Afrikaans romcom sets the bar higher


I am not a fan of Afrikaans comedy, despite Afrikaans being my home language. The Schuster slapstick, musical wish-wash I have come to expect fromt his genre has left a bitter taste in my mouth. Not so with the new film Semi-Soet (Semi-Sweet) though. This film – which is being touted as the first romantic comedy that follows the Hollywood formula in Afrikaans – has a surprising amount of wit and romance.

Following their critically acclaimed, very serious independent feature film, Discreet (2008), husband and wife producers/actors Anel and James Alexander decided they wanted to do something a little more fun and do it in a vernacular language.

Workaholic, ambitious Jaci (Anel)  will do anything to prevent the advertising agency she works for from being taken over by a ruthless businessman dubbed “The Jackal” (Nico Panagio of Survivor-fame).  Her only hope is to land a big advertising deal with an acclaimed wine farm. But, the snag is the client wants someone who represents family values and who is in a long-term relationship. So, what’s a single girl to do? Jaci hires a gorgeous model to pretend to be her fiancée for a few hours, not knowing he is actually “The Jackal”.

To further complicate matters, Jaci has to pitch her campaign against that of her ex-fiancé, Marcus (Paul du Toit), who is now engaged to a ditzy blonde, Madri, who is well played by Diaan Lawrenson (the equally ditzy blonde, Paula, in 7de Laan).

The plot is a familiar, predictable one – exactly what a moviegoer would expect from a regular Hollywood romcom. It has all the right ingredients:  girl meets boy, obstacles stand in the way, the relationship hits a snag but love prevails in the end. It works for the Americans and it works here as well.

What makes Semi-Soet refreshing is that the humour is endemic to South Africa and it is encouraging to see this kind of movie being made in Afrikaans. The script is witty and tight, and the filming, slick and professional (no sense of it being filmed in someone’s backyard with their mother’s handy-cam). The comic timing of the scene in which the couple is chased across a farm by a pig had me in stitches.

Semi-Soet is easy-going, fun entertainment that hopefully sets the tone for a more intelligent kind of Afrikaans comedy.

To listen to my interview with Anel Alexander and her husband James (who produced the film), click here


Director: Joshua Rous

Cast: Anel Alexander, Nico Panagio, Corinne du Toit, Paul du Toit, Diaan Lawrenson

Rating: 3½ out of 5

Superhero diaries

What would you do if you had a superpower? Would you honestly go the comic-book hero route and embark on a selfless and lonely journey in which you try to rid the world of all evil?

These are the questions posed by the science fiction film, Chronicle, the directorial debut of Josh Tank who co-wrote the story with Max Landis.

In the story, three teenagers, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) and Steve Montgomery (Michael B  Jordan)  stumbled across an unidentified “thing” in an underground cave. Their interaction with it, gives them powerful telekinetic powers. The trio do what any normal adolescents would do: they experiment and get up to as much fun (but harmless) mischief as they can. In a phone interview, Tank told me he did not want to make a cliché. “I wanted to make a movie that explored superpowers in a more stripped down way, a human way where the main characters, instead of being led by some kind of a moral conviction, are led by their curiosity.”

Most of the movie is filmed in a slightly shaky, handy-cam style by Andrew from whose point of view the story is told. This isn’t the grainy-looking footage of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal though. The camera is high-quality and Andrew has natural talent.  “I wanted to make a movie that felt like a personal documentary but to approach the challenges of not just making it into any kind of POV gimmick that we’ve seen rise in popularity over the past 10 years. [I wanted] to create a film that realizes the first person aesthetic but at a certain point transcends this and becomes more cinematic.”

To listen to my full interview with Tank click on this clip

Or to listen to Alex Russell talk about how it was filming in South Africa click on this link

But, things cannot and never stay the same when power is involved. Andrew, who was the odd one out in the group to begin with, develops his powers faster than the other two. While Matt and Steve have always popular at school, Andrew is bullied and ridiculed. While he chronicles their escapes, he tells the others that the camera is a barrier between him and the outside world.

But, now he is able to fight back when his drunkard father beats him or when a driver hoots at him. He uses his power to channel years of pent-up rage and begins to lose control. Matt’s attempts to lay ground rules so that they do not use their powers to harm others have no effect on Andrew, who seems to become drunk on his new-found abilities.

The film digs much deeper than most Marvel-style comic-to-film adaptations and explores the psychological effects of gaining a superpower.

The cinematography and special effects are slick. When the teens take to the sky it’s as vivid and clear as any sky-diving footage you have seen. Chronicle was filmed in Cape Town but the film is set in Seattle, Washington and it is hard to recognise anything about the Mother City.

The film has receive wide critical acclaim and is a very worthy first effort by Tank.

Director: Josh Tank

Cast:  Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B  Jordan

Rating: 4 out of 5

Magical Marilyn

It’s 1956 and the world cannot seem to get enough of a certain voluptuous, platinum blonde singer-actress. With one smile, one wink, one laugh, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) can charm virtually anyone.

Desperately wanting to be seen as more than a bombshell, Monroe travels to England to star alongside the great British thespian, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh,) in the film, The Prince and the Showgirl. She arrives with her newly-wed third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), amid much fanfare, with crowds jostling to get a glimpse of the most famous woman in the world.

But, the cracks quickly begin to show. The Hollywood star struggles to perform, constantly showing up late for filming, unable to remember her lines and, between Olivier’s ridicule of her “method acting” approach and Miller’s decision to return to New York, she has several emotional meltdowns.

The observer to all this is the naive Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year old Oxford graduate who uses his family connections to get a job as an assistant on the set, and the film, My Week with Marilyn, is based on his memoirs from this period. Clark, whose puppy-eyes follow Monroe everywhere, pays no heed to advice that the actress tends to reel in wide-eyed lovers on every film set, just to spit them out again. He becomes the Hollywood superstar’s “go-to-guy”. He seems to be one of few who can calm the actress during emotional outbursts, coax her out of her room onto the set and convince her of her self-worth long enough for a line to be filmed.

What follows can hardly be called an intense love affair, but rather a romantic entanglement which is mostly wild fantasy on the part of Clark and a sideline flirtation for Monroe. Nevertheless, Clark is allowed a brief glance at the woman behind the mask, at the childlike, confused Norma Jean, who has never quite been able to shake off her insecurities. Director Simon Curtis depicts Monroe as being very aware of her two personas. “Shall I be her?” she asks Clark during an outing, before she starts strutting and blowing kisses to a group of adoring fans.

The film is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of Monroe’s character or life. In fact, it offers only glimpses of these but this does not mean the movie is a trifle. It simply means it’s charming rather than intensely emotional.

The film explores Monroe’s vulnerabilities as witnessed by Clark. She desperately wants to be taken seriously when everyone sees her simply as a sex goddess. Referring to the tension between Olivier and Monroe, Clark says “He is a great actor who wants to be a film star. She is a film star who wants to be a great actor.” But, a great price must be paid for fame. Monroe, for all her beauty and success, is portrayed as a little girl in a woman’s body, who uses alcohol and prescription drugs to drown out her inability to cope with a life-long rejection by men.

Williams finds herself in the role of her lifetime (thus far, at least). She isn’t exactly a dead ringer for Monroe, but this is irrelevant. She manages to produce an affably husky, breathy voice reminiscent of Monroe’s, but, it is in William’s body language that she manages to captivate. The doe-eyed glance from beneath long lashes, the pouty red mouth, and the child-like giggles: Williams captures these flawlessly and it is this which makes her a strong contender for the Best Actress Oscar. She does a fine job at showing Monroe’s struggle with self-esteem, her desire to matter and to be loved.

In one of her most famous songs, Monroe sings, “I want to be loved by you, just you, nobody else but you.” But, the love of one was never enough; what Marilyn really wanted was for everyone to love her. She craved acceptance and needed constant affirmation, making her an all-consuming individual. But, she was awe-inspiring at the same time. As Olivier watches the rushes of “The Prince and the Showgirl” he cannot tear his eyes away from the screen and later, in real-life, he calls her performance “wonderful.”

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench

Rating: 4 out of 5