Movie Review ~ Escape from Pretoria


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Two white South Africans, imprisoned for working on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC), determine to escape from the notorious white man’s `Robben Island’, Pretoria Prison.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, Daniel Webber, Mark Leonard Winter, Nathan Page, Stephen Hunter

Director: Francis Annan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Just when you think you’ve seen all the prison movies you can take, along comes Escape from Pretoria and you find that you have to give it a chance.  I mean, it’s an important true-life tale of political prisoners in the late ‘70s South Africa unjustly jailed for spreading propaganda denouncing apartheid who form a clever plan over time to escape their captors.  Along the way there are setbacks and strife, inspirational moments and bitter defeats, culminating in a broad daylight break out for freedom. Let’s be real, The Shawshank Redemption it ain’t but it stirs some of the same emotional vibes of that gem of a film and uses them to keep your interest for much of its tense running length.

Caught setting off small explosives that send political messages with anti-apartheid sentiment into the air, Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee were both sentenced to multiple years in Pretoria Central Prison in 1979.  Unable to bribe their way out of confinement, it would have been easy to just accept their sentence and serve their time but Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe, Victor Frankenstein) wasn’t going to give his racist government the satisfaction of holding him prisoner.  Though his other anti-apartheid inmates felt that serving their time was an honor and an important representation of their sacrifice for the cause, Jenkin, Lee (Daniel Webber), and French prisoner Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter, The Dressmaker) were of the belief they could do more outside the walls.

For over a year, Jenkin plotted an ingenious method of escape.  It didn’t involve digging a hole or shimmying through a sewer drain but making keys to the prison cells out of the wood scraps they had at their disposal.  With a number of doors to account for and even more methods of opening them, making the keys was easy but figuring out the sequence of events without getting caught was the real challenge. Jenkin’s trial and error over time is what writer/director Francis Annan uses to create some fairly suspenseful sequences along the way, keeping audiences unconsciously biting their nails or gripping their armrests.  Each bead of sweat that hangs precipitously from a brow and every key that won’t open a lock when it has to is worth at least a few fingernail clippings.  That Annan can keep up this atmosphere throughout is worth noting, especially when you can tell the budget for this one wasn’t huge and the simple sets require some imagination to work in.

Though he (like everyone in the movie) battles more with his accent than any prison guard, Radcliffe continues to take on interesting roles that challenge him.  He seems intent to not play the same character or shade of character the same way twice and that’s impressive.  He’s long past the point of having to prove he’s more than just Harry Potter and now you can see he’s doing it for himself and not to show his naysayers he’s limited.  As an elder prisoner, Ian Hart (Mary Queen of Scots) has a nice turn as a source of sage advice for Jenkin…even if he doesn’t always like what the more seasoned inmate has to say.  Winter, too, is good in early scenes as a man determined to get out not just for his own freedom but so that he can reunite with his child, though he gets increasingly wild as the film progresses, the first half of the movie is a well crafted look at a man intent on not letting the system beat him.

It would be easy to browse past this one but I’d encourage giving it a chance.  Like the recent underseen remake of Papillon, while it may look predictable, it isn’t as cut and dry as it may appear at first glance.  With Annan’s intelligent direction and the excellent performances throughout, this is one prison film you could get locked up in.

Movie Review ~ Disturbing the Peace


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A small-town marshal who hasn’t carried a gun since he left the Texas Rangers after a tragic shooting, must pick up his gun again to do battle with a gang of outlaw bikers that has invaded the town to pull off a brazen and violent heist.

Stars: Guy Pearce, Devon Sawa, Kelly Greyson, Barbie Blank, Michael Sirow, Dwayne Cameron, Michael Bellisario, Jacob Grodnik, John Lewis, Terence J. Rotolo

Director: York Alec Shackleton

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It’s a sad truth but it used to be that you could often track the downward spiral of a Hollywood actor’s career.  First they start moving from leading player to wise boss or estranged parent, then they’d write their autobiography dishing out gossip and would experience a career resurgence on television only to find themselves as novelty cameos hauled out in sitcoms and B and C level direct to DVD films.  Now, that path is harder to follow because actors simply go where the work is and while some are smart enough to hold out for the right role no matter what, others are less discerning and that comes back to haunt them.

Take Guy Pearce as a great example.  Here’s an actor that had a minor hot streak when he first appeared on the scene with 1997’s L.A. Confidential and 2000’s Memento.  Though he worked steadily over the next two decades, he never made it to that confident A-list status so you’d find him in random roles such as back in 2008 when he appeared in Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker as well as Bedtime Stories which took home the Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie.  Just slightly over a year ago he had a major role in the divisive Mary Queen of Scots and late in 2019 played Ebeneezer Scrooge in a darkly twisted adaptation of A Christmas Carol for the BBC.  So the actor clearly wasn’t hard up for work.

How to explain, then, just what Pearce is doing in Disturbing the Peace, a godawful cops and robbers cheapie?  Throughout the film I kept thinking to myself, “three years ago he was in a movie directed by Ridley Scott (Alien: Covenant) and now he’s acting opposite an actor that can barely stop himself from looking into the camera.”  This is one of those head-scratching watches where you can’t comprehend how a group of humans with functioning brains made something so poor, and then had the audacity to ask audiences to pay for the (dis)pleasure of sitting through 91 minutes of it.  That it was reportedly made for $5 million dollars is shocking to me because I’ve seen movies made for far less look much more polished.  Where did all that money go to?

Haunted by an incident from his past that resulted in his partner’s death, ex-Texas Ranger Jim Dillon (Pearce, Lawless) is now the prickly marshal of Horse Cave, KY who keeps to himself.  Though he has a flirtatious relationship with the preacher’s daughter (Kelly Greyson), he’s a lone wolf that hasn’t touched a gun in the ten years since he left his former position.  His resolve is put to the test when a group of hard-nosed bikers arrive in town and kick off their plan to hold up an armored car set to deliver a huge payload to the bank.  Cleverly cutting the townspeople and law enforcement off from the outside world (no electricity or cell phone towers means no way to phone a friend), it’s just Dillon and his deputy (Michael Sirow) against a mass of ruthless thugs.  Incidentally, we know they’re ruthless because they have names like Shovelhead, Pyro, Spider, Diesel, Jarhead, and Dirty Bob.

The leader of the thugs is Diablo (Devon Sawa, who also produced) and he introduces himself with the most hysterical line I think I’ll hear in the entirety of 2020: “My name is Diablo.  At least that’s what my friends call me…and my enemies.”  Er, isn’t that everyone?  I rewound it just to be sure I caught it.  Bulked up and far removed from the teeny bopper image he’s remembered for, Sawa is going for the gold medal is neck vein popping, eye bulging, red faced fury and he largely won me over because unlike most of the rest of the cast he knows his way around acting in front of a camera.  The same goes for Pearce who, for better or worse, gets the job done even if you kind of can’t believe he’s working in such an amateurish production.  Actually, the one I liked best is Greyson as Pearce’s love interest and she’s the best butt-kicker of them all.  While not entirely the best actor on the set, there’s something winning in the performance that fits with what’s happening onscreen, softening some of the awkward edges created by the directing and writing.

Director York Alec Shackleton is a former skateboarder turned director and working with Chuck Hustmyre Mad-Libs-esque script he has an eye for keeping the camera moving and setting up several interesting shots but doesn’t do much to rally anything from the supporting players.  When the violence erupts and the town is essentially taken wholly hostage, areas that were once full of extras suddenly are reduced to a handful of people.  When “the entire town” is corralled into a church it looks like there are about 12 women that reside there and all of them look extremely worried they left the oven on.  At least they don’t have lines – several unfortunate souls who shall remain nameless were gifted with small parts and deliver their dialogue like they were ordering off of a fast food menu in a language they’d never spoken before.

So yes…2020 has produced it’s first true dog of a film and here I was thinking the remake of The Grudge was going to be the lowest the bar was to be set so early in the year.  Obviously, if you are wanting a serious movie you need to pass Disturbing the Peace by and never ever look back but if you have 80-ish minutes to spare (the credits run an obscenely long 7 and a half minutes) and want to be truly bowled over with how shockingly inept this is, by all means have at it.