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.


T2 Trainspotting: A True Sequel

Trainspotting the movie was screened in 1996. Twenty-odd years later, in 2017, T2 Trainspotting was released starring the same character actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller. The story in this second film is a true sequel, set realistically 20 years after the first one. It explains why Renton (Ewan McGregor) ran off with the money he did all those years ago, depicts Simon’s (Johnny Lee Miller) and Begbie’s (Robert Carlyle) reactions to that event and to Renton’s return to Edinburgh, and how the comical-looking Spud (Ewen Bremner) comes to write ‘wee stories’ that evolve into the book Trainspotting (written by Irvine Welsh). Important themes in the first story are flagged in the second, many giving plausible reasons for why the characters turn out the way they do; things such as the scene with Begbie’s drunken father, and character deaths (baby Dawn and Tommy) in the first story. In this regard the sequel is clever and very satisfying. It ties up loose ends in a neat conclusion.

The present-day story in the sequel is also believable, depicting the characters speaking in Scottish accents and experiencing some of the same old struggles with politics, money, crime, drugs, environment and relationships, albeit in a changed Scotland. I read the book Trainspotting last year and struggled through the Scottish dialect and stream-of-consciousness-type writing. But this style, combined with a mix of hilarity and serious issues, made for a compelling story, and the style is well-replicated in T2 Trainspotting. True to the book, the characters’ vocabulary in this film is swimming in expletives – but only at the beginning. The opening lines are used to set the scene and then the swearing thins out, making for more palatable viewing.

I did find the reliance on the past in T2 Trainspotting a bit irritating and got bored with the ‘good ol’ days’ theme. The film is not a standalone and viewers would need to know the original story to fully appreciate the second. The film is entertaining, though, and is very well acted.

T2 Trainspotting opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 24 February 2017.

Amy: my opinion about her has changed

Amy is the opening feature of the European Film Festival which will be screened at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa from 6 to 15 May. The first screening is tonight at 08.30pm.

2007 MTV Movie Awards - Show

Amy Winehouse performs “Rehab” during 2007 MTV Movie Awards – Show at Gibson Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

The documentary uses what looks like amateur footage painstakingly put together to present a sympathetic portrait of the singer. Scenes shown stretch from that of a little dark-haired girl, to a happy, chubby-cheeked teenager, through to the final sad image of a small, lifeless body being stretchered into an ambulance.

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Just light-hearted fun in 22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street is the sequel to 21 Jump Street and like the first movie, it stars Jonah Hill as Schmidt, Channing Tatum as Jenko, and Ice Cube as Captain Dickson. At the start of this film we see that police operations have moved to new premises – number 22 Jump Street, a reconditioned church.

In 21 Jump Street, inept police partners, Schmidt and Jenko, were sent to cover a case at a high school. This time, mean-looking Captain Dickson sends the pair undercover at a local university. Here they have to uncover a drug ring and the reason for a mysterious death. The two don’t seem to have improved at all and find the guilty parties, quickly, but as if by chance.

Most of the action revolves around Schmidt and Jenko settling into their undercover roles. Schmidt as a geek and part of the alternative arts group, and Jenko as (no surprises here) a talented football player and part of the ‘in’ group. This causes friction between the friends and they fall out. It’s only their real love for police work (such as it is) that brings them back together.

There’s lots of action, funny moments, exaggerated stereotyping, unfortunate relationships and even a surprise baddie at the end. Ice Cube is good in his role as the frustrated – and then furious – Captain Dickson. No life changing messages in this film – just light hearted fun.

22 Jump Street opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 20 June.

22 Jump Street, sequel to 21 Jump Street releases in South Africa 20 June.

22 Jump Street, sequel to 21 Jump Street releases in South Africa 20 June. Photo: Creative commons

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in costume for the promotion of 21 Jump Street when it first came out in 2012. Photo: Creative   Commons

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in costume for the promotion of 21 Jump Street when it first came out in 2012. Photo: Creative Commons


Hope in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

A review by Brenda Daniels

When I heard the title of this film I thought it must be an animated feature or a children’s film. And it does open with a 13-year-old boy sobbing at receiving an “F” on a school paper. But, no, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, is a sobering story of how two young boys survive a summer holiday in a very real, difficult, adult world. It carries an age restriction of 16DL.

The story starts at the end of school term with the main character, Mister, having a bad day. He’s told by his teacher he’ll have to repeat Eighth Grade. When Mister gets home, his drugged-out mother gives him a “benefits” card to go and buy food. The card doesn’t work. Worst of all, Mister is lumped with nine-year-old Pete, a neighbour whose mother is absent.

Mister’s mom, Gloria, also absents the scene after she is arrested for doing drugs. Desperate to stay out of a juvenile facility, the two boys, left alone, dodge the police and do their utmost to make it through until Mister’s mom returns.

Different adult characters people Mister’s world, from the dim-witted man on the corner, to an aggressive store keeper, an unkempt war-veteran beggar, a sympathetic friend of his mother’s, and a loud hoodlum. All play an important part in advancing the plot. At one point one of them tells Mister that the boy will, inevitably, be caught by the police. Mister looks up the words “inevitable defeat” in the dictionary. It is these words that played out in my mind as Mister and Pete fought a losing battle against poverty and the realities of life in an underprivileged part of Brooklyn.

I was constantly aware that there would be no miraculously happy ending in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.  It seems surprising, then, that the film is not depressing. Or hopeless. And I think it’s because the action is seen through the eyes of a child. So what’s important to Mister is failing his English paper; having to babysit a too-young Korean boy (Pete); auditioning for a part in a play. All this, together with the school scenes, left me wondering if The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete wasn’t just a child’s “story”. But juxtaposed with the all-too-real adult world of drugs, crime, prostitution and struggle, I realised it couldn’t be.

And I think that’s what director George Tillman Jr wanted to achieve.

Skylan Brooks as Mister and Ethan Dizon as Pete act superbly. And their developing relationship of love and respect is touching to watch.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is an intelligent, interesting film. It opens at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on Friday 6 June.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.