Posts Tagged ‘John Cleese’

The Spud Phenomenon

Spud 3: Learning to Fly

spud_three_learning_to_fly

 

Director: John Barker

Cast: Troye Sivan, John Cleese, Casper Lee, Aaron McIlroy, Sven Ruygrok, Grant Swanby, Ben Voss, , Blessing Xaba, Luke Tyler, Alex McGregor

31 Million Reasons director John Barker takes over the helm of the third Spud film, Spud 3: Learning to Fly as the story, based upon a series of hugely successful novels is written for the screen by its author John van de Ruit, follows John Milton aka Spud as he enters Grade 11 or what was known as Standard Nine the year prior to Matric.

The crucial year is 1992 the year of the South African referendum in which white South Africans could vote on whether the then Nationalist Party’s current steps to dismantle apartheid was endorsed by the minority electorate, obliquely referred to in the film by a Sunday Times headline. This is a South Africa pre the 20 years of democracy scenario, and the setting is a wealthy all boys’ boarding school in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands – many of which still exist today.

John Milton, wonderfully played by South African expat, Troye Sivan, escapes the turmoil of his domestic life as his crazy parents seem intent on splitting for divorce after his mother catches his father (played by Durban comedian Aaron McIlroy) flirting with the voluptuous Portuguese neighbour. Back at school, there is trouble with the Crazy Eight (the group of friends who forged their ties in silly antics involving a secret tree house in Spud 2) led by the arrogant Rambo played by Sven Ruygrok, as some of the members aim to be confirmed and become a school prefect.

To make matters worse a new boy arrives from Malawi, Garth Garlic played by teen Youtube sensation Casper Lee, who desperately wants to be accepted into the Crazy Eight. Milton also has the threat of his school scholarship being revoked should he not prove himself both academically, theatrically and on oddly enough on the sports field.

Milton often seeks advice from the caustic and brilliant Guv, wonderfully played by veteran British comedian John Cleese from the Monty Python movies not to mention Faulty Towers. This really was a monumental casting coup for the Spud Trilogy to get someone as prolific as John Cleese to star in a South African film and really improved the marketability of the Spud franchise abroad especially in the UK and Australia where there are large South African expat communities residing.

To make matters worse a new boy arrives from Malawi, Garth Garlic played by teen Youtube sensation Casper Lee, who desperately wants to be accepted into the Crazy Eight. Milton also has the threat of his school scholarship being revoked should he not prove himself both academically, theatrically and on oddly enough on the sports field.

Milton often seeks advice from the caustic and brilliant Guv, wonderfully played by veteran British comedian John Cleese from the Monty Python movies not to mention Faulty Towers. This really was a monumental casting coup for the Spud Trilogy to get someone as prolific as John Cleese to star in a South African film and really improved the marketability of the Spud franchise abroad especially in the UK and Australia where there are large South African expat communities living.

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Whilst Spud 2: The Madness Continues was meant to be humorous and silly in parts, Spud 3: Learning to Fly has a stronger script giving more flesh to some of the supporting characters especially the rest of the Crazy Eight gang including Fatty played by Blessings Xaba. The female characters are also better written and Van de Ruit cleverly frames the action of Spud 3 firmly within the third term antics of a disastrous production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at St Catherine’s all girls’ boarding school.

Spud 3: Learning to Fly is a more coherent and less juvenile production showing not only that the characters have matured more as they should have, but the cast has become naturally more familiar with the Spud Phenomenon. This is a humorous family film, with all the recognizable trials and tribulations of teenage boys navigating puberty, peer pressure and that urge to survive high school with their male pride intact. Think a more diluted Dead Poets Society, specifically South African yet unfortunately not filmed in KwaZulu-Natal.

If there is going to be a fourth installment of the Spud franchise let’s hope that it is actually filmed in KZN, showing off Durban and the Midlands for their unique beauty. Director Barker has done this before in the heist thriller 31 Million Reasons in which he really showed Durban off as a superb cinematic location. Spud 3: Learning to Fly is highly recommended viewing, proudly South African, poignant, nostalgic and appealing adding to the huge success of the first two movies.

 

 

Surviving School for the Absurd

Spud

 

 

Spud the film adaptation of the bestselling novel by John van de Ruit concerns the trials and tribulations of a schoolboy on the threshold of puberty going to a private boys school in the Natal Midlands abounds with literary references from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

The allusions to the Theatre of the Absurd is not lost on John Milton, the 13 year old boy, nicknamed Spud who escapes his wacky household in Durban North and thrust into the crazy, cruel and bullying world of schoolboys all attempting to be part of a dorm gang who resemble more Lord of the Flies than Dead Poets Society. From the wild antics of his fellow classmates Spud finds refuge in his literary conversations with his English Teacher, Guv, a spot on performance by John Cleese, who is both witty and fragile as a man trapped in an environment he clearly would like to rise above, but cannot gather the courage to do so. The ever sickly and accident prone Gekko becomes Spud’s best friend offering advice on girls, moral support and non-conformity, whilst giving Spud perspective on the situation he is in from their journeys up to Hells View.

Spud is a superb South African film, which has the right balance of pathos and panic, humour and character with great cinematography, first class casting and a real sense of capturing the period of Transitional South Africa in the early 1990’s.

Directed by Donovan Marsh  and produced by Ross Garland who also brought the insightful 2007 film based on the memoirs of Radya Jacobs Confessions of a Gambler to the big screen, Spud is drawing in the crowds at all local cinemas gaining the  honour of the highest grossing film in SA in the opening week. Both Spud and Confessions of a Gambler deal with characters who go on emotional journeys in hostile environments which are unsympathetic to their own personal growth,  showing their own humanity and tenacity, which inevitably shines through.

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With John Cleese and Troye Sivan giving excellent performances of teacher and pupil who both go on an often hilarious but very different change of life journeys, Spud is sure to break into the International film scene with the same dexterity that the title character manages to navigate his way through the first year of boarding school in an environment which is as ludicrous as Catch 22  and as treacherous as Dicken’s Oliver Twist.

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