Reels and Real Life

The thrill of my recent trip to New York began on the flight there when I watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. Already

Winnie-the-Pooh and friends at the New York Public Library January 2018

screening on international circuits, the film only releases in South Africa on 16 March 2018. I enjoyed this depiction of how author Alan Milne came to create the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and was delighted, therefore, to come across a brand-new exhibit of the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys when visiting the New York Public Library the day we arrived. There in a glass cabinet, in the children’s book section of this vast and beautiful library, sat Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga – all recently restuffed and nicely spruced up.

Goodbye Christopher Robin shows the developing relationship between playwright A. A. Milne (known as Blue to his son) and his son Christopher Robin (nicknamed Billy Moon and acted by the very cute Will Tilston). Further, the film depicts how, during an enforced time together in their ‘hundred-acre-wood’ estate, Blue and Billy Moon come up with the Winnie-the-Pooh characters’ names and the imaginative story millions of people know so well today. The unexpected fame and fortune that followed publication unfortunately came at the expense of the ‘real’ Christopher Robin. As a result Milne refused to write any more Pooh stories – in an effort to repair the father-son relationship. Despite this sobering biographical account the movie didn’t take away for me the magic of encountering gentle Pooh and his pals.

Me and Pooh

Another film I saw onboard (it’s a long flight to New York from South Africa) was the documentary We Will Rise. The film shows former-first lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, together with actress Meryl Streep, journeying to Morocco and Liberia where they meet girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. Obama’s mission was to encourage these young ladies in their efforts to overcome enormous obstacles to be educated. The documentary wasn’t comprehensive and seemed to err more on the side of publicity than practicality. But it did serve to underline Obama’s (and Streep’s) concern for women, for education, and for Africa. With the present US president’s recent utterances on Africa as ‘sh*thole countr(ies)’ (see http://bit.ly/2D4Pks5 for further reading on this subject), I was struck by the contrast between the two presidencies. Trump’s remarks took on a further bigoted, hypocritical and inexcusable tone for me when, a day after arriving in New York, I visited the New-York Historical Society. This museum explores the history of New York and includes a 20-minute film of the process. In virtually the opening lines of the film the narrator states that New York was built on three pillars – one of which was slavery.

The confluence of (movie) reels and real life really makes you think sometimes…

Michelle Obama and the We Will Rise programme

 

 

Speeding Around New York City

‘Quick, only ten seconds to get across the intersection,’ said my husband to me over his shoulder. And there we were, at it again, chasing the lights on foot from West 43rd Avenue to 5th Avenue and our destination: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Haring around Manhattan’s very long blocks for the past day or so had proved to be good exercise, but exhausting too. ‘The countdown on the pedestrian traffic light isn’t a challenge,’ I protested in my effort to slow him down, ‘it’s just a warning.’

‘But if we keep moving we’ll stay warm.’ He did have a point; strolling in 1

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Photo: Brenda Daniels

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Photo: Brenda Daniels

degree Celsius temperatures would have been chilly. Nevertheless, I was grateful when, on this occasion, we decided to catch a bus most of the way. The trip, which cost 75 cents each (in exact cash, no change given), took us along Madison Avenue. The bus driver and a helpful passenger were attentive in their directions, telling us which stop to get off at, and I enjoyed looking at the big fashion houses as we travelled along. The Met is in an imposing building that looks onto Central Park. In fact the uncluttered view of the snowy park from the coffee shop in the museum echoed the clean and spacious layout of the exhibits and felt like it was one of the framed displays.

An exquisite stained-glass window at the Met. Photo: Brenda Daniels

An exquisite stained-glass window at the Met. Photo: Brenda Daniels

We made it across the Met’s threshold at

A view of Central Park from the Met. Photo: Brenda Daniels

A view of Central Park from the Met. Photo: Brenda Daniels

10.30am, just in time to join the free ‘Highlights Tour’. Entry fee to the museum is actually discretionary, a ‘suggested’ amount of $25 per adult (quite expensive when you consider the number of huge, free museums there are in other major cities). The one-hour tour was delightful. It was a journey through different eras, continents and styles. I particularly enjoyed the guide’s explanation of a Congolese warrior ‘judge’ sculpture. She spoke of this ugly, aggressive-looking god statue with respect, explaining how effective it was as part of that ancient culture’s legal system. Her deferential tone was in contrast to the angry political ‘Trump’ rhetoric so evident in the newspapers and TV news broadcasts I had read and watched in our hotel room that morning.

Luckily for me there were no urgently flashing traffic signs in Central Park. And, so, after our museum visit, we slowed our customary gallop to a canter through the park, enjoying the squirrels, and the clumps of dogs herded by dog-walkers. We emerged further down 5th Avenue where we sped up again, hastening past Trump Towers with its barriers, policemen and photographers in attendance.

An art work on the Highline walkway in New York. The map of USA looks like a shark. Photo: Brenda Daniels

An art work on the Highline walkway in New York. The map of USA looks like a shark. Photo: Brenda Daniels

All-female Ghostbusters doesn’t quite work

The new Ghostbusters is virtually a mirror image of the 1984 movie of the same name, minus the great soundtrack. Which is a pity. Perhaps due to licencing agreements only instrumental snatches of the original song form a backdrop to the new version. Without the song the new Ghostbusters isn’t spectacular. It seems a trifle silly. And perhaps because of more sophisticated special effects it may even be scary for very small children.

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Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones in the 2016 rendition of Ghostbusters. Image source: http://tinyurl.com/z7cv3nf

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Winter in New York: Five Travel Tips

Anu Garg, who writes the online A.Word.A.Day,  explains that the word “travel” is ultimately the same word as “travail”. “Imagine the era,” says Garg, “when travel time was measured in months; there were no in-boat movies during the trip, and no Holiday Inns waiting at the destination. That’s if you reach the destination at all.” Travel could be torture, appropriate since the word travel/travail derives from the Latin “trepaliare” which means: “to torture”! (To subscribe to Word.A.Day go to http://wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html.)

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An unusually lone umbrella on the wet streets of New York. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Fortunately I travelled to New York recently by aeroplane – not by boat – and did enjoy in-flight movies (Our Brand is Crisis on the way there and The Martian on the way back). I did reach my destination and hotel and while there got to enjoy two excellent Broadway plays: Noises Off and School of Rock the Musical. Perhaps the only “travails” I endured were the cold, rainy and windy conditions, or rather the umbrellas used to ward off those conditions. There were so many brollies bouncing along the wet and windy streets that week, many of which stubbornly refused to stay the right way up in the gusty setting. I worked out that I had to use my borrowed brolly for self-protection. Not against the weather; against the other jostling umbrellas! And the only way it effectively kept the rain off my face was to jam it right down onto my head. Not much sightseeing on this trip; the most I saw was a pair of heels sloshing along on the pavement ahead of me.

Which is why theatre shows were such a good escape. Tip number one: go to the theatre in New York when the weather is bad.

We happened to see Noises Off on a Tuesday evening, the night on which pre-show talks are held at many theatres. We learnt about the playwright Michael Frayn and how his difficult upbringing lent itself to his writing this British farce. We heard about the serious aspects to farce, and how challenging the actors found this particular play. Tip number two: go to the theatre in New York on a Tuesday so you can attend the pre-show talk.

The serious elements notwithstanding Noises Off was very funny. And very clever. Briefly, Noises Offthe story revolves around a group of actors practising for a play. In the first act the director interrupts proceedings during rehearsal. In the second we see the actors behind stage enduring increasingly hostile relationships with one another. The third act features the actors front of stage again but in sadly deteriorated conditions that have resulted in complete chaos. It was brilliant. Tip number three: see Noises Off on Broadway!

The next day we set off early for Broadway and joined a small queue outside the Winter Garden theatre. Along with other shivering people we cleverly bought tickets directly from the box office on the day; we did not pre-book tickets online. This saved a huge amount of money. For instance, orchestra seating tickets for this show can cost as much as $197 each, whereas tickets for the same seats purchased directly from the box office cost $145 each. Tip number four: purchase Broadway theatre tickets directly from the box office.

School of RockSchool of Rock the Musical was a gloriously fun, energetic production featuring enormously talented, vibrant young children and music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Pre-teen youngsters played bass guitars and drums and sang with the maturity of adults. We had a ball. Tip number five: see School of Rock the Musical on Broadway!

As already mentioned my outgoing in-flight movie of choice was the serious, anxiety riddled, political story Our Brand is Crisis starring Sandra Bullock. But my return-flight choice, The Martian, was a pretty lighthearted take on the travails of an astronaut who travelled to Mars and got left behind on that dusty planet. Watching Matt Damon growing potatoes in an inhospitable climate was an enjoyable end to my New York “travails”.

Unbelievable Winter’s Tale is forgettable

A review by Brenda Daniels

Winter’s Tale is a fantasy romance set in a wintry New York. The action spans over a century with several characters appearing throughout the time without ageing. The tale is a circular battle between good and evil complete with a magic horse, a Judge with Satanic qualities (Will Smith) and a host of demons, the most determined one, Pearly Soames, played by Russell Crowe.

The centrepiece of the film is the love story of a seemingly common thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a rich but dying young woman.

A secondary love story is between the same Peter Lake many decades later and a little girl called Abby, who is dying of cancer. As Pearly tries to destroy any beauty in these relationships, Peter works to fulfil his destiny by helping Beverly and Abby avoid their mortality.

Farrell, who has starred in action films like In Bruges and London Boulevard, does well in this romantic role; the love scene between Peter and Beverly is particularly tender. He also seems to have a rapport with children, and his interactions, firstly with Beverly’s young sister Young Willa (Mckayla Twiggs), and then with Abby (Ripley Sobo), are lovely to watch.

Long after a gripping tale has finished, I may grapple with the story, delving into the characters’ traits, sometimes imagining myself living out their lives. I didn’t with Winter’s Tale. I couldn’t identify enough with the characters to care about them.

The fantasy elements, too, are just too unbelievable to be enjoyable. Despite some good relationship scenes, Winter’s Tale is a forgettable film that will not appeal enough to adults or children to be enjoyable for either audience.

Winter’s Tale opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on Friday 28 February. It runs for 118 minutes and is rated 10DSV.

Colin Farrell, leadin man in Winter's Tale (Source: creative commons)

Colin Farrell, leadin man in Winter’s Tale (Source: creative commons)