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Have Hollywood Movies got too Gimmicky?

George Lucas decided to wait until a time when visual effects technology had become good enough for him to release his first three Star Wars films. John Boorman decided to direct Arthurian legend, Excalibur, rather than Lord of the Rings because he realised that the scope of the project would have been much too ambitious in order to realise many of the magical places and fantasy characters. Both directors were wise to avoid going out of their comfort zones, creating some iconic films as a result. Star Wars was already at the cutting edge in terms of visual effects, many of which still hold up by today's rigorous standards.

While make-up, animatronics and video effects of the day had their place, we've seen a marked improvement in visual effects, which have adapted with the rise of digital and 3D over the last three decades. While it appears that animals are still a bit tricky to pull off when you consider films like Dolittle and Mowgli, looking at Ang Lee's tiger in Life of Pi, it seems to be more a case of just how much budget a film is willing to dedicate to each of its visual effects elements. These days, with spectacular superhero and fantasy escapism bombarding the box office at regular intervals the need for visual effects has skyrocketed and while some budgets have grown with this, it's still a case of filmmakers trying to get as much bang for their buck as possible.

Hiring numerous visual effects companies to unpack a slate of scenes and visual elements, it has now become a bidding war in an effort to keep costs down. With some of these films taking up visual effects in almost every frame it's getting to the point where simple green screen technology is beginning to consume the actors themselves. Boasting all-star casts and posting massive returns, the DC and Marvel Studios can't seem to make films and TV series quick enough to keep up with the demand. While Disney seems to be pulling all the strings, having bought Lucasfilm and Marvel for an extraordinary amount, they do seem to be reaching a saturation point in terms of just how many Star Wars sequels and spin-offs can exist concurrently. Their Disney+ offering, however, with the advent of Marvel's phase four seems to be just getting started!

Hollywood Movies Too Gimmicky

Comic books were born in times when life was tough allowing readers to escape from their seemingly powerless situations into a realm of make-believe where superhuman abilities made immersing oneself both empowering and exhilarating. With the seemingly precarious political situation across the world and a latent recession undermining economies and job markets, it does seem like people would want to escape rather than confront their hard realities in the form of documentaries and dramas.

While Roland Emmerich (Midway) and studios like Marvel are leading the charge when it comes to these feasts for the eyes, it's getting to a point where visual effects have proliferated storytelling so much that it almost comes across as animated with superimposed actors. This unreal quality can derail film, taking it from the grit of suspenseful reality to a fabricated world of unreal. While the visual effects elements are possibly going too far, building sprawling worlds yet dampening the overall illusion in terms of quality, other films are trying to find the right balance.

Following Birdman comes 1917, an experiential war adventure drama about two soldiers who are handed an impossible mission to go beyond enemy lines in a bid to rescue 1,600 men. Birdman simulated a continuous one-shot, cleverly editing it in such a way that it seemed as that was done in one take. Revolutionary, it has inspired other filmmakers to try and match this film-making feat. The most recent technical masterpiece is 1917, which tracks with its co-leads across the pastures and dilapidated buildings of France.

Artfully composed, undulating and epic, it's an amazing achievement for world-renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins. While the meticulous planning and perfect execution of essentially many continuous shots are stitched together, it does give you a vicarious bystander experience of sorts. This roving single perspective camera movement is much like third-person video games with the exception that it's continually looking for the best angle and frame in order to sustain its artistic temperament and visual standards.

While the world of gaming and film are gradually converging, the stylistic choice does refocus what's important in a film, once again taking away from human element. There's nothing wrong with aiming to do something like this but there are certain risks involved. One thing that's becoming self-evident is that you are buffering the human connection, the emotional undercurrent and the audience identification with the characters. By giving precedence to the visual effects or cinematography something is lost in translation, taking away from the actual art of performance. The same is true for resurrected digital characters who appear real but are synthetic recreations.

While Hitchcock infamously described his acting talent as cattle, films would be dead or at least alienating without a human presence or similar contact points in order to help immerse and persuade an audience into sinking into that world. While technical gimmicks are dazzling, impressive and carefully calibrated, keeping the vulnerable, flawed kernel of human nature seems to be essential in conveying rich and universal themes to speak to film audiences.

Film is difficult, requiring so much planning and forethought extending to budget allocation and human resources. It just seems that striking the right balance is a way that films will be able to retain their spectacular visual dimension without losing touch with characters. While world-building is important, it's much more critical that character and story be revered and all of its talent respected. You can hold an audience's attention without all the gimmicks, it's the story and characters that matter the most.

Oscar Buzz... Talk Around Tinseltown

This year's awards season has been quite fascinating and contentious. From complete snubs and surprise twists to contentious issues, it's been far from boring. The film Parasite has dominated headlines as the front runner, garnering plenty of nominations the and generating plenty of speculation around the notion of a foreign film in an American awards competition. While 1917 looms large as a technical masterpiece, Parasite is just much more well-rounded and the Oscars tend to favour performances if you ignore Titanic. Boon Jong Ho has been in high spirits, commenting on how subtitle films should be given more recognition from broader audiences and deflecting some of the Oscar pressure by acknowledging the locality of the Academy Awards and other similar film competitions.

The Voting Process

It's been a massive shakeup with many pointed opinions on what seems fair. While the Parasite ensemble are quite brilliant, they were largely ignored in the acting awards nomination process. While bringing their relative anonymity under the spotlight and how that impacts behind-the-scenes voting processes, it's also been a time of reflection and criticism of voting procedures where people have also been wondering if all voting members have even seen all the films in competition. Obviously this poses serious credibility issues for the Academy, whose specific process should be fair or at least carry the illusion of integrity.

Criticised but Still Tops

The Oscars have taken on quite a bit of heat over the years from being deemed too white and racist to becoming irrelevant in the modern era. Struggling to find a host with a squeaky clean record, almost as if they were swearing in a president, the red carpet event has been forced to play catch up. While these kinds of competitions are often political and slanted at the best of times, we are living in an age where there's no hiding from the truth any more. The entire "for your consideration" campaigning process already leaves a strange taste in the mouth, which is compounded by some of the more obscure decisions that face heavy criticism come awards season.

Love it or hate it, the Oscars is still an institution, one by which most actors live and breathe. Having one of those golden statuettes accredits you as an actor for life, serves as an everlasting calling card and is a major validation for anyone in the industry who's seeking to reach the pinnacle of success. Still revered, respected by peers and regarded as the crème de la crème of film award ceremonies worldwide, this probably explains why small matters become contentious and snowball into major debate points.

Supporting Acts

One discussion that clearly needs to be had is the idea of the supporting actor and what constitutes a supporting act. This year, while Brad Pitt was essentially a co-lead in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he is scooping up all the best supporting actor awards. As an actor, having enough screen time to do your character justice is a major advantage. Smaller character actors have got a limited amount of time to convey the particular nuances of the character and this is much easier to do when you aren't confined to a few minutes. While Alan Alda delivered a performance worthy of some award recognition in Marriage Story, his time on screen is far less than Brad Pitt or Anthony Hopkins had to work with.

In fact, what's quite humorous is that Hopkins won Best Actor for The Silence of the Lambs when he collectively was on screen for less than the time he was in his role as Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. The opposite is true for Margot Robbie who was nominated for her performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Obviously during the campaign process films decide who their nominees are based on which stars have the best prospect of being nominated. While Margaret Qualley actually had a better turn, it's Robbie's star presence and overall ability that was given precedence. This led to the strange double nominee situation at the BAFTAs.

Robbie had a strong year as a supporting actor, so it would have made much more sense for her to get a dual nomination rather than a double nomination. Pushing out some of the other possible nominees, who were probably more deserving, it just comes across as unfair on the smaller fish. The Oscars do need to redress their entire system and while we may never get to a point where everyone is happy, one does feel that as the highly esteemed film award continues to serve as the standard, there is a greater pressure for them to go back to the drawing board and find a better way of adjudicating and acknowledging real film talent.

South African Celebrities Born and Bred in Germiston

For a place with a small-town vibe Germiston has spawned more than its fair share of famous people.  Some are activists who jeopardised their personal freedom to help create a more just and equitable South Africa.

Others are vibrant, bubbly personalities who have blown us all away with their stellar performances on TV, radio and the silver screen.

Our city on the East Rand may not be an economic hub, vital port or the Tavern of the Seas but it is the equivalent of the online slots at the casino that always have a few dazzling gems hidden on the reels.

Who are the standout celebrities born and raised in Germiston?  Let’s take a look at four Germistonians who have made a major impact in their chosen careers:

Jeannie D

Jeannie de Gouveia aka Jeannie D is arguably one of South Africa’s most famous personalities.  She waltzed into most our lives as a radio host on Good Hope FM.  Her distinctive voice, way with words and ability to tackle the most contentious issues with fairness and unanimity made her an overnight radio sensation.

From radio the young Jeannie made the great leap to TV where she wowed with her stunning good looks and relaxed and natural disposition.  Her time with Top Billing, Afternoon Express and later the Top Travel Show catapulted her into the realm of super stardom.

Who can forget her interviews with the big names of Hollywood like Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey - interviews that had the stars completely captivated with her sincerity and charm.  Or the way she took us all along with her to some of the most remote and exotic travel destinations on earth!

From the small screen Jeannie stepped up to the silver screen where she played the part of a bank assistant in Mercenary for Justice, a feature film shot in Cape Town starring Steven Seagal.  She also co-hosted the annual South African Film and Televisions Awards (SAFTAs).

The lovely Jeannie D may have departed our TV screens but the effervescent 37-year-old from Germiston is now a budding entrepreneur with her own gin distillery and Swiss manufactured perfume.

Bertha Gxowa

Bertha Gxowa spent her life fighting for freedom.  As a young woman just out of school she joined the Defiance Campaign, a campaign that demanded the right for black people to travel freely in their own country.

Her defiance of the apartheid pass laws landed the young 18-year-old in jail but even that did not deter the determined young woman from Thokoza from following her heart.  On her release from prison Bertha became an active member of the ANC Youth League.

She was also a founding member of the Federation of South African Women, a group that led the now legendary 1956 Woman’s March to the Union Buildings in protest of the pass laws. Her election to the provincial executive of the ANC and her involvement in the march got her into trouble with the law yet again - and this time she was banned for 11 years under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Bertha spent much of her time working on community upliftment projects until the unbanning of the ANC in 1990.  She then became involved in re-organising the Katlehong branch in Germiston, a job she did with her usual enthusiasm and aplomb.

Her success at grass roots was emulated in the higher echelons of power.  She became the national treasurer and chairperson of the ANC Women’s League in Gauteng.

She also became a Member of Parliament - a fitting tribute for an extraordinary woman born and raised in Germiston.  Bertha Gxowa, the fearless freedom fighter and campaigner for women’s rights, passed away in 2010.

Ernie Els

With his laid-back demeanour, easy golf swing and affable smile Ernie Els is one of South Africa’s favourite sportsmen.  The Big Easy, who hails from Lambton in Germiston, is also one of the most successful professional golfers the country has ever produced.

Under the watchful eyes of his dad Neels, Els learnt the finer points of bogeys, birdies and eagles on the Germiston Golf Course.  By the time he had reached his 14 th birthday Ernie had a scratch handicap - a harbinger of things to come for the tall, lanky lad.

Today Ernie Els boasts 71 career wins, four of which are majors.  He is one of only six golfers ever to have won two British Open Championships and two US Open tournaments.

The former world number one from Germiston has bagged the World Match Play Championship an astonishing seven times - more than any other golfer in the history of the sport - and has deservedly taken his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Els has banked more than $49 million on the PGA Tour and over €28,6 million on the European Tour.  He has also coined it in terms of sponsorship deals.

Ernie Els the golfer is a hugely successful golf course designer and winemaker and he owns homes in the UK, the USA and South Africa - not bad for a guy from Germiston?

Thembsie Matu

Thembsie Matu is an actress, stand up comedian and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  Born in Katlehong, the darling of South African TV has featured in a litany of local dramas and soaps that vary from Tshisa, The Lab and Rhythm City to Queen, Zero Tolerance and Zone 14. Matu has the inimitable ability to add humour to virtually every role she plays, an ability that has spurred her on to trying her hand at stand-up comedy.

The veteran actress is probably best known for her role as Petronella in the TV show Queen, a quirky and often hilarious personality who has choice words for her wayward hubby and is always willing to give a bit of ‘interesting’ advice.

Thembsie Matu has a big-hearted personality that everyone adores.  Along with her broad smile, contagious laugh and awesome talent, the fabulous femme fatale from Germiston credits her stellar success to her work ethic and positive can-do attitude!

Three Breakthroughs for the South African Film Industry

The 2010s saw African films make even more headlines at the world’s biggest festivals, from AFI to Berlin, Sundance to Toronto, earning Oscar and Golden Globe nominations along the way. Here are three global breakthroughs, now available to stream on Showmax.

Breakthrough animation: Revolting Rhymes (2016)

“I guess you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.”

Roald Dahl’s classic collection of twisted fairy tales was brought to life in Cape Town by Triggerfish, who animated Revolting Rhymes for Magic Light Pictures alongside Magic Light’s Berlin office.

Like Dahl did, the animation has reimagined the familiar stories anew, structuring them around the friendship of the pistol-packing Red Riding Hood (BAFTA winner Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones and The Good Fight) and her resourceful best friend Snow White (Screen Actors Guild nominee Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians and Captain Marvel). The Big Bad Wolf (Golden Globe nominee Dominic West from The Affair and The Wire), seven jockeys with gambling debts, and three property-developing pigs all feature, as does Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Jack and a beanstalk, and his nasty mother.

Directed by Jakob Schuh (Oscar-nominated for The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer (Oscar-nominated for Room on the Broom) and co-directed by Bin Han To, Revolting Rhymes was nominated for an Oscar and won some of the world’s biggest animation awards, including the International Emmy Kids Award for Animation; Best Animation at the BAFTA Children’s Awards; Best Animated Special at the Annie Awards; and Best One-Off Special at Kidscreen.

Special mentions:

:: Triggerfish also animated three adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classics as BBC Christmas Specials with Magic Light. All similarly won multiple international awards, with Stick Man (2015) winning at Annecy and Kidscreen, The Highway Rat (2017) at Rose d’Or, and Zog (2018) at New York International Children’s Film Festival - and currently nominated for Annie, Kidscreen and International Emmy awards in 2020

:: Triggerfish’s movies Adventures in Zambezia (2012) and Khumba (2013) became the most successful South African film exports in 30 years, translated into 27 languages, licensed in over 150 countries, and generating over R1 billion

:: Munki and Trunk (2016), produced from Cape Town by Sunrise, became a YouTube phenomenon, racking up over two million subscribers

Breakthrough documentary: Whispering Truth To Power (2018)

With exclusive, behind-the-scenes access, Whispering Truth To Power charts the final year in office of South Africa’s public protector Thuli Madonsela as she attempts to seek justice for ordinary people.

After successfully challenging President Jacob Zuma for illegal use of state funds, Thuli now has to face the biggest challenge of her career: investigating – in the face of protests, death threats and legal challenges – the alleged systematic takeover of government by a private family in cahoots with the President.

Shameela Seedat’s directorial debut, Whispering Truth To Power won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, North America’s most important documentary festival, for “its timely portrait of a bad-ass public servant who uses her office for good at a pivotal moment in South African politics.”

Special mentions:

:: Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War (2018) won 26 awards, including Best of Festival at The International Wildlife Film Festival 2019, and was shortlisted for the Presenter and Impact awards at Jackson Wild 2019, arguably the Oscars of the wildlife film world

:: Pascale Lamche won the Directing Award at Sundance for Winnie (2017), a documentary on one of the most misunderstood contemporary female political figures, Winnie Madikizela Mandela

:: Liyana (2017), a genre-defying documentary about a storytelling workshop with South African Gcina Mhlope and five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini, won 35 international awards

:: Everything Must Fall (2019), Rehad Desai’s #feesmustfall documentary, won The Vaclav Havel Award at One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival this year

Breakthrough film: Inxeba | The Wound (2017)

Directed by John Trengove, Inxeba tells the story of Xolani (Nakhane), a lonely factory worker, who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel.

Inxeba is one of the most talked-about South African movies of the last decade. Local cinemas were forced to cancel screenings after death threats and protests about its depiction of the secret Xhosa initiation ritual, then the Film and Publications Board Tribunal reclassified it as pornography (it’s not) after complaints from traditionalists, essentially banning it from mainstream cinemas. The classification was later overturned in the North Gauteng High Court.

I-D Magazine called it “the most important LGBT film you will see in 2018… through the character of Xolani we are introduced to a world where homosexuality is still simply not an option.” The excessive protests against the film laid bare the rampant homophobia that remains in parts of South Africa.

In addition to a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Inxeba was Oscar-shortlisted and won over 25 international awards, including the Sutherland Award for best first feature at the London Film Festival, the Grand Jury Award at LA Outfest, and Best Actor for Nakhane at Palm Springs.

Special mentions:

:: The feelgood Kenyan superhero film Supa Modo (2018) won over 50 international awards, including Best European Film For Children from the 2019 European Children's Film Association Awards and a Children's Jury Special Mention in the Generation 14Plus category at Berlin in 2018

:: Endgame, about the covert negotiations to end Apartheid, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie in 2010, among other honours

:: Kenyan film Kati Kati (2016) - described by The Playlist as “a condensed version of Lost” - won the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery program at Toronto International Film Festival

:: Kenyan crime movie Nairobi Half Life (2012) won the Breakthrough Audience Award at AFI Fest for director David Tosh Gitonga

:: Stories of Our Lives (2014), an anthology of five short films about the queer experience in Kenya, won a Teddy Award at Berlin International Film Festival in 2015

:: Mrs Mandela (2010) earned Sophie Okonedo a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Winnie Madikizela Mandela

:: Kanarie, Schalk Bezuidenhout's breakout movie, was named one of Indiewire’s 14 Best LGBTQ International Films of 2018 and has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes

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