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Devilsdorp - Homegrown Homicide


Showmax has released its first original true crime docuseries, and it's a complete mystery where they could possibly go from here. While there was some hesitancy in watching the series, as though the local doc might have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to meet the interests in true crime of Showmax's viewers, but no, this is a wild one. If the events of Devilsdorp were presented as fiction, they would come across as utterly contrived tripe. It is unbelievable that this could ever happen.

And on that note, it's near impossible to review Devilsdorp because it becomes most rewarding once a certain threshold of spoilers has been crossed and it's best not to be overly familiar with the case going in. Over and over again, things are not what they seem, as the narrative of the murders seems to shift from financially-motivated, to Satanic links, to church involvement, to cults, to cover-ups, fraud, betrayals, and so on. This review will stick to what can be gleaned from the trailers for the show, as well as what series director David Enright has seen fit to reveal to the press, and a few minor details that are worth mentioning but won't spoil the many twists-and-turns.

The show tracks the events of the ‘Satanic Murders' and later ‘Appointment Murders', collectively known as the Krugersdorp Killings, hopping back and forth in time to unfurl the details like an investigation in progress. As Enright put it; “What started as a group of devout Christians trying to help a former Satanist escape the satanic church ended in a murderous spree involving a killer mom, her two children, and a cult with more victims than members. It may all sound too far-fetched to be believed, except it really happened, just down the road from us.” It's astounding that these people thought they could get away with any of this, and that for so long, they did.

The typical sin for a true crime docuseries is that, knowing viewers will want to stay for the resolution of the case, or at least the latest twist, they are formatted to stretch the facts of the case thin, padding a story that could easily be told in two or three episodes out to a full ten. The first episodes will dive straight into the grisly killings and intriguing players, but later on, episodes will begin to be occupied with laborious non-sequiturs, tediously unusable testimonies and local gossip treated with equal weight to the real investigation, only to leave off on a cliffhanger for an actually interesting development right as the episode ends. Better click on the next one, it's getting good now! Watch time is valuable.

Devilsdorp is a brisk 4 episodes, absolutely packed end-to-end, to the point that the title sequence of each episode is only about 10 seconds long. It leaves few stones unturned, but cuts frivolous details out of the equation, resulting in a remarkable clarity of events and process for the examination. It's refreshing to see a series of this nature more focused on giving you the facts than on its own polish.

Devilsdorp Aerial View

That isn't to say that the production leaves something to be desired, on the contrary, Devilsdorp has rock solid fundamentals. It uses quality cameras, and so unlike some local content doesn't look distractingly cheap, backed by a solid score that ranges from ominous to curious, and other times melancholy, to add an element of well-judged and non-invasive atmosphere. Also present are the typical suggestive dramatic re-enactments to accompany the interviewee's testimonies, though they air on the side of evocative, never showing faces, murders, etc. Keeping these sorts of indiscreet touches to a minimum works in the show's favor, because Devilsdorp is at its worst on the rare occasions that it does try a flourish or two, attempting to freak the audience out with a spliced in image of creepy dolls, or a hulking effigy constructed for the show in an attempt to articulate what can only be assumed to be what the showrunner's felt was the ‘theme' of this story. But this is not a story; these attempts to play into the occult elements of the case are silly, and this sort of embellishment is even criticized once or twice by professionals in the show itself (tabloids at the time of course *loved* that they could chill their readers by focusing on the Satanism of it all).

The interviews themselves are the standout contribution of Devilsdorp, unbelievable source material notwithstanding. There are some truly revealing talks, and every account is thoroughly detailed and thoughtful. These events had a profound effect on the lives of every person on screen, and they've all had time to let their thoughts on the matter germinate into absorbing depositions. There are some peculiar individuals involved here, a few seem to enjoy spinning this yarn; one is a journalist who's oddly cavalier on the subject of the dead, excitable on the subject of her work, and incorrigible in her attachment to one of the killers. Another is an eccentric investigating officer who fancies himself as Krugersdorp's own Chuck Norris.

Devilsdorp Aerial View

The amount of cooperation from the parties involved is remarkable, families of the victims, outside specialists, prosecutors, psychologists, witness protection members, all providing very personal accounts, taking us through their train of thought, which inevitably leads to some speculation (as when witnesses recount actions they personally found suspicious). Krugersdorp is a community with a large gulf between the haves and the have nots. It is also, generally-speaking, a deeply religious community, which retains the weight of the Apartheid government's ‘fight against Satan' through battling the ‘inherent atheism of Communism'. This background informs the perspective of many of the locals, and so informs the tone and point-of-view of some sequences of the show, though within good time Devilsdorp reframes and questions itself, first tactfully, and then in one of those moments where the creators butt in with inserts like the effigy to make their point. Still, when dealing with its procedural elements, the show is mesmerizing and whether you find the beliefs or naïveté of many of the players ridiculous or not, being entrenched into the goings-on of this community is compelling. The only view left largely without interviews is that of the ringleader (which somehow makes them all the more unnerving).

Devilsdorp is recommended binge watching, for one because leaving a gap between episodes may give the impression of red herrings, which when viewed in a single sitting are shown for what they are: reflections of all elements at play, both in the case and in the beliefs of the involved parties. This is a complete submergence into how this nightmare came to be, and that means allowing justifications the time of day too. The other reason is that this becomes a heavy watch, and though its tough to look away, you'll be relieved once you've finished it and can move on. It is taxing to acknowledge that many of the perpetrators were perfectly normal members of the Krugersdorp community, who got involved with what became a series of grisly killings, armed only with good intentions.

 
Game of Thrones: Crash, Burn and the Aftermath


Game of Thrones, the show, truly started one day in 2006 when the show's primary creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (D&D), underwent a test from author of the source material, George R.R. Martin. He asked them, well before the answer was commonly guessed at in fan forums, who Jon Snow's mother is? They got it right.

Signs of D&D's desire to branch out were there all along. They've admitted to wanting to downplay the fantasy elements of the series. As early as 2014, Dirty White Boys was announced as the duos first feature film production. Dirty White Boys faded from likelihood. Spending this much of your life on something can start to grate on anyone. They got a little trigger happy with concluding the show and against Martin's better judgement, rushed condensed seasons 7 and 8 out, ignoring the amount of material left to cover, and relying completely on their own writers, but mostly, themselves.

A year later, as these moves were being finalized, D&D partnered with HBO for a show immediately following the conclusion of Game of Thrones; their dream project Confederate. In the wake of this July 19, 2017 announcement, public interest was low and it seems clear now that Confederate won't be moving forward. Instead, about 6 months later on February 6 2018 D&D signed with Disney to write and produce the next slate of Star Wars films as soon as the show concluded with release dates slated at 2022, 2024, and 2026. Then, trouble began to brew, trouble well beyond Disney's own minimizing focus on films from the franchise. All was not quiet on the Westeros front.

Game of Thrones: Crash, Burn and the Aftermath

The final season of Game of Thrones is disappointing television, a messy and bungled conclusion to years of patient, intelligent and grand storytelling. The production tried its best to amp up everything they had, to give the show if not a well put together conclusion, at least a bombastic one. But fans only had hate in their hearts for two: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. We are unlikely to see a level of viewer backlash this severe again anytime soon. Lots of this ‘criticism' was downright childish. Fan communities made plans to boo D&D off stage at Comic Con, foiled when they had the good sense not to make an appearance, leaving only the cast to show face. A targeted campaign made it so that to this day, upon googling “Bad Writers” you are greeted with images of the two. 1.5 million signatures on Change.org, a sincere plea to HBO to revamp the series' conclusion with ‘capable writers', but the damage had been done. Even if HBO had done the unthinkable and just rewound the clock to give season 8 another go, public interest just was not there. Game of Thrones had permanently damaged its legacy as a title at the forefront of the Golden Age of TV.

Even D&D seemed to agree that there are some things they would like to have done differently. "Really the only people who are to blame are us – and I sure as hell don't want to blame us." Conversely, producers on the show made spirited defenses, saying that they have no regrets, and that the season was the best work they'd ever done, making a few snarky remarks about armchair writers. George Martin aired some soft-ball grievances: “The [final] series has been... not completely faithful... otherwise, it would have to run another five seasons.”

Coinciding with this, Gemini Man, which David had done some writing for, bombed *hard*, losing somewhere in the compass of $111.1 million. The pair stayed largely silent for a couple of months but made an appearance on a panel at the Austin Film Festival. Here, they gave a small talk including a humble look back at how ill-prepared they were to take on the show. Given the climate at the time, ex-fans seized upon the opportunity to further prove D&D's incompetence. A vocal minority of scorned viewers were out to frame them as audience poison and studios. The effort was hilariously futile.

A few months earlier, D&D had been scooped up by Netflix for a reported $200 million. They're first collaboration, The Chair, will be premiering soon, though D&D are only producers. For their first writing/directing gig, the pair have turned to the massively ambitious Chinese sci-fi novel series The Three-Body Problem. For writers who admit to struggling with the scope of George .R.R. Martin's novels, this is a very daunting choice to assume, "taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe". With their passion reignited, there's a good chance The Three-Body Problem will be just as refreshing to its creators as it could be to audiences.

As for Game of Thrones properties in the wake of D&D-day, a prequel is on the way; House of Dragon. This new series is set 300 years before the events of the show proper, an adaptation of Martin's Fire & Blood, following a civil war involving House Targaryen. It's been made clear that D&D are "entirely hands off" for this project. George Martin has also provided updates acknowledging that out of the five Game of Thrones prequels fans had to look forward to, one has been cancelled already, with only a pilot to its name, three others remain in “active development” and a few more are being planned. House of Dragon is currently filming in the UK, but the question remains; have audiences moved on, or are they waiting eagerly for a return to form for the world of Game of Thrones?

 
Richard Donner - I Believed A Man Could Fly


Richard Donner did not fit the mold of the typical master directors discussed en masse by critics and academics, yet with his passing we can expect a massive outpouring of tributes to a director who made classics spanning all manner of genre and tone, having a massive impact on the shape of modern movies.

Many of these tributes will be from industry insiders, seeing as Donner was by all accounts a wonderful mentor and friend. Steven Spielberg epitomizes this beautifully: “Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally... He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can't believe he's gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always.”

Richard Donner began in television, directing for some of the best remembered shows of the '60s, including the all-timer Nightmare at 20,000 Feet for The Twilight Zone, starring John Lithgow as an increasingly manic airline passenger, convinced he can see a creature dismantling the plane midflight. Working on a TV budget, confined largely to a single seat and a view from a window, the director was able to muster a string of distressing moments, blemishing the character's reliability as narrator and adding a moody element of texture to the view of the creature by injecting a torrential thunderstorm into the scenario. Claps of thunder briefly illuminate the frame of the creature, as do sparks from the machinery of the wing as it tears panels off. The episode contains a moment, as Lithgow pulls aside the curtain slowly and then all at once, that is still, to this day, piercingly startling. Something about dark, dark eyes peering from closer than they were before; it just works.

After some minor film work, Donner's next classic production was similarly unsettling, although free from the constraints of TV he was able to create something truly disturbing: The Omen. The film acknowledges the fact that the reality assumed by fundamental protestants is terrifying, playing out the conclusions of premillennial dispensationalism through the lens of matter-of-fact horror. Damien, the young child discovered to be the literal reincarnation of the Anti-Christ, certainly seems to leave an unnerving impression on most everyone who sees the film. The Omen played on an increasingly disillusioned and secular audience, paradoxically in search for films which affirmed their paranoias about supernatural evil and religious fears. While suppressed in normal life, these fears were stoked in the cinema by the likes of The Omen and The Exorcist.

For such a morbid conclusion, it may be surprising to find that Donner's next film would be a bright and chipper superhero movie. It would also be his greatest legacy. One cannot overstate what Superman did for cinema. Along with Star Wars, for many, Superman restated for the public the fantastical and transportive nature of cinema in a way that had not been seen to such a degree since The Wizard of Oz. Beyond the importance of being the ‘first' in the long line of modern comic book films, it's also a joy to watch, full of wit, humour, spectacle and the inimitable talents of Christopher Reeve.

In a sense it was ‘dated' upon release in that Superman reflects an America so fantastically nostalgic that it could only be found in Norman Rockwell paintings, but the movie holds strong to its fundamentals, romance and heroics and pathetic mean-spirited bad guys and responsibility and, and and. These things don't age.

Beyond that, Superman was in fact made with an impressive degree of verisimilitude, considering the public attitude to comics at the time, leaving camp mostly aside without forgetting to have fun. It played up the caped crusader's Christian symbolism and cemented Superman not as just an adventurous fantasy but as a towering modern myth, worthy of escaping print and Saturday morning cartoons to achieve epic scope. Donner's vision foreshadowed our contemporary obsession with superheroes, the prevailing mythos of modern movie-going.

But he didn't forget to typify the prevailing genre blockbusters of his own tenure though. As kids ran wild in that most particular of the ‘80s subgenres (Stand By Me, The Sandlot, E.T: The Extra Terrestrial), Donner made the quintessential example: The Goonies. Whilst the movie has plenty of adventure, laughs, and general Spielbergian goodness (often being confused as one of Steven's movies), it's the chemistry of Donner's child cast, friends on the verge of being separated by foreclosure, that makes the fun-park style high-adventure work as well as it has for audiences over the years. (Quick side-note, how to tell if something was really a subgenre in the ‘80s or just a trope common to most film eras: Is it an element of Stranger Things? If so, yes.)

It's that same talent for molding a pitch perfect dynamic between cast members that allowed Donner to elevate the '90s action buddy comedy, Lethal Weapon. His most acerbic film to date, the classic cop caper paired an aging straight-faced Danny Glover with suicidal loose-canon Mel Gibson. If you were unaware of Richard Donner's career and aren't yet impressed by the revolving door of diverse Hollywood classics he made in just over 10 years, you may want to keep revolving. Shortly before Lethal Weapon he directed Ladyhawke, a medieval dark fantasy, sandwiched between two comedies, one with Richard Pryor, the other with Bill Murray, which doubles as a Christmas film. A Western, science fiction, political and action thrillers, Donner didn't afford himself the time to settle down. He was all ready to direct the upcoming Lethal Weapon, reuniting the original trilogy's stars.

Richard Donner was a generous showman, he left a legacy filled with convivial gems vital both to the formation of the modern movie landscape, and the lives of so many movie lovers. If you're in the mood to laugh, to be scared or riveted, mollified with nostalgia or swept up in adventure; you could do worse.

 
The Jackie Chan Movie for YOU


Jackie Chan's massive backlog is a great well to draw on for comfort movies. They're all easy to understand, quick, and impressive, if sometimes only for the one thing that binds them together: Jackie himself. A martial arts master with comic sensibilities for charm and timing akin to the great silent stars, whether he's caught in a subpar production or not, you can always count on Jackie to bring it. Before you switch on one of his films, you know he'll be the underdog, a little out of his depth, forced to think on his feet, often not sticking the landing, but in the end, he'll kick ass in an explosive finish. It's a formula that's never really gotten stale, thanks to Chan and his collaborators' ceaseless imagination, always finding ways to top themselves, but, due to this blanket quality, most people probably end up seeing whatever Jackie Chan movie they come across, channel-surfing or combing through streaming libraries, without the time to find the perfect one for them. So let's interrogate, what are you looking for?

Fights

To be clear, this is not a ranking or ‘top however many' list, but if such a list were written, Drunken Master 2: Legend of the Drunken Master would probably take the cake. The premise should tantalize: Jackie is the folk hero Wong Fei-hung, who's skills in martial arts increase the more booze he downs. The fight choreography here is some of the best ever put on screen, and despite the fact that Chan is performing in the same real life ‘drunken' style as in the first Drunken Master, mimicking the movements of the inebriated, returning to the technique 16 years later means that as a seasoned performer he lends his signature fluidity and acrobatics to action so versatile and fast-paced, there's hardly time to groan at how painful the last drop onto hot coals looked before you're laughing at Chan dragging his opponents along for a handstand walk to launch them into a wall.

Stunts

Drunken Master 2 was a return to traditional style martial arts films, but what Jackie became best known for were spectacular action juggernauts, pitting his brawling expertise against people with guns, or tanks, or... mostly guns, incorporating more of what would become the inspiration for parkour. In these films, though Jackie insured there was no shortage of good fights, the real draw became his incredible and innovative stunt work. This swatch of films produced the first of his blooper reels, original just chronicling the difficulty and danger of his escapades. The best compiling of such stunts is in Police Story 3: Supercop, a truly bonkers action epic, where Chan and friends leap from car to car, drive motorcycles on top of trains, and dangle high above Hong Kong from the ladder of a helicopter (sticking a death-defying landing), all of these things moving of course, and crucially, all of them 100% real. And if you're a fan of Jackie's, the prospect of co-star Michelle Yeoh on top form should double your interest.

Hollywood

Alright, maybe some of this is a little too far off the deep end. We've spelunked too far into the Chaniverse too fast; keeping track of who's saying what in the terrible dubs or if you need to know who anyone left over from previous installments is, is a little too much for a Sunday watch. You need a more traditional, straightforward, Hollywood-style action comedy to really chill out. Well, Jackie hasn't had the best of luck with American directors, they tend to squander his talents, but the first Rush Hour is still pretty great. If you've somehow missed it, the film pairs up a motormouth underachieving American showboat with a penchant for screwing up his cases (Chris Tucker) with an inarticulate overachieving humble top cop with an absolute command of martial arts (guess who?). Look no further than the end credits blooper reel to see where the focus of the film lies; not so many flubbed stunts, and plenty of flubbed lines and fun interactions between Chan and Tucker.

Serious

If it's the comedy you don't like, firstly: you soulless dreck, and secondly: we've got you covered. Crime Story features a pretty serious take on actual events surrounding of the 1990 kidnapping of a Chinese businessman, wherein Chan, and inspector suffering from PTSD must track down the kidnapped whilst a mole from within the force works to undermine him. It's tense, intense and strives to be a little more emotional than the rest of these.

Location, Location, Location

Maybe to you, Jackie brings the goods every time, and it's not so much what he does, as where and how he does it. Well, if you're looking for variety of setting, so that you don't sit through more than 20 minutes without a change of scenery, try First Strike (a.k.a. Police Story 4) . Watch Jackie on a globetrotting mission as he skis snowy slopes, hikes along horrifying high-rises, crashes a colossal carnival, shatters a shopping centre and swims with sharks.

Chopsocky

And finally; chopsocky are the kung-fu movies from the '60s and '70s stoned college kids put on for a laugh. They are the classic, no-budget, all fighting messes that rely completely on their performer's gifts. Terribly dubbed, crawling with training montages, snap-zooms and whipping wind sounds when fighters wave their arms, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow is *the* typical chopsocky movie, and a fine one at that. While the other fighters have comparatively minimal polish, this was Chan's first pivot towards what is his recognizably quirky style today, meaning that as when any of us discover something we're good at, he turns it up to a ridiculous degree. This is a silly movie.

Earlier in this article a comparison was drawn between Chan and the best of the silent clowns; he's equated with Buster Keaton particularly often. It's an apt comparison, especially on the level of their underdog personas as well as their meticulous and perfectly judged stunt-work. But, while Keaton's charm was in his trademark ‘stone face', Jackie is manifestly warm and welcoming, a gift to all of his films, and making him one of our most beloved and universal stars.

 
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