Cars 3 Carries a Theme of Ageing

Photo source: Wikipedia

Cars 3 opens at cinemas on Friday 16 June, just in time for Father’s Day 18 June. This animated film (featuring talking cars to the exclusion of any other character) is likely to be one that dads will enjoy with their young children, so fits nicely with this special day.

In Cars 3 Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is still top of the racing pops. However, he is soon overtaken by a younger, more IT-savvy set, and begins to drop in the race rankings. In his efforts to regain his former glory Lightning signs up at a state-of-the-art race training facility and meets Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo). Cruz is a trainer (and secret racer wannabe). It turns out that Lightning is able to teach Cruz a thing or two as he spurns her training methods for good old-fashioned road practice. After some amusing sidetracks Cruz competes for the final time. As he does so he begins to realise that racing isn’t, in fact, all about him and he learns to make room for others.

Cars 3 is a wholesome film in that it teaches the value of respecting mentors, the value of teaching (as opposed to competing), the value of unselfishness, and the value of teamwork. But some of the terminology will be challenging for young viewers. And I think the theme of ageing may be boring for children. It’s interesting to think that characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh never age, whereas Lightning McQueen and his motley crew do. This motif seems to signal the end of the Cars franchise.

Holding onto Life: By Remembering the Dead

Much in our existence revolves around “holding onto life”. Taking holidays, doing things we love, remembering those who have died. I pretty much did all three of these activities together recently when I holidayed at Le Canonnier, Mauritius, walked The Coffin Route in England’s Lake District, and read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood while on those trips.

1967, Holcomb, Kansas, USA — Author Truman Capote poses at the grave of the murdered Clutter family, made famous in his novel and in the film. — Image by © Bob Adelman/Corbis

Capote’s book, which was published in 1966, is termed a “non-fiction novel”. Today the equivalent term might be “creative non-fiction”. The genre describes a story that is essentially factual, but written to read like a novel as opposed to, for example, an essay or a newspaper article. In Cold Blood relates the true story of the murders of four members of the Kansas-based Clutter family by criminals Perry Smith and Richard (Dick) Hickock. Readers therefore begin the book knowing the outcome. But this doesn’t detract from the product. Capote’s unique descriptions, careful character portrayal, and flowing style kept me totally engrossed – even through sections that seemed obviously lifted from official reports.

At the end of the book the reader is taken to the simple graves of the four Clutters. It is merely a “single gray stone”, which lies “in the far corner of the cemetery”. Without Capote’s book many people, myself included, would never have known or cared about the Clutters, or their murderers, and the senseless ending of their lives. In this way Capote helps us “hold onto life.”

Cannon

A cannon overlooks the calm Indian Ocean. Photo Brenda Daniels

I started In Cold Blood while enjoying a week of mild April sunshine (and short rain showers) at the Beachcomber resort of Le Canonnier on the northern coast of Mauritius. This type of holiday – a Beachcomber all-inclusive package – is like being in paradise. Calm seas, copious food and relaxing activities lull the mind and body into believing that nothing outside the resort gates exists. But even paradise has a dark history of life and death. I joined a “Beautiful Story Tour” one afternoon and heard a few facts told in a creative way. Le Canonnier, our tour guide explained, was the site of a military garrison in the 1800s. Cannons, an ammunition building, a large tree which was originally the fort of 50 soldiers, and a now-defunct lighthouse bear witness. And beyond a hedge, nestled in the thick, green grass the grave of a young doctor can be glimpsed. This doctor had treated indentured labourers who disembarked a ship just south of today’s resort, before contracting one of his patient’s illnesses and succumbing. I would never have noticed the grave – the remaining indication of a life having been lived – if our guide hadn’t pointed it out.

The life of English poet, William Wordsworth, is much more well-known to me than that of this fateful Mauritian doctor, and therefore easily remembered. This is of course due to the former’s published and widely loved poetry. But also to the careful memorialisation of his English Lake District home, which I visited on a trip in early May. What I saw in fact detracted from the romanticism surrounding the poet, portraying as it did the “non-fiction” side of this “creative” writer’s life. As charming as the cottage may seem from the outside, inside it is dark, cold, smoky and wonky. No wonder William and his sister Dorothy loved their garden so much.

My daughter and I walked to Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere from Ambleside via “The Coffin Route”, a rough woodland track away from the main causeway where the sight of dead people may have caused offence.

Funny how this route is now the most delightful one for walkers wanting to escape the realities of daily living by enjoying nature.

Remembering the dead on these trips was certainly an enjoyable “holding onto life” for me.

 

Their Finest Has a Good Dig at the Moviemaking Industry

Their Finest is a delightful and funny drama about one woman’s break into the male-centric world of screenwriting in Britain in the 1940s. Set against the backdrop of WWII, Catrin Cole (a lovely Gemma Arterton with a Welsh accent), goes against the female norm and starts working for a London scriptwriting company. She and fellow writer Tom Buckley (an annoyingly smarmy Sam Claflin) develop an argumentative, bantering friendship that leads to, well I’m sure you can guess where it leads to.

Picture supplied by Ster Kinekor

The wartime film created by the screenwriters was to be about twin girls who heroically rescued soldiers in their small boat during the Battle of Dunkirk. Their Finest revolves around the film’s making from start to finish. When scriptwriter Catrin initially interviews the twins she discovers that the newspaper reports about their ‘rescue of soldiers’ was in fact untrue. They had never reached Dunkirk because their boat had broken down, and they had only taken on soldiers when they were towed back to England by a bigger ship.

No matter. Catrin sets about creating a story that would appeal to female viewers. Her fellow writers get involved and throw in their ideas, casting men as the hero. The Ministry department responsible for the product add their political requirements. The actors, headed by Ambrose Hilliard (a hilarious, pompous Bill Nighy), bring their demands to bear. And then to top it all off the people responsible for promoting the film to an American audience insist that an American actor be added. (Never mind that there were no Americans in Dunkirk). Although good to look at the American, Carl Lundbeck (Jack Lacy), is completely useless as an actor, and the team is forced to do what it can to ensure he is more seen than heard.

Their Finest has a good dig against toothy, dim Americans, against the ridiculousness of war time propaganda, and against the malleability of ‘truth’ in movies. It portrays the making of the Dunkirk rescue film in parallel with the relationship between its creators Catrin and Tom. Interestingly, these two aspects of Their Finest‘s story show how human intervention can manipulate outcomes to suit taste.

Their Finest opens at cinemas in South Africa on 2 June 2017.

Pirates of the Caribbean number 5…an enjoyable conclusion

The latest Pirates movie is great. It is less confusing than the previous films, funny, full of action, and has a satisfyingly conclusive ending.

It starts off hilariously with a ‘bank heist’ and a tipsy and, as usual, useless Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who narrowly escapes beheading by guillotine. Shipless and crewless Sparrow is nevertheless still in demand.

Intersecting story characters include Salazar (a cursed, ghostly foe from Sparrow’s past) who sails the Flying Dutchman (a ghostly ship), Barbosa (a living foe) and Henry Turner (son of Will Turner). All of them need Sparrow: Salazar (a marvellous Javier Bardem) for revenge for Sparrow’s defeat of him many years prior; Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) for a special map and the magic compass; and Turner (Brenton Thwaites) for help finding a magical treasure. A very clever and determined woman, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) also enters the mix. She figures out how the map works and joins up with Sparrow and Turner. The three, together with Sparrow’s absurd crew, ‘resurrect’ The Black Pearl and set sail.

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The Founder: Ray Kroc or Dick & Mac McDonald?

When Joan Smith asked Ray Kroc in words something to the effect ‘When did you start McDonald’s’, there was just a small flicker in his eyes before he answered ‘1954’. That flicker indicated the moment in the film, The Founder, when Kroc (Michael Keaton) lied about the beginnings of the famous fast food chain McDonald’s. Kroc was not the ‘founder’. The developer, yes, but not the founder. That title in fact belonged to brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who came up with the concept many years earlier.

The Founder Poster HR

Michael Keaton plays ‘Kroc’ in The Founder. Image: supplied.

Kroc had been a struggling but optimistic salesman who met the brothers when he sold them milkshake machines. He had been so impressed with their flagship store in California that he persuaded them to go into business with him and roll out more franchise stores like theirs across the USA. But the McDonalds’ conservative stranglehold on progress frustrated Kroc’s ambitions and Kroc managed to override the brothers, buy them out and take the chain to global reach.

That flicker moment also pretty much indicated when Kroc, in The Founder, stepped over the integrity boundary in his personal and business life. As his personal life went south so did his business ethics, and Kroc’s wife, and the McDonald brothers received a raw deal. Kroc is not painted in the film as an all-out baddy, however. His tenacity, business sense, and focus are shown in a way that make you admire him. And the balance between his business success and some unfair (though not technically illegal) dealings is this this film’s strength.

The Founder does not come across as a typical Hollywood ra-ra-America film. I enjoyed the story about how Dick and Mac came up with their simple menu and scientifically developed service offering. How Kroc, with the help of lawyer, Harry Sonnenborn (B J Novak), turned the focus from purchasing franchise stores to purchasing real estate, and how the McDonalds’ focus on marketing to the family was changed by Kroc to marketing that appealed to people’s religious-type passions.

The Founder opens at cinemas in South Africa today 19 May 2017.

My London Marathon Journey

Supporter sunglasses

My London Marathon journey began, of course, some time prior to 23 April 2017, the date of the event. Preparations included plotting the route, packing supplies, wearing the right gear, and liaising with supporters. My outfit was a bright orange T-shirt sporting the word Sense on it. Sense is a UK-based charity that cares for deafblind children. I was very happy to wear the colours of such an organisation. I also wore giant sunglasses to attract attention. These red plastic toys were nothing compared to what other runners wore: Darth Vader outfits, giant beer bottles and, yes, a 25kg tumble dryer. The kitchen appliance man (Ben Blowes) set a world record. Despite such competition I was very proud of my four-and-a-half-hour finish time.

It was a challenge to make my way through the thousands of people (there were 40 000 runners and I don’t know how many supporters). But the impressive work of road marshals and police men and women was a big help. They shepherded runners and supporters across roads, and channelled patient crowds into public transport stations. I maintained a good time, slowing towards the end, but was definitely hampered by a race-day toilet that held the promise of space-age efficiency but didn’t deliver. It gurgled through its automatic self-cleaning phase so slowly that I hopped about while waiting, anxious to return to the race.

The pace leading up to the 14-mile mark was the most stressful. I wasn’t sure I would be seen by those who knew me and I took so long to decide where the best vantage point would be that it took a hard sprint to get me there at the projected time. I must say that the timing chips given to runners and the mobile phone app they connected to were excellent when it came to tracking progress and therefore heightening excitement.

Spotting my loved ones through the crowds was hardest at the 19-mile mark and by then my calves were shaking with the effort of keeping me on my toes. But it was all worth it when we were reunited post-finish at our chosen meeting point.

Pre- and post-marathon

My London Marathon journey was a tiring (and expensive) one but lots of fun. I barely needed the energy bars we’d packed, so thrilling was the travel by train and by foot to the four spectator points our family had decided upon. I saw my dedicated, disciplined daughter at three of the four stops, and simply yelled her name as loudly as possible at the first as she ran past. She heard me, us, and saw us in our bright orange T-shirts, and said it really helped her to keep going for the 26 miles.

At last count Robyn had raised GBP1480.00 for her chosen charity Sense. I’m so proud of you Robyn Turton, thank you for letting me be your supporter (and for getting me a free supporter’s T-shirt)!

Robyn (front, centre) flanked by her supporters at the finish

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie

‘Johnny is Nie Dood Nie’ is the name of a song written by Koos Kombuis as a tribute to fellow musician Johannes Kerkorrel who committed suicide in 2002. It is now also the name of a South African film by Christiaan Olwagen which releases in cinemas on 5 May 2017.

The story focuses on five friends who were involved in the Voëlvry movement of the 1980s, and shows what has become of them 20-odd years later. Johnny (Roelof Storm) commits suicide, an event which is stylised in the film, and the other four (Rolanda Marais, Albert Pretorius, Ilana Cilliers and Ludwig Binge) struggle to process what has happened. Voëlvry was an anti-apartheid Afrikaans-rock-music movement, fuelled, if the film is anything to go by, by drugs, alcohol and academic ideologies. Although radical for its time, the Voëlvry campaign in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is portrayed as an insular one, characterised by frustration and hopelessness. This is emphasised by the present-day aspects of the story that show the characters still boozing and drugging, still railing against injustices, but without having achieved very much. This futility is underscored by references to the Border War of the 1980s, a war which modern-day South Africa looks upon as shameful and racist, and a faded waste of young lives.

The new South Africa the Voëlvry supporters hoped for in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie does not deliver, featuring high walls and ongoing racial prejudice. The filming in the present section of the film is dizzying to say the least. Perhaps this was done to show the characters ‘going around in hopeless circles’, I’m not sure, but I found it irritating. The story is really about the characters, not the music itself, so fans of Afrikaans rock will be disappointed from that point of view. The very last scene of the film casts a ray of hope over what has come before but is completely disjointed from the rest and so is hard to reconcile.

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is very well acted and the local setting is realistic. But it’s a dark, sad and rather futile narrative that I think will appeal to a limited audience only.