The Lady in the Van is sweet, but a little unrealistic

lady in the van

Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd and Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Photo: Cinema Nouveau.

An elderly woman, Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), turns up in a suburb of London and parks her old van in the neighbourhood street. Obviously a tramp, and obviously on the run for a crime, Miss Shepherd lives in her van and becomes the talking point among the neighbours. She forms a fairly close attachment to one Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and eventually moves her van into his driveway. Alan is a writer and appears in the film as two persons: one who lives his life and the other who writes about his life. Whilst the kindest towards Miss Shepherd of all his neighbours, Alan nevertheless has his limits and his two selves argue about how to handle the old lady.

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The beauty of a human life portrayed in Fruitvale Station

A review by Brenda Daniels.

Based on actual events, Fruitvale Station is the story of 22 year old Oscar Grant. He was shot in the back by police during an altercation at the Fruitvale train station, California, in the early hours of 1 January 2009. The killing was captured by other commuters on personal cameras and mobile phones. Protests and a court case ensued with the guilty police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

This film humanly retells what happened but it also provides for the audience a glimpse into the life and person of Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B Jordan). It does this roughly by bracketing two New Year’s Days – one in 2008 and the other in 2009.

In 2008 we see Grant being visited by his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), while he is in prison. In 2009, or rather New Year’s Eve 2008, we see Oscar as a free man talking to his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who is making New Year’s Resolutions.

The conversations and events that take place on these two days serve to paint a picture of the multi-layered human being that Grant was. A man with a criminal past, infidelity and unreliability – yes. But also a man with a cherished four year old daughter, a man who loved and relied on his mother, and a human being with warmth and thoughtfulness.

The importance of this film, I believe, doesn’t lie in the dramatisation of the real events. Its value lies in the telling of the story from the point of view of a young black man. From Grant, to his family, colleagues and friends, to even a flash of talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, on TV, the main characters in this film are black. White people appear only on the periphery; even the police officers who appear on the station platform at the end seem faceless and vague looking.

While the emphasis on black to the exclusion of white in Fruitvale Station is obvious I don’t believe this film is about race. It’s simply about showing that Oscar Grant, like many others before and after him, wasn’t just a name in a newspaper report. He was a much-loved, and mourned, human being. His life, as well as his death, should not be forgotten.

Fruitvale Station is currently showing at Cinema Nouveau cinemas in South Africa.

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station (Source: Creative Commons) 

The life of Pompeii is preserved in Pompeii Live from the British Museum

A review by Brenda Daniels

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is the filmed version of an exhibition set in the British Museum. The exhibition is titled Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and displays fascinating archaeological pieces unearthed from these two ancient Italian towns. The exhibition is “live” in the sense that a number of experts are interviewed at the museum where they explain the various exhibits.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is not to be confused with the recently released Pompeii – a film currently on circuit in South African Ster Kinekor classic theatres.

So, just how thrilling could a film based on an exhibition be, you ask. Well, I think the subject of the exhibition is the draw card here. Pompeii is famous. In AD79 Mount Vesuvius erupted in spectacular fashion, engulfing this Roman-Italian town in 300 degree Celcius larva. The town was completely buried and partly uncovered only in modern times. Much of what was uncovered was recognisable and has therefore given twenty-first century citizens a glimpse into what life was like in that part of the Roman empire some 2000 years ago.

What the filmed exhibition does is breathe life into the archaeological items on display. So, real life – and people – in Roman times begin to emerge with the explanation of pieces of jewellery, cooking equipment, an intact loaf of bread, wall murals, street  signs and rooms in houses and public houses.

Herculaneum, a nearby but less well-known town, was also devastated by the volcano. Items shown from this town include wooden furniture turned to charcoal by the unimaginable heat.

My own interest in Pompeii began years ago when I read a historical fiction account of the event. I was amazed at how advanced a culture the Roman’s was. And then, in 2012 I visited Pompeii itself and saw firsthand a Roman road, complete with wagon wheel ruts, a brothel, a Roman baths and of course human bodies “frozen” at the moment of death.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum makes a very important point. The archaeological sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum are in danger of not being preserved. The experts in the documentary all agree on one thing: preserve what we have before digging for more.

I hope this film creates an awareness that will go some way to helping preserve this amazing piece of history. Of life.

The documentary releases in HD at the four digital Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa – Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The exhibition will be screened for four shows only: 22, 26 and 27 March at 7.30pm and 23 March at 2.30pm. The film runs for one and a half hours.

 

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road.  (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)
One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

 

Streep is brilliantly awful in August: Osage County

A review by Brenda Daniels

August: Osage County is a story about relationships. Relationships within a family and a group of close friends. It is set during a stiflingly hot August in Oklahoma. A hot, dark, airless house. A story of three parakeets, subtropical birds used to heat, who died in the house. Both house and birds are symbols of heat, a theme that pervades throughout the action.

The film, based on a play by the same name, stars Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, the powerful, unlikeable matriarch of the Weston family who is dying of cancer. Right near the beginning of the story Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing and is found dead, having committed suicide.

This precipitates a gathering of the family – three daughters and their families/partners – and close friends. The rest of the film depicts the characters’ faulty inter-relatedness and their dysfunctional lives.

Streep is brilliantly awful as the mother, wife and friend who proves to be the antithesis of what her role demands. She is harsh, confrontational, abusive and mean – the product of a hard life – exhibiting a toughness that has helped her survive thus far.

She turns that toughness onto her family, testing each one in turn to see if they can “stand the heat”.

All three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) suffer their mother’s cruel tongue, but it’s Barbara who seems to be the strongest and therefore most able to withstand the barrage of abuse.

Roberts is good in this serious role, although there are times when her angry outbursts seem too staged.

As the action progresses family secrets spill out and each character’s struggles are revealed. This kept me engrossed and thinking right to the very end and beyond. More than that, it was the multi-layered, complex characters and how they related to one another that held my attention.

A meaty, thought-provoking film, August: Osage County releases at Ster Kinekor Classic Theatres countrywide in South Africa on Friday 14 March. It carries an age restriction of 16L.

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

 

Hairstyles show deeper meaning in American Hustle

A review by Brenda Daniels

American Hustle has been nominated for Best Picture and various other awards for the upcoming Oscar ceremony on 3 March, so I went along to the South African preview to see what all the fuss was about.

The film, set in New Jersey in the 1970s, tells the story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two meet and become lovers and then, posing as a Briton with “banking connections”, Sydney helps Irving take his underhand dealings to a new level. Caught out by FBI agent, Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), they are lured into an even bigger world of crime in an effort to catch dirty politicians and the mafia red-handed.

Cooper brought a certain manic amusement to his role as an agent determined to make it big and I enjoyed this. The hoodwinked politician, Mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner, had a certain endearing vulnerability to him, and Irving, convincingly played by Bale, had a soft side to him, exhibiting patience with his dumb wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and affection for his young son.

The film opens with Irving working on an elaborate “comb-over” hairdo, and most of the characters sported hairstyles that required some work. This aspect seemed to mirror the characters’ fake lifestyles, and highlighted their weak efforts at, now and then, wanting to “be real” with each other.

Apart from these mildly redeeming qualities the characters and action in American Hustle are relentlessly seedy.

It was hard, and in fact quite boring, to enjoy a two-hour film that gave no interesting message, showed no characters I could identify with enough to care about, and provided no relief from the dirt. Whilst I don’t like the 70s era with its iconic clothing, music, coiffeurs and American mobsters, there are viewers who do. They’ll get plenty in this film.

American Hustle opens at Ster Kinekor in South Africa on 28 February. It carries an age restriction of 16LS.

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Gravity and Captain Phillips to be re-released

For those who missed Gravity or Captain Phillips on the big screen here’s some good news from Ster-Kinekor:

With the film awards season in full swing, the Oscar nominations announced and the potential winners being widely debated, Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau are giving movie lovers another chance to catch some of the multi-Oscar nominated titles that were released towards the end of last year.

Both Gravity and Captain Phillips are being re-released to give audiences an immersive cinema experience to appreciate fully the emptiness of space and the vastness of the ocean. Both films are being re-released on Friday, 31 January at select Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau cinemas nationally.

Gravity is being released in 3D at Ster-Kinekor Sandton City in Johannesburg and Cavendish Square in Cape Town, while Captain Phillips will be re-released at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Bookings will open today Friday 24 January.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or call Ticketline on 082 16789.

Captain Phillips

 

Gravity's leading lady, Sandra Bullock.    (Source: Creative Commons)

Gravity’s leading lady, Sandra Bullock. (Source: Creative Commons)