All entries for November 2005
November 26, 2005
I've been trying to consider the problem of why university sucks. I know I don't like it, but the more I try to reason it the more I find that I can't. This probably isn't of importance for most students – the majority seem to be enjoying their time here, whether it's those who are really here for that studying shit (the ones who are scribbling throughout lectures … scribble scribble, fucking annoying, no?) and the ones who slack and party their way through and do weird stuff like walk on the lecture tables to get from one end to the other because it's cool. And everyone else in between (life is a spectrum/continuum).
It is important for me for another reason – I need to be able to answer that question if I am to write my screenplay.
I tried googling to see whether anyone else agrees. Well, I came up with some random sites denouncing certain specific US colleges … which is irrelevant of course. When I do find others who agree … well, the guy also realised he doesn't have a coherent reason why he hates university.
Particularly for me, I guess it's because I'm not doing well here, academically. Used to be one of those A students – and the thing is I never had to try to get an A. I just do. Here, somehow things are different. Friends seem to enjoy being all righteous, saying the right thing - university is different from high school, mate. So what?
Then there's the loneliness. The boredom. The going to lectures wondering what for, when all I do is fall asleep. The assignments … the frustration for doing something that seems somewhat important yet so pointless.
As you can see, not exactly good reasons to denounce university.
I'd really like to know – and I know I will never find out, coz statistics is such a big fucking lie – what proportion of the student population have the same sort of thoughts. It might be surprisingly huge. But as I said, on the surface, everyone else seems to be enjoying their time here.
In which case, I'll be told to just shut up and get on with it.
If I ever thought out the reasons, though – the film is potentially huge. If only I can remove everyone's dependency on university … suddenly things like top-up fees and various other arguments become irrelevant.
November 24, 2005
- Der Untergang
Der Untergang, or Downfall, portrays the final days of Hitler and the Third Reich. Basically, what you see is an empire on its downfall, a once glorious vision reduced to fantasies, an ambitious man reduced to ruins without ever fully realising that he cannot control the world, a group of people forced to make choices for which most of them didn't realise they have in the first place … a world gone mad.
Last week I saw the Korean war drama Tae Guk Gi Hwinalrimyeo (Brotherhood), which tells of two brothers during the 1960 Korean civil war. That one sees a country tear itself apart, people killing their own people, most of them not even knowing at an intellectual level what they were fighting for. It's almost as if everyone's brainwashed, and the result is hell on earth.
Der Untergang does this with a terrible sense of dread. The dread is mostly on the audience, and does not fully descend on the characters (and we are introduced to at least a dozen main ones, which I found very impressive, even in a 156-minute movie) until the final third of the movie. We sense that dread because of what we know today.
We know that Hitler was a monster, and that Berlin would fall.
And in the movie, we are wondering what the hell these people are doing there.
The film is essentially based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, who serves as a makeshift lead character here, allowing us to see the event through her eyes. At some point we realise that we need to understand her urges to see Hitler as a great man. She was giddy with excitement when she found out that she was to be Hitler's secretary. The less intelligent of the audience members will probably think she and the others are buffoons.
My point is, what is going through the head of Hitler? I think the film brings us closer to understanding it. As many have pointed out, the film humanises Hitler. Now, 'humanising' someone doesn't mean making him nice. It just means that it's showing the fact that YOU COULD HAVE BEEN HIM AS WELL. It all comes down to this fact - Hitler was an ambitious man. (Now, before I continue, let me just say that this is what I think from watching the film ... is Hitler like that in real life? well, history as we know it is never, ever actual truth … do you understand what this means?) He had a grand vision, and I actually found myself thinking, what IS that vision? What does he see in that head of his? Why does it have to involve killing millions of Jews? I'm not a historian so I don't know the context, and I don't really care (really, this film is only gonna occupy my entire being for a rather short period of time, a matter of hours).
Certainly I can understand the feeling when EVERYBODY is letting you down. That is how Hitler sees his world in his final days. Everyone is either betraying him, or not able to execute his orders. Extreme and intense disappointment sets in. He goes into one of his depressive moods – all is lost, it's over, yada yada. So he brings Eva in and they kill themselves. And a scapegoat is born.
I like that the film did not exactly concentrate on him. There's Eva Braun – how is it that she can remain so calm? Cheerful, even. Is she really just chronically naive? And there's Goebbels and his wife – and in this movie, Frau Goebbels really steals the limelight. She insists on staying with Hitler, like many others – along with her kids. 6 of them. All seem to be below the age of 12. She's is a determined woman – my, in today's world, in another movie, she'd be someone you would admire.
She brought the kids there so that she could kill every single one of them. Poison. She could not live in a world in which the Third Reich and the Nazi doesn't exist. A very disciplined woman. She'd rather Hitler live, they might be able to salvage the remains of their world some other time; but if Hitler wants to commit suicide, she would have to bring the kids along with her down with him. I'm sure most of the audience are shocked at that scene, played out over many minutes, yet each minute is compelling. One by one she poisons them.
Among the generals, you see some who seem like they have common sense, who actually considered the consequences on the people of Berlin. And then you get those who only knew how to obey Hitler. To suggest something else is like forcing someone to think out of the box – have you gone mad? Out of the box? Most of the latter committed suicide in the end. So many of them, you get the feeling of them 'dropping like flies'.
And then you get the youth army. So loyal and courageous. They really believed in it all, and were prepared to die defending the city. Such an honourable (read: fun) privilege. So you see this girl with pigtails telling her comrade to shoot her. He shoots. Then he shoots. Two bodies lying on the floor. What would become of them had that not happened?
I doubt anyone would read till this point … in which case, I don't know why I just typed that. When I saw The Pianist for the first time, I was left with feeling like I was about to collapse. Most people saw that film and thought, 'meh, Schandler's whatever was better'. (Fuckers, can't even pronounce the title properly.) However, for me I was really in the moment … every step the pianist took, especially outside, he could be shot for no particular reason. That was frightening … frightening in a way that most of you won't understand because you don't take films as seriously as I do.
Watching this one reminded me again of that fear.
Because this will probably happen sometime from now. I'd like to find out whether I will be able to live through it.
(Who will start the next war? Corporations? It will probably not be obvious that it's WWIII. You drink your milk and then you fall over dead – chemical in products. Things like that. Basically, something we cannot imagine yet.)
(Can you survive that?)
November 23, 2005
Just saw Jerry Maguire.
I realised that my script is not compelling enough.
The following are film score albums where I thought every single track just worked, as whole. There are very few such albums – most albums contain a few brilliant tracks accompanied by some meandering or filler tracks. Pretty much all Thomas Newman scores are like that, a few good ones, so good you'll remember them for the rest of your breathing lives, but the rest of the album … meh.
The Bourne Supremacy (John Powell)
My … Starting from the first track, Goa, which introduces a breezy melody accompanied by strong percussions, all the way to the end, the score basically never lets up. Half the tracks here are action tracks, based around seemingly chaotic percussion beats which races forwards and brakes at random, like a car throwing you forward and back, and you can actually feel the inertia of it listening to it. In between, some relatively quieter tracks blend in and then leave, not intruding the pacing at all. It all builds up the climax which begins with the determined-sounding Moscow Build Up and lets out in full blast for 6 minutes in Bim Bam Smash. As I keep saying, if only all action scores are like this …
The Four Feathers (James Horner)
The film deserved a few Oscars, in my opinion, but most of the world has never even heard of it. Could have been the Lawrence of Arabia of this century – I'm not kidding. The score itself … well, not everyone is going to like it, but I love it! An adventure story about a British finding redemption in the Sudan, what the score does is to have Western epic orchestral music play out, then North African wailing music, then when the battle sequences begin, mesh them together, twisting in and out of each other, sometimes competing with each other. It was a brilliant concept (also done in Black Hawk Down) and what really works here is that both aspects were so strong. I love the Qawwali wailings – it's coarse and rough and out-of-tune and, for most of you, irritating. Maybe that's why I like it, I can bear things you guys can't. The Western orchestral bits – wow … Seriously, the romantic parts were so damn heartbreaking and poignant – and Horner achieved that with 6 piano notes, that's it – while the epic bits were so classical and grand. You must hear it to understand what I mean.
Mighty Joe Young (James Horner)
This one sees Horner doing something he normally never touches – African music. What is surprising is that he did it SO well. While it's still recognisably Horner, the African parts of the score, which includes the percussions and the vocals, are so well used and they create really nice melodies. The first track, Sacred Guardian of the Mountain, is Horner's usual way of starting films, where percussion build into a crescendo, gets more chaotic, climaxes, then softens it. Works really well here. The next track, Poachers, starts in mysteriously, and then very unique and never-heard-before percussion builds its way in, and then the music turns sad when you hear two soft voices singing the main theme (actually when the part when the little girl's mother dies slowly in front of her), and then it blasts off into a strong African choir. The rest of the score is either tender music, which are mostly variations of the rather beautiful main theme, or they're the action bits, taking up most of the second half of the album. The action bits contain lots of very interesting inventions of percussion beats and structures which have never been heard and never heard from again. Strange how much effort went into this forgettable film. The final track ends with the Windsong, and the song was just so beautiful I couldn't get it out of my head for MONTHS. I can even sing the song, which may be Swahili but I'm not sure. (Imba wimbo wa-uh peh po … wakati una ju-wana …)
Under The Tuscan Sun (Christophe Beck)
I've talked about this score before. Basically a dramedy score – and I've never heard any other score balance it so well in between. Many of the tracks leave with you a feeling that's half wanting to break into a smile and half poignant in a way that makes you feel like you're not yourself anymore. Don't know what more to say except that you must hear this one.
Gladiator (Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard)
Come to think of it, this one also works in its entirety. Not a single boring track. Obviously the score is one of the best in the last decade.
American Beauty (Thomas Newman)
Okay, so I was wrong about Newman. There was this one where every single track worked. Most people only know the Dead Already track though, thanks to some electronic DJ or something converting the score into a dance track.
November 22, 2005
Yeah, it's finally done. I don't know why I feel so happy – it's not like it's the best ending I could punch out, and for most of the last week I just kept thinking the things I thought of just doesn't work. At this point I don't know whether it works, but still, I feel happy.
The bloody screenplay is done.
Now all I need to do is to polish it, and send it off to the relevant people. I hope Bea's done with her own film's post-production …
UPDATE: I've finished my screenplay and now I'm listening to depressing music. What does that say?
November 19, 2005
Okay, I'm getting very close to completing the script. I've spent most of the whole day today finalising my thoughts and ideas and writing the romantic bits. They're not that romantic, but to be honest, I'm happy enough if I can write something that remotely works, and this one remotely works. In fact, thinking about it, there are faint parallels with the Titanic love story – parallels that have nothing to do with content but underlying structure. So that's basically 20 pages done.
Now comes the next difficult bit … and I really cannot afford to spend another two months to figure this one out.
The final act and the resolution.
The final act I can figure out stuff to include – what I'm worried about is that the audience will very quickly find it unengaging. The problem is the first place is that the story I'm writing flies against the face of conventional script plotting. My protagonist is a passive character – meaning he doesn't move things, things move him, or things try to move him and he doesn't. There is a hero's journey here – but that journey is never obvious. Random stuff happen – all the time, from the beginning of the script to the end; whereas in a 'real film' you need to have a certain linkage between events, a recognisable chain starting from the beginning of the story to the end.
And all those problems are much more acute in the final act, when all I have to show for the audience are the uncomfortable scenes. Those uncomfortable scenes are necessary, in the sense that it is partly what I'm making the film for – to allow the audience to experience frustration and boredom. However, in a 'real film', really, either I must find a way to make frustration and boredom appealing, or yank it out of the movie. And I can't figure out a way to make it appealing.
The worst part – the ending. I actually already have an ending in mind for the last two years – it was one of the first scenes I thought of when beginning to think about a film that tells of a guy who lives different lives each day. Problem is, looking at the ending now, it seems very much an example deus ex machina. The thing about great endings are that, they should always be inherent in the story. Even though it is mostly surprising when presented to the audience, it should nevertheless be plausible – for example, the seeds of the ending should be present throughout the story. Take T2. How do you kill the T-1000? Almost all of the audience would be thinking that question at the end of the movie, when no matter what Arnie does the bloody guy just keeps reassembling. When finally the T-1000 gets thrown into the lava pool, the answer was like, so obvious. It's logical. And – this is the key – potentially, the audience could have thought of that earlier on. (It doesn't matter that it's so coincidental that they end up in an industrial plant with a lava pool, because emotionally the audience is so engrossed in the film that any way to destroy the villain ingeniously and save the characters is welcome.)
So, to come up with the perfect ending – and I keep feeling at the back of my mind that it can't be that far away, that it's barely visible, such that it almost seems like it didn't exist, but it's there – I would need to have dump this one. But then I'm too stuck with this particular idea.
On the other hand, even James Cameron made a mistake and wrote an inappropriate ending for Titanic, which can be seen as an alternate ending in the new 4-DVD release of the film. According to Cameron, the ending works on its own (though I don't think so, but then I didn't write the film so I wasn't thinking in the same terms he was as a writer) – but within the context of the ending of the film it just didn't work, hence the version we currently see now, which works a whole lot better.
I guess, the point is, I can always come up with an ingenious, non-deus ex machina ending. But then that is just plain lazy. But then I don't have time. I'm already three weeks behind schedule.
November 14, 2005
… and there are many. You have no idea, huh?
(Note: Not strictly speaking end of the year, as UK releases tend to be later compared to the rest of the world. So backward.)
As soon as he finished promoting War of the Worlds, Spielberg dived straight into this one – leaving him six months from production to release date, which was even shorter than for War of the Worlds. He might not finish it in time for the Oscars. Starring Eric Bana, the story is about a group of Mossad-hired assassins sent to kill the Palestinians who were involved in the killing of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Not your favourite action thriller, this one – seems more like a serious exploration of guilt and the damnation of one's soul in participating in something one can never reveal about.
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
For a lot of people their interest in watching this one is due to having read the book and liking the story. I couldn't give a damn about the story – it's set in Japan, involves the curious world of the geisha, is directed by Rob Marshall (reason enough to see it), and stars three major Chinese actresses.
Originally I thought – ach, give this one a miss. I never liked LOTR, and King Kong? What the hell? The first trailer was a disappointment. Then details arrive – it's gonna be three hours. Now I'm paying attention. Any movie over 2 hours I usually like – or if not, will try my very best to enjoy. Long movies are great. Then there's Jamie Bell, rising young star. Then there's Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody. And Jack Black in a serious role. And then more trailers appear, and the special effects looks more sound than LOTR. So yeah, I'll be watching this on the big screen.
Starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs … and a whole bunch of other people we don't know. Early previews indicate this one would be good. Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes …
Do you like political conspiracy thrillers? I do. They're so difficult to write – but when written well, hoo boy, it doesn't take car crashes to excite you. No, mere words are needed to send you going crazy over suspense, mouth agape. This one has a long cast list – (a very fat) George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper … and so on. The trailer was not bad, great choice of music – does suffer from giving too much details though.
THE NEW WORLD
From the director of The Thin Red Line. Story of John Smith and his men arriving at the New World. Captured, he gets to know no other than Pocahontas. This isn't your cartoony Pocahontas – she's like 15 or something. They try and understand each other – but soon the Indians and the white men will have no peace. Trailer indicates scenes were Pocahontas is taken back to white man's land.
From a novella written by Steve Martin. A dramedy that slants more towards drama. Seems to be about loneliness, trying to make connections. Looks interesting. Stars Claire Danes and Steve Martin and Jason Schwartman. No, there aren't any sex scenes between him and Isabelle Huppert here.
THE FAMILY STONE
Another film with hundreds of movie stars. The list goes – Craig T. Nelson, Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and so on. Looks like a good comedy, with charm and feel-goodness.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal – another rising young actor very shrewdly choosing his roles. Directed by Sam Mendes. If you know that name, I know you're going to the theatre already. A war film where the soldiers get bored with war coz nothin's happenin'.
Meryl Streep. Reason enough to watch a movie, don't you think? Anyway, Meryl Streep is a therapist with a patient in the form of Uma Thurman scared of embarking into a relationship with a guy younger than her. Meryl Streep is also a mother with a son in the form of Bryan Greenberg who's just found himself a girlfriend. Those two parts of her life collide – go figure. Trailer indicates it'll be really funny.
Okay, I'll be honest. The only reason I wanted to see this one was because of the last bit shown in the trailer. Heath Ledger plays Casanova, trying desperately to court Sienna Miller. He arrives at her house with a pig in tow. "May I enter the house?" Sienna Miller sends her maid to greet him. "My mistress says the pig cannot come in."
Then she grabs the pig. "But the animal, we'll take." Door slams.
From the twisted mind of Mel Brooks, apparently. It's not Tim Burton twisted though, but it's really really funny. Starring Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Uma Thurman (again) and Will Ferrell. Two producers decide that the best way to make money is to produce a flop. And very quickly they find the flop they were looking for – Springtime For Hitler. Guaranteed to shock and anger! Some of the wittiest lines ever found in a trailer …
(After Uma Thurman does a dance …) "I'd like you to know, my dear, that even though we're sitting down, we're giving you a standing ovation!"
Uma Thurman: Do la dance again!
By Sean Smith – NEWSWEEK
Nov. 21, 2005 issue – Two weeks ago, Ang Lee showed his new film to an audience in Los Angeles, and afterward he stuck around to answer questions from the crowd. Director Q&As are pretty common in the movie industry, and Lee—who won an Oscar for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and has directed such acclaimed films as "The Ice Storm" and "Sense and Sensibility"—has done more than his share. But something strange happened this time—the same thing that happens almost every time Lee screens "Brokeback Mountain." "People don't have many questions," he says. "Most of the time, they just stand up and tell me how they feel." When they're still crying, he already knows.
Based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx ("The Shipping News"), "Brokeback" is the tale of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), two ranch hands who, in the summer of 1963, are hired to herd sheep on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain. There, separated from the rest of the world, their laconic friendship develops, almost by accident, into a sexual relationship. As the summer ends, the two men are forced to separate, and they discover that their feelings for each other are stronger than they imagined. Jack dreams of buying a ranch together. Ennis thinks they'll be killed if anyone suspects their relationship. And so they marry women and have children, and for 20 years live apart, seeing each other only on rare camping trips, trying to hold on to the innocence and beauty of that first summer on the mountain. Inevitably, the longing and frustration, the years of repression, lead to a devastating conclusion.
Proulx's story caused a sensation when it appeared in The New Yorker eight years ago. Its raw masculinity, spare dialogue and lonely imagery subverted the myth of the American cowboy and obliterated gay stereotypes. It also felt like a sledgehammer to the chest. "This is a deep, permanent human condition, this need to be loved and to love," says Proulx from her home in Wyoming. "While I was working on this story, I was occasionally close to tears. I felt guilty that their lives were so difficult, yet there was nothing I could do about it. It couldn't end any other way."
The film, written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, is a near-perfect adaptation of Proulx's work. It has already earned the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and is almost certain to be an Oscar contender. More than that, though, "Brokeback" feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people's ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships. In the meantime, it's already upended decades of Hollywood conventional wisdom.
The day Jake Gyllenhaal was cast in "Brokeback," the chatter around the industry was not about what a wise choice he'd made. "It's the most stupid move he could make," said one top producer over lunch that afternoon. "It'll alienate his teen-girl fan base and could kill his career. What a waste." It's always been considered risky, if not career suicide, for actors with A-list aspirations to play gay roles. Tom Hanks's performance in "Philadelphia" helped a little, but even Hanks didn't kiss another man on screen. Gyllenhaal and Ledger don't dodge it. The kissing and the sex scenes are fierce and full-blooded. But if the actors were taking a risk, they sure don't seem to think so. "I never thought twice about it," Ledger insists. "For one thing, I never felt like I had anything at stake, and I think if you make decisions based on society's opinions, you're going to make boring choices. What terrified me was self-doubt. I knew that if I was going to do justice to this character, to this story and to this form of love, I was really going to have to mature as an actor, and as a person."
Yes, they get asked about the sex a lot. "I'm amazed, really," Gyllenhaal says, laughing. "Everybody is soooo interested in it." And their conversations with journalists have given them fresh insight into straight-male psychology. After seeing the movie, Gyllenhaal says, male reporters will enter a room to interview him and almost always follow the same routine. "They come in and they're all, like, 'I just want you to know I'm straight'," he says, and laughs. If they've been moved by the film, he says, they often rationalize it by saying things like "Well, it's really more of a friendship." No, it isn't. "It's a love story," Gyllenhaal says. "They're two men having sex. There's nothing hidden there." Ledger has a theory about why the movie makes some men uncomfortable. "I suspect it's a fear that they are going to enjoy it," he says. "They don't understand that you are not going to become sexually attracted to men by recognizing the beauty of a love story between two men."
That discomfort would seem to make the movie difficult to market. When the trailer plays in theaters where there are a lot of young men in the audience, it's often met with snickers or outright laughter. How do you get those guys to see the movie? You don't. "If you have a problem with the subject matter, that's your problem, not mine," Schamus says. "It would be great if you got over your problem, but I'm not sitting here trying to figure out how to help you with it." In an early meeting, Schamus told Lee that, from a marketing standpoint, they were making this film for one core audience. "Yes, of course," Lee said. "The gay audience." No, Schamus said. "Women."
When it came time to design the poster for the film, Schamus didn't research posters of famous Westerns for ideas. He looked at the posters of the 50 most romantic movies ever made. "If you look at our poster," he says, "you can see traces of our inspiration, 'Titanic'." Still, questions remain about whether the film will play in rural America, and whether it can make a profit if only women and gay men go to see it. But Schamus says that by selling off the international distribution rights, Focus has already broken even on the film. "Literally, if your mom and my mom go to the theater, we're in profit," he says, laughing.
And it's likely that more than our mothers will buy tickets. The constant stream of positive word of mouth is turning it into a must-see for film lovers. More encouraging to the filmmakers, however, is that it's often having a profound effect on people—even the most seemingly cynical. At the Toronto Film Festival, Lee and the cast faced off against a room of reporters who had just seen the film. One blogger raised his hand and stood up. He didn't have a question, he said. He wanted to apologize. "For the last year on my Web site I've been calling this 'the gay-cowboy movie'," he said. "I just want you to know that I'm not going to be calling it that anymore."
Yes I'm straight, but I'm definitely watching this one.
Where am I now?
The Script – is not yet finished, but at least I found a way to continue the story.
My RAE Project – is still vague. The others who are more enthusiastic about economics (which includes like 98.6% of third year econs students … lemmings) have probably found their topics, their one question. But at least the tutor seems obsessed about my scatter diagrams.
My Two Essays – are far from completion. This year, they seem to have made it very difficult for us to write essays. Picked titles where there is like, one relevant journal (not that relevant after all) – basically no help, no starting point for us to branch out from. I'm not freaking coming out with new explanations or arguments to write these essays, these 2000-word essays. It is a waste of my time. Much of economics is.
I still have other random stuff to do. Where is that package? I need to call to get my £100 pounds back.
And I still don't know how to take control of my moods. Moods are like horses – some people seem able to just grab the reins and direct the horse. Me? I'm in the carriage, too lethargic to come out and take control of the horse.
So what now?
I slip away and die.
"You deserve to die, you worthless whiner," so says you.
Whine whine whine,
Nothing you can dine.
November 05, 2005
Well, let's compare it with Malaysia's top blogger, Kenny Sia.