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Movie Review: The Riot Club

The Riot Club is an adaptation of the stage play Posh, which follows two first-year students at Oxford University, who are recruited by the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed overnight.

This is a film by Lone Scherfig, who directed the initiate drama An Education with Carey Mulligan. She doesn't shy away from delivering an uncomfortable atmosphere, unlikable characters and taunting us with some thrilling moments where anything can and does happen. While it's not nearly on the same level as Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, The Riot Club has a mean streak and isn't for sensitive viewers.

The film delves into the traditions and initiations of an elitist fraternity and group of reckless young men trying to outdo their previous generation in hedonisitc rebellion. It's like The Skulls, except the focus isn't on inordinate wealth, but on ideology and the ugliest extremes of toffee-nosed snobbery. Their recruitment, secrecy and infamous debauchery drives them to new levels of insanity, dressing like lords and behaving like animals.

The ensemble's performance is generally sharp and flamboyant. Sam Claflin delivers a fiendish and despicable co-lead as the bitter and twisted Alistair Ryle trying to live up to and displace his brother's reputation. Max Irons plays Miles Richards, the straight man in the dysfunctional brotherhood. He's our sense of normalcy in all the debauchery, enchanted by the title yet disenchanted by the reality. As the most likable bloke of the lot, we find much empathy in his misguided character. While Harry Lloyd sets the cart of filth in motion with an amusing send up as the original Lord Riot, making you wish they'd spent more time with the origin story.

The Riot Club Movie

"CHEERS BOYS... here's to anarchy and good ole Lord Riot!"

The writing is dense, uproariously pretentious and charged with politics and poetry. The wicked sense of humour and over-the-top revelry makes it's feel like a blend of A Clockwork Orange and History Boys or Frasier even. We're disgusted by their behaviour, yet compelled to see them face the consequences of a distant yet inevitable justice for their societal and criminal transgressions.

Scherfig takes us close to the flame on many occassions, yet pulls away at the last second. While this is often a relief, you can't help but wonder how much more tension and cult notoriety they could have achieved if they'd followed through.

As such, The Riot Club deflates in the third act by taking the easy way out, moving from frightening and harrowing to simply being a tap on the wrist. It still thrashs around like a fish on dry land, but the anti-climax spoils the foundations and subverts the fiercely dark tone for a subdued ending. Perhaps they were aiming for a poignant and anger-inducing resolution, but this wasn't clear enough.

The bottom line: Untamed

Hot New Trailers - June 2015

Point Break
December in the States

In the age of GoPro footage of guys base jumping off cliffs and amazing wingsuit flights around the Alps, how much appeal will an action movie featuring extreme sports hold? Granted, it's not just any movie, rather the remake of the 1991 Keanu Reeves classic Point Break. This one features a lot more than surfing, and sees our daring protagonist played by Aussie Luke Bracey (Home and Away, The November Man). The remake looks like enough fun to give it a shot.

Best bit: Rocking out at 2:32.

Cop Car

Finding an abandoned cop car in a field and taking it for a joy ride? It sounds like a dream come true for any young boy. However, realising that it belongs to a deranged sheriff intent on hiding his secrets, well that is the stuff of nightmares. Starring Kevin Bacon as the car-less cop, the trailer soon becomes far more gruesome than its carefree start.

Best bit: The radio message at 1:08 that establishes that this is not a kids movie.

Pawn Sacrifice

The story of the rise and fall of chess grandmaster Bobby Fisher is a very alluring one and certainly ripe for the big screen. Pawn Sacrifice sees an increasingly more frenzied Fisher (skilfully portrayed by Tobey Maguire) facing the Russian world champ Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), in what was one of the milder (in terms of body count) dramas of the Cold War. Director Edward Zwick is no stranger to intense dramas, having managed Legends of the Fall and Blood Diamond.

Best bit: Fischer going for a quiet stroll down the beach at 1:46.

October in the States

Thank heavens for small mercies they say, so a shout-out for not having to see Johnny Depp star as Blackbeard in Pan, another retelling of the classic story of Neverland. Instead, Peter Pan’s arch enemy is played by Wolverine, but whether Jackman’s portrayal will top De Niro's in 1991's Hook remains to be seen.

Best bit: Blackbeard’s entrance at 0:47.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
September in the States

It's a good time to be a young adult interested in dystopian, post-apocalyptic science fiction these days. With plenty movies available, such as The Hunger Games series, Divergent (also Insurgent) and The Host, the new trailer for The Scorch Trials, the next in the Maze Runner series, has now also seen the light of day. While part of the mystery might have been solved, our heroes are confronted with even more to discover, also having to deal with an outside world where basic service delivery has been fazed out.

Best bit: The kids seeing The Scorch for the first time at 1:22.

This article first appeared at Techsmart.co.za.

Talking Movies with Spling - The Age of Adaline, The Riot Club and Love, Rosie

Spling reviews The Age of Adaline, The Riot Club and Love, Rosie 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.

Movie Review: Treurgrond

Treurgrond is a South African film about farm murders, directed by Darryl Roodt and starring controversial pop star and actor, Steve Hofmeyr. According to the film's website, the most frequently asked questions address its political agenda, entertainment value for non-extremists and whether it features racial discrimination. While it answers these questions as you'd expect, it's interesting in and of itself that these would be potential concerns for a movie goer.

The film is fictional, centring on a small Afrikaans farming community in South Africa, bracing themselves as a wave of farm attacks continues. As anxiety levels spread and tensions mount, Lukas Van Staden (Hofmeyr), takes it upon himself to protect his family, friends and farm. We journey with a number of characters: Lukas, his wife, his brother's family, a local teacher and two detectives who interact with a fervent community of farmers.

While it claims it's not politically-motivated, but rather trying to generate awareness, there are serious undercurrents. Steve Hofmeyr's involvement already suggests an agenda, leveraging his celebrity to either absolve him of recent controversy and simultaneously acting as a figurehead for Afrikaans pride and solidarity under duress.

While he's regarded as a bad boy in the Afrikaans music scene, infamous for his controversial remarks, he still wields an audience of lovers and haters. Casting him as the lead, gives the film an edge and while he's not known for his acting ability, he has screen presence and his performance is quite captivating.

His unofficial co-lead is Jana Strydom as Helena Schoeman, a versatile actress, who is almost unrecognisable in this hard-and-fast role as a detective trying to get to the bottom of the farm murders. Erica Wessels plays his concerned wife, Nellie. Richard Lukunku feels the tension as Sergeant Morena, while Shaleen Surtie Richards and Boikie Pholo bring their wealth of experience to the table as supporting characters in Katie and Daniel Lebona.

"Oh look... and here's another one of me on the tractor."

Darryl Roodt is a prolific film-maker, who knows how to manage his resources, creating some truly majestic moments of heartbreaking honesty and raw beauty. While his credits include accomplished and important South African films such as: SarafinaCry the Beloved CountryYesterdayLittle Oneand Winnie Mandela, it's also dotted with some less remarkable efforts.

Unfortunately, while Treurgrond wrestles with a contentious issue and had the potential to be a drama of the same magnitude as, As It Is In Heaven, it will be regarded as one of Roodt's "what ifs". He makes some bold artistic choices and leverages our imagination, but there's an inconsistent ebb-and-flow to this rather bleak drama.

Treurgrond features some breathtaking cinematography and hefty themes, but the storytelling is scattershot, the script is underwritten, the direction is heavy-handed at times and it features more adverts than some glossy magazines.

We're split between an obstinate farmer wanting to protect his family and a free-wheeling detective with a huge responsibility. The central theme is simply farm murders... focussing on the state of unrest with much finger-pointing and a growing feeling of helplessness. There are many conversations in this tense atmosphere, but it's stuck in a state of arrested development.

There's no attempt to become what could have been a South African take on Straw Dogs (or an anti-Straw Dogs) or a tense community portrait drama like As It Is In Heaven. Instead, the film throws the contentious situation out there... gets some players to bring it down-to-earth and then waits for the inevitable.

If it weren't for the distracting product placements... a close up of items being checked out at a cashier, montages with agricultural products, scenes in front of branded trucks... you'd think it was a straight propaganda film.

Positioning a generous family man and contributing member of a community as the would-be victim of a senseless act of violence by faceless attackers, while playing on the heightened emotions of an innocent community subjected to a state of violence and an ill-equipped thin blue line... how is that not political? They say there's no racial discrimination, yet Sergeant Morena is under constant scrutiny because he's not a local.

Treurgrond has its heart in the right place, trying to generate renewed awareness and donations towards the plight of those affected by this kind of violence, but it's bound to stir up the emotions of those who see it without entertainment value as a clear and present objective.

This drama often feels like it's on the cusp of something substantial, but is either hampered by laughable product placements, stuck in the mud characters or derailed by its half-hearted subplots and subversive political undercurrents. It promises much, but under-delivers with the filmic equivalent of a cul-de-sac. Given this tone, you could say Steve Hofmeyer was perfect for the role.

The bottom line: Half-baked

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