Didn’t See That Coming Either…

I posted a little while back on the way science fiction of the 50s and 60s completely missed feminism in the future – not that far into the future either, let alone a century or two. But then sf writers were mostly male and they didn’t see the rise of female sf writers either. Speculation on what the future looked like was always a major theme in science fiction – indeed it became known as speculative fiction. But even as late as the last decade of the 20th century – even into the 21st century – sf still managed to miss the bleedin’ obvious.

It happens a lot with sf movies – only Kevin Costner’s much maligned Waterworld caught the whiff of changing times with bad guys called ‘smokers’ who scoured the endless oceans for ships carrying cigarettes. Everywhere else, smoking in the distance future was still regarded as normal. In the claustrophobic confines of the Nostromo, the crew lit up constantly, and more recently still, Sigourney Weaver’s xenobotanist in Avatar awoke from her sleep to demand “Where’s my Goddamn cigarettes?” Yeah right, try that on a space station. It seemed the western world’s rejection of passive smoking never occurred to those speculating on the future as they plugged away at their word processors in a nicotine smog. A future where smoking is banned almost everywhere (even in your own writing den if the niconazis had their way) – unthinkable! But at least Star Trek and Larry Niven postulated a future with no smoking on star ships or the invention of harmless cigarette substitutes. Maybe the Nostromo crew were vaping? But no way would Grace Augustine settle for that shit. Meanwhile, back on Battlestar Galactica Starbuck puffed on ‘fumarellos’ and you could collect cigarette cards of him doing that in the real world.

In spite of the video phones in Bladerunner, and the ire of Phillip K. Dick’s heirs over the name of Google’s 2010 smartphone, neither book nor the movie saw the splendid comedy of people walking into light-posts as they gazed intently at their screens and failed negotiate street furniture. Public video phones didn’t catch on, not because people would caught in embarrassing situations when the phone rang, but because they couldn’t be made vandal-proof. Personal phones that people can lose, drop in water or crack the screen are much more profitable.

But that’s the trouble with predicting the future. Like Forrest Gump’s mother said, “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.” (Well, you don’t if someone hides the chart guide to the fillings.) All you know is it will be different, and things you take for granted now will be banned or just disappear.

Make Art, Not War

Federal Election time in Australia. Meh. We don’t even have a reality TV moron to spice things up – we just have politicians. The real problem is that the two major parties are starting to look worryingly like each other as well. I’m sick of the pathetic knee-jerk slogans – stop the boats, back to basics : the latter always used in educational matters, as if any of these idiots even know what the basics are. Not since Whitlam have the arts even been regarded as fundamental in education. As soon as the conseravtives took over, waving slates and chalk and chanting “back to basics!” the arts have been shoved in a corner, becoming more and more the refugees of Australian culture, thrown  scraps and set adrift in leaky boats. Yet those in the arts retain their grip on our senses, with music, books, art, films and other brave sttempts to remind who we truly are. Imagine what they could do in a society that realises how lucky it is to have them?

But this election year, there is a small glimmer of hope. It’s cslled The Arts Party and it wants your vote to triple funding for the arts and make Big Corp pay up to chnnel more money into our cultural renaissence. It even has a poet in residence composing haiku.

Want one million votes

For the balance of power

Wear an Arts T-Shirt

OK, it sounds more like an ad than poetry but all artists have a sense of  humour that can’t be kept down. And that’s what we need. More art, more humour, more music, more books, more films – more encouragment and a better environment for Australians who want to make art, not war.

You’ll find the Arts Party here I hope they get their million votes, and more, because that is one way to tell these politicians that It’s Time.

 

The Connectedness of All Things

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When I listened to A Girl’s A Gun (my daught Lucia and her partner Jack) perform Me and Bobby Mcgee recently, it was bittersweet – a song I’ve always loved, done so well, in a beautiful setting, but one that always reminds of the people I lost along the way. It’s a Traveller’s song, from the busted flat and looking for a ride, to the giving of all your tomorrows for just one yesterday in some place with someone long gone.

But then, as is sometimes the way with these things, a whole lot of other things started coming together – I watched Man on Wire with Jack and Lucia, the film of Phillipe Petit’s walk on a wire strung between the Twin Towers in 1974, and I heard the melody La Strada playing in my head. Petit reminded me of the romantic young aerialists  I met as a young girl travelling with the circus – especially one of the Renz troupe who joined us briefly in Spain. His reputation as a daredevil had proceeded him, and we gathered to watch the fabled opening of his act, when he walked up one of the long guy wires that anchored his high wire to the ground. It was superb, something we had never seen before, and the music of La Strada swelled all around us. My friend told me the music was from a Fellini film of the same name – “You must see it,” she said. “It’s about us, circus people, travelling people – it made me cry.” So did I, when I saw it.

The strongman, played by Anthony Quinn, cries too at the end, when he realises he has let slip away the greatest treasure of his life, like the singer of Me and Bobby Mcgee. In the coincidental way of things, I then came across an interview with Kris Kristopherson, explaining how he came to write the song. He wrote the song about a woman called Bobby who sang the blues, and he said that he thought of La Strada when he was writing it, and how the strongman ends up “howling at the stars on the beach’ girl he let slip away. Later, of course, Janis Joplin recorded it and any connection with La Strada faded away. But it became a classic song that meant so much to Travellers like me.

All of these little threads came together in a six degrees kind of way, weaving everything into the fabric of my life, and telling me the story of how none of the people we have loved are really lost, they remain in our hearts and in the music of our memories forever. Everything is connected.

All Along the Watchtower

I am currently doing a course in world music at Open2Study and the teacher (Dr Dave) started talking about the differences between the Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan versions of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. It got me thinking. There have been many, many versions of this great song, which I have always loved. There are some I hate – the Bryan Ferry version comes to mind – and some I can take or leave – Bruce Springsteen, Santana and the Allmon Brothers both sound kind of turgid – but as I dug through YouTube, I began to see the possibilities…

I have always believed All Along the Watchtower to be cinematic – it begs to be a movie. When Bob Dylan first released it, it had a synopsis quality – a movie pitch, with a clanging cliffhanger at the end. It wasn’t the full script, but you could make out the characters and get a feel for the action…

Then Jimi Hendrix did it, and it was a movie, cinenamascope and technicolor, shot in a rugged Scottish location, with Sean Connery swinging a sword and a kilt, Michael Caine as the Joker and David Bowie as the Thief.

Eric Clapton and Lenny Kravitz made it glitzy and CGI, you could see Jennifer Lawrence as the Thief and Lenny himself as the Joker, arrows flying everywhere, and one of the Hemsworths providing the muscle.

And then there is Eddie – Eddie Vedder turned it into a rampaging, slay all before it HBO series with Sean Bean striding the watchtower, Lena Headey leading the women, Peter Dinklage as the Thief and Jerome Flynn as the Joker. Now this is the one I want to see!

 

 

Goodbye, Bob, and thanks for all the magic…

The death of Bob Hoskins leaves a gaping hole in cinema. He was such a wonderful actor, going from comedy to drama in moments, touching on matters of basic humanity in a way rarely seen. I have a huge list of movies that he gave his magic to, but this is the Asian Cinema Cafe, and so the movie that comes first to mind is Unleashed with Jet Li.

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I don’t think there is an actor alive who wouldn’t have loved working with Bob Hoskins, but some of his co-stars you would just never have imagined him with – Hoskins was a British character actor, one of that extraordinary class of acting talent that just seems to be able to play any character. Li is the ultimate action star, his phyisicality and acting style seemingly leagues away, but stunning and compelling in its own right. How could these two come together in a movie that would allow both of them to shine and give them both meaningful characters?

What resulted, born out of the talents of these two brilliant stars, was a fable, set in Glasgow of all places, the story of a man raised from early childhood to be snarling dog, a creature chained by his collar, which, when it came off, was the signal to turn into terror unleashed. Jet Li was Danny the Dog, and Bob Hoskins was his vile ‘owner’, Bart. Kept in a cage, fed scraps and treated like a dog, Danny was almost subhuman. With lesser actors, the situation would have been farce, or worse, simply unbelieveable. But Li and Hoskins made you believe it.

Along comes Morgan Freeman as Sam, blind in sight only, and his stepdaughter Victoria, whose skill with a piano awakens memories in Danny and sets him on a journey of self discovery and, ultimately, redemption. Unleashed is filled with unforgettable moments – Danny taking flight under his bed when Sam brings him dinner, clutching the electronic piano Victoria has given him to his chest and learning to check a watermelon for ripeness when mayhem is happening all around him. One of Hoskins’ most unforgettable moments is finding the pair of pajamas that Sam gave Danny. Enraged, he fires shots into the pillow, scattering feathers everywhere, yelling “Pyjamas? F***ing pyjamas? You ungrateful little bastard!” He was no sweetheart in this movie, to be sure, but he was the right one to play Bart opposite Jet Li’s Danny.

Like most people, I do prefer the original title, Danny the Dog, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what it is called. This film is one of those rare times in cinema when a group of perfect actors in perfect roles come together and make a perfect film.

Goodbye, Bob Hoskins, we will miss all of the characters you were – Bart, Eddie Valiant, Smee, Lou Landsky (another bit of unexpected but inspired casting with Cher), Badger, Vivian van Damme and so many others. It is a legacy many actors would envy, and one your fans will treasure.

 

Actor Spotlight: Ko Shibasaki

Ko Shibasaki is one of those actors you will see often in Japanese movies, but but you could be forgiven for not noticing it at first. The woman has a chameleon quality that blends into the role, the movie and the director’s vision. In a word, she is superb.

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This is how many fans in the west first encountered her, as sexy, deadly Mitsuko in Battle Royale.  Tokyo born Yukie Yamamura started her acting and singing career at 14, changing her name to that of her favourite manga character. It was Battle Royale that propelled her to starring roles on TV and in movies.

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In Chugashin Ari (One Missed Call) she played Yumi, whose friend Natsumi dies after receiving a mysterious voice message of herself screaming in terror in two days’ time. She was paired with the brilliant actor Shinichi Tsutsumi for the first time as the detective who helps her get to the bottom of the mystery.

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In Maison de Himiko, Ko played Saori, a girl estranged from her father, who ends up at a nursing home for gay men when she goes with her father’s lover, Haruhiko, to see him before he dies. Haruhiko is played by Shinobi’s Jo Odagiri. A touching and beautiful story of the struggle to accept and be accepted for your differences, and one of Ko and Joe’s best performances.

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In Shinji Higuchi‘s Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) she was somewhat overshadowed by the dazzling CGI, but still managed to stand out as rescue worker Reiko, who helps care for a child orphaned by the disaster (Mayuko Fukuda from L Change the World) and falls tenderly in love with submersible pilot Toshio (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi). They provide the sense of humanity underlying the big splashy special effects.

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She looks magnificent in the period drama Dororo, where she plays the title role of a girl raised as a boy, an artful thief who joins with demon hunter Hyakkimaru to retrieve parts of his body that will make him human again.

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In Maiko Haaan!!! she plays Fujiko, who is dumped by her boyfriend for a glamorous geisha. She starts training as a maiko (apprentice geisha) to win him back. I haven’t been able to get a copy of this movie to review it, but it’s billed as a ‘screwball comedy’.

Shaolin Girl looks great. She plays Rin, trained in kung fu, who ends up  coaching a university lacrosse team.  You can see the trailer here.

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In The Devotion of Suspect X, one of my favourite movies, it is Shinichi Tsutsumi who steals every scene he is in, as the obsessive but devoted math teacher who manages to stay one step ahead of detective Shunpei Kusanagi (Ko Shibasaki) and physicist and scientific consultant Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama).

Ko Shibasaki is next due to appear in Keanu Reeves’ 47 Ronin and can also be seen in Ooku and Shokudo Katatsumuri (Rinco’s Restaurant) both released in 2010.