Talking Movies: Dust, The Train of Salt and Sugar and Dick Johnson is Dead

Spling reviews Dust, The Train of Salt and Sugar and Dick Johnson is Dead as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a neo-western drama, a war drama and a documentary.

Starting off with a film now on DStv Box Office…


A young woman and her family find asylum at an isolated farm.

Writer-Director: Pieter du Plessis

Stars: Shana Mans, Michelle Bradshaw and Kaz McFadden

– Dust is an atmospheric and slow-burning dystopian crime drama thriller with neo-noir western vibrations.
– There aren’t any horses or Stetsons but the idea of a lawless society, stretched by a lack of resources and ruled by the bullet has a strong resonance.
– Centring on key performances, an outlying farm and leaning on a fairly sparse script, the film has a haunting poetic quality carried through by its wistful sometimes claustrophobic cinematography.
– The sparse feel creates silences that may be disconcerting for those used to watching busier movies.
– Coupled with an equally light soundtrack that underscores emotional undercurrents and bigger moments, Dust can be a fairly alienating experience.
– While slow-burning intensity can create a smoldering feel and add layers of tension, it also runs the risk of disconnection.
– The induction situation is tense but the characters remain aloof, never fully feeling the weight of their slow-creeping predicament.
– There’s an urgency at times but the stakes just aren’t high enough and without a fixed emotional connection, it’s difficult to care beyond the point of grave injustice.
– The slow-moving pacing, hard-hitting themes, neo-noir western earmarks and poetic mood swathe Dust in intrigue.
– Yet, it’s also equally restrained by some of these strengths keeping characters and actions at such a distance it’s difficult to build momentum or grow with the story.
– Ultimately, Dust becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, elemental and natural yet failing to gather momentum, build on itself or find its true form.

A flat 5 on the splingometer!

Moving on to a film now on Showmax…


Civilians undertake a very dangerous train journey through war-torn Mozambique with a convoy of ill-disciplined soldiers.

Director: Licínio Azevedo

Stars: Matamba Joaquim, Melanie de Vales Rafael and António Nipita

– The Train of Salt and Sugar plays like a docudrama, detailing the difficult journey of a civilian train transporting salt to exchange for precious sugar.
– Risking their lives in order to obtain the prized commodity, this film grapples with a number of social issues affecting the people from religious protection to gender politics and civilian/soldier relations.
– The adventure drama plays into the western genre with train robberies, railway sabotage and the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to law enforcement.
– A rift develops between the soldiers as their crazy commander rules with a sense of spiritual immunity from flying bullets and insubordination.
– The edit leaves much up to imagination, often skipping ahead in suspenseful moments you’d expect to soak in longer.
– The ensemble is broad with solid performances from main protagonists, Joaquim and Rafael, and immersive turns from Nipita and Thiago Justino as commander and veteran soldier, respectively.
– The Train of Salt and Sugar sways into some powerful moments that veer from wild cross-country adventure into tense social drama.
– Taken from a landscape perspective, it’s distant at first as heroes and villains emerge on the horizon.
– This unearthing process keeps you invested, in spite of the jump cut edit, although some of the more sentimental moments would have had greater traction with more focused character development.
– It’s a gritty and relentless film, given dramatic texture by traversing through dark and light moments of humanity.

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!

And finally a documentary on Netflix…


A daughter helps her father prepare for the end of his life.

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Features: Dick and Kirsten Johnson

– Dick Johnson is Dead is one of the strangest documentaries you may watch… ever.
– The documentary started as a cathartic way for a father and his film-maker daughter to deal with his impending deterioration and inevitable death.
– Contrasting this with her mother’s last years, it has a strong emotional undertow which is circumvented by the uplifting tone of this odd film.
– Staging a number of on-screen deaths of her father using elaborate set ups and stunts, it’s a strange dark comedy made all the stranger by the passing of time.
– Getting a portrait of her father, his life’s work, affable nature and even his deformed toes… intimate conversations are contrasted with stylised on-set dream sequences.
– The documentary is a low-key examination of dementia and a vivid meditation on life and death.
– It’s compelling viewing, carried by the curious and experimental nature of the documentary’s aim to capture illusion against reality.
– While changing lanes a few times, Dick Johnson is Dead builds to a touching and life-affirming conclusion.
– Keeping you guessing with the magic of film, grappling with real vs. unreal and capturing the essence of an ordinary man in his later years, it’s a buoyant, surreal and entertaining expedition that will surprise you on more than one occasion.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer!

So just to wrap up…

DUST… this thoughtful, poetic and slow-burning dystopian neo-western drama is aloof, disconnected and sluggish… A flat 5!

THE TRAIN OF SALT AND SUGAR… strong performances steady this sometimes powerful and epic, yet uneven and choppy railroad western adventure drama… A satisfactory 6!

DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD… a buoyant, entertaining, intimate, surreal, touching and vivid documentary meditation on life and death… An excellent 8!

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!