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DNA- India an Anime Nation?


With talented script writers and keener audiences, Indian animated films can be more than just a flash in the pan.

In 2011 Indian cinemas will play host to a number of animated films, including Rango, Rio, and Japanese manga offering Sinchan, Bungle in the Jungle. And, for another year, Indian animated films will remain conspicuous for their absence. In the context of India’s highly-developed capabilities for animation production, this appears strange. After all, Indian animation played its hand in global film franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. However the domestic market is proving a tough nut to crack.

According to Ram Mirchandani, CCO of entertainment giant Eros, compared to the West the Indian audience is not yet suited to animated films. “The impression of animated films is that it’s for just for children and this alienates a huge movie-going audience.”

Director of 2008 animated offering, Roadside Romeo, Jugal Hansraj believes animation has a niche audience. “You can’t compare animation to a Bollywood film, it appeals to pockets of people.” This is illustrated in the box office performance of Roadside Romeo. At the time, according to Hansraj the film had grossed the most of any animation film in India, but this equated to a modest $55, 000.

Rajnish Arora, CCO of animation studio Source Animation, proposed Indian films are hampered by their plots. “We don’t have experienced animation writers and there is a lack of strong scripts” he suggested. Mirchandani supplemented this, “Animation films need interesting and smart scripts that involves audiences across age boundaries so children can bring their parents too.”

Director Anil Goyal is hoping his film Crackers will dispel perceptions of animation being just for children. Crackers, India’s first 3D stereoscopic film, is based on the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks and features an animated take on Katrina Kaif. “Katrina is a well-loved actress and she looks equally pretty in animation” Goyal added.

Arora credited India’s current strength in production of animation. “We have fantastic production abilities to execute someone else’s ideas” he declared. India’s foreign appeal is also entwined in economics. The 12-16 hour work day of Indian animators equates to a faster turnaround for jobs and the rupee’s favorable exchange rate makes jobs comparatively cheaper. Goyal estimated 60% of Indian animators work for foreign companies.

In an interview with IANS, Ranvir Shorey, who has lent his voice in upcoming animation flick Rio, bemoaned the lack of budgets. “We need somebody with the right script and the producers who have faith to mount that kind of production because we definitely have the talent in India. We need more entrepreneurship from the production sector.”

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Stars’ personal access to twitter means they have a chance to communicate with their followers in a genuine manner, and not through the mechanisms of a PR agency. While some Bollywood stars such as Salman Khan use this opportunity to provide fans with an intimate look into their personal lives and thoughts, there are others who have undertaken the role of their own PR agents and use the site for endorsements.

Last week model Genelia d’Souza accompanied the release of her movie debut, the Malayalam film Urimi, with a torrent of tweets including favorable reviews and positive feedback she had received for her performance. The campaign clearly worked, and ‘#Urimi’ became a trending topic on twitter. D’Souza triumphantly retweeted the statement, “Urumi is Trending on twitter [India Trends]. Wow. 😀 Thanks to all the fans who made it possible. You all rock! :-)”.

Followers of celebrities are also treated to surreal twitter conversations between stars. The rich and famous are hardly using twitter to save on phone bills so it is more likely the publicity of the tweets are used to subtly promote one another. Actor Dia Mirza is a large advocate of public correspondence and tweeted on March 31, “Here’s wishing @DuttaLara and her team of ‘Chalo Dilli’ the best! Trailer out today :)”. To which fellow actor Lara Dutta replied, “@deespeak. Thankyou my darling :-)”.

Meanwhile, movie star Bipasha Basu regularly endows her followers with links for trailers to her new movies and music videos. Director Farah Khan justified this by describing Twitter as the best way to get direct feedback from cinema lovers. “We are making films for them so it only makes sense to give them first access to our film promos and stuff”, she said.  

There is suggestion of Basu giving publicity to companies she works with. On March 8 she tweeted, “Say hello to @madowothair, the people behind my hair for the last six years.” Earlier this year English model Liz Hurley tweeted herself into trouble with the British Office of Fair Trade after she included numerous references to cosmetics company Estée Lauder in her tweets. UK regulations state that stars must indicate when their tweets are being sponsored by adding ‘spon’ or ‘ad’ and the trade office was attempting to crack down on product endorsements on Twitter. 

Over in America, an industry has grown out of tweeting and it recently emerged that Charlie Sheen, with 3,350,000 followers and counting, is being sponsored to tweet by American company Ad.ly. It has also been reported that the popular tweeter Kim Kardashian, sponsored by the same company, earns over $10,000 for every product tweet to her near seven million followers.

Despite the lucrative potential of tweeting there is no evidence that Bollywood actors tweet for cash, preferring it as a marketing tool and a communication platform for self-promotion. Actor Dino Morea sees nothing wrong in this. “Being very personalized Twitter gives me an opportunity to get up close and personal with my well wishers as well as people who want to know about my business venture”, he said.


Caped crusaders, masked defenders; since the surprise success of X Men(2000), Hollywood has been heaving with superheroes as comic books are scoured and franchises such as Batman are revived for an assault on the silver screen. With the impending release of Bollywood’s Ra. One, superheroes appear to be catching on in B-town. But is the industry suited to the lofty production costs and sensationalism of superhero flicks? Is villain-bashing in spandex an Indian audience’s cup of tea?

The rapturous reception Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman received on a recent visit to Mumbai hinted that Hollywood superheroes had infiltrated the Indian market. It is clear the younger generation of Indians is taken with the visual feasts of superhero films and the protagonists’ portrayal as upholders of moral justice makes them positive role models. Actor Shah Rukh’s decision to act in Ra. one supports this. “I am only doing this for my kids, Aryan and Suhana”, he said.

SRK, though, was quick to distance Indian superheroes from their Hollywood counterparts, “the stories will always be set in an Indian context and the audiences have grown up with different concepts and stories”. Both SRK and Hrithik Roshan, star of superhero flick Krrish, reported there was no Hollywood influence in their superhero characters. Roshan said, “Indians have grown up with tales of superheroes like Hanuman so, while Krrish may have all the powers of a typical western superhero, he was not inspired by any Hollywood superhero”.

Apparently little influence, but the box office success of Hollywood superheroes, equating to both The Dark Knight and Spiderman 3 residing amongst the world’s top twenty highest-grossing films of all time, has certainly been emulated in Bollywood. Bollywood offering Krrish grossed Rs 150 crore, making it the second highest Bollywood earner in 2006, while in 2010 Robot(Enthiran) smashed the Bollywood grossing record, making Rs 375 crore worldwide. It is clearly a lucrative genre, but Robot’s reported production cost of over Rs 150 crores represents a potentially risky investment.

Ra. one’s use of Hollywood specialists to train their VFX team indicates that Bollywood is not yet at the global forefront of VFX. Merzin Tavaria, Chief Creative Director of India’s largest VFX company Prime Focus, conceded that Bollywood required the specialist help of Hollywood VFX teams but remained ambitious for the future. “We have some catching up to do in terms of experience, but with our base in the key global markets, we are in a position to leverage that and share the knowledge to train our people.” Roshan reflects this optimism. “We have the best minds in the business so there’s no reason why we won’t be able to achieve the standards Hollywood has set for us.”

Star of up-coming superhero film, Doga, Kunal Kapoor joked that playing a superhero, “I will finally know what it feels like to wear my underwear over my pants.” This perception of superheroes is born out of the comic books many characters are taken from. With a relatively low comic book readership in India, however, inspiration appears taken from elsewhere. Recently, it was reported that actor Akshay Kumar would be playing a superhero inspired by Indian deity Hanuman while the title Ra.One is taken from the mythological antagonist ‘Rawana’ who appears in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana.

Bollywood superheroes are swooping in, and judging by reports, they will be loyal to India.


The glamorous side of paintballing

Heroic, gallant, virile. Students who pledge their thumbs to the digital deity Call of Duty are none of these and less. Because to waste such god-given militancy prancing round a pixelated wonderland, knifing the odd dissident, is a sin answerable to Ares alone. As any self-respecting war monger will tell you, true glory can only be won in the smoke and heat of the battlefield. Or in the case of an intrepid band of Durhamites, on the paint-spattered grounds of a Geordie forest that, come nightfall, boasts the North’s highest dogging rate. And that’s saying something.

The paintballing was an impulse buy. Besides a wave of regret that I hadn’t gone to Bristol, paintball tickets were the only thing I had picked up from the Fresher’s Fair. Students who’ve had Durham’s cultural zeal sufficiently caned into them need not concern themselves with paintballing and other soiled distractions of the ‘broleteriat’. True people of Durham wipe their arses with such degenerate filth, before it morphs gratefully into sheet music or a provocative play script on bi-curious terrorists.

Unfortunately I’ve still got some lashes to go and the paintballing base camp was a glorious two-fingered salute to the culture vultures, nested around Durham. Urine-soaked excitement hung in the air, courtesy of marauding bands of adolescents, while the more experienced participants menacingly stroked helmets, or any other SAS equipment they had brought from home.

As chance, or the vindictiveness of the organizers, would have it we were pitted against a crack squad of locals more than twice our number. Their sheer aggression and enthusiasm suggested they were on the back of a monstrous winning streak, including stints in Libya and Charlie Sheen’s pool house, and had been airdropped in for the occasion.

With a bamboo shoot for a family tree, the sorry-looking gaggle of yokels that made up the rest of our team looked more adept at holding a barn dance than a gun. Their leader was a man of deceptive size who looked like Bryan May and took to guarding our extreme rear. He was a paintballer who would not go down in history but, thanks to a gangly ponytail and a moustache that would put Ron Jeremy to shame, he would go down on your sister.

It would be a massacre.

The opening rounds proved true to speculation. Our natural survival instincts took over and led us galloping aimlessly through the foliage like twisted genetic experiments that had gone wrong and been released into the wild for the warped amusement of a Japanese game show. It was not long before we were hunted and felled without mercy by the well-oiled Geordie machine.  Based on that evidence, in Prehistoric times we would have been assigned the foraging duties.

From his entrenched defensive position Bryan May attempted a guerrilla resurgence but soon fell ingloriously in a shower of paint. With his greased locks he may have been the ‘Che Guevara’ in the cut-throat world of dry weather crop-harvesting but he was a 40-something playing paintball and I just couldn’t trust him.

I won’t bore you with the heroic tale of our comeback. For services in the field one of our rank earned the much-coveted ‘Top Gun’ award, which came with its own shiny certificate. Although later reports suggest that he had offered the Warden sexual favours for the prize and, failing that, his packed lunch.

All I will say is we may have been approached by Channel 5 and other mediocre broadcasting stations to televise the account and victory was achieved mainly through the use of paint grenades. Yes you read correctly, GRENADES THAT EXPLODE WITH PAINT!

Now if that doesn’t fire up the loins then we may as well just be done with it and drown ourselves, chained to our games consoles, in a sea of spirits, pederasty and Tesco’s 99p Curry. Or failing that, dress up as pirates and head to Klute. They’re equally degrading.


New Zealand’s thrilling victory over South Africa has proved that performing well in the latter stages of this World Cup is not all down to the cricketers’ skill. After all, the Proteas boasted the tournament’s third highest runs scorer in AB de Villiers (353) and spinners Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson are amongst the top five wicket-takers. In the heat and fierceness out in the middle at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket stadium reputations counted for nothing as South Africa collapsed under the pressure and extended their World Cup jinx to five losses in five consecutive knockout games.

Being in New Zealand’s position before the game-changing dismissal of Jacques Kallis, many teams would have resigned themselves to counting the overs until defeat. At the time, chasing 114 runs of 155 balls with eight wickets in hand is a small ask for a team boasting de Villiers and Kallis in their ranks. The upbeat body language of the Kiwis however, as they themselves around the field, suggested that they were playing until the Fat Lady sang.

This attitude was aided by the presence of World Cup veterans Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori. The latter, New Zealand’s highest wicket taker in World Cup history with 35 wickets, produced a match-winning spell of 4/33 and took a magnificent catch to dismiss Kallis. Captain Vettori showed his commitment by playing despite a knee injury and his proactive captaincy in rotating the bowlers and tinkering with the field displayed that he was always on the hunt for a wicket. Their presence and self-belief helped to electrify the younger players and Martin Guptill especially looked like a man possessed as he dived and leapt at cover before running out de Villiers.

In contrast South Africa’s spectacular batting collapse of losing eight wickets for 64 runs were the symptoms of a team unguided and unfamiliar with victory. Batting in his efficient manner, Kallis (47) looked set to bring the Proteas home but gave his wicket away playing a needlessly aggressive hook. The rate required was below five and needed Kallis only to maneuver singles and not go for the big shot. The tremors of this dismissal reverberated down the batting line-up and J.P. Duminy was clearly spooked when he played all around a straight delivery from Brendan McCullum. Playing in his first World Cup, Faf du Plessis was arguably the most affected when he ran out de Villiers (35) chasing a panicky and non-existent run.

The success of New Zealand has demonstrated that knock-out stages require the team’s more experienced members to stand up and lead from the front. Some players might get caught up in the moment and try to smack the ball out of the park or bowl a magical ball when all that is required is calmness and consistency. Tendulkar and Dhoni can take a leaf out of the Kiwi’s book in Mohali on Wednesday. In the high-strung affair not only will the eyes of the nation be on these players, but also the eyes of their teammates.


As a Brit, watching England stutter and lurch their way to the Quarter Finals has been a highly stressful affair. I need new fingernails, having chewed off my old ones in anxiety, and if we reach the finals I will probably have gnawed down to my wrist. The well—being of my hands therefore depends on whether England can overcome one of their toughest challenges of the tournament yet, Sri Lanka at home.

Based on England’s previous tournament matches, we should be in for a thriller. They lost narrowly to Bangladesh and Ireland but pulled off exhilarating victories against South Africa and the West Indies, the former by just six runs. All this without mentioning their remarkable draw against India.

England’s path to the Quarter Finals has been rocky and precarious, they have suffered agonizing losses but have conversely snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. As a result, mentally they’re a stronger team. Having progressed through the tournament on large slices of luck, England will feel the pressure is off and they have the freedom to go for it on Saturday. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, must deal with the expectations of a home crowd weighing heavy on their shoulders. How to beat a team with nothing to lose?

Based on previous encounters, Sri Lanka should have a doddle. Of the 13 ODIs England have played in Sri Lanka they have won only four, with a more miserable record of two wins in seven at Colombo. However in the shorter span over the World Cup, England will feel they have the mental edge. Sri Lanka progressed through the group stages with relatively little drama, convincing wins against the lesser teams Kenya, Zimbabwe and New Zealand were undermined by a defeat in the crunch match against Pakistan. Their temperament has yet to be tested in the fashion England’s has, leaving them susceptible to the potentially destructive effects of pressure should a tense finale present itself.

Much has been written on the exhaustion suffered by English cricketers, having been on the road for five months including an Ashes tour. The physical strain has materialized into a seemingly never-ending injury list, including potential match-winners Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen. Michael Yardy has felt the mental effects, dropping out from depression.

Despite this, their fresh-legged replacements have proven adept to rising to the challenge and injecting vitality into a flagging squad. All-rounder Luke Wright (44 runs) and off-spinner James Tredwell (4-48) made vital contributions in the must-win match against the West Indies.

Reports suggest Sri Lanka are preparing a slow, turning wicket at the Premadasa Stadium to provide some venom for their spin bowling attack. Ironically this could play into England’s hands and especially their front-line bowler, Graeme Swann, who would relish the spin-friendly conditions. In the batting department, as England demonstrated in their low-scoring win against South Africa, a tricky wicket suits their gritty style of batting, as opposed to a flat, batsman’s paradise.

This takes me to England’s key quality, grit. As personified in their coach Andy Flower, who kept wicket in a match with a broken finger, England have fostered a never-say-die attitude. They have already experienced the tension of a must-win game versus the West Indies and proved themselves equal to it. Despite possessing better quality players, Sri Lanka may find themselves second best in a battle of nerves.

Though England may walk out in Colombo to a hostile crowd and as firm underdogs, I have not endured such anxiety to see them go down without a fight. My judgment may be deluded by patriotism, but write them off at your peril.


 

As the debate on Durham’s nightlife rages on allow me to wade in, clad appropriately in Hunter Wellies that are the ubiquitous calling card to this fair city of ours. If, like me, you would rather see Lady Gaga in a Burmese prison than on the charts its difficult in Durham to find any music that ventures outside the top 40. Our headline act last term was Tim Westwood. The DSU, meanwhile, is attempting to resurrect their Saturday nights with a new offering called ‘Bad Habit’, but as the saying goes, ‘you can’t polish a turd’.

Perhaps the problem lies in our perceptions of a good night out. The main asset of living under the hallowed roof of St. Johns College is not the smugness of capping off a prolonged and fruitful visit to the college privy by greeting your unfortunate successor with, “if you’re going in there, may God be with you!” No, the highlight has to be the privilege of hearing every drunken chant that wafts up like room-clearing bouts of flatulence from the college socials on the Bailey beneath my window. It has been a downright honor.

After spending the early evening engaged in hardcore pre-lash, and no doubt cemented to their college corridor as if they were on leashes, these groups descend upon the Bailey with the manufactured rowdiness of a middle-class football firm. Their objective; to down each college’s specialty cocktail, which are often over-priced and some, like the ‘Skittles’, have the florescent color and texture of Mr. Blobby’s piss. Then, with new levels of liquid confidence, they charge down the hill crying God for England, Getting Lairy and St. Whatever-the-hell college they’re in. (Unless, of course, it is Josephine Butler, which sounds like a municipal leisure centre.)

Don’t let the knuckle-dragging exterior fool you mind, our uni compatriots in the Dirty South couldn’t hold a candle to these demonstrations of sheer ladestry. In fact, I would be prepared to personally sponsor a pub golf tour around South London as some missionary work for our unenlightened brethren. Just make sure to catch it all on camera, as the police may want the evidence from the ensuing bloodbath. You could at least sell the footage to Bravo.

Durham certainly holds a place in its heart for the chant, which I hold no aversion to. Neither do I have a problem with the fairer sex belting out the occasional rib-tickler. After all, there’s nothing like a lady with the mouth of a sailor to warm the cockles of the soul (and light a fire in one’s loins). However, this intoxicated enthusiasm was conspicuous for its absence when Durham was called upon by students across the country to demonstrate against the rise in tuition fees. Here, in true Durham fashion, the protest was not led by baton-wielding maniacs, armed to the teeth with knuckle-dusters and civil disobedience, but rather a jazz band called ‘Kinky Jeff and the Swingers’.

In order to truly gauge Durham’s rowdiness, you have to appreciate the socials in their natural habitat. This being locked in homo-erotic acts on the d-floor of one of Durham’s many night-time establishments. Fuelled by Tesco’s value trebles and equipped with a genidar (genital radar), they are led innately to one another’s private parts. If I wanted to do shots of lighter fuel and whatnot from betwixt my goalkeeper’s arse cheeks, I would have followed David James to the World Cup.

Also, unlike most rugger buggers, I’m not sporting a John Thomas that’s big enough to attack a city. So perhaps understandably, I’m not a fan of getting it out, willy-nilly. Don’t get me wrong, mine could probably damage a few suburban retail outlets but, as a rule of thumb, I keep Jabba in his hut… especially in the queue for Subway.

So if you’re not a born chanter, you leave stripping to the professionals and think fancy dress constitutes more than ripping a t-shirt and wearing a headband, what does Durham hold on a night out?

Newcastle anyone?


Having splashed out £225 million in a month, the Premier League bellowed a resounding ‘yes’ to Richard Keys’ question on the British transfer record, “did you smash it?”

"Ya Mon!"

 

In the late hours of January 31 the financial prestige of the English Premier League collapsed after a prolonged bombardment from various offshore bank accounts. There had been evidence of structural deficiencies in previous transfer spending sprees but the decisive blow came in the form of an £85million splurge involving two strikers, Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll. The sheer expense and rashness of the deals marked a fitting end to a month period that has been charachterised by top-flight teams charging around the market with the financial shrewdness of a stag party in Vegas.

With only eleven Premier League goals to his name, 22 year-old Carroll’s £35million transfer to Liverpool earned him the title of most expensive British footballer. Although with a hairstyle better suited to an unemployed addict of World of Warcraft, Liverpool shouldn’t have to pay too much for the 6’3” striker’s image rights. Newcastle’s official statement declared the transfer fee was “reluctantly accepted”, a view owner Mike Ashley is sure to reciprocate once he returns from funding his latest project, a kebab-flavored pint.

Not to be outdone Carroll’s partner in crime, Fernando Torres, commanded a £50million fee, placing him fourth in the globe’s most expensive transfers. Significantly, the fee was £15.8 million higher than the amount Barcelona paid for Torres’ compatriot, David Villa, in 2010. The 29-year-old striker is just three years older than Torres and scored five times in the 2010 World Cup finals, with Torres failing to find the net. There is no doubting Torres’ class, but in the previous two seasons he managed only 46 appearances in the Premier League, raising questions over his susceptibility to injury.

In a transfer window where Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson declared Howard Webb was “not for sale”, Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City restrained themselves to a £27million flutter on Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko. However the most remarkable aspect of the January spending, which marked a £195 million increase from last year, is that it has occurred in the same year that the governing body of European football, UEFA, are initiating their financial fair-play rules.

Starting with the 2011/12 season, European club’s finances will be checked over the ensuing three years and clubs that are operating at a loss of £40 million or more over the period will face punishments such as being banned from the Champions League. For Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea reaching this target will prove an arduous task, seeing as their January spending on transfers alone accounted for £71 million. This also comes on the back of last season, where Chelsea reported total losses of £70.9 million.

Since 2005 eleven Premier League clubs have been taken over by private owners, including Sheiks, corrupt Prime Ministers and Russian oligarchs. Premiership teams have seemingly become an accessory for the globe’s über-rich, with every big cheese queuing up to dunk their hardly-earned bread into the bubbling fondue of English football. This culture of a billionaire boys club has propelled Premiership spending into a league of its own, made apparent if you compare the spending of the Spanish Primera in January, £23.5 million.

Whilst such financial gallivanting has provided pages of tabloid fodder, it is clearly not sustainable in the eyes of football’s controlling bodies. At the beginning of the season Manchester City’s wage bill, accounting for £133 million, single-handedly surpassed their total revenue by £8 million. Unless teams can wriggle their way around the incoming regulations, the acts of financial decadence indulged in this January may have to be banished in the future to the forlorn speculation of the Sun’s football gossip column.


As Facebook takes its place at the table of business high rollers, users will have to ask how their personal information is treated.


On the back of a successful 2010, including a silver screen debut, the social media goliath welcomed in the new year by accepting a $375 million investment offer from Goldman Sachs. Like sending the two Milliband brothers on a team building exercise in Cumbria, nothing good can come of this.

For one the deal estimates Facebook’s worth at a giddying $50 billion, a potentially inflated sum when you look at the company’s reported revenue of just $1.2 billion over the first three quarters of 2010. But enough with this monetary dandyism, what of the unwashed masses who use the thing? Well, the noticeably gaping numerical chasm between revenue and worth suggests that financial value is being uncovered elsewhere on Facebook. A bounty is slowly collating above the heads of its 600 million usership and more importantly, the keg loads of information Facebook has on them.

Addresses, birthdays, phone numbers. What’s to stop Facebook auctioning its users’ information and details to the highest bidder, flimsy privacy agreements? Goldman Sachs and co. has seen worse. After all, the parents of royal fiancée Kate Middleton were known to derive a sizeable chunk of revenue for their business, ‘Party Pieces’, by selling their clients’ contact details to relevant companies. With more extensive information at their digital fingertips, Facebook could do one better.

After seven years of loyal service; nursing our hangovers, publishing our ethereal musings and inviting us to join groups detailing the post-mortem of a phone lost to the supernatural clutches of a festival bog. Is Facebook preparing to throw us to the corporate lions? Are our witty wall posts destined to be salivated over by a wispy cheeked researcher, hell bent on proving the neo-Nazi tendencies of Generation Y? Not on my watch.

At this crucial juncture I acknowledge this may sound like the ramblings of an apocalyptic prophet, touring the country and living out of a caravan and stockpiles of tinned food. Or even Morpheus incarnate, offering the ‘blue pill’ of online salvation. Unfortunately for any leather suppliers, I am neither. I’m just not keen on the idea of my postcode being bootlegged across the web to any Tom, Dick and Hameed. So when China gets their teeth into global advertising and start sending Viagra discounts to my new address in the Shire, I’ll be Chairman LMAOing.

As a further measure, next time I see a status update saying “just off to the South of France in daddy’s yacht”, I will not be ‘liking’ it. Instead while they are enjoying the sun, I will round up a posse and march on the offender’s home address (conveniently located in the ‘contact information’ section), kick down the door and kidnap the new puppy they put photos up of last week. It’s for the best.

The socially transparent era of tweeting your bowel movements is over, long live privacy!


Costa Rica’s picturesque coast

 

Holding off the cowboy capitalists of the USA to the North, and the untamed South American wilds to the South, Costa Rica has blossomed as a holidaying spot ideal for rekindling your passion with earth’s natural beauty. Whether it’s a weekend fling or a strung-out affair, its expansive beaches and smouldering volcanoes are the perfect setting for a romp with Mother Nature.

Mixed Signals

  

"The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains..."

 

Arriving into the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, you could be forgiven for querying the country’s much flaunted role in preserving natural beauty and promoting eco-tourism. The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains, accompanied by pollution, poverty and a generous sprinkling of crime. The chain-link fences and grubby sidewalks reveal nothing of Costa Rica’s open and friendly soul, treat the city as a fortified gateway into the Garden of Eden.

If you’re in the market for a side entrance, the multinational Marriot Hotel beckons. A 5km ride from San Jose’s international airport, the hotel was built on a coffee plantation. The bulk and splendour of its architecture are a nostalgic nod to a grand colonial villa, with nightly rates starting from $189.

Marriot Hotel, Costa Rica

 

Nevertheless, don’t regard a stay in the city as a prison sentence. For all its intimidating chaos San Jose is not uninteresting; its furnace burns with a fiery passion, stoked by the vivaciousness of its inhabitants. To dip your toe into these untamed rapids head to Centro Commercial El Pueblo, a lively sanctuary for San Jose’s creative body and a chance to get your hips swaying to the rampant beats of Central American music.

Baptism of Fire 

 

 

 

Arenal Volcano

150km North-West from San Jose, navigating over Costa Rica’s notoriously jerky and treacherous roads, lies the charming town of La Fortuna. Like a reserved younger sibling it has passed its days in the overbearing shadow of its raucous elder brother, Arenal Volcano. The conical colossus brushes aside swathes of greenery to rise majestically into the skyline, rumbling sullenly like the deep slumber of a mythological beast. Such a spectacle, though, is not marred by inaction. Being amongst the world’s ten most active volcanoes, Arenal spews regular pillars of ash which surge upwards like heavenly columns and its eerily luminous lava flows enchant the night sky.

Nestled in a bed of tropical flora and boasting sweeping views of the volcano, the Springs Resort and Spa is a luxurious perch from which to marvel Arenal. For the ultimate spa experience visit nearby Tabacon Hot Springs, this resides amongst the world’s top spas thanks to its extensive accommodation of nature into treatments. For example its thermal springs are nourished by underwater currents of water, which are heated by magma and flow through the spa’s network of cascading waterfalls and serene pools.

Tabacon Hot Springs

 

If the idea of relaxation is about as appealing as a bed of nails, Arenal’s surrounding national park is a treasure trove for hikes. Some of which flirt with danger as they traverse the jagged remains of Arenal’s previous lava flows, www.arenal.net is a hub of information and allows for easy planning. 

In Cloud Nine

The Cloud Forests

  

To lay further toils upon the undoubtedly remorseful suspension system of your transportation, the short trip to Monteverde town is crowned by a viciously winding and unpaved road that lurches erratically through throngs of jungle. Suspended 3,000ft above sea level, Monteverde has retained a sense of humbleness in the wake of invading tourist armies. The most pleasant accommodation can be found in the Hotel El Establo, a three star affair with spacious and well-furnished suites. As a tip of the hat to Costa Rica’s eco-friendly contingent, the hotel employs a body of solar panels and integrates locally-grown produce into its menu.

Having established base camp, you can then venture into the mysterious grasp of the cloud forests which envelop Monteverde. Named for the lingering presence of clouds in their canopy due to high altitude, Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves are some of Costa Rica’s most diverse habitats and a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Alongside a resident population of 120 mammal species and perched amongst the aesthetic tangle of vines, mosses and branches are small gems of colour constituting the lively and diverse bird population. With any luck, you might have the pleasure of spotting the Resplendent Quetzal, which earns its name with a sizeable tail feather encased in emerald green.

Thanks to a heady abundance of moisture, paths through the forest can be treacherous and branches scrape against you like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Tour guides are a sensible option, with www.monteverdetours.com providing bilingual and experienced guides starting from $55 per person. To add some spice to your adventure, horseback tours can be organised from the hotel and, like the Ewoks from Star Wars, Monteverde Sky Trek have erected a labyrinth of walkways and zip lines in the jungle canopy to clamber and howl your way through. Undoubtedly such strenuous exertions require a caffeine boost and centrally-located Café Monteverde is at hand, serving organic coffee grown in nearby plantations.

Surf’s Up

Nicoya’s peninsula

 

For those yearning the path less trodden and would bring brushes to ‘paint the town red’, the North-Western peninsular of Nicoya has survived relatively unscathed from the legions of freaks, surfer-dudes and hippies who have descended upon Costa Rica’s beach scene over the last two decades. To swap a Cuba Libre for a quite beach day, you could do worse than arriving on the doorstep of cosy Nosara.

Governed by a Triumvirate of beaches Nosara is a haven for relaxation, offering serene fishing spots and a unique setting for its popular yoga culture. The area’s natural beauty has been protected devoutly by locals and the beaches’ bordering forests are a picturesque backdrop, as well as being home to a diverse animal population. For elegantly designed rooms that draw you into the ease of Nosara life, The Harmony Hotel pledges alluringly to get you “in tune with your natural rhythm”. With seven kilometres of Playa Guiones’ ivory sand languishing nearby, which also boasts waves that are folklore amongst surfers, the hotel would appear to have the tools to get tuning.

Paridisus found

 

  

  

If your pursuit of luxury is an activity untainted by half-measures then you won’t find much better than the Paridisus Playa Conchal. The vast shrine to lavishness and refined indulgence is an idyllic ride up the Gold Coast from Nosara. The luxury resort has an array of beautifully designed accommodation options, an 18-hole golf course and a pool large enough to fit Tendulkar’s fan mail. Plus, at 2,400 acres, it’s easy to get Lost in Paridisus. You may want to ration your wanderings though, as some room rates clamber over the $1,000 a night mark.

A stone’s throw from the resort stretches the Mecca of Costa Rican beaches, Playa Conchal. With sands as white as a Californian’s teeth and waters with the clarity of their camera phones, Playa Conchal has become the go-to destination for snorkelling. It would be a mortal sin not to slap on the ol’ mask and snorkel for a foray into its glassy tropical waters.

Jungle Fever

A gigantic leap southwards from Nicoya peninsula, over a stretch of Pacific Ocean, another fragment of Costa Rica juts out distinctively. The Osa peninsula may not offer an album of screensaver beaches but it has some of the most striking and diverse natural habitats, personified by the Parque Nacional Corcovado. The park is an eclectic jumble of jungles, rainforests and swamps splayed across 42,000 humid hectares of natural splendour. The range of eco-systems attracts enough furry, feathered and scaly inhabitants to keep the most devoted of wildlife fanatics busy. Whether it’s providing nesting spots for the Harpy Eagle or maintaining the endangered Central American Jaguar, the park has a crucial role in preserving some of Costa Rica’s finest natural assets.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Going Caribbean

The previously neglected East coast of Costa Rica removes the peel of high-end hotelery to reveal simple lodgings and a marvellously laid back way of life. Hugging the Caribbean sea the coastland yields some breath-taking beaches, crowned by clusters of coconut trees. To surrender yourself to the chillaxed vibes of Afro-Caribbean culture head to Manzanillo, you won’t be getting Swiss chocolates on your hotel bed sheets but the living is authentic and a homage to the charms of a simple life.

East Coast Life

One such hotel, Almonds and Corals, offers palm-roofed tents connected by wooden walkway and is a true exponent of eco-culture. Some of its tours on offer include dolphin-spotting, bicycle tours but the most unique is a trip to visit the Indian villages of the Amubri, Bribari and Cachabri tribes. A fulfilling and culturally-enlightening activity. Staying on the East Coast is a less-refined experience, but what’s an eco-holiday without the dirty fingernails?

 

 

 

Pimp My Movie Theatre


Makeshift inventor Christian Seiersen unveils four innovative ideas to help Hong Kong cinemas do justice to their plethora of cinematic talent.

The year is 2010, Hong Kong is a gleaming palisade of skyscrapers, sophistication billows from the sidewalks and jazz wafts through the alleyways. The city is ruled by businessmen, but oozing through their fists is the seductive taste of culture, a creative alliance of the East and West. As French actress Jeanne Moreau once mused, “cinema is the mirror of the world”. In the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, movie theatres will need to adapt accordingly.

Pump It Up

The first issue requiring attention can be best described as post-Kung Fu syndrome, or the ‘red mist’ as it’s known on the cinema attendants’ grapevine. It stems from the fact that no human of healthy mind can watch a martial arts flick without feeling the burning desire to re-enact the film’s most intense fight scenes in the cinema foyer afterwards. Be it a hurricane of hits or a half-hearted ‘chicken’ kick, no advertisement cut-out is safe.

Boasting an illustrious cinematic relationship with the Kung Fu genre, Hong Kong is at particular risk from the aforementioned condition. Resident movie-maker Stephen Chow is cultivating a reputation as something of a genre-bender by adding a mischievous dab of comedy to his action films- see Shaolin soccer and Kung Fu Hustle -while fellow countryman Bruce Lee is credited as the father of modern martial arts. It has no mother, it was conceived asexually when Lee windmill kicked himself in the spine. In such fertile fighting grounds, Hong Kong cinemas are in need of a fool-proof plan lest they become slapped by a weighty tome of law suits, cataloguing the destructive misdemeanours of the red mist.  

What I propose, wait for it, is an army of Blow Up Dolls, and not the type found in Hong Kong’s red light district (cue comedy drum roll). No they have a loftier purpose, to dampen the flames of the red mist and soak up the possessed audiences’ flurry of fist blows. As if their buoyant impishness wasn’t enough of an incentive, the dolls will be masqueraded as some of life’s most loathsome characters; a man-sized mosquito, Kim Jong-Il and the human embodiment of rain. Then, aside from comic book hero Superman’s next gang of nemeses, you have a brigade of bash absorbers and a child-friendly antidote to post-Kung Fu syndrome. The Beat Up Doll, coming to a cinema near you.

Whose line is it anyway?

Not many can deny the enchanting mysticism of the movie subtitles that have been translated from Chinese. A rich metaphorical tapestry weaved around the rigid tablet of Chinese grammar. Take recent directing duo the Pang brothers offering Storm Warriors, and the fight talk of its villain, Nameless.  “Today, I will use my immortal body armour to break the myth of your sword skill.” This sounds more like the strained foreplay of a historically-themed porno.

Then you have the risk of buying one  of Hong Kong’s numerous fake foreign language DVDs. The over-zealous middle man. Tasked with writing the subtitles for the pirated films and inspired by six weeks of English lessons in the basement of a brothel, they take it upon themselves to add their own ideas to the lines. An Oscar-worthy script is soon transformed into a rabbit hole of strained similes and misplaced commas. Now Russell Crowe’s heartfelt gladiator speech to Emperor Commodus- “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next…” -becomes a tad shrewder. “I am able to get you, back right now or, maybe after I die…”

With this abundance of writing talent floundering in the sewers of their movie industry, what better way for Hong Kong to offer the hand of salvation than commission more than one set of subtitles for their films?  Consequently, foreign audiences will be able to vote on what Hong Kong’s movie stars should be saying with a choice of subtitle options. When approaching a gang of hoodlums, will karate king Jackie Chan excrete a cheeky quip or impart some words of wisdom? The outcome is decided, but the possibilities are endless. A sexually-confused Chow-Yun Fat? Bruce Lee the scientologist? You decide.

Let there be light

Housing some of the genre’s finest directional talents, Hong Kong is no stranger to the fields of romance.  One such exponent, Wong Kar Wai, revels in the poetic aspect of cinematography, furnishing his works with characteristically unconventional camera angles and pixelated close-ups. With its walls awash with amour and the scent of passion lingering in the air, movie theatres- as the experienced partisan will tell you- are fertile ground for ‘the sneaky stretch’.   

A worldwide phenomenon, the sneaky stretch is when a male` courter greases the potentially awkward act of putting his arm around a female companion by combining it with a yawn, or an innocuous point. Techniques differ across the lands, a current American sensation is a two-armed device which allows the advocate to keep an arm around his wife while the real one grazes on a food supply the equivalent of Uganda’s agricultural output. Yet still one aspect remains, the stretch dances best to the tune of love.

In the Mood For Love

Imagine, if you will, a screening of Wong’s Palm D’Or nominee, In the Mood for Love, an ultimately tragic story of two star-crossed lovers, their romance thwarted by the fickle nature of chance. As the film unfolds, as if sparked to life by a distant mother ship, male arms will slide cautiously across the chasm of cinema chairs before pouncing at the appropriately amorous on-screen cue. Because of its enticing prospect of a rejection, the audience deserves to be a part of this spectacle. I’m thinking spotlights.

Operated by only the finest talents in lightmanship, many of whom have sharpened their skills in circuses, their job would be to scour the audience and bathe anyone attempting the reach around in cold, piercing light. Good luck explaining that at the job interview. The stakes now raised, the sneaky stretch is catapulted from a nonchalant manoeuvre to a token of affection hotter than Dante’s Inferno. Move over wedding proposals at baseball games, there’s a new sheriff in town.

A game of two halves

Superbowl Half-time show, 2010

Faced with the bludgeoning cinematography and barrage of blasts that constitutes today’s action films, Australian cinemas have struck gold. In order to prevent their audiences’ brains imploding from boundless activity, they have introduced a half-way interlude for a film. During which, the audience can regroup and remind themselves they are not in a Vietnamese POW camp. All to the soundtrack of a tinkling piano. This is a start, but we need to think big here in order to rival the American Superbowl’s legendary half-time shows.

With a vibrant expat population, Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures meaning that anything, from robot duels to saxophone recitals, is plausible. Much raucous has been made in the West of various talent shows, such as Britain’s Got Talent, which enable the average Joe to show off their hidden talent in spoon-bending to a panel of judges. So why not tap into this abundance of free entertainment and unleash them onto movie theatres. Hell, make a day of it! It can be Hong Kong’s answer to a Roman family outing at the coliseum, but without the Christian slaves.


Foreign filmmakers you should be on the lookout for

When you need a film with ex-plo-sions, who you gonna call? Well, before producers would have Transformer-toting Michael Mann on speed-dial, but nowadays he’s throwing magnesium into Boy Scout’s camp fires to quench his insatiable thirst for destruction. Plus, the audience prefers being made to think while being hoisted onto the edge of their seats.
Enter Brit/American director Christopher Nolan, the mind behind Batman remake The Dark Knight and Freudian thriller Inception. In a Hollywood genre wrought with mindless car crashes and leggy blondes, Nolan succeeded in bringing a touch of class to proceedings, like introducing English gents to wrestle in WWF. Nowadays Nolan has a third Batman film on his radar. As we speak, he is decked in oversized headphones, tracking a flashing red dot that is the caped crusader.

With a CV including the likes of cult sci-fi movie The Fifth Element and Léon , Frenchman Luc Besson is no newcomer to film. I think hitman Leon’s signature phrase, “No women, no children” should replace the chocolate bar Yorkie’s marketing slogan, ‘It’s not for girls,’ merely to enforce Yorkie’s brute masculinity.

However, it is in the role of writer and producer that Besson has found success in recent offerings District 13 and District 13: Ultimatum. The films catapult parkour, the French-originated discipline of street-running, from a YouTube sensation to the big screen. Set in a future where a crime-riddled district of Paris is walled-off from society, Besson strikes a political chord, as Parisian ghettos are often ostracised by the French media for their abundance of drugs and high-levels of unrest. Look out for Besson’s signature stunt sequences, which are untainted by CGI and gift the films a raw edge, exhibited in Besson-written thriller Taken.

The Pang Brothers

As films such as Hero prove, East-Asian cinema is never short of imagination and in Hong-Kong born directing-duo the Pang brothers, the genre has found a rising talent. Comprising Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun, which sounds like a chemically enhanced dish served to Chinese Olympic athletes, the pair’s recent martial arts epic Storm Warriors broke Hong Kong box office records on first day.
With cult-horror flick The Eye and Hollywood flop Bangkok Dangerous under their belts, the brothers explored elemental magic such as wind and fire to craft Storm Warriors as a homage to traditional Chinese folklore. With help from special effects and imaginative costumes, it is a truly unique spectacle. Asian legend has it the only way to replicate such levels of creativity is to give the entire Jedi council from Star Wars LSD and lock them in a room full of bendy mirrors.


Into the fray

Our plan was to hone our biking skills in the Mekong Delta before embarking on the 1150 km ride up to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. The delta is a vast stretch of sparsely populated grassland south of Ho Chi Minh, flayed by rivers surging to the Eastern Vietnamese coast. Its most prestigious inhabitant, the Mekong river, is the largest in South-East Asia and is responsible for the livelihood of millions through industries such as agriculture and fishing.

The Minsk can be best described as an enigmatic bike. I had put the difficulties we had faced in Ho Chi Minh down to teething problems but, as we stuttered into the innocuous town of Tan An on our last vapour of patience, I realised our bikes’ mechanical problems were more deep-rooted. We had only managed 30km and the journey had been disrupted by a host of engine problems, over the next week we would visit repair shops as frequently as we would restaurants.

We commenced this tradition of repair shop visits with a grand opening ceremony, involving the rousing of a portly mechanic from his hammock in a flourish of hand gestures, directed at the motorised underbelly of our bikes. That evening, in the musky sanctitude of a local shack, we deliberated over a steaming bowl of the local cuisine Pho noodle soup, a bubbling broth which can contain anything from lemongrass to chicken’s feet, before deciding on the riverside town of Ben Tre as our next port of call.

Looks familiar?

As we set off with renewed optimism and the strained directions of a local fruit seller behind us, the scenery morphed into a mosaic of rice fields. The presence of farmers was betrayed by conical straw hats that bobbed rhythmically from the depths of the reeds. The government had clearly been busy, and at regular intervals communist flags billowed defiantly, even on the most rural of roads.

Under intense physiological pressure from our group, willing them onwards, our bikes survived all the pebbles and dips the rustic roads had to throw at them and we rolled into the next town like crusaders entering Jerusalem. During the triumphal entrance into the centre our cries of ecstasy soon turned to anguish as we began to recognise the buildings we had become acquainted with the day before. The paper lanterns that had greeted us so gracefully now sneered from their lofty perch.

Besides the cardinal error of not carrying a map, we had failed to account for the sizeable river blocking our path to Ben Tre. The road we had taken had skirted along the river nonchalantly before looping round and depositing us at our origin, all without a hint of rancour. When providing directions, the imperial sweep of the hand that locals would offer failed to account for small frivolities on the proposed route, such as crossing a 100-foot wide river. They saw their role more as compasses and pointed us in the general direction of our destination rather than consider the various obstacles we would inevitably encounter or the curvaceous nature of roads.

The Ferryman

The next day we found a gutsy villager who was willing to pit the rotting timbers of her fishing boat against our iron-hided Minsks and take us across the river. Using a small wooden plank we herded our bikes onto the creaking vessel and crossed our fingers as, sensing the magnitude of the situation, she yanked the starter chord with the ferocity of a leopard. Local ferries are the more popular option in these circumstances, but we didn’t trust our directional prowess to go on the search just yet.

Having negotiated our bikes onto the other side, we soon found ourselves in the tourist outpost of Ben Tre.  Besides a smattering of restaurants, it is a popular place to arrange homestays in local villages, where tourists stay in a villager’s house to experience the unique culture of rural life. Whilst slurping our celebratory noodle soup, we met a Vietnamese war veteran who filled our evening with tales of jungle warfare with the Vietcong before departing to sing karaoke with his wife.

The curse of Ben Tre

Our cruise from Ben Tre was cut short when we encountered a giant pond which had flooded the dirt road, its murky waters had been supplied by the decadence of nearby construction work. Spurred by the enthusiasm of local drivers, and a sizeable run up, the most audacious member of our group flew into this artificial marshland with the careless abandon of a toddler learning to ride a bike. Despite making good progress, the wheels soon became engulfed by the sand and by the halfway point he began sinking at an agonisingly slow rate. With the aid of every able bicep within a kilometre, we were able to hoist him out, but not before the sand had sabotaged the bike’s engine. From now on, in order to start that particular motorcycle, we would all have to push it along for ten metres for a running start, in the chaotic manner of a bobsleigh team.

This was the final crack that opened a floodgate of problems and, for the next five days, a series of seemingly implausible break downs to each motorcycle left our group stranded in one of Ben Tre’s spangled high rise hotels, wallowing in self-pity and the senility of our bikes. I took the opportunity to repaint my bike; it was now decked in bright red and bore the archaic hammer and sickle of communism. The steed of an officer, I told myself as we drove through wafts of innocent Vietnamese laughter, pressing onwards to Tra Vinh.

Tearing the chains

In order to escape the supernatural clutches of Ben Tre we knew it would require a Herculean effort, we roared our way towards the coast but knowing at some point that we would face the tempestuous waters of another river. As night descended our bikes started to concede to the constant strain of the journey and one broke down. With no mechanic in miles, one of our group elected to push the bike along with his foot, whilst still driving himself. By supporting his foot on the incapacitated bike’s exhaust pipe, and trusting its riders’ steering capabilities, he was able to push it tentatively along the motorway. With no working headlamps between us, I drove behind the duo to illuminate this eerie procession with a torch strapped around my helmet like a coal miner. Meanwhile the final member gallivanted ahead, searching for comprehensible, and frustratingly elusive, directions.

Our convoy crept through the mystical silence of the South Vietnamese night, and it was into the miniscule hours of the morning when we found a farmer showering naked besides his crop but, more importantly, in knowledge of a ferry crossing down the road. Because of the obvious language barrier we didn’t know if the crossing was still in operation or, for that matter, an actual crossing and not just his favourite fishing spot. Nevertheless, we were hardly in a position of strength and welcomed the rest, even if it was interrupted by the maniacal yapping of a posse of village dogs.

An hour into the wait, I began eyeing up the surrounding scenery for potential camping spots. I may have even hallucinated, seeing the flickering mirage of a Holiday Inn in the shadowy depths of a forest. Mercifully, an eternally optimistic member, who had been perched expectantly on the landing since we arrived, spotted the hulking leviathan of a ferry boat skulking through the blackened waters and we boarded it with the relief of soldiers who were being evacuated from the fiery recesses of hell.

Reassessing the journey

Whilst in the safety of Tra Vinh, and with our battered Minsks collapsed guiltily besides us, we were forced to re-evaluate the itinerary. In one week we had barely travelled 100km and what was meant to be a training exercise had turned into an epic journey comparable to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. Despite the obvious disappointment we wanted to go out in one last flourish, our Asian testament to the charge of the light brigade- practically suicidal but a necessity as far as preserving honour was concerned. So it was then, in the smoky backroom of a local cafe that we decided upon the beach resort of Ba Dong as our final destination. This was to the crowning moment of our Mekong foray, the holy grail.

One last hurrah

And so we embarked on our symbolic dash for the coast. The rustic air somehow tasted sweeter and the rumble of our Minsks’ had an almost melodious tone. The guidebook had been sparing in its compliments for Ba Dong but I ignored this, believing there were far greater forces at work here. Unfortunately, my divine assumptions proved incorrect. The Swedish volleyball team we had imagined playing on the beach was replaced by an old man staggering through the shallows, whilst the wafts of freshly barbequed prawns was instead the stench of faeces, radiating from the cage of a dejected-looking monkey.

Without doubt, Ba Dong was the most depressing beach I had ever been to. The so-called resort was a cluster of wooden shacks facing the sea and the only attraction was a primate who had been cruelly displayed in a cage twice its size. As the only tourists ever to have been so wholly lost, it was almost like another dimension, we were regarded by the iota of other visitors with intense curiosity. However, as soon as their engines were loud enough to convince us they could tackle the journey back to Ho Chi Minh we readied our bikes for departure. We had a 150km slug ahead of us and the thankless task of selling the bikes to someone with enough patience to even attempt to drive them. Jesus perhaps.

Clouds gathered ominously in the sky and the now serpentine road wound through paddy fields and into the horizon. I had no idea if there were enough mechanics in the world to facilitate our return journey, but this had been our salvation. The glinting hands of our Minsks had plucked our band from the tediousness of a typical holiday and placed us amongst the wispy mirages of celebrated journey makers such as Che Guevarra and Jack Kerouac.  At least that is what I would tell my parents when they asked me why I wasted $400 on a lumbering death trap which would have more chance of killing me than delivering me to a destination.


What do Guy Ritchie and raw salmon have in common? Find out when Christian Seiersen delves into his metaphorical pouch to present four film themes that are indistinguishable in likeness to Sushi, Japan’s national dish. 

Chicken Katsu- Chronicles of Narnia 

 

There is something eerily unnatural about sushi restaurants serving the fried chicken dish of Chicken Katsu, it’s like displaying the Beano comic strip at the Louvre. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken as much as the next mechanic. I just want it served in its natural habitat, resting in a bucket and presented by someone wearing a hair net. When it’s served in unfamiliar surroundings where the accompanying sauce is not made by Heinz, and to the serene twanging of the Shamisen- a traditional three-stringed instrument- you feel a cat has just rested a mauled pigeon at your feet. It could have been done so much better.   

 

I felt similarly after seeing The Chronicles of Narnia. When it comes to translating children’s literature into the ‘Twilight’ Zone of films- yes, even rugged vampires aren’t safe-it’s a case of counting the casualties. So who’s the ringleader, who’s responsible for deep-frying the metaphorical chicken? A mastermind, perhaps, propped by an empire of cartoons, loved by millions. A certain Walt Disney, a man obsessed with drawing racist mice. I digress, we’ll leave such matters to Cartoon Network. 

 

Granted, Walt himself wasn’t single-handedly responsible for the butchery of Narnia, he didn’t personally slip fake tan vouchers under the fabled Prince Caspian’s door. And, to be fair to Mickey Mouse, he straightened out when he met Minnie, but you get the idea. 

Think of classic children’s literature as No Man’s Land, venture too far and you risk a deadly salvo from entrenched film critics. Like the Somme, you may get the results on paper, but at what cost? Stick instead with films like Inspector Gadget where casualties are minimised or, in the case of strained political analogy, the Falklands War. 

Nigiri- Hugh Grant’s rom-coms  

 

With only a slab of rice and assorted topping to its name, Nigiri sushi was never the shiniest bauble on the Christmas tree. It’s more an innocuous red one, used to make up numbers. That’s not to say Nigiri doesn’t have its uses, it’s a steady winch to lower newcomers into the realms of Sushi or the reliable mule for Sushiites, whose adventurousness has been curbed by a recent bout of food poisoning. In movie terms, a Hugh Grant rom-com. Done so many times it could morph into a soap opera, even with the same name. 

 

With his inane politeness, “Oh Golly, I may have piddled on your lavatory seat” and elegant plume of floppy hair, he would be more at home on the Discovery Channel. A treacherous gibbon, perhaps, that charms the feathers off a bird before stealing their eggs. 

In fact David Attenborough should do a documentary on the untamed lion that is Hugh Grant’s acting career. Nomadic, he has roamed the Hollywood plains searching for the spectral oases of a thriller film or, dare I say, an Oscar nominee, only to plod dejectedly back to the Bridget Jones’ pride. 

Though I mock him, Hugh has been a cornerstone of the romantic comedy sector. If you will, the equivalent of a lift operator who has worked, unquestioning, for 50 years. When he bows out there will be many a thirty-something, saluting him with their Haagen-Dazs ice cream tub while watching a pimple-faced alternative. Something with Michael Cera.

  

Sashimi- Guy Ritchie gangster films 

Well ‘ard

 

On a sushi menu where flavours are often intertwined to achieve the supreme combination, the raw fish that is Sashimi holds no alliances. Like a renegade cop it doesn’t need partners; rice would slow it down, ask too many questions and seaweed would smother it. Sashimi works alone.

But such brash characterisation is not enough these days. Unlike the flickering era of black and white films, it is no longer sufficient to dress a bad guy in a blackened cape and have someone appear beforehand, wearing glasses to bolster the veneer of intelligence and saying, “trust me, this guy is well evil.” Nowadays Sashimi needs a genial cockney accent, a sharp tailor and a drinking spot in South London. It needs a part in a Guy Ritchie gangster film.

Some wonton destruction and sharp one-liners later, and Ritchie would have late night crime thrillers from Bravo queuing up to get a piece of this Sashimi, the new, raw talent from the wrong side of the tracks. Just look at what the director did for British footballer-cum-actor Vinnie Jones’ career or Hollywood hardman Jason Statham.

In the films Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie succeeds on a well-trodden path, making criminals likeable. Lock Stock saw his depiction of London’s largest marijuana dealers as a gaggle of hippies, who defend against intruders with air rifles. Now tell me Sashimi doesn’t need some Ritchie magic to accompany its stab at being professionally ‘well ‘ard’.

Maki- Shutter Island

 

Comprising raw fish wrapped in a layer of rice and then seaweed paper, Maki is a product of meticulous preparation. I like to imagine that each responsible chef is fresh from learning the trade in a Japanese training montage, packed with close-ups of their master raising his eyebrow quizzically and stroking a swan. Outlawed by the fast food nation, the band is forced to meet in abandoned houses that double as a fight club for Brad Pitt.

Although not conceived in similar circumstances, for a film constructed with equal flourishes of skill see recent blockbuster Shutter Island. The opening scene is a cinematic omen for things to come. Waves lash furiously against the island’s rocks, an atmospheric score is carved over the backdrop; we’re in thriller country and director Martin Scorsese is in his element. The Johnny Depp to Scorsese’s Tim Burton, the ever-prolific accomplice Leonardo DiCaprio is along for the ride and together they engineer a blitzkrieg of shocks, scares and anything else needed to convince you that investigating a lunatic asylum is a really poor idea.

With an increasingly raucous entourage of successful films and a respectable South African accent on his CV- accents can be the graveyard of stars, just ask John Wayne when he played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror- it would take a brave man to bet against DiCaprio not getting an Oscar soon. Especially after previous winner Adrien Brody bore the thespian torch for his compatriots by fronting the recent remake of Arnie classic Predator, hardly screen-shattering.


A Hedonist’s Guide to South East Asia

 

The infamous bucket cocktails

 Whether you’re ‘soul searching’ on a year off, cultivating a plume of dreadlocks, or an accountant-gone-wild, South-East Asia holds an endless banquet of hedonism, stuffed with marathon happy-hours and non-existent safety regulations. Here are some highlights.

Beach life. Nha Trang, Vietnam

Sailing club by day

If Shanghai is deemed the Paris of the East then surely the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang’s spangled high-rise hotels and riotous nightlife render it the Magaluf of the East? Nha Trang earned its debauched stripes during the Vietnam War where it was a stop-off for American soldiers on leave. It has since evolved and the Sailing Club, situated on the town’s prized 4km beach, is a launching pad for banana boating, paragliding and more.

By day an innocent sailing establishment, but come night the stabilizers are removed and Sailing Club becomes a popular nightspot with beach parties every Saturday. Elsewhere the backpacker hub Red Apple Bar serves up an imperial sized cocktail simply titled ‘the Bucket’, a multi-litre shrine to spirits. Pending a recovery, you can visit the nearby Vinpearl amusement park which, like Dr.Evil’s volcano lair, has its own island.

If you ever need to resurge from  the swirls of hedonism and add some culture to your diet, rent a motorcycle and head inland to experience the rugged Ho Chi Minh Highway, made famous by James ‘I wanna be forever young’ May and assorted Top Gear cronies. Alternatively, get your grill on at local hot-spot Lac Canh Restaurant which serves raw meat and fish marinated in traditional spices to be tossed onto your table-top bbq.

Hedonist rating: ***

In the tube. Vang Vieng, Laos

In the Tube

The four hour bus ride from Lao’s capital, Vientiane, to the hedonistic outpost of Vang Vieng is treacherous; the road winds tipsily through mountains while branches scrape against the bus like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Why is it then that I count myself more fortunate to have survived the tubing itself than this near-suicidal crusade?

For those not acquainted, tubing constitutes perching on an inflatable ring and offering yourself to the mercy of the river. As you float downstream clusters of flimsy wooden bars jut out, seemingly constructed by Ewoks because of the rope swings and zip-wires hanging menacingly from their skeletal rafters. Each ready to ensnare the drunken traveller.

Besides the $1 cocktail buckets and free shots of local whiskey, every bar has a unique feature, from beer pong to mud wrestling, to attract people. Sceptical? Then you can look forward to being roped in by the bartenders’ homemade lassos.

Staggeringly, this marathon bender is merely the warm up and night time sees the unveiling of bingeing establishments like the Bucket Bar. Where, with such slogans as “Get Bucked at the Fucket Bar,’ you know it’s not going to be an evening aperitif at the Grand Hyatt.

Hedonist rating: *****

Rambo Returns. Phonm Penh, Cambodia

Menus have a funny knack of legitimising things. In Cambodia’s capital, Phonm Penh, when you are confronted by a laminated sheet of paper in a cafe, offering opium tea, magic mushroom milkshakes and marijuana pizzas you feel like Pablo Escobar quantifying amounts for a drug run. Similarly, the nearby Air Borne shooting range has a menu wrought with guns ranging from Ak47s ($40 for 30 bullets) to the bone-shaking RPG Rocket Launcher($200 for 1 RPG), all available to shoot. Suddenly you become Rambo, equipping yourself for a solo mission to depose a sinister Asian dictator.

 A claustrophobic half-hour tuk-tuk drive from the city centre, the firing range is owned by the Cambodian military, meaning your gratuitous pumping of a 12-gauge shotgun is occasionally interrupted by camouflaged regiments marching past. Although you shoot at paper targets, off-menu requests can see the targets being replaced by livestock such as geese($10), cows($100) and even alligators. Well, it is one alternative to the zoo.

Back in the city, you can drown such memories in Sharky’s Bar, the expat den of decadence has a long-standing drinking challenge to sink your teeth into. To finish three hollowed-out mortar rounds, each containing 12 separate shots, in one night. Side-effects may vary.

Hedonist rating: ****

 

Lunar gathering .Koh Phangan, Thailand

Worshipped by witches, a friend of the werewolves and, in the case of Koh Phangan, the full moon is an excuse to get biblically drunk. Its imminent arrival heralds the trafficking of face-pounding sound systems and an exodus of 20,000 intrepid travellers to the small Thai island. With local hotels capacity touching 5,000 book months ahead for accommodation, the ever-fashionable Cocohut is a good starting bet. Otherwise be prepared for a night on the sand, where the morning aftermath is the stuff of Omaha Landing, Dunkirk.

On the hallowed ground of Haad Rin beach, professional partiers gather around the paint stations to get kitted out before entering the melee, money strapped to their chests like grenades. Besides the mandatory team of international DJs, you can expect some blazing entertainment in the form of professional fire-twirlers, jugglers and a barrage from an old acquaintance, the cheap cocktail bucket.  Anyone looking to dabble in the realm of narcotics be wary, all is not as it seems and the ‘happy pill’ you’re taking could be bovine steroids or, even worse, the red pill from the Matrix- then you’d be in all kinds of shit.

Hedonist rating: ****