Monday, September 30, 2013

Pin's balls.

Chance encounter of the nostalgic kind. The bar had a band and a relaxed clientele having a good time, doing what comes naturally to bargoers. My impression's based on the thuddy din and just-so lighting levels, dedicated dancefloor, kempt commodes and crisp exit signage. All surrounded by tables and darting whites-of-eyes.

Gaudy graphics didn't distract my focus from the beer taps, rather, they became that trigger of ancient memory which punctuated the audio. Distinct, yet not out of place. I turned, having walked right past a banquette of beckoning relics. Analog sounds, steel-balls-rebounding-off-rubber, tinny bells and clacky levers. Regression to times of misspent youth.

Then and there, I greased up the ol' pinball swag, pelvic hip-snap and double-finger technique. And I didn't care who saw.

It wasn't until after I'd racked up the night's most prodigious score that I began to appreciate the inherent esoterics of this throwback moment. Nevermind that the machines were manufactured by relatives from a long-lost gaming branch of the Williams family.

Some people hear voices, others see signs. Mata Hari did her thing to my left. But these particular tableaux crackled with cryptic significance for me and my semi-private alter-egos.

Leave aside for a minute my earlier personification of ... Pin,
on CTV's Neon Rider. Way too literal.

Asteroid Apophis - or Comet of Doom, and imagery in the word Blackout, taken separately or together, rule this night, and prove enough to justify the coins it takes to put my balls into play.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kingston Paradise in Toronto.

St. Jago de la Vega and Kingston had not yet met in their prophesized sprawling merger. Growing up in Jamaica, my cardiology would routinely spike on the commute between bucolic and bustle. To the extent that even now, there's nothing better for my heart than a hit of citypulse.
My latest sortie saw me emerge from a summers-end Muskoka sequestration. A few probing enquiries, and I headed for Hogtown's TIFF 2013. In this era we're still speaking about that cavalcade of prestigious cinematic unveilings, and the familiar frenzy of the red carpet.

But now, also, parallel fledgling festivals aligned with it.

The Caribbean Tales Film Festival occurs on the fringes of this frisson. The timing is advantageous to showcase the maturing output of Caribbean related filmwork, adding its own diasporic glam to the scene with contiguous scheduling and spicy spectacle. Shorts, docs, features, workshops and symposia.

TIFF Artistic Director, media-master, mogul, mullah Cameron Bailey, himself of Barbadian heritage, makes a natural patron and ally for the eight year-old CTFF, incepted and run by Frances-Anne Solomon, a proud Trinidadian film-maker.

Having missed sold-out TIFF screenings of Steve McQueen's acclaimed "12 Years a Slave," which ended up a clear winner of the top accolades, I had to re-focus. I was drawn out by a desire to see how my Jamaican friend, Mary Wells fared with her movie "Kingston Paradise," making its world premiere.

Five years prior we had pored over early footage as she shaped a working edit. At the time, final cut seemed ... remote.

In the tradition of Damian Marley's anthemic song "Welcome To Jamrock," Mary's cinema verité visuals of this island paradise bely the Iberostar propaganda of Tourist Board commercials.

And make no mistake, this isn't gratuitous invitation to indulge in ghetto-voyeurism or re-hash Jamaican political tribalism.

At core, this is about a couple's struggle for self-betterment. A capitalist's dream in a setting where there's little capital to go 'round. Driving taxi in this town requires more than a hackney permit. Chris "Johnny" Daley energetically portrays Rocksy. He hustles condoms and phone-cards but is readily seduced by a Syrian businessman's conspicuously crisp Mitsubishi Evolution.

Hollywood might've required a grand heist, but JAH-llywood finds gold in a petty auto-thief, complete with bumbling sidekick.

Camille Small, as Rosie, is Rocksy's main squeeze, complicit in methodology but not end-game. She's an art-lover and supporter of "woman work" who is not deferential to agressive testosterone. Unlike some of her predecessors in Jamaican cinema, Camille manages to infuse Rosie's pulchritude with an eloquent subtlety.

Everyone's heard of Trenchtown. Well, there are several comparable "garrisons" on the Kingston city grid. Mary credits gratitude to the people of Southside, which is in East Kingston.
Here, shambles of a once-grand downtown show systemic neglect, and every available space is adapted to accomodate the population therein. Supporting players are shrewdly utilised to rivetingly depict the day-to-day business of survival.

In the mechanics yard, gappy Clovie ("I thief but I never go jail") and pretty-boy Maltado deserve mention. So too does the ambiguous, dare I say, androgeny of the marginal players. During a prolonged de rigeur cop chase sequence one delivers, sans dialogue, haven for our hero, and the other nails what may be the most stylish onscreen come-uppance I can remember.

Wisely, Mary avoids padding the dialogue with cliche epithets and common themology. My Spidey-sense is that there was imput from her actors to this end. The result is believable dialogue which, of necessity, benefits from subtitling in service of the colloquial narrative. This allows the viewer to digest the all-consuming socio-economic reality at his/her own pace.

In Kingston, there's no avoiding this.
Perry Henzell's "The Harder They Come" (1972) will always serve as a blueprint. To this day THTC one-line take-aways pepper popular culture. Kingston Paradise has its share of those too, with at least one standout deadpan delivery certain to mash up movie-houses from Kingston to Toronto
Then of course there's the music. Award winning composer John Welsman, an honorary Caribbean if there ever was one, dials up the decibels. Combining original score and contemporary vocal tracks, this Canadian demonstrates a clear understanding of Jamaica's bass imperative.

The first thing Mary asked me after the well-received screening, which led to the all-important CTFF 2013 audience choice award, was - what do I think of the film's commercial prospects?

Well, after driving around Kingston with her, not too long ago, I do know she could use a new car.

I predict here and now, she won't have to steal one.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Parables Of Riddick.

Installment three of the Riddick juggernaut opens today. The Vin Diesel publicity machine is in overdrive, selling a labor-of-love that's been soon come long time. Vin has fast and furiously found time to service other projects in the intervening period. I see in the society columns this includes starting a family. Nice.

Vin's navel-string connection to the Riddick mythic remains his most personal. My own brush with this franchise-of-the-moment remains resonant with me too - nine years after the Universal extravagance of The Chronicles Of Riddick.

Director of both films David Twohy, a man with the air of a New England rambler, makes a noteworthy foil to Vin's engagingly temperate braggadocio. By my observation, he's a Science Fiction fan. Casting for Chronicles was an intuitive process to the point where we were encouraged, in between gym visits, to name our own characters. Previously nameless lifer-convicts in the middle third of a sprawling, futuristic, extra-planetary adventure.

I called my guy Sniper. The unthinkable Washington D.C. shooting mayhem was recent memory. I stole the vacant soul of Jamaican born Lee Boyd Malvo for backstory. Director comments in my DVD extras keep that angle alive for me, despite much of the screen evidence falling by the way.

I'll have no spoilers on the new Riddick 'til I see it, so read on without fear. The Crematoria arc was very time-consuming to shoot but we got some stunning otherworldly footage. Backlot security was tight but there was a controlled stream of visitors. Like Vin's sis, his mom and kids belonging to Vin's twin bro.

One special day I had my own daughter with me. Coming back from lunch there was an unexpected gathering on our working soundstage, but all film-making activity had ceased. Vin's bullhorn baritone led cast and crew in a Birthday serenade, surprising her, and me, with sixteen candles in a cake. This raised the bar for such milestones in my neighborhood.

Riddick keeps good company. I had camaraderie with Judi Dench, Thandie Newton, Alexa Davalos, Keith David, Colm Fiore,Yorick Van Wageningen and others, while working among a filial cadre of local performers enjoying the bombastic profile of high-level production. It was here, during the hurry-up-and-wait interstices, that I tasted rare humility in Scrabble, which vied with Poker for pastime of choice.

Not to mention Snoop (then) Dogg hit-up da after-party in L.A.

Vin gifted me a VHS copy of Multi-Facial, his first short film. It features a diamond performance from an actor with more versatility than some recognize. You get the feeling he could do virtually anything with direct efficiency, power and charm. Like the best of America's husky heroes.

Makes me wanna send Riddick to go Rambo on Syria.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Buffalo Soldier.

Does anyone else think that Barack Obama's face is beginning to mirror Madiba's?

Watching how descendants of ancient Mesopotamia affect the pulse of the world, over the last several decades, reveals a fascinating arc on the global-collective timeline.

Today, the now familiar, twice-elected American President stopped in Sweden on his way to Russia's G20 summit. But it is a looming U.S. intervention in Syria that's on everyone's tap-touch notebook-list of questions. 24hr News is in feeding frenzy.

Looking behind Obama's eyes, framed by mini Mandela-moles which I hadn't really noted before, and the lighter shading of the skin stretched over high cheekbones, I intuit a secure conscience. Gut-level diaphragmatic relaxation from reflective, reflex points-of-origin, convey confirmation in his assured speaking voice.

Words string together fluently, admirably directed by a cultured synaptic highway to his Harvard-incubated legal-eagle brain.
(Or brains, for I do believe Michelle was his tutor at one time). Visualizing tort tutorials and formal debates, and imagining academic requirement of such people, I was moved to tweet (@actualApophis) - "#Obama is in his wheelhouse."

During recent election cycles in the U.S., my comments were frequently challenged with the somewhat desperate query "Why do YOU care so much about OUR politics?" -

This is why.

America doesn't simply elect a commander-in-chief. How often do we speak of the "leader of the free world?" Barack Obama, who's in close generational synchronicity with world-citizen Ackeelover, acknowledges the greater global context.

We're watching the 44th POTUS attempt to wield a big stick while walking softly. He's deft and had better be. A deliberate delivery, comparable to Mr. Mandela's own metronome, communicates contemplativeness. And just like in his honest commentary to the Press Corps on the Martin/Zimmerman verdict, there was no teleprompter to lacquer over nuance of thought or expression.

Nelson Mandela, whose legacy will be that of peace preferring, pragmatic revolutionary, understands how to fight for the cause of right, even when defence requires a pugilist's punch.

Perhaps, as he himself avers, Obama may yet prove "unworthy"  of the Nobel Peace Prize, but to my mind, win or lose in the war of worlds, this most scrutinised second-term leader speaks like his African counterpart, confident of his Buffalo Stance.