In Machine Gun Preacher, Gerard Butler is a drug-dealing thug who finds Jesus and promptly moves to the Sudan to help orphans and protect villagers from (remember Kony?) the Lord’s Resistance Army. There he has to apply his hard-won street-smarts to fight the gun-toting bad guys instead, knocking heads and blowing shit up along the way.
So, it’s not Shakespeare. But it is directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, World War Z) so the set pieces are bombastic and Germanically competent. In fact, aside from the ubiquitous “Africa-as-endemic-failure-which-only-a-white-guy-can-save” ethos and the queasy, semi-simplistic God-squad stuff, it’s fairly entertaining and even Gerald himself doesn’t come off as quite such a tosser. It filmed in South Africa, up north somewhere, so that’s a plus.
I’ve always said that living in South Africa is like being stuck in the pages of Gulliver’s Travels. Everything you think should be normal isn’t, and everything abnormal is completely taken in stride. In South Africa now apparently, well-organised, well-armed gangs of poachers have taken to hunting humans for their body parts. If these eyes and hearts and fingers and tongues are removed whilst the victim is still alive, they are supposed to make powerful ingredients in African witchcraft potions or “muti”. Honest. We live with this stuff. There are only so many Lilliputs and Brobdingnags you can deal with before it sends you completely loopy.
Muti murder is the unrelenting subject of the new SA thriller Night Drive, where handful of tourists stranded in the bush on a nighttime game drive realise to their horror that they are the ones being hunted….. It’s produced by my old colleague James Carroll, so three woops on that one. It looks blinking scary.
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.
OK, so one thing I hate (albeit marginally) more than Nicholas Cage is the typical South African “tell-not-show” movie that wags a P.W-esque finger at the audience as it lectures us about the ills of Apartheid. It’s lazy, simplistic filmmaking and it’s rubbish to watch. If I wanted Adult Education, I’d take night classes; when I see a movie, I want to be engaged, challenged and entertained. Which brings me to Jerusalema.
Shortly after the end of Apartheid, Soweto schoolboy Lucky Kunene (the excellent Rapulana Seiphemo) sadly acknowledges that the opportunities promised by the end of white domination are not going to simply materialise. Initially he falls in with a car-jacking syndicate but when things get a tad violent, he flees to Johannesburg and the inner city slum of Hillbrow. There he begins to pull off his biggest con yet – he hijacks a building. Yes, you read that right: a building. And it’s all based on a true story.
Jerusalema is a slick, funky tale, populated by well acted, three dimensional characters (mostly) and propelled by a rollicking South African sound track. The wreckage of the Apartheid system is clear for all to see, but this story is not ABOUT apartheid per se, and therefore it shows it rather than tells it. And it’s also why it rises above a lot of the other dross you might have seen to date.
Johannesburg looks great on film too, so kudos to the Gauteng Film Commission for supporting the marketing effort of the film. Although it doesn’t paint a particularly pleasant portrait of life in the City of Gold, Jerusalema compellingly reflects its vibrancy, dynamism and opportunity.
I saw another apocalyptic destruction of London over the weekend – the TV mini-series, Flood.
The only thing that kept me going was when my friend Victoria appeared carrying flowers from one side of the room to the other but (evidently) going nowhere very fast at all. You see, although the movie focuses on a fictional overwhelming of the London Thames Barrier by a high tide-cum-storm surge, it was partly filmed in South Africa. Which isn’t actually the reason it is so awful; that’d mostly be the fault of the plot/script. Thomas Sutcliffe cannot contain his derision in the UK Independent.
Though the storm surge was powerful enough to flick juggernauts aside like bits of popcorn, it was also sufficiently placid to allow Robert Carlyle to go duck-diving in the Thames to look for a lifeboat. Absolutely nothing made sense: in one shot, the city streets were gripped by mass panic and gridlock, in the next, Joanne Whalley’s daughters appeared to have been able to hail themselves a taxi, something that can be tricky even in light drizzle.