Ender's Game is based on Orson Scott Card's classic science fiction novel. South African writer-director, Gavin Hood, best known for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rendition and Tsotsi, was entrusted with bringing the book to life and for the most part, he's succeeded. It's not an entirely faithful adaptation with a number of casting and story compromises for the sake of the cinematic experience, yet it retains the essence of Card's original vision.
The story follows young Ender Wiggin, played by Hugo's Asa Butterfield, who is recruited by the International Military to lead a war on the Formics, an alien race that almost destroyed humankind in a previous encounter.
Ender's Game won the Nebular award in 1985 and the Hugo award in 1986. The award-winning military sci-fi novel's '80s prominence is reflected in Hood's adaptation, which leans on aspects from a number of '80s films. There's an interesting parallel with Biloxi Blues as Ender bunks with new recruits, facing a number of social challenges, struggles for leadership and calls for respect.
Then, while probably inspired by Ender's Game, which was later adapted to harness similar themes in 1991, the film has a number of tie-ins with WarGames. Matthew Broderick's hacker skills became critical to unlocking the threat of mutually assured destruction in the '80s just as Asa Butterfield is trained to use his strategic genius to aid the military in the future.
Ender's Game features a number of battle training scenarios with futuristic gear, which are not unlike the gladiatorial games that form part of the digital world in TRON. The formations, team work, age of the contenders and bravado of the skirmishes have some similarities with the ice hockey in The Mighty Ducks and quidditch in the Harry Potter series.
The intense airborne rivalry between the Formics and humankind, echoes some The Macross Saga, in which Robotech fighter pilots battle Zentraedi forces. The alien kind are not humanoid, falling more into the category of the enemy in Starship Troopers, drawing further parallels when it comes to military service and interplanetary warfare.
"When I say "hyper jump", you say "how far"?!"
Instead of portraying Ender as a six-year-old, the film-makers have opted to represent Asa Butterfield as a boy who hasn't hit puberty. This was done in order to give Hood more time to focus on character and greater flexibility when it comes to filming and wire work. Butterfield is reminiscent of John "Spud" Milton in physique and in terms of his character's rocky attempts to fit into the military "school". However, his mental resilience, hard-and-fast bargaining and leadership skills give him the upper hand when it comes to integration.
Butterfield is a solid young actor, whose performance as Ender is strong, consistent and captivating. He seemed much younger in the title role of Hugo, essentially playing a self-assured adult trapped in a 10 year old's body. The strong supporting ensemble includes: Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Sir Ben Kingsley. While the ensemble is more of an insurance policy than a necessity, the stand out performances come from Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.
Harrison Ford doesn't have to earn our respect and trust, giving him instant authority as a tough, incisive and likable Colonel Graff. Ben Kingsley continues his return to form with a mysterious character, delivering a shadowy and reverent performance with little screen time.
Ender's Game is a spectacular science fiction film that is enhanced by the quality of the cinema you choose to experience it in. The futuristic visuals, battle training and dazzling display sequences blend light and colour with similar effect to TRON: Legacy using sound to steep the film in a deeply visceral, suspended reality. The special effects give the characters the illusion of weightlessness allowing us to float with them.
The film has a similar tone to The Hunger Games, where adult "games" are played by children. While the psychological angle has deeper hooks, the content seems somewhat padded, softening Ender's Game's hard edges. This placates some of the raw energy of the story and diminishes the overall impact of Ender's journey. Perhaps the PG-13 rating was a key point going in.
While Ender's Game is probably not as hard-hitting as it could have been, Gavin Hood still manages to land this military sci-fi adaptation safely, not discrediting the source material and providing an often gripping and entertaining film in the process. It's a worthy film adaptation, benefiting from a strong cast with some solid performances, a thought-provoking and universal story, sensible direction, top production values and awe-inspiring visuals.
Jimmy Nevis was born and raised in Cape Town, growing up in a very musical and spiritual home. After he discovered his singing ability, it wasn't long before he was grabbing at every opportunity to develop his talent from church to school productions and events. He was inspired by the music of Beyoncé, Jamie Cullum and Coldplay in his teens and it wasn't long before he wrote and produced his breakthrough debut track Elephant Shoes, pushing it to local radio stations.
The young singer/songwriter and producer signed to Cape Town record label Rude World Records with a publishing, licensing and distribution deal with David Gresham Records, releasing his debut album, Subliminal in 2012. More recently, Nevis signed an exclusive U.S. distribution deal with top American record label, Ultra Records, joining the likes of Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Benny Benassi, Alyssa Reid and Kaskade.
His chart-topping singles Elephant Shoes, Heartboxing, In Love with You and Balloon are currently getting extensive airplay in South Africa. Jimmy has shared the stage with some of the best in the business. He collaborated with Mi Casa, Pascal & Pearce earlier this year and will be playing live at the Castle Lite Extra Cold Summer Event featuring Wale later this month on 21 December, with a headline performance at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts lined up for 26 January, 2014.
Jimmy Nevis has already carved a niche for himself in the local South African music scene with an army of devoted fans. At 21 years of age, the alternative singer/songwriter has only just begun to shake things up with a world class sound that's bound to bring him international fame.
"I wasn’t much of a movie-head when I was growing up..."
I can't watch movies without...
- ...popcorn is a must but I think I always need something to drink. I take dehydration very seriously when watching movies!
Which famous people share your birthday?
- Giorgio Armani and Lil’ Kim were both born on the 11th July. #CancersUnite
What is the first film you remember watching?
- Hollow Man - it's a horror/thriller film that I watched when I was much younger. I wasn’t much of a movie-head when I was growing up, but I think I will always remember this film because it really scared me at the time.
What's the worst movie you've ever seen?
- Temptation by Tyler Perry - usually his films are funny or at least spiritual to some extent, but this film was just a stereotyped version of far-fetched events that didn’t really capture me. The acting was even worse than the narrative.
What movies have made you tearful?
- The Changeling, Armageddon and The Hangover 2, because it was that funny!
Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?
- I’ve never met a movie star actually.
What's your favourite movie line?
- From the film Due Date, Alan’s line is: “My father loved coffee, and now we loved him as coffee." – the best!
Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?
- I don’t know – Bruno Mars? Chris Brown? I’d probably go for an unknown actor (laughs).
If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?
- It would be a documentary on the way music is stratified in South Africa, from genres, to race and lyrical content - something where street knowledge enters an academic space.
Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...
- Good Will Hunting ...the storyline and the acting was brilliant, such a feel-good movie.
- The Talented Mr. Ripley ...this film was so smart and yet so confusing at times – not necessarily the narrative but between the relationships of the characters. The casting of this film was just perfect.
- The Matrix ...I saw this film when I was really young, and even though I thought it was the coolest action flick at the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening. Earlier this year, I decided to watch it again and I was blown away by the concept. I think especially as a sociologist student, I was able to recognise the concepts of society played out in the film.
- Taken ...I was always ignorant and naive when it came to things like human trafficking and modern day slavery until I saw this film. It really shook me and made me more aware of human trafficking. It was also really sad for me, but cool at the same time.
- Due Date ...the funniest film of all time! I loved every second of this movie. The script was so on point and the lines in this film are so memorable. I think Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr.were perfect for this film.
- The Hangover & The Hangover II ...I love The Hangover franchise because they made me laugh hysterically in cinemas. I remember watching both of these films in the cinema, crying from all the funny scenes.
- The Fighter ...when I was studying film in my 2nd year of university, we had to do a film review and so I chose the The Fighter. I was so shocked at the quality of acting and cinematography within this film. I left the cinema feeling inspired and cultured if that makes any sense. It was just a great experience.
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ...I’m not really into animated films but this one was so creative and I think my love of food made me a little bias when judging this film, but I loved it. The cast, the script, the visuals and the quotes are just too good.
- Shutter Island ...who doesn’t like a Leonardo DiCaprio film? This thriller kept me on my toes right until the end - such a mind-trip.
- The Great Buck Howard ...Emily Blunt is one of my favourite actresses. This film was just so awkward and beautiful at the same time. I wouldn’t have usually watched this but once I started, I couldn’t stop.
Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.
With Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom giving special focus to the relationship between Nelson and Winnie Mandela, there's been much speculation on how accurately history is served by the adaptation of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
The film's eminent release has also drawn some attention to another film chronicling the life and times of these two characters, Winnie Mandela, which is struggling to find its way to cinema or rental stores in South Africa. While already available on Blu-ray in the United States, the South African character portrait directed by Darryl Roodt and starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as Winnie and Nelson, is yet to find it's way back home.
We took the opportunity to interview South African actress Angelique Pretorius, who played a supporting role alongside Hudson, to find out: what it was like shooting Winnie Mandela, why the film has been so slow in coming to South Africa and how it portrays the controversial political figure.
So how did you get that part?
I auditioned for it through my agent in Johannesburg with Christa Schamberger. To be honest I thought I was just auditioning for a local drama. It was only later that I discovered it had a decent budget and that Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard were attached.
Can you tell us about your character Marcia, do you share any traits?
I don't share Marcia and her friends' passion for politics, but I do respect the way they stay true to their convictions. Her, Winnie and two other girls would attend rallies and make political statements by publicly being friends and by challenging racist behavior. They are beyond their years and as much as they are forced by the Apartheid system to be in a bubble, they are different to the mainstream.
We got dollied up in beautiful outfits - they were real little ladies. What I do have in common with her is the fact that I also like spending time with my friends. The four of them were quite tight before Winnie goes through the rest of her journey.
At that time they were student friends, so when they talk about Mandela and the first time he kissed her, how they met and other girl talk, I definitely relate to her.
How did you prepare for the role?
There wasn’t that much preparation involved, but one thing I had to pay attention to was the accent. Fiona Ramsay was the accent coach on set and she helped us get a bit more of a “British-ness” into our accent. Apparently back then South African English was a bit more British-sounding. We had to be more crisp and be careful not to let our authentic accents slip in and make it too casual-sounding.
I started reading the biography the screenplay was based on by Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob. I got a sense of where Winnie was coming from when she meets us and is introduced to city-life. She grew up in the Transkei: it was rural, beautiful and relaxed. She was sheltered from the political situation, so when she came into town she felt the conflict and saw it all around her. I read the biography to get a sense of where my character fits into the whole thing. Otherwise if one just arrives on set it can feel a bit like painting by numbers.
What was the most challenging aspect of playing Marcia?
The wardrobe, because we were so dollied up. We were wearing heels with tight little skirts and our hair was done up in curls. I felt like I couldn’t sit down comfortably, crease my skirt or let my tummy out because it was tucked in so tightly. That was surprisingly tiring because you’re waiting around set so much of the time.
By the end of a shooting day, I would literally fall on the bed and feel my whole body release because I don’t usually dress formally. I hardly ever wear heels when I go out, maybe once in a while for a premiere but the minute I get out of them I wear flats. Every time you sat down, they would come with steamers to fix creases. I couldn’t really relax. It made me aware of the enormous effort it took girls in the 1950's to look perfect.
What was it like working with Jennifer Hudson?
Of course it was a great privilege to act opposite such a big name, especially someone with an Oscar under her belt. Her performance was very natural so it was easy to act with her.
I do think she was quite homesick because she left her baby boy at home for a few months. Babies under a year are not allowed to get the inoculation required to enter the country. So she wasn’t her normal self. Outside of that environment, I would imagine she would be quite different. Regardless, it was a great experience for me.
Did you feel intimidated playing opposite such a big name star?
Surprisingly not, once I met her on the first day… the star struck feeling was over. She felt like another actor. She had her bodyguard with her the whole time, so I was always aware of the fact that she wasn’t like us. She kept herself a bit separate, but in terms of acting with her we felt like peers.
Did you get a chance to meet Terrence Howard?
No, unfortunately I didn’t. I was also shooting Stoute Boudjies at the time and on the day that I was supposed to shoot with Terence Howard, they double-booked me. The schedule for Winnie changed and the Stoute Boudjies shoot was taking place in Durban for which they’d already booked all our tickets. I never even told the director and producer of Stoute Boudjies, because I realized the financial implications and stress involved with a last-minute change in schedule and airfare. I thought the Winnie team would reschedule the scene, but they shot it without me. It was the only scene we had with Mandela, where he gives a speech to the public and where Winnie and the girls see him for the first time.
Was this the first time you worked with Darryl Roodt?
Yes, he’s very energetic and funny. He has a great sense of humour. He’s quite eccentric and lively, and he has a lot of energy, so that fuels the rest of the crew. It’s easy to keep going with him around - he’s always bouncing off the walls. Subsequently I worked with him again on the local film Stilte.
Do you know why the film has been so slow in getting to South Africa?
I know there have been a few re-edits and when it was shown in Toronto, it was criticised for being incomplete. I’m not sure why they chose to show an incomplete version of the film as the closing film for the festival. It was almost finished, but not… that definitely did damage and they’ve also been quite selective about the distributor.
I heard Winnie Mandela hasn’t given the film her approval…
She made a huff about the film because they didn’t allow her to read the screenplay. But the ironic thing is that it puts her in such a favourable light, that it's in fact been a source of criticism for the film internationally. The biggest criticism of the film has been that it is not controversial enough and that she’s been idealised. So she should love the film for how it makes her appear.
What was it like working on a big budget film?
Big budget films sound very glamorous and they are in many ways. As actors we had our own trailers, we ate delicious buffets, with a sushi section, and had many people running around to ensure that our wardrobe, makeup, accent-work and basic needs were attended to. Big sets are run like well-oiled machines, or that's the aim.
Of course it's great to have have your own space to chill and know that every aspect of the film is taken care of, but for me it also made the set quite impersonal. Usually with a smaller budget movie, everyone is very equal and there’s one space for everyone to share. It’s a lot more hands-on and there’s a strong sense of mutual respect, whereas I really felt the hierarchy kick in with this movie. I suppose both types of sets have their pros and cons. The main pro that goes with working on a set like Winnie Mandela is that you trust that the final product will look highly professional.
The other thing with a big budget film is that because we had such extravagant hairstyles we had to be on location at 5am to start shooting at 8am. So we had three hours of teasing, curling, pinning and make-up. We looked like 1950s princesses by the end of it, but it was very tiring. The shooting of every scene also took so much longer because all four characters needed close-ups on top of the medium-wide and wide shots. We're talking a lot of takes, which means huge focus and energy to try to keep it spontaneous. All in all the Winnie Mandela movie was one heck of an experience!
Leon Schuster's "everyman" brand of slapstick comedy may not be for everyone, yet it's difficult to find a comedian who doesn't respect the funnyman, who has built a career out of getting South Africans to laugh at themselves. From his days of candid camera to the evolution of characters in more story-orientated films, Schuster has created a Schuks! empire with some of South Africa's biggest box office successes.
More recently, however, his concept film Mad Buddies, was not as well received by the box office, critics and public, and was seen as a step backwards for the prankster whose sense of toilet humour has become more and more pronounced over the years. Well, he's taken enough 'klaps' and racked up enough laughs in his time to know that Mad Buddies was a speed bump.
In Schuks! Your Country Needs You, the prolific filmmaker has made a return to his roots, opting for a candid camera style film with a loose story line involving his son. The film follows Schuks, whose self-referential musings about not wanting to take a 'klap' again, but doing it for the fans, gives the film an interesting tragic twist.
In walks Rob van Vuuren, the guy who turned the tables on Leon by playing him at his own game in Schuks Tshabalala's Survival Guide to South Africa. Now toted as a son of Schuks and a willing protege, the character known as Wayne, gets a chance to make his Dad proud as a wing man on his candid escapades. The two actually look like they could be related and their exploits seem more elaborate when they team up.
Having a few fresh faces, enables Schuster to take a backseat on some of the set ups without being in the direct line of fire. Van Vuuren proves he's fearless in his disguises by not wearing any prosthetic padding. Actress, Lare Birk adds a female touch to the Schuster team's repertoire of characters. She's attractive, funny and was cast in the film after the crew targeted her and some other actresses on their way to an audition.
Schuks goes back to his roots!
Alfred Ntombela makes a number of appearances, although his instantly recognisable face and contagious trademark laugh make it difficult not to know you're being pranked. His doubles as a thieving baby and a bin-dwelling jack-in-the-box are funny, but Schuks is taking his son on more adventures, where "Shorty" would usually play wing man.
Long-time collaborator, Gray Hofmeyr is back in the writer-director's chair for another Schuster film, and even steps in to play a pastor in one of the skits. While the material still involves ruffling people's feathers for a laugh, the pranksters have concocted some memorable event pranks involving a number of famous faces including: Jack Parow, Peter de Villiers and Bobby van Jaarsveld.
When you think you've done everything in the book, it's difficult to keep things fresh, but to their credit the team have put their heads together and come up with some winning comedy concepts and diverse, larger-than-life characters with a knack for getting in people's faces.
The make up and prosthetics department got a special mention at the Cape Town premiere and their work is indeed world class, turning Schuster into a convincing Dutch talent judge, a Japanese businessman, an ANC councilman and an Indian man by the name of Gupta. Hannibal Smith would be proud and the disguises are so effective that it takes targets a few extra seconds to realise they have been "Schuksed", even after being told so.
The sound effects add another dimension to the candid comedy, emphasising actions for comic effect. Schuster even unleashes a couple of songs to add to the soundtrack and gags. The variety and overall quality of provocative comedy and entertainment keeps you laughing so much that it feels like you've only been in Schuster country for about an hour when the credits roll.
As the movie poster says "This is Schuster at his candid best!" and while he rounds off each prank with "Your Country Needs People Like You", we tend to lose sight of the actor behind the disguises. Schuster's range of accents is brilliant, his ability to impersonate larger-than-life characters is remarkable, while his comic timing in high pressure situations and off-the-cuff comedy make him a South African screen legend.
It is what it is and one doesn't need to walk far to bump into someone who's enjoyed a good belly laugh with Schuks. In a country where complaints outweigh compliments, it's always good to know that Leon Schuster's easy-going, feel good brand of distinctly South African candid comedy is there to cut across demographics, celebrating diversity and soothing our tired funny bones.