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Movie Review: Shepherds and Butchers


Shepherds and Butchers is a South African courtroom drama, directed by Oliver Schmitz and based on the award-winning novel by Chris Marnewick. The story follows Johan Webber, a defence attorney, who takes on the controversial case of Leon Labuschagne, a young prison warden, who is charged with killing several black men in 1987. Marnewick, an advocate in Durban, delivers a powerful retelling of this capital punishment court case, which is based on actual events.

The film adaptation stars Steve Coogan, who is best known for Philomena, Andrea Riseborough, who starred in Shadow Dancer and South African actor Garion Dowds as Labuschagne. Coogan has a rich comedy background, but like many comic actors, has an equally layered dramatic depth. He brings a fortitude and resilience to the role of Johan Webber, a character which while underdeveloped, carries clout. Riseborough gets a handle on the South African accent and goes head-to-head with Coogan as a bullish and hardened advocate. If Coogan is the heart and Riseborough is the mind, then Dowds is the soul of this powerful drama. While the character clouds proceedings, we see the events unfold through his eyes and Dowds gives the manchild a vulnerability, which helps foster empathy.

The tension lies in Labuschagne's unwillingness to co-operate as we try to make sense of the debacle. He's been charged with a multiple homicide in what appears to be an open-and-shut case, but his fragility makes it difficult to imagine the character carrying out the disturbing acts he stands accused of. As we wrestle with our convictions and prejudices, we're given a behind-the-scenes tour of the horrendous state-sanctioned executions from death row. While important to plumb the shock value to get inside the mind of the accused, this harrowing depiction of hangings is intense, graphic and not for sensitive viewers.

Shepherds and Butchers

"..."

Schmitz is best known for Life, Above All, arguably the greatest South African drama. The racial oppression and social issues of 1987 become powerful in their subliminal treatment, much like To Kill A Mockingbird. The overtly white cast and accurate production design foists us into the turmoil of the justice system of the time. Watching from this retrospective standpoint, heightens the underlying tension and stacks even more weight against the defence as we're persuaded to feel sympathy for a "white psycho", who appears to have carried out a racially-motivated killing. Schmitz may not have a character-driven screenplay to leverage, but summons power through the earnest performances, the heartbreaking visuals and gripping true story.

Shepherds and Butchers isn't in the same league as To Kill a Mockingbird, Dead Man Walking or even A Time to Kill, but like The Devil's Knot, delivers thought-provoking drama and a powerful visual testament of a time we'd prefer to forget. We may not engage or identify enough with the characters to be fully immersed in the story, but from the nature of the harrowing imagery and socio-political ramifications, it's safer to watch from the back of the courtroom.

The bottom line: Unsettling


 
Movie Review: My Father's War


My Father's War is a drama from writer-director, Craig Gardner, which examines the fractious relationship between David, a war veteran father, and his rebellious son, Dap. We journey with Dap, a young man whose issues stem from feelings of abandonment and a lack of connection, following his father's prolonged involvement in the undeclared Angolan Bush War. From his birth to adolescence the two have forged a history of missed connections. When David reaches out for the last time only to have Dap accuse him of forwarding the agenda of the Apartheid government, he's brought to his knees. It's only after Dap starts dreaming about being at war with his father that he begins to really see the truth.

This Afrikaans-English war drama stars three of South Africa's finest dramatic talents: Edwin van der Walt as Dap, Stian Bam as David and Erica Wessels as Karina. This tight unit makes a strong nucleus for domestic drama to play out at the Smit household. Edwin van der Walt immerses himself in the role of the angst-filled young rebel, whose temperamental attitude and hard-partying lifestyle alienate him from his family. Stian Bam gives David an understated anxiety and a deep-seated depression, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and trying to push past the guilt to overcome his absence. Erica Wessels draws power from Karina's distressed and frustrated state-of-mind, playing a wife and mother, who is only just holding the fort down.

Gardner focusses on universal issues of forgiveness and empathy, and the film could've easily been transferred to any post-war family dynamic. These underlying themes make the film intensely relatable for any family member involved in some sort of conflict. While he's intent of portraying an accurate and earnest domestic drama, Gardner's other intention is to represent the Bush War in Angola. Through Dap's dreams, Gardner is able to inject these war scenes like flashbacks. Much like the framing of Pearl Harbour, this escalates the human drama from intimate to grand as SADF choppers and trucks enter the fray.

My Father's War

"Old dog... there's still fight in the young dog."

While we're given an introspective tour and some Bush War action that helps us comprehend the stress David underwent, the treatment is a little jarring in contrast with the drama, making the marriage of genres a bit unwieldy. While Dap walks a mile in his father's boots and there's certain license in the dream state, the war music is histrionic and conjures up the solemn heroics of World War II. It's a leap of faith to have David's war experiences relayed through Dap's dreams as if he was there, but if you don't fight this spiritual fantasy element, the ride is much more enjoyable. The Bush War has more in common with the guerilla warfare of Vietnam and probably would've been better served by nostalgic music from the age. It certainly would've added another layer for Dap's musical tastes to clash and slowly integrate with those of his father's.

Although far from perfect, My Father's War has its heart in the right place, which is reinforced by earnest performances. While confrontational at first, it becomes surprisingly moving in the third act. The ensemble's conviction make the high concept easier to accept, urged on by our desire to experience the cinematic illusion in all its fullness. The film-makers have largely accomplished what they set out to achieve and the end result is entertaining and emotionally resonant.

The bottom line: Moving


 
Adam Croasdell on 'Hatchet Hour'


Adam Croasdell in Hatchet HourAdam Croasdell is a multi-talented and versatile international actor, who was born in Zimbabwe, studied in South Africa and has worked extensively in Britain and the United States. Having started his career performing opposite the likes of Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman at the Royal National Theatre, he moved into television with roles in Peak Practice, The Chase, EastEnders, Supernatural, Nikita, Body of Proof, Once Upon A Time and NCIS.

He's also known for his voice work, which includes: Middle Earth - Shadow of Mordor and Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and has performed in films such as Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, The Prince & Me 3 and Extraction. Croasdell's most recent role sees him playing "Izzy", a confrontational stand up comic, who tries to uncover a dangerous plot in Hatchet Hour.

How did you get involved in this film?

I knew the director, Judy Naidoo, from my time studying drama at Wits University in Johannesburg. We lost touch for a long time but a couple of years ago I happened to be in a bookstore in Heathrow airport on my way to LA and I heard a voice behind me saying, “Adam? Is that you?” It was Judy.

We ended up having a long talk about where we were at in our lives and what we were doing. At the end of it Judy said she was mounting this film called Hatchet Hour and that she thought she had a part for me in it. We spent several months discussing the project and my character - Izzy - over Skype, and, after doing some rewrites together, got him to a place that resonated strongly with me. Then I jumped right in.

Have you done stand-up comedy before?

No, I had never done stand-up before. It’s a very specific, very specialized talent and I have huge respect for comedians who do it. In my case, I decided at a particular point in my preparation that I wasn’t going to make Izzy a stand-up who goes only for the laughs, but a guy who is quite dark and cynical; more a satirist and a social-commentator. Izzy is a guy who is intelligent and not afraid to make people feel uncomfortable with his observations.

How did you prepare for the role of “Izzy” and where did you take inspiration?

Preparing for Izzy was a multi-faceted process. Firstly, the look for me was very important. I wanted him to feel like he comes from a difficult background and has the scars to prove it. I started growing my hair and beard out and used a nutritionist to lose weight. I worked with the very talented costume and make-up departments, and designed tattoos for him, which sent out a very particular message that speaks to where he’s come from.

Also, I walked around Johannesburg looking like this and interacted with people a lot to gauge their reaction, which proved pretty interesting at times. One of the other influences I used was to dig into the work of the late Bill Hicks, who was a tortured, brilliant man. In my work in the UK and in America, I tend to play a lot of characters who operate on the peripherals of society. Izzy is no exception.

Your South African accent sounds quite natural, I see you were born in Zimbabwe, can you tell us a bit about your upbringing?

Yes, I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until the age of 13 at which point my parents sent me to boarding school in South Africa. I lived in SA until I was 22, and afterwards I headed out to the UK to work and later onto Los Angeles, which is where I live now.

What was the most grueling aspect of shooting ‘Hatchet Hour’?

The Braamfontein winter! When discussing the project with Judy, she talked about setting Hatchet Hour against the steel grey tones of a Johannesburg winter - which, incidentally Tom Marais - our Director Of Photography - captured beautifully. But starting work on the project, I had forgotten just how cold those Jozi winters can be. Bitter. We did a lot of work in the Magistrates Court and prisons downtown, and it was like operating inside a refrigerator. The endless summer that is LA has made me soft!

Hatchet Hour - Adam Croasdell

You’ve been described as “the love child of Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman” in this performance (by me)… which actors do you admire or see as role models?

Well that’s a huge compliment. They’re two of my favourite actors. I often get told that I look like those guys. In fact, one trip I was returning to California and as I was waiting in the Customs line at LAX, one of the Homeland Security officers came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that guy. The guy from the movies.” I said, “Which guy from the movies?” and he said, “You know; the guy with the claws - Wolverine!” I should have just nodded and he would’ve fast-tracked me.

I’m a huge fan of Downey Jr. for his wit and intelligence, and of Jackman who’s completely multi-talented. Other actor role-models for me are Brando, Newman, Streep, Ruffalo, DiCaprio, Sarandon and Brand. Not only great performers, but people who use their platform to make the world a better place.

What was it like playing opposite Erica and Petronella?

Fantastic. Two very beautiful, very talented actresses. Erica is a big star in Afrikaans-language films and Petronella has her own, large following too as a black South African actress. I play Petronella’s boyfriend in the film and I have a deep, love/hate relationship with Erica’s character. It was great to see these two women come together to play best friends in a story that transcends the issues of race in South Africa, in what is now an international, award-winning film.

How do you think audiences will respond to this film?

I hope that they love it. It’s a moody thriller with edgy, eccentric characters. It’s shot beautifully by Tom Marais (iNumber Number) and has a twisted plot and a great score. A great evening of cinema.

What was it like working with Judy Naidoo?

Exciting and also very challenging at times. Judy has a great sense of purpose about her projects. She’s one of the only film directors that I’ve worked with who has managed to build almost 2 weeks of rehearsal into the process prior to shooting, which is unheard of, but which for an actor is an absolute gift. Her talent is for fusing sometimes very disparate elements into a unified whole; Indian influences in the score whilst the audience looks at quintessentially African landscapes; comedy and violence intermingling; empowerment and disempowerment revolving around one another. She has put so much of herself into this film through every stage of the process. It’s hard not to admire that.

Are you planning on visiting South Africa again?

Africa is in my blood. South Africa’s under my skin. I’ll be back.

 
Mumford & Sons - 'Dust and Thunder' Live in SA Concert Film


Multi-platinum selling band, Mumford & Sons have a massive and loyal international following, which was echoed at the last tour of South Africa, where they played for over 50,000 fans at their last concert in Pretoria. While this reviewer didn't get a chance to attend the actual concert, there's a good chance you'll feel like you did after experiencing this immersive film at Post City in Cape Town. The post-production company worked on the concert film, which they're proudly presenting at their in-house cinema this November.

Mumford and Sons - Dust and Thunder

I had the privilege of being one of the first people to see this concert film at a private screening at their studios on the Foreshore and it was sensational. The intimate 32-seater cinema is equipped for Atmos with a 4k projector and enshrines you in speakers. The sound test they played for us to demonstrate the 3D surround sound was incredible, giving you a real sense of the aural environment.

While Mumford and Sons isn't a personal favourite, their ability, energy and talent is undeniable. Most concert films become a bit repetitive, but this one was different, keeping you in the moment with sharp editing and multiple perspectives of every musician on stage in Ultra HD. The energy of the visuals and colour spectrum are reinforced by the sound, which takes you to the concert. The sound designers recorded multiple channels from within the audience and the results are quite amazing, giving you the shrill screams of fans and the inside edge, making you want to applaud when the crowd get involved. They collaborate with supporting artists: Baaba Maal, Mamadou Sarr, The Very Best and Beatenberg, welcoming them on stage after the encore.

The music is visceral as the pulsating rhythm and sound whip the crowd into a euphoric state, in many ways akin to being in a cathedral of sound. The eclectic visuals sustain you as the band keep things fresh by switching instruments, getting crowd interaction and bringing new session musicians on stage. This is a one-of-a-kind concert film that has set a new bar for sound and Post City have shown that they are open for business and ready to mix more big name live performances.

Post City Studios are screening this concert for a limited time at R170 a ticket, which you can get through Webtickets. It's obligatory for Mumford & Sons fans and a must for audio-visual enthusiasts, or anyone who enjoys rock concerts. Book tickets here.

 
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