Quite unexpectedly, Rio has become my favourite place to be (with the exception of Kashmir but I was born there so it doesn’t count). Saying it’s my favourite place is quite a statement given that I was actually only there for a day and a half and I was petrified of getting mugged as soon as I left the airport. So, let me explain ...
Everyone told me “Be careful, it’s City of God country”. I have no doubt the ‘wrong’ parts of town are dangerous but my experience was overwhelmingly positive. And how is man known for being so hard to please erm pleased? Was the sea? The sand perhaps? That beautiful sky? Or the hot rays of sunshine on my skin? The people? The food? The stunning scenery? Actually, it was all of the above. There are beaches and then there are the beaches. Rio has character and atmosphere by the bucket load. It’s very hard for anyone not to fall in love with Rio.
The start of the relationship
Flying from Sau Paulo where I’d been working for 3 days, I arrived in Rio late Thursday night. The flight was delayed so I missed an evening in Rio. So off to the hotel I went and checked in and slept soundly till 7am. Friday morning and my adventure began. The highlights of my stay:
Christ the Redeemer
If you think of Rio, a few things spring to mind and this colossal monument is one of them. The statue is 130 ft tall and 98 ft wide. It weighs 635 tons and is located at 2300ft on top of the Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city (you can’t really miss it). In July 2007, Christ the Redeemer was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a list compiled by the Swiss-based “The New Open World Corporation”. I’m not sure I’d agree but it doesn’t matter. It’s impressive! The tour guide told us it was made of concrete shipped in from Switzerland but a quick search on the internet says it’s made from soapstone. Not sure what that is but in any case, it’s a great monument and the views from Corcovado are spectacular. Actually, getting to the top by tram is good fun – it’s very steep to walk (although people do actually do this).
Sugar Loaf Mountain
Cable cars take passengers up the mountain in two stages, the first stopping at the Morro da Urca, a smaller mountain in front of Sugarloaf, and the second continuing on to the summit, each stage taking three minutes. Again, the views are spectacular and it’s well worth a visit. I had a moment of mental peace while I was up on Sugar Loaf. There is even a club there but I didn’t get to check it out (this time). For all you film buffs, Sugar Loaf is where James Bond battles Jaws in Moonraker!
Everywhere I looked I saw people playing volleyball or football, people basking in the glorious sunshine and buff men strutting around in the tiniest Speedos (slightly disturbing as I’ve never seen so many men’s crotches in my life). I walked the entire length of the beach and back again. It was fabulous. The people were great, the weather was great, I managed to burn despite my sun cream factor 30 but I didn’t care. Sitting down drinking coconut milk watching the world go by was simply wonderful. I was introduced to a drink called ‘Guarana’ – sugary, syrupy, tasty and full of caffeine it will wake you up and keep you buzzing. One can was enough though …
I sincerely regret not staying for longer in Rio. It’s left its marked on me. I need it. I want to lie on that beach, swim in those waters, watch those people walk by and feel content. Because that is what I realise Rio did for me. It washed away my troubles and woes and, for a short time at least, I was happy to be me.
“Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand …”
“Tall and tan and young and lovely, The girl from Ipanema goes walking, And when she passes each one she passes goes "a-a-ah!"
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Words are great. We love 'em here at the Treehouse, and bandy them about willy nilly, sometimes using whole sentences in displays of uncharacteristic eloquence. But dammit all, they’re so 2008. As we creep towards the bright future, much like Doc Brown’s distaste for roads, where we’re going we won’t need words. For the rise of the video, though apparent for a good while now, has been ever more stealthily spreading it’s seductive tendrils. The video review is certainly no new thing, we’re big Yahtzee fans around here, and indeed even the Gametrailers reviews are things of much value, allowing viewers to see the words of the reviewers in their heads, sometimes literally. But surely the work of Rebecca Mayes eclipses all of these pretenders to the medium, for she is carving herself the niche in video gaming of video song reviews. She not only uses words, and a plethora of instruments, and catchy ditties, but also adorable little penguin outfits and tea sets. A brave new world of games reviews dawns. She was recently featured on Charlie Brooker’s excellent Gameswipe, with her review of Madworld, but this delightful love note to Batman: Arkham Asylum is at once pretty and insightful, and is surely her finest work to date. Ever a sucker for the incredibly talented I take off my penguin hat to her and bid her continue with this bold march towards a word free future. But then again, some faces are meant for radio, so please don’t think too harshly of us if we continue to spout a couple now and again around here. See more of the wonderful Rebecca Mayes at her home at The Escapist, but not I hasten to add, at her real home because that, sir, has a word, and that word is stalker.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Saturday, 7 November 2009
For those of you that don't know me, you won't know (is that some weird tautology there?) that I love photography. Yes, I admit it. I'm that sad, lonely figure walking around camera in hand jumping at anything that can be photographed. My preference is landscapes and macro and Munial suggested that I post some of my images to try and get some feedback (since I'm always badgering him). So, I will start posting a series of photographs monthly with different themes ... do let me know what you think as there is (probably) a big conflict of interest if I review my own stuff! This month's theme is macro (small stuff up close) and I've posted a very small selection from my vast library. Just bear in mind that the photographs are reduced in size and resolution for obvious reasons. Also, the watermark refers you to my website - apologies for the plug!
The camera I used was a Canon A710 IS purchased in 2006 which is a mid-range fully manual digital compact (not an SLR). I was recently visiting relatives abroad and my aunt decided she needed it more than me. I didn't know how to say no so I'm now about to purchase the Canon SX 200 IS. This is a direct replacement for the A series and it's all I need. It's a strong all rounder and a good size at a reasonable price. Although, the Nikon D5000 would be my budget digital SLR of choice for greater manual control. My theme next month may be 'lakes' and all things to do with lakes. If anyone has a better suggestion or wants to challenge me ... go for it! The photographs shown are a very small selection - I literally have thousands. If you like photography and would like to exchange tips etc, let me know.
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Despite what Michael Jackson would have us believe, This is, in fact, it. This is Gilliam’s shot at the big time. Never mind the fact that he is one of the most brilliantly inventive, dedicated and passionate film makers ever, this is his last chance to show those money hogging, suit wearing bitches, that he can get bums on seats too. And I hope he does – I know a lot of people who have been to see this film, the type I wouldn’t imagine typically seeing a Gilliam film. Sure they came away with a predictable reaction – it was a bit weird – but they saw it, and enjoyed it.
We’re in modern day London, announces the oddly medieval onscreen script, a weirdly tall and narrow horse and cart pulls through the darkened rainy streets. The show, for it is such, pitches up outside a busy nightclub where drunken revellers are spilling onto the street. The rickety cart opens and unfolds to reveal that perennial Gilliam favourite; a shabby flea circus theatre, ancient and ramshackle. Onstage the pitiful band of the immortal Dr Parnassus and his followers try to tempt the revellers with their fantastical tales. Parnassus sits motionless in a trance while his crew spin a wistful tale. Straight away the conceit is clear – the world has left these performers behind, the drunken revellers don’t care for stories or imagination and after a boozy bust up Valentina, Parnassus’ long limbed daughter, is chased through the stage mirror to the back of the stage. Except of course these travelling oddballs are the genuine article and the mirror in fact leads into the recesses of Parnassus’ entranced mind. Inside the imaginarium, reality is what you make it, and so each journey within is never the same twice. The reveller quickly meets a sticky end inside for reasons that become apparent later.
And so off they trot, after giving the dopey filth the slip for the missing pisshead, to find another pitch to tell their tales and expand some minds again. The crew is four strong. There’s Parnassus himself, Valentina, Anton – the downtrodden dreamer madly in love with Valentina, and Percy, Vern Troyer’s even-smaller-than-a-midget coachmen/advisor. Together they roll around the streets of London looking for punters to enthral with their stories, and to guide to blissful transcendence from their everyday lives through Parnassus’ fantastical imaginarium, but clearly times are tough. Valentina dreams of escape. Anton dreams of Valentina, and Parnassus simply dreams. And drinks.
Also, even more trouble is afoot, for it emerges that Valentina’s 16th birthday is approaching and Parnassus’ very long history is about to catch up with him. The story is gradually revealed throughout, but much is clear from very early on – a shadowy figure displays an unhealthy interest in Valentina and Parnassus knows him well. A thousand years ago, when he was a young monk (!) Parnassus had a little run in with a moustachioed Tom Waits with a knack for magic and a penchant for gambling. This was, he tells Valentina, the first time he struck a bet with the Devil. The good Doctor was locked in battle with Mr Nick to see who could save or destroy the most souls through offering simple choice to the folk who entered his imaginarium, a bet which Parnassus won and gained his immortality – which of course turned into a curse as times changed and he and his stories became ancient and irrelevant. But back to Valentina, and many hundreds of years later Parnassus meets his one true love, and Mr Nick crops up again to make another deal – in exchange for his youth given back to him allowing him to court this beautiful creature, Nick will claim any offspring they bear on reaching it’s 16th birthday. Well, the Doc agreed and lo and behold many many years of blissful marriage later, out pops Valentina. Oh dear – things are just looking up for Lily, and now it seems the Devil's going to cart her off for his amusement. But ever the gambler, Mr Nick, in the present now, makes another offer; if Parnassus agrees to resurrect their old favourite game - If he can "enlighten" five souls before Mr Nick, Valentina's soul can be saved.
The start of this new wager is marked by the arrival of a new member of the troupe – the enigmatic Tony (Heath Ledger). Found hanging by his neck under London Bridge, initially dead, he quickly comes back to life and becomes a central figure in the travelling show. Immediately an object of much fascination for Valentina and deep suspicion by the jealous Anton, Tony is a mysterious figure, never fully explained. Without a memory (so he claims) and with strange markings on his forehead and apparently some magic of his own, he tags along with the show, seemingly unfazed by the enchanting secrets behind Parnassus’ mirror, and together they set about saving souls and ultimately Valentina’s. But his murky past cannot remain hidden and as the competition hots up it becomes clear that Valentina's soul is at the mercy of her own choices, just like everyone else's.
So there is a plot. That is it. It is weird, no doubt – fantastical and imaginative and where anything can happen and does. At the heart of it is the notion explored in the early flashback scene, where the young Parnassus first meets Mr Nick. In it he explains that the monk's purpose is to tell the eternal story - the idea being that should they stop telling it, the world will cease to be. Nick proves that wrong by sucking their voices from their mouths. See, he croaks, we're all still here. Ah but, rebutts Parnassus, someone somewhere else in the world is telling the story, and so here we remain. Brilliant. It’s no surprise to learn the story was co-penned by Baron Munchausen creator CharlesMcKeown; the script positively drips the Baron’s whimsy; an immortal (ish) protagonist, the notion that storytelling is as vital to humanity as breathing, the power of the imagination to alter our reality – these themes are all central to Parnassus.
Gilliam's focus looks to have been elsewhere however as he has clearly found a bit of a muse in Cole. While she too never blows us away with her acting chops, being as she is, just about passable, she is simply fascinating to look at, and Gilliam frequently seems unable to tear his lens away from her extraordinary face. Special mention must also be made of course of Tom Waits, who should probably always be cast as the Devil. His portrayal as the playful, whimsical Prince of Darkness is magnificently funny, as is Plummer's boozy old immortal himself.
The imaginarium itself is beautifully realised – vast in its scope, its juxtaposition to the drab real world is jarring, so full as it is of colour and mad ideas propped up on wacky notions. At times it descends into pure Monty Python territory, a Ben and Jerry landscape with chorus lines of dancing policemen – you half expect a giant foot to descend from the heavens to squash a villain. That said, the real world, relatively drab as it is, is made quite lovely too, London looking better than ever. As he did for New York in the Fisher King, in Gilliam’s London magic and mystery lurk in every nook and litter strewn alley. Quite how he makes these ramshackle existences so appealingly beautiful is beyond me.
Some more logical types may find the obscurity of the tale frustrating. Tony’s origin is never fully explained, and it is fair to say that he is a contradictory character – at once seemingly genuinely committed to helping Parnassus win the bet and saving Valentina, while at the same time (or at least in the final act) revealing his dark side of twisted morals and dodgy past. Does he deserve the ending he is met with? Not on the basis of what we see – but is this morality tale half the point? – that we are a bundle of contradictory impulses and notions eternally at odds with one another, and we will ultimately get what’s coming to us no matter what we do? No idea! Answers on a postcard please. What’s clear is that this isn’t the kind of movie in which one should expect the answers to be signposted, for essays could, and will be, written about what it's all about. It would be fair to say though that it does somewhat lose it's way in the final act, where the mystery descends into plain old head scratching.
But frankly sod all that, if you wanted your film to make sense you should have gone to see This is It. Possibly a bad example. Anyway, Parnassus is at heart a Gilliam fairy tale, told in his inimitable style, as full of wacky, humorous imagination as the imaginarium itself. So if you happen to like a Gilliam fairytale, you should happily settle in for his best in recent memory.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
The film stars Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar, an intelligent 12 year old boy bullied terribly at school, a social misfit (actually bordering on psychotic) and living with his seemingly workaholic mother and seeing his apparently alcoholic father on occasion. Bullying has been in the news rather a lot this year and it’s interesting to see its considerable negative impact on Oskar (I’ll say no more). Lina Leandersson plays Eli, the new girl on the block and Oskar’s next door neighbour. She is pale, beautiful, feels no cold and is a vampire. The whole film really hinges on the strength of their performances. And boy do they both deliver. Where are the Oscars for such talents? I despair. In fact, the supporting cast are brilliant too. This is not just a film but a social commentary and, as such, the actors play out their roles as though they’re in a documentary. The subtext of much of the film is disturbing and leaves a lingering taste in ones mouth – there are suggestions of psychosis, paedophilia and then you have the murder/killing and death too. So it’s odd I think it’s a beautiful film.
The film is beautifully shot – the wintery landscape of Sweden providing a suitably dark, chilling and oppressive atmosphere. What strikes you most when you watch the movie is that, at its core, this is almost a coming of age movie about two children looking for companionship and is presented in a very ‘matter of fact’ way. There are moments of tenderness and sadness in the film that left a real impact on me and that you can relate to (to a degree). I really want to mention two specific scenes but I’ll give away the story so I’ll stop myself. For me, the friendship/relationship that blossoms outshine the moments of very ‘matter of fact’ horror which are brilliantly done in a both a subtle and sometimes not so subtle way. My point is that this film is not about the horror. The horror is one element of a film that is really about the relationship between two children. But it can be construed from the film that it’s more than that – there may or may not be manipulation involved. It’s not straightforward as I’ve portrayed and it is quite complex. The films leaves out huge chunks of the novel so I’d strongly suggest you read the book too if you want more back story (the film is lacking in detail at points and raises lots of misleading questions which the book explains).
One final point, an English language remake is on its way in 2010 set in the US. I’m not sure I want to see it. It’s not needed unless you can’t stand watching films with subtitles … yes, you know who you are you strange people!
Monday, 2 November 2009
I finally managed to beat off the chavs to get close to the demo unit for DJ Hero that appeared last week in my local Game. I've been itching to have a look at the turntable close up, despite not actually being terribly excited for it based on what I'd seen, not to mention band games and the like are usually, with their peripheral proclivity, prohibitively pricey. But based on a mere ten minutes of scratch n' sniff, I might just have to make an exception.
This will never work, right?
Bowie wins. But you probably won't on expert..
More than the sum of its parts..
Check out the Dj Hero Youtube channel for more.