South Africa needs Beyond the River, an uplifting sports drama based on a true story. At this point in time, our country's politics is still divided along racial lines, or rather that's what some parties would have you believe. We've come a long way since our rainbow nation was inaugurated in 1994 under the guidance of Nelson Mandela, whose levelheaded leadership navigated us through what could have been a much more radical transition. While some of the injustice around the old South Africa still haunts us today in terms of economic disparities, social incohesion and emotional wounds, we need to stop blaming in order to change our circumstances and fix our minds in getting to a place where we can all feel proud to wave our flag.
Beyond The River has got a clear agenda in terms of promoting common goals, interracial harmony and social upliftment, through its inspiring story about an unlikely Dusi canoe marathon pairing. Craig Freimond directed Material, a well-balanced and personal story for lead actor and doctor comedian Riaad Moosa. He's extended his talents into the sports genre, carefully nurturing another relationship-based story in the process. While competing in the Dusi canoe marathon is the end goal, this drama is more about the personal challenges experienced by two men on opposite sides of the fence.
While based on the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, the screenplay has been modified taking creative license to instill more dramatic tension. Duma, a poor young black man from Soweto is coaxed into taking up canoeing by a would-be mentor, Oupa, who challenges him to make something of his life. He meets Dusi veteran, Steve, a middle class older white man and teacher from the suburbs, who is also seeking some new direction and focus in his life.
Lemogang Tsipa and Grant Swanby take on the roles of Duma and Steve. Tsipa's experiential knowledge and lingual versatility enable him to live in Duma's world. From a difficult home life and struggling to break free from a bad influence, it's a pleasure to see Tsipa take Duma from zero to hero. Swanby's face is fascinating, carrying a heavy emotional burden and channeling all his determination and rage into being the best he can be no matter the cost. Together these underdogs make a curious duo, representing a cross-section of South African diversity. Their solid performances keep us rooting for them on an everyman level since we're kept at a arm's length through relative anonymity and a lack of charm and warmth.
"There's only one race, the human race."
Israel Makoe, Garth Breytenbach, Kgosi Mongake and Emily Child serve as a dependable supporting cast. Makoe takes on a tough yet refreshing mentor role with his usual fire and vigour getting Duma to make a lasting change as Oupa. Breytenbach adds some light-hearted banter and much-needed charm to proceedings as the ever-likable Dan. Mongake is beautifully tragic as Duma's best friend, Zama, and Child brings some melancholy to the drama playing Steve's estranged number one fan, Annie.
While the sports story is fairly predictable, it's the inspiring drama that makes Beyond the River worth your time. It's emotionally taut as we witness two men trying to dig themselves out of a rut through team work and perseverance. They're constantly breaking barriers, overcoming prejudices and inspiring others around them with the symbol of the river adding layers of meaning. It makes for compelling viewing to see the everyday battles playing out against the background of a much grander narrative for South Africa's future. The message is powerful and timely, especially for a sporting nation like South Africa, where working together, overcoming intercultural and economic barriers to establish unity is a familiar narrative.
Freimond ups the production value through aerial photography of the Dusi marathon rapids, Kwazulu-Natal's Valley of a Thousand Hills and energises the film with a nostalgic mix of classic South African music. It's stirring to see the guts and glory play out in a uniquely South African underdog sports drama. While it weaves a story of amazing contrasts and curious tensions, we struggle to break into the inner worlds of our co-leads, whose fuzzy standpoints make us empathise for them yet never truly befriend them. Watching from the sidelines, it's easy to cheer Beyond the River over the finish line as an inspiring albeit predictable crowd-pleaser, but it's always more fun being in the canoe.
Sean Penn directed the story of Christopher McCandless, a college student whose wanderlust took him on a cross-country runaway adventure. Into the Wild's a tragic, nostalgic and haunting tale of ideals and survival and who can forget the enigmatic Emile Hirsch, a heartfelt Hal Holbrook and Eddie Vedder's on-the-road soundtrack? This is a deeply affecting and powerful adaptation of a true story, which captures the life-and-times and appeals to everyone's sense of wanderlust. Watching Into the Wild in the great outdoors will add a level of authenticity to the whole experience.
Spling reviews American Pastoral, Beauty and the Beast and Equity as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
It's hard to believe that it's been more than 25 years since the original Beauty and the Beast. Before Pixar, Walt Disney was the animation giant responsible for box office success stories, Aladdin and The Lion King. While there's been some seesawing over the last three decades, they've reinvented themselves and have started adapting their most successful animated features into live-action films, most recently Cinderella and The Jungle Book.
Their latest adaptation is of the beloved Beauty and the Beast, a timeless tale that many parents will remember having seen as children. The nostalgic hooks will undoubtedly lead many families to the cinema in the hopes of capturing some of that former glory, but does Disney's latest effort match its animated predecessor or live-action contemporaries?
Unfortunately, the short answer is no. It's no secret that Disney is in the film business to drive profits. Their acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars, Marvel franchises echoes this sentiment with sequels scheduled from now into the forseeable forever. As much as they would want us to believe they are simply making family magic and childhood memories, these romantic gestures are a means to an end.
Getting Bill Condon to direct was a cold reality business decision. While he has an Oscar for his screenwriting and several notable directorial film credits, he directed two of the Twilight films. Vampires, beasts, a virgin... there were obviously some synergies driving this casting call over and above the franchise's staggering box office numbers.
"Would you like to prance?"
The casting of Emma Watson was equally transparent, bringing her history as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series into focus. An enchanted castle, a headstrong young woman and uneasy romance made the stars align, bringing Watson and her loyal fan base to the tale.
Unfortunately, while deemed bankable... this puzzle piece is in the wrong box. Emma Watson is an accomplished actress and has demonstrated she can command leading roles in Hollywood. However, the role of Belle would have been much better suited to a newcomer or the likes of Emma Roberts or Lily Collins. Watson is determined and her quality shines through, yet she just seems at odds with the character description and temperament, unable to exude the same warmth and joyous spirit as her animated counterpart.
Dan Stevens lends his considerable talents to the role of the Beast, however one can't help but feel that his performance was lost in translation. CGI has come a long way since 1991, which is why the rendition of the Beast is somewhat disappointing. It's realistic, tipping the hat to the animated version and using Stevens' eyes and expressions to personify the character, yet seems stuck in limbo between animation and live-action. Perhaps they shouldn't have used so many daring close-ups, introduced the Beast more gradually or have resorted to prosthetics and make-up like The Elephant Man in 1980 or the namesake TV series in 1990.
The rest of the ensemble seem much more suited to their roles... Luke Evans delivers one of his best performances in recent memory as the arrogant, pompous Gaston. Josh Gad is a delight as his hero worshipping sidekick and "tactician" LeFou. Kevin Kline is good as Maurice, Belle's quirky and tinkering father, while Ewan McGregor, Iain McKellen and Emma Thompson make a first class trio playing Lumière, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts respectively.
The character design and execution of these supporting CGI characters is extraordinary. From reflections in Cogsworth's glass window to the sheen on Mrs Potts and Chip, the technical wizardry is quite staggering. This extends to the lush production design, which while similar to Cinderella extends even further into the majesty of Versailles. Beauty and the Beast is spectacular to the point of being ostentatious and borderline kitsch... from lavish dance numbers to storming the castle, every frame is chock-full with exquisite detail.
The score is just as rich, supersizing the original animated film's sound and song, and harnessing the power of a big budget Broadway musical. From a pure sound and visual perspective, Beauty and the Beast is sensational, delivering a loud, proud and showy musical adaptation that almost justifies its existence on aesthetic and aural appeal alone.
Sadly, the live-action adaptation isn't quite as charming or innocent as the original. The charm and magic is manufactured rather than earned, giving it a colder edge, which is sharpened by the film's sexual awareness. While faithful to the story of the original film, the film-makers have made some smart little alterations to the tale and given the Gaston-LeFou comedy duo more weight as comic villains. Some of the modernisations don't quite work, but the cheeky bromance and comedic undertones are entertaining nevertheless.
All in all, the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is a mixed bag. The sound and visuals give it the impetus to coast on the sensory experience alone. Backed by the timeless fairy tale, waves of nostalgia, an amusing screenplay and a fine ensemble, it seems almost good enough against such a decadent backdrop. The miscast co-lead, tonal shift and odd distraction isn't annoying enough to derail the film, but will certainly undermine your overall enjoyment. Just don't expect to shed a tear or feel the need to watch it again.