Thursday, 31 March 2016

With a View


The new independent drama film by Lenny Abrahamson begins like most independent drama films: we’re given glimpses of someone waking up, of their immediate environment, of them starting out the day; we’re introduced to them with the small, bland details of their everyday life, accompanied by the appealing lilt of piano and strings; there’s a child, prone to cutesiness, guilelessly leading the camera around his corner of the world; and, not insignificantly, the adult in focus is played by Brie Larson, who lugged home an Academy Award for this performance a month ago.

But something is out of joint: the child – who looks like a girl, but is really a boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – seems poorly acquainted with the concepts of being outside and what one may find there; he and his mother, Joy, can’t go out to buy the candles for his birthday cake; and every moment of their day takes place inside their small, crudely furnished room, which must be bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and yard to them.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Emptiness of a South African Adaptation

“Happiness is a Four-Letter Word”

From what we’re shown in Thabang Moleya’s new film, I might judge that that four-letter word is “skin”. The writers seem to have surveyed their source material – the 2010 novel by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, unread by me – for all scenes in which they could free their actresses from sleeves, shoulder straps, knee-length skirts, and backs of clothing; and their actors of tops altogether. Tongayi Chirisa – playing Thomas, the fiance of Mmabatho Montsho’s Nandi – spends little time in more than just a pair of shorts, and the other men (whose specific identities are difficult to discern from the film’s IMDb page) don’t keep much warmer. And in a scene with her lover, we witness Khanyi Mbau (playing the forlorn rich wife Zaza) stripping down to thigh-high stockings and scant bright pink underwear, while being tossed about the comfortable living room of her half-naked fellow adulterer.

To say the film deals with sex is too simple – these characters’ lives move beyond their bedrooms. Well, so do their sexual pursuits, but these don’t take up the whole story. To say it deals with love is to miss the mark – the love Zaza has for her husband (and her lack of it for her lover) is a matter of course; Nandi’s love triangle connecting her fiance and newly rich ex-boyfriend is not a choice between two passions or affections (in fact, I’m not sure what it’s a choice between nor why she struggles to make it at all); and the time spent on Princess’s (Renate Stuurman) rather sad tale is more about the tragic circumstances of her romance than about the romance itself. To say the film deals with friendship would just about do it – the director struggles to connect the scenes of each of the three women in their individual sagas; but in the scenes where they’re together, he manages to prop the film up and leave it standing for a minute or two.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

We Were Promised a Queer Superhero


Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former mercenary, who’d intimidate and rough up individuals varying in their placement on the nastiness scale from a pimply Facebook stalker to hulks of sinew and grit that even Vladimir Putin would hesitate to face down. Faring somewhat successfully, Wade’s career is, however, cut short, not by a tough target or loss of limbs, but by the adroit escort Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), with whom he joins in amatory congress. This, too, is tragically forestalled: Wade is found to have cancer in an advanced stage, and, willing to take large risks to extend his allotted lifetime and spend it with Vanessa, elects to undergo an underground experimental regenerative mutation process to cure it. This is administered by Dr Ajax (Ed Skrein), and does the job, but also severely scars his entire body. For fear of how Vanessa would react to the sight of him, he never returns home, and leaves her to assume he has died. The film’s beginning finds him in furious pursuit of Ajax, anxious for his scars to be healed so that he may face her again.

From the opening seconds of the film – when the audience is introduced to cast members such as a “British villian” and the customary token “hot chick,” or crew members such as “ass-hats (the producers) or an insufferable tool (the director) – audiences are informed that Deadpool is not conventional Marvel Comics fare, with their quasi-religious solemnity and partly mythical air of drama and grandeur that has absorbed so many of us these recent years. It derides the formulas and expectations typical of the superhero genre (while conscientiously fulfilling those expectations, in rather a neat little trick); it boasts of its daring and freshness in breaking Hollywood’s stifling boundaries (by introducing the first film protagonist in Hollywood history who swears, draws blood, and enjoys sex); it smacks of its self-congratulation for the innovative idea of breaking the fourth wall (which, it may have failed to notice, was done just the other day in a leading establishment production: a best picture nominee, no less); and, quite egregiously, it reneges on its promise of Hollywood’s first queer superhero.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Bold and the Beautiful

“Knight of Cups

When I first saw Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in cinemas in 2011 – as I was first developing my notion of cinema as an art form, and long before I’d even thought about writing about it – I felt that it was everything a movie should be, and that it had surpassed the boundaries of everything I had previously thought a movie could be. It was the first time I had realised the possibility of images conveying meanings and ideas independent from text; and of performance, setting, speech, music, light, composition, and film editing imparting an entire story and evoking far-reaching experiences free from the literary (i.e. non-cinematic) constraints of a script. I was deeply shocked and vastly moved by the experience of that film – of the discovery of a new film language and a new knowledge of what can be caught on and revealed by the camera. Two years later I came upon the even higher beauty, and even more breathtaking revelation of his film To the Wonder, and it was through my ardour for these two movies – along with a tight fistful of others – that I was moved to begin writing. This blog and the thoughts you’ll find speckled across it are the fruit of a devotion that, though gestating for a short while before it, was birthed by my encounter with Malick. Among filmmakers, he has contributed the most significantly to my idea of cinema, and has nurtured my most tender affections for it. Any problems you have with me can be taken up with him.

Knight of Cups is a continuation of the artistic promise first conveyed in the critical and commercial success The Tree of Life. It has also, rather unfortunately, been met with the same sharp disappointment and frustration shown for To the Wonder by critics and audiences alike – not excluding my own friends that I dragged with me into the theatre for both the 2013 feature and the 2016 one (although I have read a few poorly articulated Instagram reviews both defending and attacking it). The Tree of Life was so widely loved because many viewers (including me) felt an immediate and surprising affinity with the childhood it evoked, despite biographical differences (it centres on a childhood in Texas in the 1950s). As many who wrote about it expressed, Malick had delivered such a deft and strangely familiar portrait of childhood that audiences couldn’t help feeling that “the film was about me”; “I was those children in the movie.” The reason we should be even more enthusiastic about Knight of Cups is that it’s so utterly not about each of us – it’s so deeply rooted in and fundamentally defined by the individual consciousness at its centre – while declaring the possibility of what might be made of each of our own lives. Every sound and image is one both caused by and contributing to the identity of the main character, Rick (played by Christian Bale). As the literary critic Harold Bloom maintains, we view art because we can’t know enough people in our lives, nor undergo enough experiences to enjoy the full blessing of Life. We must supplement what we have with the creations of others, and if that creation is distinctive enough, it can count towards the additional living figures within our own consciousnesses.