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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pitt's coming of age

By Lawrie Masterson

BRAD Pitt is the first to concede his life can be chaotic. He and partner Angelina Jolie have busy careers. Both are heavily involved in humanitarian issues and then there's that tribe of children.

But in the next breath, Pitt readily admits he and Jolie, 33, are keen on the idea of adding to their family.

And he doesn't seem troubled about how they might find the time.

"We have our ways," Pitt says with a smile.

"There are some dry spells. There are a few moments in the desert, but mum and dad can get very creative."

For the record, this was the roll call at the Pitt-Jolie breakfast table last time we checked -- Maddox, 7, (adopted from Cambodia), Pax, 5, (adopted from Vietnam), Zahara, 3, (adopted from Ethiopia) and biological children Shiloh, 2, (born in Namibia) and six-month-old twins, Knox and Vivienne (born in France).

"It is chaos at moments, but there's such joy in the house," Pitt says.

"I look down and there's our boy from Vietnam and our daughter from Ethiopia and our girl born in Namibia and our son from Cambodia and they are brothers and sisters, man.

"It's such a sight of elation and, given our jobs, we have the capability to provide a home. But, let me tell you, it's selfish, too, because the rewards have been extraordinary."

Pitt says the safety of his family is "the only thing that keeps me up at night" -- that and having to pitch in on the nappy-changing duties.

"Sure, there's the janitorial aspect of it all, but it's the worry, because they just mean so much to me."

The whole question of mortality and the joys and sadness that come with love and family have weighed more heavily on Pitt lately as he has absorbed the experience of making The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his third film with director David Fincher and a hot Oscar favourite.

Adapted by screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, 1994) from a 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backwards.

As the people most important in his life -- such as his adoptive mother, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), and his greatest love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), -- reach middle and old age, Benjamin "progresses" towards childhood.

"When we began this, David was already dealing with the death of his father and Eric had to deal with the death of his mother," Pitt, 45 last Thursday, says.

"About a month into shooting, Angie's mother passed away, so this whole idea of mortality and the family being finite and the individual being finite was first and foremost.

'T HE thing I walked away with was that time is short. I don't know if I have a day or if I have 10 days or 10 years or 40 years. Am I half way or close to the end?

"I don't know, so I've got to make sure I don't waste any of those moments on any kind of pettiness or bitterness or laziness and that I surround myself with what's most important to me and the people most important to me.

"I had a friend who worked at a hospice and he said people in their last moments do not discuss their successes, their awards, what book they wrote or what they accomplished.

"They only talk about their loves and their regrets and I think that's very telling."

Director Fincher and his team used groundbreaking computer-generated effects to transpose Pitt's heavily made-up face on to the bodies of older and sometimes much smaller actors for various scenes in the film, which clocks in at almost three hours.

"Fincher described it as me getting to drive the performance with the technology," Pitt says.

"I spent a couple of days just making faces I'd be embarrassed to show anybody else and they mapped every muscle contortion into the computer.

"I said I would never do a film with prosthetics and then what does Fincher bring me? A film with prosthetics and I can't say no to him.

"The make-up guys will tell you they got it down to 2 1/2 hours, but they're full of s---. The best we did was 4 1/2 hours. The first day I think it was, like, six hours."

A bonus for Pitt was that much of the film was shot in New Orleans, where he has been working on a project to build 150 affordable, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly homes for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but that is not how he refers to the disaster that almost washed the city off the map in August 2005.

"I call it levee failure," he says.

"There's a misconception it was an act of God that happened down there, but it wasn't. It was man-made failure.

"We first wanted to be a catalyst to help people return, but we also saw this opportunity to be a proving ground for high-performance buildings, for a greener approach.

"When I left recently, the (power) meters were running backwards. Suddenly this is the greenest, most advanced neighbourhood in the US, so there's a template there that needs to be standardised and replicated because it works. There's no reason why some of this shouldn't work in Haiti or across Asia.

"There's something at play here that I think is bigger than just the starting point."

Pitt is working on his next movie, Quentin Tarantino's World War II film Inglourious Basterds which he describes as "outrageous, the World War II film to end all World War II films. I don't know how they do another one after this".

Pitt has not wanted to be separated from his brood, so they have travelled together between Germany, where the movie is shooting, the US and France, where they have set up another home.

"I've been dragging them back and forth from continent to continent, so I'm going to have to give them a break pretty soon," he says.

T HE new home in Nice is high on their list because, as the father of the family dubbed "most wanted" by the world's paparazzi says, the locals pay them hardly any attention.

"We were looking for a place where our kids could run free and not be hassled and there's a good relationship between us and the area," he says.

"We find it a good base for the family."

Pitt's command of the French language, however, still leaves much to be desired.

"I am in ecole (school)," he says. "But my seven-year-old rips it. He's fantastic. It's really humiliating, but we're very proud of him."

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opens on Friday.
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One Laptop Per Child a Solar Movement

No electricity? No problem. The One Laptop Per Child project has solar-powered laptops for kids in the most remote corners of the world

By Andy Patrizio

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program has suffered the occasional bumps in the road due to squabbling here in the U.S., but now that it's finally out and being deployed, the program is seeing success in the most remote parts of the world.

Usually, the OLPC XO laptop requires a power outlet, but the OLPC organization also has been shipping solar-powered laptops for some of the most remote, rural and poorest locations.

According to the group, more than 500,000 Internet-capable, solar-powered laptops have been distributed to children in places like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Nepal. These children learn, play, program, and have access to thousands of books in their language, as well as millions on the Internet.

OLPC restarted its Give One, Get One (G1G1) program last month, the second time for the program. Last year's effort supported the production of over 150,000 XOs. This year the XO laptops will be shipped to donors through Amazon.com.

Like last year's program, donors can give $199 to give a laptop to a child in the developing world and/or give $399 to give a laptop to a child in the developing world and get a laptop for themselves.

OLPC is making its pitch with two new videos on YouTube; the rather disturbing Skills video, and the more uplifting Zimi's Story, in which an African girl thanks her unknown benefactor for her laptop.

Thus far the deployments seem to be going well, at least on the recipient side. The blog maintained by people in the field handing out these laptops reported on its most recent deployment in impoverished Nepal, where 135 laptops were given out to students. None were stolen or lost, but one was seriously damaged when the child who owned it cleaned it carefully with soap and water.

Clearly the proper care and maintenance of electronics needs to be added to OLPC training classes. But the quality of the laptops is dubious, if this deployment is any indication. Of the 135, eight had a bad motherboard, five had bad microphones, and four had bad keyboards.

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