Archive for the ‘Movie & Book reviews’ Category

 When I think about David Byrne of Talking Heads, his punchy song, Psycho Killer, and the peculiar genius of the Sledgehammer music video springs to mind.

 A lesser-known fact is that he is a keen follower of what he calls, ‘The Fantastic Voyage’: the exploration of the heartbeat and inner workings of urban landscapes from the seat of his beloved bike. Since the early 80’s Byrne used a bicycle as his main form of transportation in New York City. He soon discovered folding bikes and… voilla, he was in love. He took his bike with him on concerts and for thirty years he kept cycling around cities such as London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila and many more.


Over the years he slowly pedaled through ever-changing urban landscapes and carefully recorded each journey. His writings are poignant and clever and at times sad as he describes the neglect, greed and eventual decay all around him. It is also very funny when he cleverly weaves in anecdotes of the band’s wild days and explorations of the different cultures. Byrne is like a sponge. Everywhere he cycles, he absorbs and allows himself to be fully mesmerized and enchanted by the people and the cities.  His open mind is wondrous, like that of a child, but his writing is that of an old soul. This is a real gem.

Byrne says it best when he describes his point of view from a bicycle, “Faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person: this became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years. Through this window I catch glimpses of the mind of my fellow man, as expressed in the cities he lives in. Cities, it occurred to me are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts. Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neuron pathway of some vas global mind. It really is a trip inside the collective psyche of a compacted group of people. A Fantastic Voyage but without the cheesy special effects.

Eloquently written, insightful, rambling, funny, and sometimes delightfully rude. A must-read.

@Astrid Stark

“Sometimes a journey arises out of hope and instinct, the heady conviction, as your finger travels along the map: Yes, here and here… and here. These are the nerve endings of the world…

A Hundred reasons clamour for your going. You go to touch on human identities, to people an empty map. You have a notion that this is the world’s heart.”


After reading just the first few pages into prolific travel writer, Colin Thubron’s journey along the Silk Road, I guarantee you will be captivated. It is part travelogue, part historical re-exploration and anthropology, written in a somewhat poetic philosophical style that is easily accessible and a great read. Especially if you are planning on exploring this route by bicycle on the

Thubron chose the easy way out, kind off: he hopped on buses, donkey carts, trains, jeeps and camels through the drifts of the first great trade route, the heart of China, into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey. And even then it is a harrowing journey. I wonder if he could do it all over again, on a bicycle, if he would sign up? After all the TDA’s Silk Route Bicycle Tour has been described as “The longest, hardest, highest, hottest, coldest bicycle expedition on the planet.”

As you read Thubron’s tale your eyes will stumble over names like Xian, Lanzhou, Anxi, Charklik, Cherchen and Kashgar, and many times I had to go back to the map to try to figure out just where I am.  Perhaps it is just me, coming from a sunny country like South Africa with mostly easy to pronounce names, and not too many vast and curious stretches of lands still whispering of arduous journeys and ill-fated travelers. Yet he makes the journey accessible by his interactions with the locals, his honest curiosity and all the research he prepared. His description of the silk moth’s life span is as funny as it is chilling. He spends time to speak to strangers, visit mosques and even did a stretch being incarcerated in a Chinese cell. He encounters Hunan traders, Uzbek prostitutes and volatile Kurdish Turks. There is also that bit about him receiving root canal treatment without anesthetic in Iran, which should serve as a serious reminder for anybody taking on this journey, to visit the dentist prior.  Perhaps one criticism is that he gets somewhat nostalgic and too literary as he explores some of the people and places he meets. However his writing is filled with compassion as he attends burials and speaks to the relatives which reveal as much of the history of the locals as of their modern adaptations to an ever-changing world.

I would not take this book along on your journey as a light-hearted recount of the Silk Route but would rather recommend that you read it well in advance and let his evocative, poetic explorations sink into your psyche and hopefully, when you do get the chance to do this incredible journey, you will in part see it through his sage like eyes, which is what any decent travel writer should aspire too.

Keen to explore his journey by bike? The TDA is a 12,100 kilometer self-powered caravan that begins at Shanghai, China, the bustling center of China’s economic rise, and follows the classic Silk Route across fiery deserts and forbidding mountains. Eighteen weeks later you will arrive in faraway Istanbul, the majestic capitol of Byzantium, the Roman Empire.

One of the riders, of the 2007 Silk Route, Jo Demmler, says it best: “Beautiful sunsets, early morning sunrises, days of biking heaven, days of biking chaos, extreme temperatures , different cultures, headwinds, hills, heat, a cold beer at the end of the day, sharing tea, vodka & beer with generous locals, desert camps, sore bum, bike maintenance, snow, ice and yurts, kids on the streets, high fives, rough and smooth roads, long days, history, culture, architecture, generosity, markets, food, life long friendships” @Astrid Stark


Posted: August 8, 2012 in Movie & Book reviews

Only fools …

British comedian and writer, Tony Hawks’ Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, is not likely to get you tossing your clothes in a bag and hopping onto a flight to Moldova, but his brutal honesty and dry humour, punctuated by surprisingly poignant observations, will certainly have you snorting out your nose and leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the finish.

Hawks makes an inebriated bet in a pub with his buddy, stating that he can beat the Moldovan National Football Team at tennis. Why? Well, just because he thinks he can and his buddy thinks he can’t.  Yes, crazy. But we must remember that this is the same guy who once hitchhiked around Ireland with a refrigerator to collect a £100 bet. And, of course he wrote a book about that too; Round Ireland with a Fridge.

  What follows in Playing the Moldovans is a very funny quest that has very little to do with tennis or football.  Hawks’ attempt to play the Moldovans is a test of faith, humour, and survival.  He gets so much more than he asked for from a country that at first seem inhospitable and cruel to him. Through the seemingly pointless act of playing the entire team he inadvertently discovers the heart and soul of Moldova. Through his dealings with gangsters, and the throw-backs of communism, he delivers an honest insight into Moldova’s history, zeitgeist and landscape. He discovers his own embarrassing shortcomings, and is not shy to share them, and he finds a kind of comical Scooby Doo type of strength combined with a newly acquired humility. I still don’t really want to visit Moldova but this book is sure to make you feel like you need to take on a giant and silly adventure of your own.

Title Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

Author Tony Hawks

Publisher Ebury Press

Pages 288

Price R125.00

Tony Hawks’ words really made me fall in love with British humour all over again. So, I re-read Bill Bryson’s Neither here Nor there. Although Bryson is American, he spent most of his postpubescent days in the UK. And his writing is steeped in that wonderfully dry English humour. Neither here Nor there isan oldie but a goodie.Twenty years on, Bryson retraces his youthful backpacking journey through Europe – in the early seventies – in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. The result is a funny pilgrimage which takes you from the tundra of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul. Inbetween hopping from one European city to the next, Bryson laments his youth and explores how time, knowledge, and responsibilities have altered his perceptions. It is very, very funny writing but it also has just enough introspection to help us relate to the man himself. It is not a definitive guide to European travel as he has little else to offer than his crackling humour and a sort of overview of the countries visited. However, it is a great introductory read if you are planning on undertaking a journey through Europe.

Bryson’s fastidious research is also a reminder that a bit of investigation into the countries you will be visiting will go a long way towards deepening your experience and enhancing your journey.

Title Neither Here nor There

Author Bill Bryson

Publisher Random House

Pages 352

Price R145.00

Long Street family drama for Revel Fox.

A love affair with Cape Town’s Long Street, a young woman’s tumble into the world of sex and drugs, and redemption through music lies at the heart of Revel Fox’s latest movie.   

For Revel, directing Long Street was a very personal experience as he watched his wife and daughter re-enact a part of their tender family history.  In real life, Revel’s daughter, Sannie, had immersed herself into a world of drugs and in the process nearly destroyed herself.  “Our family went through some very bad times in the past, says Revel. “I was frightened. I wanted us to be well as a family. My daughter was very young, but she seemed unreachable.”  Gradually Sannie took responsibility for her actions and started focussing on her acting and music.  Revel recalls the moment when he realised he wanted to capture their collective experience on film. “One day I saw Sannie coming up the street. She stopped when she saw a duck which had escaped through a fence and was walking into the road. My daughter picked up a stick and gently ushered the duck to safety.”  Revel recalls feelings of relief and joy when he considered the potential humans have to do great things and to better themselves.

In the film Sia, Sannie Fox, struggles with drugs.  Her mother, played by her real life mother, Roberta Fox, is fighting her own personal demons from the past and a struggling singing career.  Sia’s father is struck down with writer’s block.  The family unit has all but dissolved until a musician, Busi Mhlongo, and the love for their respective art forms, reconnects them. 

The film, which took three years to make, stars Sannie Fox (StringCaesar), Roberta Fox (theatre’s Green Man Flashing), musician Busi Mhlongo, David Butler (Cop Land, Operation Delta Force 3: Clear Target), and George Jackos (Diana: A Tribute to the People’s Princess), among others.

Working with his family was both stimulating and challenging.  “We’ve had some practice at this so we managed it carefully with many lessons learned previously,” says Revel. “We kept apart from each other, all of us, as much as possible. The working process was stimulating and came out of me having complete faith in the actors. I saw my role as to being as unobtrusive as possible and to give them the space to do their work.”

Dialogue is used sparingly in the film.   Instead, arresting Cape Town imagery such as the afternoon sun trapped behind a smoky waterfall of clouds cascading over the top of Table Mountain, and a silent Long Street at the break of dawn, features prominently.   Says Revel on his choice of location, “Long Street is the spine of Cape Town. It is where people hang out. It is where musicians rehearse and perform. In the film, Long Street stands for Cape Town too.  I enjoyed blurring the lines between the film and Cape Town itself. Cape Town is the star.  The only thing I could not convey is the smell of fish when the northwester blew. It was a surprise to film at seven in the morning when the street was slowly waking up. This is when we could have Sia walk up the middle of the road. This is when pigeons and seagulls could wander on the street and the only sounds you could hear were shopkeepers unlocking their doors and lifting their shutters and blinds.

The music of Sannie Fox and her band, Busi Mhlongo, Steve Dyer and Leslie Javan creates an ambience which at times comes across as a gritty and dirty, fusion of real life drama and fiction.

The core team consists of Florian Schattauer, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Revel and produced the film, and Jyoti Mistry of Shadowy Meadows production. “We were lucky to have contributions from private investors such as Heather Sonn and Ketso Gordhan, says Revel. “And there was also help from The National Lottery fund, Mannheim Film Festival and the Cape Film Commission.”

Revel Fox is best known to South Africans as the director of the award-winning film about a young trapeze artist, The Flyer.   In conclusion Revel says, “The Russian director, Andrey Tarkovsky, makes a film like Mirror and it is an act of faith. He speaks of spirituality, his own family, Russian history – our place in the world. I wish my film could be looked at in this way, because I am interested in what lies outside the story itself. My film looks at how each action resonates in all those around us. It looks at how a family falls apart and tries to come back together, the role of music. An addict helps a duck back to safety. A mother cannot sing. A father struggles to remove a rusty pole from the ground. An addict daughter becomes the mother figure when her own mother falls. A woman finds the courage to open her dead father’s violin case. I wanted these ideas to unravel like a piece of music. I have tried to let the story open up layers of ideas.”

The film has been released in South African cinemas and it will be released on DVD at the end of December 2010.  Revel says he’s hoping to continue with rehab and community screenings.   He is currently busy writing a romantic thriller about a detective, a girl, and a stalker.” I’m enjoying this because it carries no personal baggage.”

Astrid Stark

Take me, break me – anyway you want me.

When Ronnie and Thomas get together; somebody usually dies. At the very least there will be a lot of blood.   These two independent filmmakers have found each other through a mutual fascination with the horror film genre. Ronnie Belcher is award-winning jewellery designer, photographer and filmmaker.   Thomas Dorman studied art at the Cape Technical College before focusing on graphic design at Austin Ellis Graphic Design School.  Their short film, Regression, recently won the award for “Best Local Short” at the 2010 SA HORRORFEST.

“During December 2008 Ronnie was having a relationship with one of my models,’ says Thomas.  “And I wanted to do a shoot in Ronnie’s attic.”  Ronnie lives in a Victorian semi-detached house in the back end of Gardens where the street people on a Saturday morning are too lethargic too beg. The street in front of his house is deserted and the area itself has the ambience of a horror film set. Ronnie’s house, however, is a haven.  A wooden staircase leads into a gorgeous wooden floored kitchen with dark orange walls. The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the kitchen. Ronnie and Thomas are waiting for me. Leon Visser joins them.  Somehow I expected them to have red-rimmed eyes, pale faces, and corks through their ears, and to be slugging back Jack Daniels for breakfast, but these guys are fresh-faced and clearly focussed on their work.

“While I was busy doing the model shoot, Ronnie was filming me shooting the girl,” Thomas continues. “He had a rough script that he thought could fit some of the resultant footage.”  The two guys instantly gelled and their first short film was born.  “We shot KiTTY KiLL on a handycam,” says Ronnie. “It is was a two month project and is still one of our finest films to date.” KiTTY KiLL won best Art Direction, best Cinematography, best Editing and Best Overall Film at the 2009 South African Auteur Film Festival.  Their unique collaboration has so far led to Emma-O, which won Best Runner-up Local Short Film” at the SA Horrorfest 2008, and 23 Rue d’Amour, Regression, and their most recent work, The Lovers.   Ronnie and Thomas co-write and direct their films.

Leon Visser, photographer, editor and producer, joined the team for the making of Regression and The Lovers. “Two months before the shooting was to take place I got a Facebook invite from Regression,” says Leon, “I knew that I had to be part of it, even if I made coffee.”  I said I have cameras and can help.”  He ended up shooting the entire film.  Regression is a chilling short film of a journey through a couple’s relationship with each other and themselves.  It is a dark, tragic, scary and sad reflection on the darker side of love and what happens when we can’t let go of each other and are consumed by love and our own runaway emotions.   

They call their films horror but watching The Lovers it is obvious that their films are powerful works of fine art.   Ronnie and Thomas says their films are less about the Zeitgeit and the issues of the day such as AIDS, poverty and politics, but rather about individual journeys removed from societal influences. 

There is never a linear story,” says Ronnie.  “We are pedantic about or time frames and environment. The Lovers can be best described as post apocalyptic 1920’s love story. The movie took 56 hours from script to screen,” says Ronnie. 

In the film two lovers who go on a journey following a string of cotton that they discover in the woman’s belly button.  Their heads are wrapped in cloth as they journey through a Salvador Dali looking landscape.  There are strong themes of birth, betrayal, love, denial and murder, and hardly a word spoken.  “It is difficult to get actors who can convincingly do dense dialogue,” Leon explains.  “We wanted each shot to look like a painting,” says Ronnie.  And indeed the film is a visual feast with its rich textures, symmetrical themes, and surreal use of colours.  The production value of the film is very high.  In one of the scenes a Gary Cummiskey poem is narrated. “The music we usually finalise when we know what the film looks like,” says Ronnie.  We are very inspired by films like David Lynch’s Eraserhead.  The music for example in the Lovers are soundscapes.  It is a journey. You don’t hear it as much as you feel it.”

Then Estè Kira walks into the kitchen.  She is smoking a pipe.  Her body is covered in intricate tattoos and a pair of silver goggles is roosting in her violently red hair. She has no eyebrows.  She has been working in the film industry for around 6 years and works on commercials, series, features, shortfilms, music videos, macabre visual art and scriptwriting.  She works as Production Designer with BlackMilk and is responsible for preparing the environment for filming.  She laughs as she tells me how some of the special effects and props are created. “Once we needed a scene where a penis is cut in half and cooked. We had to make it believable.  The usual visual effects guys could not help us because we had to cook the penis and the thing would just dissolve.  So I worked with a food stylist and we created a penis out of steak, salami and chicken skin. I still have one in my fridge!” She is also the head honcho of Miss Demeanour & the Squid Circus which sees her entertaining people with a visual performance that involves an octopus and several hooks pierced through her back.

Our movies usually start out small and then evolves into something gigantic,” Says Thomas. “Myself Ronnie and Este fund most of the projects in collaboration with production company, Sex On Toast, that often helps out.”  We hope that someone will spot what we can do with a minimal budget and then realise our potential if we had more money available.  We are also thinking of creating a box set collection of our short films.”

Just before we all trundle down the stairs and into the empty street, Estè corners me in the kitchen and insists on reciting a quote from Barend Buitekamer that to her defines her work with BlackMilk and Squid Circus, ‘In this world, an artist must sometimes be his own I-am-what-I-am god. He must visit upon the conforming meatpuppets plague after plague of obscure shock art. He must lead them from their land of milk and honey into a warzone of blood and semen. Once there he must cast them upon burning pyres… and forget about them’

On 27 November Flymachine Films, BlackMilk Productions and Purple Velvet productions will be screening their films at CULTin Johannesburg. There will be two movies from the United States and five movies from South Africa’s independent film makers.  Submachine, Slashdogs, Shots Fired and Ransom Note will provide music on the night.  Find the event at CCHQ, corner of Main and Violet on Fisher’s Hill. Cover Charge of R90, Doors open at 6pm.



The Lovers

Oh! Oh! Almodóvar!

So it’s week three of how to… “Learn Spanish in Three Months with Hugo” – the study guide, not el hombre.   It started off as a fun adventure concocted by friends and strangers. “Yes let’s learn Spanish it will expand our minds.”  Some of us were dreaming about romantic liaisons with dark and mysterious Spaniards in expansive seaside villas.  And we’ll go to San Sebastian and ask for beers in Spanish, and drag the ‘z’ in cerveTHA, sounding like drunken wasps with lisps.

But Hugo is a relentless taskmaster and the fun factor of trying to work through the demons in demonstrative pronouns, and figuring out why mesa (table) is female and árbole (tree) is male, is rapidly wearing off. 

My motto for this project being “If it ain’t fun it ain’t done… I decided to watch Spanish movies and hope that by the magical process of osmosis I will wake up one morning soon, and realise that I had been dreaming in fluent Spanish. Hola!

DVD Nouveau ( in Bree Street has a collection of foreign films that will guarantee square eyes.  For my project ‘Spanish by Osmosis’ I have latched onto director Pedro Almodóvar Caballero –for starters.   Most of his movies (there’s about 18 of them on my last count) can be found here.  I am working my way through them. I will be posting short and titillating reviews on my findings as the weeks go by. 

After watching only four films, equally disturbing and delightful patterns in the brainwaves of Mr Almodovar have emerged. 

  • In his films the fine membrane between love and lust is often violently, and remorsefully, ripped apart.
  • Things are never as simple as they seem.
  • He loves working with Penelope Crux and Javier (mucho delicioso) Bardem.  Who I believe are now an item?
  • There are secrets. And they are as ugly as it gets in the human condition.
  • Love is everything.
  • Love is nothing when consumed by jealously.
  • Jealousy maims, incapacitates and destroys everyone within a close radius to the person inflicted with the curse of the green monster.
  • The women are hot-blooded and often battle – physically.
  • Most of his characters are capable of extreme acts of violence, compassion, self-sacrifice and heinous crime. 
  • His movies are  a bit of opera meets Quentin Tarrantino meets the biography of a dirty whore who used to be a renowned  opera singer in Barcelona. Melodrama is key.
  • There is bound to be an akward and fascinating sex scene (or two if you’re lucky)
  • You just never know what is going to happen next…

Movie Review:  Broken Embraces.  Directed by Pedro Almodóvar Caballero, starring Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanco Portillo, Angela Molino and Ruben Ochandiano.  


The druglord of South African movie reviewers, Barry Ronge, called this one of Almodóvar’s most complex films.  I still have around 14 movies to watch so we will have to go with Barry on this one for now.   Penelope Cruz is a troubled and voluptuous woman who stumbles upon a role in a film.  She is in a complex relationship with a man –he is basically her pimp – who treats her like an angel (when he is not beating her to a pulp).  He is fiercely jealous.  Cruz falls in love/lust with the director of the film (Lluis Homar). Who is also fiercely jealous – and blind.  The director likes to have sex with random strangers that help him cross the road during acts of kindness.  But he was not always blind and suddenly we are within a film within a film –showing the making of a film. It does get a little complex but the core of the film stays clear as the eye of a hurricane: emotions running rampant will destroy.  The tragedy is inevitable and tangible throughout the film, as is the honesty of achingly real love and the complexity of the human psyche.  The story is beautifully told. The cinematography fresh and delightful, at times it feels like a music video in its stylised and lyrical narrative.  Unlike the American blockbusters, we never know what is going to happen next and every other scene unfolds new and moving twists and turns as complex as our human nature can get.  But mostly it is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining piece of artistic work that will speak to lovers of Almodovar, European films, intriguing stories and Penelope Cruz.