Ghost Squad (DVD): Review

The Film

Ghost Squad, a feel good story of right triumphing over wrong, and having the underdogs come out on top. A lesson in being one’s true self, wrapped up in a fun story for younger viewers.

Three friends accept a challenge by the town bullies to stay an entire night in a creepy house, on Halloween. The house however is said to be haunted.

Aimed at the younger viewers, Ghost Squad is devoid of any horror or scary scenes. There is a clear lesson to be learnt, as the friend brave the house, and dig deep to build up enough courage to see the challenge through to the end.

The story is easy to follow, without any major plot twists, so it will be easy for the younger viewer to follow. There is an aspect of humour to the story too, which would help offset any of the more tense moments.

The scares, while having an impact on the characters, should not have any impact on most of the younger viewers (the film does carry a PG rating for horror).

The acting is slightly reminiscent of an afternoon tween show on the television, and it is doubtful that it will hold the attention of any older audience, but is sure to keep the younger ones entertained for an afternoon.

Ghost Squad is a fun film for the younger viewers.

Disc And Bonus Features

The disc is encoded at a decent average bitrate, allowing for it to be scaled in hardware or software to a larger screen, or a higher resolution, should the viewer desire.

Sound is presented in a 5.1 mix, that while doesn’t make extensive use of the surround channels, it does add to the on-screen action at times.

There are unfortunately no bonus features on the disc.

Pixels: Review

For all those who enjoyed the innocent childhood of video games in the 80’s, Pixels will bring back some fond memories.

Aliens on another world misinterpret video footage of kids playing arcade games, and take it as a challenge to war. After a surprise attack, the people of Earth need to rely on the most unlikely group of heroes to protect the planet.

The film is thoroughly entertaining, and full of laughs. The humour is also not the usual you would associate with Adam Sandler (who plays Brenner, the hero of the story), but the humour is rather more linked to knowing about the video games represented in the story. It is also this reliance on these games that would cause a lot of the humour to go over the heads of any viewers who are not familiar with the whole video game culture and it’s history, and one is left wondering if the film was aimed at a younger audience due to the simplicity of the plot, or if it were aimed at an older audience, that they may reminisce the days gone by.

Pixels is still a very fun film though, and despite the lack of twists to the plot, it provides a great escape, and some light hearted laughter.

The action is over the top, but not violent, and draws its visual inspiration from the video gaming imagery that appears throughout the film.

Sandler is very much subdued in his role as Brenner, and while this is a matter of taste, it means his brand of comedy doesn’t overshadow the rest of the characters. Kevin James makes for an interesting US President, wish Michelle Monaghan as the love interest and support, and last but not least Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad as Brenner’s fellow gamers. The cast certainly enjoyed their roles, and this is evident. Now that remains is will the various audiences enjoy them just as much.

Pixels opens 24 July 2015 in South African cinemas.

American Sniper (DVD): Review

The Film

The film that was the talk of the town for a moment, now to own, and add to your movie collection.

While most people knew the story, and tragic outcome going in to the cinema, and there are virtually no plot spoilers left to guess at, the action sequences still thrill and excite, paying homage to the marines who fought, and the legend Chris Kyle himself.

Read the full SAMDB American Sniper review.

Disc And Bonus Features

The disc is encoded at a high bitrate, with no visible onscreen artefacts. Sound is presented in a 5.1 mix which comes into it’s own during the action sequences. Navigation is basic, but adequate.

One Soldier’s Story – The Journey Of American Sniper: This is the only bonus feature on the DVD, sharing not only the story of whey Chris Kyle became a legend, but why the filmmakers felt it important to bring his story to the screen, not too long after his book was published.

This is not just a short video with a few clips and quotes by cast and crew, but a lengthy, inside look behind the scenes, at the locations where the film was shot, and the processes that the writers, director and cast went through in order to ensure they were true to the real story, aided by Chris’s wife Taya.

American Sniper is available now, to purchase on disc in South Africa.

Into The Woods (BluRay): Review

The Film

Into The Woods, a phrase that belongs in a fairytale. Yet, in this case, it’s not one, but several tales, tall taking place in and around the woods. We have Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) (the very one who climbed that beanstalk). And let’s not forget the two princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen).

A witch (Meryl Streep) sends a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on a quest to obtain a list of items, in order to reverse a curse placed on their family. The stories all head deeper and deeper into the woods, eventually culminating with all the characters needing to work together, in order to save the land from The Giant (Frances de la Tour) and defeat The Witch.

Into The Woods is a musical. the dialogue and narration are sung, with several choreographed moments where the forward momentum of the story is set aside for a short while. The upbeat tempo is sure to get feet tapping, and many a viewer will be left with these songs filling their heads for days after.

Those of the younger generation that enjoy singing will love the musical aspect, although at a few minutes past three hours, they are likely to watch in segments if they have too much energy.

The film is a thoroughly enthralling tale, that will have you totally absorbed for hours with its songs, intertwined story lines and exceptionally talented cast and stunning sets. This is certainly a film that any enthusiast or lover of fairytales should have in their collection.

Disc And Bonus Features

There is never a doubt, that a disc by Disney, is always done right. Into The Woods is no exception. The disc is encoded at a high bitrate, meaning there are no visible artefacts on screen, even in fast paced scenes, with fine detail. Sound is presented in a 7.1 soundtrack. Although a little surprising that there is not an option for Atmos, this mix makes extensive use of the surrounds, expanding the sound field, and on screen actions, and drawing the viewer into the story.

One slight issue, is that the navigation menu presented on the disc is comprised of only icons, which do not give a clear indication of their function, leaving one to guess, and try each one, before finding the bonus features. This does post an amount of frustration, not knowing if you have selected the correct option you desire, or should you wish to go back at a later stage to view a feature, you need to navigate only via icon or thumbnail.

The disc begins with a few trailers, but you are able to skip these if you so wish.

 

One bonus feature that is sure to delight the younger viewers, and provide great value as they watch the disc over and over, is that ability to play the film with all song lyrics displayed on screen.

For the movie aficionado and filmmakers, there is a very informative commentary provided by Rob Marshall (director), John DeLuca (producer) and Marc Platt (producer).

There’s Something About Into The Woods: the origin of the desire to create the film from the stage play, and the emotion and work involved in bringing this to life. This feature contains some interesting behind the scenes footage, with interviews with cast and crew, detailing the origin of the film, and the journeys travelled by all to culminate in this screen production.

Another featurette details the singing aspect of each character and actor, sharing insights into the musical performance aspect of the film.

Also included are a number of small video clips, explaining the story behind brining the stage play of Into The Woods to the screen, some insight into the role of The Woods in linking each characters story, and of course the eye catching and intricate costumes worn be the cast.

The plethora of extras on the Into The Woods disc is sure to appeal to any varied interest, and adds a ton of value to the disc.

Into The Woods is now available for purchase, on disc, in South Africa.

McFarland USA (DVD): Review

The Film

Presented by Disney Pictures, McFarland USA tells the true story of a cross country coach, Jim White, from a small town in California, that takes a group of school kids and forms a cross country team.

As Coach White and the kids learn, and grown, both physically and emotionally, so the team goes from strength to strength, leading to them becoming contenders for the championship.

McFarland USA is one of those gems that will leave you pondering your own self, what is a priority to you, and what everything in your life means to you. It shows us that no matter who you are, and what hand you are dealt in life, you can find a way to pull yourself out of any negative situation, finding something to level the playing fields, leading to a victory.

This is definitely a feel good movie, and a nod to all those who have worked hard to better themselves, and to all those who have sacrificed something to help others.

A compelling story, well told, and completely engrossing. McFarland USA is sure to be loved by a wide rang of viewers, and while not preaching to the audience, it does indeed contain a lesson for all.

Disc And Bonus Features

As most DVD’s these days, the disc is encoded at a high bitrate. This gives the option to scale up to a larger screen, or even to a higher resolution, should hardware or software allow. There are no visible artefacts on screen either. The soundtrack is presented in a 5.1 mix, but the nature of the story content does not lend itself to use of the surround channels.

The extra features include a music video “Juntos” and a short video clip with some of the cast and crew explaining the desire to create a film based on the story of the McFarland team.

McFarland USA is available now, to purchase on disc, in South Africa.

Minions: Review

Banana! Yes, those yellow creatures are back, and not to be outdone by all the other fictional characters in movies, they have their very own origin story in The Minions.

Join Stuart, Kevin and Bob on their quest to find the worlds most evil boss. The babbling trio set out on their quest and are soon recruited by Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm).

Minions is a laugh a minute, poking fun at popular culture, life and includes many nods to the original Despicable Me films. Some might think it was a huge gamble producing a feature length film focussed solely on the Minions. They are great in Despicable Me, and even have several of their very own short films, but Minions proves beyond a doubt they can hold their own as the heroes of a film.

The plot of Minions is not too complex that the younger viewers will be lost, yet it contains enough substance to entertain the adults too. Voice acting for all the characters is superb, with this being the first villain role for Sandra Bullock. The Minions themselves are all voiced by director Pierre Coffin, creating their unique language.

Minions is a belly-aching laugh a minute for the entire family, and if you are a fan of any of the other films or shorts, you need to see this one. It opens 10 July 2015 in South African cinemas.

Manfred Zylla And the Art Of Resistance

Cult Cape Town-based artist Manfred Zylla will be keeping things fierce at this year’s National Arts Festival with the launch of a new book of hard-hitting images that pays homage to Pasolini’s last film Salò, writes ALEXANDRA DODD

Lewd, crude and packed with fervid social and political critique, Manfred Zylla’s new art book, 120 Days of Sodom, will be launched in Grahamstown on Friday, hot on the heels of recent launches in Munich and Rome.

Featuring commentary by a transnational mix of renegade voices – including Aryan Kaganof, John Peffer, Nomusa Makhubu, Andrea Dicó, Niklas Zimmer, Ivor Powell, Pablo Cesar, Ludmila Ommudsen Pessoa, Ashraf Jamal, Hofmeyr Scholtz, James Matthews, Garth Erasmus and Cheng Qian – the book showcases a series of small-scale works on paper made by Zylla in homage to Salò, the last film by Pier Paolo Pasolini. An Italian socialist polymath and controversial player of the ideological wildcard, Pasolini was murdered in 1975 – run over several times with his own Alfa Romeo.

The book launch will be accompanied by a special Pasolini focus as part of this year’s Film Festival, which has been billed as the ‘Magna Carta of Film Festivals – Supporting the Liberties’ – and when Film Festival curator Trevor Steele-Taylor tests the limits of liberty, he doesn’t mean 50 Shades of Grey. Pasolini is not for the faint hearted, so if you’re squeamish, bring along your blindfold and gag bag, and prepare for a full visual buffet of lust, sin and carnal depravity: Salò – The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964), The Decameron (1970), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974).

One of Pasolini’s films is quite hilariously described in true all-American fashion by the Harvard Film Archive as ‘nothing less than a cinema-vérité Kinsey Report – with occasional Godardian touches – on Italian sexual mores in the 1960s’. Some might call that an understatement – or even, if you happened to be a hot-blooded espresso drinker, say – an insult.

In the 1980s, German-born Zylla became known for hard-hitting drawings that critiqued the brutality and violence of apartheid. His 120 Days of Sodom paintings had their genesis in 2012 with a pack of paper, the small paper size of which stimulated the idea of producing a series as a homage to Pasolini’s last film. It is a non-sequential series, with each painting presented within the frame of a television screen.

‘We sold the series in 2013, to a collector in London,’ says Zylla’s gallerist Heidi Erdmann of Erdmann Contemporary. ‘It was never shown in South Africa, sans one night, at Zylla’s 75th birthday party on 1 March 2013.’

The book launch – which takes place on Friday, 3 July at 5.30pm at Grotto Mojito, corner of Somerset and High streets in Grahamstown – will also be accompanied by an exhibition of Zylla’s latest series of drawings, Waiting For…, in which he interprets Pasolini’s instructions, in his directors’ notes and anecdotes, to his cast and crew.

‘We took our time with the book,’ says Erdmann. ‘Manfred and I met each Saturday – it took four months before we finally settled on a basic structure… After a long meeting and no firm idea as to whom to approach for the lead essay, we went downstairs to the bar [Blah Blah Blah Bar on Kloof Street]. Carsten Rasch, my husband, suggested Trevor [Steele-Taylor]. I have known Trevor since my 20s and Manfred had met him in the 1970s. I went back to my office and wrote to Trevor, who was then still based in London, and withWith Trevor on board, ‘we took the thread of cinema and invited the various other contributors,’ Erdmann explains. ‘The idea was to focus on the contemporaneity of the three main influences, Pasolini, Dante and De Sade.

‘Both Zylla and I did not want another art book, so we focused on very different kinds of voices. I asked a student, a commercial diamond diver… I wanted a film script, an actor (I had seen Lugwig Binge in [Heinrich] Müller’s Quartet), academics, journalists, poets, filmmakers, friends and colleagues,’ Erdman says.

Steele-Taylor suggested a few more contributors and secured the rights to use English industrial music group Coil’s lyrics. ‘Manfred and I watched the music video online. Zylla, himself a musician, just loved the experimental nature of Coil, and we said yes – we want the lyrics. Producing this book has been one of those projects where everything just fell into place.’

One of the book’s most original features its transnational spirit and multilingual text. ‘Once we decided on mother-tongue submissions, we could throw the net wider in terms of submissions,’ says Erdmann. ‘Editing was a bit of a nightmare with so many languages, but we managed.’

Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom was printed in a limited edition of 350, and retails for R1,500 per book. As Grahamstown is the first South African launch, it will be sold on launch night at R1,000 per signed copy.

As part of Think!Fest’s special focus on Secrecy and Surveillance this year, Zylla will also be participating in a panel discussion (Tuesday, 7 July at 10am), examining the position of ‘art’ as a method of resistance to state, religious, financial, censorial and corporate power.

DJs Get The “Magic Mike XXL” Treatment

It’s ‘Bump and Grind’, ladies!

The hot, sexy, steamy boys from Magic Mike are back and ready to show off all their moves on the big screen from today, 3 July 2015.

To celebrate the occasion, an XXL-sized treat or two were sent to Johannesburg DJs to hand out MAGIC MIKE XXL goodies and to make these women swoon at the eye candy and rippling six-packs – heating up their weekends for sure.

MAGIC MIKE XXL reunites Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez and Gabriel Iglesias, stars of the 2012 worldwide hit, Magic Mike.

Picking up the story three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, MAGIC MIKE XXL finds the remaining Kings of Tampa likewise ready to throw in the towel. However, they want to do it their way: burning down the house in one last blow-out performance in Myrtle Beach, and with legendary headliner Magic Mike sharing the spotlight with them.

On the road to their final show, with whistle stops in Jacksonville and Savannah to renew old acquaintances and make new friends, Mike and the guys learn some new moves and shake off the past in surprising ways.

Joining the returning cast, in brand new roles, are Amber Heard (The Rum Diaries), Donald Glover (Community), Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss (Step Up: Revolution) and Michael Strahan (Live with Kelly and Michael), with Andie MacDowell (Footloose), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise), and Jada Pinkett Smith (Gotham).

MAGIC MIKE XXL is directed by Emmy Award winner Gregory Jacobs (Behind the Candelabra), who served as a producer on Magic Mike, as well as numerous features in a long-running collaboration with Steven Soderbergh. MAGIC MIKE XXL is produced by Nick Wechsler, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin, with the screenplay by Carolin. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the first film, is executive producer. The creative filmmaking team includes production designer Howard Cummings and costume designer Christopher Peterson.

MAGIC MIKE XXL releases at cinemas countrywide this Friday, 03 July.

 

Contemporary SA Film Wins Coveted Jury Award At Los Angeles Film Festival

Ayanda, the new film by award-winning director Sara Blecher and produced by Terry Pheto, Busi Sizani and Robbie Thorpe was awarded a “special mention” by the prestigious Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) Jury when the 2015 festival winners were announced, following its screening in the World Fiction Competition.

Ayanda had its world premiere in Los Angeles on 13 June, and debuted to rave reviews. The Examiner said, “The Los Angeles Film Festival’s 2015 mission to find ‘…diverse stories and storytellers … who exhibit true and singular voices’ is fully realized with Ayanda. Shot in South Africa, writer Trish Malone and director Sara Blecher create a vibrant, colorful film about a young woman looking to make her mark in today’s South Africa.”

The film tells the story of a resolute 21-year-old Afro-hipster Ayanda (Fulu Mugovhani), who has a talent for taking neglected pieces of furniture and “bringing them back to love”. Eight years after her father’s death, his prized auto repair garage is in deep debt and in danger of being sold, but Ayanda does everything in her power to hold onto his legacy.

Entertainment blog Indiewire called the film “an important and fascinating piece that is absolutely worth seeing for its representation of a modern African story, which is uniquely, distinctively African, but also urban, fresh, and contemporary in a way that is far too rare. Anchored by a standout performance by the magnetic Fulu Mugovahni, the vibe and milieu of Ayanda is as refreshing as a light summer breeze.”

Culver City Observer named Ayanda a “standout “Must See” in the World Fiction Competition”, and “A beautifully lensed film courtesy of cinematographer Jonathan Kovel…” The review described Trish Malone’s screenplay as a “a nuanced script with strongly detailed characters that come to life through some well oiled, fresh performances,” and said “Fulo Moguvhani is nothing short of luminous in the title role with strong supporting performances.”

The film also stars Nigerian actor OC Ukeje – winner of the 2015 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award for Best Actor, Jafta Mamabolo, Nthati Moshesh, Kenneth Nkosi, Sihle Xaba and Vanessa Cooke.

Both Pheto and Blecher were at LAFF to promote the film, a line-up of 74 feature films from around the globe.

“We could not have wished for a better response from a discerning American audience,” says Blecher. “The film was praised for being distinctively African while exploring universal themes of love, friendship and growth. We cannot wait to share the film with South African moviegoers. As a female team, we are proud to have made such a strong and vibrant film about women in contemporary South Africa.”

Ayanda was produced by Real Eyes Films and Leading Lady Productions, with the support of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), Africa Magic and the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). It will be distributed in South Africa by Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film Distribution.

“The film has an excellent cast and superb production values, as well as a story that is young, fresh and distinctly urban,” says Kuun. “We are excited to bring a creative product of this calibre to the local movie circuit.”

Ayanda will be the opening film at the 36th Durban International Film Festival, taking place from July 16 to 26 this year.

Ayanda releases at cinemas nationally on 02 October 2015.

Terminator Genisys: Review

Arnie is back! Terminator Genisys sees the fifth instalment of the much enjoy sci-fi action movie series. These films have broken ground over the past few decades with their innovative effects, and have been loved by audiences around the globe.

Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his famous role as The Terminator, along with newcomers to the series Jason Clarke (John Conner), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Conner) and Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese).

Terminator Genisys is no different. In fact, it brings with it the excitement of watching the original films for the first time, and marvelling at the animatronics of The Terminator, or the liquid metal antagonist in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Once again, John Conner, leader of the resistance, and man’s last hope against Skynet and the machines, sends one of his most trusted soldiers, Kyle Reese, back in time, to 1984, to protect John’s mother Sarah. However, this time, things are not as they seem.

Amidst all the action and effects, there is a decent story, not to mention some humour to lighten the mood. Watch out for a cameo by another well known time traveller.

Terminator Genisys is easily the best of the series so far. If you take in to account the age of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, you could view them as equals for their respective times. Rumour has it that the studio has already greenlit two sequels, to be completed and released before the licence for the franchise reverts back to James Cameron in 2019 (unless someone invents a time displacement field before then).

This is certainly an entertaining film. It’s fun, exciting, and has everything you’d want to escape into another world for a few hours. Even the plot will leave you guessing, as you no sooner feel you know exactly what is going to happen next, when the possibilities of time travel, and alternate timelines come in to play, and your guess is hopelessly wrong.

This is a fun, action packed ride through time, in the war against the machines. The film opens 3 July 2015 in South Africa, and is sure to take the box office by storm.

Terminator Genisys Blu-Ray review, by SAMDB