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Movie Review: Detachment

Detachment is a depressing yet inspiring commentary and indictment on society's propensity to tune out of life. Spiraling debt, unemployment, threats to national and personal safety... we're probably a lot closer to the vision of The Matrix than we would have imagined. As we expend our energy keeping up in the rat race, we're confronted with harsh realities, ones that are easier to forget by switching off and retreating within ourselves by means of temporary distraction. This "tuning out" and continual distraction keeps us from feeling or thinking to the point that life has become a series of routine, insulated occurrences.

American History X director, Tony Kaye, has delivered a film that taps into this dire state of disrepair society finds itself in. Instead of simply contributing to the glut, Kaye is trying to puncture the membrane using the idea of the school system as his proving ground. It's where we learn how to cope on the outside, where we're taught to conform, given a chance to find "our place"... this is a beautiful microcosm of life.

Kaye's story follows the interactions of a substitute teacher as he bounces off teachers and students. His calm, cool and collected demeanor makes him somewhat aloof, harking back to a defining incident in his childhood. He reaches out like The Good Samaritan, trying to connect with those around him, trying to break through the noise of life. Yet, each of his attempts are stifled by his inability to cope as he retreats to the comfortably numb sense of detachment.

Adrien Brody is a consistent actor, one with an earnest and honest manner that make him magnetic. We're drawn to his performance and repulsed by his predicament as Henry Barthes, making him an overflowing fascination. Brody delivers an impassioned performance that sets the bar for the whole ensemble, who contribute to an exuberant sense of dysfunction.

It's good to see Marcia Gay Harden again, this time on the verge of a breakdown as the school principal. James Caan plays that "seen-it-all-before" staff member, whose unconventional fire-with-fire methods are both assertive and disarming, in a quirky and memorable role that deserved more screen time. Christina Hendricks plays a slightly less experienced, yet equally fearless teacher and distraction for Barthes, while Tim Blake Nelson's performance jitters bittersweet tones.


"Who has experienced a spirit of insufferable gloom?"

Kaye's film has echoes of American History X in the way it projects a hostile environment for its characters, who seem to thrive on the unrest. There's very little respite in the world of Detachment, keeping the atmosphere taut with intensity and angst.

There are even aspects of Dead Poet's Society as Barthes tries to inspire and enlighten his pupils on an intellectual and emotional level. The difference being this is a school where teachers toughen up or drop out altogether. It's a government school without traditions or uniforms. This is trench warfare for teachers, perpetually being caught in no-man's land as mutual respect and self-motivation are a rare combination.

Detachment's bombardment of disillusionment is depressing, much like Requiem for a Dream, yet necessary to get through to a passive audience, who may well be in their own cycle of detachment. The relentless and powerful succession of deeply human scenes make it easy to mistake for melodrama. However, these impassioned performances are there to help inspire us to think and feel with the characters rather than cave into manipulated emotion.

The close ups and depth of material scream TV series, yet it's the reflective, meditative state and artistic chalkboard drawings that give Detachment a poetic, independent and very unHollywood spirit. This is a timely drama from Tony Kaye, one that tries to reflect society's disenfranchised and fractured state of mind. As Barthes states it's easy to be callous, but it takes courage to care. He's so busy doling out goodwill that he becomes trapped by his own need for a real connection.

Detachment is a powerful and timely drama, etched on a chalkboard by Tony Kaye and brought to life by soulful performances from an underdog cast. This "ubiquitous assimilation" may not be for everyone, however moving and thought-provoking the content. It serves as a wonderful shake up, one that makes you want to experience life more fully without the strangleholds of societal conditioning and condemnation.

The bottom line: Powerful

Movie Review: Mud

Mud is a slow-boiling mystery drama. In much the same way as Chinatown, this film slowly immerses us in a sticky, intriguing and unpredictable atmosphere. Instead of a gumshoe detective hunting down an ever-widening conspiracy, we have a young curious boy and his friend, who befriend a fugitive.

The boys would have been right at home in Stand By Me, except this is really Mud's movie. Matthew McConnaughey is Mud, a charming and resourceful man, whose small town upbringing and tempestuous nature give him a fractious relationship with the love of his life and the law.

This character-driven film from Take Shelter writer-director Jeff Nichols has an independent spirit. We're tracking with Ellis, a restless young boy who wants to be at the heart of every adventure. Tye Sheridan captures an innocent and "invincible" ruffian, a rebel with a cause. Sheridan's performance is beyond his years and doesn't seem out of place opposite the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard.

Mud is like The Way, Way Back. The young boy at the centre of the story finds a friend in an older man, using his Summer vacation to get away from domestic strife, learning a thing or two about life and finding fulfillment in being a wing man to his new found role model.

Mud is like Deliverance. The gritty survival adventure, the impervious adventurers and the rising tide of consequence are all set against the seemingly lawless undercurrents of the riverside town. It's not as violent or shocking, but it does seem as though the characters are being slowly submerged until they find themselves out of their depth.

"No son, just coz I'm a drifter doesn't make this driftwood."

While the mysterious circumstances of Mud's discovery hold our attention, the film moves at the speed of mud. The pacing is sluggish, probably deliberately so, immersing us in the ebb-and-flow of this festering world. Jeff Nichols is in no hurry to reveal his hand, conjuring up naturally beautiful moments in time.

The cast are first-rate, gathering around Sheridan and McConnaughey's stalwart performance to contribute to a strong team effort. Shannon starred in Take Shelter and brings his usual best to a smaller supporting role, Witherspoon adds complexity to her hot-and-cold character and Sam Shepard delivers a tarnished gem of a turn as the roughhewn Tom.

Mud is almost refreshingly slow, investing in its characters, giving its story the time to gradually unfold from within the confines of a slow-boiling plot about a community that seems real enough to exist behind the screen. The performances are collectively strong, the writing resonates with life and the storytelling is just intriguing enough to keep us rooting for the complex protagonists.

At the heart of the story is a man wrestling with his past, trying to get it together before jettisoning on to the next adventure. This contrasts with the young impressionable boy whose future lies ahead of him. Will the fugitive escape his past and will his protege learn from his mistakes?

The bottom line: Intriguing

Movie Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game is based on Orson Scott Card's classic science fiction novel. South African writer-director, Gavin Hood, best known for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rendition and Tsotsi, was entrusted with bringing the book to life and for the most part, he's succeeded. It's not an entirely faithful adaptation with a number of casting and story compromises for the sake of the cinematic experience, yet it retains the essence of Card's original vision.

The story follows young Ender Wiggin, played by Hugo's Asa Butterfield, who is recruited by the International Military to lead a war on the Formics, an alien race that almost destroyed humankind in a previous encounter.

Ender's Game won the Nebular award in 1985 and the Hugo award in 1986. The award-winning military sci-fi novel's '80s prominence is reflected in Hood's adaptation, which leans on aspects from a number of '80s films. There's an interesting parallel with Biloxi Blues as Ender bunks with new recruits, facing a number of social challenges, struggles for leadership and calls for respect.

Then, while probably inspired by Ender's Game, which was later adapted to harness similar themes in 1991, the film has a number of tie-ins with WarGames. Matthew Broderick's hacker skills became critical to unlocking the threat of mutually assured destruction in the '80s just as Asa Butterfield is trained to use his strategic genius to aid the military in the future.

Ender's Game features a number of battle training scenarios with futuristic gear, which are not unlike the gladiatorial games that form part of the digital world in TRON. The formations, team work, age of the contenders and bravado of the skirmishes have some similarities with the ice hockey in The Mighty Ducks and quidditch in the Harry Potter series.

The intense airborne rivalry between the Formics and humankind, echoes some The Macross Saga, in which Robotech fighter pilots battle Zentraedi forces. The alien kind are not humanoid, falling more into the category of the enemy in Starship Troopers, drawing further parallels when it comes to military service and interplanetary warfare.

"When I say "hyper jump", you say "how far"?!"

Instead of portraying Ender as a six-year-old, the film-makers have opted to represent Asa Butterfield as a boy who hasn't hit puberty. This was done in order to give Hood more time to focus on character and greater flexibility when it comes to filming and wire work. Butterfield is reminiscent of John "Spud" Milton in physique and in terms of his character's rocky attempts to fit into the military "school". However, his mental resilience, hard-and-fast bargaining and leadership skills give him the upper hand when it comes to integration.

Butterfield is a solid young actor, whose performance as Ender is strong, consistent and captivating. He seemed much younger in the title role of Hugo, essentially playing a self-assured adult trapped in a 10 year old's body. The strong supporting ensemble includes: Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Sir Ben Kingsley. While the ensemble is more of an insurance policy than a necessity, the stand out performances come from Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.

Harrison Ford doesn't have to earn our respect and trust, giving him instant authority as a tough, incisive and likable Colonel Graff. Ben Kingsley continues his return to form with a mysterious character, delivering a shadowy and reverent performance with little screen time.

Ender's Game is a spectacular science fiction film that is enhanced by the quality of the cinema you choose to experience it in. The futuristic visuals, battle training and dazzling display sequences blend light and colour with similar effect to TRON: Legacy using sound to steep the film in a deeply visceral, suspended reality. The special effects give the characters the illusion of weightlessness allowing us to float with them.

The film has a similar tone to The Hunger Games, where adult "games" are played by children. While the psychological angle has deeper hooks, the content seems somewhat padded, softening Ender's Game's hard edges. This placates some of the raw energy of the story and diminishes the overall impact of Ender's journey. Perhaps the PG-13 rating was a key point going in.

While Ender's Game is probably not as hard-hitting as it could have been, Gavin Hood still manages to land this military sci-fi adaptation safely, not discrediting the source material and providing an often gripping and entertaining film in the process. It's a worthy film adaptation, benefiting from a strong cast with some solid performances, a thought-provoking and universal story, sensible direction, top production values and awe-inspiring visuals.

The bottom line: Solid


Top Ten Movies with... Jimmy Nevis

Jimmy Nevis was born and raised in Cape Town, growing up in a very musical and spiritual home. After he discovered his singing ability, it wasn't long before he was grabbing at every opportunity to develop his talent from church to school productions and events. He was inspired by the music of Beyoncé, Jamie Cullum and Coldplay in his teens and it wasn't long before he wrote and produced his breakthrough debut track Elephant Shoes, pushing it to local radio stations.

The young singer/songwriter and producer signed to Cape Town record label Rude World Records with a publishing, licensing and distribution deal with David Gresham Records, releasing his debut album, Subliminal in 2012. More recently, Nevis signed an exclusive U.S. distribution deal with top American record label, Ultra Records, joining the likes of Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Benny Benassi, Alyssa Reid and Kaskade.

His chart-topping singles Elephant Shoes, Heartboxing, In Love with You and Balloon are currently getting extensive airplay in South Africa. Jimmy has shared the stage with some of the best in the business. He collaborated with Mi Casa, Pascal & Pearce earlier this year and will be playing live at the Castle Lite Extra Cold Summer Event featuring Wale later this month on 21 December, with a headline performance at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts lined up for 26 January, 2014.

Jimmy Nevis has already carved a niche for himself in the local South African music scene with an army of devoted fans. At 21 years of age, the alternative singer/songwriter has only just begun to shake things up with a world class sound that's bound to bring him international fame.

"I wasn’t much of a movie-head when I was growing up..."

I can't watch movies without...

- ...popcorn is a must but I think I always need something to drink. I take dehydration very seriously when watching movies!

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Giorgio Armani and Lil’ Kim were both born on the 11th July.  #CancersUnite

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Hollow Man - it's a horror/thriller film that I watched when I was much younger. I wasn’t much of a movie-head when I was growing up, but I think I will always remember this film because it really scared me at the time.

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

- Temptation by Tyler Perry - usually his films are funny or at least spiritual to some extent, but this film was just a stereotyped version of far-fetched events that didn’t really capture me. The acting was even worse than the narrative.

What movies have made you tearful?

- The Changeling, Armageddon and The Hangover 2, because it was that funny!

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

- I’ve never met a movie star actually.

What's your favourite movie line?

- From the film Due Date, Alan’s line is: “My father loved coffee, and now we loved him as coffee." – the best!

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- I don’t know – Bruno Mars? Chris Brown? I’d probably go for an unknown actor (laughs).

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

- It would be a documentary on the way music is stratified in South Africa, from genres, to race and lyrical content - something where street knowledge enters an academic space.

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

- Good Will Hunting ...the storyline and the acting was brilliant, such a feel-good movie.

- The Talented Mr. Ripley ...this film was so smart and yet so confusing at times – not necessarily the narrative but between the relationships of the characters. The casting of this film was just perfect.

- The Matrix ...I saw this film when I was really young, and even though I thought it was the coolest action flick at the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening. Earlier this year, I decided to watch it again and I was blown away by the concept. I think especially as a sociologist student, I was able to recognise the concepts of society played out in the film.

- Taken ...I was always ignorant and naive when it came to things like human trafficking and modern day slavery until I saw this film. It really shook me and made me more aware of human trafficking. It was also really sad for me, but cool at the same time.

- Due Date ...the funniest film of all time! I loved every second of this movie. The script was so on point and the lines in this film are so memorable. I think Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr.were perfect for this film.

- The Hangover & The Hangover II ...I love The Hangover franchise because they made me laugh hysterically in cinemas. I remember watching both of these films in the cinema, crying from all the funny scenes.

- The Fighter ...when I was studying film in my 2nd year of university, we had to do a film review and so I chose the The Fighter. I was so shocked at the quality of acting and cinematography within this film. I left the cinema feeling inspired and cultured if that makes any sense. It was just a great experience.

- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ...I’m not really into animated films but this one was so creative and I think my love of food made me a little bias when judging this film, but I loved it. The cast, the script, the visuals and the quotes are just too good.

- Shutter Island ...who doesn’t like a Leonardo DiCaprio film? This thriller kept me on my toes right until the end - such a mind-trip.

- The Great Buck Howard ...Emily Blunt is one of my favourite actresses. This film was just so awkward and beautiful at the same time. I wouldn’t have usually watched this but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

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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