24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: World Cup

World Cup host South Africa gets a (different kind of) cinematic close-up

June 28, 2010 | 12:49 pm

If the sounds of the vuvuzelas isn't still ringing in our ears months after the World Cup ends, South Africa might find another way into our consciousness. Sony Pictures Classics said Monday morning that it has bought distribution rights to "Life, Above All," Oliver Schmitz's South Africa-set movie that played Cannes last month, and would release the film in the U.S.

The movie, which we saw on the Croisette, focuses on a teenage girl beset by a host of problems (a series of father figures who've abandoned her, a mother who may be dying) while she must simultaneously care for her younger siblings. The film's got a bit of a "Winter's Bone" feel to it -- there's a strong, wise-beyond-her-years teenage girl fighting the odds in a poor rural area, protecting children even as she is, in many ways, still a child herself (though the film is not the tour de force that "Winter's Bone" is).

LifeOur Cannes viewing had actually made us wonder, given all the ways South Africa is in the news, if a major American company might take a flier on it. If the ESPN telecasts and other news coverage awaken a larger curiosity about country, this is a movie that satisfies it; "Life" is much more of a foray into social realism than many more politically minded South African films have been.

Still, there's an unavoidable problem with putting out this movie. The film's portrayal of rural and working-class parts of the country is hardly glowing; many of the adults are downright harsh or so preoccupied with their own survival that they have no time for the children. Schmitz, who based the film on a popular young-adult novel, also casts a depressing light on the powerful specter of AIDS among the country's poor.

All that grittiness makes it a more interesting film, but it could also present a marketing incompatibility, flying in the face of the feel-good aura hovering over South Africa, literalized by those incessant notes of harmonic folk music accompanying all showings of the World Cup logo.

("District 9," of course, became a big hit despite hardly being a Chamber of Commerce-approved piece of work, but that movie came out well before the World Cup and put many of the social issues behind a genre cloak anyway.)

Sony Classics hasn't committed to a release date for "Life" yet. That may be simply because it needs to find a place for it on the always-crowded specialty-release calendar. But it could also be wise not to push a film about the unseen problems in South Africa when everyone is still hearing the World Cup music.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Life, Above All." Credit: Cannes Film Festival.


Cannes 2010: America braces for an auteur attack

Nike's World Cup commercial shows Inarritu's filmmaking flair

Thai upstart Uncle Boonmee takes the Palme d'Or at Cannes

Why is there no great Hollywood soccer movie?

David Beckham's disappointing Hollywood run

June 6, 2010 |  7:00 pm


It's not easy making the jump from sports notable to entertainment world celebrity. But given how much fanfare surrounded David Beckham's arrival in Los Angeles three years ago, you'd be forgiven for expecting a more graceful leap.

Beckham, whose English football team is center stage at the World Cup as it prepares (without him) to play the United states this weekend, was following in the path of plenty of Southern California athletes who made the transition to a film and television career, including pretty much the entire 1970s L.A. Rams. And he had the likes of Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg and pretty much every agency bigwig in town eager to give him a hand. (His representatives at CAA and Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment had an elaborate game plan to make him and wife Victoria screen stars.) So why didn't it work out?

Experts for a story we wrote for the Sunday Calendar section had numerous explanations for why Beckham didn't gain more recognition in Hollywood, many of them having to do with his soccer career. He wasn't a goal scorer. He was often injured or playing in Europe. He was seen as a mercenary. And maybe most crucial, he was dragged down by the low profile of the sport he played instead of, as all those Hollywood well-wishers had expected, lifting up that sport to his level of prominence.

Beckham's representatives took an unusual tack in explaining why he and Victoria never became Hollywood royalty. Instead of saying basically that life got in the way, they volleyed that the couple never wanted an entertainment career in the first place.

Asked whether the Beckhams are satisfied with their Hollywood run, a representative for the pair responded: "Your questions imply that David and Victoria have an interest in becoming involved in the entertainment industry. This is simply not true. David's focus has always been and will continue to be soccer, in whatever capacity that leads him. Victoria's focus is raising her family and her fashion line. Her dress line is going into its fifth season and is extremely successful."

Maybe so. But given all we'd heard a couple of years back, and all the effort the power players expended, fashion and football seem like inadequate replacements for filmic fame.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: David Beckham. Credit: Los Angeles Galaxy

Nike's World Cup commercial showcases Iñárritu's filmmaking flair

May 20, 2010 |  3:15 pm

Writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose films include "Babel," "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and the Cannes Film Festival premiere "Biutiful," has shown a unique talent in weaving together seemingly unrelated narratives into a coherent whole.

Rarely has that skill been on greater display than with a new Nike soccer commercial that was unveiled Thursday ahead of next month's World Cup.

Called "Write the Future," the three-minute Nike ad stars soccer legends Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Landon Donovan and Ronaldinho. There are also quick appearances from the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, a pingpong-playing Roger Federer and television's Homer Simpson. In one sequence in the commercial, the Mexican-born director imagines how Rooney's life might have turned out had a particular soccer play not gone well for the star of Manchester United and England's World Cup team.

The commercial was made at advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. Trevor Edwards, Nike’s vice president for brand and category management, has said that the spot is one of the best Nike has ever turned out.

Will it sell Nike apparel? Who knows? But the ad is certainly going to elevate Iñárritu's status as a storyteller, even as he waits for a Cannes buyer for "Biutiful" to come forward.

-- John Horn
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