Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Chang Mai, Chang Rai and Chang Klong

We had a late departure this morning, so breakfast was leisurely. Most of the day was taken up with driving, though we did have time to stop at Chang Rai for lunch and a snoop around the very new, very white Buddhist temple. Rebecca seemed to think an American had a hand in its construction and it is very different. Completely white with inlaid fragments of mirror, it glitters like the house in 'Dr Zhivago'. In fact that was the first impression that came to mind and very apt considering that the director,David Lean,had a Spanish landscape sprayed white to mimic a Russian winter scene. At the entrance a mass of hands, some with eyes or faces on their palms, reach up from the ground. The visitor crosses a bridge to pass this strange sculptures. Inside it is stranger still with a standard three-fold Buddha on one wall and a bizarre sci-fi infused painting on the other. Still a work in progress, this strange painting combines ancient Asian demons with images of the Twin Towers, 'Star Wars' and 'The Matrix' (Neo stands astride some demon's shoulder). Bizarre.

I think I should take the opportunity now to describe our group. Our tour leader, Charles, is a shaven headed Aussie, once a financial analyst, but who fell in love with this neck of the woods on a charity bike ride through Vietnam and Cambodia. There is Phil and Helen, a married couple of a year. Phil, a project manager for a web company, chucked in his job, when Helen, a project manager in Switzerland (though she is from Newcastle), was made redundant. They decided to get married and travel the world. Then there is Sabrina, an English Asian girl; Rebecca, an English law firm worker; Zooey and Helen, a pair of hotel and catering students, newly finished; Annabel from New Zealand; Sarah, in IT, I believe, from England; Young, a Canadian accounts manager, who was born in Laos, but has never been back (apparently there is bad blood between her family and those still there after the Laos clan stole their house); and Sian, English, but with Welsh family, I think (also some Irish; the Blaineys).

Before leaving Bangkok, I finished the Silverberg novel and, as I suspected, it was the best work of his I have yet read. Not too much to the story, but then it was more character driven and as such was a well-written account of the protagonist, David Selig. Driving today then, I got a good start (I am over halfway through) on the Philip K.Dick novel, 'Time Out of Joint'. Similar in many ways to a lot of his other work, it is also very close in part of its central concept (or I suspect it will be) to 'The Truman Show' (though it predates that movie by 40 years or so). Having said that it also reminds me of a James Garner movie I saw as a kid called '36 Hours' (again I am anticipating the solution to the mystery as nothing has yet been revealed). Great fun though. After a deceptively mundane opening, it really gets you enthralled, with a nice quintet of central characters, and a lovely sense of all is not what it seems. I won't make any huge claims as, despite its many philosphical references, this is no 'A Scanner Darkly'. It is, however, very well crafted and shows up something like Matheson's similarly themed '7 Steps to Midnight' for the sloppy work it is.

Anyhow we are now in Chang Klong. Our hotel, all teak wood flooring and faulty mosquito screens, is right beside the mighty Mekong. And it is mighty. Children play in its waters, while across its breadth, Laos faces us. At the hotel entrance a small chained monkey scampers back and forth pathetically. I swear I saw it licking its own urine experimentally. Poor thing must be so bored. Apart from this little pocket of distress, the sun is golden, the atmosphere is calm, and we are all very happy. And we have a banquet in 2 hours time.

By the way, I just noticed the Oscars are on tomorrow. What are they?

Actually it's good to see 'Little Miss Sunshine' get attention (though best movie, I don't think so, and 'The Queen', fun though it is, is just filler in this category). Come on 'El Laberinto del Fauno' for Best Foreign Film, certainly the best foreign movie and in all honesty probably the best film nominated full stop. It is better than 'The Departed' for instance, which probably should get Best Picture, of those nominated. Best Actor, give it to Forrest Whittaker (even if his really is a supporting role), though it would be good to see Peter O'Toole honoured (I haven't seen 'Venus'). Best Actress, I haven't seen enough to comment really, but Helen Mirren does a great job and deserves it. Best Supporting Actor is tough; I'd love to see Alan Arkin get it (because he's brilliant), but Djimon Hounsou is impressive in 'Blood Diamond'. I suspect Eddie Murphy impresses in 'Dreamgirls' too, while Wahlberg does a standard supporting role creditably (Hounsou in contrast is practically the protagonist of 'Blood Diamond' and is certainly its soul). Best Supporting Actress is another really tough one, though Rinko Kikuchi is as raw as an actress can be in 'Babel'. And for Director? It's not a matter of whether 'The Departed' is his best work or not - it's solid, and the best job of those nominated - but if Scorsese is ignored again, the world will spin out of orbit and into the sun. Do not destroy life as we know it, Academy, give him the bloody Oscar!

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