Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zuma - why should white people like him?

So Nhlanhla Zuma posted a comment on the Witness website in response to an article and comments by a number of people: "[Jacob Zuma] is not going anywhere, JZ is here to stay, whether you like it or not he is going to be the next president of SA. If you do not like him, well pack your bags and catch the next available flight to the UK!"

Ok, there are a couple of things going on here. Firstly, the whole issue of the white man fleeing SA because of the blacks. Secondly, the issue of Zuma as the hope of the nation's majority (black people).

So I'm a white guy, and I like it here. I like the people in South Africa. Most of them anyway. I'm not about to leave because everyone else is leaving. They're leaving because Zuma is going to send this country into die tronks like Zimbabwe. I don't see any evidence of that. All I see is a man with charges against him.

To be honest, I'm not sure whether I like or dislike old Jacob.

I like his demeanour. I like his charm, the way he seems to understand "the people"... as in the real people - the people who put in the elbow grease to make this country work - the workers, the labourers. He chats to them, and they like him for that. Whenever I have heard him speak, he's conducted himself with calmness and generally, a sensible head. Like "we must respect our justice system". That's a good statement.

However, 224 bus loads of people and a bunch of MEC henchmen who rant and rave about Zuma being innocent to the masses doesn't exactly inspire hope in me that Zuma is being heard by the guys that matter - the MECs, ministers and other decision makers.

I'm not sure I like Zuma's silence on certain issues... like Bombshell/Blockbuster Malema. That oke is as thick as two planks. (Why do all the boneheads have big mouths???) Zuma should take him by the scruff and khuluma to that kid about the implications of not thinking beyond the ANCYL. But Zuma hasn't, or at least, it doesn't look like he has.

Beyond the government, I wonder whether Zuma's charisma will extend to the poor. The people who most want him free of court charges and elected as president are those who want houses, more grants, more money... a better life. Will Zuma actually make that happen?

I wonder whether Zuma's influence will extend to change the mindsets of young black men who commit horrible crimes daily. Maybe a black Zulu leader who stands up and says "Don't commit these crimes - there's a better life for you, and this is how you can get it..." will stop some black teenager from swiping a car radio, or killing for a car, or raping someone... maybe if Zuma talks directly to them, it'll make all the difference.

If I were Zuma, that's exactly what I would do. Lead the young black guys. Lead the white guys, like me. Give us hope, give us direction. Speak with authority on the bigger issues and demonstrate that you understand what needs to be done to attain greater freedom and peace in this rainbow nation. And then, by God, DO IT!

The people in this country are desparate for a leader they can trust, a leader who's pioneering, a leader who cares about every race group in South Africa. They want a leader who understands economics and has the moral compass to safely and transparently take the country forward. They want a leader who acts swiftly to attend to difference samong leaders, who strives for unity and who hears the concerns and opinions of all people in the country. They want a leader who inspires hope for everyone in the country.

If Zuma can demonstrate that, he's got my buy-in.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Review: ‘Dark Knight’ rumours are all true

This was written a little while ago... but hey... the film is still on circuit...

The rumours began during the filming of The Dark Knight. One of the scenes in the film is where the Joker gatecrashes Bruce Wayne’s penthouse suite during a party. Sir Michael Caine, who had never met Heath Ledger before, had his first encounter with the 28-year-old on set during that scene. Caine got such a fright that he forgot his lines.

“A signature bad guy who will seriously scare your pants off,” was Caine’s tip-off to reporters ahead of the trailers being released. And so the hype began to build.

Three months earlier, the announcement that Ledger was chosen as the Joker over fellow candidates Robin Williams and Adrien Brody was greeted as (pardon the pun) a joke. But now, it seemed, he was going to have the last laugh (okay, enough now).

Then Ledger was reported dead. Immediate speculation ensued about his intense preparation for the role of the Joker. He lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s psychology, posture and voice (the last he found the most difficult to do). He started a diary, in which he wrote the Joker’s thoughts and feelings to guide himself during his performance.

Perhaps the most cryptic information surrounding Ledger’s death came from Jack Nicholson, who played a more camp and satirical Joker in the 1989 Batman.

“Well,” Nicholson told reporters in London, “I warned him.” The death was, in the end, attributed to an accidental overdose from drugs commonly prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, depression, pain and cold symptoms.

Of course, everyone is going to say Ledger was superb in the role, it’s Oscar-winning stuff, etcetera. It’s the polite thing to say about a guy who recently died. Perhaps the hype is attributed to the mystery of the character. There are no premiere interviews, no inside info from the actor himself, which makes the art of it so much more poignant and compelling. In the film itself, there is little background about the Joker, which dehumanises the character and makes him that much more frightening.

Truly, if there was no Joker, there would be no film. The character is constructed even when Ledger is not on screen, and therefore it’s easy to miss the excellent performances from everyone else: Christian Bale is smooth and articulate as playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne and the imposing Batman; Maggie Gyllenhaal brings more depth and believability to the character of Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes did in the previous Begins film; and Aaron Eckhart is brilliant (although his character borderline boring) as Gotham’s “white knight” attorney, Harvey Dent.

Dent garners the trust and belief of Batman and Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) as the city’s saviour, but his high-profile successes soon make him a target, putting him squarely in the Joker’s sights.

This is a serious cast for a serious film. Not since The Godfather have audiences been subject to social commentary and such weighty, thought-provoking themes as in this film.

The Dark Knight engages in intricate debate on issues such as hopelessness and the moral compass of society, and director Christopher Nolan explores it all. Brilliantly.

Some think it’s too long. Don’t listen to them. The Dark Knight is intriguing, engaging and elaborate.

And yup, the rumours are true. Ledger was exhilarating. He had delivered the most spectacular and chilling curtain bow in Hollywood history.

Rating (out of 5 stars): *****

Film review: The Rocker

Rock 'n roll is dead. But you knew that from reading the stars at the bottom of the article first. No one understands it anymore. If anyone did, they wouldn't make movies like this. Boneheads. Two teenagers walked out after 20 minutes, leaving the two of us to fend for ourselves against the dragging tempo and off-key jokes. The Rocker. Yeah, right. The only thing it'll rock is you and your waning attention span to sleep.

Cool music, though. It casually conveys how heavy rock drummers from the '80s, when they don't keep with the trends, can simply plonk themselves into a modern pop rock band. Which is exactly what happens: in 1986, Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson) gets the boot from rock band Vesuvius, when his band-mates ditch him to clinch a record deal (because he's not photogenic enough). Fish lives with a grudge for 20 years, until his nephew Matt (Josh Gad) invites him to join his band.

Wilson is pretty passionate in the role. He's also very sweaty.

At least they cast a true singer in Teddy Geiger. But Fish never becomes someone to truly root for. His character is simply a wannabe version of Jack Black's School of Rock character, except Black blazed the trail. So essentially there's a whole lot of formula following.

Count in: tick, tick, tick, tick... doof, plonk, doof, plonk, drag... drag... drag... cool song... drag... lame joke... drag... and repeat cycle.

For those who don't slumber their way through this, there's a message of hope and never giving up on a dream. I liked that. I also liked the music. But calling the film The Rocker is misleading. The Rocker sounds exciting. It should have been called something long and boring. At least then you know what you're in for.

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

Thursday, August 28, 2008

When to have a camera ready...

In my work, the emphasis should always be that, as a journalist, you should have a camera ready. Always.

Here's why...

Because you just never know when that distinctive photo opportunity may present itself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Starting a band...

Slipknot are probably (secretly) grateful to Morné Harmse. Well, okay... let me clarify. They are grateful for the publicity they have received. Probably not so much in light of the fact that their name is connected with a samurai sword killing.

Exactly what possessed the "thin and skinny" 18-year-old Harmse to do take a full-blooded swipe at Jacques Pretorius's neck with a "blunt" samurai sword? A number of people say it's Satanism. Others say it's the band Slipknot.

Lead screamer of the band Corey Taylor this week rejected claims that the band is to blame. He was quoted in Blender: "Obviously, I'm disturbed by the fact that people were hurt and someone died. As far as my responsibility for that goes, it stops there, because I know our message is actually very positive."

Okay, pardon my ignorance... but does this evoke positive feelings in you?

Taylor continues, "You have something like this happen, it could have been Marilyn Manson, it could have been any number of people who make art that is startling visually, on the darker side. It could've been Pat Boone, for Christ's sake. At the end of the day, there are always going to be mental disorders and people who cause violence for no other reason than the fact that they're f*cked up and lost. And all we can do is try to learn from it."

Okay, granted... there are mental disorders. But seriously... how can a bunch of mommy's boys veiled in black and dressed up in Hannibal Lector masks say that their whole vibe will not influence a guy like Morné?

Fine, it can be argued that a kid with self-esteem issues is not their responsibility or that he's not their "target market".

Anyway, enough of that.

I'd like to let you all know I'm gonna start a band. We're gonna buy V-shaped electric guitars, trenchcoats and eyeliner. We'll use the money we save from not going to the hairdresser for 6 months and living in our beat-up Volkswagen Beatle. In order to be relevant to the young market - you know, guys like Morné Harmse who aren't in the "in-crowd" - we'll write lyrics that they can identify with. There must be tons of those kind of kids around - kids who don't fit in. We may have to scream occasionally, because that's cool and that's what kids can identify with in their emotionally-beat up state. We'll slate off the government, societal structures and all the other boneheads who keep making stupid decisions.

Kids will love us. They'll dress like us, scream our tunes and come to all the gigs. They'll get what we're saying and we'll get what they saying - like All Hope Is Gone and Psychosocial.

We'll become this Grammy-award winning group and once we achieve that, we can say what we want. We'll use phrases like "the devil is among us" and "the hell is humongous". Our fans, who listen - like, really listen - to our music, will understand. They'll get what we're saying. They'll have to think about it, but they'll identify with what we're saying.

You'll always have the freaks, the pshycos. They won't get it. The guys in the media won't get it either - they never get anything. Our fans will understand why we dress the way we do, why we sing what we sing, why we do what we do on stage and how we act to get a point across.

If people blame us for some kid acting out of turn, we'll tell them to **** off. What do they know anyway. We don't need them. We've got our fans. The rest of the world can go to hell. We don't care.

Monday, July 28, 2008

HDTV launch...

Auckland Park in Joburg is always buzzing. It's Thursday night, just after 6pm, and I'm at the launch of HDTV. Champagne on arrival, snacks served and on entry into a large room where old vintage TVs are set up, playing clips from fantastic TV programmes like the Golden Girls, the Cosby Show, Carte Blanche 1988 (when Derrick Watts had ACTUAL hair and Ruda Landman wore shoulder pads)... plus the A-team.

But before nostalgia takes over and everyone gets too plastered on the free cocktails, a curtain at the end of the room unveils a neon hallway. Cue the Enya music, and all 200 people are suddenly in a club-type venue with doof-doof music and swirling disco lights. I feel 18 again. Someone walks up to me and introduces himself. Can't hear a thing. I nod anyway and shake his hand.

Then Mark Bailey (yeah, the Survivor oke), who is MC for the event, dubs his "Mr Incredible" voice and introduces us to some big screen visuals, clips of Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Princess Di. The visuals are pretty grainy. But I can see what the set up is. A projector the size of a go-kart is generating the images. Apparently it cost R1,5 million, an insider tells me. Multichoice obviously don't wanna botch up this HD presentation, and hey, what's a few mil for a multi-billion rand company.

Next up is the Parlotones song Colourful over a PA system which has really bad mixing. (Sorry, being a muso, I can't help but notice these things.) Then by far the highlight of the evening for, the Soweto Gospel Choir, singing along to the song playing over the PA system. Spine-tingling stuff. There is nothing like the SGC singing live - it's Africa at its purest, most magnificent.

But back to the HD. Nolo Letele gets up and starts rattling about another "world-class product". Then comes the interesting part: "To take advantage of the Olympics," he says, "we decided to move the launch of HD a month earlier. We have rushed it a bit, so some of the functions won't be available immediately." Obviously the dude didn't study marketing.

"But we have made it possible for HD viewing on people who have PVR decoders already. They can connect to the current PVR," says Letele. Three people clap. "Oh," he says. "Obviously not too many people with PVRs here."

Raucous laughter ensues. But the point is obvious: HDTV, as cool as it is, will remain out of reach for most South Africans.

Mark then goes about a presentation on the big screen as he walks in between the Parlotones performing Colourful.

HDTV varies in its signal source in different continents, but very simply - it works like this:

The systems which broadcast HDTV are defined by three aspects: the number of vertical lines, the scanning system (progressive or interlaced) and the number of frames per second.

SDTV operates on around 570 vertical lines. HDTV typically operates at 780 or 1080 vertical lines. The bottom line is, it looks better.

Regarding scanning - Wikipedia defines progressive scanning as drawing "a complete image frame (all the lines) per image", while "interlaced scanning draws a partial image field (every second line) during a first pass, then fills-in the remaining lines during a second pass". This all gets a bit technical... but essentially what you want to know is what does it look like?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hillside ride

Sunday's concert was an education. Wear sunscreen. I remember the song from my matric year... "To the class of '99". Excellent advice it was - and I flippin forgot.

So did everyone else for that matter. The fact is, winter in Maritzburg shouldn't yield such fantastic weather. Normally there's a nip in the air, and as soon as there's an outdoor concert planned, the cold front storms in (pun intended) from Cape Town. But the day was glorious, a mild 23 degrees, not a cloud in the sky in the beautiful Botanical Gardens.

So there we were, mildly sunburnt, but all in all, our gig went well. For a lot of people, it was the first time they'd heard us play. It started a month before, when Dee and Brian Bedingfield came to our show at Bellissimo's in Howick, and afterwards chatted to me and invited us to perform at this Sunday concert alongside Magna Carta, Southern Gypsey Queen, the Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters, Ilan Lax and Zephyr. Who refuses those kind of offers?

But let me tell you, it plays on your mind for weeks - what to play, how to play it and most importantly, why should it be played... I guess I'm still figuring that one out. Point is I just can't help myself.

Anyway, I've discovered why Roberto is so good on the bass. Barry Meintjies (of the Hairies) has blown the secret wide open. We were chatting backstage, and he revealed that most of the time, he's trying to work out what key the band is in. That's how he pulls off those impressive bass runs - not because he intends it, but because he's searching for the right note to play. So Berto, you've been figured.

My brother Jon is back in Cape Town. He changed his flight from Saturday to Monday so he could perform on Sunday. Poor oke had to catch a flight to JHB and then travelled to CT. But having that piano during the set makes a real difference (cheers, bru!).