Category Archives: Films

Film #14. The Act of Killing (2012)

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I try to be far more critical whenever I watch a documentary by a western filmmaker on a non-western subject. It’s a familiar pattern among western filmmakers to promote ‘western’ values such as democracy, freedom, individualism and liberalism by targeting, framing and “otherizing” a specific person, groups, event or memory in a non-western culture or the history of a non-western country where those values have not been progressed enough, such as China and Southeast Asia. They enforce a specific perspective on these people or phenomena in the ‘other world,’ by taking a ‘universal’ moral stance such as ‘killing is bad’ or ‘freedom is good’ and what not. Even though what’s going in the screen is absolutely authentic without any trace of direction, the viewer becomes subjected to the specific, ‘morally superior’ viewpoint of the director that seeks to disclose the ‘moral inferiority’ of the subject in his or her camera. As a result, the audience came to antagonize the non-western subjects as the ‘other.’

The motive behind The Act of Killing (2012), a critically-acclaimed documentary by an American-born filmmaker named Joshua Oppenheimer,  seems to have not been very much deviated from that of other western filmmakers. Oppenheimer points his camera towards the persons and groups–e.g. Anwar Congo, Pancasilla– in Indonesia as the incarnations everything hated by western viewers who believe in human rights, democracy and freedom: terror, coercion, and violence.  As a result, even though the director approaches Anwar Congo as a friend, the audience antagonizes him. Of course, I was disturbed by the terrible memories of the crime against humanity occurred in Indonesia in the 1950s and the fact that it has never been persecuted, but I was even more so by the director’s true intention to juxtapose the political reality of the country and that of the audience because the contrast is so great so that I just wanted to close my eyes. Unanswered questions were just hovering over my head.
On what grounds should I criticize Anwar Congo and his colleagues who live in a totally different system of morality? Which set of standards or morality should I use to condemn them, since their definitions of the right and wrong are worlds away from mine? What is responsible for this incredible gap between the ones living in the same continent? What could possibly be different if Anwar Congo sincerely atones for his past actions for the rest of his life?
As a member of Joshua Oppenheimer’s intended audience, the Act of Killing directed my anger NOT towards Anwar Congo but towards the reality of my own inability to make a difference. But I don’t deny the benefits of seeing a political documentary: it gives me a clear understanding of where I am in the world. I will watch the sequel, the Look of Silence (2014), at the earliest opportunity.

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Infantile Review: 87th Academy Awards (2015.2.22)

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1. Just like last year, this Oscars was marked with a series of memorable moments, definitely including NPH’s extravagant opening number (much compared to Hugh Jackman’s humble one in 2009… I guess it has to be either monologue or song that makes up the Oscars opening), his hilarious parody of Birdman and Whiplash, the redemptive reunion between Idina Menzel and John Travolta, Lady Gaga’s glittering tribute to the Sound of Music, and many more. Also I keep wondering how NPH could have placed his accurate predictions.

2. Most of my own predictions went wrong, except my new favourite Alexandre Desplat who won the Best Original Score award for the Grand Budapest Hotel. I hoped Michael Keaton would win Best Actor in exchange for all the essential ones like Best Picture and Best Director, which I thought were very much reserved for Boyhood. But it turned out the other way around: Boyhood only won Best Supporting Actress out of 11 categories it was nominated while Birdman swept Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Personally I didn’t care about either one but I’d rather Boyhood for its more universal themes that extend beyond the interests of lofty film artists.

3. Also this Oscars was highlighted by a number of inspiring speeches, including Patricia Arquette’s call for equal wage for women, the Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore’s encouragement for all those “weird and different,” J.K. Simmons’ urge to “call our parents, if we are lucky enough to have one or two alive on this planet,” and Iñárritu’s few words for immigrants. But some of their words also attracted criticisms. I personally cannot understand why Arquette had to bring up (the rights of) sexual minorities and people of color to support her own vision of the fight for women’s equality, because their rights should be respected as equal as hers. I do think it was intrusive and …selfish.

4. Like last year, I was distressed to see ‘race’ become a heated issue all over again. As the host NPH jokingly remarked, this Oscars has been ferociously criticized for being the “whitest” Oscars in a few years, for the nominees in the important categories were all “white” people, famously snubbing the director and actors of Selma, a drama based on Martin Luther King Jr. and a Best Picture nominee. I haven’t seen Selma so I couldn’t comment on whether it deserved a best director or best actor nomination; but I hate to see the purity of art ruined by all these issues of discrimination and unfairness.

5. I am already thrilled to see next Oscars!

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Afterthoughts and mini-awards on the 86th Academy Awards

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Afterthoughts:

1. I just love to see Ellen back to Oscars. She is one of the few comedians in English speaking countries whose humour really resonates mine, including her obsessions in selfies, SNS, pizzas and delightful graciousness to others. She would be remain as my favourite Oscars host, no matter what.

2. It is still strange to see the ‘racial’ issues so hot around the Oscars. I don’t get why people make so much fuzz about the race of Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture winner, ’12 Years a Slave.’ What matters about Steve other than the fact he directed the Oscar winning film? What makes ‘race’ just an important criterion on the movie awards? …Yeah, it’s America, I almost forgot.

3. I’m glad to see American Hustle empty-handed. Not worth the fuzz, was the thought I had when I saw it. ;(

Here’s the mini-awards:

– Disappointing: Idina Menzel, Triumphant: Pharrell Williams.

– Best speech: Jared Leto “…this is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you. Thank you so much and good night.”

– Best filial love: Jared Leto who gives his piece of pizza to his mom.

– Best cameo: Edgar, owner and delivery man of Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizza

– Best joy: Steve McQueen

🙂

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Film #13. Roman Holiday (1953)

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My recent viewership of the Extraordinary Women documentary episode on Audrey Hepburn rekindled my fascination with the beautiful actress. More precisely, I have been deeply charmed by the handsome and deep-voiced Gregory Peck from the To Kill a Mockingbird unit I taught in my recent student teaching placement.

Honestly, I have seen Roman Holiday multiple times with my mom as one of her favourites, but it did not stick into my mind because I was young. So I played it again.

My new impression was that it’s too romantic to be true. No princess or well-bred woman would casually smile and say “how do you do” to a strange man who took her to his room over the night. In 2013, she would sue him for sexual assault. Moreover it’s highly unlikely for a young man and woman fall in love with each other in one day without knowing who he/she is… But I admit Joe Bradley is a good looking and pleasant man to spend a night with. I would be happy to wake up and see Gregory Peck gazing at me… Ok enough of this.

I think the scenario is rather simple. Roman Holiday  is a purely escapist film devoid of a concrete political or historical context compared to other timeless classics such as Casablanca or Sound Of Music. I suspect it was more for the big names associated with the film that made it famous. Audrey Hapburn was a new face then, but would she have won an Oscar if she debuted with a less profiled director ?

For me, I was delighted to see the charming posture of Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. It’s sad that neither Peck and Hepburn isn’t around any more for a possibility of a sequel. It was discussed at one point but never came true. How regretful!

I’m searching for another globally appealing title from Gregory Peck’s filmography but there are little I can recognize other than Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird… I will try anything and everything available.

 

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Film #12. Anna Karenina (2012)

Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina was one of my most anticipated films in 2012 for the following reasons: 1) my love for period pieces, 2) my appreciation of the unforgettable collaboration of the director and the high-cheek boned actress Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, and 3) my recent completion of reading Leo Tolstoy’s bulky classic. When I finally found the time to see this film released in the end of 2012, most theatres have long removed the title except for the small village cinema across the corner of my town.

I felt sorry for my company, who anticipated to see the dazzling revival of the Imperial Russia. What Wright did was creating a miniature of the 19th century society in a studio in England with intricate theatrical sets with cardboards and a stage. The actors frequently switched their roles as the players and audience. I have seen other films that attempted blending the mechanics of theatrical play and screen films (e.g. Nicole Kidman’s Dogville) but by far, Wright’s adaptation of the Russian classic is the most stylistic one I have seen.

Everyone must know the story. Anna Karenina, the beautiful wife of a highly esteemed Russian aristocrat, slowly descends into destruction as she begins a blind affair with the young and handsome Count Vronsky. As soon as I finished the novel I posted my afterthoughts on why she deserved such a tragic ending. There has been a controversy on Keira Knightley’s suitability for the role but I did think her natural impression did fit into the passionate heroine.

As the much deserved recipient for the Academy Award for Costume Design, the film simply took my breath away every time Anna changes her dress for each scene. My personal favourite was the snowy Wedding-dressy costume chosen for the doomed Opera scene.

Another thing I loved about the movie was the beautiful score by Dario Marianelli, who has also worked with Wright in the previous Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. I admired the debutant Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the dashing Vronsky. Just like in the book, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty  (Alicia Vikander) make an absolutely adorable couple. With all things considered, I was happy the new onscreen version of the beloved classic, despite other viewers who expected more.

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What’s your favourite Disney feature animation?

Someone posted a question “what’s your favourite Disney animation?” in a portal website I visit daily. Many replied to the post with unforgettable titles such as Aladdin, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Mulan and Beauty and the Beast, but the first one that came to my mind was Tarzan (1999) that has been remembered as the last film to be included in the Disney Renaissance in the 1990s.

As the last film in the decade, Tarzan boasts of Disney’s most highly advanced 2D animation technology. The expressions and actions of the characters are so alive in every second of the film on the three-dimensional background they relived with the Deep Canvas software. But all things aside, the part I love the most is the scenes where Tarzan and Jane secretly exchange the emerging feelings for each other. Largely owing to Phil Colin’s beautiful songs, the emotional depiction is so well done in this film in a way you wouldn’t expect from a two-dimensional animation. The fairly recent Tangled (2010) is of course much more technically advanced but those romantic subtleties were not felt as much as the 12-years earlier work.ImageImageImageTarzan and Jane are arguably my favourite Disney couple. Although not included the famous Disney Princess franchise, Jane Porter is absolutely too adorable heroine to be forgotten. Their lovely chemistry reminds me of that of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip in the legendary Sleeping Beauty (1959) in which a central scene depicted the sweet vibration of young lovers.

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Disney’s incredible ability to relive the interior emotions into the animated characters has been the heart of the countless classics still beloved by the worldwide audience, regardless of gender and age. I’m looking forward to Disney’s new feature animation this year, based on Anderson’s beloved classic Snow Queen. I hope it’ll be as enjoyable and unforgettable as their classics in the 1990s.

I’ll conclude the post with my favourite musical sequence in Disney’s films. Phil Colins is the smartest musical partnership Disney has ever chosen.

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Film #11. Life of Pi (2012)

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Ang Lee is one of my favourite filmmakers. I have seen and loved many of his films including Sense and Sensibility (1995), Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon (2000), Lust, Caution (2007) and Hulk (2003). The best thing I love about the Oscar-winning Taiwanese director is his highly inclusive philosophy of arts that seeks the common themes in the western and eastern cultures. Born and raised in Taiwan and educated in the U.S, he has become my lifelong role model for making so many things possible.

As soon as I learned that his new film will be the adaptation of Yann Matel’s best-selling novel, I thought it was one of the smartest choices Hollywood producers made for this year. Ang Lee is one of the few people in the industry who could really be completely free from the Hollywood clichés that have pretty much tired out most moviegoers like myself.  As such, I have been waiting to see what kind of fresh impact his new instalment will make to the world audience.

I have previously attempted the novel but never got to the end of it. Since its publication, Life of Pi has been chosen as a required reading for many schools in Canada.  Basically, this is a story about Pi, a young Indian boy who was shipwrecked in his way to Canada with his family and found himself left alone with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker in a lifeboat. Raised as a younger son of a zookeeper, Pi has to figure out ways to harmoniously coexist with this carnivorous beast to survive.

One impressive feature of the movie is its breathtaking cinematography and visual effects.  I think there are no other movie other than Ang Lee’s Life of Pi that gives a better view of the sunrise and twilight of the Pacific. I just wanted to capture many of the scenes in the movie and put them on my desktop…

I would never try to see this movie if I haven’t heard about it even better than the book. I am so happy that Life of Pi has been adapted by Ang Lee who has the power to transcend the cultural barriers and universalize the authenticity of the story in the hearts of millions. I absolutely adored Suraj Sharma who played the lead. Pi would be perhaps the most wise, patient and remarkable survivor you will ever see in the screen.

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