Leon at the MoviesLeon van Nierop
Leon van Nierop: Delightful romance to chase away soccer blues, slow-moving political drama and a director who doesn't know when to say "Cut".
Letters to Juliet (Nu Metro)
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Gary Winnick
This film has it all: A gorgeous cast, striking settings, a captivating story, dazzling romance and a hint of Romeo and Juliet. It concerns the lovely Sofia (played by Amanda Seyfried) who is on the brink of marrying a gourmet chef, Gael Garcia Bernal (who seemed to have a great time playing this part!) He, on the other hand, seems more interested in culinary delights than in his bride to be. They visit Verona where Juliet of Romeo and Juliet fame was supposed to have lived and she makes her way to Juliet's famous balcony.
There she gazes at the balcony, only to discover a letter written by a smitten young girl, Claire, 50 years ago. Sofia answers the letter and to her amazement Claire, now 70 years old (Vanessa Redgrave) writes back and flies to Verona. This is how she meets the old lady's handsome but uptight grandson (Christopher Egan). Together they go on a search through one of the most picturesque parts of the world in search of Claire's Romeo. You can imagine what happens!
Several critics have already noted that the story is as predictable as your mom's milk tart recipe, but that is why you go back for more, isn't it? Because you know what you're going to get and you want more! You never grow tired of that recipe. The same applies to this superb and fascinating romance. Even though the story is manipulated and the outcome a foregone conclusion, it is an absolute joy to see. It is the journey and the warm, fuzzy feeling that the film leaves behind that is so striking and makes it such an adorable piece of filmmaking.
If you're cynical, then this one is not for you. But if you are unashamedly in love with romance and have the urge to see a fascinating and illuminating tale, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, told in an exotic location with a dream cast and an energy that is infectious, this one is definitely for you.
It is strongly recommended as an alternative to those who do not watch soccer.
End Game (UIP)
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, William Hurt and Jonny Lee Miller
Directed by Peter Travis
Although political dramas aren't popular in South Africa (filmgoers mention that they see enough chaotic politics on television and in newspapers), this is still a film of note. Perhaps it is good to, occasionally, reflect on the past and discover how fragile our peace process was and how privileged we are that a civil war didn't break out. This makes you appreciate what we have at the moment, imperfect as it is, even more. And that is why the film is worthwhile.
This well-structured drama concerns a British businessman who managed to get Thabo Mbeki and the ANC to agree to informal talks with some major political role players in 1989, a time when South Africa was in a difficult and dangerous place. The film is about what happened during those discussions and how former enemies managed to find a common goal which was important enough to initiate major peace talks. This finally led to the release of Nelson Mandela.
Although the pace is leisurely (some might call it slow), the film manages to keep the viewer's attention, even though we now know what the outcome was. The rarity is in discovering the view of the ANC 20 years ago and how things have changed in 2010. An interesting look back at our tumultuous past especially during one of our biggest achievements: the staging of the FIFA World Cup.
Recommended if you are into politics.
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (Nu Metro)
Starring Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Andrew Garfield
Directed by Terry Gilliam
One thing is for sure: many people might leave the cinema in frustration long before the end of the latest Terry Gilliam extravaganza to hit our screens. He has always been clouded in controversy, ever since one of the biggest box office bombs in recent history, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, almost singlehandedly destroyed his reputation. But this imaginary talent's status was restored with Brazil and the brilliant The Fisher King before other often quite bizarre exercises like The Man who Killed Don Quixote. But for every Baron Munchausen there is a Twelve Monkeys or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although Dr. Parnassus is more Munchhausen and The Brothers Grimm than Tideland.
Marked by controversy when its lead actor, Heath Ledger, died during the production, three of his best friends stepped in and each played a version of his character upon entering the Imaginarium which changes people's lives and frees them from their earthly constraints.
The film suffers from serious overkill, a trademark of Gilliam, but this time it is pushed to the limits, so that the film eventually becomes somewhat long-winded. The art-direction and production design are exceptional, so what kept me in my seat was the brilliant imaginary world that Gilliam created, although there is very little emotional foundation in this world.
So beware: many people may land at a screening simply because it was Heath Ledger's last film and not because they want to see Mr. Gilliam in action. For them it could turn into a difficult and arduous journey. For the Gilliam prophets and disciples it could be another invigorating chapter in the controversial career of a visionary filmmaker who doesn't know when to yell: "Cut!"
Leon van Nierop is one of South Africa's best-known and most respected film critics. He has reviewed films for 34 years for every medium; from television and radio to magazines, newspapers and the Internet. He has lectured on film criticism for 14 years throughout the country and headed the TUT film school in Pretoria for 4 years. He has also written two books on film analysis, the most recent being Movies Made Easy published by van Schaiks. He has also served as judge for several short film and film competitions, is part of the SAFTA jury awarding Golden Horns to the best local film talent, and writes extensively on film for several publications. He also served as professor in film at TUT and also headed that film school for 4 years. He has just completed a stint as presenter, scriptwriter, voice-over artist and co-producer for DEKAT on SABC 3. He has written 23 novels and several TV-series and dramas and is currently working on another novel. He is also a newsreader and continuity presenter for RSG on SABC radio and serves as their major film critic.