Monthly Archives: January 2011

White People Have Money & Sex

Without getting into too much detail – I’ll leave that for the academics slaving away in universities – I had a look at the perception of white/light skin in India, and how I feel about it. In short, white skin is beautiful, and foreigners who have it are rich and debauched. That’s the general consensus over here, but my own self-image?

I am very light-skinned. Pasty, even. My body is covered in spots of pigment, called moles, which prevent me from spending long amounts of time in the sun, and thus I cannot get a natural suntan. If I were so inclined, I could slather my skin with tanning creams on a daily basis and perhaps give off some orange illusion that I’m not almost translucent, but I’ve come to accept that this is just the way I am. My skin is not beautiful. There’s not much I can do about it, so I might as well learn to live with it.

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Film Review: ‘Never Let Me Go’ (2010)

IMDb / Ebert / Hoberman
Starring Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan
Written by Alex Garland
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
Directed by Mark Romanek


Rating: C (Careful)

Book-to-film adaptations are always a challenge. They’re a challenge for filmmakers trying to translate the feel of the written word for the screen, and they’re a challenge for audiences already enraptured with the book to accept with open minds.

Here’s a case in point. I love Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I read it in 2007, a couple of months into my stay in Japan, and it completely blew me away. It was a brilliant idea, crafted into a grand and brilliant story, and written in an endearing matter-of-fact style through the voice of a devastatingly sweet and immature narrator. For all its superficial coldness, the depth of feeling and heart contained in its simple language gave rise to such massive potential for an emotional response, and that response would take you down as many rabbit holes as you let it. I felt like I understood people, and our potential as humans, better after reading this novel.

Of course it was always going to be made into a film. How could it not? All of the elements were there: a high-concept idea, a love triangle, Oscar-baiting pathos and (most importantly) a recognisable and well-established brand name. Surely the film would write itself?

Well, it didn’t. In Alex Garland, he of novels The Beach and Tesseract as well as the script for Danny Boyle’s beautifully misguided Sunshine, the production pulled in a very savvy and thoughtful writer – and I’m sorry to say that he went the wrong route. That matter-of-fact prose I mentioned earlier could never directly manifest on the screen, but Garland, bless him, tries his damnedest. What came across as innocence in the book translates to coldness and a kind of dull, grey superficiality on the screen.

As a result, some very well-intentioned and capable performers flounder before our eyes. Save Mulligan’s near-constant sad, tilted smirk and Knightley’s frequently insane toothy grin, all three are surprisingly affecting. Or at least they would be if they weren’t lumbered with overly direct dialogue, a pace that never flows, and some of the most ridiculous wigs and outfits this side of Mamma Mia! Mulligan in particular is becoming one of the most enigmatic presences on cinema screens, with her pixie face concealing a gravelly, Shakespearean voice. But her Kathy isn’t the limited childlike wonder of the book.

To be fair, any sort of comparison with Ishiguro’s prose is unreasonable. I can only think of a few films which have affected me so deeply. Still, I’m a firm believer that the best book-to-film adaptations leave the feeling of the book behind and concentrate on telling a story on screen well – even if it’s a story that differs considerably from that of the book, if only in the telling. Examples: Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement; Anderson’s There Will Be Blood; Pawlikowski’s My Summer Of Love. Romanek’s proved himself to be quite a talent with his earlier One Hour Photo, but he and Garland would’ve done themselves a favour by watching those three films as a kind of Adaptations 101.

I am, of course, biased, and would love to hear from anyone who hasn’t read the book. A follower on Twitter, @PapushiSun, hasn’t: “I haven’t watched another film that made me so angry in a long time. People don’t behave like that, I kept thinking.” It didn’t stir the same frustration in me, but I have to agree that the motivation for much of the characters’ behaviour was unclear, or – worse – when it was revealed, I just didn’t really care.

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Laptopless and Listless

I decided not to take my laptop to Mumbai last month, hoping its absence would help me to enjoy my stay more. And I really think it did. But when I came back home to Varkala and it didn’t work, it was the start of an important lesson for me.

Oh no. Anything but this. My laptop, dead? The cornerstone of (my) life, suddenly as lifeless as the desk on which it sits? But I was only gone a week!

Wait a moment. Now,

remove and replace battery / doesn’t work / remove battery press power button 32 times replace battery / doesn’t work / remove battery connect to adapter plug into wall / doesn’t work / grit teeth mash keyboard with palms of both hands / doesn’t work

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You Have -7- New Messages

On Indian trains, vendors often come around and dump a pile of booklets on the empty seat next to you. They’ll leave you to riffle through them for a bit before returning five minutes later, ready to accept a few rupees from you if you’re going to keep one. Without fail, every pile will contain a few publications devoted solely to text messages for every occasion. Jokes, loving sentiments, declarations of friendship, quizzes, and all sorts of other little 160-character bundles of joy.

I know that people buy these booklets, or at least pass them around at school. Why? Because I receive the damned messages every day.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine switched to a new mobile service. As far as my quite limited cellphone needs are concerned – although the atrocious call centre service of my current option makes me wonder if it’s time for a change – I see most providers as more or less the same. For my friend, however, this new company was a hot ticket. They were offering 666 free text messages, or SMS, per day.

he sed “666 s so mny, can snd lts to frnds ”. i sed “666 s th nmbr of th dvl, dnt u no???”

From the moment I first gave my number to someone in India, I disliked those forwarded SMS. I saw the phone as a communication tool, something with which you can speak to someone in another place or send them a quick personal message when you really need to (i.e. sporadically). Young India sees it quite differently: your mobile is a status symbol and a means of keeping in constant touch with friends. And it is preferable, even encouraged, to use txtspeak for every SMS.

ther wr sm msgs i had 2 read 2 or 3 tyms 2 gt der tru mng n it ws v anoyin

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A Mall Away From Home

Way back in 07, a few months into Japan, I wrote a bit about missing the familiarity of a New Zealand supermarket while getting used to the ones in Japan, which obviously contained completely different products. Something somewhat similar happened when I visited Mumbai at Palladium Mall, a ather opulent (at least by Indian standards) edifice in the CBD. I had expected something quite different, and found myself comparing the experience both to my (glorious?) past experience of malls in NZ and my preconceptions of an ‘Indian Mall’.

Upon arrival, my charming host needed to do some toy shopping for a children’s birthday party, so she suggested I go for a wander in the main mall while she waded into the crush of Hamley’s opposite. Off I went, into“Mumbai’s most luxurious retail destination centre”, and what greeted me was a cavernous space rising up three floors, ringed with exclusive outlets on each level. Everything sparkled and looked very expensive, all brand names and price tags, and the biggest impression of all came from the fact that it was nearly empty at lunchtime on a weekday.

I instinctively whipped out my cameraphone and started taking a few pictures. A security guard came hurrying over. “Sir. No photography.” I apologised and put my phone back in my pocket, then started to meander up the escalators and into the abyss. I wasn’t allowed to capture the moment, for whatever reason, but in a way there was nothing to capture – it was this bizarre, static world of exclusivity and nobody actually buying anything.

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Imprints: Yi Yi (A One And A Two) / Robyn / Kylesa

Yi Yi (A One And A Two) (1999, dir. Edward Yang): Brilliant, meditative work about a modern Taiwanese family, their lives and loves, their work and their (almost total lack of) play. Each member of the family signifies a different time of life, from the 8-year-old boy to the 80-something grandmother. The boy’s speech at the end is extraordinary, perhaps worth watching again and again. (H) Highly recommended.

Robyn – Body Talk: this is the collected, 15-track final album released a couple of months ago, not any of the 8-track mini-albums released earlier. And it’s pretty good. Quite reminiscent of Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, but with plenty more sass and attitude. It isn’t as memorable as Madge’s effort was, which is one of my favourite dancepop albums, but Body Talk is solid and has enough catchy hooks to keep you coming back a few times. None Of Dem is probably the highlight – thanks Rua for showing it to me first on ye Beates Reality. (W) Worth a look.

Kylesa – Spiral Shadow: I first listened to this while ‘playing’ the hilarious ‘game’ Progress Quest, and it fit the mood perfectly. It’s sludgy and a little doomy at times, but a perfect foray for a non-metaller like me into the genre as the prettier and more hopeful aspects help me to stick with it. It isn’t a sticky mass of distorted guitar, either; it has distinct and memorable tracks. Still haven’t figured out exactly what they’re saying, but I like it. (R) Recommended.

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Pali Hill at Noon and Night

When I went to Mumbai last month, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in a huge 17th floor apartment in one of its richest suburbs. The neighbourhood turned out to be one of the most interesting aspects of my stay there – and the way it changed after sundown was striking.

The market is closed, obviously, and almost all signs of its existence have disappeared. No more brightly coloured vegetables, nor even the large wooden trays they were presented in. The swiftness with which structures can be erected and dismantled in India always surprises me. Looking a little closer, we see that the poles, tables and carts may have been dragged away, but each shopkeeper (and often his family) is still there, lying on bedrolls on the concrete, trying to get some sleep before doing it all again tomorrow.

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