Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tim Burton's Bug Drink

I just recently got my hands on the brand new 20th anniversary edition of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. Sadly, for such a seminal morbid comedy, this special edition only features three episodes of the animated series in its extras.

I can still remember like it was just yesterday, my schoolmates and I were so obsessed with the movie, we watched it on video practically every week, gathering on weekend evenings and having a good laugh together.

Our favourite part? "Nice fuckin' model!" That cracked us up every time, no matter how many times we watched it.

Why were we so obsessed with the movie? Because it's simply the most imaginative thing we'd ever seen at the time (and to a certain extent, it still is today). I mean, ghosts exorcising people? Who'd have thought of that? There's so much more no-holds-barred, crazy stuff, like that waiting room in the netherworld. Makes you wonder what's happened to Tim Burton these days.

This is morbid humour that could only have come from his mind. He once said that when he was young, he threw a pair of old clothes into the swimming pool and screamed to his neighbours that someone had fallen into the pool and disintegrated.

The new 20th anniversary DVD has a nice, crisp transfer. Some of the special effects, like the sandworms and sci-fi landscape outside the couple's home, may look a little dated, but they still are appropriate within the madhouse context of the movie. The stop-motion animation adds a certain quirky, low-budget cheesy charm to things.

My love for this movie hasn't waned even after 20 years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Kind Of Shorts That's Not For Wearing

This past Monday, I reluctantly went to the Malaysian Shorts showcase, the regular event organised by Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia. Reluctantly, for various reasons that I shan't disclose here.

It's nothing to do with the showcase itself. No, I dig Malaysian Shorts. I've attended almost every single one in the past.

This time around, there was unfortunately, quite a morose factor still evident in some of the films. Long scenes of people smoking, people eating, and even a kid taking a shit - thrice! (Blame Flower In The Pocket for starting this trend)

I disagree with Hassan Muthalib (who took over MC duties from Amir Muhammad who shirked his responsibilities for some other unknown engagement [I'm thinking it must be those documentaries taking up his time]), who said the short films this time around show a higher production quality.

Save for maybe one of the films, they were all made by professionals or those with experience. The previous instalments of the showcase featured everything from student films to amateur attempts.

Here's what I thought of the films:

For The Love Of Drowning (I hope this is the title, because it wasn't included in the official list, something like a last minute inclusion, which is also why I forgot the director's name)
Metaphorical storytelling that I didn't get, or didn't bother to get. I shouldn't say that this kind of thing is easy to do, but it is! But this BMW Shorties winner has nice shots.

916 (David Ngui)
Despite its earnestness, this one just falls short. Nice production value, but the acting is a tad wanting while the story isn't as challenging as it should be in regards to its subject matter - communists in Sabah and Sarawak.

G16 G17 (Saw Tiong Guan)
Young man wants his mother to relive her romance with his late father at the old cinema. There's a sincerity to this story that gives it the right boost to defeat its own worst enemy - its ending. Someone in the audience said during the post-show Q&A that the ending is "cheesy." I wouldn't call it "cheesy," but it's definitely a rather safe turn into familiar territory. I wished the director Saw Tiong Guan (apparently no relation to Saw Tiong Hin, director of PGL) had explained his choice of ending instead of brushing off the remark by only saying it was his choice.

Adults Only (Yeo Joon Han)
Despite its unfortunate TV-commercial sheen, this Venice Special Mention winner manages to make a lifetime's worth of points in just 10 minutes. Very smart ending that nicely delivers an eye-opening coda. Surprisingly poignant. And you just have to love the use of Big Brother & The Holding Company and Janis Joplin's Summertime.

Eye+Finger (Margaret Bong)
Nice idea about a deaf-mute couple trying to come to terms with the death of their child and with each other. But the emotional quotient is sadly missing. There's a feeling that this should have been a longer piece.

Escape (Charlotte Lim)
An eye-catching opening scene, but I zoned out midway because it doesn't seem to be any different than the other Chinese independent dramas that we've seen. The lack of a distinctive, individual touch bothered me. The closing scene of the grandfather and the grandson walking through the rubber estate is very nice, humorous and touching, though a bit too late.

The Need Of Rites (shouldn't it be "The Need FOR Rites"? but then again ...) (Tan Chui Mui)
Not the best here, but it definitely is so damn engaging. While the scenario of a girl being hounded by a persistent street fortune-teller has endless possibilities, the execution somehow lacks a bit of suspense. Still, the dialogue is fun and ear-catching, no less. It's something we've come to expect from Tan Chui Mui, isn't it? A simple set-up but a whole array of dynamics.

Eaten By Time (Anonymous)
Experimental short that seems to have been made on a whim. At least its running time and sudden end give one that impression. Don't ask me what it's about, though.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The End Of Cinema?

In my "Malaysian Cinema: Time To Move On" entry below, "Ellen" left an interesting comment and link. It leads to a website called Unspoken Cinema, and a post titled "Tarr Bela Quits Cinema."

Now, that title is sure to stop the heart of any Tarr fans. It seems in a recent interview with Cahiers du Cinema, Tarr said he was fed up of the "fucking polite equality existing in the world," and that he wants to "quit cinema, but not right away." It's all rather vague, really, but Tarr has expressly stated he would quit cinema, only there's no deadline, just that he would make one last film. He also expressed dismay at today's audiences who want "less and less a demanding cinema." I definitely share this view, but to quit filmmaking altogether just because of it?

Even so, it's easy to understand his frustrations and see how he wants to avoid being thrown out of the cinema by not-too-discerning audiences, and to exit the doors himself, which would be more dignified. And so, there's a kind of petition going on at Unspoken Cinema, calling for readers to sign and comment there and to start a kind of unofficial blogathon/petition to urge Tarr not to quit, to convince him that there are still believers in his kind of cinema.

I love Tarr's films, and I have only seen three - Werckmeister Harmonies, Damnation and the seven-and-a-half-hour Satantango. It was the hauntingly desolate Werckmeister Harmonies, in its subtle parallel of a certain music theory with humanity itself, that first completely caught my imagination. There was, of course, the now infamous controversy and uproar over whether Tarr's extravagant demands during the making of The Man From London were what drove his producer to suicide.

But it's impossible to deny that the Hungarian master is a unique voice much needed in cinema today, as a counterweight to the too-easily digestible pap out there.

So, head on over to Unspoken Cinema and sign your name, and also blog about the whole issue.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oh Boy, Another Remake

I used to have a regular column here called "Remake Watch," but I've since given it up, because it's a little silly to be keeping watch on an equally silly exercise of Hollywood's. Which kind of makes me sillier.

Quite a few shockers in the last couple of weeks. First off, I wonder if anyone else has caught that ad on TV, about Impak Maksima The Musical? I'm wondering if they'll have souped-up cars on stage doing races. Or maybe they'll have dancers and actors dressed up in rubber suits a la Pixar's Cars. What next? Jangan Pandang Belakang The Musical? Gerak Khas The Musical?

Then, there's Spielberg wanting to remake Park Chan-wook's Oldboy. With Will Smith, no less! Now, I happen to like early Spielberg stuff, like Duel and Jaws (which is a great adventure film, in my opinion). But he just started going downhill after Schindler's List, with the exception of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but that's a Spielberg/Kubrick collaboration.

But Minority Report? And Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull?

There's been talk about a Hollywood remake of Oldboy for quite some time now. But now, having those two names attached to it has to be a shocker. My friend and I started to speculate what would happen in the Hollywood version's ending.

Spoilers hereon, if you haven't seen Oldboy.

Hollywood, and surely Spielberg and Smith, definitely wouldn't have the guts to keep the incest twist. So, perhaps this is what might happen:

Smith's character unknowingly beds his own ex-wife, while both of them have amnesia. After discovering the truth, they fall in love all over again and remarry. They live happily ever after, after Smith's character offs the guy who started him on the revenge trail, of course.

How's that?

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