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Movie Review: Born to Win


Born to Win comes to us from writer-director Frans Cronjé, who brought us Faith Like Potatoes and Hansie. If you've seen any of his films you'll have a good idea of what to expect from his latest faith-based coming-of-age drama. Each of Cronjé's films deal with real-life Job characters, who face great personal challenges and adversity only to rise above their circumstances. It's a story that Cronjé identifies with and one that he manages to tell with great heart again and again in his inspiring films.

Born to Win charts the life story of Leon Terblanche, a reluctant pilgrim whose tough childhood and difficult home life impacted his eventual marriage, family and relationship with God. While it starts with Leon as a child, abandoned and separated from his family, we quickly catch up to the adult Terblanche in his college days and ensuing marriage and career as he rekindles his faith.

Terblanche is played by Greg Kriek, who could be Neil Patrick Harris's long lost, good-looking brother. Kriek is a rising star and delivers a solid lead performance, proving to be a likable, sincere and vulnerable every man. He's the tent pole for an ensemble of promising to mixed performances and carries the drama's integrity with great heart.

Kriek is supported by Leoné Pienaar as Elmarie, his dedicated wife, who while not quite as effortless, gives her character a jaded disposition and a convincing air of disappointment with the struggling marriage. Marie Cronjé completes the family unit as Brigitte, their daughter, delivering a quiet, sincere and emotionally intelligent performance in a key role. Cobus Venter chimes in as Leon's best friend, Henco, participating in most of the film's lighter moments and echoing a natural easy-going and naive Jason Segel.

Born to Win Movie 2014

"Stop! In the name of love."

While overtly Christian, this coming-of-age message movie functions as a moving and powerful testimony, with many parallels to The Perfect Wave. It's an unashamed tearjerker, which will reach the hearts of even the most hardened cynics with its blend of real-life adversities and setbacks. While the emotional aspect of the storytelling is a core focus, it overextends into a maudlin tone. While this sentimental purge will hit home for many audiences, it does become a bit cloying.

If it weren't based on a true story, Born to Win might come across as somewhat contrived. We've got to take the story on its own terms as a homegrown message from the heart. Apart from a few minor sound editing and wardrobe issues, Born to Win has good production values, making the most of its resources.

While you get the impression the film-makers tried to be as subtle as possible with the visions, representing God as a person or voice will always tend to feel inauthentic. Unfortunately, these transcendent dream moments, while beautiful, didn't really feel nested in the story.

Born to Win is trying to reach new audiences with its message, but will fare best with church-going folk, making it a case of preaching to (or re-affirming) the choir. It probably won't give Leon Terblanche the same status as Angus Buchan from Faith Like Potatoes, yet will serve as a powerful testimony to those needing hope in difficult times. Born to Win will break your heart, but it won't steal it.

The bottom line: Inspiring


 
Movie Review: The Expendables 3


The Expendables is a concept that just won't die. As long as action heroes continue to lose their box office mojo and Stallone is able to wear a beret, we'll have The Expendables: even if they eventually turn him into a digital mission control entity. We're indebted to RamboCommando and all the muscle man action heroes from the '80s and by denying them, we're essentially crushing our childhood.

While, ironically, The Expendables series is regarded as a step up from Step Up... both have a pretty similar formula. Instead of dance sequences, it's action... making real acting and story, not as important as just showing up. The heroes are coasting on their collective careers instead of trying to inject any real life into their thinly scripted characters and it's mostly about blowing stuff up, lacing camaraderie around Jason Statham smirking and some cheesy one-liners.

It's fun to see the Old Guard give one last charge with a wink-wink here and a wink-wink there, here a wink, there a wink, everywhere a wink-wink. We're compelled by the fact that we're not watching zombies, but living and breathing hard men approaching the age of 70. The first one seemed like a desperate money grab, but whichever way you look at it, it's still appealing to think of all these former glory guys banding together.

The Expendables 2 was the best of the lot. They learned some lessons from the first one, toning down the violence, polishing the comedy, developing the story into a Seven Samurai stand-off and adding some extra muscle in Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Unfortunately, The Expendables 3 is a step back for the series. This, despite adding the likes of Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz, Mel Gibson and even Kelsey Grammer to the bill!

The new movie from Stallone has the muscle and some exhilarating action sequences, but fails to capture our imagination, derailing the present company, building on two-dimensional characters and lacking the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the first two. The Expendables 3 is a story of two book-ends. While it starts with aplomb and ends with a bang, everything in-between seems dull, laboured and no-fun.

"Is there a "Kick Me" sign on my back? I said NO smiley faces!"

Beyond being a former glory money-spinner, The Expendables 3 seems like a sell-out as Barney Ross (Stallone) sets out to recruit a new task force to lay siege to an old rival after a botched mission. We're there to see the faithful die-hards ribbing each other about getting old, while upping the body count. By dedicating a large portion of the film to the cheaper new talent, it just seems like a half-hearted reboot, wrapped in an Expendables flag.

Perhaps it was a budget thing, maybe Stallone is priming the franchise for longevity, perhaps the real battle was between Stallone blooding Red Hill director Patrick Hughes, or perhaps they're leaning on the young ones to do the heavy duty action. Either way it just doesn't feel right and the new talent headed by Kellan Lutz and Ronda Rousey, while promising, pales in comparison to their experienced counterparts.

The burgeoning good guys ensemble are pitted against a devious Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson, and his army of stunt henchmen. While there are a couple of inside jokes, The Expendables 3isn't nearly as funny as its predecessors. Antonio Banderas almost works as the new recruit, mixingShrek's Donkey and Puss in Boots into one jabbering, quick-on-the-draw character. However, it mostly falls flat.

The Expendables 3 is a disappointing follow-up to The Expendables 2. It's not easy wielding a small army of egos and if anyone can do it, Stallone has the clout. Yet, this one feels like it went into production too quickly... possibly to make sure no one died of natural causes before release, to squeeze a fourth one out before retirement or because it's coasting on the relative success of two former films and a number of careers.

The bottom line: Disappointing

 
Movie Review: Between Friends


Between Friends is a character-driven reunion romance comedy drama in the style The Big Chill and The Best Man Holiday. This is something new for South Africa, delving into the secrets of a group of friends, who get-together at a game lodge 7 years after university. Zuko Nodada brings his experience from directing TV series like IntersexionsMtshika-shika and Bay of Plenty to his first feature film.

The trailer for Between Friends, makes it seem superficial and melodramatic. While it certainly touches on these points, it's not an accurate assessment. As a reunion movie, the magic is found in the performances as we get to know the characters better and revelations create or release tension.

To generate spark, Nodada has harnessed the energies of a young, sexy, up-and-coming ensemble of South African actors. Siyabonga Radebe (Intersexions) plays Njabulo, the slacker playboy son of a wealthy businessman, who pretends to run the show. Radebe's easy-going natural charm smooths over his character's rough edges delivering an infectious silly-serious Martin Lawrence style performance.

Amanda Du-Pont is Nisha the troublesome vixen, sent into the coop to make the feathers fly. She's gorgeous, perfectly detestable, convincing as a bitchy diva and playfully over-the-top with her snooty fashion sense. While her character's manipulative agenda make her a comical villain you love to hate, Du-Pont keeps us hissing and laughing.

Star of Nothing for Mahala, Thapelo Mokoena, is a welcome addition to the cast as Nkanyiso. He's the cool, smooth-talking and likable bachelor, who appears to have it made. As the straight man to Du Pont's comic flap, he's also the fall guy, unwittingly landing himself in all kinds of trouble. Then there's Lihle Dhlomo, the smart, more subdued and sophisticated beauty, whose indecision and past begin to catch up with her.

"When you're a man-eater, you're always on top... of the food chain."

Dumisani Mbebe and Mandisa Nduna round off a pretty solid ensemble of South African talent as Winston and Portia, a married couple with no qualms about who wears the pants. While first appearances are somewhat stereotypical, it's ultimately a fun poke at marriage that provides a number of jokes and some bizarre cartoon sound effects. Then, let's not forget Morne du Toit's amusing role as the late-to-the-party "sore thumb" and Canadian outsider.

The plotting and characterisation may have its origins firmly grounded in TV soaps with a myriad of love, deceit and confessions playing out. Yet, there's enough game lodge experience fun and outside influences to keep it from devolving into all-out melodrama. While the characters are mostly charming, their sense of morality is murky and their redeeming qualities require a bit of spit 'n polish.

It was wise to keep things locked into one primary location, making it easier to focus on the performances with the game lodge as a convenient meeting place and beautiful backdrop. While this serves as a great launchpad, Between Friends is about the characters, performances and genre's over-arching entertainment value.

While toying with superficial values and leaning toward melodrama, Between Friends is stylish and has an amusing happy-go-lucky tone epitomised by Siyabonga Radebe. We're there to poke fun at the well-to-do characters as much as entertain their selfish romantic aspirations. It's a light-hearted reunion romp that doesn't amount to much more than a good time.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

 
Movie Review: Jersey Boys


Jersey Boys is a film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical about Franki Valli and The Four Seasons. While The Four Seasons have a rich history of chart-topping singles, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were a Vivaldi tribute band. Their story may not be as well-known as that of The Beatles, but after the long-running and wildly popular musical inspired Clint Eastwood to commit it to celluloid, their legacy will live on...

It's not unlike any rock band story. Four guys get together, make some magic, sharpen their sound... work hard to get noticed by the right people and hit the big time before suffering some setbacks. Eastwood has directed a drama that encompasses the musical, rather than vice-versa. While the rags-to-riches story may be familiar, the toe-tapping music is what really stands out along with the characters occasionally breaking the fourth wall to give us the scoop.

He hasn't simply slapped it onto film, insisting that stage actors play the main parts, with Christopher Walken the only echo of Hollywood. These guys know the music well and perform at Broadway level, allowing the film to house and capture the feeling of the era. Their relative anonymity adds another dimension of realism to the drama, blending the innocence of That Thing You Do with a slice of Raging Bull intensity.

John Lloyd Young plays Franki Valli. Having won a Tony for his stage performance, you could say he's cultivated an appreciation and understanding of the rather naive Franki. While the star of the group, he's almost reluctant to stand out and take the glory without pulling his "brothers" into the limelight. It's an understated performance, one that has been quite effortlessly transferred to film with the help of actor's director, Clint Eastwood.

Jersey Boys Movie Review

"Sing it, boys! Forget supper, this is for our lives."

The big surprise is Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito. This role should unlock a number of golden doors for Piazza, who is utterly convincing as the charming, ill-mannered problem child of The Four Seasons. He works De Niro moxie and Broderick charm into a nuggety role that helps propel the conflict in Jersey Boys. Erich Bergen also deserves praise for his smooth and savvy take on Bob Gaudio, another naive character, who completes the foursome to the point of making Chris Cooper and the cast of American Pie seem like their understudies.

Jersey Boys is an understated biographical music drama. The dull colours, wardrobe, styling and music are reminiscent of Inside Llewyn Davis, transporting us to the '60s and keeping us up-to-speed with the age without becoming a distraction. It's not a loud, flashy movie and perhaps Eastwood didn't want to do the story a disservice, considering how indistinguishable and under wraps it's been all these years.

While it seems downplayed, this just enhances the King of Comedy flavour of the film. The music is performed beautifully without the characters simply breaking into song. The dramatic performances are noteworthy and contribute to the day-in-the-life stream of consciousness. While the formulaic rise-and-fall band story is refreshed by the gritty characters, who can't escape their small town values, with zippy music filling the soundtrack.

Jersey Boys is by no means a life-changing music drama, but Eastwood has delivered a fine and unpretentious rendition that doesn't romanticise or exploit. It's entertaining, enjoyable and has enough quality ingredients to keep you invested in the story and the plight of the flawed stars on their ascent.

The bottom line: Engrossing

 
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