the actor seems to have slimmed down to an almost emaciated state. Liam Hemsworth delivers another second fiddle performance and you can't help but feel the character's been short-changed.

The formidable supporting cast is made up of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. It's impressive on paper and while Hoffman and Moore get most of the screen time, each of their performances help anchor the dramatic integrity of Mockingjay - Part 1.

The sets and solid CGI add weight and scale to this epic war time sci-fi adventure as Katniss rallies the troops like a futuristic Joan of Arc. While dark and almost depressing at times, we get behind our heroine's quest to free the enslaved and scatter President Snow's troops. While often set underground, the film does sometimes feel like a Star Trek battle as two spaceships and camps wage a tactical and political war from their home bases.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is enjoyable owing to the groundwork done by the series and its ability to keep us invested in our heroine's plight. While the experience is rather joyless and seems somewhat adrift, the film's overriding quality and thrilling action peril smooth over the no-fun approach with Jennifer Lawrence heralding a grand showdown for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. It's not as sharp as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but there's enough to tide us over.

The bottom line: Entertaining

New Releases at Ster-Kinekor Cavendish this Week! (20/11/14)

Ster-Kinekor, Cavendish Square is one of the best cinemas in Africa, delivering a world-class digital film experience so that you get to watch GREAT moments at their GREATEST. Here's a selection of what's hot-and-happening at this state-of-the-art cinema complex at Cavendish Square in Cape Town. Visit the SPL!NG Facebook fan page to stand a chance of winning double movie tickets! And don't forget TWO brand new Cine Prestige cinemas are opening later this month!



The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 sees Katniss Everdeen rise up after The Hunger Games are destroyed. After District 12 is leveled, she moves to District 13 where President Coin convinces her to become a symbol for the rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence, the symbol for The Hunger Games, brings us another fine performance as Katniss in this dark, harrowing chapter of the sci-fi adventure series.

Why you need to see it: It boasts a stellar cast, epic sci-fi sets, action peril, a front line propaganda film crew... and an enslaved state on the brink of war.

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