Monday, May 29, 2006

Evil eye

The plot of the Pang Brothers film The Eye (Gin Gwai) can be summarised as: blind girl sees dead people with someone else's corneas. It is a well-worn theme: transplanted body part has a mind of its own (or its previous owner's). Still, Oxide and Danny Pang marry a superb visual sense with an atmospheric sound track to create chilling apparitions and nightmarish scares. The film is apparently to be Hollywoodised soon, and I can't help thinking that this will probably improve on the shortcomings of the original. This is the ultimate point-of-view movie, but the Pangs cheat: in one jarring scene, they cut away from the heroine's spectral visions to the parents of a dead kid she has been seeing, in order to do a little exposition -- an amateurish lapse. In addition, Angelica Lee as the haunted Wong Kar Mun is an entirely passive participant, required merely to react with her very expressive eyes. Dialogue is lame in parts and the casting leaves much to be desired: her shrink looks about 12, and is presumably a Hong Kong heartthrob. Other characters are mostly cardboard, although the actual spooks are hairraisingly good. The film's big money payoff is the explosion of a toppled petrol tanker in traffic, toasting everyone except our heroine (and shrink/boyfriend), who sees the souls marching off and runs up and down trying improbably to get everyone to flee the scene. Kept me watching and is always visually arresting: action often happening almost off-screen, hinting at much worse things hidden. And the editing is rapidfire, suggestions of enormity built by quick cuts from, for example, bare feet hovering inches above the floor, a ghastly mirror reflection, a wheelchair grinding down a strobing corridor ... some of the tingling intensity of this stuff reminded me of David Lynch's Twin Peaks.

This was also the week I settled down to watch the recommended Life on Mars, and it has been extremely enjoyable. The writers freely admit they wanted to bring back The Sweeney and the period, mid-to-late 70s, is evoked in loving detail. Where did they find all those grimy, slimy bleak alleys and rotting buildings? John Simm is very fine as the time-travelling/comatose 21st-century copper plunged into a policing culture unclouded by issues of suspect's rights or moral minefields, and, of course, no familiarity with CSI as we know it. Simm's sparring partner, DCI Gene Hunt, is a great turn by the splendidly gritty Philip Glenister, but the character is stereotyped. John Thaw's Chief Inspector Reagan lit up the screen. Perhaps Hunt will be better fleshed out before the end of the eight episodes (I have two to go).

The director apparently wanted to summon the hard-faced look of Get Carter, but Mike Hodges has nothing to worry about. I like the look of Life on Mars, but it doesn't abrade me or prepare me to flinch.

Still and all, this is good TV, I have enjoyed it and am looking forward to the last two eps.

Other recent viewing: Mission: Impossible III, a welter of CGI action linked by a McGuffin and little else. Tom Cruise is really past his sell-by date. He is starting to grate on me.

The Squid and the Whale
, which has been acclaimed as a deeply emotional experience, is a cold film (which suits the material), and seems to end at a random point. Good character work by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as divorcing parents, and Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline are even better as their conflicted sons. Absorbing, but there's no must-see here.

Finally, at Forbidden Planet during my London jaunt, I picked up a no-budget indie SF movie called Primer, written and directed by Shane Carruth, a geeky genius (who also plays one of the two leads). Two keen garage inventors come up accidentally with a time travel device while working on superconductors -- and then find themselves "way over their heads" as things get very complicated, with scenes repeated but modified by changes wrought in the future. The dialogue is rapid and not well-recorded (as the director admits), making all this difficult to follow, but what makes it watchable is the way mundane reality presents huge moral dilemmas to those who can influence it. I am going to give it a second spin. Archeology of the Future, this one's for you.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Adventures in Mommyland

This is the soaring atrium of the posh Cavendish Square multistorey mall in Cape Town's southern suburbs, otherwise known as Mommyland. Here the suburban princesses and queen bees come in their giant SUVs and Mercs to shop at designer fashion stores, handcrafted furniture joints, Body Shop and the like. Waterford/
Wedgwood's grand emporium, opened with a supernova of publicity a couple of years ago, appears to have closed its doors, but business is pretty brisk in boutiques and upmarket chain outlets alike. Vida e Caffe (which I think should be Vita e Caffe) serves the best macchiato in Cape Town. And Cinema Nouveau offers us arthouse freaks eight screens. Unlike the supersized N1 City mall sited amid a wilderness of freeways outside the city, or the vast Waterfront development, which is tourist paradise, Cavendish is an ancient Cape Town institution in a class of its own, although it has been completely rebuilt for the new century.

The teeming hordes on its three shopping levels seem to grow by the day, illustrating the fact that consumer spending is at an alltime high, driven by a boom economy and gargantuan plastic debt. Perhaps because it is vertically arranged, without wide open floorspace, it's a strangely soothing place to shop, swirling with heady scents, cellphone murmurings and discreet music. Even little kids seem too blissed out to yell. Although today I saw a five-year-old wannabe gymnast performing cartwheels in Woolworths (M&S in SA) in a pink leotard. She was jolly good too. I missed the photo opportunity, sadly.

Bagfuls of therapy for someone feeling ripped from London's bosom ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Moholy smoke, Batman!

Ten years ago I left London and my job in Canary Wharf, at that time a highrise frontier town, to return to South Africa. This past 10 days or so I have been roving again in the city of my birth and have found it much changed. There are the obvious improvements: cleaner, more service- orientated, facelifted and catered for by a lot of really good restaurants; and there is a more profound shift, to a city of style and extraordinary architectural design. Both are bodied out in the Tate Modern, Pink Floyd cover art come to life. But Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the sometime Bauhaus artist whose work is currently on show in that astonishing hall of spaces, would probably have felt himself most at home -- although perhaps rather uncomfortably -- in the gigantic geometries of the new city of Docklands, its high-gloss facades admitting nothing and reflecting everything. This is post-human design; its visitors and denizens seem incidental, beetles in a forest of monoliths. The new city is magnificent and it is completely heartless.

Appropriately, Moholy-Nagy finally settled in London and designed, among other things, the visual language of the Underground, including perhaps the city's best known logo. This was once, for me, a cursed sign, 13 years on the Northern Line sufficient explanation thereof. But here in the Tube network -- and the huge shiny fleet of buses -- Livingstone has left his mark. If the Misery Line had been like this, instead of grimy, battered and chronically delay-bound, why, I might have stayed ... I could do without Mummy patiently telling me the names of the stations though.

The tide of change seems to have left the outer suburbs high and dry. High streets in north London, from Golders Green to High Barnet, appear to be beyond our Ken. Passing through by car, I found it all much as I left it, Tesco land, wrapped in chains.

Did I have a good time? Hell yes. Thanks to the electric village of the WWW, I met some splendid blog friends, and wonderful female companions for walks on the Heath, the Tate, the theatre. And chipped and pinned my way through certain stores.

Damn it all, I miss the bloody place. So I am going to make a plan, as we say in SA. I shall straddle two worlds. More of this later. And more frequent entries.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Come, my coach

There won't be much, if any blogging in these parts for the next 10 days or so -- I am jetting out of here for London and a much-needed holiday. I shall be seeing some of my fellow bloggers and am agog to see the real persona behind the mask, so to speak. Of course, as I'm leaving, the cold weather has vanished and glorious Indian summer is back. Still, I hear London is steaming a bit.

Any ideas for interesting stuff to do? I am going on a few "dates" (ahem) while in the Smoke, and apart from the theatre, which is sorted, don't have a lot of ideas (the Tate is a must, though).

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sundown, Fish Hoek

I never tire of this sight as I wend my way back down Elsie's Peak, the mountain on which my house just about perches. Today was a dazzling autumn feast after a huge downpour on Friday and a rapid fall of temperature (snow forecast on the mountains at Ceres, inland from here, which means winter is definitely getting in on the act). Today my mountain hike, into a bitterly cold wind, was enlivened by falling off a rockface as I attempted to transverse it from one side to the other, inspired by having just seen the remarkable mountain survival movie Touching the Void. Couldn't they have said, "Don't try this at home"? Anyway, Slipping from a foothold, I hurtled backwards like a stunt double into a well-placed tangle of bushes, which was rather humiliating, unlike plunging into a crevasse. Refusing the attempt by a skinny jogger with a straggly moustache to drag me upright from my cradle of vegetation, I clawed back some dignity and headed home to put Dettol on my multiple scratches and nurse my wounded pride.

It was my third such fall. The first sent me sliding down a steep trail on my arse until I halted my progress by digging in a hand, breaking my thumb. The second was more painful. I fell from a ledge and landed on my backside and back a lot further down. I was very relieved that I was able to stand up after that one, because it felt like I'd been seriously injured for a few minutes. Spectacular bruising was the main damage.

I don't think I'll tackle Everest just yet.
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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Chelsea 3, Manchester United 0. Three-nil! Three-nil, three-nil, three-nil ...

Before the final whistle ended the visitors' public humiliation, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hopped over to the Man U dugout and cheekily gave unusually pale redfaced git "Sir" Alex Ferguson a handshake which, as Alan Perry remarked, "he probably didn't appreciate". But the rest of us Fergie-phobes loved it.

How sweet it was to win the championship while crushing the former strutting cocks of the Premier League. Even the sight of the demonically cherubic Roman Abramovich clapping away with a tiny half-smile couldn't dampen my cheer. This was the next best thing to Arsenal doing it. You can't have everything.

I celebrated with two big ostrich steaks for supper. Now I must e-mail Norm ...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stupid little aerosols

Victor Meldrew, you're well off out of it. I can hear him now: "Graffiti art? Self-expression? Little swine! They're like dogs widdling against a wall! I'll give them some self-expression. Can you imagine what sort of parents they have? 'Going out dear?' 'Just off to scribble on the neighbours' walls, mum.' 'OK, have fun. Need some money, or will you do a spot of mugging?.' "If I ever catch one of them I'll spray him from head to foot!"

This is my garden wall and door on the lane running past my house. My neighbour, with the yellow wall, kept on doggedly repainting. They patiently came back each time and did him again and on the third occasion did me too. Scribbling blue aerosol paint over the door to my garden was a particularly fine example of the genre. It's a disease round here. The public buildings have cameras and security guards, so residential property gets the ghetto treatment -- from wealthy pimple-faced kids in hoodies and arse-out jeans. I am going to paint my wall and then stay up for a few nights with a videocam trained on the area.

Victor,if wert thou living at this hour!
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The naked pine

This pine tree in Constantia Nek forest, with its root coiling down the bare rockface, is surely a remarkable testament to survival against the odds. I imagine some geological event exposed it to the world. Bet it was surprised .... Where to from here, I wonder? Posted by Picasa