Monday, July 09, 2007

Back in da Singapura

Our journey back to Singapore was- surpisingly- more agreeable than the journey to Wellington, though we actually had to wait longer at Sydney airport (where we had to transit on both trips as there isn't a direct flight from Singapore to Wellington or vice versa) this time around. Watched Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" on the flight to Singapore, and I was pleasantly surprised by its quality. 2007's turning out to be a pretty good year for animation, what with this, Surf's Up (a surprisingly great animated film from Sony Imageworks) and of course Pixar's Ratatouille- which was recently released in the USA to near-universal praise but is sadly only coming out in Singapore on the 30th of August (movie distributors of Singapore, why do you torture us so?). Anyway, its back to work for me tomorrow (or rather today!) and I'm still a bit jet-lagged, so I'll have to skip my explanation of why our journey back here was better than the journey to Wellington, and why I generally despise air travel in general, and save it for another post.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Short Update from NZ

Flying back to Singapore in just a couple of hours. The past two weeks have been amazingly fun- couldn't have asked for a better first vacation, really. We've been staying in Wellington with a few close family friends who are such great company that it would've been fun hanging out with them anywhere. Hanging out with them here in New Zealand, which is basically every bit as beautiful as what you've seen in the Lord of the Rings movies, has been fantastic, to say the least. We've taken tons and tons of photos and I'll post the best of them here once I've had some time to sort through them back in Singapore. I have to say- 2 weeks isn't nearly long enough to see this country (though to be fair, the same can be said of any country). Heck, we haven't even visited Auckland, or South Island (the colder, more mountainous part of NZ)! I'll definitely have to come back here sometime in the future.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

On the way to New Zealand

Posting this from a free Internet station at the Sydney airport- stopping over here on the way to Wellington, New Zealand, where I'll be for the next 2 weeks along with my sister. It's my first vacation from work and I'm really looking forward to it; the last few months were beyond hectic, to say the least. More once I make the jump.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bram Stoker's Dracula: 110 years later, it still has bite

I just finished reading Bram Stoker's Dracula for the first time, and I'm slapping myself on the forehead for having waited so long to read it. I had assumed, like many others, that since the story, and its titular character, was so deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness, it was therefore unnecessary for me to actually read it. I felt I knew it through cultural osmosis, as it were. Evidently, I was wrong. Dracula is a true literary classic. Not just because of its influence on later works, or because of its merit as a novel (which is considerable, though it is an uneven tale, with its eerie and evocative first section overshadowing the plodding second), but because of its depth as a text that can be read and analysed in a multitude of ways, a text that reveals so very much about the era and culture that it was written in as to practically be a historical document in its own right.

Indeed, what first struck me about the novel is that it is actually presented as a historical document, consisting entirely of a series of diary and journal entries, memos, telegrams, newspaper articles and other documents. Not one of the events that take place in the book are described from the standard novelistic 3rd-person perspective; a fact which is brought to the reader's attention by the story's protagonists, who repeatedly doubt their own written testimony throughout the story and in doing so undermine the verisimilitude of their entire narrative (as one of them directly points out in the story's coda). I cannot help but wonder if Stoker, by doing this, was openly inviting his readers to examine his text critically, because that was its effect on me. Whether by purpose or by chance, this is one of the more thought-provoking and sophisticated uses of the "unreliable narrator" device that I have encountered in a novel, and one that I was surprised to see in a 110 year-old book.

I see why Dracula remains a popular text in literature classes. If I were still a student, I'd be more than happy to study it. It's themes and subtexts- sexual and gender politics, racial conflict, the uneasy tension between (then-)modern technology and the supernatural, and the dualities and inversions that lie at the core of the story- remain as fascinating and relevant today as the day it was written. As does the book itself. To repeat the awful pun I've used in this post's title- this book still has "bite".

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day!

Up til now, I haven't paid any attention to May Day/Labour Day- it doesn't stand out among the numerous holidays we celebrate in Singapore, and it always seemed like an oddly ironic holiday to celebrate in a country that doesn't have a labour movement. However, as I am now a member of the workforce, I thought to educate myself as to what this holiday is all about. Turns out that this isn't just a holiday celebrating the efforts of the working class- its roots lie in an international movement to institute an eight-hour working day for all workers. So take a moment to read about the of the 19th and 20th century labour unionists who fought the good fight so that we can enjoy what is now considered a basic right in modern democratic societies worldwide.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cinema Watch

Now Playing in Singapore Movie Theatres:


Not Playing in Singapore Movie Theatres:

Children of Men

Singapore cinemas do a good job of catering to real movie-lovers for the most part, but a decision like releasing Children of Men, the best science-fiction movie to come out of Hollywood this decade, direct-to-video is totally ridiculous. Besides being a truly excellent movie, it also has the most bold and innovative cinematography in years (300 ain't got nothing on this) and demands to be seen on the Big Screen.

Wild Hogs, on the other hand, doesn't deserve to be released at all. The trailer alone is cringe-inducing. If you listen carefully to the sound track, you can hear the flush of William H. Macy's career going down the toilet, the poor man.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Singapore Film Festival: What I'm Watching

The Singapore International Film Festival is one of the highlights of the year for the Singaporean cineaste, and I've been faithfully attending it for the past five. I'm especially looking forward to it this year's one because this is the first time that I won't be having exams close to or during the festival, meaning that I can actually watch every single film I'm interested in! Of course, I can't watch *everything*, so I've judiciously selected those that I think are most worth my time:

German Animation: A screening of 15 German animated short films. I know little about German animation; which, along with the intriguing screenshots of the shorts on the Film Fest website, is precisely why I'm very excited about seeing them.

Life in Loops: A Megacities RMX: This experimental documentary, a "remix" of the 1997 film Megacities- 30% re-edited footage from that film and 70% new footage- came to my attention a month ago when I was pointed to the trailer by a blog that I unfortunately no longer recall. It had the aura of something genuinely new and ground-breaking, and I resigned myself to never being able to see it in cinemas here. I'm very pleased that my instincts were wrong in this case.

Fay Grim: This one's a bit of an odd choice for me as it's the sequel to a comedy (by a director named Hal Hartley, who is apparently big in the American indie film scene) that I've never seen, but it stars the wonderful Parker Posey and is billed as part comedy, part film noir and part spy thriller. Sounds good to me.

Aachi N Ssipak: This Korean animated film has a plotline that can't be beat for sheer craziness: In a future where natural energy resources have run out, mankind has resorted to using human faeces as fuel. Gang wars over shit ensue.

What raises this to a must-watch is the film's exuberant animation, sharp character designs and totally rockin' soundtrack. Just check out the 5-minute intro sequence, which seems to take its inspiration from Full Throttle (aka the most bad-ass adventure game ever made).

KAFA Animation: I'm hoping to see some gems amongst these nine short animated films by students of the Korean Academy of Fine Arts. Korean animation has been going from strength to strength of late, with critically-acclaimed works like My Beautiful Girl Mari winning international awards; it'll be exciting to see the first works of young new talents from the country. It's worth noting that this is a free screening!

Freestyle: The Art Of Rhyme: I've heard really good things about this documentary, which traces the growth of freestyling, or improvisational rapping, in the 1990's. The film looks to be a rare glimpse (well, rare around here, anyway) at the artistic side of rap music and culture, and thus a must-see for a hip-hop fan like me. Plus, this is also a free screening!

I'm also interested in watching German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's films, being screened as a retrospective marking the 25th anniversary of his death. While his magnum opus, the 15-1/2 hour long TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz, won't be screened (for obvious reasons!), 10 of his other films are being shown (many for free!) and should serve as a good introduction to the famously prolific director's body of work.

Finally, I'd like to watch the Danish animation Princess, an ultra-violent revenge fantasy where a priest, filled with rage and guilt over the death of his porn-star sister, goes on a mission to erase all evidence of her work in porn, along with the men who lured her into the industry. The movie looks both shocking and thought-provoking; the kind of challenging, adult work rarely found in animation. Perhaps too challenging and adult to be screened in Singapore, though- the fact that the Film Festival hasn't started selling tickets yet implies that they're having trouble with the local censors (who are notoriously tetchy about adult animation). I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tokyo Godfathers Review

Tokyo Godfathers is director Satoshi Kon's third animated film, after the highly-acclaimed films Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress. Coming after the heels of those two films, mature, psychologically-complex works that pushed the boundaries of animated storytelling, Tokyo Godfathers, a Christmas movie loosely inspired by John Ford's 3 Godfathers, could arguably be considered the director's slightest work; but that would hardly be doing it justice. Wiser men than me have pointed out that creating great comedy is as a hard as creating great drama. Tokyo Godfathers has both in spades, and is deft enough to go from one to the other, sometimes in the same scene, without once missing a beat.

The film revolves around the titular godfathers: Gin, a middle-aged homeless drunkard who lives for his next bottle of alcohol, Miyuki, a cynical teenage runaway, and Hana, a sharp-tongued transvestite fallen on hard times who is both the source of the best lines in the film as well as its heart and soul. The characters are unusual (how often do we see grimy homeless men as heroes in a film?), but the story is standard: this motley trio comes across an abandoned baby in a trash heap and sets out on a journey across Tokyo to find its parents, surmounting various dangers and bonding with each other in the process.

The same premise you see in a dozen syrupy, sentimental Hollywood Christmas films, each more disposable than the one before it- but what elevates Tokyo Godfathers above and beyond that dross is the way it grounds its string-of-coincidences plot in its characters, who are more more vivid and real, more three-dimensional (hehehe), than most characters in live-action films, and its setting- the city of Tokyo, so meticulously captured as to be a character in and of itself. The film shows us a Tokyo that we rarely see, not the glowing neon-lit city of the future popularized in films like Lost in Translation, but Tokyo as it is experienced by the outcasts of society, a city of back-alleys, public parks turned slums, and rotting tenements. It gives the film a sense of weight and verisimilitude that is rare to see today.

The question that remains is this- why is the film an animation? There's nothing in the film that couldn't technically be achieved in live-action (though some scenes would play out as markedly more absurd in such a setting). Indeed, some critics have taken this up as an issue, while failing to appreciate that the film's achievements- its wonderfully expressive characters and its carefully-controlled mis-en-scè ne- are precisely the result of it being an animation. Satoshi Kon gathered some of the best animators in Japan to make this film, and it shows. One of the film's most memorable scenes (I won't spoil it, but you'll know when you see it) is a monologue, delivered with passion and animated with equal intensity. In this one scene, an animator's ink, together with superb voice-acting, produces a performance on-par with an Oscar-winning actor. It's a validation of animation as a theatrical artform, and to me puts to rest the question that began this paragraph. Indeed, a better question would be this: why aren't there more animated films like this (or even live-action films, for that matter)?

I originally wrote this review in 2005, after seeing Tokyo Godfathers at the Singapore International Film Festival (it's quite sad that local distributors didn't see fit to give it a wider release, despite the film being very well-received at its two sold-out festival screenings), but since lost it in a dark and dusty folder of my iBook. Upon re-discovering it today, I felt compelled to re-write the entire thing before posting it. The film deserved better than the short three paragraph (and a line) treatment that I gave it. It's a superb example of the best of Japanese animation, and a wonderful Christmas movie (a phrase I never thought I'd say/write) as well.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Shell's amazing Ferrari ad

Shell's new commercial for the 60th anniversary of their partnership with Ferrari is, without a doubt, one of the sexiest car commercials ever made. Directed by the very talented Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (the man behind the brilliant Honda 'Cog' ad) of Partizan, the ad shows off a number of classic Ferrari F1 cars tearing through the streets of Rome, Sydney, New York and Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro and Monaco. An awesome sight in and of itself, but what makes the ad truly extraordinary is its soundtrack. No music, just the powerful roars of the cars' engines. A joy for the eyes AND the ears.

(thanks to Autoblog for the production information)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Animaniacs Bible

Animaniacs (and its spin-off, Pinky & The Brain) was one of my favourite cartoons of the 90's, so I was quite excited when I found this Animaniacs Bible, which details the ideas behind the show and its characters. Surprisingly enough for such a seemingly anarchic show, its plot structures are laid quite quite rigidly, as you can see in the "Show Format" and "The Formula for Warner Bros Cartoons" pages. Now that I come to think of it, most of the show's episodes did roughly follow the structure as laid out in this document! I guess that says a lot about the formulaic nature of modern TV writing, even in cartoons, and why even the best Animaniacs cartoon, while a good deal better than the Warner Brothers cartoons that preceded it as well as those that have come since (except for the 90's Batman and Superman animated series, and possibly Justice League), just can't hold a candle to their classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.

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