Poor show

I think when you watch a romcom and at the end, when the main guy and his true love find each other, you are sorry, then the movie is not a success.

I also think that Patrick Dempsey will never make the same seamless transition from heartbreak hospital doctor to Hollywood A-list leading man that George Clooney did. I suspect he has the wrong hair.

Made of Honour – eTV’s chick flick offering this evening – is a terrible film, so bad that I cannot spend a lot of time on it not even to slag it off. Director Paul Weiland honed his skills in TV comedy; according to the IMDb copious episodes of Mr Bean were what prepared him for this dull romance, and it shows.

Weiland nearly overcame his unfortunate professional beginnings when he directed Rosanna’s Grave, which was charming and well constructed and weighed down only by the bewildering variety of non-Italian Latin actors faking Italian accents. Ok.  I exaggerate. Only both the leads were non-Italian Latins. Whatever.

But MoH clunks along, cringe by cringe, to a predictably unlikely happy ending. I fantasised that Tom (Patrick) would just keep on going back to NYC, instead of grabbing a horse and racing along the shores of a Scottish loch to say those three little words to the woman about to marry Kevin McKidd (also a Grey’s Anatomy vet) in order to win her heart after being inspired by a sheep dog to do so. But of course he did not, and the film would be poorer for it if it was possible to be poorer than utterly destitute. In the city of cinema, Made of Honour can’t afford a trailer in the park, and grabs some shuteye on a bench in the early morning hours when its aching extremities and hunger pangs are eventually numbed by sheer exhaustion. Really.

“No!” I silently willed Hanna (Michelle Monaghan), taking another sip of Hartenberg chard. “Marry Colin (Kevin) instead!” (In my book he was all the yummier for being an actual Scot.)  Of course she didn’t, and I suspect that when she eventually said “I do” to McDreamy on a New York city rooftop, she was sorry.

Or not. Either way, it would have been easier, probably, to suspend disbelief in the tooth fairy. If one had to choose.


Just when you thought it could not get any worse

I still use bunny ears – or an equivalent – to tune into the public broadcaster and eTV.  I have had brief fantasies about the perfect picture that a satellite dish and an exorbitant monthly subscription (I think R600-ish a month to watch Masterchef Australia once a week and Super Rugby/Tri-nations once a year is more than a little steep) would bring, but not many.  If I watch without my glasses I don’t really notice the speckle and the fuzzy edges and anyway my expectations of the channel offerings are not high. Anything worth watching is usually scheduled after my bedtime, although it was my intention to break to the rules tonight to catch the new (sic) CSI New York at ten.

Considering all of the above, I was a little puzzled at my dismay when I switched on SABC3 shortly after eight. At first I thought I was watching a choir competition. The fellows sported brown shwe-shwe dashikis and crooned what I thought was something religious. I am accustomed to the fact that its economic woes meant that the SABC has had to rerun 20-year-old Afrikaans drama series to avoid hours of black screen, but the old TV2 and TV3 Sunday afternoon faire, I thought, was a new low.

But when the performance faded to a melodious halt, the man who dashed onto the stage to do the continuity presenting had a funny accent and soon lapsed into some French, which I thought made the whole affair a little more current. This, and the absolutely great suit he was wearing. While I was trying to Google the night’s TV schedule, a full symphony orchestra erupted in the early, delicate notes of Ravel’s Bolero and some ballerinas teetered into the frame.

Hmm. A variety show? As my computer booted up a male dance group joined the swaying swans. The guys were wearing plain white shirts and black pants and they were doing that very old Michael Jackson Thriller-type dancing, except that they were barely synchronised. And then some girl dancers came on with red costumes that were sort of Indian, and they immediately converged on centre stage to do the goddess Durga-lookalike thing when they crouch at various levels behind each other and stick their hands out and flutter them. Hmm. Cross-cultural, crossed purposes and generally pedestrian. I managed to open Chrome and typed in “what’s on SABC3 tonight”. At which stage everything was explained, if not clarified.

SABC3 was going to “cross live to the IOC opening ceremony in Durban”. JZ was going to speak. The Ravel persisted relentlessly, as it does, increasingly urgent and loud. Sanitised gumboot dancers came on to add to the symbolic cultural diversity. I looked at my watch. They were supposed to cross to Top Billing at 8.30, according to the announcement, and it was already 8.38. I wondered if JZ was still going to speak. But then the music terminated and the continuity announcer was back, this time with a sidekick. More English and French, and then more dancers, this time with flags. I knew what I was looking at, but not sure why. I was not sure why the show took the form it did. The orchestra indicated there was lots of money thrown at it – the size of the cast. But who in this day and age designed a variety show with such a budget? I imagined that even Mbongeni Ngema could do better in an afternoon.

I recognised the flag of South Korea. Well, I knew it was one of the two (Google again). Now there is something we could call an actual legacy of the 2010 WC. More South Africans now know more international flags than ever before.

SABC3 cut to Top Billing. Seeing Ursula Stapelfeldt sparkle in an overdesigned house was almost a relief.

Suspense of disbelief

I am sorry, but that Robertson’s Spice ad where the mama tucks her chicken under her arm, scales the highest mountains and sails the roughest seas to get the best spice for it, is just incredible. Like, not credible. Like no sane person can believe it. I watch her shuffle to the quaint little shop next to her house with the chicken, uncovered, I watch her in the row boat and later, climbing majestic mountains in, perhaps, China or somewhere, and all I can think of is… salmonella. I am ready to bet my bottom dollar that the agents of Satan came up with an idea that their client hated, and bullied them into buying said terrible idea for hundreds of thousands during a very slick casting session… or something. Either way, Robertson’s should fire its communications manager or whoever approved the “ends of the earth” pitch. No food product should be that intimately associated visually, for an entire 30 seconds, with possibly gazillions of air-borne- and other pathogens.

No, really. The optimal temperature for pathogens to double in number every 20 minutes is between 5°C and 65°C. I would guess that the chicken in the ad maintained an average temperature of about 26°C for roughly four weeks. (Obviously I don’t think for a second that she rowed ALL the way to China or somewhere.) But let’s move along.

The other thing that is harder to believe than yet another Hollywood ensemble romcom (I have a strong feeling that Valentine’s Day is going to be at least as nauseating as Love, Actually) is how JZ is handling the 20th child debacle. Or 19th child debacle, according to the M&G.

It’s ongoing, it’s still being debated fiercely by radio hosts, callers-in and media scholars alike, and the papers just don’t seem to tire of it. So JZ apologised on the weekend, but nobody seems to buy it. He has apologised, the feeling seems to be, too many times in the past. For frack’s sakes (OK, I confess, I had a little BSG lapse on the weekend) the nation isn’t simply a big happy Catholic church. You don’t get sent home with some Our Fathers and instructions not to sin again every time you leave the confessional.

I really think our prez should get his very own ad agency and an image coach. And if he suspends Julius’s security detail, it won’t even cost the tax payer a cent.

Cricket for the wicked

I watch very little TV, almost none, actually. Friday Action Night and the odd Chic-flick Thursday on the couch don’t qualify as watching TV – they are the elements of my dysfunctional social life, induced by the limited number of interesting people in the world who are also fun (and funny) to hang around with, and not dead. And even if there were more interesting-fun-funny-not-dead folk around, you can’t go out every night. You have to stay home sometime and watch TV on the couch.  Really.

But back to the TV. I watch TV series by the box set, but I hardly think that obliges a person to be licensed. In theory. So when I engage the couch on a Tuesday night at 19h30, having adjusted the bunny ears and jiggled the two-pronged plug, my burning fingertips gingerly caressing a glass of Graham Beck Railroad Red after a hard day of transcribing interviews, I expect to see Two and a Half Men.

But for the second… er… damn week in a row I am confronted with the cricket. Last week  I spent the rest of the evening on the couch working on the laptop, keeping a nervous eye on us getting beaten by Sri Lanka.  This week we are out of the Champions Trophy (oh Graham, that last one against The Small Misty Island really was a fine captain’s innings – well done) and I am watching New Zealand beat England. It is not fair, it is not right, and WHAT is the SABC thinking,  making a deal that obliges them to broadcast the rest of the competition live when WE ARE NO LONGER IN IT? I am sure the entire world’s expats who preside in our lovely country have DSTV. Surely, having choked (apparently all teams choke I heard on David O’Sullivan’s show today) we can now get back to comedy hour?

WHERE is the SABC’s sports channel? Why can’t they get this basic thing right?


So I get to put something on my blog instead. I am making lemonade.

I drove to the Midlands (let no-one tell you differently, it is a five-hour drive to Howick) with Barbara on Friday. We spent a lovely day-and-a-half in Pleasant Places near Lions River, on the Midlands Meander, working with a view of a valley and a dairy. It sounds nuts but it was not, there are good if mundane reasons for our sojourn there. Anyway. John and Linda Hall run the sweetest establishment in a place you should ideally try and reach before night and mist fall. They understand the importance of crisp cotton sheets and a smart set of domestic animals that can entertain one during dinner. I can recommend it, and at R395 per person per night including breakfast, it is not very expensive.

On Saturday afternoon I had a perfectly chubby risotto in a place called La Lampara. It was an ego trip, really; I like to test the risotto in expensive Italian restaurants from time to time just to confirm that I am the person who makes the best risotto on the subcontinent, at least, and probably in the Southern hemisphere although I have never been to Australia, which does have a fine culinary reputation. But I would feel very confident in a show-down. Did I ever write on this blog that I once cooked risotto for the Italian ambassador and that his wife kept sending me a thumbs-up to the kitchen. I swear at one stage I saw her eyes roll back in her head with pleasure. (Just so that you know.)

On Sunday we drove back early to miss the Return from the Coast traffic after the long weekend, and that worked out very well. As landscapes go, the Midlands are remarkable, but I think at this time, my current all-time favourite remains the Northern Freestate. There is something profoundly gentle and reassuring about its vast expanse and modest geographical fluctuations, and its colours, and its alternating husbandry. I do love it a lot, and never travel on its highways without a vague longing and a pain in my heart.

Anyway. Things are very depressing with the cricket. NZ needs seven runs to win. They have four wickets in hand, and well, 23 overs in which to achieve this. I am so disgusted I may have to switch channels in a sec.


And then NZ won. How did WE lose against England? We thrashed NZ, no questions asked, and here they are beating England? And having suffered through the match, why do we have to go back to the presentation, if there is potentially some crime drama (or comedy) we can watch instead? Is that part of the SABC’s contract?

I surf the channels and come upon (OK, that might be a slightly grandiose description seeing that there are only four options) a local drama. In the scene, a woman is doing a presentation in front a crowd, looks like a press conference, and she says, “… our artists have become despondent, and many turned to crime…” I navigate back to Daniel Vittori speaking serious New Zealander-sports jargon without waiting to see what it was. Such dialogue can be contagious, I am sure.

Carl Becker’s Pierneef-interpretation exhibition is opening at the Everard Read on Thursday evening. He makes an actual living from his painting. I should ask him if he ever considered a life of crime. He was convicted, when he was a student, for some offence… but I won’t say what it was without his approval.  Anyway, come and have a look, his work is amazing.

And that is all for tonight, I think.  It’s nine, and if there is nothing on TV (cricket presentation is over) I may well go back to my transcriptions. No rest for the wicked.

Potchefstroom 2: Return to the Big Screen

It was a great opportunity to get in a whole chunk of quality time with my father. This means sharing the joy of surfing through a hundred channels on DSTV and settling, ultimately, on something neither of us are sure the other one really wants to watch. On Saturday night this happened to be Conan the Barbarian; we resolved to get some chocolate on Sunday morning to sweeten Sunday night.

Watching Conan again did give me the opportunity to verify the verbatim version of Deon du Plessis’ favourite line from a movie. (I so make lemonade, I swear.) The version I found (and used) in Kevin Bloom’s article was “Find the enemy, crush him, and hear the lamentations of the women.” This is wrong.

In answer to the question, “Conan! What is best in life?” he responds, “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And hear the lamentation (sic) of their women.” It is posed by the sages of the East, where “language and writing were made available” to our bulging warrior-slave.

For a moment I was amazed by the insight of the 1980’s Hollywood film classic. True fans will be happy to know that even as I write, there is another Conan movie (not a remake, which “implies a new version of an original script” but a “franchise restart”, according to IMDB) in production in Hollywood. This is so hot off the press that no actors have even been signed yet. This is important, because as I understand it, in Hollywood the life of a film starts like this: Quentin has a conversation with Uma, and then they get money to make a flick even before they have a script.

In this case, it seems that Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories seem to be at least as bankable as the conversation between a cinematic enfant terrible and his leading lady. On the other hand, it might mean that the credit crunch is forcing the studios to dig up old-and-hopefully-still-sexy formulae that have been lying fallow, and to give new muscles with a lilting Austrian/Russian/Dutch-something accent the opportunity to flex on the silver screen. For the price of, uh, I don’t know… Brad-Pitt-in-Troy or Russell-Crowe-in-Gladiator[1]… one can make a whole period piece with some lovely unknown, soft-chinned, brawny youth. I think that is pretty groovy.

My father did not mind a bit that Arnold could hardly sputter out “…lamentation of their women”, so impressed was he with the wonderful art direction of Conan the Barbarian. I think we can agree that the spectacular reinvention of Star Trek, for example, must forebode similar fortunes for a new Conan movie. Twenty years of SFX development will enable the filmmakers to produce the mind-boggling giant demons and breath-taking fight sequences that will render a plot wholly redundant. I think I will miss a bit of plot in the next chapter, but still, Conan 2010 is probably going to be fantastic Saturday afternoon viewing on a big screen TV.

My father bought a million-inch flat screen TV last year sometime and when I go to visit, we spend a lot of time in front of it. On Saturday morning we had to go shopping for stuff to make macaroni cheese and shepherd’s pie, so that cut into our TV time quite a bit, but beyond that, Conan was not even the most fun we had on the weekend. On Saturday there was wall-to-wall rugby. (Sometimes I am surprised at the wit that can emanate from my dad. I am personally deeply offended by Francois Steyn’s blonde locks. I hardly lay eyes on him without wishing that he would get a nice haircut like Schalk. But there was always something else about him, and my father finally clarified it for me. “Hy lyk of iemand hom ‘n klap gegee het wat hy nie verdien het nie,” he commented when I mentioned that Francois always looked a bit glum. It was a revelation. Of course that is what he looks like.)

Not that we watched TV ALL the time, of course. Before lunch we sat in the sun, had a pre-lunch glass of wine, and chatted. Not so much about the Bible this time. More about family. Some about my brother. I asked him if he ever thinks about the fact that Douw might never move back to South Africa, and I could see that it was impossible for him to talk about that, even though he tried. So I made a very stupid joke and I changed the subject. I think we spoke about the rugby and dead people instead. And about how people in our family die. Apparently on his side, my grandfather’s contemporaries “is almal dood van hartaanvalle.” I don’t know why we thought that was funny, but we smiled with real humour.

But I digress. On Sunday morning I slept late. When I got to the lounge, he was already there, catching the highlights of the junior boks’ failed campaign in the IRB Junior World Champs. There was nothing on the movie channels, we found after 20 minutes of surfing, and I had no particular needs, so we turned to ESPN.

Did you know that on ESPN, from about 9 am on a Sunday, they have back-to-back American fishing programmes until after lunch? We watched quite a few until it was time to get dressed and move along to the Fishmonger for father’s day lunch, and when we got back after two, there was still fishing on TV. Amazing. We watched a bit, and then it was time for me come home.

I got a bag of lemons from the laden tree, and kudu fillet from the hunting trip. It was a good visit. The road home was clear, the late afternoon gold with the sun on the dead, winter, Highveld fields. It was impossibly beautiful.


[1] I googled the highest-earning male actors in Hollywood, and at the top of the list, because of the last Indiana Jones instalment, was Harrison Ford, with USD 65 million in the last year. Others were Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Denzel… not a single one under forty. I guess even in Hollywood it pays to pay your dues, and regardless of how flavour-of-the-month you are, you have to be Tom Hanks before you get 20 million up front.