I don’t watch a lot of feature length documentaries. Not sure why. Perhaps my attention span for such content doesn’t usually last more than the typical History Channel timeslot. But I’d been getting such rave reviews about Searching for Sugarman that I had to go. And I SO was not disappointed.
It’s a remarkable story in and of itself. A singer from the early 70′s, Jesus Xisto Rodriguez, is literally ignored in his home country – so much so that he ekes out his living as a day laborer and has been living in the same drafty Detroit apartment for the last forty years. Unbeknownst to just about anyone however, his music has struck a chord with a nation on the other side of the planet where, it turns out, he’s bigger than Elvis and has sold over 500,000 records over several decades. More amazing still is that when the man himself is found, he’s like a mystic, a humble, personable, completely unassuming aesthete. And when he gets on stage for the first time, in front of a screaming crowd of 20,000 people, it doesn’t phase him either. It’s just remarkable. A remarkable, compelling, personal, redemptive, human journey. These are indeed the days of miracles and wonder. I loved it. And yes, I cried.
It jumps from Detroit to Cape Town (looks great on film) and back, so the locations, whilst glorious, are not a surprise. I’d rather leave you with the music….. And yes, as a South African, it’s basically my patriotic duty to be a Rodriguez fan and know all the words. This one though is still by far my favorite:
OK, first a disclaimer: I admit to a certain personal bias in favour of Dredd 3D. It was the first film to shoot at the Cape Town Film Studios, which in turn was the very first project to cross my desk when I joined the Cape Film Commission over a decade ago. It’s also the first African production to shoot in 3D. And it stars handsome Karl Urban, who I randomly bump into often enough for him to think I’m a bit of a stalker. In a futuristic, post-apocalyptic movie that largely shot in studio, I thoroughly enjoyed playing “spot-the-location” as the occasional scene hopped from the Apartheid era treasures of the Civic Center and Artscape Theater complex, and newer spaces such as Greenpoint Stadium and the CTICC – all visible icons in this city. And spot the Seffers in the cast too.
But otherwise, is it any good? Well, I suppose so. Sort of. It’s not Shakespeare or anything, in terms of lyric drama, and there’s an inordinate amount of blood and bullets. But I thought it worked well enough for what it set out to do. Olivia Thirlby was surprisingly good as the sidekick. The balletic Mr. Urban is somewhat betrayed by a clunky suit and the helmet over his face throughout. So no Oscars for this one, but worth taking out on dvd. Oh, and I really hate 3D – it just dulls everything.
I liked Chronicle. Set in Seattle but filmed in Cape Town, it tells the low-key tale of three high school kids who are exposed to something alien that gives them super-human powers. The difference here is that not all of the three are particularly well-balanced human beings and they therefore deal with their ‘gifts” in very, very different ways. Sort of “Carrie-for-boys”.
Chronicle was produced by Film Afrika, and the special effects were driven by my old mate, the brilliant Simon Hansen, long time collaborator of Neil Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley. I’m hoping this is the huge public recognition Simon deserves.
Action-thriller Safe House was originally set in Brazil. Famously, the producers were so impressed by the stand-in capability of Cape Town that the entire movie was relocated to South Africa, with the Mother City playing her gorgeous, beautiful self. Plot-wise, it stars teary-eyed Ryan Reynolds as a CIA operative stuck in a dead end job watching a safe house in Cape Town. Suddenly he’s playing host to one of the CIA’s most wanted fugitives – the lip-licky Denzel (who’s very assured here.) But the safe house has sprung a leak and the bad guys are circling….. and any more would be giving away the plot.
Now as a viewing experience, Safe House is somewhat fun – the whole theater was a-murmur with “spot the location.” But the problem, as I came to realize, is that few things eradicate the suspension of disbelief quicker than a total familiarity with the filming location. There were for instance a few things that ruined it for me:
1. a very energetic protest march, with WHITE PEOPLE!! (would so NEVER happen that it’s virtually a jump-the-shark moment in the film)
2. A packed soccer match at the notorious white elephant Greenpoint Stadium, which has been used like twice since the FIFA World Cup and
3. a metro station (remember, it was written for Brazil.) We’ve barely got public transport.
So while the first twenty minutes are pretty fantastic, and an opening car chase is as good as anything you’ve seen in the last few years, that road layout of that chase makes no geographic sense whatsoever. I wonder if this is how Angelenos feel all the time? Anyway, whilst I enjoyed it, I guess the lack of consistency finally sunk me. Worth a view, but still a bit disappointing. Well done Cape Town, tho.
Consider me impressed. Safe House, the Lip-Licky-Denzel / Ryan Reynolds movie that screwed up traffic on Cape Town’s Western Boulevard over several weekends earlier this year looks like it was totally worth the disruption. Allegedly the producers had such a great experience filming in the Mother City, that they re-wrote the script allowing Cape Town to play Cape Town. And she looks great on film. Movie looks first rate too.
Still on a SethEffriken theme (will this joy know no abatement?) the new Judge Dredd film – with the understated if unimaginative working title Dredd – is currently shooting in Cape Town, starring the groovy Karl Urban (who so impressed in Red). Dredd is Africa’s first 3-D movie production and the first to use the Cape Town Film Studios, a precinct I was closely involved with whilst at the Cape Film Commission. But I digress…… Dredd is currently out and about, filming on location in the Mother City – and Live for Films has some pics.
This one is taken at the strikingly grotesque sixties Civic Centre. Check the African Hat. Anyway, LFF also includes a casting list from the film – check out the fairly specific racial requirements. How do you do that and avoid god-awful Hobbit-esque embarassment?
In The Last House on the Left, a group of typical Hollywood villains stumble into the isolated lakeside property of a group of typical Hollywood good guys. What follows next is arguably an astute treatise on the universal immorality of violence, reinforcing a message that violence, even when wielded for the purposes of good, still cheapens and dehumanises the perpetrators. Alternatively The Last House on the Left is just an expensive Hollywood snuff movie – purely voyeuristic pain-porn – designed to make the target audience of young men aged 18-25 drool and cheer as the flesh is penetrated.
Needless to say, I found it the latter. In fact, I only watched it, finger on the fast forward button during the gross and utterly gratuitous bits, because it was filmed in South Africa (I got a heads up on this when I bumped into man-crush Tony Goldwyn down at the shops, which is always a bit of a give-away over here.) So although I disliked the casual brutality and teen-cruel mentality of the film itself, I have to say, that once again Film Afrika pulled off the trick of making the Helderberg Nature Reserve feel exactly like somewhere authentically North American.
A couple of years ago, in the middle of the night, we were woken by the sounds of shouting in the streets outside our loft. Sounded unnervingly like a riot – which would be unusual but not entirely unheard of in South Africa, after all. It turned out to be a movie production, featuring people dressed like punk rockers attacking a large vehicle, right on the steps of elegant City Hall. (You’d think that South African producers would be a bit more fastidious about neighbour notification – I remember a few years back a movie filming a gun battle, at night, in the middle of gang-land, and they hadn’t notified anyone. Gang members came running…..)
It turns out the movie that woke me was Doomsday, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Rhona Mitra. It’s something of a bit of a dog’s breakfast of a film – Mad Max meets Braveheartmeets 28 Days Later. In short, it’s 30-odd years after a devastating Scottish plague, and the country’s been isolated ever since by its cynical southern neighbours. As a result, half the surviving population has gone feral, the remainder, medieval. And now a small team of scientists are sent in to find out what’s what…..
It’s completely inconsistent (cannibals in the midst of a massive herd of cattle) but all entertaining enough. (same director, Neil Marshall who made The Descent and Dog Soldiers, so not a surprise.) Rhona Mitra was good too. I thought the producers did very well to seamlessly merge the South African scenes with the Scottish ones; it was difficult to tell the difference. Wikipedia interestingly has the best stuff on how that was achieved.
As a Film Commissioner, I only ever went on set about three times (always too busy, and besides, you’re kind of in the way……) and when I did it was usually part of the whole dog-and-pony show, trying to impress upon legislators just how many jobs were being created by the production. One of those set visits was to Catch and Release, a dull little tale set in Boulder, Colorado (but mostly filmed in Vancouver) about a woman whose fiance is killed on the way to the wedding, and who subsequently falls for the dead guy’s best friend. The best friend was skinny Timmy Olyphant, who’d never really impressed me much previously but was, I have to grudgingly admit, absolutely spectacular in person.
I mention this because we saw Hitman last night. (OK, so you can clearly tell I’m on a roll when it comes to dodgy movies at the moment; we’ve really been packin’ ’em in recently.)
Hitman is based on that Playstation game, so there’s a lot of running up corridors looking over the top of someone’s head; the plot is basically gun-heavy and irony-light. Tim is bald, too, which is an unfortunate look. But I have to say I was quite impressed by some of the production values; it has the look and feel of a much more substantial film, and the sound track is reminiscent of the Bourne movies. So not too dreadful, all in all.
Hitman is set in St. Petersburg and Istanbul, but it’s filmed predominately in Bulgaria. Surprise surprise, though, the production’s second unit shot in Cape Town. Who knew? I’m now wracking my brains, trying to recall exactly which bits might have been shot here (the Niger scenes perhaps??……) and wishing I’d been paying a little more attention……