Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Single Man

It was my birthday the other week. And I turned ... well you can probably guess, can't you?


Yes you guessed right!!

Ha ha ha ...

If only.

Add 33 to that number i.e. 32, then subtract 40, multiply by 2, add 1, and you'll probably get the right age ... if you can be bothered to do all of that ...

Anyways, to celebrate my b'day I went uptown for a very nice meal to a tried and tested place, followed by drinks and dancing at Escape. Prior to all of that was a visit to the cinema, which made the day even more divinely indulgent, helped by the fact that the movie I saw was very good indeed. And the movie was ...

... A Single Man. Based on the novel by gay author Christopher Isherwood, it's set in early 1960s Los Angeles and tells the story of George Falconer (played by Colin Firth) a middle-aged English university professor who, since the death of his longtime male partner Jim, in a car accident, has struggled to find meaning in his life and as a result is now seriously contemplating suicide. The film depicts events in a single day of George's life but also provides a lot of back story through a series of flashbacks that have a bearing on the here and now.

I loved it, for a number of reasons:

1) Colin Firth's brilliant portrayal of George. Prior to "A Single Man" I wasn't exactly his greatest fan. Regardless of all that hoo-ha about him as Darcy getting his shirt off in "Pride and Prejudice", I'd never been into him and also found him utterly annoying as the "modern" Darcy in the Bridget Jones movies - wet, boring, humourless, repressed and asexual - pretty much encompassing all those British stereotypes that non-UK people have of us, except in this case the character wasn't just a bunch of stereotypes, he really was like this. Although perhaps I am slightly forgetting the fact that Darcy is fictional, not real and probably nothing like Colin Firth the actor ... I dunno though, quite how the delightfully ditzy Bridget fancied such a dull as ditch water bloke was beyond me ...

Anyhow, Firth defied expectations for me in "A Single Man. He's a revelation - and in the film his quintessential Englishness and restrained mannerisms and behaviour are actually a virtue. The scene in which he receives a phone call from the brother of his partner, to tell him that Jim has been killed, is brilliantly acted - George keeping it together vocally as he talks to the brother, but his face telling a very different story as the grim reality sinks in. We then see his true reaction when, breaking down, he dashes next door in the pouring rain (slightly obvious symbolism) to see his best mate Charley for a (literal) shoulder to cry on (Charley played by the estimable Julianne Moore, more (excuse the pun) on her in a moment...) The meticulous way in which he lays out all of his belongings on his bed, including legal documents and letters to friends, as he plans his suicide, smacks of Englishness too, but rings true, so it's heartening to see George's attitude change near the end - and then by contrast hugely saddening when things then take an unexpected turn. I won't say any more for people who haven't yet seen it.

2) Julianne Moore as the Upper Class socialite Charley, George's best friend from the UK who also happens to be his next door neighbour. Moore is one of my most favourite actresses - I loved her in Safe and Far From Heaven, and she excels here too, playing an entertaining but not entirely sympathetic character - an alcoholic, self-indulgent and self-obsessed one to be precise (not a million miles away from Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous ...) The dinner scene with her and George is a great piece of drama, with the pair getting progressively drunker and ending up hurling insults at one another, and Charley attempting to kiss George at the end of the night (still hoping and believing, after all these years, that she can "turn" him). Regardless of the selfishness of her character, she looked and sounded, erm, absolutely fabulous, with her glamorous 60s style and I loved her pink cigarettes, not to mention chic apartment with orange trees in the lobby. Mmm, think I wanna emigrate to California ... A pity the character isn't actually in the movie for very long.

3) The other male characters, all of whom were pretty hot, but also convincingly played. George's dead lover Jim was a handsome fella without being conventionally good-looking and the flashback scenes where we see the two lovers together - on the couch at home reading, or lying on the beach, are convincingly played, with that sense of easy familiarity and "couple banter" that people who've together in relationships for a long time maintain with one another. We also witness George and Jim's first meeting in bar, when Jim is a sailor on visit to the town and the undercurrent of flirtatiousness between them both is well observed - this was after all the 1960s and gay men couldn't be so blatant.

Nicholas Hoult is also very good as Kenny Potter, one of George's students who after one of his lectures, starts a conversation with him, becomes fixated on him as a kindred spirit and later on turns out to be his saviour. There's further clever observation in the way the film depicts the undercurrent of attraction between Kenny and George, always there and strongly hinted at (when the pair get drunk and go skinny dipping or later on when a soaking wet Kenny self consciously strips in front of George and stands there staring at him) without being properly verbalised or fully consummated (again perhaps a product of the sexually ambiguous times when it was a lot harder to be upfront about one's real inclinations and desires).

And there's also the male hustler played by Jon Kortajarena Redruello (bloody gorgeous!!) who George runs into, gets propositioned by and turns down - God knows why - old George seems to get more offers from men in one day than most would in a lifetime!

4) The attitudes towards homosexuality. As I mentioned there's an interesting level of ambiguousness in some of George's relationships with the men he meets - is something going on or not? - which is a hallmark of the time. But the prejudice and ostracism that gay men received back then is also dealt with, and whilst deplorable, I found the scenes which showed this to be the most truthful and telling of all. When George speaks to Jim's brother on the phone and is told that he hasn't been invited to the funeral as he is "not immediate family", you could almost hear the hiss of disapproval from the audience - the refusal to recognise George and Jim's relationship as a "proper one" grates massively but is (regrettably) indicative of people's attitudes at the time (and to be honest, still is in some backward quarters). This is reinforced even more in the dinner scene where a drunken Charley blurts out that she and George could have had something "real" and that she never thought that what he had with Jim was "real love". F**k off!!! Insulting and deeply ignorant, but nevertheless, the kind of views that I myself have heard people spout from time to time.

5) The look and cinematography of the film. American fashion designer Tom Ford makes his directing debut here and his design and style roots come through clearly in the movie - it's sumptuously shot and made - the 60s style being prevalent throughout (loved the profileration of ladies' beehives!) George's glass house is also pretty funky and trendy (though a bit of a nightmare for those craving privacy?!) and there's a funny scene where he sits on the toilet spying on his neighbours through the window, before one of them clocks him watching.

All in all, one of the best gay movies I've seen in a long time and proof that Colin Firth really can cut the mustard.
4 out of 5.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

It begins...

Or rather, it's coming back:


And I've barely had time to blog about it!!!

We haven't had a full series for so bloody long I've forgotten what it's like ...

... but I'm sure I'll very quickly get back into the space and time swing ... you know me.

And I'll be back with new posts soon ... including my thoughts on the very good A Single Man and meeting the lovely Alan ...

Thank heavens it's nearly Easter.

Ciaou for now.

OC xx

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Have you ever had it blue?

Well, you probably ARE blue, if you come from the planet Pandora.

Last night I went to see Avatar. Yes, it's only taken me about two months to get round to seeing it (as someone has already said to me) but then I find it hard getting the time to do these kind of things sometimes ...

I didn't see the 3D version but it was still pretty impressive in its "flatscreen" version I think ...

The good stuff:

1. Totally lush and mesmerising visuals, particularly the amazing phosphorescent flora and fauna on the planet. I loved all of the alien creatures too - the rhino-like things, the eagle-like birds - some nice, some scarey. The whole look and culture of the planet was very well done - the mark of a good sci-fi movie (it's been several decades since the polysterene rocks of Star Trek).
2. The alien race, the Na'vi, looked amazing too, even if they were obviously digital creations, though having said that, did you know that the facial expressions of the original actors were moulded onto the animations? That was probably why they actually looked very realistic ... and human. I loved their big emotional eyes and there were some wonderful nuances in their facial moements/expressions. The culture of the Na'vi was also very well presented, with their own language (created from a vocabulary of about 1,000 words apparently) and spiritual way of life.
3. The lead guy, Jake Skully (I liked the way the aliens pronounced his name) was convincing and sympathetic, even though I don't really know who Sam Worthington is. I liked the spiritual journey he underwent throughout the movie - by the end he was (literally) a different being.
4. Great to see old sci-fi stalwart Sigourney Weaver back on the scene (well, James Cameron directed her in Aliens) ... and considering it's been 31 years since the original Alien, she still looks pretty good.
5. The allegorical stuff worked well on the whole and wasn't dealt with in too heavy-handed a fashion, considering this was still a Hollywood movie (one race wanting to wipe out another race in the name of gaining something valuable; understanding and learning from other cultures; the destruction of the environment, etc etc). The scene when the Earth security torpedo and destroy Hometree (the home of one of the Na'vi clan) was gripping and horrible to watch - the poor, helpless Na'vi having their dwelling place destroyed and trying to fight back against technology and firepower with mere bows and arrows, and the brutality of the attack, made for very disturbing viewing. It made me think about all other instances of war, when we never consider that the "enemy" we are obliged to destroy are actually living beings. What gives us the right to take away others' lives? Gosh, I'm getting all heavy now.

The not so good stuff:
1. It was very long, clocking in at nearly 3 hours. I didn't realise this until I'd bought the ticket. James Cameron seems to go in for long epics (e.g. Titanic). Fortunately this seemed like quite a well-paced 3 hours, so it could have worse, even if my bum was rather numb by the end.
2. There was some predictable Hollywood stuff - the main villain, Colonel Quaritch, was a real stereotypical meanie, though I did like the face-off between him and Scully at the end, with Quaritch in his giant "robot" body suit (very similar to the one Ripley wore in "Aliens" though and probably loads of other sci-fi stuff that's been on in the interim).
3. During some of the fight/action sequences, the camera moved around too quickly for me, so much so that you couldn't always see what was going on - too blurry and fast to follow!

On balance then, this was imaginative, thought-provoking, visually stunning, well-acted and moving. Maybe not a total masterpiece but very good sci-fi. 4 out of 5.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Brazil pics - Part Three!

Okay, you're perhaps getting a tad bored of Brazil pics now - 1) Because I've posted too many. 2) Because the thought of me sunning myself, relaxing, drinking and generally having a full-on good time in a place far more desirable than freezing cold Blighty turns you into a raving, foaming-at-the mouth, insanely jealous maniac ... Erm, well it might just be because of 2) but maybe I'm over-speculating here slightly. So this will probably be the last of such posts.

Anyhow, thought you'd like to see some photos, plus a little bit of reportage, on what was probably the longest journey I ever made, from Uberaba to Porto Seguro, the resort where we spent Xmas and New Year. The journey took some 2 days by car!! Before you ask why we didn't opt for some other, less arduous and time-consuming method of transport, firstly, there is no proper rail network in Brazil. The second option was taking an internal flight, but these are damned expensive, so that was a no-no. So the trip was by motor, and I can tell you that despite the length of the trip (1,400 km which equals nearly 900 miles, the equivalent of travelling from Brighton to Edinburgh and back again) it was one of the most memorable, picturesque and unforgettable journeys that I've ever been on ... and a bit hair-raising, bone-shaking, sweat-inducing, to boot - and any other kind of expression that relates to shaking up the body a little bit). It really made you reflect on how vast Brazil is as a country, too.

I've just realised I didn't actually take any photos on the first day of the journey. We set off quite early around 8am and hit the motorway. Now one significant point to make about Brazil (as with quite a lot of countries in the Southern hemisphere) is that the quality and standard of their roads is markedly different to those we're accumstomed to here. There aren't many dual carriageways in Brazil. In some of the states they do have 2 or even 3 lane roads in either direction, but these are pretty rare. Once we were a few hundred kms out of Gustavo's home town, the roads became single lane affairs in each direction. The other thing to mention is the abundance of slow-moving articulated lorries clogging up the roads. You get whole convoys of them sandwiched together. To deal with this, you can either go for the easy (but slower) option of staying behind them, or the faster (but more dangerous) way - which entails pulling out and accelerating past the hulking brutes, even whilst traffic is coming from the other direction. As soon as a car coming the other way gets close, you take your chances, indicate and move back into one of the gaps between the lorries. You think I'm kidding, don't you?! Well, I'm not. Driving like this is the norm over there. Otherwise it will take you simply ages to get anywhere. (Mmm, Steve, I wonder if I've put you off going, now!) Fortunately as this seems to be the accepted method of driving, people will be accommodating and drop back their cars to "let you in". The number of times we had to do this was countless ... at first I was absolutely sh*tting myself, but by the end of the holiday I was almost laid back out about it. Almost. I did joke with Gustavo's family that they should market a "Dodge the lorry" type computer game in Brazil - I'm sure it would sell like hot cakes.

Anyway, after our first day's travel (probably less eventful come to think of it, hence the lack of photos) we made an overnight stopover in a town called Salinas. As we were driving into the city, we were suddenly accosted by lots of young kids on bicycles who started riding up alongside the car and chasing us! This made me totally paranoid at first - at first I thought they were after our money or wanted to hold up the car, highwayman style, but no, all they wanted to do was show us some of the motels in the area and thus earn themselves a little bit of commission (obviously they could spot visitors a mile off). Anyway we followed a couple of them on their bikes, first place we were taken to was a bit too expensive, but then one of the pedal-pushing guys found us this joint:

The rather nice and posh lobby that no-one actually sat in.

The bar also had lots of cachaca for sale. Unfortunately (or unfortunately) I didn't get as far as opening any, but I did purchase a bottle, plus a couple of cute porcelain shot holders (you can see them in the pic below on the rustic-looking shelving). The bottle is still in my cupboard here at home, unopened.

Gustavo and his folks - we found a pizza place just on the other side of the road - very handy.

Gustavo in the hotel the next morning.

View from one of the hotel balconies. Love the mist in the background.

We then set off on day two of the journey. Note the guys sweeping the road! Wish I'd taken a close up of them. I remember one of them giving us the thumbs-up as we went past. Note how the road has turned into a rocky dirt track - this was pretty much the condition of the road for the next few 100 kms - no tarmac! - and was the only route we were able to take. I did wonder if people made this kind of journey every day - in which case, one's car suspension must get wrecked at a very fast rate and sales of cars must be remarkably frequent ...

Further on we drove past this landmark, which looks very much like the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio.

Impressive eh.

Buildings like this ...

View from the car window, with rosary beads ... people are very religious in Brazil, Catholicism being the dominant belief system. Every time when we set out on a journey, Gustavo's Mum, Dad and Auntie would take the beads and pray, murmuring incantations to God and asking that we would have a safe journey. This often made me reflect on how much more spiritual people are in Brazil; in touch with the more fundamental side of life. Something we could learn from over here, I reckon ...

Gustavo takes his turn behind the wheel. Being a Native Brasileiro, he's used to being on the other side of the road! At one point I was quite keen on doing some driving over there, but given the condition of the roads, I'm not sure it would have been such a good idea ...!

There were lots of mountainous views like this one. Kind of reminds me of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

This could almost be the English countryside, mmm?

The road's a bit smoother here but just look at that orange colour!

Great mountain vista. However one problem with these type of roads was the amount of choking dust that vehicles would throw up, as you can see in the photo above. Consequently we had to have the car windows rolled up during these parts of the journey. In a 30-35 degree heat, this wasn't too much fun and the car got very stuffy ...

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

The Bridges of Brazil!!

On this section of the trip, we drove across lots of lovely constructions like this one ...

Made of wood, rickety, you could see through the gaps ...

And only with enough room for one car to get over ... yeeehaaaah!

Here's another one that looks even more precarious. But we made it over ...

Once again I couldn't help but reflect that this was the normal state of affairs for people in Brazil.

Another view whilst driving over ...

Later on we drove past these foresty regions. The picture's not that great as they're a bit far off, but these are rows and rows of tall, perpendicular trees that looked amazing.

Some of the aforementioned trees, closer up.

They looked amazing from the car. We drove through several avenues like this...

And I loved these trees with their red blossoms ...

And ... eventually ... we reached our destination! Welcome to Porto Seguro ...

Would you like to fertilize my crops? (No, that's NOT a metaphor...)

Would someone care to enlighten me as to why Farmville is so popular?? Everyone's at it ... my husband ... my mates ... even my Auntie. I confess I've never tried it - I just can't see the appeal. Having said that I do have periods where I'm hooked on Bejewelled (yes even since this post). So perhaps there's a link there - a computer game that takes your mind off other stuff that you can't get enough of.

Anyway, can someone tell me the appeal, purlease??

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Brazil pics - Part Two!

Okay, time for some more pics from my Xmas trip which now seems like yonks ago. Hope you all enjoy...

These are all from the market in Porto Seguro, and what a gorgeous place it is! The market opens in the evening rather than daytime and boasts 2km of stalls - loads to see then. It was lovely wandering around and sampling lots of sellers' wares and taking in the atmosphere ...

I love the brightly coloured buildings in the background. "Coco Gelado" is chilled coconut water, in case you didn't know, senors and senoras.

The atmosphere in the market was both relaxed and vibrant.

Some t-shirt shops ...

There were also lots of bars, cafes and restaurants where you could sit and people watch ... I didn't take my camera with me (damnit!) but one other evening we found this excellent upstairs bar called "Crystal Blue" - a high tec affair with white sofas and neon lighting but also with a lovely open air balcony where you could sit and look down on the market and also out to sea ... bliss. We walked in and they were playing The Gibson Brothers track "Cuba", followed by various other cheese classics. Naturally I was in heaven immediately.

Confession time, people. One of my dreams has actually been to own and run my own bar playing all my favourite music and having all my fave customers around ... Gustavo and I have actually discussed this before and this place was exactly what I would have chosen, given the opportunity! The only downside to "Crystal Blue" was the lack of clientele i.e. there were about 5 people in the whole joint and anyone who came in usually stayed for a drink then left rapidly after. One of the reasons I think is that Brazilians don't really go in for "cheese" and retro stuff - they're too far away from Europe to be influenced by all that and tend to go for more anthemic, crowd-pleasing, music ... so sadly the bar wasn't a success in that respect, only for old cheesers like me. We actually got talking to the managaress of the place, who was, erm, somewhat tartily dressed in a short skirt and high heels and was constantly up and dancing amongst the customers, in a bit of a desperate attempt to whip up a party atmosphere (I hope she doesn't ever read this, then again, I don't think she could speak much English). Her frenetic and funny gyrations didn't really produce the desired effect though and I felt sorry for her. She told us she was selling the place, ostensibly because she had to move further North in Brazil because of another job, and also asked if we were interested in purchasing it!! Well, we never got back to her ... Somehow I suspect the real reason for her selling up was the lack of business, which as I said was a shame, given that the place had so much potential. Oh well, maybe one day for me, eh?

Also in the market were loads of homemade cocktails stalls - using natual ingredients and fruit! There were some truly delicious drinkies to sample ... and cheap too.

Great display in the background eh? I'm drinking a caipirinha, one of Brazil's national cocktails - and it's bloody gorgeous!

Gustavo gets in in the cocktail action. Mmmm what a lot of fruits! Er, that's the ones in the BACKGROUND, not foreground, okaaaaaaaayy??!

Great display though, isn't it? So colourful, and boy, must take some setting up ...

Whilst perusing the stalls I couldn't resist trying on these "shades" ... there were lots of items to sample and see ...

... including food! These cakes were mouthwatering (not that I actually tried any - missed my chance there ... )

And clothes - lots of T-shirts - very popular, but then in a 35 degree climate, who needs to wear a jumper??

Cute, eh?

And art! I loved this painting of the ladies in hats.

This is a bit of a stunning one too. I quite would have liked to have taken one home with me, but sadly couldn't squeeze it into my suitcase ...

And there was streetdancing ...

At the end of our market excursion, we went for a meal to one of the restaurants and were serenaded by this amazingly eccentric guy! That's a drum round his neck, which looks like it was made out of a dustbin - well, perhaps it was! He proceeded to play in all manner of ways, creating loads of incredible rhythms and sounds. I was in awe, and it shows you can make music and beats with the most basic of materials ...

That's one of Gustavo's sisters in the foreground and her hubbie!