Festive Season Viewing

Two festive season films releasing today in South Africa are: Ben is Back and Mary Poppins Returns. The former is for adults, the latter suitable for the whole family.

Far from sentimental, Ben is Back explores some of the difficulties that this time of year can bring. Ben (Lucas Hedges), a drug addict,

unexpectedly turns up on his family doorstep on Christmas Eve. While his mother, Holly Burns (Julia Roberts), is very happy to see him, it is obvious that Ben’s sister (Ivy – Holly & Ivy …) and stepfather are far from happy to see him. Ben has caused problems for his family on previous Christmases. After a heated debate the family agree that Ben can stay for just 24 hours – but only if he remains under his mother’s watchful eye for every minute. Thereafter he must return to rehab.

What could go wrong? Predictably, everything does go wrong after Ben goes out in public and has a run-in with former druggy friends. During the fraught 24-hour period that follows viewers get to see the really grim aspects that go with drug addiction: guilt, desperation, crime, lying, remorse, weakness, drug dealing, family love and pain, and even death. The final scene of the film gives a double meaning to the film’s title ‘Ben is Back’. The acting is good. Julia Roberts is especially believable as the loving, tough mother, prepared at once to distrust and to believe in her son. A very good, if sobering ‘Christmas’ film.

Mary Poppins Returns – although not specifically about Christmas – is nevertheless a lovely film that families will enjoy watching during the Christmas holidays. Emily Blunt plays Mary Poppins.

In the original tale based on the book by P L Travers, Mary Poppins arrives unannounced to help the Banks family. In this sequel, Michael and Jane – who were children in the first story – are now grown up, and their parents are dead. Michael is a struggling artist who works in a bank, and is a widower with three children. Jane has followed in her mum’s footsteps and spends her time attending workers’ rights rallies. More than that Michael and Jane seem to have inherited their parents’ absentmindedness and ineptitude. It is the children who are pragmatic and mature. Nevertheless, they are just children and the imminent repossession of their family home is a big problem. It is at this crucial time that Mary Poppins floats down from a gloomy London sky and sings her way into the family. With each song she teaches the children life-empowering lessons and once they have learnt and grown she quietly leaves again.

There is lots of bouncing, flying, floating, adventure, and entry into other worlds. The characters encountered, and the songs Mary Poppins sings, teach the children how to look at things differently, how to use their imaginations, and how not to take things at face value. These life lessons are a little different to the typical Disney message ‘believe in yourself’. They’re more realistic.

Mary Poppins Returns follows very much the same formula as the first Mary Poppins story and may be a little boring in parts to modern viewers. Emily Blunt is just perfect as Mary, though: prim, very self-assured, poised, beautiful and melodious. Mary Poppins Returns is a lovely film with which to end 2018. And the lessons learnt are worth taking into 2019.

Happy viewing this festive season.

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Who Was…?

Who Was William Shakespeare? This was the book – of all those on the display table – that attracted me most. I headed through the groups of businesswomen and picked it up. Who Was William Shakespeare? by Celeste Davidson Mannis, I read on the back cover, was part of a series called ‘WhoHQ’, and published by Penguin. Just next to the WhoHQ books on the table was a number of ‘Classic Football Heroes’ books. Out of these ones I recognised the name ‘Rooney’ and picked it up. I was so interested to see history-cum-biographical books aimed at primary school/early teen children that I bought them both (the former for R95, the latter for R135) and took them home to read.

Who Was William Shakespeare?, I learnt, is a clearly well-researched book about this famous playwright. It discusses in chronological order Shakespeare’s early life, family, and career. At the back of the book are two timelines: one for Shakespeare’s life, the other for historical events that took place during his lifetime. The book essentially uses these two timelines and posits theories as to how historical events may have influenced why, when and how Shakespeare wrote his plays. Not much is known of Shakespeare’s personal life and this method of using history to explain why/how he may have written The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III and MacBeth, for instance, makes a lot of sense. The story is fascinating and because of its simple style, eminently accessible. I highly recommend it as a teaching tool and a way of instilling in children a love of (Shakespearean) literature in years to come.

Rooney, I was told by Janine O’Connor of Books & Books, was part of a series aimed at young teen boys. Many youngsters have football heroes and love playing football themselves. But they may not like reading, she explained. Rooney (and others in the series) was a way of giving these youngsters something they would like to read. Rooney is a great story about the rise of famous footballer Wayne Rooney who played for Everton, England and then Manchester United. Sentences are short and the story positive and exciting. At the end of the book is a list of ‘Great Moments’. After being drawn in by the fast-paced storytelling I looked up these Great Moments on YouTube and enjoyed watching some of what I had just read. Like Who Was Shakespeare? I can recommend this issue of the Classic Football Heroes to reluctant readers. I feel sure they will be drawn in by a topic that fascinates and a style that thoroughly engages.

Contact Janine O’Connor, Books & Books, admin@booksandbooks.co.za to purchase copies.

 

Juke Box Hits

Jukebox Hits is a fun musical currently showing at the beautiful Rockwood Theatre at Sibaya Casino, just a few kilometres north of the Umhlanga CBD. The venue is a supper theatre and guests can either bring or order their own food. Drinks can only be purchased within the theatre.

The term ‘jukebox’ became popular in the 1940s/1950s or thereabouts and referred to a coin-slot machine that played music records. The most popular songs were played over and over. Jukebox Hits takes its cue from this idea and performs songs that were popular in the 1950s (with Elvis Presley), goes back to the days of swing in the 1930s, and then forward through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Favourites include items from Queen, Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, and even some opera from Josh Groban. There are plenty of costume changes, a very accomplished band, and absolutely standout performances by vocalists Janine Cupido, Riyaan Cornelius and Percy Smith.

It’s important to have explained the above as the show does not, of course, contain only jukebox hits – but hits in general. Without some explanation the title could be misleading. The opening night of the show was a little lacking in atmosphere and polish. It felt stilted and performers ranged in their delivery from excellent to not so good. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out, as the concept and the potential for slickness is there. Jukebox Hits runs until 2 September 2018.

Book here: https://bit.ly/2NjNgBr

 

 

The Big Sick Majors on Relationships

The Big Sick is a partially biographic drama about a relationship across cultural

barriers. Kumail (played by himself, Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani Muslim living in the USA. He is a taxi driver and aspiring comedian whose family expects him to become a lawyer and marry a good Pakistani girl. But Kumail continues to pursue stand-up comedy, and he starts a romantic relationship with Emily (Zoe Kazan), a white American girl from a fairly traditional family. Conflict ensues.

On the one hand it is Kumail’s own ‘Americanisation’ that clashes with his family’s traditional demands regarding culture, profession and religion. On the other, when Emily becomes gravely ill and is put into an induced coma, the battle moves to that between Kumail and Emily’s parents. In the latter scenario the white American prejudice against Middle Eastern Muslim is brought to the fore.

The Big Sick is told from an American perspective. It is free choice and self-actualisation that wins out in the end. Score for Westernisation. But, equally, in this film shallow American prejudice against ‘the other’ is subverted. A typical view of fanatic Muslims is undermined, mostly through the use of humour. For example, when Kumail is sent to the basement to do his ritual prayers he watches videos instead. And when Kumail’s mother banishes him from the family for pursuing a forbidden relationship, she struggles to keep up her angry façade, sending him cookies while at the same time refusing to speak to him.

The best part about The Big Sick is the relationships. That between Kumail and his family (which remains loving and gentle despite the differences), between Kumail and Emily (which is a bantering, natural relationship), and between Kumail and Emily’s parents (in which humour breaks down the barriers). The real feel of the Kumail/Emily romance may be because the story is biographical.

The Big Sick is a warm, funny, humanly complex and very watchable film. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 6 October 2017.