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Movie Review: iNumber Number

South Africa's epidemic of crime has inspired films like TsotsiJerusalemaA Million ColoursHow to Steal 2 MillionStanderHijack Stories and more recently, Four Corners. We're living in a gangster's paradise with a flourishing subculture of violence and criminality. While the SAPS and local crime watch initiatives are trying to combat this, crime is still a prominent issue in South Africa.

Cops and robbers make great gangster movies, delivering the right mix of characters, plot devices and conflicts to them memorable. It's no wonder films like The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather I & II, City of God, The Usual Suspects and Goodfellas are held in such high regard. Crime and punishment, right and wrong, justice and injustice... South Africa is a cesspool of strong stories waiting to be adapted to film.

iNumber Number leverages South Africa's burgeoning crime rate against Hollywood's burning desire to tell a story that's entertaining and thought-provoking. Spud and Spud: The Madness Continues... writer-director, Donovan Marsh, manages to get this right in his gangster crime drama thrill ride, echoing Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Scorsese's The Departed, while distilling a South African flavour.

This heist movie follows Chili Ncgobo (Mtshali), an undercover cop who risks everything in the hopes of making out with his share of the loot after a cash-in-transit armoured vehicle robbery. He's fiercely determined and ideally positioned to infiltrate a big job, but when things don't go to plan... Chili has to muster every trick to keep his cover and roll with it.

iNumber Number is a who's who of South African gangster actors. Ex-gangster-turned-actor, Israel Makoe has played roles in Tsotsi and Yizo Yizo, adding a strong and ferocious performance as the paranoid, Skroef. Presley Chweneyagae is best known for the title role in Gavin Hood's Tsotsi, but plays an almost unrecognisable role on the other side of the law as the straight-laced cop, "Shoes".

iNumber Number Movie Review

"I don't know, but I've been told... armoured vehicles are full of gold!"

Brendon Daniels tackles another tough guy gangster role after a powerful lead performance in Four Corners. Warren Masemola has an intimidation factor, as witnessed in Nothing for Mahala, and brings it home opposite mercenary tough guy, Brandon Auret. The cast is rounded off by crime drama veteran, Owen Sejake, and cemented by a complex and convincing performance by S'Dumo Mtshali in his first lead role in a gangster movie.

While much of the film is set in an abandoned warehouse, Donovan Marsh keeps the story taut with some tense edge-of-your-seat moments. Chili's undercover mission keeps us on the fence, rooting for him to stay one step ahead of his teammates, despite his selfish motives. On the surface, he looks and acts like a criminal, yet deep down he's a good guy battling to resist the temptation of "easy money". The morality conflicts run rampant in iNumber Number, adding weight to every twist-and-turn.

The cinematography gives iNumber Number a gritty yet dynamic overlay, giving us bloodshot eyeballs, beads of sweat and then pulling back for a safe house or armoured vehicle take down. It's a bloody and frequently violent film that carries the same disregard for human life as its hardened criminal characters. While it features a mix of South African languages and subtitles, the language is as coarse and street smart as you'd expect. What is unexpected, is the dark comedy undertones, which soften the intensity with some amusing bumbling and devil-may-care attitude.

Strong co-lead performances, a solid ensemble, suspenseful gangster drama, intense riveting action, street smarts and a refreshing South African take on Reservoir Dogs, make for compelling viewing in iNumber Number. Donovan Marsh has created a gritty and entertaining gangster film that tips the hat to its influences while adding a refreshing South African spin on a well-worn genre.

The bottom line: Gutsy

Movie Review: Die Windpomp

Die Windpomp or The Windmill is a mercurial genre butterfly. What starts out as a quirky, campy and quaint off-beat comedy drama in the style of Wes Anderson, manages to swathe itself in a cocoon of Nicholas Sparks romance and mystery, before emerging as a fantasy romance with much deeper philosophical questions on the nature of love.

We follow the misadventures of Henri, a young adult who stumbles upon a retirement village's secret after moving in with his ailing grandfather. Writer-director, Etienne Fourie, has composed a slow-boiling indie mystery that is entertaining, enchanting and surprising. He manages to turn Die Windpomp on its head by completely redressing the film halfway, only to surprise us again with its deep emotional undercurrents.

Die Windpomp toys with us, fluttering just out of reach of the net in an effort to avoid being boxed in. Fourie sustains the first half of the film by introducing us to an array of colourful and comical characters, gently tugging at our heart strings with a blossoming romance. Garden gnomes, pink flamingos and retro production design abounds, giving the retirement village a kitschy, frozen-in-and-out-of-time personality.

Die Windpomp Movie Review

"Hope it's okay if I skip stones with you... for the rest of my life."

Armand Greyling plays our hero, Henri. He's like Ashton Kutcher and Paul Dano rolled into one. Kutcher's boyish charm and Dano's quiet alienation make him fascinating to watch as we journey with his introverted yet quizzical character. He's supported by the beautiful Leandie Du Randt as Margot, a delightful and fun-loving girl next door, who could have been Annasophia Robb's older sister. The two light up the screen with a warm, innocent and unassuming on-screen chemistry.

The retirement village residents include: Marga Van Rooy, who plays Tannie, a curious, devoted, doting and sincere neighbour. Ian Roberts supports as the village's gruff retired doctor, peacemaker and unofficial team leader. While Grethe Fox gives life to the hyped up and effervescent aerobics instructor, Miggie.

Die Windpomp is a strange, yet remarkably mature and inspiring South African film that breaks new ground thanks to the ambitions of American producer, Chris Roland (StanderHotel Rwanda). We think we know what an Afrikaans film is, but Die Windpomp is a new creature - touching on some similar comedy notes to Jimmy in Pienk and then contorting itself into a new space. Fourie maintains the suspended reality by using special effects as a last resort, relying on subtle editing techniques to give the film its sense of magic.

This is an eclectic film that deserves your attention. There are a few moments and tonal shifts that don't quite gel, mostly due to the complex genre mash-up, but there's enough emotional depth and intellectual warmth to keep it exuberant, thought-provoking, amusing and delightfully enjoyable.

The bottom line: Elemental

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has got a lot to live up to. For starters, it follows Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise, which only really ran out of web in Spider-Man 3. Second, it's a sequel following a strong series reboot. Thirdly, the title The Amazing Spider-Man 2 puts a bit of pressure to keep it well, amazing. More to the point, it's hitting the big screen in an age where only the best superhero blockbusters rule the box office.

Marc Webb did a fantastic job of reinventing Spider-Man, despite having Tobey Maguire still firmly planted in our collective psyche. Turning to a fresh villain in The Lizard forThe Amazing Spider-Man made it a reboot that functioned like an unofficial sequel. We got to relive the novelty of meeting Peter Parker meeting his alter-ego and all the comedy that went with it.

The sequel has a much tougher job. Spider-Man now realises he's "that Spider guy", he's grown accustomed to his neighbourhood duties and the city are used to his web-slinging vigilante heroics. It's routine to see the skintight red-and-blue guy tying up New York's criminals just in time for the city's red-and-blue light brigade to take over. So how do you keep things fresh?

As with most sequels, going bigger and deeper seems to be the only answer. Marc Webb re-introduces Peter Parker's parents and their tragic ending to frame the story. This one is all about Parker confronting his fear of loss - his parents, his Uncle... he's haunted by the past and struggling to invest in his on-and-off relationship with Gwen Stacy. At the same time, he's working overtime as saviour of the city people, protecting the public, who seem to have become naive spectators to "The Spidey Show".

Webb drills down into the emotion of Peter's budding romance with Gwen. Parker's trying to sever ties with her, afraid to get close, yet finding it difficult to stay away. It's an uncomfortable gray area for the relationship, keeping it taut as they find the magnetic pull drawing them together more often than pushing them apart. The focus is so strong, it sometimes feels as though the superheroes and villains are just padding for a next generation Nicolas Sparks romance.

The languishing romantic overtures take away from the fast-forward/slow-mo superhero actioner desperately trying to be taken seriously. Spider-Man gets a chance to be Spidey, but for all intents and purposes Peter and Spidey may as well be in their own movies. Spidey's taking hits from a celebrity-obsessed fan (who becomes Electro) and rekindling an uneasy friendship with new-rich-kid-on-the-block, Harry Obsorn. While Peter's doing all the sweet-talking, "Spider-who?" and playing the "it's complicated" card.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Spidey vs Electro

"Unlike you, my mother encouraged me to play with electricity."

On paper, the cast is impressive. Andrew Garfield is more human than Tobey Maguire, Jamie Foxx has the potential for greatness, young Dane DeHaan stole the show in the dark found footage superhero thriller Chronicle, Paul Giamatti is always a welcome addition to any movie and Emma Stone's got that twinkle in her eye that makes her gravelly voice and pixie charms on-screen dynamite.

Andrew Garfield is still a great Spider-Man, blending his very human and likable Parker with the funny, fun-lovin', no sweat attitude of Spidey. Jamie Foxx is a good comic book actor, adding his presence to a difficult and problematic CGI-intensive role as Electro. Dane DeHaan comes across like an evil version of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. He suits the role more than James Franco did, but doesn't have the same intensity as he did in Chronicle. Paul Giamatti's over-the-top Russian role is comical and deserves further exploration, and Emma Stone, is well... a blonde Emma Stone.

Each of these characters is dying to tell their story and with so many different platforms in the mix, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, seems to be driving from the backseat. We're trying to connect with the "high school" romance, intermittently being wowed by the video game action and then finding everyone wants a piece: Spidey's elastic costume can only stretch so far.

We accommodate the static moments that border on the superhero soap opera of Smallville. The variety of larger-than-life characters, the swirling blend of villain origin stories and the sometimes exhilarating action sequences smooth over the Twilight hemming-and-hawing between Peter and Gwen. While the overriding production values and superhero elements give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 enough entertainment value to keep us locked in.

Unfortunately, you can't help but feel a creeping disappointment. Electro isn't a strong villain. He's erratic, unhinged and just looking for attention. Worse still, the rules governing his power aren't laid out, making his wardrobe changes and movement even more perplexing than The Hulk's stretchy pants. Jamie Foxx is a nice psycho and while the inner voices certainly help, he lacks motivation and is about as intimidating as the Duracell bunny.

All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't all that amazing. It's an over-inflated superhero sequel that's trying to snareTwilight audiences, whilst retaining its traditional fan base. The film has many positive qualities and is street smart enough to keep this sequel thrill ride enjoyable and entertaining, but in trying to be everything to everyone, it fumbles and doesn't continue the same trajectory as its solid predecessor.

The bottom line: Clunky

Top Ten Movies with... Brandon Auret

Brandon Auret is a South African actor, who is quickly becoming a household name thanks to a series of supporting roles in Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, District 9 and Chappie, a film scheduled for 2015. Auret started taking drama classes at the age of 9 and has always wanted to be a film actor since he can remember. Before he started his feature film career with Catch a Fire, he played a number of roles on television including a long-running starring role as Leon du Plessis on the TV series, Isidingo.

When Brandon made the switch from TV to film, he did everything in his power to ensure he was available to focus on film. After playing a small role in Catch a Fire, he landed the part of Hansie Cronje's brother Frans in the Hansie biopic. Auret's burgeoning filmography continued to grow on the back of his international breakthrough in District 9 and a starring role in Night Drive, which enabled him to rack up over 14 feature films over a six year period.

More recently, Auret starred in iNumber Number, a South African crime drama directed by Donovan Marsh and featuring Presley Chweneyagae (Tstotsi) and Brendon Daniels (Four Corners). The film opens in South Africa shortly and has already been optioned for a remake by a major Hollywood studio. The rising star has continued his trajectory with parts in home invasion thriller Tiger House and the sci-fi thriller, Outpost 37. With so much passion, flair and tenacity for the craft, Auret's living his dream. We managed to find out, which movies have inspired him and made his Top Ten over the years.

"I still want to be a Jedi."

I can't watch movies without...

- Popcorn, smarties and a cherry slush puppy.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Louis Pasteur, Masi Oka, Marlene Dietrich and Gérard Depardieu. (27 December)

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - it's what made me want to become an actor.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, it's one of those movies that people tell you you've got to watch because it's so bad.

Which movies have made you tearful?

- I cried in The Notebook like a little b*tch. Also any movie with Justin Timberlake in it makes me cry.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- I don't know who's more famous. I met Tim Robbins on set of Catch a Fire, the first feature I ever did. Then, I worked closely with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster on Elysium.

What's your favourite movie line?

- "They drew first blood, not me." ~ Rambo: First Blood

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- Robert Downey Jnr. Right?

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- My company, A Breed Apart Pictures is busy producing two films at the moment. One is a war story called, Making a Killing and the other is a thriller called, The Shadow Boxer which we start filming in 2014.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ...as I said, it's the movie that made me want to act and I still want to be a Jedi.

- Platoon ...best war movie ever made.

- Rambo: First Blood ...I was obsessed with Vietnam as a kid and this was just a kick-ass movie. The score is just perfect.

- Full Metal Jacket ...it's one of the most epic movies ever shot. Also the camera work and characters in the movie are amazing.

- Scent of a Woman ...Pacino at his very best.

- District 9 ...it's pure genius, loved this movie.

- Night Drive ...still one of the best horror movies to come from South Africa. Directed by one of my favorites, Justin Head.

- The Mask ...it's my feel good movie. When I'm down that's what I watch.

- The Count of Monte Cristo ...best revenge movie with some of the greatest characters I've ever watched.

- Elysium ...I get to kick Matt Damon's ass in this movie.

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

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