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M. Steele (Komatipoort, South Africa)

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All About Steve [DVD]
All About Steve [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sandra Bullock
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.19

4.0 out of 5 stars A Strangly Polarising Film, 10 July 2012
This review is from: All About Steve [DVD] (DVD)
Is 'All About Steve' one of the great films of all time? - No. Does it have virtues? - Yes. The premise is that mainstream society is quite intolerant of difference and that our perceptions of 'normal' are constantly manipulated and exploited by a shallow, self serving media. Bullock is so obviously playing a (very mildly) autistic individual (Asperger's one would suppose) who is trying to fit in with the day to day expectations placed on an attractive woman. Miss that and I suspect a blat in the face with a baseball bat is your general level of perception. She has sexual urges, a desire to be loved and accepted - don't we all? She lacks a protective veneer of social finesse born of a very literal mind. She is fascinated by knowledge - most people can't walk and chew gum, but lie most effectively. She is a misfit: mostly by being honest, intelligent affectionate and trustingly genuine. This makes her challenging and and many people despise her or fear her for that - or simply exploit her for that. Society has shallow virtues and and dumbed down thought to simple verities - our media pander to this. 'All About Steve' challenges those simple verities, whilst the vitriole it has received in some quarters proves just how pervasive they are. No it's not a masterpiece but IS reasonably brave cinema in a fantastically cowardly age.

The Invention of Lying [DVD]
The Invention of Lying [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ricky Gervais
Price: £2.73

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uncomfortable Parable, 26 Mar 2010
This review is from: The Invention of Lying [DVD] (DVD)
As with most of Gervais's work it is entirely neccesary to look beyond the obvious to understand the intricacy of his message. And yes, absolutely this is a message piece. To condemn the entirely contrived world where no-one can lie as dysfunctional and harsh is rather to miss the point by getting it. Yes for the pedants amongst the reviewers it does lump tact, discretion and politeness together as forms of untruth with outright deception - but that is to make the point that all are differing elements of our unique human capacity for invention. Obviously Gervais is an atheist (me too for that matter)but, he fully accepts here the edifying affects of belief on many people. It makes them happy and can provide a form of focus in people's lives. No he doesn't mention the Bible, or the Koran or the Bhagavad-Gita, the teachings of Lord Buddah or Jewish Scripture. All this 'truth' so many contradictions - surely somebody must be lying? Yet, that is not this atheist's point. The point here is that the accommodation of fabrication, mystery and possibility over simple cold, brutal analysis is what makes us human: flawed - but human. The vehicle here is partially a romcom, but nevertheless draws a line that lying to make someone love you can never work and that denying love because it is illogical is diminishing to the spirit.

Yes Ricky plays the underconfident, wry loser that is his hallmark. Damn that Chaplin for always playing that tramp or Clint Eastwood's endless rendition of tall, lean, mean guy. Gervais's acting here has a depth that builds on his previous, equally fascinating work. Jennifer Garner is lovely and plays the transition from truthful cipher to true to herself with some aplomb. I like this film. It made me laugh, it made me think. If you are offended by even the notion that some people think your religion is not undeniable or can't see beyond the obvious don't buy this. If you can see through a complex parable then give it a go.

District 9 [DVD] [2009]
District 9 [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Sharlto Copley
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.77

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Parable of South Africa, 3 Jan 2010
This review is from: District 9 [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
In my humble opinion it is not just random choice that dictates this story being set in South Africa. Some cursory knowledge of the recent history of that country puts into perspective many of the scenes in this film. For example the viciously snarled line 'one prawn, one bullet,' is inspired by the rallying song delighted in by some (by no means all) ANC supporters 'one settler, one bullet.'

The decision to 'house' the aliens in a designated area 'for their own good' and then move them on a whim is clearly resonant of the insane Apartheid policies of the recent past. That the central character is a Van Der Merwe is significant: in South African jokes about Afrikaaners, Van der Merwe is the butt - in the same way that 'Paddy' is always the Irish archetype. He is played brilliantly here as a simpering buffoon teetering between a sense of his own petty bureaucratic self-rightousness (and its accompanying naiive cruelties) and swift, angry violence if he is ever thwarted. By no means uniquely South African - but a south African archetype.

In the post Mandela era, South Africa opened her borders to 'fellow Africans' with a resultant influx of immigrants. This pan-African solidarity foundered somewhat under the usual (they're stealing our jobs/women/benefits and spreading disease and crime) mantras that lead to xenaphobic attacks on these 'aliens' by their 'fellow Africans' and a hundred or so people burned or beaten to death. Nigerian gang lords are also a genuine and very unlovely feature of life in Johannesburg.

Another reviewer has stated that it is unrealistic that the people in the film were not more frightened of the aliens. I think the whole point here is that the people were very frightened of the aliens, reviling and trying to dominate them as a consequence. An equal attribute of fear is a tendency to be blinkered from evident truth: try a) these creatures have a damn great interplanetary ship moored over our city, but look at them, they're so abject - we are so much better than they are: or b) there are 35 million of these people in South Africa, but look at them - they're nothing that 4 million whites can't handle. That line of 'logic' leads neatly to the South African solution of 'donnering', 'Klopping' or otherwise beating up the objects of this fear - a philosphy known as baas kap.

Nothing here is uniquely South African - South African history has merly seen an intensification of many of these themes. Britain has idly promoted ecenomic growth by an influx of cheap eatern European labour, only to develop xenaphobic tendencies once there is an economic down-turn. We use and we discard. In short many may wear a mask of liberal tolerance during the good times but are hard wired to seek a scape goat whenever the fancy takes them. Our treatment of scape-goats from Rwanda, to Kosovo, from Auschwitz to Siberia, from 9/11 to Guantanamo Bay both dehumanises us and is a hallmark of our humanity. It's also why no self-respecting alien would ever set foot here. Good movie!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2010 9:40 PM GMT

South Africa's Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid
South Africa's Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid
by R. W. Johnson
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality Check for Liberals, 14 May 2009
What has to be recognised at the outset is that nothing in this book provides (or seeks to provide) an apologia for Apartheid. The demise of whites only rule in South Africa remains an inspriring chapter in the annals of human social development. However, much less inspring and detailed here, is South Africa's decline into a land mediocrity, corruption, low expectations, criminality absurdist political posturing and in-fighting. The character of Thabo Mbeki takes centre stage in this sorry tale: a man with chips on both shoulders, a hugely inflated sense of his own intellect and a paranoia that would brook no political opposition. That the ANC have discarded him can only be seen as positive and we can only hope that Zuma's new dispensation sees some return to the optimistic dreams of ninety-four.

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood
Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood
by Robyn Scott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.23

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Major New Writing Talent, 14 May 2009
What particularly makes this book stand out is that Scott writes so well. The maturity of her prose, depth of characterisation, genuine poigniancy and wry humour would be outstanding in a writer of any age. That this is her first work, dealing with events of childhood and youth still recent and feelings still quite raw is a majestic achievement. If you want to understand what it feels like to live in Africa then don't read Wilbur Smith, dip into this gem of a memoir and you won't be sorry.

by Wilbur Smith
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's All Here Wilbur Fans..., 14 May 2009
This review is from: Assegai (Hardcover)
Fans of Mr Smith will not be disappointed here for there are all the usual elements; tortuous imagery, purple prose transposed with sentences that read like they were dictated in a hurry, prurient violence, shallow characterisation, a patina of research that relies largly on the reader knowing no better, ridiculous and repetitive plot lines. Pacy and with the occasional smart line, but, not a great book, nor even a good book - just a potboiler by a man who hasn't produced a decent novel since the 1970s. If this makes you yearn for Africa (and I live there) then you've clearly never seen the place or have a screw loose.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 29, 2009 5:36 PM BST

The Captain and The Kid
The Captain and The Kid
Price: £8.61

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Successful Cult Artist Ever..., 16 Aug 2007
This review is from: The Captain and The Kid (Audio CD)
The problem with this album is that it effectively polarises opinion between those who 'get' Elton and those who don't. For the fans who have avidly followed his song cycle over four decades it is a great treat to have an album that is really about the experience of being Elton John. For those who see him as a commercialised purveyor of mawkish ballads they will see no point in this at all.

I am firmly in the former camp. For me there is some fine songwriting and performing here. 'Richard Nixon' charts the wonderment of two boys from the UK finding themselves in the promised land of Watergate era Hollywood. 'Noah's Ark' is a really cool rock song about the kind of skuzz that infests the music industry. 'New York City' takes the boys to the East Coast and the culture shock of the scary Big Apple long before zero tolerance and late seventies clean ups. 'Tinderbox' covers the utter fatigue of dealing with superanuated stardom for six years. 'The House Fell Down' is the cost of drug fueled celebrity: paranoia, depression, ill health. 'Lucky' is just a celebration of those who've died over the years and thanks that they haven't. 'Lost it' revisits relationships formed over the decades. 'Old '67' celebrates the continuance of probably the most important relationship of all here John/Taupin. 'The Captain and the Kid' takes the story forward and paints them as survivors of a long road and one not wholly travelled.

But here's a question. These are songs about the career of Elton John. Weren't the songs during the career of Elton John also about these issues? Isn't the same story told by: Tiny Dancer,Sick City, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Love Lies Bleeding, Feed Me, Empty Garden, The Wide Eyed and Laughing, Latitude and The Fox? Now that would be quite and album too (six stars at least!!!)

Jackal's Dance
Jackal's Dance
by Beverley Harper
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner, But..., 16 Aug 2007
This review is from: Jackal's Dance (Paperback)
I picked up Jackal's Dance at Jo'burg International Airport and its 600 odd pages sustained me through the next 23 hours until I landed at Gatwick. Eminently readable and better writted than Wilbur Smith has ever achieved this is an old-fashioned page turner, holiday read.

Harper is adept at creating characters with at least more than one dimension and introduces us to a range of, reasonaby credible, dramatis personae at the outset of this book. However, the action scenes are overwrought and eventually become far fetched and over written. Would kidnap victims really, upon having subdued their captors in a most unlikely way, then just run off leaving said captors with all their weapons to recover and capture them again. Drivel supported by psycho-babble.

This is not a great novel of Africa, I live there. This is a pot boiler thriller which exploits preconceptions about the continent wrapped up in a little bit of reasonable research. Fun but no more than that.

Victim Of Love
Victim Of Love
Price: £7.41

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars John (E) B Really Awful, 15 July 2004
This review is from: Victim Of Love (Audio CD)
As a die hard Elton fan from the early 'seventies I can still recall the horror of first hearing this album. Since the flawed masterpiece of Blue Moves in '76, there had been scant pickings for the hungry fan. A Single Man (1978) was dreary and mediocre so a new album, in a new direction was grabbed off the record store shelves in eager anticipation.
Frankly I felt like a victim of my fan's love for having bought it. By Elton standards this is an awful record. Sad because the Thom Bell sessions (1977) indicated that, had he been serious, with his (then) crystal clear voice and melodic sense he could have made some great disco - Listen to Are You Ready for Love and tell me I'm wrong.
In retrospect, if you forget this is Elton, it sounds like a dated, mediocre record by some German, techno-band - not really offensive but totally uninspiring.
Few artists could have come back from such a nadir. A tribute to EJ is just how much of a mighty long way he still had to rock and roll.
Sad footnote: I bought this turkey on CD when it was released to fulfill my completist needs. Like I say - victim.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2013 1:29 PM BST

Cold Mountain [DVD] [2004]
Cold Mountain [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Jude Law
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.73

36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Book - Was it Ever Really Filmable?, 13 July 2004
This review is from: Cold Mountain [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Ostensibly Charles Frazier's epic novel should have made a great film. It is, after all an event and character filled Odyssey through civil-war torn America and a love story to boot. Eminently adaptable, such elements should be meat and drink to a film-maker of Minghella's aptitude.
But, the Cold Mountain novel was so much more than the simple sum of its elemental parts. The complexity and eventually haunting aspect of the book comes from the characters of the two main figures, Inman and Ada. These two are at once introverted and of a time of innocence unkowable to most modern audiences. Their 'romance' was awkward in a way inconceivable to a generation raised on 'Friends' and its contemporary moral tone. When Inman goes to war he and Ada do not know if they are in love, their relationship is still half forged and shadowy. Throughout the rest of the story their memories of their brief time together are but a counter-balance to the awfulness of the present. It is only the sterile and hate-laden reality of the war that makes, even the most half-formed of loves seem potentially redemptive and a promise of better things.
Inman is a deserter. This is massaged in the film where he is given the excuse of Ida's letters calling him home. In the book he has no such overt 'excuse'. He deserts because he is sickened by killing and the knowledge that he has become an adept killer. His Odyssey is towards his own innocence of youth spent on the forested slopes of Cold Mountain. Along the way he struggles to shed his killer's mantle as the landscape he travels seems inhabited by those who would kill him or other innocents; he has little scope for mercy.
In the final scenes on Cold Mountain there is, of course, the redemptive element of a love that becomes fully forged, emotionally and physically between two people who have altered much. This changes Inman. His undoubted skills as a trained killer enable him to defeat the dark forces of the Home Guard and guarantee the home he has found anew. However, he finds within himself a new mercy towards his last adversary: leading inexorably to his own, sudden death.
At one level his death seems cruel and pointless: and is. But, it is arguable that his act of mercy, born of his new love for Ada and sense of home was the act of a man alive again - albeit briefly. His truer death had been his sickness of spirit and soul as a killing machine in a world gone mad. That his (living) genes continue in the child fathered during his brief laying beside Ada, and that Cold Mountain provides a place of security for his family becomes his final redemption and legacy. A fitting enough end to a brutal Odyssey.
I'm not sure I got much of the above from the film. Without these elements it's a love story that's not very sexy and an adventure film with a hero who looks fed-up. The battle set pieces are stunning, but they're not what the book was about. Some sub-plots work well; Zelwegger is good as a feral mountain girl who takes of the role of helping Ada survive. Law and Kidman look very pretty and Nicole's nails remain beautifully manicured throughout. But, both really fail to bring any depth to characters whose essentials are well beneath the surface. Minghella has given us a film that is lavish and beautifully photographed but is ultimately like a piece of classical music played with all the wrong emphases of tone.
Maybe, we should expect no more: compex books tend to make disappointing films. Thus, Captain Corelli's Mandolin becomes a travel brochure... And yet, it can be done. Wildly unfashionable though it now may be, Gone With the Wind was a great film that faithfully recreated the character, tone and essence of a huge (albeit melodramatic) best seller. That was about the Civil War too. Ah, they don't make 'em like they used to.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 9, 2012 7:36 AM BST

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