Feldman @ the flicks

Soul

Peter Feldman: Soul is the best film opening this New Year weekend, a brilliantly conceived animated Pixar escapade which questions life and the Afterlife.


Soul
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett
Director: Pete Doctor
Classification: PG

The team which brought the world Inside Out and Up have hit the jackpot again with this brilliantly conceived animated Pixar escapade in which questions about life and living are addressed.

Questions arise such as where do people get their personalities? How much of a role do parents play in your upbringing? Are things predetermined before birth? These are tackled by co-writer and director Pete Docter in an entertaining and believable way.

The deep, spiritual topics that he looks at provide a tonic for the soul on all levels and you leave the cinema on a high, thanks to the jazzy music and the memorable personalities who fill out this clever storyline.

Soul is a bright, whimsical musical about what gives us our individuality and most of the characters do not have bodies at all.

Jamie Foxx gives voice to the lead character, a frustrated jazz pianist named Joe Gardner who is unable to fulfil his ambitions because he works as a middle school music teacher to earn a living. One day he is given the rare opportunity to audition for a jazz band. He aces the audition, but on his way home he falls down a manhole to his untimely end.

But it doesn’t end there. The story is then elevated to a new plane which we understand is the Afterlife, where all souls eventually end up. The Great Beyond is wonderfully depicted in different styles and not at all scary as children’s films go. It asks young audiences to acknowledge the issue of mortality in a way few productions do.

During Joe’s spiritual journey he encounters various entities. Emerging souls manifest, guided along by mentors who have already lived and are tasked with passing their knowledge and passion onto the next generation. Once new souls discover their “spark” they are provided with an entry pass to Earth where they enter an infant body to live out their lives.

Joe is hooked up with No 22 (Tina Fey), a recalcitrant soul who has been around for ages and is unable to find her spark. She’s a negative force and there is some revealing interplay between the two characters with hilarious results, reminiscent of the body swop saga in Freaky Friday.

Messages and metaphors abound in this ground-breaking enterprise with a toe-tapping musical score that enhances the experience.

Soul is a superb, uplifting production to kick off the new year.


Pinocchio
Cast: Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Gigi Proietti, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth
Director: Matteo Garrone
Classification: 10-12 PGHV

This Pinocchio is an Italian made, live action fantasy version of the classic fairy tale, but I’m afraid it will shock those who expect to see the softened Disney-type interpretation.

Instead, what we get here is a grotesque tale, with horrifying scenes, of the wooden puppet and his (mis)adventures as he navigates a foreign world of mostly unsympathetic characters.

In its favour, though, is that director and writer Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio captures the era in style and tone and has already won awards in the best costume and set design categories. The special effects, especially where prosthetic make-up is applied to creating the mischievous boy-cum-wooden puppet, is superb.

What is bizarre is the telling. It’s clear that director Garrone has stuck faithfully to Carlo Collodi’s original narrative, especially in emphasising the dark side, an aspect which Disney chose to soften considerably in its animated version.

Based on the 1883 book, this version features child star Federico Ielapi in the title role and he is splendidly backed up by a sympathetic Roberto Benigni as the carpenter, Mister Geppetto. One cannot easily forget Benigni’s 1997 Oscar-winning role in Life is Beautiful, set in a Nazi concentration camp, where he also played opposite a child.

The film, dubbed into English, sees the story through a fresh lens, with live actors all giving weight to the various characters. Interestingly enough, even The Fox and the Cat are played by actors. Massimo Ceccherini (Fox) and Marine Vacth (Cat), characters who lead Pinocchio astray, shape their roles with guile.

Several aspects, evident in the Disney version, are glossed over, including Pinocchio’s relationship with a 100-year-old Talking Cricket. The character, who serves as Pinocchio’s conscience and gives him sage advice, is never fully utilised and the puppet considers him annoying.

Scenes inside the belly of the terrible dog fish, a gigantic and ravenous sea monster, and children being changed into donkeys are quite frightening. To say this production is ideal for children would be misleading and parents should be aware that sensitive children might find some of the sequences frightening.


Dreamland
Cast: Margot Robbie, Finn Cole, Travis Fimmel, Kerry Condon
Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Classification: 16LVNS
Rating 2/5

Dreamland is an endurance test of epic proportions where dreams and dust come crashing down in a relentless shower of misery.

Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte takes viewers on a journey of discovery for a young farmer’s son, Eugene Evans (Finn Cole), who unwittingly becomes entangled with a wily woman bank robber, Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), and visualises an exciting out for his grimy existence. The farm is on the precipice of foreclosure by the bank and funds are urgently needed. By turning Allison into the authorities, he will receive a handsome reward which will help save the farm.

Being young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, Eugene falls for the charms of Allison, who is lying injured with a gunshot wound and hiding in a barn on his parent’s farm in the middle of a barren Dust Bowl Texas. He manages to hide the fugitive from the rest of the family and decides to throw in his lot with the sexy Allison. The two hit the road in Bonnie and Clyde mode.

A shadow of foreboding hangs heavily over the couple as they plan a route to safety, which involves robbing a bank for funds, and heading for the border.

Set in the 1930’s, the production captures the hopelessness of people enduring terrible hardships, bravely trying to keep body and soul together in the harshest of conditions.

The narrative is somewhat thin on substance but high on atmosphere, elements that are not sufficient enough to sustain interest in the fate of the doomed couple, their tenuous relationship, and their determination to survive.

There are few surprises in the mechanics of the plot, though it must be said that both Margot Robbie, one of the co-producers, and Finn Cole give good accounts of themselves.


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Peter Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time, he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa’s biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995. He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines, including Artslink.co.za. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long-standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, “Video Games,” which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase “Local is Lekker”.