Monday, May 31, 2004

I have been expecting a day like this. When mind and body feel just that little bit out of sync.

There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship�s smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can�t hear what you�re sayin�.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can�t explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

----- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
Monday already? For a Few Dollars More and The Ipcress File remain unwatched.

I borrowed those two DVDs thinking: "Ok, it's just two. I can handle two. I can watch two at my leisure and not rush them on Monday and Tuesday night."

Should've known better :p

I was on medical leave on Friday for my sore throat and blocked nose (flu?). Spent the afternoon at Kino with Justin, and ended up buying The Edward Said Reader after vacillating over the pricey The Emperor and the Wolf. About S$50 after the 20% discount, but can't I get it for cheaper online? Besides, the library has it. (One copy in Singapore, and on the other side of the island no less.)

In fact, can't I get all of my books for cheaper by shopping online? Sure, spending an afternoon wandering aimlessly and browsing at will has its charms. But for the perenially cash-strapped and frugal, the internet is alluring. Shipping costs can be offset somewhat by ordering in bulk and using vPost. Kinokuniya's 20% discount coupons are not quite beeswax against these virtual siren songs.

First, I need to finish The Confusion. Stephenson has the uncanny knack for weaving the technical and the esoteric into gripping adventures populated by vivid characters and wit. Finance and international trade never sounded so exciting as they do here.

Saturday? Work. Then L5R trading at PI. Then mahjong session with friends. Mahjong's a great game and I enjoy playing it so long as there's no real money involved.

Sunday? Church, nap, then my bro and his family came over.

There we go. A brief accounting of my weekend. Now if my sore throat would just go away...

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

That boy needs therapy, psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy, purely psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy
Lying down on the couch, what does that mean?
You're a nut! You're crazy in the coconut!
What does that mean? That boy needs therapy,
I'm gonna kill you, that boy needs therapy,
Ranagazoo, let's have a tune,
Now when I count three,
That... that... that.. boy.. boy needs therapy,
He was white as a sheet, and he also made false teeth

Avalanches above, business continues below,
Did I ever tell you the story about,
Cowboys! M... M.. M.. Midgets and indians and... Fron.. Frontier Psychiatrist,
I... I felt strangely hypnotised,
I was in another world, a world of 20,000 girls,
And milk! Rectangles, to an optometrist! The man with the golden eyeball,
And tighten your buttocks, pour juice on your chin,
I promised my girlfriend... a violin

-- The Avalanches, Frontier Psychiatrist
Out of the 4 I borrowed last week, I only managed to watch two. Fellini's 8 1/2 and Danny and Oxide Pang's Bangkok Dangerous. Much has already been written about the former. All I will add is that I enjoyed the fusion of fantasy and memory immensely.

(I will bite off a more manageable chunk next time. 2 DVDs?)

Bangkok Dangerous is a good debut, although I don't care much for the Pang Brothers' constant use of cuts to speed up the movie. Prepare yourself for a very shaky camera, and the most straightforward of plots with equally simple characters. Which isn't too bad with me so long as it's told well. The Pang brothers' no-frills treatment of violence is refreshing. Death straight up and undiluted; people die and hitmen run like mad. There is nothing cool about this underworld.

The problem is, it's been done before. For all the Pang brothers' stop-motion, quick filter changes and other camera tricks, their movie just isn't exceptional in any way, like a competent cafeteria cook.

The soundtrack was horrible though. Mostly limp techno, and the final piece did not sound appropriate at all.

The use of different film media within the movie itself is an interesting touch. For instance Kong's childhood looks like it was shot in grainy overexposed Super 8, like an old home video. But sometimes the effect obscures, as in Kong's final assassination which is nearly impossible to decipher due to the intense graininess.

In all not a bad flick, not as pretentious as some of the stuff we're seeing out of HK (e.g. Blood Brothers). And Premsinee Ratanasopha (Fon) is such cute eye candy ^_^

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Bhutan's stunning mountainous landscape and straightforward characterisation are the main selling points of Travellers and Magicians. The landscape is simply spectacular. The cast, mostly first-timers, give refreshingly believable performances. Director Khyentse (pron. KINT-say) Norbu has a fine visual sense (for instance, the scene where Deki peeks out at Tashi from behind lush blue cloth) and his script is simple without being inane, if a bit slow-paced. Depending on how much patience you have, your interest may flag quickly.

If there's a moral to this fable (and it's tempting to extract one since Norbu is supposed to be the third reincarnation of a Lama), it's simply to not take what you have for granted. Then again if I were the government official in the film, well-respected by all, with job security and the distinct possibility of marrying a cute, gentle wife, I wouldn't be going to America either. But maybe that's just me.

Monday, May 24, 2004

I liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the clever script and the visuals. My heart has a soft sympathetic spot for goofy, maladjusted individuals trying to get by. Moreover, the literal disintegration of memories was a joy to watch, together with the visual representation of a mental landscape where geographical distance and physical presence have no meaning.

Justin appears to hate the movie (and Kaufman) for its narcissism. After all, Joel isn't really speaking to Clementine in his memories. He's actually interacting with his idea of Clementine.

(This of course begs the question of what relationships really consist of -- do we really fall in love with people? Or ideas of people?)

So Joel is essentially playing with his own mind, and this does follows Kaufman's tendency towards obsessive / narcissistic scripts where the audience endures his (or a character's) navel-gazing. The worst culprit is of course, Adaptation.

The fact that Joel is essentially messing within the confines of his head on a solo adventure reveals some major plotholes and a deus ex machina. The role of Patrick is there specifically to trigger Joel's resistance. And how did Joel know where to go at the end? If his memories of Clementine were all wiped out, you would have to conclude that there must have been something beyond memory that egged him on to go. I suppose you could attribute that to some concept of the Subconscious or Unconscious (and indeed Mary's and Clementine's behaviour indicate that love is more than memories, coincidence and conscious choice).

So is love hardwired in us somehow? Or predetermined? Eternal Sunshine seems to indicate through well-paced clever visuals, quirky characters and good dialogue that there is some innate element to attraction beyond the conscious. Depending on your outlook on life specifically your opinion of love, this is either depressing, uplifting or trivial.

In all, Eternal Sunshine is a clever film. Interesting and funny with bubbly performances from all. Justin calls it "psychotherapy for the masses". At S$8.50, it's a cheap but engaging thrill.

btw, Lacuna, Inc
Weekend movie report:

Travellers Eternal and Sunshine of the Magicians Spotless Mind

Saturday, May 22, 2004

If you didn't know already, the "thousand ships" reference is not from the Iliad at all, but from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Basically Faustus meets Helen, who ended up in Hell, and he says:

Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships /
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Mmm. Iambic pentameter rolls so nicely off the tongue.
Watched Troy yesterday with my bro. I was reluctant to do so, but there wasn't an evening screening for Van Helsing at that cinema. Not that I thought the latter was any better than the former. Van Helsing is just shorter and less pretentious in a Marvel vs. Capcom kind of way. But it's always been Wolverine vs. the whole frigging world anyhow :p

The only things I enjoyed in the entire film (seeing as I'm a heterosexual male and hence do not lust after well-built, half-naked men in skirts) were:

1) The balls of fire scene. Very cool concept.

2) The Hector vs. Achilles duel. Excellent forms and choreography. The sequence appeared to have been inspired by 70's and 80's kungfu flicks. Elements like Eric Bana's exaggerated fatigue and Brad Pitt's pauses while in stance and trapping moves. And the end of the fight comes abruptly after a blurred flurry of strokes. If you still fail to get the idea, the background music for the duel comprises solely drumbeats a la Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi's night fight in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

3) Some nicely composed shots e.g. Achilles against a soft morning sky, with the smouldering pyre dominating the screen.

Things I found curious:

1) Characterisations. Achilles as uber-soldier with the EQ of a 5 year-old. Agamemnon as slimy politician.

2) Why can't Eric Bana inflect?

3) Why did the scriptwriters create such a flimsy premise for the wooden horse? Odysseus, brilliant strategist and cunning fox that he's supposed to be, gets inspired by a soldier who's whittling a toy horse from his kid. (That was when we walked out, by the way. Out of all the characters in the Iliad, I'd always liked Odysseus the best.)

4) James Horner seems to have run out of ideas for his music. For Troy, he seems to have dipped liberally into Shostakovich's 5th Symphony at least (I've heard Stargate and Star Trek II as well, but will need to confirm that), and apparently hired the same singer who ululated in Gladiator.

I'm not gonna spend more time stringing together whole sentences for this underwhelming effort. Slow-paced, with bland dialogue peppered with throwaway lines that I will use with heavy irony in social situations for hilarity. At least the script is internally consistent (e.g. we see Lego -- umm... Paris training his archery skills early on. Guess how Achilles dies?). The constant references to the plight of the common soldier and his family do add a little more depth and variety to the dialogue. Then again this pretty but emasculated Iliad needs all the help it can get.

Where are the good movies? Is there no-one else? Is there no-one else?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Added Errant Story to the side menu. Poe's pretty talented, and he's clearly improved since Exploitation Now ^_^;;; Like having a real plot, for instance.
If you were to look at the disaster area my desk has become, you will notice 4 DVDs, all bearing labels indicating that they are the property of the National Library Board. These borrowed materials are the happy consequence of the upgrading of my membership to the exalted rank of Premium (S$21 including GST). It's a great way to raise funds, and one of the ways in which our public library system has been shaken up (mostly for the better) in the last 5-6 years.

Unfortunately I will not be able to watch 8 1/2, M, The Graduate and Bangkok Dangerous all within 7 days (with no renewal of loans). Not with all the other things I should be doing. Like paperwork for interviews later this year. Like watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and other good recent releases. Like playing with the well-used 2.0 megapixel digicam that Amanda wants to sell me for cheap. Like listening to music. Like sleeping more than 4 hours a night.

I am saturated with possibilities. That makes it more difficult to choose. I have nothing to complain about. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Caught Blood Brothers (Jiang Hu) last night with Justin at the SFS core screening. Now for my take on Infernal Affairs: The Alternate Universe.

It's an oft-hackneyed theme in slick packaging. No grittiness, no blood and gore (very odd to see parangs and knives remain shiny while people are slashing with them. Did the director run out of money for fake blood? Either that or teflon-coated steel.). Instead, if this were your first movie about HK triads, you'd think that every gangster had smooth baby-bum complexions when young and dress in a combination of expensive clothes and accessories without any modicum of fashion sense.

Whatever. The vets more or less perform as expected, but only Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung get things to do. Edison Chan and Shawn Yue still cannot act their way out of a meadow.

But that's assuming that you haven't been disoriented by all the camera changes, rapid cuts and visual tricks that director Wong Ching Po throws around. Blood Brothers is damn pretty. There's no doubt about it. If you want to study lighting, costuming and composition, you can't go very far wrong with this.

I hesitate to call it style though. That sounds like the director actually knew what he was doing other than throwing lots of disparate elements together.

Well, actually, maybe there was some kind of consistency. Mostly low shots, rapid cuts and slow-mo overkill.

What's with all the slow-mo? Any cinematic excuse for slow-mo, no matter how cliched, is in this film. Smoking a cigarette? Slow-mo. Cocking an automatic? Slow-mo. Stepping outside? Slow-mo. Fighting and getting slashed? Slow-mo. Big fight at the end? Slow-mo slow-mo slow-mo slow-mo slow-mo. I'm surprised he didn't shoot someone peeing in slow-mo.

Some call that style. It looks to me like a cover-up for lousy storytelling.

Plotwise the film is predictable in its set-pieces. No surprises there even though the director tries his darndest to confuse the audience at the beginning with rapid cuts back and forth across the conversations of 3 sub-bosses. So-so execution of the twist at the end. And if you didn't understand the temporal shift by the climactic (and incredibly cliched) fight scene, the director rams it down your throat through two lengthy sequences after that. Y'know, for all those viewers with IQs below 100.

The pacing was actually quite good up till the part where Yik goes back to look for Yoyo. After that the movie starts to drag considerably. The robbery sequence has a nice dreamlike touch, but it boggles the imagination that so many moneychangers would remain open so late into the night. A few Wong Kar Wai touches -- the 60's style ballad and the shot of Yoyo leaving the hotel room. Otherwise, Blood Brothers is a mishmash of techniques, more MTV special than thriller.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Heard an ad for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on the radio this morning, and consequently ELO's Mr Blue Sky was stuck. in. my. head all the way till after lunch.

I'm genuinely looking forward to this movie. Adaptation was a blast, and I wish I'd caught Being John Malkovich on the big screen. The world could do with more writers like Charlie (and Donald, bless 'is soul) Kaufman.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I gave in and bought Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle. This time I went for the US hardcover version over the UK trade paperback. The warm coppery dust jacket of the former appealed to me far more than the UK version, and Borders was selling both at the same price. Moreover, I think hardcovers stand a better chance of not deteriorating in the hands of my older brother :p

I realise that when placed back-to-back, Books 1 and 2 will not match since my copy of Quicksilver hails from England. I figure I will try to look for the US hardcover of Quicksilver sometime. The dust jacket for that is rather attractive too, done up in gunmetal. The only reason why I got the UK one is because the US ones were sold out at the time.

And when I find it, I will have an excuse to read it all over again.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

It costs far too much to drink alcohol here.

HMV's having a sale. Picked up The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Better late than never I guess! And under the benevolent influence of Vaya), a budget DVD of Kurosawa Akira's brilliant epic The Seven Samurai and a similarly no-frills VCD of the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou. The bill came to about S$30 altogether -- which was how much I spent drinking with some friends later in the evening, after a dinner to celebrate a birthday.

Alcohol costs far too much here. I'd rather have good movies and music.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Gnocchi Seauton! #63

Your score was 92. Very quirkyalone:
Relatives may give you quizzical looks, and so may friends, but you know in your heart of hearts that you are following your inner voice. Though you may not be romancing a single person, you are romancing the world. Celebrate your freedom on National Quirkyalone Day, February 14th!

How quirkyalone are you?
Got no time for some of your fave horror classics?

The Exorcist in 30 Seconds with Bunnies

The Shining in 30 Seconds with Bunnies

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I passed a neighbourhood electrical appliance shop on my way home last night, and playing over the speakers was some crappy Eurobeat remix of the Ending Theme from Vandal Hearts.

This turn-based strategy game for the Playstation was quite good, and the Ending Theme (the Opening Theme is a variation on the Ending) is unique. It's sung in a Slavic language (Serbian? Croatian? Whatever it is they speak in Yugoslavia :p) with bits of French in it. A lilting, haunting melody that tugs at the senses despite the unintelligibility of the lyrics.

The lousy techno in the remix ruined the song completely.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Yikes! I don't blog for a weekend, and I come back to a redesigned Blogger that looks like a preschool textbook.

I still suck at L5R :p I will probably stop playing after Kotei on 19 June, and spend my time on money on more fulfilling pursuits -- like photography or film. Or a new digicam, or thumbdrive/MP3 player -- you get the idea.

And if anyone -- anyone! -- can tell me where to find a copy of The Avalanches Since I Left You here please let me know? :(

Friday, May 07, 2004

In daylights,
In sunsets,
In midnights,
In cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

525600 minutes to ORD!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

I arrived back in Singapore on Monday. Since then, I've been busy and have been surviving on about 4 hours of sleep since Monday.

Don't feel like blogging at all.

Oh yes -- welcome home Justin. Now I want to travel some more :/

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Last blog before I head up to KL for the weekend.

Finished Oryx and Crake. The road to Hell is paved with corporate intentions and personal tragedy.

My final films of this year's Film Fest:

City Bus: Fun.

High Noon in Jakarta: Interesting look at Abdurrahman Wahid's standoff with Wiranto early in the former's presidency. Hindsight adds layers of pathos onto the events depicted. As everyone knows, Gus Dur was effectively ousted (though he still remains a popular leader in the NU) and Wiranto stands an excellent chance of becoming the next President of Indonesia -- the exact inverse of the odds of him ever being hauled in front of a human rights abuses tribunal.

Zombie Dog: Directed by outspoken and eccentric S'porean film critic Toh Hai Leong, this is supposed to be a mockumentary about the making of a splatterhouse film by Toh. A better attempt than Djinn's Perth, but too many Eric Khoo influences and the film appears to be all about Toh's personal neuroses. The script is by and large darkly funny, but sometimes the self-referential irony gets too repetitive and cumbersome. Nice try, but no cigar.

See y'all later.