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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jock of the Bushveld

Look, I enjoyed writing this because, hey, rants are fun but I don't like coming down this hard on a film that is essentially a little indie film by a group of South African filmmakers who had the unenviable task of trying to compete with the big Hollywood animation studios. Still, I have to be honest and, frankly, if they disn't have the manpower needed to pull off this kind of CGI film in the first place, they should either simply not have made it or gone a more traditional hand-drawn animation route. In the end, though, weak storytelling is weak storytelling. It's not the worst film of the year in that there is nothing truly offensive about it but I literally can't think of a single thing about the film that was even remotely satisfying. 

With that wordy intro out of the way, on with the review. Just please note that this is my original, unedited version. Head on over to Channel24 for the edited - and somewhat toned down - review. 

What it's about

A retelling of the classic South African novel of the same name about the friendship between a young man, Percy Fitzpatrick, and his best friend, a dog named Jock, as the two set off on an adventure to find gold, encountering many adversaries on the way. This time, though, the story is told through the point of view of an anthropomorphic Jock.

What we thought

I can't say for certain if I ever read Jock of the Bushveld but, if I did, it wouldn't have been much later than primary school. Either way, though it is, of course, known to be one of South Africa's greatest contributions to world literature, I remembered next to nothing about the novel as I entered the cinema to watch what is only the second cinematic adaptation of the story to date. Now, I may not remember the book and I may not remember the 1992 live-action film that first took a crack at bringing Jock to the big screen but I know this: if the novel is anywhere near the classic that it is so often touted to be, it must surely have next to nothing in common with this train wreck of a film.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roundup of New Movie Releases for the Weeks of 15 and 22 July 2011

By this point, reviewing the latest Harry Potter film is probably a total waste of time but I have a few words to say on that and (almost) all the other films that have been released over the last couple of weeks.

First off, last week's films:

Like I said, there probably is no point in reviewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 because, while people who like Harry Potter will obviously be showing up in their droves for the finale, those who don't - yes, they exist - probably aren't going to drop in for the last half of the last installment. But, hey, I've always figured that people are like me and only really bother with reviews after they've seen the movies, so why not throw in my two cents worth?

HP7b is, in a word, terrific. It falters very slightly at the end with an epilogue that is unnecessary here as it was in the book and Voldemort's eventual defeat is vaguely unsatisfying but, these minor flaws aside, this is a stellar climax to a great fantasy series. It has exciting, well-shot action scenes; beautifully bleak cinematography; a rousing and memorable score and there are even a few twists and turns left in the series' final hours.   

All that said, though, the reason why this film is such a big deal to millions of Potter-fans is double-fold: the very real sense of magic with which the books and the best entries in the movie series are imbued and, of course, its characters. However much these later installments in the series have had an increasingly darkening colour palette, they have also displayed a certain sense of wonder, the kind of "cinematic magic" that only a select few Hollywood blockbusters possess. Most importantly, it also has a large cast of unforgettable characters, characters that happen to be played by a group of what turned out to be some very talented young actors, as well as what seems to be all of Great Britain's top actors. Fans have reacted emotionally to the end of this franchise as they say goodbye to favourite characters and it's easy to see why. Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest have been an omnipresent part of popular culture over the last decade and it's sad to see them go. It's hard to complain too much, though, as they go out with a very definite bang.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Now for a quick review of a pretty fun horror flick. 

From Channel24

What it's about

A married couple's idyllic life is thrown into turmoil when their young son falls into a coma but even as they try and deal with the fact that no one understands why he isn't waking up, they are confronted with increasingly malicious supernatural forces.

What we thought

Regardless of whether you find Insidious scary or not, it's nice to see a horror film that is neither a remake (Let Me In) nor another entry into the increasingly irritating “torture porn” genre (take your pick). Neither, for that matter, is it as mind-numbingly boring as Paranormal Activity 2, nor as pointlessly nasty as something like local slasher, Night Drive. It's especially cool to note that it is directed by none other than Saw director, James Wan, who is apparently as sick and tired of “torture porn” as the rest of us should surely be by now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Bang Bang Club: The Review

Yesterday, I posted a feature that dealt with the background and origins of the film. Now, here's my review.


What it's about:
Based on a true story, the titular Bang Bang Club was a group of four South African photojournalists whose willingness to do whatever it took to get the perfect shot often took a great personal toll on their lives and personal relationships and had them facing tremendous ethical dilemmas about what they were doing. It also meant, however, that they were responsible not only for some of the most iconic images to come out of those tumultuous years before the end of apartheid, but were also able to expose a civil war happening in South Africa that could have brought the country to its knees, but went almost unnoticed by white South Africans and the international community.

What we thought:

There is a lot to like about The Bang Bang Club and, yes, there are aspects that niggle, but it is a film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience – a South African audience, especially – as possible, simply because it tells a genuinely exceptional story. This is a film that not only gives us a greater understanding of the final years of apartheid and the shocking devastation of the Xhosa-Zulu civil war, but it also provides insight into the people who literally risked life and limb to bring the truth to light and the very definite toll that it took on them.

It is a narrative that provides fertile ground for a multitude of themes that will perhaps resonate most with media types but, considering that we are living in an unprecedented age of ease-of-access information and news, these are talking points that have never been timelier. The Bang Bang Club is a story that inevitably raises questions about the media's responsibility to convey the truth versus its responsibility to its subjects beyond "merely" reporting on them while asking just how far is too far in the pursuit of a story and measuring that against the nasty business of censorship.

INTERVIEW: The Bang Bang Club: Our dark history through a lens

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Bang Bang Club: The Feature

OK, it has been way too long since I updates this here blog but I should have quite a bit of material for you over the next few days, including a roundup of almost all the films released this week and last. But first, here's a feature article I wrote about the new South African/ Canadian co-production with some notes on the film's history and a number of quotes with some of the talent involved.

Check out the published article at with links and nice pictures and all but here is the original article that I wrote...

The Bang Bang Club: A Fresh Look At Some Familiar History And The People Who Captured It.

Based on the book of the same name, The Bang Bang Club tells an unfamiliar tale about a very familiar time in South Africa's history. The years leading up to the South Africa's 1994 general elections have been well documented in history books and films but those events have never been dealt with quite like this.

The Bang Bang Club of the title refers to a group of four photojournalists, working during South Africa's state of emergency, whose fearlessness to walk into life-threatening situations allowed them the opportunity to capture, in grim vivid detail, the shockingly brutal, government-stoked Xhosa-Zulu conflict that was happening at the time – to the total ignorance of much of the country, thanks to the government's mighty propaganda machine. As Lance Samuels, one of the film's South African producers put it: “I lived through that time... I lived literally ten minutes, fifteen minutes down the road from where this was happening and I had no idea what was going on.” Samuels is no doubt far from alone in his reaction to the events depicted in the film.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Win Win

Er... sorry about the delay but better late than never, right? Nope, I'm sadly not talking about the final Harry Potter film, which I still need to see and am unashamedly psyched for but here's the last review from last week's lineup. And it's the best of the lot too...

Win Win is the latest film from indie director Thomas McCarthy and if you're aware of his previous films (The Visitor, The Station Agent) then you should know what to expect here. If not, Win Win is as good a place to start as any.

The basic setup of the film is that Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer who sees an opportunity to make some extra money by becoming the guardian of a wealthy old man but, when the teenage son of the old man's estranged daughter turns up looking for his grandfather, Mike finds himself with a whole lot more on his plate than he could possibly have imagined. While trying to deal with this fractured family and his own financial problems, he becomes more and more involved in the life of this teenager who turns out to be a brilliant wrestler - someone that he could really use on the school wrestling team that he coaches on the side.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Something Borrowed

As promised, here are reviews of the other two films released this week. First up....

It would be all too easy to simply review Something Borrowed by throwing its title back at it and writing it off as a generic rom-com that borrows much of its story and characters from better examples of the genre. The problem is, though, that its unoriginality is, by far, the very least of its problems.

This story about a love triangle between two best friends and the man they both love is obvious, lazy and predictable and nothing in Something Borrowed displays any of the emotional poignancy - not to mention solid laughs - that might have elevated the material beyond its mundane plot. And, yet, that's almost besides the point. What really ends up sinking the film are those four smiling faces there on the left.

First, as Dex, the object of the two women's affections, insecurities and jealousies, is Colin Egglesfield, an actor whose pretty boy blandness somehow still fails to capture just how much of a non-entity his character is. The entire basis of the film is supposed to be that these two women are so drawn to this man that they're willing to betray their longstanding friendships and over whose love they are willing to make themselves miserable but Dex is so utterly lacking in charisma, personality and interest that their entire conflict is more likely to have you scratching your head than picking sides.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Of Cars and Horrors...

I don't know if it's a school holidays thing but once again we have new movies releasing on a Wednesday rather than the more traditional Friday. It's not even a question of their being world-wide releases because they have both been out for a while overseas. Plus, it's only two of the films that are being released early - one for the kids, one for slasher fans - fans of romantic comedies and, better yet, quirky indie dramedies are going to have to wait for Friday, I'm afraid. I'll have more on those over the weekend but here, for your reading pleasure, are my quick reviews of two solid sequels to films that didn't really need them. 

Cars 2 is a film that has gotten quite the drubbing from most critics and, considering the high standards that Pixar has maintained over the years, it's not exactly surprising - nor, for that matter, entirely undeserved. Cars 2 is a long way from the dizzying highs of the Toy Story films or The Incredibles, possessing little of the age-barrier-destroying emotional depth or innovation with which the Pixar brand has become synonymous. 

However, while this may well all be true, Cars 2 is not the first film to let the Pixar brand down and, while it may be near the bottom of the stack, it is not the worst film to come out of that exalted production company either. No, if wagging fingers are to be pointed anywhere it must surely be at the original Cars, a film that was not only lazily conceived but also seemed uncertain as to whom it was actually aimed. Its message of slowing down to appreciate one's life only really had a chance of striking a chord with older members of the audience, while its overly cutesy car designs were strictly for the kids.

Cars 2 may not have the cross-appeal of, say, last year's magnificent Toy Story 3 but it at least picks a target audience and sticks with them. The film keep its focus squarely on the franchise's younger fans and, ironically, by doing so, it becomes less likely to alienate adults at the same time. It is, essentially, a globe-trotting spy story for kids and taken purely on those terms, it actually works rather well. Unsurprisingly, the film looks beautiful with the rustic Americana of the first film giving way to a variety of European settings and the sweeping scope of the story takes full advantage of this, its greatest strength. The basic plot is notable only for its very heavy-handed alternative-fuel message but it keeps the action coming and, though the characters are variable and far too much time is spent on Larry The Cable Guy's Mater, it's much more of an ensemble piece than its predecessor. And it's hard to quibble when you have Michael Caine playing, well, anything really... but especially when he's playing a suave English spy as he (or at least his voice) is here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Resident

No roundup for this week's releases because there were only three new films released this week and one of them was the new Tyler Perry film that I happened to have missed. Also, there really is no point in trying to pick a best film for a week that doesn't even have a decent film, let alone a best one.

 The Resident is an old fashioned b-movie that, had it been headlined by less well known actors than Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilary Swank, it would have gone straight to DVD. And that's probably the most interesting thing about it. I have nothing against generic obsession-thrillers but, solid performance aside, The Resident goes right past generic and straight to lazy, banal and uninspired. The story about a young doctor who movies into a too-good-to-be-true apartment whose flirtations with the building's handsome landlord lead to something far less innocent is nothing we haven't seen before but the film's biggest problem is that it never once bothers to even try and deviate even a little from what we, as an audience, have come to expect from such a plotline. The direction is lifeless, the twists obvious, the thrills unthrilling and the whole film played it too safe and too sane to ever be any fun at all. Ah well, at least it was short.