Cars 3 Carries a Theme of Ageing

Photo source: Wikipedia

Cars 3 opens at cinemas on Friday 16 June, just in time for Father’s Day 18 June. This animated film (featuring talking cars to the exclusion of any other character) is likely to be one that dads will enjoy with their young children, so fits nicely with this special day.

In Cars 3 Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is still top of the racing pops. However, he is soon overtaken by a younger, more IT-savvy set, and begins to drop in the race rankings. In his efforts to regain his former glory Lightning signs up at a state-of-the-art race training facility and meets Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo). Cruz is a trainer (and secret racer wannabe). It turns out that Lightning is able to teach Cruz a thing or two as he spurns her training methods for good old-fashioned road practice. After some amusing sidetracks Cruz competes for the final time. As he does so he begins to realise that racing isn’t, in fact, all about him and he learns to make room for others.

Cars 3 is a wholesome film in that it teaches the value of respecting mentors, the value of teaching (as opposed to competing), the value of unselfishness, and the value of teamwork. But some of the terminology will be challenging for young viewers. And I think the theme of ageing may be boring for children. It’s interesting to think that characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh never age, whereas Lightning McQueen and his motley crew do. This motif seems to signal the end of the Cars franchise.

Their Finest Has a Good Dig at the Moviemaking Industry

Their Finest is a delightful and funny drama about one woman’s break into the male-centric world of screenwriting in Britain in the 1940s. Set against the backdrop of WWII, Catrin Cole (a lovely Gemma Arterton with a Welsh accent), goes against the female norm and starts working for a London scriptwriting company. She and fellow writer Tom Buckley (an annoyingly smarmy Sam Claflin) develop an argumentative, bantering friendship that leads to, well I’m sure you can guess where it leads to.

Picture supplied by Ster Kinekor

The wartime film created by the screenwriters was to be about twin girls who heroically rescued soldiers in their small boat during the Battle of Dunkirk. Their Finest revolves around the film’s making from start to finish. When scriptwriter Catrin initially interviews the twins she discovers that the newspaper reports about their ‘rescue of soldiers’ was in fact untrue. They had never reached Dunkirk because their boat had broken down, and they had only taken on soldiers when they were towed back to England by a bigger ship.

No matter. Catrin sets about creating a story that would appeal to female viewers. Her fellow writers get involved and throw in their ideas, casting men as the hero. The Ministry department responsible for the product add their political requirements. The actors, headed by Ambrose Hilliard (a hilarious, pompous Bill Nighy), bring their demands to bear. And then to top it all off the people responsible for promoting the film to an American audience insist that an American actor be added. (Never mind that there were no Americans in Dunkirk). Although good to look at the American, Carl Lundbeck (Jack Lacy), is completely useless as an actor, and the team is forced to do what it can to ensure he is more seen than heard.

Their Finest has a good dig against toothy, dim Americans, against the ridiculousness of war time propaganda, and against the malleability of ‘truth’ in movies. It portrays the making of the Dunkirk rescue film in parallel with the relationship between its creators Catrin and Tom. Interestingly, these two aspects of Their Finest‘s story show how human intervention can manipulate outcomes to suit taste.

Their Finest opens at cinemas in South Africa on 2 June 2017.

Pirates of the Caribbean number 5…an enjoyable conclusion

The latest Pirates movie is great. It is less confusing than the previous films, funny, full of action, and has a satisfyingly conclusive ending.

It starts off hilariously with a ‘bank heist’ and a tipsy and, as usual, useless Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who narrowly escapes beheading by guillotine. Shipless and crewless Sparrow is nevertheless still in demand.

Intersecting story characters include Salazar (a cursed, ghostly foe from Sparrow’s past) who sails the Flying Dutchman (a ghostly ship), Barbosa (a living foe) and Henry Turner (son of Will Turner). All of them need Sparrow: Salazar (a marvellous Javier Bardem) for revenge for Sparrow’s defeat of him many years prior; Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) for a special map and the magic compass; and Turner (Brenton Thwaites) for help finding a magical treasure. A very clever and determined woman, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) also enters the mix. She figures out how the map works and joins up with Sparrow and Turner. The three, together with Sparrow’s absurd crew, ‘resurrect’ The Black Pearl and set sail.

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The Founder: Ray Kroc or Dick & Mac McDonald?

When Joan Smith asked Ray Kroc in words something to the effect ‘When did you start McDonald’s’, there was just a small flicker in his eyes before he answered ‘1954’. That flicker indicated the moment in the film, The Founder, when Kroc (Michael Keaton) lied about the beginnings of the famous fast food chain McDonald’s. Kroc was not the ‘founder’. The developer, yes, but not the founder. That title in fact belonged to brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who came up with the concept many years earlier.

The Founder Poster HR

Michael Keaton plays ‘Kroc’ in The Founder. Image: supplied.

Kroc had been a struggling but optimistic salesman who met the brothers when he sold them milkshake machines. He had been so impressed with their flagship store in California that he persuaded them to go into business with him and roll out more franchise stores like theirs across the USA. But the McDonalds’ conservative stranglehold on progress frustrated Kroc’s ambitions and Kroc managed to override the brothers, buy them out and take the chain to global reach.

That flicker moment also pretty much indicated when Kroc, in The Founder, stepped over the integrity boundary in his personal and business life. As his personal life went south so did his business ethics, and Kroc’s wife, and the McDonald brothers received a raw deal. Kroc is not painted in the film as an all-out baddy, however. His tenacity, business sense, and focus are shown in a way that make you admire him. And the balance between his business success and some unfair (though not technically illegal) dealings is this this film’s strength.

The Founder does not come across as a typical Hollywood ra-ra-America film. I enjoyed the story about how Dick and Mac came up with their simple menu and scientifically developed service offering. How Kroc, with the help of lawyer, Harry Sonnenborn (B J Novak), turned the focus from purchasing franchise stores to purchasing real estate, and how the McDonalds’ focus on marketing to the family was changed by Kroc to marketing that appealed to people’s religious-type passions.

The Founder opens at cinemas in South Africa today 19 May 2017.

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie

‘Johnny is Nie Dood Nie’ is the name of a song written by Koos Kombuis as a tribute to fellow musician Johannes Kerkorrel who committed suicide in 2002. It is now also the name of a South African film by Christiaan Olwagen which releases in cinemas on 5 May 2017.

The story focuses on five friends who were involved in the Voëlvry movement of the 1980s, and shows what has become of them 20-odd years later. Johnny (Roelof Storm) commits suicide, an event which is stylised in the film, and the other four (Rolanda Marais, Albert Pretorius, Ilana Cilliers and Ludwig Binge) struggle to process what has happened. Voëlvry was an anti-apartheid Afrikaans-rock-music movement, fuelled, if the film is anything to go by, by drugs, alcohol and academic ideologies. Although radical for its time, the Voëlvry campaign in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is portrayed as an insular one, characterised by frustration and hopelessness. This is emphasised by the present-day aspects of the story that show the characters still boozing and drugging, still railing against injustices, but without having achieved very much. This futility is underscored by references to the Border War of the 1980s, a war which modern-day South Africa looks upon as shameful and racist, and a faded waste of young lives.

The new South Africa the Voëlvry supporters hoped for in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie does not deliver, featuring high walls and ongoing racial prejudice. The filming in the present section of the film is dizzying to say the least. Perhaps this was done to show the characters ‘going around in hopeless circles’, I’m not sure, but I found it irritating. The story is really about the characters, not the music itself, so fans of Afrikaans rock will be disappointed from that point of view. The very last scene of the film casts a ray of hope over what has come before but is completely disjointed from the rest and so is hard to reconcile.

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is very well acted and the local setting is realistic. But it’s a dark, sad and rather futile narrative that I think will appeal to a limited audience only.

The Silence of God in Japan

I saw the adverts for this film when I was in London in December 2016. Liam Neeson’s gloomy figure dominated the posters which described the film in glowing terms that certainly made me want to watch it.

But if you, like me, thought Neeson would play a big part in Silence you would be wrong. His character is integral to the plot and indeed forms the very reason for the action. But Neeson appears only briefly at the beginning and then at the very end of this two-hour-forty-minute film by Martin Scorsese. The main action revolves around the characters Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who gives an excellent performance), and Garupe (Adam Driver).

The story is set in 17th Century Japan. Ferreira (Neeson), a Portuguese Catholic priest, had gone to Japan to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then was rumoured to have apostasised. Rodrigues and Garupe do not believe this about their former mentor and set out for Japan to find him and prove the rumours false. What follows is a tale of extreme hardship and religious persecution.

When the pair arrive in Japan they are welcomed with open arms by the few Christians there, but are kept hidden for their, and the local Christians’ safety. Authorities get wind of their arrival, track them down and take them captive. From here the story follows Rodrigues, with Garupe featuring only on the periphery.

The Japanese authorities are shown in Silence as patient, clever, effective and cruel in their relentless efforts to persuade the Christians (priests and locals alike) to apostasise. For these authorities it was not simply a matter of getting Christians to conform outwardly. They wanted their hearts to change too. Manipulation, torture and killing all form part of their methods. And these methods create in their victims intense psychological conflict as they struggle not to betray the God of their faith. As the story progresses the audience begins to sympathise with the apostasisers (one slimy character apostasises and then seeks absolution several times).

In a haunting moment in the film, just as Rodrigues is about to give in, the voice of God speaks to Him. Without giving too much away, this moment, and the closing scenes of the film highlight what is portrayed as the ambivalent nature of apostasisation and how this act would not necessarily be the end for the Christian.

The title ‘Silence’ is meant to indicate God’s silence during these Christians’ struggles.

Silence is an intense, thought-provoking film, covering an era I knew very little about. It’s worth watching, but is long and may attract a limited audience only. It opens in cinemas in South Africa on 21 April 2017.

Read the history behind Silence here.

 

Beauty and the Beast: A Traditional Tale

A few years ago I watched the play The Cripple of Inishmaan with a friend in London. The play starred Daniel Radcliffe, who most people will know as the titular character in the Harry Potter film series.  In The Cripple of Inishmaan, Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen and Radcliffe gave a very good performance.

Radcliffe’s co-worker in Harry Potter was Emma Watson who played Harry’s friend Hermione Granger. Watson now appears in a Disney re-creation of Beauty and the Beast, due for release in cinemas on 14 April. During the film, in which Watson sings beautifully, I found myself constantly comparing Belle to the young, wild-haired girl of Hogwarts. As Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Watson speaks with the same perfect elocution as she did in Harry Potter, and shows the same half smile as young Hermione did.

How interesting then that in this film the character Belle has a coming-of-age experience (not from Hermione you understand!), maturing from a young girl into a woman, but still retaining certain essential characteristics. This version of the story explains that both Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens) are who they are because of their parentage; Beast self-centred and angry, Belle considerate and creative. And it is Belle who helps Beast become his better self, in a story that prizes love and goodness above selfishness and evil.

Beast’s servants – all turned into talking furniture because of a curse – and the townsfolk of Belle’s village, provide the humour in the story. They also prevent Beauty and the Beast from becoming an all-out good versus evil story by showing that we are all capable of good or evil depending on circumstances and force of character.

The special effects, costumes and setting are good to watch and the music is enchanting. But there was something of a ‘same-old, same-old’ feeling in this fairly faithful rendition of the original story. After Shrek, which turned fairy tales on their heads, declaring them a ‘load o’ …’, it’s hard to go back to the traditional stories.