A Fight for the Soul of a Cape Flats Family

DIANE DE BEER

 

Jarrid Geduld as Abie
Time out – Jarrid Geduld as Abie

 

ELLEN, DIE ELLEN PAKKIES STORIE

(Afrikaans with English subtitles)

DIRECTOR: Daryne Joshua

SCRIPT: Amy Jephta

CAST: Jill Levenberg, Jarrid Geduld, Elton Landrew, Kay Smith

When Requiem for a Dream was released in 2000, it established a benchmark for movies dealing with addiction. But what has changed in the meantime is the way addiction manifests in specific communities.

Currently in the US they are battling the worst opioid addiction in their history, but back home specifically amongst the coloured community on the Cape Flats (and elsewhere) it is the scourge of tik that holds communities hostage. Theirs is a very particular and personal story because of the past, the history of where they come from and where they find themselves and the never-ending cycle of hardship with those in trouble ripe for the picking.

The Ellen Pakkies story is a familiar one and many will know the bare facts of the mother who in desperation strangled her tik-addicted son. But what Jephta and Joshua have achieved is to disembowel this family tragedy in all its horror. Set in Lavender Hill where it all happened with the community part of the story, Pakkies was involved with the script and stripped her soul to unravel the story of a son unable to deal with the tragedy of his life and then turning to drugs and away from the father and mother who would have given their lives to keep him safe.

Instead, they are the people he turns on, that’s what addiction does, and the people involved, both the user and those around the addict, are not equipped to deal with the fallout of their lives. In this instance, a mother’s past impacts on decisions made in the future and in turn infiltrates a family’s way of dealing with life. When tough issues surface, no one sees their lives spiraling out of control because the fall is fast and before they know it, lives are completely out of control and so often lost.

Pakkies parents in distress
Pakkies parents in distress – Jill Levenberg as Ellen and Elton Landrew as Odneal.

Pakkies knew how to battle the world. She had a battered childhood and was used to fighting her way out of trouble. But this time she would need help, and this is really the dilemma of these communities who are overwhelmed by drugs and the culture that comes with it. Just this week the police again released murder statistics and the highest are gang-related.

With these devastating numbers prevalent on the Cape Flats, the individual families dealing with the addicts have nowhere to turn. The system is inadequate, and they are left to their own devices which is how they got into trouble in the first place. The well has run dry.

But when disaster strikes, people turn on those who aren’t able to cope. That’s the story that is being told and that plays out in these communities’ time and again with no hope of change. What empowers the Pakkies story is the script, the clear direction and dramatic performances from the three main characters that tear at your heart. Levenberg’s Ellen and Geduld’s Abie, the out-of-control son, were awarded best actress and actor prizes at the recent Silwerskerm Fees as a result.

Jarrid Geduld as Abie1
No way out – Jarrid Geduld as Abie

It is their crystallising vision and sensibility that add texture to the work. Watching Abie turn from a promising scholar with a future to someone whose every breath is focussed on the drug that feeds his life, is traumatising. From a loving teenager he turns into something rather than someone as the drug dehumanises every move he takes to ensure a continued fix from day to day. We all know the devastating effects but to watch it happening in front of your eyes is harsh and the only way to deal with that reality.

Levenberg’s Ellen is a tiger mom who goes on the prowl to defend her son. She is determined to fight for his soul but while she and husband Odneal (Landrew in another heartfelt delivery), are in the fight for their son’s life, the outside world turns its back. Turning their home into a prison to keep their son out, having lost most of their possessions, their nights turn into terror as the drug makes their son a thug who devastates them to feed his habit.

Ellen, die Ellen Pakkies Storie is not easy to watch especially because we think we are familiar with the reality of what is happening around this addiction, but with a smart script and direction, Levenberg, Geduld and Landrew tell their story of pain with a poignancy and punch that forces audiences to engage.

Unique Stories Told With Exuberance Delightfully Dominate 2018 Oscars

DIANE DE BEER

The big thing about this year’s Oscar movies is their individuality – the way they have taken sometimes obvious themes and done something quite unique and extraordinary with them.

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When I first saw an interview with director/writer Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell on the now disgraced Charlie Rose show, I knew this gloriously named movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was going to be a movie to watch.

South Africans who haven’t caught a streamed version yet, will have the chance to see it now and glory in everything this movie manages to capture – from innovation to creativity to acting excellence. It’s something to revel in.

Take McDormand in two of her biggest roles, Fargo and Olive Kitteridge, two completely different women both perfectly portrayed by this amazing actress who just gets the idiosyncrasies of her characters. And she does it again with this fierce and forceful woman who is not going to stand on the side-lines while the bumbling police force try and catch her daughter’s rapist-killer.

It’s her little girl and she will get her day in court, it’s the only way she knows how to deal with her grief. It’s the time for women and this film is feverishly pitched even though it came into being before the Weinstein fiasco exploded like a tsunami around the world.

Bolster McDormand’s performance with that of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harreslon and Caleb Landry Jones as well as a full cast of delicious minor characters and you’ve hit pay dirt.

McDonagh has already proved he is someone special and once again he shows that he tells unusual stories in unexpected fashion completely in touch with the zeitgeist. How could you not truimph with this story and these actors? It’s almost a no-brainer and fortunately worked out that way. The uniquely voiced McDonagh knows how to pull it all together magnificently.

That’s true about a whole clutch of movies marching to the Oscars with loud and amazing fanfare this year.

Such a pity that Sally Hawkins is matched with McDormand this particular year. Guillermo del Toro has created a fantastically fey female for this appealing actress with eyes that speak volumes – and they have to in this one. What perfect casting!

It’s also a perfect match teamed as she is with Octavia Spencer, the fiery protector of her whimsical colleague. This all plays out in a setting that the visionary director has masterfully carved out in colours that slip out of a storybook.

It has a monster, magic and a musical sequence that truly sings as does most of the movie in memory mode á la Del Torro who is finally receiving the credit he is supposed to. If you want to be transported into another world and time far away and beyond, don’t miss The Shape of Water.

Get Out

Paying tribute to horror movies but with a specific message in mind, Jordan Peele’s Get Out cleverly and with cunning finds a way to get the masses going to the movies for a sharp critique on racism. They did this without broadcasting it – and once they’re in the cinemas, it’s too late to get out!

It’s masterful with a great performance by the latest young, black lead Daniel Kaluuya (he with the eyes to match those of Hawkins). He innocently marches into a swamp of whiteness that has found its own methods to completely enslave those who are unwilling. It’s smart stuff as it plays with a world in denial even when confronted with #BlackLivesMatter.

Lady Bird

And while I didn’t think Lady Bird has quite the smarts that Juno had a few years back – it plays it a little safer –  it has opened the door for the well-deserved Greta Gerwig. She should approach it more boldly the next time now that she has been given the keys.

This is a homage to her hometown and a time viewed with nostalgia. Kudos to Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf who know how to tell the story of the wilful daughter and determined mother who attempt to allay each other’s fears of stepping into new lives.

I, Tonia is another unexpected take as you are invited to recall the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan tale of competitive ice skating gone terribly wrong. Instead you’re confronted with a story of class and how certain people are not allowed through the door when they live on the wrong side of the track.

Not only was Harding the first woman to complete a triple axel in competition (something we understand now with the Winter Olympics in full swing), she was also a skater with individual flair precisely because she didn’t have all the normal accoutrements so part of this icy world. Figure skating was not meant to be for this young girl, it didn’t matter how good she was.

Margot Robbie as Tanya Harding and Allison Janney as her chilling mother have both received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, which are well deserved. It is the way they tell the story of the two people who most ruffle the feathers of those who reign supreme in the ice rink.

These are but a few of the best examples of how movies compete with what is currently out there. At no time previously has the scope of those watching been this extravagant and exuberant and if you want to find an audience in today’s noisy entertainment space, it had better have a strong hook.

Stories still matter and the way they are told is what has the most impact and will find an audience. Check these out whether they’re Oscar winners or not.

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens at Ster Kinekor today while I, Tonya, Shape of Water and Lady Bird are all still playing in their cinemas.

Why Marvel’s Long Awaited Black Panther Is A Movement

Kgomotso Moncho-Maripane

(Guest Writer)

 

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Okoye (Danai Gurira), the General of the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda, who are personal protectors of the Black Panther. ©Marvel Studios 2018

My black people and I had been eagerly waiting for February 16, 2018 since the trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther and the date for its world premiere were released last year. I’d even prayed that I don’t die before then, that’s how epic this film is to us.

Since then Black twitter had been planning their African futuristic outfits for the premiere and went as far as to warn that we would be loud in the cinemas.

South Africans especially would not be able to contain their excitement due to the presence of local hero, Dr John Kani, his son Atandwa and fellow local actress, Connie Chiume in this blockbuster film.

Kani is responsible for isiXhosa being adopted as the official language of Wakanda, the fictional home of the Black Panther and a country in Africa. Adding to the nostalgic, novel delight is seeing the Basotho blanket of neighbouring Lesotho forming part of the vibrant costumes which also draw from Zulu and Maasai traditional wear.

And then there’s the inclusion of South African artists such as Babes Wodumo; Yugen Blakrok and Sjava in the Black Panther soundtrack, produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar.

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Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) with the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda. ©Marvel Studios 2018

One of the main things that Black Panther gets right is the representation of Africa in an authentic way and it’s clear how South Africa had a hand in making that possible. Where a Hollywood film like Coming To America failed in its stereotypical view of the continent that perpetuates the ignorance and the single story of Africa, Black Panther makes up for in its research and consultation. It thus captures subtle nuances without trying too hard and imagines a futuristic African country that is not far-fetched.

Wakanda is a self-reliant, technologically advanced African country that has not been colonized and if you consider the iron mining technologies of Southern Africa’s Iron Age in Mapungubwe, this may not be so hard to imagine.

Kani, who’s been the African mouthpiece for the film leading up to its worldwide release, captures beautifully the impact of the vision of this film below:

“The movie is going to deal with the myth that if the white colonialist did not land in Africa, we’d still be walking in skins with spears chasing each other. It’ll prove we built the pyramids in Egypt….that the Zimbabwe ruins were built by us and that the cradle of human kind is in Southern Africa. So this is one time where African people are shown at their fullest potential – where they’re able to travel to space and back with incredible technology. So for us, there’s a bit of seriousness about this movie.”

And even though in reality there’s no way Africans can go back to a pre-colonial state as Frantz Fanon said, Wakanda represents the Africa of the future and of our dreams.

There’s a global shift that is happening right now spearheaded by creatives that addresses issues of representation, looking at the black experience and how it’s portrayed; to stories of marginalized communities such as the LGBTIQ. This movement can be seen in brilliant films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out; Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight and a series like Oprah and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar.

Locally there’s the powerful film, Inxeba; the indigenous language plays that the Market Theatre commissions and the black casts we’re starting to see more of in musicals, telling black stories like The Color Purple on right now at the Joburg Theatre and Tsotsi the Musical.

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T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).©Marvel Studios 2018

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fits into this movement because it’s about a black superhero. That’s a big deal to any black person, hence this huge excitement globally. There’s so much joy, fulfillment and validation that comes with seeing yourself represented. And this speaks to the power in being seen.

That the Black Panther is black American has helped build a bridge between African Americans and Africans in the continent and the diaspora that brings us closer on a spiritual level. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album, To Pimp a Butterfly – which made him a voice of a generation due to how lyrically he encapsulates the black American experience – was inspired by his South African tour.

Lamar said that being in South Africa made him realize how black Americans don’t aspire to Africa when being here gave him his “I made it” moment and more. In the film the battle between Black Panther and the villain, Killmonger, plays to that dynamic where it is in fact black America that needs Africa and not the other way round.

It’s a powerful idea that connects us and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Black Panther premiered in Black History Month.

Art has the power to change perceptions. In this case it is perhaps Hollywood’s own perception of Africa that needed to be altered. Black Panther is not just a movie, it’s a cultural, political moment.

I’m going to see it again and a few more times.

  • Black Panther is showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Thing You have to Know: This is not the last Jedi…

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Pictures: Lucasfilm Ltd.

 

DIANE DE BEER

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran

RATED: PG-13

RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs 32 minutes

 

I am not your target audience for Star Wars, in fact, it even surprised me when I enjoyed the last one as much as I did. This time round, I was determined to see it in the best way possible and decided to opt for IMAX.

That’s a good move. If you’re not your average junkie, but interested in  the franchise, pay the money and see it on that gigantic screen. It engulfs you and with this kind of running time, that’s what you need. It will cost you with 3D glasses, tickets and the obligatory popcorn and coke but it’s worth the money – on occasion.

Cinemas are losing their appeal as the best option to catch the latest Hollywood has to offer. Competing with everything that moves and expected to pull out the stops, that’s not always the case. There’s no accounting for audiences.

And those on cellphones who decide to catch up with all the news while watching a movie are always going to be around. As are kids in movies that aren’t going to hold their attention. Fortunately the overwhelming sound experience of the IMAX helps to obliterate some of the human irritation always around in crowds.

Right from the start as the predictable script starts running as if right in front of you as is the IMAX sensation, you know that director Johnson, a newbie, has safe hands and heart.

But what really drives the story is the cast: from Carrie Fisher’s appropriately grand final farewell in a movie that brought her worldwide fame and honoured her right to the last quite magnificently, to Mark Hamil’s prominent performance paying homage to the beginnings of the series to the young rebel crew with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Oscar Isaac bravely and buoyantly carrying the light sabers and manipulating those frisky air machines.

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Unflappable Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)

They are the ones who held my attention, especially Isaac, an actor who is perhaps much more comfy in his Hamlet persona than a gung-ho pilot who knows he can safeguard anything, but also Ridley and Boyega fulfill the promise engendered in the previous Star Wars episode.

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran
Diversity dazzles: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran

Diversity, almost by-the-way as it should be, plays a huge role, with black, white, Chinese all strengthening the rebel force. If that’s what  the new generation brings in our divided and fearful world, that’s a huge plus. I know it’s just a movie, but it is one that exerts huge influence and pulls diverse crowds – if it can do some social engineering among the audience along the way, that can only be a plus. Strength in numbers is always how to battle a world that refuses to see the obvious.

Star War fanatics are at odds about the humour introduced in this one with Minion-type creatures chirping their way throughout the story, slightly at odds with the rest of the film, but more worrying is the time they feel they need to fill to get this story across. It means repetitive fight scenes and diminishes the drama that is part of the franchise.

It’s just way too long – even with these kinds of special effects. and even on the big screen.

But was it a complete waste of time? Absolutely not. It’s the kind of movie I want to see on IMAX and it’s an end-of-year kind of film. You don’t want to be miserly and be too nasty. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s Star Wars after all and we know what to expect.  This is a new director with a cast that delivers brilliantly. Yes the special effects and the many machines are magnificent, but the actors really save the franchise.

When I still want to go out to the movies – apart from the NT Live (theatre and art) and Opera series which is a no-brainer and will always have my patronage – this is the kind of spectacle which shimmers in this kind of setting.

Humanity the winner in Dunkirk

By Diane de Beer

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DUNKIRK
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

 

Recently watched Cries from Syria on the Sundance TV channel on DStv (still available) followed by Dunkirk on IMAX (best way to see it) and I was struck how all these years later, the war – whatever shape it takes – remains the same.

If only it was shoot and kill, at least you would be gone and the suffering would be over. It’s not that easy. And as to be expected, it is usually the innocent, those who didn’t want this or see it coming, that pay the highest price.

The Syrian story, still ongoing and getting worse after five years and counting with the Syrian leader whose appalling regime started all this, going even stronger albeit without a livable country and less than half its people, tells the horror.

In Cries of Syria, a young boy (perhaps 8 years old) reaches what he thinks is a place of safety after he has fled his country following years of hardship and fear of dying, crossed the seas with a 50 percent chance of drowning, and stayed in a kind of clearance camp before moving further on foot to find refuge.

He finally reaches what he thinks is perhaps a haven only to find what he describes as the following: “They threw bread at us as if we are dogs!” Eight years old and at the end of a journey crossing half the world to find somewhere safe – and that is what he finds?

All this while the world is watching and talking about the refugee crisis. These are real people being affected – on a daily basis. Not even a toddler’s body discarded by the sea on a beach make a difference.

Perhaps then it is easier to look back at a Dunkirk with the focus on individual stories but also heroism as people go to the rescue of their countrymen in the face of great personal danger.

It was an extraordinary time and because of that, the director wanted to hone in on what it was like to be there. It’s not about huge fighting scenes or masses of people (all 400 000 of them) waiting to die, gathering on a beach with nowhere to go.

He didn’t want to make use of CGI or as little as possible. He wanted it to be up close and personal so that you could experience not the bravado of wars but the intensity, the fight for survival and life. Similarly to that young boy waiting to be fed after years of battling simply to survive.

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Fionn Whitehead personifies the struggle for survival

He does have the big names but someone like Tom Hardy playing a fighter pilot for example sets off in a plane at the start of the film and then disappears off the screen until right at the end. Kenneth Branagh as the commander, Mark Rylance as the brave boat owner who takes off for Dunkirk to save as many soldiers as he can with the unknown Fionn Whitehead as the young soldier battling for his life, are the few faces we get to see more of.

Yet Dunkirk is not about the actors, who in fact get very little time to speak. It’s about the stories, the way war works, the savagery of thinking you have survived only to be tumbled into yet another crisis which has to be overcome.

Nolan has made many films, most of them in different genres, and he knows what he’s doing whether you’re a fan or not. With this one he set out to tell a very particular story and probably we take from it where we come from and who we are.

We live in a world with not only vicious wars being waged but nuclear battles being threatened by two power-drunk men. This is when we have to ponder the results achieved of those fighting their battles in this way.

Those young men on the beaches didn’t ask to be there at that particular time and whether they fought well or valiantly didn’t define their lives. For each one of them it was probably about getting out at the end – some do and others don’t.

So when given a choice, we shouldn’t turn our heads, we should talk rather than feed that war machine that rules the world in so many ways.

Dunkirk confirms that message in many different ways.

PS: Saw Hokusai, a documentary  of the British Museum exhibition, Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave at Brooklyn Cinema Nouveau, which my sister had just been to see at the British Museum.

Filmed in Japan, the US and the UK, Hokusai focuses on the work, life and times of Katsushika Hokusai, painter and printmaker of the Edo (Modern Tokyo) period. Hokusai is regarded Japan’s greatest artist, who influenced Monet, Van Gogh and other Impressionists.

It was amazing and the cinema quite empty (which isn’t always the case when the artist names are perhaps more familiar) But again I was reminded of this extraordinary privilege we have with these screenings on artists and their current exhibitions.

Similarly for the NT Live theatre productions which allow us to see the latest work at London’s National Theatre or the Young and Old Vic, the Donmar and others.

Check it out. And watch those screening times. These are short runs but all worth seeing. It is as close as you will come this far away to see people like Helen Mirren and Judy Dench on stage while the play is still running in London.

The next screenings to watch out for later this month in Cinema Nouveau around the country is Renoir – Revered and Reviled from August 26; and the theatre productions of  Angels in America Part 1 (starting August 19) and Angels in America Part 2 (starting on September 2).