Movie Review: Sew The Winter to my Skin

Directed by: Jahmil X.T Qubeka

Starring: Ezra Mabengeza, Zolisa Xaluva, Mandisa Nduna, Kandyse McClure

Genre: Western

Vuvu rating: 6/10

“Sew the Winter to My Skin” (2018), which was put forward as South Africa’s Foreign Language entry to the 2019 Academy Awards, is a movie that uses classic western tropes and mythology to tell its story. The movie is set in 1940s Western Cape, South Africa, and tells the story of real-life John Kepe, known as ‘the Samson of the Boschberg’ who notoriously stole food and livestock from nearby farms until 1951 when he was convicted of killing a shepherd named Dirk Goliath and sentenced to death.

Director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka chooses to tell the story with minimal dialogue, leaving the narrative heavily dependent on visual clues and the musical score. Rather than focus on the life of Kepe, Qubeka focuses more on the myth and presents Kepe as a Robin Hood type figure who steals live sheep from the farm of Nazi-sympathizer and failing sheep farmer, Mr Botha, and gives them to his poor community.  The audience is treated to scenes of Kepe narrowly dodging bullets from white farmers in pursuit of him, hanging off the side of a cliff while carrying a sheep, and hiding in a well-kitted out secret cave.

Qubeka uses Kepe as a lens to tell the wider story of Apartheid and racial oppression. The movie explores the tensions between the white Afrikaaner farmers who are quick to use violence to cement their power, and the poor black communities near them who face the brunt of it. Kepe then emerges as a symbol of black resistance. The movie ends with Verwoed’s description of Apartheid as a “policy of good neighbourliness” and the stark irony of this quote is explored throughout the film.

The lack of dialogue can at times make the movie unclear. It also means that character’s motivations are unexplored, and they are left as two-dimensional caricatures. This is most obvious with Zolisa Xaluva’s depiction of the villain, who is a black man that carries out racial violence against other black people, and the women in the film, who are given little to do other than cry in pain.

While it is beautifully shot, the Western-style film sacrifices clear storytelling for flair which may make it inaccessible to many. It is also at times, quite violent given its 13 age restriction. Audiences who enjoy arthouse-type movies will greatly appreciate the layered storytelling, symbolism, and interesting cinematic techniques of this film.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sew the winter to my skin is South Africa’s entry to the 2019 Academy Awards
Photo: Provided

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Movie Review: Avengers Infinity War

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Vuvu rating: 7

Fans flock to see Avengers Infinity War.                                                   Photo: Sanet Oberholzer

Avengers Infinity War has left audiences aghast since it was released in theatres on April 27. The storyline breaks the familiar formula of many superhero movies and leaves the viewer with endless questions of what this means for the future of the Marvel franchise.

The movie is the culmination of all the previous movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the third of the Avengers movies and flows particularly from Captain America Civil War, Thor Ragnarok, and to a lesser extent, Black Panther. Essentially the movie can’t be viewed and understood without knowledge of the previous Marvel films.

As what was to be expected, Infinity War brings together most of the Marvel superhero cast – 27 characters to be specific – to fight the super villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) who has set out on a mission to collect all six infinity stones which have been referred to in previous movies. Together, these stones bestow on the bearer infinite power. For Thanos this means the ability to wipe out half of the universe’s population with the snap of his fingers in order to bring about what he views to be a “balanced world”. To him, this is essential to sustain life in an environment which is becoming increasingly limited in resources.

Captain America Civil War movie ended with the Avengers going their separate ways, while Infinity War sees many of them come together again to fight a common enemy – Thanos. Although Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) aren’t seen fighting alongside each other in the movie, the superheroes make a return on a quest to save the universe.

It’s the first time various casts of the MCU are brought together. Most notably, the Guardians of the Galaxy are introduced to fight alongside the Avengers as is the cast of Black Panther and Dr Strange. Following from the tone of the latest Thor and The Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the characters from these movies bring the comic relief. Spider-Man is introduced into a bigger role and officially becomes an Avenger. We also witness a few deaths of notable characters.

The movie did well in blending 27 different characters from nine different movies: The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther. It does a good job of portraying human elements of loss, loyalty and connection. It is the first time I’ve seen the villain showing elements of humanity and emotion which is something I feel contributes to the viewer’s understanding of his motives. The film makes a powerful statement about earth’s finite resources and while Thanos’s means don’t justify his end, with some thought you can understand his justification.

It’s already largely assumed that an Avengers 4 movie will be coming out in a year’s time. As with all these movies, there is a post-credit scene which gives a clue as to what is to come as Captain Marvel, the MCU’s biggest and strongest superhero, is introduced.

One possibility of the outcome of this movie is that the MCU will take on a new face into the future but I think the more likely scenario is for Captain Marvel’s upcoming movie, and possibly the next Ant-Man movie, to lead into Avengers 4. I cannot think that Marvel is likely to leave its franchise where Infinity War left off. Without introducing a spoiler, there is too much money to be made from various franchises that have recently been introduced; these movies won’t be dissolved now. To devastated viewers, this will sadly mean another year before we see where Marvel plans to take the MCU.

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Movie Review: Five Fingers for Marseilles

Cast: Vuyo Dabula, Kenneth Nkosi, Warren Masemola, Zethu Dlomo

Director: Michael Matthews

Vuvu rating: 6/10

Five Fingers for Marseilles has made history as the first South African western film and is due to premiere in the US later this year. It is the first feature film by South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) acclaimed director, Michael Matthews.

The film, which opened on April 6, follows five young friends who fight against the brutality of the apartheid era police officers in their small rural hometown, Marseilles. One of them, Tau (Vuyo Dabula) kills two police officers and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. After his release he returns to Marseilles to find that the rest of the five have taken up prominent positions in the community.  A new threat has taken control of the town forcing a reluctant Tau to band together with the five friends once again to save Marseilles.

The film explores themes of friendship and betrayal. It provides sharp social commentary on corruption, colonisation, and land, making it particularly relevant given the current land reform debates. It’s also a visually stunning film. Matthews emphasises the natural beauty of the town and rural Eastern Cape where the movie was shot, through sweeping establishing shots used throughout the film.

The movie takes easily recognisable tropes from western films and gives them a South African twist. The classic western saloon is replaced by a shebeen. There are fast draw shootouts, outlaws, and cowboy hats and riding boots which are worn next to Basotho blankets. The effect is a refreshing take on an otherwise outdated genre.

Five Fingers benefits greatly from having a strong cast and there are standout performances from Dabula, the lead, and the talented Warren Masemola, who brings much needed life and energy to the film.

While the movie is a visual feast, the story is lacking. The convoluted plot line is difficult to follow, making the film’s gory climax more confusing than emotive. The film also falls back on the lazy South African convention of pretending that language barriers don’t exist, so white Afrikaans speaking police officers are able to perfectly understand seSotho and isiXhosa that are spoken by other characters.

Perhaps the biggest sin of Five Fingers is its female representation. Lerato (Zethu Dlomo), is given substantially less screen time than her male counterparts, despite being one of the titular five. She is used as a catalyst for the main plot and then not given much else to do until the very end.

Despite its flaws, Five Fingers for Marseilles is a film to see if one wants something local and different.

FEATURED IMAGE: A poster of Five Fingers for Marseilles which is being screened at Cinema Nouveau at the Rosebank Mall
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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Movie Review: Room captivates audiences

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Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

 Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Vuvu Rating: 8/10

This emotionally complex film opens with the daily routine of the main characters Ma, played by Brie Larson, and her son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, who are imprisoned in a small soundproof shed that they call Room. Their captor is only known as Old Nick and ritualistically rapes Ma whilst Jack finds sanctuary in the wardrobe and dreams of an imaginary dog named Lucky. This tiny Room has been Jack’s entire world his whole life, to a point where he believes that there is nothing outside it.  A unique universe is created for the 5-year-old by his mother, where he personifies the only objects he has ever known inside the tiny room including bendy spoon, wardrobe, and egg snake. It becomes evident that there is a strong bond between mother and child and they keep each other going through the ordeal of confronting what lies beyond the locked door.

The film spends a long time inside the room, helping to create a feeling of confinement that resonates with the audience through the use of tight close-up shots and muted colours. This keeps the audience trapped in Room along with the characters and helps to make the desperation for them to escape even more compelling. The only reprieve being the glimpse of blue sky and rain drops from the tiny skylight.

It also highlights the different ways in which the characters experience the room. For Ma it’s a prison and an entire world that goes “all the way to the end” for Jack. The way in which she maintains a life as close to normal as possible is both reassuring and unsettling within this four walled prison. The Oscar-winning performance by Larson is raw and understated, and at times skirts on the edge of being exceptional. For his part, Tremblay gives an excellent and real portrayal with enough balance between emotional depth and the innocence of a child.

The child’s ability to find light in the world allows the film to show how the human spirit transcends adversity. Director Lenny Abrahamson manages to capture the childlike naiveté and a sense of hope in this film that can be likened to an allegory of growing up and leaving childhood behind.

The film has the ability to absorb you into the characters’ tiny world whilst keeping you on the edge of your seat praying they escape Room.

Nothing small about Oscar’s Short Films

With the 2016 Oscars behind us and the attention fixed on the Best Picture competitors, many of the brilliant short films nominated seem to slip by unnoticed.

Each of these films nominated for the Live Action Short Films category of the Oscars encapsulates a unique social issue or political within its narrative driven by the extraordinary lives of characters that manages to keep you captivated despite being less than a quarter of the length of your average film.

avia maria 2

 

1. Ava Maria – 6/10

The lives of Nuns in the West Bank who are in the middle of a vow of silence are turned upside down when a bickering Israeli family crash their car into the wall of their convent.

The 14 minute film mixes a comedic element into the strained and tense setting in a country at war. Some of the characters make use of caricature like the elderly mother in-law who is constantly arguing with her daughter in-law and the strict nun. The film is entertaining yet lacks the same riveting narrative of its competitors have.

Day one

2. Day One – 8/10

An Afghani interpreter for the US army is thrown  into the job on the first day when she must bridge the cultural gap and help the pregnant wife of a suspected bomb-maker. This story takes a refreshing look on the traditional American action films set in the middle east. It brings another usually unseen side to the tales and the complex issues of culture and tradition when two nations collide and is able to surprise and take unexpected turns despite its 25 minute screen time. This could easily be made into a feature film after the events leave the audience begging to know what could happen on day two, or three?

Shok

3. Shok- 8/10

Two friends in Kosovo find themselves in the middle of a volatile country at war during an occupation in the 90’s. The boys soon become involved in a dangerous situation that tests the limits of their friendship and could even threaten their lives. The film is based on true events and is a heart retching tale of friendship being torn apart by war.  Filmed in a grey palette that creates an effective atmosphere of the desperate times and the devastation that was left behind and using a bicycle as a central metaphor for the innocence and devastation of the time creates a successful and captivating narrative.

stutter

4. Stutterer- 9/10

A lonely typographer with a severe speech impediment is confronted with his biggest fear, meeting the object of his affections in his online relationship in person. This is a charming and humorous film with touches of romance portrayed in a quirky narrative that still manages to highlight the far reaching consequences of a stutter. The film is shot with extreme close ups of the main character that bring the audience into his thoughts and feelings along with his eloquent inner dialogue. The ending of the film is however reminiscent of every well rounded happily ever after romcom except for its long metaphorical moment of silence.  But you’re happy it does.

everything will be ok

5. Everything will be okay – 9/10

What starts out as a usual weekend were a divorced father picks his 8-year-old daughter, Lea, up for the weekend soon becomes anything other than the typical weekend visit when his plan unfolds. This film leaves the audience with a complex moral dilemma and is shot using a hand-held camera technique as well as makes the audience see things from the eyes of a child. The character of Lea is also expertly played by young actress Julia Pointner that far exceeds her age and helps to realize the conflicting emotions present in the separation of parent from child. The end of the film leaves the audience asking if everything will be okay.

Movie Review: Deadpool resurrects superhero movies

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Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin

Directed by: Tim Miller

Vuvu Rating: 9/10

The film is based on the Marvel Comic anti-hero mercenary Wade Wilson, played by Ryan Reynolds, who contracts cancer. Wilson is disfigured after being subjected to a tortuous experiment by villainous scientist Ajax, played by Ed Skrein, forming the scarred and indestructible Deadpool with his twisted sense of humour. Deadpool embarks on a quest to have the side effects of the experiments reversed in order to return to his fiancé (and stripper) Vanessa played by Morena Baccarin. What follows is a lot of gory action, flying bullets and a dark sense of humour never seen before in a comic superhero.

This is the ideal superhero comeback for Reynolds after his lukewarm portrayal of the Green Lantern in 2011 and seems to be a role written to all of the actor’s strengths. His portrayal of the rebellious character somewhat hints at Jim Carrey’s style of humour and physicality. The wise cracks are non-stop from the credits, where the filmmakers and crew call themselves “tools” and “asshats”, to the post credit scenes that poke fun at the audience for staying to watch them. This quirkier version of the tradition comic book films builds on the type of humour we are beginning to see in films like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy and takes it just a step further by finally bringing us the depraved super-hero we have all been dying to see.

Directed by Tim Miller the film takes notes from Quentin Tarantino’s infamous style of depicting violence with blood splatter flying across the screen and unexpected gore. The film also tends to say all the things you were thinking but were too afraid to say out loud. It manages to poke fun of its self and previous Marvel films whilst still keeping the audience immersed in the world of superheroes and mad scientists. What makes the film even more enjoyable is the throwback soundtrack that features classics from the likes of DMX, Wham and Salt-N-Peppa.

The only drawback of the film is that it is carried mainly by the lead character with minimal impact coming from the supporting cast. Like a rebellious cool kid the film is trying very hard to get the audience to like it and after making a record breaking $132.7 million on its opening weekend it seems that’s exactly what’s happened.