Kidnap: A Showcase for Tough Women

Source: Common Sense Media

Kidnap has a simple plot. Mother loves son; son is kidnapped; mother stops at nothing to find son. The premise is equally simple: this mother is one tough cookie and shouldn’t be messed with.

The story is set up for the viewer right at the beginning. Karla Dyson (the beautiful Halle Berry) is a struggling waitress who works in a useless restaurant with awful customers. Her son – Frankie (Sage Correa) – is her life. Her ex-husband wants custody of the boy. So when Frankie is inexplicably taken from a funfair (where Karla just sees him being bundled into a car) she has nothing but her son to lose.

The rest of the film makes room for Karla’s development. As Karla becomes more exasperated with the kidnappers – and the authorities – she grows even more determined and resilient. Several external factors make her job harder: she loses her phone, she runs out of petrol on this (very) long drive, and she tries to trade her purse for the boy. What doesn’t seem to get in her way, however, are the public in general and any physical injuries. At certain points cars are spaced evenly so that the baddies and their pursuer can easily dodge in and out. And despite several horrendous crashes Karla surfaces each time to continue her pursuit.

What Karla eventually finds is something part of a much bigger issue which does lend more purpose to this car chase. The final scenes are quite nail-biting too. But on the whole Kidnap is too formulaic and superficial to be much more than a showcase for how tough and capable this modern woman is.

Kidnap opens at cinemas in South Africa on 8 December 2017. It carries an age restriction of 13V. #FridayFun

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Paddington 2 is a Delightful, Exciting Adventure

As many filmgoers know sequels can sometimes be disappointing. Others, however, are superb – as Finding Dory, the prequel/sequel to Finding Nemo – was. See A Feast of Tales’ review of that film here https://wp.me/p4c1s1-dF.

An upcoming sequel which opens at cinemas in South Africa on 1 December is Paddington 2. This sequel, likewise, is excellent. Perhaps even better than the first film Paddington. The action opens showing Paddington (the voice of Ben Whishaw) as a happy and accepted part of the Brown family. Still faithful to his ‘bear’ family, however, Paddington longs to honour his Great Aunt’s upcoming birthday by sending her a special gift from London. He finds an unusual pop-up book depicting famous London landmarks in Mr Gruber’s antique shop and settles on that. But the book is expensive and Paddington has to save up enough money by working. He sets about it with his usual penchant for creating unintended disasters and is finally close enough to buying the book. But someone else who wants the book – for obviously shadowy reasons – is the pompous, fake showman Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Before Paddington can buy the book it is stolen from Mr Gruber’s shop, Paddington is framed for the theft and he is sent to prison. Horrors!

No worries there. While the cooky Brown family embark on the difficult task of finding the real thief and proving Paddington’s innocence, Paddington, with his usual unfailing good manners, makes friends in prison. He even wins over the fearful chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), teaches him to make marmalade and makes prison a jolly charming place to be. A series of adventures involving escape, capture, fearful train journeys and determination lead to a happy conclusion.

Paddington 2 is charming, lovely family entertainment. Paddington’s politeness and honesty, and his commitment to family, highlight values worth exposing young children to. It opens at Ster Kinekor on 1 December just in time for the long school holidays. Don’t miss it.

Coco is a Sophisticated Animated Adventure

Coco is a sophisticated animated tale about a young boy called Miguel and his search for ancestors on the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a Mexican village with his extended family. The young boy is an aspiring musician, but is forbidden from enjoying its pleasures by his family because of the seemingly shameful actions of a long-dead musical relative. Through a series of strange events on the actual Dia de los Muertos Miguel enters the Land of Dead. Here he meets his music idol, rubs shoulders with unsavoury characters, and uncovers some family secrets. Miguel has to work against the clock in order to save characters in the Land of the Dead from being lost from memory forever, and to ensure that he himself re-enters the Land of the Living. In the process Miguel brings understanding and enlightenment to himself and his precious family.

Coco’s story is complex but conveyed in a manner that young viewers will understand. Its messages of respect, family values, and understanding are deep. Its setting is unusual– skeletons, death, the Day of the Dead seem uncommon in children’s animated films. Its depiction of Mexican culture is educational, colourful and varied. I think Coco‘s contribution to children’s storytelling will prove valuable.

Coco opens at cinemas in South Africa on 24 November 2017.

 

Wind River Portrays a Severe Snowscape

Wind River is a thriller set in the harsh, remote, snow-covered landscape of Wind River, a Native American reservation somewhere in the USA.

Image: Wind River Facebook Page

The story shows the few inhabitants, workers, police and the FBI battling against the elements, against the depravity of human nature, and against their own weakness and suffering. The main action revolves around the mysterious death of a young Native American woman. And it is this death that is supposed to form the message of the film. Native Americans, Wind River states, have been unfairly forced into locations like Wind River, and murders of these inhabitants often go unsolved, particularly those of young women. Thrown in amongst these locals is the resident and professional hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Renner is the drawcard for the film. He’s rugged and capable and acts well. The other main character is Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) an FBI agent sent to investigate the murder. In over her head she teams up with Cory, relying heavily on his local knowledge and hunting skills.

It seems counterintuitive to cast two white American actors as the main characters and heroes when a film is trying to make a statement about the sidelining of Native Americans. But perhaps this casting was intentional because without these character/actors the message might not have been noticed. Or maybe the choice of these two characters was supposed to underscore the liminality of the Native American people group. Regardless, the important theme that forms the backdrop for Wind River is put across too gently. It is largely drowned out by jittery story development but also by beautiful cinematography, well-drawn characters, good acting and the relentless and unforgiving environment.

I didn’t leave the cinema feeling sorry for the characters. I left wondering how anyone could survive in that freezing, pitiless climate.

Wind River is well worth seeing. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 3 November 2017.

Leaving a Literary Legacy

A Japanese Maple in the garden of Chartwell House. With Robyn Turton

As I walked to the post office on a sunny autumn day in London to send off some magazine competition entries, I was reminded of the film The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. This 2005 release starred Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson and was a lovely based-on-truth story about a mother of 10 who entered competitions and with her winnings saved her family from ruin. The difference between the luck-of-the-draw competitions I had entered and the ones Evelyn Ryan (Moore) went for in the 1950s was the skill required. Ryan needed to write clever, succinct jingles that were better than all the other entrants’ attempts. Judging by the number of times she won she was indeed very skillful.

My daughter and I watched the film on a mobile phone in an AirBnB in Canterbury, Kent. We had taken

The Wife of Bath & Robyn Turton. Which is which?

off a few days to visit this county and were pleased with the number of other skilled writers we had come across on our journey. The first, on our way to Canterbury, was Winston Churchill. We had visited Chartwell House, the WWII home of this gifted man. Apart from being prime minister of Britain and a decorated military man, Churchill also wrote almost 50 books and was an amateur painter. A tour guide at the house pointed out an interesting comparison. Adolf Hitler, too, was an artist and had applied to study at art school but had been refused. What if, posited the guide, Hitler had been accepted at art school?

In Canterbury itself we of course saw some reminders of the author of the famous The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer is credited with being one of the first people to write in English (albeit in Ye Olde English) and his stories are full of ribald humour and so are appealing today. Somebody who wrote in more ‘modern’ English several centuries later was Charles Dickens whose home was Rochester, another city in Kent. My daughter and I did a walking tour of this delightful old city where we saw landmarks that Dickens himself refers to in many of his works. These included ‘Satis House’ from Great Expectations (properly named Restoration House) and Rochester Cathedral which takes centre stage in Dickens’s unfished work The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

‘Satis House’ in Rochester, Kent

It was lovely to have walked in the footsteps of these real historic literary greats – from Chaucer to Dickens to Churchill. And as I strolled back from posting my luck-of-the-draw competition entries I pondered on The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, who herself – however different – left a literary legacy  of her own.

 

 

 

Appreciate Birds: Protect their Habitats

White-browed sparrow weaver nest

Pretoria/Tshwane is a big, busy city. On a recent visit there I stayed in a little apartment near TUKS (The University of Pretoria) and was delighted by the number of birds I saw. Right there in the heart of this bustling, lively place I saw white-browed sparrow weavers flitting busily in and out of a nest they shared with other sparrow weavers. The small commune they had built was perched right at the tip of a Leopard Tree which grew in the apartment gardens. On the same day I saw numerous other birds about their business. Bulbuls eyed out the resident cat, parakeets shrieked in the trees next door, sacred ibises hunched dourly by a water feature across the way, and red-knobbed coots pecked about on the bristly grass nearby. According to Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, the region’s bird list ‘currently stands at 962 species, of which 98 are endemic.’ What an astounding number. The reason for this high bird diversity, stated the book ‘is [the region’s] climatic and topographical diversity’.

White-browed sparrow weaver

Green parakeets hidden in the bushy trees, and beyond sacred ibis dotted in the foliage

But, of course, habitats are threatened by global warming, a sad thought when reflecting how privileged we are in Southern Africa to so easily enjoy this avian diversity. Just two days before my visit to Pretoria I had watched Al Gore’s latest film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. In it, Gore highlights how global warming is caused largely by man’s use of fossil fuels, and how renewables should be used instead for energy generation. Gore’s method of persuasion is political and moral. Science doesn’t form a major thrust of his rhetoric. This is a pity. Instead of being the story of Gore’s struggle to make the powerful accept the ‘truth’ about global warming, An Inconvenient Sequel could itself be much more powerful had it paired science with morals and politics.

Nevertheless, An Inconvenient Sequel does bring to the fore once again the topic of global warming and its destructive consequences. And this is good. Imperative. As I sat listening to the bird chatter above the traffic noise in Pretoria I hoped to be a part of a world that takes big, urgent steps to ensure that we still have a multiplicity of habitats and creatures to enjoy.

 

 

American Crime Season III: Makes You Think

I recently came across the series American Crime (season three) on DSTV. The onscreen blurb says ‘Created by John Ridley, producer of 12 Years a Slave’. Associating the series with that film implies that American Crime will make a statement about social injustice and provide food for thought. This is indeed the case.

The message in American Crime is simple and clear. It’s about exploitation in modern-day, Western America. Those exploited include immigrants to the USA (both legal and illegal), homeless American teens and housewives. The crimes committed against these groups include cheap labour, physical and emotional abuse, entrapment and sex trafficking. Groups and individuals who try to intervene and help are social workers, specifically Terri LaCroix (Regina King), one of the housewives Barb Hanlon (Felicity Huffman), and finally the ‘justice’ system. But each of these ‘helpers’ is imbued with their own complex, real-life pressures. The series shows them trying to help and then gradually buckling under their own personal difficulties until the ‘help’ becomes tokenism. It is interesting to see that three of the story lines involve people eventually compromising morally on their interventions for the sake of their own children (or unborn children as the case may be). The final scene of the final episode highlights how the overarching problem is the failure of the justice system against all the victims.

So, yes, you don’t have to think deeply while watching American Crime. But it does make you ponder. Examine situations similar. Wonder how people have got into the situations they have. The characters in American Crime are numerous, complex and very well acted. And the situations are difficult and multi-faceted, just as they are in real life. Without moralising American Crime lays out how injustice happens and how we might all contribute in some way or other.

Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter sums up a response to the television series well when he says: ‘Nobody ever turns off an American Crime episode and says, “Sure, that’s what John Ridley was talking about on the surface, but here’s what I think the episode was REALLY about…” But if Ridley has done his job, and he usually has, you turn off an American Crime episode and say, “What do I think about what just happened? How does what just happened make me feel and what can I do about it?”’ http://bit.ly/2wHkrqL