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Movie Review: Wimbledon - Men's Final (2018)


Wimbledon: Men's Final is the much-anticipated action thriller, directed by British auteur, James Keothavong. Winner of the Gold Badge Chair and having been at the helm of a number of big budget blockbuster productions in France, Australia and Argentina over the last 20 years, making Keothavong a perfect candidate for the director's chair. The sparsely scripted story follows Novak and Kevin, two aggressive mercenaries with years of elite training, whose bitter rivalry results in a showdown in London town.

Hailing from Serbia and South Africa respectively, the film revolves around a single location as the two take potshots at each other in an attempt to complete a do-or-die mission and scoop a massive contract pay out. Both armed with high tech gear and plenty of fire power, the sharpshooters find themselves trapped in a public space as a deadly shoot out scenario plays out with onlookers taking cover around them.

Novak Djokovic (Kissing) is a seasoned and award-winning performer, who has had a terrific run of form lately, after recovering from several injuries and some personal difficulties. Through eagle-eyed precision, he maintained composure and brought his A-game to round off an excellent performance. Despite some nerve-wracking moments and a few jitters when it came to overall consistency, his commitment to the craft eventually won the day.

Anderson, standing at 6.8 feet is no slouch and while his opening gambit was less than convincing, he made a remarkable recovery in the third act to save face and deliver a respectable performance that saw him stealing a number of scenes. Anderson's delivered several solid performances in recent memory, including a brilliant turn opposite screen legend, Roger Federer. While ultimately playing underdog to Djokovic, his co-lead performance was memorable and as a South African, his gutsy and long-suffering efforts will be etched on the minds of his fellow countrymen for years to come.

In terms of supporting performances, Wimbledon was a star-studded affair. While South African-born Federer deserved more screen time in the franchise, he delivered a surprising and noble performance, bowing out much earlier than expected like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision. Rafael Nadal, an equally strong actor, was fierce in his performance as we've come to expect, having played the lead in a number of multi-format productions. However, he was ultimately relegated to an antagonistic supporting role to the anti-hero, Djokovic in a prequel.

These kinds of sports films have become known for their cameos and Wimbledon: Men's Final is no different, featuring Prince William, Kate Middleton, Morne Morkel and a number of Swedish screen legends, including Stefan Edberg and Bjorn Borg. Keothavong obviously wanted to tip the hat to German Expressionism with his curious choice for Boris Becker to narrate. The choice was possibly inspired by Becker's esteemed career, which truly began opposite Kevin Curren, another player believed to be South African in a film of the same name in 1985.

The cinematography was quite pedestrian, using natural lighting and offering a few repetitive wide angle shots only to zoom in on the player's legs and footwear. You get the impression that the DOP has probably made thousands of these films before, adhering closely to formula or a rule book of sorts. Unfortunately, much of their performance was lost with long shots of the players backs and not enough close ups. The action shots were more assured, providing a number of great single takes from various angles. While the bullet-time seems old hat almost two decades since The Matrix, it was good to get closer to the powerful action sequences. In terms of the edit, Wimbledon: Men's Final was a mish-mash... moving from the co-leads to random extras intermittently and without warning. This broke the continuity, although offered some relief from the repetitive nature of their versus showdown.

The visual effects were a bit iffy at times with both co-leads questioning the director on several occasions during the third act. While some of the props look round, yellow and fuzzy at first glance, the visual effects made their markings seem oval and overly simplistic. Adding to the mess was the decision to try and blend the action cameras out of view using green screen effects. While covered in green, you can still clearly see the cameras and entire crew, demonstrating that this was a slapdash effort from a bunch of amateurs. While moody and pensive at times, the pacing was haphazard - moving from slow-motion to slower motion between shots only to resume live-action in real time - making it quite disorientating.

Wimbledon: Men's Final is standing on the shoulders of many similarly poised action thrillers that have come before it. To this end, Keothavong obviously wanted to own this thriller, trying to be as invisible as possible. His laissez-faire style with his actors, allowed Djokovic to start acting when he pleased without any shouts of "ACTION". The ball bouncing was a bit unconventional, but Djokovic made it his own - offering a very physical and hard-hitting performance. While sparsely scripted, the choice to include "quiet, please" from an off-screen voice made for a rather chilling atmosphere.

The sound design was equally disturbing with the sound of people murmuring, followed by loud clapping and cheers before a deafening silence. The soundtrack did include a number of popular jingles with waves of product placements, but thankfully these were short-lived. The most curious thing about Wimbledon was the foley work... as shot sound effects sounded more like pops and grunts. The effects make up wasn't much better with little to no blood in an action thriller that lasted over two hours!?

Shot entirely on location in the suburb of Wimbledon in London, the film has plenty of British charm... soaking up the ambiance against such iconic backdrops as the London Eye and Big Ben. From the pristine grass courts and chalk outlines to the lofty main court stands, there's a sense of decorum, steeped in years of tradition and floppy hats.

While there have been some outcries over whitewashing the ensemble, the leads were dressed predominantly in white... an interesting choice of camouflage by the bold designer, who obviously wanted the players to stand out against the various shades of green. Subtle touches like the crocodile on Djokovic's apparel, played into the rich symbolism, clearly demonstrating the predator and conversely the prey in this tightly-wound action thriller.

Overall, Wimbledon: Men's Final was carried by its powerful co-lead performances and a strong third act. The single location concept made it quite resourceful, allowing most of the budget to be dedicated to the stellar cast. The cinematography was mediocre, despite some lively and awe-inspiring action set pieces, which weren't helped by the erratic edit and abstract sound design. The cameos certainly added some spice to proceedings, but most of these performances were sub par, tight-lipped and wooden. While James Keothavong is an experienced director, his subtle and artistic approach to this minimalist blockbuster was indeed questionable, making Wimbledon: Men's Final a mixed bag at best with a few memorable moments.

 
The Age of White Noise News...


There's too much of everything. No one knows what's important anymore. It seems that nothing is important to anyone. This is the perceived "current mood" and while numbing the reality, emoticons are not going to mask the fact that the world of news and media is flailing. We're living in an age of nostalgia and confuserism where our fear of the rampant new is trying to hold the present hostage by recycling the comfortable past leaving us melancholy, disillusioned and alienated.

The internet has leveled the playing fields, making it easier than ever to get your voice heard, whether it be running a website, a blog, podcast or vlog. While the door's wide open... it's ceased to be a door. The shift from physical newspapers and books to online news and e-books has been radical, making it difficult for traditional news agencies to compete with digital and news-sharing across social media. Our confuserist society has been drawn into the get-it-while-it's-hot style of hard, fast and disposable news and media. The rise of comedic platforms like The Onion has further complicated matters, creating a glut of news ranging from fact-based to yarn. While reporting has been slanted by media company agendas since their inception, the new digital format lends itself to viral news-casting, where inflammatory and bogus news is doing the rounds. The constant buzz of insta-reporting has left us in a state of white noise news.

white noise news

While prolific, people have become weary of this wildfire reporting, which like spam has enough easy to identify earmarks to disarm and dismiss as hokum or propaganda. Still, toasting what's happening now and today has become the essence of news with in-depth Pulitzer prize-winning journalism falling to the wayside. Twitter's slogan is "What's happening now" and has shaped the culture of information gathering, preferring headline orientated news where readers only want news at a glance. The instant gratification of breaking news has made it a real-time obsession and interactive news aggregator as images, text and opinion become a live-stream of unfiltered trending content, rather than taking a more circumspect approach as has happened with news reporting in the past. Instead of waiting for the evening news or tomorrow's paper, there's a drive to get articles, video, reports and news updates to press as fast as it hits social media with many news agencies actually using social media as their guide to what's important and newsworthy.

This speedy style of reporting doesn't give journalists the time to sift through the facts, opting for catchy headlines to attract readers rather than cultivating a considered culture and strong reputation. Nowadays, reporting and reviewing is no longer considered an art form in and of itself. There's more weight on speed of delivery and less emphasis on substantial content, making it more about hooking readers and recycling content than informing or educating them. The art of the hook has become more important as digital operates on a much broader and more measurable front, making the pond an ocean and turning digital content into click bait.

There are exceptions to the rule, such as BBC, The Economist, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, although many of the esteemed reporting and opinion agencies are struggling to keep going due to sweeping changes across the digital landscape, the transition from print to online and less advertising revenue. Why pay for a newspaper when you can check your favourite online news channel for free? Moreover, news has become infotainment... making it important to turn fact into story to keep viewers transfixed. Fudging the lines has made it difficult for good journalists to stay in the game. When newspapers don't have any budget, or at least plead poverty, journalists are swayed into writing for exposure and the practice bottoms out or shifts to adjust to compensate. If you can get a reasonable report or piece for next to nothing, it's very difficult to motivate why it's necessary to pay another more seasoned or esteemed professional.

Converting to digital platforms has also meant that there's a greater emphasis on writing SEO-friendly content, marginalising the quality of the content once again. This watering down of journalism has made it a slog for freelancers who try to peddle their writing for per word rates in a culture where bullet points rule and weak writing is published without much forethought. While the nature of journalism has changed dramatically, making it seem like anyone can write... this film critic believes we're going to see a return to high quality content.

Film critics are equally challenged. In the past, newspapers were able to support a resident film critic or even team of film writers. Now, international syndication means one review can be disseminated across news channels and partners at a fraction of the cost of generating an original, homegrown review. Converting the role into a more widespread entertainment journalist means there's less chance of specialising, accommodating theatre, TV, gossip and events. Generating multi-platform content means there's less time (and money) available to focus on crafting high quality reviews. The rise of review aggregators has made it easier for film goers to simply rely on a consensus rating than a specific voice and there's such a humdrum of opinions from social media to print that it's difficult to see the critic from the crowd. Box office figures are sliding, streaming services are subverting cinema attendance and there's no longer a fixed or stable financial model for the traditional film critic.

The burgeoning tsunami of fake news, diluted and agenda-fueled insta-journalism has to crash at some point. While the online platform has certainly opened the floodgates, there's a definite feeling of apprehension and a growing desire for substance that should amount to a new readership, who want more intelligent, thoughtful reporting that goes beyond a catchy headline and makes you want to read the paper from cover-to-cover. Fake news and social media algorithims may have swayed an election and disrupted many solid reputations, but we're in a state of overload and people are feeling overwhelmed by the relentless outpouring of fast food style content. Simplification and minimalism is gradually becoming a priority in this over-saturated new digital world.

As people tend towards de-cluttering their minds and switching off the constant white noise of modern society, perhaps then it'll be time for news agencies to rethink their reporting model... opting for the kind of content and writing that builds lifelong and loyal relationships with their readers rather than opting for quick, baseless and reheated news for mass appeal. If news agencies convert their content generation from advertiser loyal to reader loyal it could become an echo chamber. What we're needing is reporting integrity crowdfunded by those who want to know what's really happening.

 
Hanneke Schutte on 'Meerkat Maantuig'


Hanneke Schutte's film, Meerkat Maantuig (Meerkat Moonship), is a coming-of-age fairy tale drama about overcoming fear, growing up and pouring light into darkness. Spling now ranks it as one of his favourite South African films of all-time... and caught up with Hanneke to find out more.

Meerkat Maantuig - Hanneke Schutte

When did you envision Meerkat Maantuig - can you tell us about the journey from conception to final draft, how did the original idea evolve?

The film is based on a youth novella called ‘Blinde Sambok’ by Riana Scheepers. I’ve changed the book quite considerably, but I retained the central idea of a little girl living with a cursed name. When I read the book the first time I fell in love with this strange, dark tale of a young girl who thinks she’s going to die because of this old wives’ tale that she, and many people around her, believed in. It made me think about all the beliefs we cling onto that limit our lives.

Anchen du Plessis is a real find... such a fascinating face, am I correct in saying she was discovered quite recently - how did she come to be in your film?

You’re right, Anchen was an absolute blessing. She wasn’t originally cast as Gideonette, but we lost our lead two weeks before principal photography and we had to scurry to replace her. I’m a firm believer that if you can embrace these kinds of challenges/happy accidents during production and pre-production, they always end up making the film better.

Anchen played Young Killer in Vaselintjie so it was her second film and her first lead role.

The casting is superb... are the actors close to how you imagined them in your head?

The magic of great actors is that they bring so much of their own life stories and world perspectives to their roles. They imbue the characters with idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities that help us to identify with them. So yes, each one of them brought something special to the role and they exceeded all my expectations.

There's a Studio Ghibli air of sentimentality and blend of nature/technology in the design of this production... is that an influence or a coincidence? Did any other films give you inspiration for the look and feel?

You’re the first person to pick up on that! I sent our Production Designer, Waldermar Coetsee, a picture of Hal’s Moving Castle as inspiration for the moonship. We wanted to create something magical, whimsical and childlike. It was important that the design felt like it originated in the mind of a child.

He sent me this tiny drawing of the moonship (we still joke about how terrible the drawing was) and I thought that’s it, that’s the naiveté we’re going for!

The farm setting is sun-dappled and magical... how did you come upon this beautiful eco-forest location?

I found that location online while I was still writing the film. The farm belonged to this amazing guy who was an avid gardener and blogger. I followed his blog for about two years and I completely fell in love with the farm. When it came time to make the film I had my mind set on that location. He was in the process of selling the farm and the sale fell through about three times, so we kept negotiating with people and then losing the location. Our producers wanted me to find another location because time was running out, but that was the one thing that I wasn’t willing to compromise on. Finally, after some long and skillful negotiations on the part of our producer, the new owners gave us permission to shoot on the farm.

There's a horror element at play, was this film meant to be darker or more in the realm of fantasy at any point?

From the start the intention was for it to be a fairy tale. A story that is set in no particular place and in no particular time. Fairytales, especially the very old ones, have very dark and macabre elements because they deal with children’s fears. I didn’t want to shy away from that - if you’re going to deal with fear, it should feel real. But I didn’t want it to tilt into a full on horror or fantasy either, which is the tricky line I had to tread.

You did a great job of obscuring story elements, keeping the sense of mystery and intrigue at the fore - how tricky was it writing it this way?

With every draft I tried to take out elements that were too obvious or gave things away too early. Looking back I realise I made some mistakes and I could’ve done even more to make it subtler and more mysterious, but that’s the lesson you learn with every film.

Willie Nel's cinematography is lush, sumptuous even... composing some beautiful shots, using textures such as mesh netting and glade sunlight... is the finished product close to how you imagined it?

Absolutely, it’s exactly what I’d imagined, which isn’t something you can say very often. We had a hidden Pinterest board with tons of reference pictures that we worked from. Inspiration for the mood, the tone, the textures etc. I still love revisiting that board because Willie really managed to capture exactly what we had envisioned.

Do you keep a scrapbook of ideas for film... there are subtle touches throughout the film that make it seem so?

Yes, back to Pinterest! While I write I collected hundreds of pictures that help me create the mood and tone and bring the film to life. I’m a very visual person and it really helps me to see the film while I write it.

I’m doing it again on the script that I’m working on at the moment. Whenever I feel stuck I just go back to the references and I immerse myself in that world.

What do you see as your greatest strength as a director?

I’m actually not sure, but I think it helps that I approach a film with no ego, which means that I stay open to people, to challenges and to my own mistakes. I’ve found if you stay open and vulnerable it creates a space where magic can happen.

What was the most enjoyable part of making Meerkat Maantuig?

Our time in Magoebaskloof was absolutely incredible. It felt like we were a bunch of kids at Veldskool. We laughed and cried and struggled through the rain and mud, it was truly a life changing experience.

What was the most challenging aspect of making Meerkat Maantuig?

It was the same thing that made it so memorable! It was incredibly tough shooting in a rain forest and dealing with spiders, snakes, mosquitos and mudslides. We constantly had to change the shooting schedule to work around the rain and we lost hours every day waiting for bakkies to get pulled out of the mud, but it helped us to band together and it created a wonder spirit of camaraderie.

Meerkat Maantuig informs the buoying tone of this movie, was this the original title?

The book was called ‘Blinde Sambok’, but we thought that Meerkat Maantuig captured the spirit and whimsy of the film a bit better.

How did South African audiences respond to this film?

To be honest, I think many people were a bit baffled by it! It’s not the type of local film audiences are used to watching and I think it probably leaned too far towards being an art film for it to really reach a wide audience. But that being said, I received so many emails from people, young and old, who told me that the film had deeply affected them. A few moms who told me that the film helped them to open up conversations with their kids about their fears. One mom even told me that it was the first time she’d seen her sixteen year-old son cry in a movie and that he wanted to watch it a second time! And that’s more meaningful to me than anything else.

How has the film been performing on the festival circuit?

We’ve been overwhelmed by the success Meerkat has had internationally. The film has been selected to screen at 17 international film festivals and we’ve received wonderful feedback. We’re incredibly grateful that our small South African story seems to really resonate with international audiences.

What's next for Hanneke Schutte? Have you got any upcoming projects that you'd like to mention?

I’ve just finished a final(ish) draft of my next screenplay called The Poem.

Unfortunately, it’s another sad one!

 
2018 Oscar Winners


The 2018 Oscars provided plenty of surprises in almost every category. Bets at some of the South African online casinos were wild, with both neither the bookies nor the bettors quite sure what to expect. In the end, most observers commented that the choices were correct but some people still wonder about the choices.

Here is a round up of the 2018 Oscar top prize winners and what made them stand out in the eyes of the Academy.

Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water won for Best Picture and Best Director, which surprised many people, not the least because the film was basically a science fiction film which is generally overlooked by Hollywood's award season.

The movie, which is set in 1962, focuses on Elisa, a mute woman who is isolated by her inability to speak. She works as a cleaning lady in a high-security government laboratory and discovers a classified secret -- a scaled creature that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with this mysterious creature she learns that its fate lies in the hands of a marine biologist and a hostile government agent.

The passion of director, Guillermo Del Toro, for this simple tale of loyalty and love touched and resonated with many in the Academy. Many observers noted that he spent a good chunk of his post-production time traveling around the world to explain his vision – for many in the Academy, that gave the movie the context that voters needed to cast their votes for this film. Del Toro made the movie because he was pursuing the direction that his heart told him to follow and that spoke to the academy.

Some observers have noted that The Shape of Water spoke to the older Academy members who appreciated the period-movie setting. One voter explained that he saw it as a "love letter to Hollywood and movies” while a second expanded, saying “It’s a movie-lover’s movie.” It was seen as a movie that wears its old-school cinematic influences on its sleeve while being brave enough to explore new horizons with both lead characters being mute. In the end, The Shape of Water won because the Academy liked it the best - it offered an escape into a romantic fantasy.

It's also worth noting that The Shape of Water won for Original Score. Alexander Desplat composed his score to give voice to the film’s two mute characters (the amphibious creature and the cleaning woman, whose theme was whistled by Desplat himself). The "voice" took the form of a South American bandoneon style accordion, which was included to suggest the creature’s geographical home.

Frances McDormand, Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand's award as Best Actress wasn't a great surprise but it did give pause to observers who questioned how the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri could work, given the movie's unsettling subject matter.

McDormand succeeded in bringing director Martin McDonagh's vision to life as she portrayed a grieving mother who was prepared to take on her town's citizens, her friends and powerful authorities in her pursuit of justice for her murdered daughter.

The film focuses on Mildred Hayes who rents three local billboards in an attempt to draw attention to the lackluster police investigation into the murder. The comedy is interspersed between unthinkably painful, banal and idiotic happenings and McDormand makes it come together in this scorching, tragicomedy.

Through her acting McDormand keeps the film from getting stuck in the hold of a morality play and brings it into the realm of an unblinking depiction of white, working-class America without simplifying or sanitizing reality or presenting events as simple right or wrong. Her portrayal hovers between nuance and complexity as she interacts with characters whose humanity extends beyond their bad behavior.

It's rumored that McDormand based her character on John Wayne, combining a fierce pursuit of justice with a certain silliness and playfulness as she demonstrates how to temper devastation with hope.

Gary Oldman, Best Actor for Darkest Hour

It's hard to imagine the dark terror that England faced in 1940 as it was targeted by Germany's Blitzrkieg. The German army had already overrun much of Europe and seemed invincible. America was not yet supporting Great Britain, Russia was crumbling and the Germans had made their intention of conquering all of Europe clear.

Gary Oldman was chosen to portray one of the 20th century's greatest statesmen, Winston Churchill, who led England through the dark days of World War II after the country lost faith in apologist Neville Chamberlain. Oldman is not acting in a historical drama as much as he demonstrates how England, under his leadership, moved through the early days of WWII through the political intrigues of the British parliament, royalty and diplomatic relations with the United States.

The movie covers the period of May to June 1940, the first few weeks of Churchill’s premiership when powerful voices in the upper echelons of the British government were clamoring for negotiation with Germany. Darkest Hour is Churchill versus his cabinet as events move briskly and decisions can mean the life or death of thousands. Oldman successfully shows how Churchill’s alienation from many of his peers was juxtaposed with a camaraderie with his countrymen through the dark early days of the war and the crucial decisions involved in evacuating Dunkirk.

Oldman disappears into his role completely, giving the audience the full Churchill... at turns affectionate, full of self-doubt, witty, merry and drunkenly rebarbative. Most Oscar observers were not surprised to see Oldman walk away with the Best Actor Award.

 
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