Saturday, October 23, 2010

Machete: a Texan goref(i)est(a)

Take some ridiculously explicit violence (as the title suggests) and black humour à la Tarantino. Add a desert location and nude female flesh, and you end up with a movie out of the exploitation genre. Directors Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez’s previous work includes titles like Sin City, Once Upon A Time in Mexico and From Dusk Til Dawn, and if you enjoyed those, chances are you’ll love this film too. It is a bloody thrill-ride about a former Mexican policeman who finds himself embroiled in a battle between border police, crooked US senators (Is there any other kind?) and Mexican gangsters.

The unmistakable Danny Trejo, whom you may remember from the director-duo’s previous films, stars as the titular character, a former cop hellbent on revenge after his partner is killed. Michelle Rodriguez, of Fast and the Furious, Lost and Avatar fame, plays woman with sympathies for the immigrants who flock to the US every year. Jeff Fahey, who is mostly known for his TV roles, oozes his way across the screen as the despicable villain. Robert de Niro portrays the caricature of the US senator. An insipid, if sultry, Jessica Alba stars as the FBI agent investigating the presence of illegal immigrants on the border. The other actress with questionable acting skills in this movie is Lindsay Lohan, who was seemingly portraying herself. But don’t worry about it, the ample nude shots distract from the mediocre acting. (If the crass objectification of women offends you, this, like most of the directors’ films, is definitely one to avoid.)

The film does raise some interesting questions about Mexican immigrants in the United States, and what their role should be in that society, but this is an exploitation flick, and no one watches a title like that actually looking for some serious answers to, well, anything. If you’re in the mood for decapitation, served with a helping of nudity and sprinkled with a very liberal dose of black humour, this is one for you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oceans: vast water-filled wonder

Oceans is not your typical documentary, as it incorporates a loose narrative storyline. Frenchman Jacques Perrin, the creator of this globe-spanning project, takes viewers to the edges, vast surface and perilous depths of the planet’s oceans, and reveals the myriad species that call the seashore and briny waters home.

The English version of the film is narrated by Pierce Brosnan, but that was not available in the cinema when I went to see it, and, due to a screw-up by the projectionist, I watched the first forty minutes of this film in French (a language I have no grasp of) without subtitles. But it hardly mattered – very little is said but I still found myself absorbed in the wondrous scenes before me.

Indeed, the filmmakers show us a mostly unseen world that is so much bigger and more beautiful than anything man has ever created – and, for the most part, humans only feature on the very periphery of this narrative. Yet, the film does not shy away from grim reality and depicts the severe impact humans have had on the oceans. The omega character in the title serves as a not-so-subtle hint as to what the creators’ feelings are towards the oceans’ future.

Classical music, vocals and sometimes no background sound at all is used to showcase the beauty and majesty of marine life. It's counter-intuitive, but in a moment of action, the silence can actually underscore the majesty of a great aquatic hunter.

The only minor complaint I have about this film was the fact most creatures featured in the documentary were not named – and this tended to annoy me slightly as the fish and molluscs certainly looked familiar but I could not place a name to them. But this is a minor gripe when one considers that a David Attenborough-style National Geographic production was not what the film-makers had in mind.

If you have not yet seen this magical film, I highly recommend it. Due to the stunning visuals, the film’s impact will probably be greater on a big screen, so hijack a friend’s plasma high-definition flat-screen if necessary, and be prepared to be riveted in awe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Plot and script – expendable?

Actions films have changed, I realised as the handbag-clutching, middle-aged woman next to me cringed and gasped every time a baddie was ripped to shreds or slashed to death in some gruesome manner.

While Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action films in the eighties and nineties did exhibit their fair share of skiet, skop en donner, none of it compared to that exhibited in Sylvester Stallone’s newest offering, The Expendables. CGI has allowed Sly to wow audiences with highly realistic renderings of gratuitous gore. Obviously the violence is not on par with what you’d see in a Tarantino flick, but if you’re a member of the older generation hoping to be reacquainted with your favourite action stars, you may be in for a nasty surprise.

The film features a host of mostly aging action stars, including Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and Jet Li. The trailer would have you believe that Schwarzenegger and Willis also have major roles, when in fact they only have about four minutes of screen-time.

The plot is relatively straight-forward: Stallone plays the leader of a band of highly-trained mercenaries who are called in to assassinate a drug-lord in a fictional South American country reminiscent of Cuba. The result is a fast-paced, thinly-plotted sequence of explosions, shooting, car chases, martial arts and bouncing (covered) boobies...

Yes, boys, that is literally all the hot damsel-in-distress action you’re getting out of this movie. The films’ female characters – Charisma Carpenter of Angel fame and Mexican beauty Giselle Itié – did little more than tease. Speaking of an anti-climax, the film also just fizzled out towards the end, leaving yours truly rather unsatisfied, too.

Like most of Stallone’s films, this one is quite devoid of humour – a few one-liners got a chuckle from the audience, and the sheer ridiculousness of some of the violence did elicit sniggers, but I can’t help making the comparison with Schwarzenegger’s older films and Willis’ Die Hard series, which offered more in the form of witty dialogue and a somewhat more developed plot.

So, if you’re looking for some slick camerawork that showcases over-the-top violence, massive explosions and bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat scenes well, give it a watch, but don’t go in expecting anything more...

Monday, August 9, 2010

A head-start for all would-be novelists!

Now for something a bit more fun, after my last serious post. I found this great idea from the children's literature review site, which gives you a guide on how to make your own fantasy and/or young adult book covers.

Here are the ones I came up with:

I was only using Paint to add the titles, but I think they came out pretty well, don't you think?

Head over to ScopeNotes and try your hand at your own fantasy or young adult novel cover now! Show me how yours came out, and beware, it's quite addictive!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Food for thoughts

They’ve caused riots. They’ve been burned for what they stand for. They transport us to faraway places: into the past and the future, or to worlds that exist only in their writers’ imaginations. Yes, often we only associate books with hours of absorbing entertainment, but the ideas within them can change the very fabric of society.

This often has not sat well with authorities and other parts of society. For example, the Catholic Church used to publish an Index of Forbidden Books (Index Librorum Prohibitum) that declared the works of writers like Galileo Galilei, Immanuel Kant and Victor Hugo, among thousands of others, unfit for the consumption of its flock. The threat of excommunication loomed over anyone who dared part the covers of such “immmoral” works. The index was abolished in 1966, after over four hundred years.

In the same vein, people have burned books they deem offensive or contrary to their chosen beliefs. The most well-known example is that of the Nazis destroying books they deemed were at odds to with policies.

Books of great thinkers such as Karl Marx and Charles Darwin have changed the way we as humans view our world. Sure, there is also a lot of drivel out there – but, as we know, what some consider drivel, others consider literary masterpieces.

The idea is to let people get exposed to the drivel, the classics and the philosophical musings of hundreds of authors, so that they may learn about their world, its history, and about themselves.

While the act of burning books is repulsive, at least the individuals doing the torching had had access to other sources of information – some of them undoubtedly books – that allowed them to form such a strong opinion on, well, others’ opinions. The Nazis and the Harry Potter-torching fundamentalists at least had books to burn.

These thoughts crawled their way through my sluggish brain as I waited for the last few hours of the Fast for Equal Education to pass. The campaign aims to equip every school in South Africa with a library so that the country’s learners grow up to be informed and opinionated individuals.

Denying the mind books is like denying the stomach food. People must be exposed to views that challenge their own so that they may learn to think critically, so that they may have an informed opinion.

It is clear to see then that Equal Education is not just about giving township kids access to Twilight and Harry Potter (although that has its place too): It is about planting the seeds of imagination and wonder, and about opening their minds to new possibilities, so that they can reach their full potential.

A good education is the foundation on which the democratic and economic future of our country depends.

I leave you with the words of American author Anne Herbert:
"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The World Cup Kicks Off: South Africa versus Mexico

What better time to launch a new blog than at the start of the long-awaited 2010 FIFA World Cup?

First, a brief disclaimer: While I have been known to watch the occasional international match, and have watched at least three World Cups excluding this one, I know very little about football, so please excuse any misinterpretations of the games below. For the most part, I would like to focus on the spectators of this wonderful chaos, and relate what my experiences were like during the course of this thrilling event.

And so, without further dallying: my impression of the first match of the World Cup!

I decided not to let fact that there had been a minor stampede at the Fan Fest before the Cape Town kick-off party frighten me away from experiencing that massive 74 square metre screen!

Three hours before the kick-off, and an hour before the opening ceremony was to start, I found out that the Fan Fest area had already reached capacity – but not matter, I was determined to be among revellers and the World Cup is long – I had no doubt I would still get to see the mother of all screens.

It was a wonderfully warm winter’s day in the Mother City, and I was heading into town via the train. When it finally got to Rosebank station, the train was stuffed full, and I ended up running to the end of the platform to get a carriage that was three-quarters empty. I clung to a pole in the centre of the carriage and off we set. I shared the space with a gaggle of what I guess were probably Canadian girls, all dressed in SA colours and clutching vuvuzelas.

One joker in the carriage had opted for a miniature vuvuzela, but instead of emitting the loud squawking noise we are so familiar with, it gave off what sounded like, for the lack of less macabre description, the squeal of a baby being throttled. Many people on the carriage giggled whenever he blew on his diminutive instrument. At every station we stopped, dozens of vuvuzela-toting fans streamed on, and the train got fuller as we approached Cape Town proper, squealing mini-vuvuzela burbling away.

Once we pulled into the main station, the platform was thick with fans. There was no shoving but the crowd moved swiftly towards the exit, with people snapping pictures on their phones and cameras as they went.

The blare of vuvuzelas filled the air as people of all colours streamed off towards the (already-full) Fan Fest and the Fan Walk, some pushing baby prams. I have a slight problem with the notion of people exposing toddlers to this kind of noise... I saw a few more people with babies that evening, and it was a tad disturbing. But hey, it’s their child to abuse.

I met my friend outside the station and we decided to head to the Waterfront, which held the promise of more giant screens. Throngs of fans clad in the nation’s rainbow colours could be seen everywhere, with a few amused-looking French strewn in for variety.

Like everywhere else, the Waterfront was packed... The MTN fan tent, which reverberated with pumping music was stuffed full, and we were told that we could only get in with tickets, which were no longer available anyway.

I was about to give up hope but then we forced our way into a tent that had been set up by The Dubliner bar. It, too, was almost tearing at the seams, but we eased our way through the crowds and finally ended up against the one wall and between two of those wooden table-and-bench combos you often see in watering holes.

We could just see the screen above the bar about six metres in front of us, but it was difficult with all the tall people obscuring my view. As you can imagine, the tent was buzzing with excitement and the occasional paaarp of a vuvuzela, so we had to watch the opening ceremony muted. I didn’t see a big chunk of it, but I liked the section at the end where they flipped over boards to show the names of the participating nations. Aside from that I can’t really comment on it, unfortunately.

The tents’ occupants were comprised of about 70% males and 30% females, and I’d say about half of the fans were white. A group of what appeared to be Ethiopians, judging by their fangear, wedged themselves in next to us, but they were happy supporting South Africa, singing Shosholoza along with the crowd.

Along with Olé, the song from the new Coca-Cola ad was also a popular anthem during the game... But we know MTN also scored big by adopting the term “Ayoba”, which was yelled out repeatedly during the match.

And moving on to spectators who had probably never heard the words “Shosholoza” or “Ayoba” before: the two Kiwis who were standing in front of us, clad in jean shorts and very friendly. The one was sitting in the massive shoulder-high flower-pot next to me – those huge clay ones, this one containing a sapling – and after a while I decided to get up onto the edge of the flower-pot too. This proved a great move, as I had an awesome sight of the television screen over everyone’s head.

Most of the fans called for silence when the Mexican anthem was played, and the vuvuzelas were reasonably quiet. (And after having seen the opening of the France-Uruguay match, I wish the fans in the stadium would show the same courtesy.) As there was no sound it was a bit tricky syncing ourselves with happenings on-screen, but we belted out Nkosi Sikeleli with gusto.
There’s nothing like the exhilaration of being in the same space with hundreds of people and hearing them concur on every event unfolding onscreen: every time Steven Pienaar came onto the crowd would chant his name; his popularity is evident, when Mexico almost scored a goal before ten minutes was up, there was a group flinch, and the crowd screamed in unison when Bafana Bafana got close to Mexico’s net.

Early on in the game, we were given a penalty, but unfortunately Pienaar missed the shot. “We still loved you!” yelled the South African fan next to me, who was clutching two 500ml tumblers of beer, and had a yellow vuvuzela tucked into his backpack.

The goal-keepers on both sides were kept working hard throughout the match, but when our Itumeleng Khune did falter after 32 minutes – a raucous cheer went up as the goal was declared off-side.

The tent exploded in hysteria when Bafana scored the first goal of the tournament, a beautiful kick by Sipiwhe Tshabalala at the beginning of the second half. The entire venue reverberated with shouts, vuvuzela blasts and stomping as the crowd jumped up and down, singing, “Olé, olé, olé!” Everyone hugged and even the New Zealand duo seemed ecstatic for South Africa. The celebrating did not stop for another five minutes as the fans went wild. It was as if we had already won the game!

After that goal I must admit to eyeing the clock nervously... And not without reason, because in the 78th minute, Mexico finally equalised. The crowd’s enthusiasm did not dwindle though, and some took to chanting, “One more, Bafana!”, and the last fifteen minutes had me almost falling out of my flower-pot in anxiety, as the post denied our boys a shot at victory in the 89th minute.

Fortunately, the Mexicans did not manage to score another goal – but we missed two good shots at goal in the last few minutes – and the game ended in a draw, a great start to the World Cup!