By BRUCE DENNILL
That Sugar Film / PG 7.5
African Safari / PG 5
Hope For Hurting Hearts / PG 6
Sabbath School Songs / A 5
As a documentary, That Sugar Film does much wrong and much right. On the upside, it’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking, crammed with imagination and gonzo journalism from filmmaker Damon Gameau, which fizzes along as it proclaims his message. Broadly, that message is: “There’s far too much sugar in the average person’s diet, but they don’t know about that and aren’t countering it, so they’ll suffer unless I put my body on the line to prove how dangerous sugar is.” Gameau commits to spending two months eating a high sugar diet – foods, it must be noted, that are advertised as healthy – and endures the physical and emotional ups and downs that result while candidly sharing the whole roller-coaster journey with his viewers (and his supremely patient wife). The film is far more than just a report, though, with clever, witty digital effects providing a secondary, tongue-in-cheek narrative that makes the piece hilarious to watch – hardly what you expect from a film trying to forcibly push a scientific hypothesis. And that is where the piece falls short. Entertaining as both Gameau and his filmmaking ideas are, he and his film don’t prove anything, other than that “everything in moderation” was, is and always will be good advice. The experts he quotes are not terribly convincing, and a little reading post-film (if you’re interested or willing) suggests that some of the “education” provided by That Sugar Film is a touch chancy, and that, like medication, it should only be taken in conjunction with an official prescription. Watch it as cinematic entertainment as you would a mainstream studio release and That Sugar Film will amuse and, to some degree, inform. Take it as gospel truth and you’ll likely end as off-colour as its protagonist does at the height of his experiment.
The hook for African Safari, made by Belgian director Ben Stassen, is that it was shot in 3D and so offers that extra dimension to the viewer who has seen a number of other wildlife films and reckons there’s not a lot more in that niche that will excite them. Unfortunately, their perspective may prevail here, as 3D is already a gimmick that annoys many cinema audiences because of the uneven results achieved in many projects that feature the technology, and also the irrelevance of adding it to some stories, which would be as or more effective in traditional 2D. The DVD obviously lacks the 3D element, and so must survive on the merits of its story and/or the prowess of the filmmakers. In both regards, it fails to push the envelope. Kevin Richardson, also known as “The Lion Whisperer” and thus not necessarily the sort of role model you’d like to present to youngsters taking their lead regarding how to act around animals, is the de facto host of the piece, which captures his journey from Namib dunes via the Ngorongoro to the Victoria Falls, interacting with wildlife all the way along. Now while that journey is not something that too many viewers will have the chance to recreate, it’s also not a particularly original or rousing platform on which to build a film. The story throws up the occasional moment of excitement – a balloon crash, for instance – but when judged against much of what else is available in the same genre, there’s simply not enough vitality to get excited about. Some safe armchair travelling with the kids, perhaps, but nothing more than that.
Hope For Hurting Hearts is a documentary about dealing with pain, heartbreak and the apparent unfairness of God in the lives of believers. Its power is in the fact that it deals with real-life stories concerning a couple of well-known figures in Christian circles. Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California hosts the project, bringing in some of the hardships he’s suffered himself, with the other major focal points being motivational speaker Nick Vujicic (born without arms or legs) and musician Jeremy Camp, who lost his first wife to illness soon after they were married and a child to a miscarriage after marrying again. The production values are high, but perhaps unnecessarily so – Laurie often introduces segments standing in Rome or some other exotic location, when his message could have been just as effectively delivered from somewhere closer to home, or a Californian soundstage if director Dwight Thompson required something more glossy. There are some continuity issues as a result of this production decision, but the purpose of the piece is to help viewers understand the topic; to deal with their own pain and grief; so its flow as entertainment is not a major issue. In terms of its mission statement, it does deliver, with the testimonies of Laurie, his wife Cathe, Vujicic and Camp providing useful context and a measure of comfort to viewers familiar with similar feelings or circumstances.
There are ever more activities available to keep kids busy, but a greater than ever proportion of those are not necessarily healthy for them. Sabbath School Songs is yet more TV-based entertainment, but it promotes Christian values and physical activity, which is already more positive than many of the alternatives. It does have a strictly American approach in terms of the language, imagery and cultural input on display, so there is perhaps something for parents to keep an eye on if any of that is a potential issue in their particular contexts. Beyond that, expect catchy tunes and singalong sessions aplenty. Those might require some management as well – happy kids are often also noisy kids…