Captain America: Civil War continues in the tradition of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It sounds like an obvious statement when you consider it follows as a sequel, but these sequels are very different from Captain America: The First Avenger. The first installation was an origins story and focused on Steve Rogers, or Captain America, played by Chris Evans. While more than competent, Evans isn't the most charming actor to don spandex and despite his best efforts to fly solo, a captain needs a team.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier got this right, bringing Black Widow, Nick Fury and Falcon to the rescue as a well-balanced man-on-the-run superhero action thriller unfolded. Evans had Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson to lean on with an equal-opposite in Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier. Joe and Anthony Russo took the reins from Joe Johnston and the sequel was dubbed "Avengers 1.5".
As if entrusted with this mantle, Joe and Anthony Russo have delivered what will probably be dubbed "Avengers 2.5" in Captain America: Civil War. This time, we're presented with an even larger ensemble of superheroes as Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) call in a few favours from close friends.
The Avengers, a global "peace-keeping" unit based in the United States, draw criticism as mounting collateral damage on a global scale forces the hand of an international tribunal who want them to be held accountable. The signing of the new accords divide the team into two factions as Stark believes they should comply and Rogers resists. The lines are drawn (quite literally) and an all-out superhero skirmish commences.
"Red rover, red rover... let Tony come over."
Captain America: Civil War has a similar shape to Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Rogers goes on the lam once again. Instead of going head-to-head with a worthy adversary in The Winter Soldier, he's up against a friend turned foe in Iron Man. The battle of the egos means there's plenty of action and comedy in this sequel.
The action comes in waves at regular intervals and lights up the screen with dazzling visual effects and fight choreography in which fists and superpowers mesh seamlessly. Then, the comedy has a similar patter with the ultimate showdown between funnyman Stark and straight Rogers. The bravado is a great launchpad and there are many laugh-out-loud moments as Falcon, Ant-Man and Spider-Man take a share in the spoils.
While Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen and Emily VanCamp feature, this is a testosterone-fueled escapade. The star-studded line-up includes: Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, Daniel Bruhl, William Hurt, Sebastian Stan with our very own John Kani as King T'Chaka, King who? Civil War welcomes Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland to a war of political swagger, below-the-belt zingers and brute force. At one point, Steve Rogers uses his sheer brawn in a moment so ridiculous, there's bound to be a spoof. The tone starts off in a fairly playful way and then as with all schoolyard fights becomes much more heated and personal.
The star-studded ensemble may be missing some old faces, but is still colossal. While it tilts in favour of the guys, it's great to see more black actors in key roles. The sequel relies heavily on visual effects and while fast and furious, it retains a consistency and integrity thanks to the efforts of a plethora of visual effect companies.
The versus story was inevitable and the match up is classic, making this title fight spectacular as a one-on-one and tag team effort. The story has heart and the characters have depth despite the expansive cast, who each somehow get a show in. The jocular tone adds a layer of entertainment, while the visual extravaganza helps carry the load of more than 2 hours of sharp-as-nails superhero action.
There are one or two moments that could've have done with more polish and forethought, especially around "Wakanda", but this is a spectacular sequel and while not quite as surprising as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it packs a punch with a bigger cast, fresh recruits, loads of laughs, solid CGI and blistering action set pieces. It's best seen after the events of The Winter Soldier and could have done with more blood and grit, but it's really well-balanced when you consider it fell from the Disney tree.
Free State is a South African romance drama from writer-director, Salmon de Jager. Known for writing Verraaiers, Roepman and Stuur Groete aan Mannetjies Roux, he turned his craft to directing with Musiek vir die Agtergrond and now Free State.
His latest drama centres on a forbidden romance between Jeanette, a white Afrikaans girl, and an Indian man named Ravi during the Apartheid era in South Africa. Under the infamous Immorality Act, white and non-white people were prohibited from entering interracial relationships and marriages.
Free State stars Nicola Breytenbach as Jeanette and Andrew Govender as Ravi. The pair make a striking couple with the lithe and graceful Breytenbach playing off the handsome and majestic Govender. They're supported by another budding couple in Leleti Khumalo and Deon Lotz, whose subtle relationship would've made an equally powerful premise for a drama. Khumalo's knowing glances are priceless, while Lotz exudes grace under fire in a tender performance.
This is a beautifully composed and sweeping drama thanks to picture perfect vistas and luscious cinematography from cinematographer, Tom Marais. The visual splendour lifts the love affair from out of the ordinary with rich colours and surreal landscapes.
"Please excuse my brother, he saw Scarface over the weekend."
While de Jager's film looks the part and beams with promise, it meanders into murky genre territory, makes some distracting tonal shifts and struggles to capitalise on the underlying tension of a forbidden romance in a time of racial oppression.
While Breytenbach and Govender make beautiful co-leads, their lack of chemistry stunts the central relationship and engine room of this romance drama. While noble, Govender doesn't have the dramatic range to take Ravi beyond the façade of Prince Charming, making the overall feeling stilted. We want the progressive couple to succeed and for love to rise above, but without the emotional investment, it's not paramount. Add some broken promises and the characters are further distanced by not only sticking it to the system, but everyone that loves them.
This lack of romantic fire is further complicated by slow-boiling adversity. Besides some secret service surveillance and an embittered family feud, the co-leads are care-free with their families taking the brunt of a rising but seemingly surmountable social pressure. The drama's crescendo has some emotional power on the back of a broken promise, but without our empathy or hearts, the moment's lost on us.
The big brother government intervention is more of an inconvenience and perversion than the privacy-infringing, liberty-sapping giant leech you'd expect. While the Indian family tradition and caste drama has bite, lurching into a more interesting crime drama spin-off, its raw power overshadows and hijacks the central relationship.
Free State has many gems, but suffers from its uneven storytelling, tonal shifts, lopsided emotional intensity and genre-hopping. These flaws detract from the overall entertainment value, dulling the flow and level of engagement, making this ensemble drama bold, beautiful but only just bearable.
Instead of ending on a subtle poignant note, the film opts for a grand exit, which breaks with the established tone and further garbles an already scattershot message. The choice emphasises its uneven contours and further entrenches Free State's melodramatic tendencies.
The Playground is a dark and foreboding drama thriller and feature film debut for writer-director Edreace Purmul. Set as a series of chapters, we slowly advance up a flight of cobblestone stairs as this ominous and atmospheric ensemble drama journeys with five distinct individuals.
Joseph is a priest seeking solace on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Vaugn is a businessman, who finds himself in a great deal of financial distress. Grandison is homeless and looking to escape a life of destitution. Jill is a hairdresser trying to rescue her failing marriage, while her ex-con husband, Jack, tries to make good on a deal.
These intersecting tales of temptation keep you watching and waiting as the atmosphere thickens and things begin to spiral. It's a bleak, evil world and this tale of morality functions like a fable, drawing inspiration from folk lore and oral literature including: The Treasure-Bringer, The Son of the Thunder, Barisa and Tales of the Devil.
Lacing these stories and characters into one saga gives this low budget production overarching scale. The thought-provoking interplay of man vs. ideology makes The Playground a challenging film, which like The Exorcist, will sharpen your convictions, or bring them into question.
"To drive or not to drive..."
Purmul's film has a subversive quality as a mysterious man encounters a young girl in a playground, and launches into his anthology of stories. The dynamic is unsettling and the real-life fables give evil unrestrictive power in each situation.
This can be explained away by the grand puppet master, who functions as an omnipotent presence, but the nature of fables and the devious ambitions of this pivotal character make the film's intentions questionable.
The ensemble features Myles Cranford as an unnerving homeless man, Merrick McGartha as an impressionable and crazed counterpart, Christopher Salazar's haunting and melancholy disposition adds to a stereotypical priest, Shane P. Allen works well as a slime ball tycoon, Laurence R. Kivett gives Jack a rambling wanderlust while Ghandir Mounib owns a not-so-naive Jill. To cap it off, Daniel Armand's nameless man is cloaked in mystery, never fully revealed... keeping an air of suspense like a chilling variation of Dracula.
The Playground's air of intrigue is perpetuated by its dark soundtrack, fable storytelling and mysterious chapter format. At 151 minutes, it's a long film, which does feel somewhat drawn out at times. The performances are perfunctory to good and while the stereotypes have their place in an every-man fable, they keep us at an arm's length from the characters.
The dark omens, ominous tone and horror thriller elements will keep genre fans intrigued, but will deter most other audiences with its penchant for evil and slow-boiling to drawn out run time. It's a passion project and the film-makers lean into the abyss, but to the detriment of the film's overall appeal.
Purmul shows flair, creates some truly unsettling moments, demonstrates great resourcefulness and carries the film with a marked consistency in terms of production. Unfortunately, while he mostly meets his ambitions, the duration, insidious atmosphere and seemingly ulterior motives curtail the film's intrinsic entertainment value.
Watching with some hesitation makes it a challenging film experience, which while laden with merit, proficiency and passion, only make it feel like a missed opportunity. The Playground is a niche epic and its dark credence is disturbing, subverting one's enjoyment of the film. Purmul demonstrates his craft and achieves much with little, but it would be good to see what he could do with a broader budget and less divisive content.
Spling reviews The Huntsman: Winter's War, Run and Byzantium as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.