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Andrew Worsdale on 'Durban Poison'


Andrew Worsdale is a Johannesburg-born South African actor, filmmaker and journalist. Worsdale studied drama at Wits University, before completing an MFA in Film and TV on a Fulbright Scholarship at UCLA. As a filmmaker he has made several short films and produced some documentaries including the cult underground feature-film Shot Down, which he directed in 1987. His latest film, Durban Poison, a killer romance road movie based on a true story and starring Brandon Auret and Cara Roberts, will be showing at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town and Bioscope Theatre in Johannesburg from 11 July.

Andrew Worsdale Interview - Durban Poison

Durban Poison took root in 1988, why has it taken so long to make?

The reason it happened now is because of the Karoo Film Company, Diony Kempen and Deon Meyer, I had worked for Diony and he liked the script and because of the DTI rebate scheme that has led to this re-energized local industry.

It's loosely based on the real story of Charmaine Philips and Pieter Grundlingh... what about their story inspired you to make Durban Poison?

After Shot Down I wanted to make a normal movie. I was reading James Cain and wanted to make a noir, femme fatale crime film. I met a journalist and actor and the Philips story was still fresh in people's imagination strangely enough. In retrospect, the media made so much of it - echoes of Natural Born Killers there. The gifted director Sara Blecher made a very good documentary about Charmaine Philips and Piet Grundlingh as part of a series of love stories done for SABC – a long time ago in the early days of SABC - when it was still pretty good, 1996 or thereabouts!

"If it had been made in 1988 it would have been an uglier film about Fascism or the dying days of Apartheid..."

For a time it was developed as a kind of biopic, straight narrative form when they met in Durban through their life to the fights, the split up and the dope deal and it going wrong and the other murders and then a trial, and then, in the true story - a turn in the trial and a confession. I remember at that time I was also inspired by The Executioner’s Song – great telemovie of Mailer's book with Tommy Lee Jones - and James William Guerico’s Electra Glide in Blue!

The film seems toned down with a stronger focus on the love story...

Basically I needed a spine to tell a noir story. If it had been made in 1988 it would have been an uglier film about Fascism or the dying days of Apartheid - more trashy and excessive. So it was never going to be their story - as in a true crime flick... just a take on the genre.

Also after many years of development - the flashback structure came after Memento and Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When making it I defaulted the film into romance - it was the way to go with the people I was dealing with and I’m glad I did - I love this regretful, compassion it has - Peter Machen called it "a women's pic" and it's true. Other versions were way grungier and sexual.

The film was shot in 18 days with 20 days of pre-prod, so I went for the gap - with romance on my side I guess - and I love that. Wherever it has played around the world: Busan, Goa, London, Dubai, Luxor, Khouribga, Durban – it is always women who come to me afterwards to say thanks, or they were moved, or is Brandon Auret single?

Did you ever meet or interview either of the real-life inspirations?

Nope. And I think everyone should leave her alone to live her life. There's was a tragic time and it was decades ago. The public and media should rather pay attention to how they are loving those close to themselves.

"(I saw) a black-and-white photocopy of a photograph of Cara – and I knew she was it..."

Durban Poison has a stellar South African cast... how did you get them on-board?

I've worked as an actor and so I know most of them. Especially the old guys! Danny Keogh played Arnold, the drag queen in Torch-Song Trilogy at the Market Theatre roundabout 1983 - I played the kid he adopts in the third act. I used Danny for the classic scene at the roadhouse in Shot Down as a deranged psycho who shoots Robert Whitehead, James Philips and the protagonist at Casablanca Roadhouse, in my M-NET short Stimulation Danny played a nasty abusive father of a high-school kid, so I really want him in all my movies.

Marcel and Marie were going to be the original Piet and Joline - so that was something I had to do, also Marie is in Shot Down, in the scene in the hotel lift and in the woman on the notorious Voortrekker sequence. Frank Opperman plays a cop who raids a township party in Shot Down. I love Frank - just love him - so I had to get him – it was either him or Lionel Newton and Frank said yes first - Lionel was great in my M-NET movie Stimulation as a whacked drug dealer, very strange! So that’s it...

Karoo Films were very supportive of my casting choices – perhaps also because I knew the actors, they "did it for me" – so people cut their rates radically. As for Brandon, I was freaking out, there was some kind of pressure to cast an Afrikaans pop star type idea – Arno or – whomever- Yo-landi from Die Antwoord as you correctly said so yeah, basically - I cast the movie!

Durban Poison - Cara Roberts, Andrew Worsdale and Brandon Auret

Brandon Auret works quite beautifully as Piet, when did you envisage him for the part?

I’d always known Brandon and actually loved his work, but somehow he wasn't coming up. Then in a God-given moment my DOP Will Collinson was shooting a 48 Hour Film Project and Brandon was the lead - in a f*cked up crazy performance. Diony Kempen called me through to watch some of the cut - within minutes I had Brandon on the phone and sent him a script. He came in to see me at 10am the next day and I cast him.

He's incredible in the movie - and he is a friend now - as he says in the film "you can count on me" - well you can count on Brandon as a collaborator... it's why Neil likes him. Of course I hope to make another flick - and in the rewrite I'm doing, there's a part for Brandon!

This is a film debut for Cara Roberts, tell us how she came to be in Durban Poison?

For Joline - I didn't know, but went to see Moonyeenn and she showed me a black-and-white photocopy of a photograph of Cara – and I knew she was it... I saw a young Isabelle Huppert or something in that picture, plus her parents  who I know. I saw one other actress – an "unknown" from Pretoria.

"I made the noir romance – now I wanna do something that’s more like a Saturday night flick..."

How strictly did you adhere to the script?

Because I really had the story in my head and now was the time, 18 days to capture it. I stuck to the script but had moments where I cut entire scenes because production didn't manage to get a soup kitchen sorted, for instance. But with actors and stuff I allowed for inspiration, but all the dialogue is the dialogue - actually!

In the edit, the first cut was 105 minutes - the running time is now 94 minutes. In the cut we lost a lot of dialogue and whole set-ups, smoking weed on the beach with the cops. So I refined the movie, focusing more on the romance. In a way that's why there are two posters - the one with the gun - American styled b-movie thing and the romance dream sad sunset one.

Durban Poison seems ahead of its time for a South African film, why?

Well most South African movies are kind of predictable - you know what it is going in, they don't really stay with you and they’re to do with context not suspense - it's all to do with the writing and therefore above all development and therefore - the gatekeepers. I don’t wanna get into it, depresses me... or I’ll get angry... I mean why isn't Durban Poison playing at Cresta for f*ck’s sakes? Or at the drive-in at Menlyn Park?

What would you like audiences to take away from Durban Poison?

My bank account number to send a donation. Kidding. Well, not kidding! But right now to tell their friends to see it this month sometime at the Labia and Bioscope - then perhaps I can leverage other screens to show it.

Have you got another passion project in the pipeline?

I’m doing a rewrite on a movie, it's a comedy meant to open on 100 screens! It's called Freddie’s Hairfood Factory - totally different to Durban Poison - I made the noir romance – now I wanna do something that’s more like a Saturday night flick that you wished would never end.

 
Movie Review: Durban Poison


"Durban Poison is sure to impress the most jaded of pot smokers." While this online review refers to the sweet and earthy strain of cannabis, named after the South African port city, Andrew Worsdale delivers a similar experience to what it must be like to smoke this brand of marijuana in his film, Durban Poison.

The crime romance drama road movie is loosely based on the true story of the infamous South African couple, Charmaine Phillips and Pieter Grundlingh. The two went on a murderous spree over 17 days in June 1983, leaving four corpses in their wake. A slew of outlaw romance road movies and thirty years later, their story has made the jump to celluloid as a first for South Africa.

Durban Poison begins with the two in prison, embarking on a road trip with police officers to uncover the locations and motives behind their crimes. Through a series of flashbacks, we're given a fly-on-the-wall tour of the complicated love story between the drug-infused haze of murders, but Durban Poisonisn't really about the murders.

Brandon Auret and Cara Roberts co-star in this gritty indie crime romance with a film noir appetite. They're both a law unto themselves as self-confessed prostitute, Joline, and the cantankerous construction worker, Piet, decide to make a quick buck whenever and however they can.

While Brandon Auret is essentially Neill Blomkamp's voodoo doll, he's given a meaty lead role in Durban Poison as Piet, the hedonistic working class thug with his heart on his rolled up sleeve. Auret works beautifully in this role, rising to the challenge to inject grit, determination and passion into this misguided and psychotic soul.

Durban Poison Movie Review

"What we do in life, echoes in maternity."

He pushes off debutant actress, Cara Roberts, whose performance conjures up Noomi Rapace in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. She's got great instincts and delivers a natural performance, operating in her second skin to create great chemistry opposite Auret. The two literally drive the film on the back of these paradoxical characters. On the surface, they're simple low class South Africans, yet their unpredictable behaviour adds another layer of complexity.

Durban Poison is a great showcase for Brandon Auret and Cara Roberts, yet they're not alone, supported by some fine veteran acting talents in Gys de Villiers, Danny Keogh, Marcel van Heerden, Drikius Volschenk, Marie Human and Frank Opperman. The performances from the core ensemble are strong and keep the film distinctly South African, retaining the story's emotional integrity. It's interesting to note that Marcel van Heerden and Marie Human were originally set to play the co-leads when the film took root in 1988.

Although in today's political and social climate, the leads could just as easily starred Ninja and Yo-landi from the infamous group, Die AntwoordThe modern day Bonnie & Clyde story may not involve banks, but relays the exploits of two lovers on-the-run from the law. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers is present in the trashy, violent and stylistic choices in Durban Poison. While not nearly as trippy, David Lynch's Wild at Heart echoes in the reckless abandon and restless spirit.

Worsdale has a great eye for what works visually and while it isn't a Hollywood movie, the guerilla style filming gives it a rugged look and feel. The film's budgetary constraints count against it in some instances, when it comes to consistency of sound, foley work and munitions. This is a great pity, when you consider the film's merits, but could necessitate a remake.

The narrative is also sometimes difficult to follow. The story jumps between the couple's past love story, murderous spree and their police escorted road trip. This structure keeps the audience curiously off-balance, but it's still fascinating as we gather bits of information together to form a clearer picture of the characters and their driving motivations.

Durban Poison is refreshing in the way it tackles this niche genre. While decidedly violent and graphic at times, you almost feel that more would have been better. Perhaps that's just an echo of Natural Born Killers and Wild at Heart? Instead, Worsdale concerns himself with the unconventional and fractious romance at its core. By toning down the violence, the film takes on a docudrama realism.

Durban Poison is dark, distinct, earthy, sweet and sure to impress the most jaded of film goers. The co-lead performances light the way as a trashy noir romance based on a true story plays out with panache. While it's loosely structured, somewhat constrained and not for everyone, it tips the hat to the genre and blasts a hole in South Africa's rather naive film industry.

The bottom line: Grungy

 
Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Whether you believe in evolution or not, there's plenty of great contrasts to be made in The Planet of the Apes saga. After it seemed like Tim Burton had broken the franchise, a prequel in Rise of the Planet of the Apes renewed interest in the science-fiction concept, leveraging Andy Serkis and his second most famous digitally rendered performance as Caesar.

The result was magical, blending groundbreaking CGI and performance in a story that grabbed our attention and imagination. James Franco helped foster Caesar before handing over the reigns to Andy Serkis as the film's scene-stealing lead. Now that the sequel has arrived, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare films where the lead actor is digital.

Perhaps this could explain why so few name actors signed on? Competing with and being outperformed by an ape, King Kong or otherwise, is a nightmare few Hollywood stars would be able to live down. Gary Oldman is probably the closest thing to a name star, and despite being a seasoned campaigner, doesn't share many scenes with Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell or the ape army.

Zero Dark Thirty's Jason Clarke is our human protagonist in what must be regarded as a breakthrough role. He's sincere, down-to-earth and more than convincing as Malcolm, the guy who just wants everyone to get along. He's supported by Keri Russell as Ellie, who is just as earthy in this gritty sci-fi action adventure.

The biggest drawcard and budget allocation is the visual effects. It's rare for a frame of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to escape without some CGI laced into it. The effects are impressive, realistic and frequent, portraying an army of apes and extreme close ups that seem more real than real. This precision makes the premise of a growing nation of genetically evolved apes versus human survivors of a devastating virus, all the more plausible.

Director, Matt Reeves, has had quite a filmography up till now, kicking off with Cloverfield and Let Me In, before taking on a big budget production sequel like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He demonstrated his knack for harnessing a disaster epic like the smart, found footage monster movie, Cloverfield. Then, he managed to get more intimate and moody with the dark vampire drama, Let Me In.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

"Ape not understand this 'Cuppa Mighty Joe' movie reference."

He manages to get the big and small moments right in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. We're entranced by the visual effects and enthralled by the choreography of the action. Then, we empathise with the lifelike apes and Caesar's plight for peace. It's an unusual space for us to rally with the digital actors more than the human actors, but this keeps the fragile balance of power taut.

While Dawn of the Planet of the Apes works visually and in terms of performance, something has been lost in translation. The apes communicate via rudimentary sign language and grunts, not unlike some guys round the fire. The storytelling visuals are so strong that the film could have been silent and you'd get it. Yet, when they speak in broken English between themselves and the humans, something's off.

Winding up the clockwork monkey leaves little else but to watch it smash it's tambourine to a standstill. While the screenwriters probably envisaged interactions between some lost Amazonian tribe and Spanish conquistadors, the dialogue is the missing link and just seems superfluous at times, simply filling in the dead air and purporting war propaganda.

While the adoption and transition to human language is necessary to bridge to the eventual Planet of the Apes, it often feels clunky and unintentionally funny. This uneasy communication middle ground takes away from the film as the humans struggle to relate to the apes and the screenwriters try to make the apes sound more intelligent.

There are some parallels with No Escape, or Escape from Absolom, in which Ray Liotta has to side with the civil prisoners under "The Father" (Lance Henriksen) or The Outsiders, a near-primitive faction ruled by "Marek" (Stuart Wilson). In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it's not an island but a forest with Jason Clarke filling in for Ray Liotta with Gary Oldman as "The Father" and Andy Serkis as the "Marek" character.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has the scope of the prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The visual effects are groundbreaking and bring the apes to life. The brink-of-war tension between ape and ape, human and human and then ape and human, provides suspense. Then, the film benefits from strong performances from Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell and Jason Clarke.

If you can roll with it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will captivate and entertain you. However, if you get tripped up on the little things, like genetically evolved apes riding on horseback or adopting the English language, you may struggle to truly embrace this shaggy sci-fi epic.

The bottom line: Spectacular

 
Top 5 Sport Movies...


Sport combines almost every genre of film, blending the high stakes action of a car chase, the romance of a sports fan cheering their team on, with the drama of an underdog story only to have everyone laughing with sporting bloopers. No wonder sports fans flock to stadiums, bars and satellite TV! Film gives us a chance to explore deeper sporting themes from the player's perspective. Here are some knock-out sports movies you need to make a point of seeing or reliving...

Rocky

Sport movies pride themselves on the underdog story and Sylvester Stallone’s award-winning Rocky is testament to the triumph of the human spirit. The young Stallone began carving a long Hollywood career in 1976, after insisting he star in his own movie, despite the studio wanting to cast a known actor.

Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger song became a sporting anthem the moment Rocky Balboa ascended those steps and the film’s nuggety and sincere quality continues to shine through. Rocky embodies determination, perseverance and going the distance, principles that we can learn from and admire as sports fans.

Best sporting moment… when the bell rings on the 15th final round and all Rocky can think of is “Adrian!”.

Raging Bull

Robert De Niro’s red-blooded performance and amazing physical transformation earned him a well-deserved Oscar for Raging Bull. The actor’s preparation for the role included winning two-of-three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and gaining 27 kilograms to play the older Jake LaMotta.

The hard-hitting black-and-white sports drama is based on the cantankerous LaMotta, a prize fighter, whose rage wasn’t limited to the ring. Raging Bull remains a masterpiece that saved and cemented Scorsese and De Niro’s dynamic duo. After the real LaMotta saw the film, he realised what a terrible person he had been. When he asked his wife “Was I really like that?”, she replied “You were worse.”

Best sporting moment… in the final fight, when LaMotta is turned into a human punching bag by Sugar Ray Leonard.

Rush

After Tom Cruise got behind the wheel in Days of Thunder and Sylvester Stallone wrote off Driven, it seemed we’d never see a high-calibre, high-octane motor racing movie. Ironically, history helped rewrite history when Ron Howard signed on to direct Rush the biographical drama-turned-thriller about the 1970s F1 championship.

An unlikely sports movie director was supported by two unlikely stars in Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, who deliver underrated performances in a vivid recreation of the merciless rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the F1 Championship. An underdog through-and-through, Rush was unlucky not to get any Oscar nominations.

Best sporting moment… when James Hunt drops his driving gloves to deck a journalist.

The Hustler

Some winners are born to lose. This paradox inspired Robert Rossen to direct The Hustler, a sports drama about a self-destructive pool player who challenges a long-time champion in a high stakes game. Paul Newman is Eddie Felson, a character who was probably inspired by Raging Bull boxing icon, Jake LaMotta, who has a cameo as a bartender.

The Hustler is a dark, beautifully shot and morally complex sports drama, packed full of great performances and led by iconic roles for Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. The film inspired Martin Scorsese to direct The Color of Money, which saw Fast Eddie taking on a protégé.

Best sporting moment… all of the trick shots.

The Wrestler

Wrestling is one of those sports that blurs the line between sportsmanship and entertainment. Whether it’s staged or not, there’s no denying the talent involved, from the character interplay to the live-action stunts. Darren Aronofsky explored a much grittier version of this world with Mickey Rourke playing an aging wrestler on the verge of retirement.

The stalwart role was an undisputed comeback for Rourke and made a fascinating character study as the actor essentially wrestled with demons from his own past. Tough, relentless and deeply affecting, The Wrestler makes a fitting companion piece to Black Swan.

Best sporting moment… when Rourke blades his forehead, for real.

Runners up: Moneyball, The Big Blue, Field of Dreams, Chariots of Fire, Hoosiers, Bull Durham and Lagaan.

This article originally featured in the July 2014 edition of TechSmart magazine.

 
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