The Lost City of Z Meanders

The Lost City of Z opens at cinemas in South Africa on 11 August 2017. This true-life drama details the life of British adventurer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett who worked for the British military and was a member of the Royal Geographic Society. He was sent to South America to draw up maps of the area and in the process became obsessed with finding out more about the region.

Fawcett did several trips to the Amazon (although the film shows only three) between 1906 and 1925, travelling each time with what appeared to be a very small crew, the last with his own son, Jack. Fawcett found evidence of what he believed to be an ancient civilization and its city (the City of Z). He exerted much energy trying to find it and in convincing the British of its existence. There was resistance from the latter, partly because it would mean them reassessing their belief in their own superiority.

The credits at the end of the film state that archaeological remains an unknown civilization have recently been found, seeming to back up the Fawcett story.

Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam (a less hunky version of the part he played in King Arthur) and his wife Nina by Sienna Miller. Miller’s character is developed and realistic and contrasts to some extent with those of Fawcett’s team mates and colleagues. The latter remain undeveloped and distant so that the viewer will find it hard to care about them. The film attempts to condense several decades into two hours and 20 minutes and doesn’t feature much of a climax. The result is a far too long, meandering story with little character advancement.

Fawcett is shown as a man ahead of his time, one who goes against the established view of women and ‘the other’ as less than the British White male. I felt this was added on for a modern audience. The website has a similar view.

The Lost City of Z opens at cinemas in South Africa on 11 August 2017.

Baby Driver: A Film with Surprising Combinations

Keen to watch a movie this weekend? Then Baby Driver is a pretty good option.

The baby-faced hero of Baby Driver is a young man (Ansel Elgort) with consummate driving skills and a tortured past. Because of one youthful mistake Baby (that’s his name) has to work off a debt for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver on bank heists. Baby meets and falls in love with waitress, Debora (Lily James), and thereafter becomes keenly conflicted about where his loyalties and values lie.

Ansel Elgort, the titular character in Baby Driver. Picture source: Den of Geek

On the face of it this plotline looks like a fairly typical crime drama but the film offers some surprising combinations. Doc is quite funny and the criminal teams he hires are oafs. Baby lives with his deaf, wheelchair-bound stepfather, of whom he takes tender care. Music features strongly; our hero suffers from a constant ringing in his ears and has to listen to music all the time. Many scenes show Baby, a man of few words, seemingly zoned in only to his own inner world, only to reveal that he has observed and memorised everything around him in the minutest detail. And then of course there’s Baby’s past which slowly becomes clear, engendering viewer sympathy in the process.

The driving scenes are really, really good to watch.

Baby Driver opens at cinemas in South Africa on 4 August 2017.

War Films Make You Think

I started and ended my DIFF 2017 viewing with two war documentaries/films.

The first one was Troupes of War – Diturupa. This documentary features the journey of South African journalist Lucas Ledwaba as he examines the experience of black South African soldiers in World War I. A fascinating aspect to the tale is that of the modern-day ‘Diturupa’ festival in which villagers in Makapanstad dress up in Scottish and military regalia. How incongruous it is to see these villagers participating in a seemingly European custom. This peculiarity is further emphasised by an observation in the film that black South Africans participated in WWI to ostensibly free the world of tyrants, only to return to their homeland and not participate in those benefits.

The second war film I saw was Viceroy’s House which was directed by Gurinder Chadha. The movie tells the story of how Lord Mountbatten of England oversaw the independence of India from Great Britain in 1947. Mountbatten was the ‘last viceroy’ in India and his ‘plan’ involved splitting India into India and Pakistan. The split was prefaced and followed by enormous violence and led to a massive migration of people. The film opens with the subtitle ‘history is written by the victors’. Viceroy’s House is an attempt, I think, to tell the real story behind the independence and split and rewrite that history. An absurdity in this film was seeing the servants in Viceroy’s House splitting the contents of the house between ‘India’ and ‘Pakistan’.

Both films challenged my thinking but both had serious flaws. Troupes of War – Diturupa had all the elements of an interesting story but failed to make the connections for the viewer clearly enough. Viceroy’s House, according to The Guardian,, ‘is unlikely to do very well at the box office’ because of the liberties it takes with the facts. ‘Even so,’ the article goes on to say, ‘it will attract a far larger audience than any book on partition, and for many people it will be their only understanding of the subject. As with “fake news”, so with “fake history”. Detecting it needs curiosity – critical rather than passive consumption – otherwise it never gets found out.’

I don’t know. Go and see Viceroy’s House and see what you think. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 27 July 2017.


Spider-Man: Homecoming

In the latest film version of Spider-Man the superhero is mentored by Iron Man and battles Vulture using a mixture of a specially designed suit and human integrity. This mixture of the ‘super’ and the ‘human’ flows throughout the film. Spider-Man is a geeky teenage boy, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who has an even more geeky friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Iron Man has another life as a businessman called Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), while Vulture also has an ulterior, human, identity as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton).

Superman: Homecoming by Bleeding Cool

The relationship between Stark and Parker is handled with humour, and Parker’s efforts as a superhero feature enthusiasm coupled with inexperience. The result is a much lighter handling of the normally dark Spider-Man stories. I welcomed this. Families, too, with children and young teenagers will enjoy the more relatable characters. Modern-day special effects such as cell phones and computer technology are juxtaposed with other-world weaponry and this, too, emphasises the mix of human and super.

But the humour and action does border on the slapstick and I didn’t always enjoy the silliness. Robert Downey Jr and Michael Keaton are pretty good in their roles but Marissa Tomei as Peter’s aunt looks decidedly too sexy for her role and Peter’s flame, Liz (Laura Harrier), is wimpish.

Overall, Peter’s initiation as Spider-Man, and the mix of ordinary, modern-day life with the heroic, make Spider-Man: Homecoming fun to watch. The film opens at cinemas in South Africa on 7 July 2017.




Heartbeats Fights it Out on the Dance Floor

Okay, so in action films warring parties fight it out with swords and canons. Take the ghosts and pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead

Men Tell no Tales as an example. In dramas like Denial the ‘warring’ takes place in the courtroom with barristers and solicitors using tightly worded arguments as weapons. In Heartbeats the battle is contested on the dance floor, and the warriors are hip-hop/Indian dance specialists. The heroes, Kelli Andrews (Krystal Ellsworth) and Aseem Kapoor (Amitash Pradhan), are young and beautiful, not ghoulish or cerebral. And the obstacles they have to overcome include neither shipwrecks nor incriminating evidence, but parental disapproval and the struggle to earn respect.

Image: IMDB

In Heartbeats the dancing really is the main thing. The plot intrudes only now and then to create some sort of framework on which to hang the story. It’s so easy to predict what happens next that watching Heartbeats provides no mental challenge. But the dancing is lovely and the dancers lovely to look at. I found myself swept along with the flow, wanting the heroes to succeed and happy when the looked-for ending comes to pass. Images of Bombay/Mumbai (there’s a reference to the confusing name in the movie) are idyllic, painting a colourful, clean version of reality. So this aspect of the film was a little hard to swallow. Another potentially contentious issue in the tale is that success takes place in the wonderful land of USA. However, this is mitigated by the training ground that India affords the dancers.

There was no blood and guts, no swearing, no nudity and no sex. Heartbeats is probably aimed at the teen market, like Step Up was, but will be lovely for most ages to watch. The film opens in South Africa on 30 June 2017.

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.