Sunday, January 25, 2004

Watched The Last Samurai on Fri night. Standard Hollywood fare; albeit very pretty Hollywood fare. Gorgeous panoramas of lush mountain slopes and cloud-filled skies. Rousing mass battles. 2-D villains and an emperor that�s only � more. Cool, heroic heroes in a rose-tinted conception of pre-industrial Japan � the one that too many Americans think Japanese culture should have been like.

I liked the camerawork and the high level of detail on the armour and costumes. The ninja attack on the village was excellently done imho. Of course, the heroes could not die halfway through the movie, but the ninja were silent, swift, deadly and coordinated.

Irreversible, on Sat evening, was completely different from the Oscar-grist above. Certainly more thought provoking and disturbing. The reverse narrative brings to mind the well-crafted Memento, but Irreversible has no mystery, no suspense. Instead it throws violence in your face for the first half, with the infamous rape in real-time scene becoming the frame of reference for the rest of the movie. The second half milks irony a little too much (for instance, Alex dreams the night before the rape that she�s walking in a red tunnel and it breaks in half. Her rape occurred in a red underpass), but provides valuable background and a glimpse into the sexual undercurrents just under the ties between Alex, her ex-lover Pierre and her present squeeze Marcus. These ties are placed under much scrutiny after we have seen what happens shortly after, especially with regards to the connections between violence, sex, and the objectification of women.

It�s not that Irreversible has a moral message. On the contrary, there is no room for morals � not in that urban hell that ticks along a linear progression. As the ex-con at the beginning of the movie (which is really the linear, eventual end) claims, "Time destroys everything."

Friday, January 23, 2004

The 3rd season of American Idol has made it to our shores. I have never seen an episode before last night's premiere, and I have to admit that I was immensely tickled by what I did see.

Imho, the judges (Paula Abdul looks even better now than when she was singing "Hush Hush"!) all carried themselves professionally, and I fail to see what the big fuss about Simon Cowell is all about. He was harsh, true, but not unjustifiably so. At no time did he utter a personal insult, in that clipped British accent, against any hopeful. Those who received his barbs deserved them. Perhaps he gets worse later on, but I suspect that his infamy is mostly media hype. Silly Americans.

What truly amused me was the seriousness with which many of the contestants entered the auditions. This resulted in lots of bad-tempered antics when they were told that they hadn't made it. Aside from poor self-knowledge and ego issues (one lamented that she had lost 80 pounds just for that audition), many also tried to do funny things with their voices and bodies when all the judges wanted were straight-up, no-nonsense, good singing. Indeed, one of the successful contestants was a 16-year old who did a good Dean Martin impression and when he didn't, had a Michael Buble-ish voice. There you go -- no fancy runs, no scat singing, no wiggling or contrived dance routines. Just good-ol' fashioned singing with good pitch and the ability to hold a tune.

Now if only the rest of the music industry were as discerning.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Peter Hall writes about Directing Harold Pinter's Plays.

...These three signs in the text all indicate moments of turbulence and crisis--the Three Dots, the Pause and the Silence. By their use, the unsaid becomes sometimes more terrifying and more eloquent than the said. Pinter actually writes silence, and he appropriates it as a part of his dialogue. The actor who has not decided what is going on in this gap will find that his emotional life is disrupted. The pause is as eloquent as speech and must be truthfully filled with intention if the audience is to understand. Otherwise the actor produces a non sequitur, which is absurd and makes the character ridiculous...
Am reading Joseph Heller's Closing Time:

Another prick in the White House? It would not be the first time. Another oil tanker had broken up. There was radiation. Garbage. Pesticides, toxic waste, and free enterprise. There were enemies of abortion who wished to inflict the death penalty on everyone who was not pro-life. There was mediocrity in government, and self-interest too. There was trouble in Israel. These were not mere delusions. He was not making them up. Soon they would be cloning human embryos for sale, fun, and replacement parts. Men earned millions producing nothing more substantial than changes in ownership. The cold war was over and there was still no peace on earth. Nothing made sense and neither did everything else. People did things without knowing why and then tried to find out.

I love Catch-22. Heller managed to capture the real absurdity of how people become enslaved to invisible systems, distant bureaucracies and obscure instructions. Organisations that were set up to serve people suddenly become winding traps for the unwary or more accurately, the unthinking.

Closing Time is just as wicked, if not better. It's amazing how much of it is still relevant, considering that it's almost 10 years old.

Monday, January 19, 2004

On Sunday I attended a writing workshop conducted by local poet Felix Cheong, as part of this year�s inaugural Wordfeast. Our first ever international poetry festival, if the promo materials are to be believed.

The workshop wasn�t very substantial, but at only 2 hours I wasn�t expecting anything beyond some photocopied handouts and sketches of what it truly takes to be a writer. To be honest, what really lured me all the way to Bedok Community Library where I paid $5, was the bit in the description of the event that talked about �the practicalities of being a writer.� At heart I suppose I am still a pragmatist.

Most of Cheong�s examples were from poetry, since he is a poet, but his attempts to distill some guidelines and principles were general enough to be useful to anyone who is seriously considering writing as more than a hobby � if not as a career. With regards to technique, it was Literary Devices 101. More substantial, for me and I suspect for most of those who attended as well, was his advice on discipline and purpose. Those are what separate those who write from the writers. The guidelines are simple things, short lines of text on a page. Everyone knows that the simplest things are the hardest to accomplish.


I�ve been thinking about why I write. Most recently I wrote a favorable review for School of Rock and Paycheck. I realised, after some pointed questions from Amanda, that I was writing to impress and to be published. When it comes to things like that, I admit that I like to show off sarcasm and attempt wit for their own sake.

Of course, there�s nothing wrong with that. In fact wit and sarcasm are quite well recognised and rewarded. There is nothing to be ashamed when you can poke fun at someone and get him/her to laugh along with everyone else too.

The problem with such writing though, in my humble opinion anyway, is that it tends to to become too clever by half. The result is that the writing loses emotion and depth. Pare away the witty repartee and suddenly you have a skeleton. Hello Yorick! Such a silly, stupid grin.

It�s not that I don�t appreciate beauty � I just can�t find the words to hold all I want to say. Even that last sentence sounded hollow. It�s like fitting square pegs in round holes, but while blindfolded so you don�t even know where the pegs and holes are to begin with.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Singapore Short Cuts is a series of screenings of digital short films taking place at the Singapore History Museum. I really wanted to get tickets to this month's screening on Saturday, but the free tickets were snapped up faster than the raw oysters at a buffet in Singapore. If I want tickets to the other events -- one every month till June at least -- I'll have to engage in some mad rush a week before each screening. I blame the tiny size of the SHM theatre (193 only?!?). It's just not big enough for all the people here who are clearly interested in local short films!!!

Monday, January 12, 2004

So You Want To Learn Japanese
Friday evening found me in the audience at luna_id's staging of a Harold Pinter doublebill. Namely, The Lover and The Dumb Waiter. I was expecting a more engaging performance. But even without the annoying Caucasians behind us who kept whispering the obvious (What are they doing? -- They're roleplaying -- Ohhhhh, roleplaying (titter) ) the whole thing was a bit of a letdown. Technically it was excellent. I liked the innovative set design, heavy on wooden grilles for some nifty lighting effects. Heavyweights Tan Kheng Hua, Lim Yu Beng (they're a real-life married couple btw) and Gerald Chew provided competent acting, as expected.

Unfortunately, the performances were kind of flat with The Dumb Waiter lacking more. Any effect on the audience came not from the delivery but from Pinter's writing. If you had known what a Pinteresque silence was and were looking for those that evening, you would have only found the ubiquitous poor cousins -- your run-of-the-mill pauses and silences that mostly indicate time passing. The British accents felt forced as well.

I believe Justin has more to say about this and with far more eloquence. For him, the performance was indicative of the state of Singapore society and theatre. After listening to him, and talking to Amanda on Sunday, I've come to a much better understanding of the relationship between a society and its drama, with the various consequences that particular relationship implies. Sounds vague, I suppose, but if I had it all worked out already I would be a far better person than I am right now.

Spent my Sunday afternoon rummaging through CDs at Zouk's Flea n Easy. This is a monthly flea market held inside the well-known club, and thus attracts a certain sort of seller and buyer. Lots of clubwear and street fashion stuff (mostly for women I might add), CDs, movie videotapes, magazines. I was pleased to find Fantastic Plastic Machine stuff, and I'm still a little sore at missing out on a promo t-shirt for a Blur album. Michelle and her friend joined me, but the place was swelled to almost full capacity (TIP: Go early!!!) and we were looking for completely different things so not much chance to interact.

Best of all, watched the excellent Good Bye Lenin! in the evening. More on that later.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Finished Quicksilver. Whew!

Book 3 is where everything moves along after the build up in Books 1 and 2. So if you're plodding through the latter books don't give up! :)

Have to wait for a while for The Confusion, but April's really not that far away.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Finished Book 2 of Quicksilver last night. This section moved along at a much faster pace than Book 1, and was peppered with far more of Stephenson's idiosyncratic wit.

I still can't believe I actually paid to watch Paycheck in a cinema on Sunday. In mitigation, it was a purely last-minute decision. Probably influenced by my disappointment at not being able to get seats for Goodbye Lenin! for the second weekend in a row. Ugh. Unless you're a Ben Affleck fan, don't watch it. And even then you can wait till it's available for rental.

Monday, January 05, 2004

I've been on leave since the 1st, and catching the feeder service this morning made me appreciate the fact that the bus comes around every 2 or 3 minutes. During the holidays such frequency seemed excessive, but since schools have reopened even this seems insufficient to deal with the teeming uniformed masses.

Self-packed sardines
White or yellow cans on wheels
School's started again

Friday, January 02, 2004

I finished reading Dance Dance Dance early this morning. It's the most intense and depressing of Murakami's stuff I've read so far. I'd like to go back to Quicksilver, but the gulf between Murakami and Stephenson is simply too wide... actually I can't imagine reading any other book for now.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Spent New Year's Eve at Jazz@South Bridge, where Okazaki Yoshiro was performing.

Jazz@South Bridge is quite cosy and tastefully decorated. It's more conducive to chillin' rather than performances. That's what it is -- a cosy hang-out place with class. So there we were in our spot against the wall with the plush comfy cushions -- Justin, Kong Jie, Debra, Yin Loon and I. Chatting and snacking and sipping our champagne (included in the cover just for that night) and listening to some excellent live jazz.

Justin and I traded snide remarks about the couple who'd planted themselves right smack in front of us, blocking our view. From the way they behaved, jazz was pretty far from their minds.