Sunday, October 18, 2009

Growing Up Adults

This from The Guardian today.


Perhaps it is Western parents, in particular American parents, who take issue with the "darkness" of children's tales. Why do we feel the need to shield children from reality to the extent that the things suitable for their age are excluded as well?

I agree with the movie's writer Dave Eggers:

"There is a whitewashed, idealised version of childhood that is popular in movies. It has the kids sitting neatly in their chairs, talking with some adult, in a sarcastic, overly sophisticated but polite way – a concoction that bears no resemblance to an actual kid."

I always like to take, as an example, one of the greatest children's tales by master storyteller Miyazaki Hayao - My Neighbour Totoro. Here within the story are two instances of fear - a crumbling old house with a dark upstairs full of clandestine creatures scurrying around, and a mother who may be dying. One is the fear of the unknown, surely a trait we carry with us into adulthood. The other is the fear of loss, another universal and timeless feature. I think the more important detail is always to provide the child with a sense of hope, even when things may seem hopeless. Such as the cob of corn at the end of Totoro, the metaphorical link to an endless future.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Byte-Size Critiques

This is the Age Of Lazy. We want our information quick and easy. It used to be that we go to the library if we want to look up something. But thanks to the Internet, the purveyor of laziness, everything's just a click away. No, mailing a handwritten letter takes just too much time. An email takes just seconds. An encyclopaedia is just too bulky, and we'd have to get up off our asses to get it off the shelf. No, Wikipedia is so much more convenient, no matter that the information there may not be 100% accurate.


And that's the entire history and analysis of Rotten Tomatoes (and to a certain extent, IMDB), why it's so popular especially among pop culture enthusiasts. No one wants to read long, carefully written, painstakingly thought-out critiques anymore. They just want to know, how many percent is it on the Tomatometer?

Don't give us the details; just show us the general consensus.

And you wonder why film criticism is dead.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Living Young

A string of diappointments, after the excellent Toy Story 1 and 2. American animated films, in general, are overly talky, eschewing the importance and beauty of silence. When animated films in other languages - My Neighbour Totoro, for instance - are dubbed for Stateside, extra dialogue is added into scenes originally silent. Wall-E came close to finally silencing the noise, at least in its first half. The terribly overrated Ratatouille was unbearable in its sonic assault.

But Up is a different breed altogether.

This time, Pixar has displayed incredible restraint, letting crucial scenes play out in silence, allowing gestures to do the talking. A critical plot point happens with the protagonist silently flipping through the pages of a scrapbook. A revelatory page, and a familiar gesture, and we understand the implications of it all.

But the most interesting thing about Up, is its striking irony. This is a kids' movie about what it means to be a kid, yet the lead character is a 78-year-old man. Many have taken the story to be about growing old. In part, it is, but more pertinent is that it's about staying young. It's about not losing the child in us, the child who dares to dream the impossible, like flying a house using thousands of helium-filled balloons. The child who sits on the kerb enjoying an ice-cream with his friend and playing childish games like "red and blue cars." Life is one big adventure, because that's the only way we will survive it.

With its wildly imaginative collection of a flying house, talking dogs, technicolour birds and such, it's as if Pixar has made a movie about itself.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kelvin And The Host

This piece of news came earlier this week. The Host 2, the sequel to Bong Joon-ho's family drama/actioner, is now a Korea-Singapore co-production. And somewhere in there is the name Kelvin Tong; he's the joint producer.

Now, name a film that Tong has directed that is of unquestionable quality. Difficult, isn't it? Perhaps he will do better as producer this time. Who knows?

Now, if you noticed, I called The Host a "family drama." Because that's really what it is. Compared to the entire runtime of the movie, the appearance of the monster is brief. But judging from this quote:


Producer and Chungeorahm Film's chief executive, Mr Choi Yong-Bae, said he is confident that Host 2 will become "the best Asian creature movie ever."

... someone obviously thinks it's a monster movie in all conventional sense. And that's pretty troubling.


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Man From Hong Kong



The greatest character actor in the world. Hands down. You can find him in almost any Hong Kong movie.




Thursday, September 10, 2009

Faces And Places

If we currently have the Malaysian tag team of Woo Ming Jin and Edmund Yeo competing in Venice, then it's a triple threat at the Toronto International Film Festival - Tsai Ming-liang, Chris Chong and Ho Yuhang.


Tsai is there with his Louvre-commissioned Visages, Chong with his Cannes Directors' Fortnight film Karaoke, and Ho with Locarno Netpac winner At The End Of Daybreak.

Tsai's film is perhaps the most interesting, a combination of art installation and film, a new hybrid that Chong also advocates. You can read about it here.
“I think of the film as a moving painting imprinted on celluloid,” said the director, who spent three years studying the paintings at the Louvre. “It is Tsai trying to find a new expression for the art in his head.”


Still: At The End Of Daybreak


Monday, September 7, 2009

Film Merchants Of Venice

Right this minute, even as we speak, two Malaysian filmmakers are competing at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. One is an old hand and the other is a young and upcoming fella.


Woo Ming Jin's latest film, with its obviously-Hong Sang-soo-inspired title of Woman On Fire Looks For Water, is competing in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section. It will be a "surprise film" and a work-in-progress screening. The news hasn't been widely publicised because Woman got itself a place at the very last minute.

An earlier entry was Edmund Yeo's Japanese short film, Kingyo (Goldfish). Shot with the help of his university, Waseda in Tokyo, the 25-minute film, based on a Yasunari Kawabata short story, is simply one of the best short films by a Malaysian filmmaker that I've seen.

Best of luck to both of them!


Photo: Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta literally "opening" the festival with the film Baaria.


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