Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: Water for Elephants

I don't know what took me so long to watch Water for Elephants, aside from perhaps the idea of suffering through a Robert Pattinson movie. Which is odd, because while I wasn't a giant fan of Twilight, I didn't find them as repugnant as many people. In fact, if you look hard on the Interwebs, you will find a photograph of me and Shaina preparing t-shirts for the new movie in Cheongju. I found the movies enjoyable, and I am one of those die-hard HP fans who remembers that Twilight was not Pattinson's first big role (if you can call the role of Cedric Diggory big, which I do).

And yet, it was on a Saturday night when I had nothing much else to do that I decided to finally watch it for the first time. It has been sitting there, gathering dust so to speak, waiting for me to watch for years, and it took a lack of anything better to do for me to decide that it was worth switching on. And, from minutes into the movie, I was utterly hooked.

The trailer, the beginning scenes and the general tone of the movie reminded me a lot of Big Fish, one of my favourite Tim Burtons, and though the story was very different, it didn't disappoint in the slightest. The story is of a young man in the 1930's whose life is changed forever by a tragic accident. One exam short of a vetinary degree and without a cent to his name, he wanders down a set of train tracks and decides to take a chance when he sees a train approaching in the horizon. And so, he finds himself becoming a part of the famous Benzini Bros. circus. It's the story about his time there, and the love that he finds there.

The movie is shot beautifully, giving a real sense of the Big Top and the time. The actors are great with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon pulling out all stops. And the story, well the story is beautiful and tragic, making me laugh and cry at times, but leaving me with a smile and a lasting memory.

So if you are looking for a good romantic drama, I would highly recommend watching this one. I can't recommend it enough. Just watch it!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

There are thousands of movies that come out every year, and it is amazing how many of them just seem to slip through the cracks to become forgotten and how many of them end up on the big screen only to be absolutely god-awful.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

I don't know how it was that I found out about it, but I found it online in a random list, possibly on IMDB, and decided that I had to see it. Mostly because of Emma Watson, because of my dire need to see her in something that wasn't Harry Potter, to see her grown up and acting in something older, something mature, something different.

So, when I was sitting at home on a Monday night with nothing to do, I decided to give it a try. And from the first scene, I was hooked to it. Something about the main character spoke to me - the social awkwardness, the affinity with music and the deep, passionate love of writing that takes over his life and that he uses to tell his story.

Bring to him friends who are even more socially unaccepted than he is, but have found acceptance with each other, and you have the group that I spent time with in high school. Without the drugs, of course, but the basic dynamic is just about right.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a romance, it is a drama, it is a mystery and it is, at times, a comedy. It is something that melds together the music and dress sense of the early 90s to provide a testament to the time period and a beautiful story of love and coming of age.

I would highly recommend the movie to anyone who was born in the 80s and who has a love of the music from the 90s, who grew up in the 90s and anyone who found their first love in high school, unrequited or otherwise. To be perfectly honest though, I would recommend this movie to absolutely anyone because I just adored it.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Seven years ago today, I was not in a good way.

I was upset over a boy (isn't that just typical?). I was 17 with low self-esteem that had been pushed even lower by rejection. Not even face to face rejection, but pure ignoring and avoidance. I was in need of alcohol and a good friend, and that is exactly what I got.

Lana dtagged me out of my res room, dressed me up in what must have been a nice, but is now completely forgettable outfit, and together we missioned from the top of the hill down to the Old Gaol. The place was packed. Bodies crammed together in the tight space leaving a little room at the front in anticipation of a mosh pit, and I distinctly remember the telltale scent of sweat and smoke that lingered at a lot of the events in my first year. I also remember praying that the heavens wouldn't open up on us, since we were completely out in the open. At the same time, that would probably have helped cool us all down and get rid of the smell.

Lana found us an old mattress that we pushed up against the back wall. From there, we could hear the music and escape the crowds. We were quickly joined by others, most of whom Lana knew, one of whom she didn't.

"Do you mind," he asked gesturing to the space beside me.
I smiled and nodded and turned back to my conversation.
"Puffy." He held his hand out towards me, and I shook it wondering what kind of person I had just come across. Who has a nickname like Puffy anyway?
"Lara," I replied shaking the outstretched hand. The shake lingered a little. It made me smile, and he just grinned back.

To be honest, I can't recall most of what was said that night, and I don't remember much of the music either. I do remember the scent of smoke becoming too much for me to handle, considering that I was trying to stop myself from smoking at the time. I bummed one off the closest smoker to me, which just happened to be Puffy. It got us chatting. Nothing like a cigarette to really start up a conversation.

Before I knew it, we were taking over the mattress. I was young, he was cute and I was out to have fun and forget about a guy. I suppose you could say that it was rebound, but rebound involves having a relationship, which thanks to the rejection was not something that I knew anything about. We spent the night bouncing around, dancing to Breach, heading to Friar's so that I could meet one of the bouncers and coming back to the Gaol to finish back where we started. I found Lana and was about ready to go, and he asked for my number. I gave it to him without a thought, and he must have thought that I had rattled it off a little too quickly.

"You're not giving me a fake number now, are you?"
"Of course not!"
He pulled out his phone and dialed just to double check, and sure enough the phone started ringing.
"Good! Now you have no excuse."

He left it at that, and I thought that was going to be it. One night of fun and nothing more. But when my phone rang the next day, I didn't think twice about answering it.
"I want to see you."

And so it began. From "rebound" to requited, my world began to change for the better. We saw each other almost every day for the first 3 months, what with living less than 5 minutes walk apart and all. Even when he moved further away and the walk became half an hour, we were practically inseparable. And now, 7 years down the line, here we are. Having just as much fun as that first night that we met (or I am at least) and knowing that this is just the beginning.

I love you, Grant. Happy 7 year anniversary.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Life of Pi Review: Part 1: Lonliness

My experience of Life of Pi needs to be written in three parts. This is the first.

I cannot recall a single time before tonight that I have gone to a movie on my own. I can recall lying on the couch and watching movies on my own. I can recall lying in bed and watching movies on my laptop on my own. But never going to the cinema on my own. And for me, it was a bit of a daunting experience.

I came home from work this afternoon, and going to watch a movie was the last thing on my mind. But then Grant announced that he was going to be going to a braai this evening. And it's not that I wasn't invited to the braai, it was more that I was torn in two minds - part of me wanted to get out of the house, while the other part really did not feel like spending the evening making small talk with people that I had little in common with. So, for me, the braai was out. But I still didn't want to stay home, so I decided to go to a movie. I had seen that Life of Pi was showing, and I was pretty keen to see it, so I went through my list of friends remaining in Grahamstown, each of whom had other things planned or just did not feel like a movie night. Which is fair enough. But it left me in a bit of a conundrum. Do I brave the cinema on my own, or do I give up on the idea and spend the night at home.

The idea of going to a movie on my own scared me somewhat. It separates you from all of the couples, the groups of friends, the groups in general. I could picture myself walking up to the counter and booking a seat for one, only to receive blank stares from the cinema goers around me. "One," I could hear them whisper, "Is she mad?" I would walk up to the snack vendor and be sneered at as I ordered a single popcorn, just big enough for one, an individual pack of smarties (because you can't have one without the other) and a solitary cold-drink. I would enter the cinema itself and find myself alone amidst couples making out on either side of me, segregated, separated and alone.

And then I remembered... this is Grahamstown.

I pitched up at the cinema and ordered my ticket. Aside from myself, the man behind the counter, the snack vendor and the ticket taker, there were exactly three other people in the room. Once I had purchased my snacks, which were gladly given as the snack vendor doesn't see much business in this town, I made my way into the cinema, only to find myself completely and utterly alone. No couples lining the aisles. Just me, all on my lonesome. As the previews began, people starting coming in in drips and drabs, but I still had the row to myself and exactly two (platonic) people in front of me. In fact, when they took their seats they were even kind enough to ask if they were getting in my way by sitting in front of me and offered to move. I didn't let them. There being other people in the cinema made it feel more like a real movie instead of a DVD at home.

And there was no more to it. My first lone movie-going experience was completed. The movie commenced, and when it was over I climbed into my car and drove home. Far from the ordeal that I was expecting. And yet, I have a feeling that when I have the option of seeing a movie alone again, I will not take it.

While the experience was far from terrible, movies to me are a social activity. One of the best parts of the movie-going experience is to sit beside a friend or loved one and make idle chitchat while you wait for the previews to start, to discuss what you think of the up and coming movies and to make inside jokes during the movie itself, exchange knowing glances and know that you both saw the sane thing at the same time that makes you giggle a little inside.

Anywho, now that is over... the next part of the review is going to be of the Roxbury/Movie-Cine cinema itself in Grahamstown. Part 3 will cover the movie itself. Be prepared.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Wreck It Ralph

I so rarely go to watch movies in Grahamstown, because the cinema here is so small and only shows 2-3 movies each week. If those movies are not ones that I enjoy, I would rather wait to watch movies that I actually want to see in the comfort of my own home. It doesn't help that Grant hates going to the cinemas either, since it usually means that if I want to watch a movie, it will have to either be with friends or on my own. But every once in a while, Movie Cine will bring in a movie that we are both dying to see, and that happened last week.

Grant and I have been waiting with bated breath to watch Wreck-It Ralph ever since we saw the trailers for the movie mid-way through last year.We are both big fans of animated movies, but this one especially appealed to us, since it was all about video games. The trailers all looked awesome, the sound track was enough to rile us up and we heard really good reviews for it when it came out in the States. So, we just needed to wait for it to come here. Which took FOREVER!! By the time it did actually come to South Africa, Grant was so excited to see it that he even agreed to come and watch it with me at the cinema.

One good thing that can be said about a small cinema is that it's really cheap compared to Ster Kinekor or Nu Metro. The tickets themselves were R15.00 each (because we went on half-price day... normally they are R30.00 each) and popcorn was only R20.00 for a large. Normally you would pay R50.00 just for the ticket, nevermind the popcorn and coke. The seating at Movie Cine is first come first sit, and we managed to find some good seats in the middle of the third row from the back without a problem. I thought that the cinema was going to be pretty dead because the movie had already been showing for a week by the time we found out about it, but there actually ended up being quite a few people there, but not enough for it to be packed and uncomfortable.

The thing that I love the most about seeing movies at a cinema is not the big screen, but actually the trailers. I am one of those weirdos who actually enjoys watching trailers and seeing what's coming out. There was also a pre-movie animated short film for Wreck-It Ralph which was called Paperboy and was really beautiful. There was no speaking throughout the short film, but it was wonderfully animated and I laughed loudly (possibly too loudly) more than once and really enjoyed it.

Once the movie itself started, I found that Wreck-It Ralph was a lot of fun. Being about video games, it brought up a whole lot of references about older games that I found really awesome, and as much as video games may be becoming outdated in favour or computer or xbox games, you didn't really get that sense too much from the movie. Sure, it was referenced to, where it was mentioned that if a game wasn't working properly they would retire it, but the arcade that the movie is based in was always full of kids, and I thought that was great and really hope that it's the case. I really enjoyed going to the arcade when I was a kid (and still do now) and hope that it's something that will stick around for a lot longer!

The animation for the movie was really good and fit very well with the arcade theme. Certain of the games were portrayed in bright, over the top colours, others in darker worlds, some in 8-bit, a lot in more detail. The storyline I also felt was great and, though Grant says that he got the twist earlier than I did, I found the twist to the movie to be a great surprise. What I also liked is that  you didn't need to know all of the game references to get the movie. I didn't know a lot of them, while Grant did, and I actually think that it made it better for me in some ways, while Grant really loved the references themselves.

Grant claims that Wreck-It Ralph is the best animated movie that he can remember seeing, while I say that it is amazing, but not the best out there. I would highly recommend it for anyone who does like animated movies though because it is great fun to watch!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gobii vs. Kindle

For my birthday two years back, my wonderful boyfriend got me one of the best gifts I could have asked for or imagined. He got me a Kindle. For a year and a half it was one of my most prized possessions. I would use it on a nightly basis and took it with me on all trips. Being small, compact, light and easy on battery, it was the perfect travel companion. But sadly, around 6 months ago, my Kindle met an unfortunate end.

So, for Christmas, that same wonderful boyfriend bought me a replacement. Only this time, he decided to go for a South African alternative and bought me the Gobii. So, having used the Gobii for a month, I thought that I would do a quick comparison between the two.

Let's start with the look. The two are of comparable size, but the Gobii is a little thicker and has a smaller screen. While the Kindle that I had was an older version with a keyboard, the Gobii only has 7 buttons on it - Menu, Font, Play/Pause, Back, Joystick/Select, Page Forward and Page Back. While this is convenient for keeping the Gobii's look clean and tidy, I did also find the keyboard on the Kindle very handy for search functionality, and it has been something that I've had to get used to.

The screen itself is very different on the Gobii. The wonder of the Kindle and the reason for it's energy efficiency is that it is entirely e-ink. This means that it uses very little power to change pages and uses no power at all while on a page, so the battery can last for months without needing to be charged. The Gobii is not e-ink. It is a normal screen, which can be damaging to your eyes if you stare at it for long enough, the same way as a computer screen would be. I have turned down the brightness of the screen to make it as easy on my eyes as possible, but in some ways I definitely prefer the Kindle screen. On the other hand, the Gobii can also be used for storing photographs and watching videos, which the Kindle could not do, and that is a very handy addition, particularly in terms of storing photographs as it would mean that I could bring it along to photography meetings and be able to have a portable digital portfolio that is a lot more convenient to carry than my laptop. The Gobii also has a colour display, which is more handy than the dull grey of Kindle.

Then you come to the support for each of the readers. The Kindle supported a number of formats including PDF and .mobi. The Gobii supports a smaller range of formats for books. Thankfully, I have got a program called Calibre which allows you to change the format of your books to support any ebook reading device, but it is a bit of a pain having to change the books before being able to put them onto the Gobii. Then you come to the Kalahari vs. Amazon debate. Gobii is supported by Kalahari where Kindle is supported by Amazon. Amazon definitely has a wider range of ebooks available and at a lower price, but they are all in dollars where the Kalahari alternatives are all in Rands. While Amazon has specials on ebooks often making them a lot cheaper, Kalahari offers more South African fiction and more payment options - cash payments, electronic transfers, credit card or any number of loyalty programmes such as eBucks and more.

Overall, I think that I prefer the Kindle because of the long lasting battery and the fact that after a year and a half, I got very used to using it. There were little things about it that I just preferred, like having page buttons on either side of the device where the Gobii only has them on one side, making lying on your right shoulder more uncomfortable in terms of turning pages. On the other hand, the Gobii is a good effort and has a number of features that the Kindle did not include. I am very happy with my Gobii and hope that I will get more used to it the longer I use it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: Boardgames

I am a huge fan of boardgames - from Scrabble and Monopoly to Balderdash and Settlers of Catan. But we do not own very many of the newer boardgames. We have Scrabble and Boggle, Monopoly and Cluedo, 30 Seconds and Taboo. But for the most part, we rely on friends to introduce us to new boardgames and go to their houses to play them. Which is why, when we came across Outer Limits Comic Store in Johannesburg, we decided to change that by buying two new boardgames that we were completely unfamiliar with.

Let me preface this by saying that boardgames are not cheap. The two games that we ended up getting cost us a lot more than we would have liked. If it were up to us, we would buy a boardgame a month, but when they cost between R500.00 and R1000.00 at a time, it is not quite so easy. The two boardgames that we bought cost us a pretty penny, but I feel that they are well worth the money that we spent for the hours of enjoyment that we will get out of them.

The first game that we bought is Pirate's Cove, and the premise behind the game is very simple - become pirate of the year by gaining the most fame in 12 months (or turns). The game itself is absolutely beautiful - the board is a map of 7 islands, the markers are ships in 5 different colours (the maximum number of players), and each person has their own ship card and wheel to allow for upgrading and navigation. The way that the game works is that each person starts off with the same attributes on their ship - a base number for sails, crew, cannons and hulls. These numbers represent the size of your ship and how fast it goes, how strong it is and how much treasure it can hold. At the start of the game, each player can upgrade components of their ship by paying the upgrade fees. This means that you can make you ship very fast, very powerful or very large to hold as much treasure as possible according to your preferences as a player. Each player then chooses a destination on their navigation wheel and all wheels are revealed at the same time. Each location will provide fame points, money, tarot cards or treasure according to the card that is represented at that time.  These rewards are changed each round. Each location will also allow a player to either buy upgrades for a particular part of the ship, bury treasure, repair or buy tarot cards to assist you later in the game. Only one person can be at an island at the same time (with the treasure and repair islands being the exception). This means that if two or more players choose to navigate themselves towards the same island, those players have to fight it out to see who stays and who goes. Winning fights gains you fame, as do some tarot cards, and burying treasure or money. Running away from fights has the potential to lose you fame with your crew. There are also pirates sailing the seas who are already pretty famous and can either make or break the hopes of a young pirate captain.

I found Pirate's Cove to be a lot of fun to play with a small group of friends. There is a maximum of five players, which means that we can invite two people over at a time to join us (if Jono intends to play along), which makes it a nice relaxing game to play when we invite one of our couple friends over for dinner. There is an aspect of luck to the game, since fighting is done by rolling dice, and we have found that some people just don't take well to dice games and have found that there is not enough skill involved. I disagree, since there are a number of ways to gain fame that do not involve fighting, and you can build yourself up to be able to avoid fights rather than build yourself as a strong fighter. But that is just my opinion. Maybe it's because I won the game the first time I played it ;) What is really nice about it is that the game is quick. There is a maximum of 12 turns and the game can never go on longer than that, which means that you will never spend 2 hours playing it, unlike the second game that we bought.

The second game that we decided to go for is one called Arkham Horror. It is a co-operative game where players work together to try and stop a monster from destroying the world. This is done by running around the city of Arkham trying to pick up clues, kill small monsters and close gates to other worlds.Each of the characters has a different backstory and a reason for wanting to save the world, which means that there can be a roleplaying aspect to the game as well. Each turn consists of 5 stages - upkeep, movement, encounter, other world encounter and mythos. Each phase happens to all of the players at once, so everyone does upkeep, everyone moves, everyone encounters during every turn. Encounters involve picking up cards that can either be to your benefit or to your detriment. Mythos phases bring the big world destroyer one step closer to waking up, and the point of the game is to either stop him from waking up altogether or defeat him once he does wake up. The game itself consists of a lot of pieces, and the board is very big (too big to fit on any of the tables that we own, so we always end up playing on the floor. We also have to keep stopping our cat from walking over the board or trying to run away with the pieces as he is wont to do. Just to try and give an idea of what I mean by a lot of little pieces, there are stamina tokens, sanity tokens, slider tokens, monster tokens, clue tokens, gate tokens, explored tokens, closed tokes, first player tokens and those are just the ones coming to mind. Those do not include the small cards for items, the larger cards for encounters and the player and monster cards. So yeah, the board is huge, but you can tell that a lot of thought and effort has been put into the creation of the game, and it goes to show.

One of the nice things about the game is that there can be up to 8 people playing at once, meaning that for us, we can invite a whole bunch of friends over to play. The trouble is that the game is very long to play and the rules are fairly complicated. So far, we have played the game twice and only finished it once. The game is supposed to take between 2 and 4 hours to play, but the time that we finished, it took us over 7 hours in total. We came very close to winning a few times, but each time we came close, a new gate would open and we would have to destroy more monsters and close the gate. The other trouble is that there is also a fair amount of dice rolling involved - when you want to sneak past a monster, when you want to fight a monster, when you pick up encounter cards and when you try to keep some of your cards (blessings, retainers and the like), you have to roll dice according to your stats, and that can be quite painful for those who feel that they are bad at throwing dice. In my mind, there is no such thing as being bad at throwing dice - you win some and you lose some, it's bound to happen - but it can be quite frustrating, which I do understand.

Overall, I am really happy with both games, and I think they add a nice variety to our dinners and social evenings. It means that if friends come over, they have a selection of games to choose from. The games themselves are absolutely beautiful and detailed and very well built, which is why they end up costing so much to produce. I would highly recommend them to anyone who enjoys boardgames and I look forward to playing a lot more of them over the next few months!!