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 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.
"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.
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HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1
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.
The Drop is a slow-boiling, character driven Brooklyn crime drama based on Dennis Lehane's short story,Animal Rescue, about a Brooklyn bartender, who finds himself entwined in an investigation after a robbery gone awry. It's quite surprising that this is Lehane's first feature film screenplay when you consider his novels: Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone have all been adapted into great films.
Lehane's story is small and intimate in scale, immersing us in a close-knit Brooklyn neighbourhood of friends and foes, where bars are used as drop-off points for illegal cash transfers. He's extrapolated his short story into a feature-length crime drama turned character portrait about gentle, simple bartender, Bob Saginowksi, played by Tom Hardy.
Tom Hardy is excellent as Bob Saginowski - delivering a blend of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump and Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. His nuanced and thoughtful performance embodies the spirit of The Drop as Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam brings a similar tension and intensity to his previous film, Bullhead.
"Does it look like I'm joking?"
You'd expect The Drop to fall in-line with a number of similar NY gang-related crime dramas, however this is a slow-burning drama that gets by without quick pacing and explosive action set pieces. It's the sort of drama that creeps up on you, catching you off-guard with surprising character-defining moments.
Tom Hardy's performance is The Drop's backbone, which is fleshed out by a strong supporting cast and solid performances. The late James Gandolfini brings his immense presence and New York essence, Noomi Rapace is a shadowy romantic interest and Roskam's lead from Bullhead, Matthias Schoenaerts, is a slimy drifter.
This is a smart, mature thinking man's crime drama, relying on great characters, fine performances, dense atmosphere and taut direction. Instead of being thrown in the deep end, we're lured into a gritty community of grey areas, giving the complex characters space to glow brighter as a stifled investigation gets underway.