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Movie Review: Hard to Get

Hard to Get echoes a similar passion and energy to the acclaimed Congolese crime thriller, Viva Riva. It's arguably South Africa's best action movie ever, powered by a similar sweaty, sexy and dangerous intensity on the back of world-class production values and surprisingly mature film-making for a number of feature film debuts.

We're blasted into a quick-paced action romance crime thriller in the style of Bonnie & Clyde as Skiets, a tough streetwise beauty, and TK, a self-professed ladykiller go on-the-run after stealing a local hoodlum Mugza's prized vehicle. After Skiets appears at a local township tavern on the arm of Mugza, TK steps in to help before the two find themselves on the road to Jozi.

Hard to Get grabs you from the get-go, brandishing great bit characters at every turn, with two incredibly charming co-leads. The unrequited chemistry between Skiets and TK is what fuels the burning romance at play. Skiets is not just another conquest for TK, which underlines the movie title as an on-the-run thriller and a play-by-play romance. At first, you imagine the subtext may be some sort of abstinence propaganda, which would be refreshing, but those thoughts fade soon enough.

Pallance Dladla was part of the crew that brought us Donovan Marsh's Reservoir Dogs style iNumber Number. Dladla's a handsome fellow, completely believable as a player and instantly likable as our hero. While we see things from his perspective, this is really the Thishiwe Ziqubu Show. Skiets is a strong female character, refreshingly so, and while they share equal billing - we know who's really calling the shots.

Dladla is a love fool, inadvertently falling for a seemingly unattainable woman, who draws him into her mysterious world. That enigmatic, unexplained spirit is what makes Ziqubu attractive and compelling. She's a drifter, living each day as it comes with a sense of wind-directed purpose. The two deliver fine and charming co-lead performances, which propel the action-adventure as they bounce from one boss to another.

Hard to Get Movie Review

"Babe, you can drive me... crazy... wherever, whenever."

Israel Makoe is quickly becoming the go-to gangster of South African cinema and with good reason. As an ex-gangster he has the chops, knows the lingo and can sell each part with great conviction. Having played prominent roles in TsotsiFour CornersiNumber Number and now Hard to Get... he's a poster boy for South African crime drama thrillers. His sledgehammer size and strong presence is felt in Hard to Get as an intimidating, relentless and strangely comical hoodlum, Mugza.

Paka Zwedala is quite beautifully cast as Gumede, the wealthy businessman, who like a shark enters the fray with a bump. It's a quietly powerful performance that embodies Gumede's devious scheming, always plotting a couple of chess moves ahead of his opponent. The emphatic Jerry Mofokeng plays the bar owner Greezy, as yet another spirited and colourful character, adding some experience to an already strong ensemble.

The quickfire editing from Nick Costaros, Chris Letcher's driving urban soundtrack and Thuso Sibisi's snappy script support Zee Ntuli's slick vision for this gritty actioner. From dusty township back streets to the neon lights of downtown Joburg, Tom Marais adds weight, consistency and cinematic flair. We're wrapped up in the charm, wit and chemistry of the characters; entertained by the oily mix of tough action, offbeat comedy and unexpected horror; and fascinated by the snappy Bonnie & Clyde antics of our smooth criminal duo.

The nutty and lovable characters seem to exist in their own Wild West microcosm of South Africa, a law unto themselves. The lack of police presence and some more motivation for the hedonistic and reckless behaviour of our heroes would have added more weight to Hard to Get. Yet, these factors seem a little petty and ungrateful against the film's far-reaching strengths.

Hard to Get relies on subtitles, making the prospect of another Hollywood style remake seem inevitable. It's promising to see such a high-calibre action romance film emerging from South Africa. This is a must-see, the sort of movie that will capture the imagination of budding SA film-makers. It showcases what's possible, harnesses the genre in a fresh way and will contribute to changing the face of South African cinema.

The bottom line: Edgy

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

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