Monday, January 31, 2011

The Kids are Alright - review

SPOILER ALERT: I do give away some of the storyline in the film.

I have never written a movie review and I don’t really watch that many movies, so what I am about to write should not be taken in relatively – what I think is an original idea or representation may have been done before, but let’s continue and you can see for yourself. And then tell me, please.

The movie which I want to take a quick run through is The Kids Are Alright which stars Annette Bening (who plays Nic), Julianne Moore (Jules) and Mark Ruffalo (Paul) – two celebrated yet not-Oscar-winning women, and a chap who hasn’t quite ever left the screen, come to think of it – I have been watching him on TV for just about ever.

The premise of the film is that Nic and Jules are a long-term gay couple who, through in-vitro, have two children. Each of the women used sperm from the same donor and popped out one of the sprogs. The kiddies grow up into angsty teens – a girl of 18, Joni (played by Mia Wasikowska - Alice from Alice in Wonderland) and a boy of 15, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) – who decide they want to meet their biological father Paul (who is played by Ruffalo). His entry into their lives upsets the apple-cart somewhat and a few uncomfortable questions are asked.

The first real point of note, though, is that this is the first time I have ever been able to relate to a gay character in a movie. Annette Bening played a real person who was a lesbian, and there was no clich├ęd aspect to her character that I could pick up. Compare that to someone like Chris Colfer in Glee – a role which still manages to deal with fairly deep homosexual issues in the show, but does the whole fashionista, squeaky-voiced character we have come to expect on screen - Jack from Will and Grace, the pair from Sex and the City and so on. A lot of gays sit outside that: Bening’s character is relatable for people – homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Another biggie (and this is a spoiler alert) is that the affair between Julianne Moore’s character and Ruffalo's is not the central theme of the film. Yes, it’s a huge deal, but it is the first time I have ever seen where the cause and follow-up are actually more important and covered than the act. The fallout was not the fact that there was an affair, it dealt with the circumstances that led to it. And this is the real basis of the movie.

Although Nic and Jules are a gay couple, the strife they face applies to all families. Bening plays a controller and likes to be the responsible one. Moore's character is the opposite – a tree-hugging hippie who has a few failed businesses to her name, but feels emotionally like the number two in the relationship – mostly due to horrid communication between the two of them. In fact, the feelings of resentment and lack of notable affection are what drives Moore’s character to an affair with a man. Once again though, it is treated in the film as a temporary issue, albeit a biggie – although Bening questions whether Moore is straight when she find out (which we were probably all asking), it is not a focal point of the film. Viewers can see the logical map of why the distance between Nic and Jules is growing, and reaches its apex.

As the movie progresses, Paul becomes more involved in his biological childrens’ lives culminating in him dishing out tips to the two women who have brought them up from birth, and it is this instance that actually begins the process of healing within the family. The film really comes to grips with family bonds, generational family issues and real life things - for example, that you can't hijack someone else's family to satisfy your own deeply-hidden avoided want for one.

The reality is cinematographically beautiful: In one scene just as Nic finds out about Jules's affair, she stops hearing everything and viewers has no idea how she was going to deal with the realisation. It was a cinematographic “bazinga” – everyone knows that feeling when your brain can focus on nothing else but a newly discovered stressful issue. The film carries on in this vein – it was entirely relatable on an emotional level – not something you would expect from its basic storyline, but a masterful, realistic script and five quality performers in the key roles make it so.

The lessons apply to all of us, highlighting dangers that can arise in long-term relationships, showing the strength and difficulty in penetrating a family unit, and how problems can be solved sometimes through sheer bloody closeness.

Never have two lesbians and a sperm-donor been more relatable. And the relatability is certainly something that kept me glued through the entire film.

If you don’t watch it, you are missing one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Image nabbed from IMDB and then edited too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An interesting... Cricket World Cup Squad

As expected, there is all kinds of debate about our World Cup squad – where is Albie Morkel? South Africa only has one all-rounder? We’re taking Faf du Plessis? Robin Peterson? Where is David Miller? MARK BLOODY BOUCHER! And so on and so forth.

Let’s clear something up: only having one all-rounder is not a problem. The Aussies have been trying to squash an all-rounder in their squad since Keith Miller graced their line-up in the fifties and only finally cracked it with Shane Watson in the last 18 months. Think about it – can you remember any decent Australian all-rounders between Miller and Watson? Yet they’ve been a successful team without one – and this is because they have chosen specialists. While we, in the late nineties and early noughties, picked Nicky Boje because he could bat (and I think this may also be one of the reasons we have persisted with Peterson and Ontong, to an extent), Australia picked spinners who could actually turn the ball. I know, you think they had the superstardom of Shane Warne, but they also had Bradd Hogg, Stuart Macgill, Colin Miller. South Africa has now moved toward not picking people due to what they can do outside their speciality. Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe, a potent quickie attack, are not selected because any of them can wield the willow. Our squad, outside Kallis and Peterson, are mostly specialists and I think the selectors have done well to remember that this is what cricketers should be measured by. No one remembers Don Bradman’s bowling average.

Cricinfo is ablaze with comments about Albie Morkel being left out of our World Cup squad, particularly as it is being held in the country where he has performed well for his IPL franchise, the Chennai Superkings. I personally have no issue with leaving Albie behind because I honestly feel that South Africa has never learned how to use him. We’ve always expected him to just walk in during a power-play and thwack the ball around the place. I can’t, and I could be wrong, remember when we treated him like a proper batsman. And it is not like he’s alone in this – Justin Kemp, the man who was supposed to solve our post-Klusener blues was dealt with in the same manner. We forget that some blokes can hit from ball one, but that any batter is going to do better when he’s had time to settle in. Morkel can slap 40 from 20 balls, but can you imagine if we let him face 100 of them? This innings of Kemp may remind you: We were sucking at 71-5 when Kemp came in at number 7. Finally he had time to play himself in and guess what? Bangity-bang, he clobbered 100 in 89 balls. It took Indian bowlers to give Kemp the opportunity, but Morkel hasn’t had his yet. I am sorry he is not going because he is talented, but he is a talent we haven’t worked out how to use, outside of throwing him into the fray whenever we want a power-play.

David Miller, one of the cleanest strikers of a cricket ball in the South African game, is in such miserable form that it’s no surprise that he’s not on the flight with the rest of the squad. He hasn;t really been around enough for us to know he will turn the corner like we can with Smith who is also in crap form but has a career for us to judge him on. I also think Miller has been treated a bit like Albie Morkel which certainly isn’t going to help... It seems as though Faf du Plessis has been drafted in to replace him and to be honest I think this is a good call but the selectors, even if he hadn’t scored that composed half-century in the fourth ODI against India (on debut nogal). He has probably been the most solid performer in domestic limited overs cricket in the last two years, churning out a pile of runs. In 91 innings he’s klunked over 3000 runs at an average of 43 and a strike rate of 90. He may not have the hitting power of Miller but runs leak from his bat like a virgin having his/her nipples squeezed.

The aforementioned three pacemen, Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe pretty much have their places guaranteed. Johan Botha will (very correctly, in my opinion) be the premier spinner and the fifth bowler will probably be one of Parnell or Imran Tahir, the foreigner we have decided to pretend is South African. On Indian pitches, playing two spinners is probably the way to go so Tahir should see some game time. If this tactic fails we always have Kallis who can churn out ten overs of accurate seam-up bowling. While Botha will aim to block up an end as he does so successfully (his economy rate is 4.65, the second lowest in the squad after Tsotsobe), Tahir will attack with his leggies.

I think that the only real regret we may have is leaving Mark Boucher out of the squad. The experiment with AB de Villiers keeping has worked to a large degree and I don’t even think it is Boucher’s (superb) wicket keeping we will miss that much, it is purely his performance under pressure. He has more BMT in him than anyone else playing cricket (ok, since Steve Waugh retired). However, it’s a tactical decision and we do have some experienced heads going anyway – Smith, Kallis, de Villiers, Steyn – only a few with World Cup experience though.

Either way – we had no World Cup experience in 1992 and made it to the semis.

We’ve managed to lose key World Cup matches in every screwed up or dumb manner possible. In four consecutive World Cups we lost because of the rain rule in ’92, we left out Allan Donald against the West Indies in ’96, a tie in ’99 and because we didn’t read the Duckworth-Lewis rules in ’03. There cannot be another stupid way to knock ourselves out of a World Cup – certainly not that we haven’t tried yet.

So hopefully we make it through this World Cup without anything daft happening – our own fault or not. A batting order that reads Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers, Duminy and one of van Wyk, du Plessis or Ingram will be full of runs. Pace is well-catered for – coming from Tsotsobe, Steyn, Morkel and probably Kallis. Spin is in the capable hands of Johan Botha and Imran Tahir. While our batting may have looked slightly suspect against India in the recent series, I wouldn’t take its performance as gospel – Smith and AB are too talented not to come good, Kallis was missing and the Amla run-machine and Duminy played some great knocks. And the pitches in India as are flat as a Free State farm – so it’s good that our bowling attack seems in decent nick.

This may be the least settled squad we’ve had in the five World Cups we have attended, but I think that we certainly stand a decent chance of doing well, although India and Sri Lanka must be the favourites, followed by England (and no, no one is wishing cramp on Andrew Strauss).

Monday, January 17, 2011

An interesting... part of Herchelle Gibbs' book

The title of this post says "interesting" but probably should say "shocking". I am currently on page 107 of Herschelle Gibbs' To the Point and have just read the section about match-fixing. We all pretty much know the story - Hansie Cronje, South Africa's captain at the time offered a few players, one of which was Gibbs, money to perform badly in the last match of a series against India - a series South Africa had already lost. Gibbs originally agreed to it but then decided not to and smashed 74 off 53 balls, an innings I clearly remember watching. I would put it up there with some of his top one-day innings.

However, check out this extract: "During a tour to India in 1996, we were due to play a benefit game for one of the Indian players [who I assume to be Mohinder Amarnath] - it would be the last game of the tour. The night before the game, Hansie got the whole team together and dropped a real bombshell. 'I know a guy,' he said, 'who is willing to give us US$250 000 if we lose this game.'

Gibbs goes on to say that 6 of the team were out injured, Jonty wasn't playing and Gary Kirsten was the wicket keeper and SA were probably on a hiding to nothing anyway. And then this: "Of course the team decided against taking the bribe, but, even so it hadn't been an immediate and strong reaction to an activity totally abhorrent to the notion of sport. Instead, we talked the offer over. Pat Symcox - always an oke willing to look at all sides of the equation - thought it was worth some consideration. He wasn't the only one."

What? What is the other side to the equation? The side that says anything other than "we shouldn't throw a cricket match". or "we're representing our country, should we do it with pride or not?"

Gibbs does mention one person who was totally against taking the bribe, Andrew Hudson. He also admits that he, himself, along with Symcox considered it. Hansie obviously brought it to the table. The mentions of these names make it seem like 7 other players may have considered it (who were Gary Kirsten, Daryll Cullinan, Derek Crookes, Nicky Boje, Brian McMillan, Fanie de Villiers and Paul Adams).

The scorecard for the game is here.

According to the book, only one player was categorically against throwing a match for US$250 000?

It was the end of a tour, a game that didn't matter - merely a benefit game. But when is it ok to do something like that? To consider chucking a game that means nothing - in fact because of the celebratory nature of the fixture, it would have been better for India to win.

But if that's ok then are small amounts of corruption ok? The type that no one knows about which doesn't influence anything big? The ZAR/US$ exchange rate on 13 December (the day before the match) was R4.73=1US$, which means that US$250 000 was a nice R1 182 500 package.

What about the match we lost to Holland at the end of the England tour in 1994? That didn't matter much. And yes, the elephant in the room is Pakistan losing to Bangladesh in a match that didn't matter in the 1999 World Cup. These thoughts do come up when these revelations are outed.

Hansie did it. We know this.

Herchelle thought about it and got into huge shit and apologised. I was chuffed when he came back after his 6-month ban. He admitted what he did and made reparations. I hated him at the time but forgave him when he quite obviously felt horrific about the whole scenario. I'm still up and down about it at times, to be dead honest (as this paragraph makes out).

But to find out that Vinnige Fanie and Pat Symcox, South African heroes, those players who were so full of gees that we could win from anywhere, that they considered throwing a game? Even considered! Well that saddens me.

I feel disrespected as a South African whose emotions were dictated by the fortunes of the South African cricket team. I watched us play every time I could, from matches against India and Australia, to exhibition games, to fixtures against Kenya, Canada and the Netherlands.

Gibbs does mention in the chapter that Boucher and Kallis were also approached by Hansie Cronje and that they both rejected his proposal. It doesn't say whether they deliberated like Symmo and the match squad in 1996, but I am going to assume they didn't (please god).

But even considering throwing a match, no matter how important...

...well, it hurts guys.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An interesting... self-declared importance

It is often easy to forget that politicians are actually people. Although they may be on TV a lot, they are actually made up of the same substances as the rest of us. They may dine on fine food washed down with fine wines that our tax pays for, but they shit it out like we do. Bar a few people in government, not one of them is more important than you or me.

Now, in the wake of the Arizona shooting, panic-stricken people are knee-jerkngly creating laws which are supposed to avoid the same lunatic running around with a gun: says CNN: "Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official."

I think it is easy as an elected official for someone to feel like they are one step above everyone else, that they are a "chosen one" and are far more important to the world than us mere mortals. That they are irreplaceable. But no, they are none of these things - particularly a man who is anonymous to just about anyone outside the borders of Pennsylvania.

Why is that law not being extended to cover all people? From what I interpret from Representative Brady's quote is that it is ok to incite violence or use language or symbols that could be percieved as threatening towards people that are NOT members of Congress or federal officials.

If anyone is looking for indications that politicians feel a rung above the rest of us plebs then this proposed law is probably it. It is easy to forget that 6 other people died in the Tucson shooting, but Rep. Brady is out to protect the - alive - elected officials only.

That being said, this shooting was terrible. And while everyone is shitting all over Sarah Palin for her image of the USA with targets on it (which she denies are cross-hairs but they quite obviously are), I really don't think that people will find proof that she encouraged this sort of behaviour intentionally. Yes, a lot of political communication is irresponsible, even in South Africa - look at just about anything Julius Malema says, or how Helen Zille aims massively loaded political terms like "Marxism" at the ANC.

Arizona is rife with hysterical political media, and while there may be a lackadaisical approach to understanding what the impact of this communication might be, I highly doubt it inspired this chap (Jared Loughner) to go out and try and kill his Democrat representative - unless he was a complete fucking lunatic.

And if he was a complete fucking lunatic then he probably didn't need anyone egging him on, and perhaps he wouldn't have been able to kill 6 people if he didn't have an automatic rifle, nor the Walmart-availability of ammunition. If he had mental problems and this wasn't found out then there is a far more serious flaw in the prevention of crime than there is in political communication.

Oh, hang on... in fact Loughner was removed from the college he attended and told he could only re-enroll if he got "a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others,"

So it was known that Loughner was a loony. It was known that he had access to a weapon. It is well-known that ammunition in the USA is as available as milk.

But according to Representative Brady, it is only the lawmakers who should be protected from him.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The [insert whatever you blame] made me do it

IOL reports that the USA's list of least-loved brands contains McDonalds which critics pan as a "poster child for unhealthy food in America".

I am so bored of this.

Ever since the public and officials decided that it was McDonalds making them fat and not their own greedy selves, fast-food joints have added salads and mielies and vegetables and loads of low-calorie crap onto their menus at very similar prices.

I was just in the States and frequented McDonalds, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Arbees and KFC - ALL of which offer healthier meals than their staple burgers, fried chicken, cheesy beef sandwiches and mayonnaisey Mexican food.

While I sat in them, I watched what people ordered. Believe it or not it seemed that 90% of customers ordered the aforementioned burgers, fried chicken, cheesy beef sandwiches and mayonnaisey Mexican food.

Indeed: people still chose to eat all this terrible unhealthy deliciousness when the healthy stuff was available, advertised and comparable in price. Customers walked into McDonalds and were confronted with choices. They chose. McDonalds did not force them to choose burgers or chicken nuggets. McDonalds offered them salad and mielies instead of chips.

So stop hating on a burger joint when people exercise their own ability to choose to stuff their own faces with burgers.

They day Jean Grey telekeniseses your car to McDonalds and Charles Xavier mind controls you into buying a Big Mac, then I'll retract this.

Until then, stop hating McDonalds. What you are really after is removing people's power to eat what hey want.