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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Battling The Entire Murdoch Uni Security Force (To Shoot A Scene)

Perhaps you remember me mentioning about wanting to do a short film that takes place entirely in a public toilet two weeks ago. It would've been a masterpiece, shooting would've commenced today, then the craziest shit ever to happen in my brief filmmaking career occured. Being the bad boy filmmaker I am, I had wanted to go on with my project despite not getting the proper permission from the authorities, yet I made a grievous error.

The film had to be shot with the toilet papers being removed from the dispenser, realized that this can only be done with the help of the cleaners, I spoke to the cleaners, asking for their assistance. Yet the head cleaner sold me out by informing the authorities, and the authorities were even hardcore when they called me few hours before filming begun. The phone conversation was like this.

Woman: Is this Edmund Yeo?
Me: Yeap.
Woman: The cleaners have spoken to us. I'm afraid we cannot accept your request. And we strongly advise against filming in the public toilet.
Me: Uh huh.
Woman: And we have already informed the securities about this.
Me: (thinks: Oh shit...) I see.
Woman: We will not tell you what to do. But the security guards will stop you from shooting your film if they see you.
Me: (thinks: Screw you, it'll take an army to stop me) Okay.


Then, the worst happened. The entire security force of Murdoch University was dispatched after me and my crew. A van was waiting right in front of the toilet where I've wanted to shoot the film. So we went our different ways, with me carrying all the equipment (the mic, the camera, the tripod), hoping to find another toilet as replacement. Yet things went even crazier when security guards started roaming around campus, checking one toilet after another. I was in the gym trying to examine the toilets there before a few guards entered, and I had to walk past them, feigning a nonchalant expression as they went into the toilets, trying to search for me.

I felt like George Clooney in Ocean Eleven.

I felt like Clive Owen in The Inside Man (will write a review of that soon).

Even my tutor, who knew about the situation, wasn't able to do anything. All he could do was allow my team to shoot the film outside school hours, or off-campus (I chose the former, as the latter would most probably be more troublesome). It was pretty intense, being shadowed by nearly every single security person in university, in fact, this incident beats the time when I almost got arrested for filming in a train station last year.

Now, don't get me wrong, although I do like the suspense and attention showered upon me by the school authorities, this was a pretty stressful situation, but I will NOT let such minor obstacles compromise my grand vision, hence I will attempt to shoot the short film during the night, when security isn't as tight. I shall keep you all updated.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Don Bluth is underrated

It all happened during a conversation I had with Guestblogger Justin when we had dinner just now, about the animator, Don Bluth. Many people have already forgotten about him, all thanks to the evil Disney, and the rise of 3D animation (Pixar's stuff are great, but the Shrek movies are kinda overrated, and we also get such mediocre shit like Robots and A Shark's Tale).

But I remember, during my childhood, Don Bluth's animated masterpieces leave a much deeper impression than Disney films (before they reached the 'second Golden Era' with the likes of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King). And therefore, I will now revisit my fond memories of Don Bluth cartoons, which, all of a sudden, I have a strong desire to find their DVDs.

Born in 1937, Don Bluth used to work in Disney and was involved in the production of Robin Hood, The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon before he left and did his own thing. He did the drawing for the groundbreaking video games, Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, but I won't be focusing on that yet.

I'll be looking more into the feature-length animated films he did after leaving Disney and forming a rival studio.

The Secret of NIMH (1982) = Unfortunately, my memories of this is pretty vague, I don't remember actually watching this at all, or I might have watched it when I was a very young kid. Can't really comment much on this, will probably search for its DVD if it's available.

Fievel, from Don Bluth's An American Tail

An American Tail (1986) = THIS, my friends, is undeniably a classic. An epic tale about a young Russian mouse, Fievel, who was separated from his family when he emigrated to America. The entire movie was about him trying to find his parents and elder sister, making friends and enemies along the way. It gave me nightmares because of its dark and edgy mood back when I was a child (I remember not being able to handle watching some scenes, mostly those that had something to do with those cats, I think). Like I said, it's pretty large scale, kinda like Godfather 2, when Don Corleone had just migrated to America. I wouldn't mind watching this again.

'Somewhere Out There', the song Fievel and his sister sang when they were miles away from each other, remained one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in an animated film. Thinking of it again make me want to weep. Ah, nostalgia.



(Apparently, he didn't direct An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West, which isn't such a bad film, though nowhere near as good as the original)


The Land Before Time (1988) = Another classic. This, not Jurassic Park, made me interested in dinosaurs. I wanted to be a paleontologist then, so I can hunt for fossils of a diplodocus, and it all had to do with the majestic-looking 'long necks' in this film. This is Lion King before Lion King. The death of Littlefoot's mom was the most heartbreaking scene I've ever seen, and I remembered how I was reduced to a sobbing mess after every single time I've watched it. Let's face it, Lion King DOES rip off from The Land Before Time (compare the part where Simba speaks to the ghost of Mufasa, and the part where Littlefoot communicates with his mom). The Great Valley... how I've wanted to travel back in time to see whether such a place exist. The Tyrannosaurus Rex AKA Sharpteeth in this film freaked me out more than his counterpart did in Jurassic Park!



But I just found out a really disturbing fact from IMDB. Judith Barsi, the girl who did the voice for Ducky, was murdered months before the film opened. She was shot dead by her abusive dad (who later committed suicide). The girl was only ten.



On 2004, marker was added to Judith's plot: "In memory of the lovely Judith Eva Barsi 1978-1988 'Our Concrete Angel' Yep! Yep! Yep!" Ducky had been Judith's favourite role.

All Dogs Go To Heaven


All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989) = My memory of this masterpiece is vague, but it's filled with fondness. Saw it with my dad in Singapore when I was 5. I remember an orphan girl (also voiced by Judith Barsi, this film came out a year after her tragic murder mentioned above), a dog, Charlie, who went to heaven after he was killed, his sidekick and well, unfortunately, that's it. I need to rejog my memory. I caught a glimpse of its sequel on TV few months ago, but like those The Land Before Time sequels, Don Bluth had nothing to do with them.

Rock-A-Doodle, by Don Bluth, has an Elvis-fied Rooster


Rock-A-Doodle (1991) = This is the one which has an Elvis-fied rooster, and live-action sequences where a boy turned into a cat or something. It's supposed to suck, but I don't think it was that bad, well, all right, maybe my opinions would change if I see it now, but come on, this is one deep animated film that explores the negative aspects of fame and glory. The sun rises when the rooster sings, and then the rooster sells out and becomes a famous singer, only to realize how lonely he is without his friends from the farm. And he realizes that he's entangled in this complicated web of lies and deceit spun by this owl called The Grand Duke who is trying to keep the sun from rising so that he could spread his evil influence throughout the world... or something, I think. Er, yeah. Well, I'm sure Elvis would've loved this... maybe not.

Thumbelina (1994) = Seen it only once, can't remember it well enough to comment. I remember Thumbelina being forced into a marriage with the bad guy, or some insect, before the Prince came to rescue her 'The Graduate'-style. But then, I might be thinking of some other cartoon. Help me?

A Troll In Central Park is rather forgettable...


A Troll In Central Park (1994) = Same as above. Very fuzzy memories. I had the laser disc, but I remember it was so mediocre that I wasn't compelled enough to watch it the second time. The hero, a kindhearted troll, can grow flowers and stuff with his magical green thumb, and I remember in the ending, he fought an intense fight with the villain where both of them press their magical thumbs against each other. It's kinda like Dragon Ball Z characters using ki blast, but in a more child-friendly, silly manner. (not that DBZ is THAT less silly...)

The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) = Didn't see this one. Anyone else seen it?

Don Bluth's Anastasia


Anastasia (1997) = An underrated gem where Don Bluth returned to nearly the peak of his game. Anastasia is usually mistaken as a Disney film due to its numerous similarities with Disney's formula. A sassy heroine, a dashing hero who has to put up with sassy heroine, a funny animal sidekick, a wacky bad guy and his not entirely evil minion. There are many good things I want to say about Anastasia, it's the film I escaped to watch in the cinema with three other buddies (here's to you, Wai Kong, Kai Wen and Kelvin Pang! Nine years have passed and I still remember watching the film with you!) after a horrendous reunion with some primary school classmates in a shopping mall.

Like I said, Rasputin is awesome in here, he's constantly decomposing, and he rocks like a rock god. For a while, the film left me interested in the mystery of Anastasia. Although it's a travesty that this film is constantly mistaken as a Disney film, the love-hate relationship between Anastasia and Dimitri is more complex than most of the romantic angles churned out by Disney. Hell, the action scenes are pretty damned intense too. I won't say that this is as good as the likes of the timeless An American Tail or The Land Before Time, but I think this film will age pretty gracefully.

Titan A. E. (2000): A financial disaster that stopped Fox from making 2D animation anymore (the Fox Animation Studio shut down immediately after this). And sadly, this is also Don Bluth's last animated film. He hasn't done anything since then. Yes, this film has its flaws, it's underdeveloped, both the characters and the plot, and the ending sucked, but it's visually stunning, and the sci-fi setting crafted in this film is something I would've loved to see explored and expanded more. Apparently, Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Serenity, Firefly and Angel fame) and John August were among the team of screenwriters involved in this production. It's meant to be targeted at older audiences, but older audiences didn't embrace it. I think Disney's Atlantis (which was also a box-office disappointment) is better than this, but I've hoped that this film had been successful so that Don Bluth could've been doing more animated films.



According to Wikipedia, Don Bluth is currently seeking funding for the film version of Dragon's Lair. I hope he'll succeed. After all he has achieved, he deserves to go out with a bang.

Come on, here's the chance for you to give Don Bluth some love!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Swifty Combines Aussie Student Film, Hot Chick, Cowboy Bebop Dialogue, Angst For Mash-up Video!

Well, here's another entry to remind you that I AM a filmmaker. Just a couple of days ago, I mentioned that during my editing assignment, I realized common themes found it the majority of my projects, you can now witness the editing assignment for yourself.

Basically, we are all given a video (from a student film shot in Murdoch University), and we have to make something out of it. I used random snippets of dialogue from the anime Cowboy Bebop (and background music from Rahxephon) for this, and it's basically a pretty angsty and poignant tale... if you DON'T KNOW Japanese, if you DO know Japanese, you'll probably laugh at the sheer stupidity and wackiness of this video.

It's a tale of a man stuck with a lousy job in the camera storage place at the Multimedia School of Murdoch University. And then, the appearance of a mysterious woman changes his life forever...

Have fun watching!

(Important Note: I merely did the editing, I did NOT shoot the video!)



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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Now Everyone Knows My Fear For Dogs

Dawn Yeo, or Dawn Yang, depends what you call her, is perplexed by my fear for dogs
"My hatred for dogs extend to cartoon characters. I hate Goofy and Pluto because they are so freaking annoying. And I think Snoopy's a pretty condescending son of a bitch, even though he IS literally one. And Scooby Doo, goddamn Scooby Doo and his stupid cry, I can't freaking stand him."

"I hate dogs. I am supposed to be a manly man, but they made me seem unmanly, man. They make me feel exposed and vulnerable."

"When I was a toddler, and I wanted to get out of my house, my nanny told me that if I do thus, I would be eaten by dogs. Well, even if I don't believe that I'll be eaten by dogs now, I feel that they can still bite off my fingers easily."

"Crazy rottweilers. I remember reading the news about how this old woman was beaten to death by some crazy rottweiler many years ago, I never looked at the same way again."

"I always thought that by revealing my fear for dogs to a woman, she will appreciate my soft and sensitive side, and hopefully share this trait of mine as well, so that they would invite me home and that we can then... discuss about our mutual fear. Unfortunately, this had never happened."
And here you are, some choice quotes from my interview in a self-reflective documentary I was doing today with the other postgrad diploma students. An interesting experience. Although I felt that I've put so much weight compared to last year that I don't look that good on camera anymore. I'm vain, I know.

I've never been involved in a documentary production before, and neither have I ever used THAT many filming equipment in my life either! To use lighting equipment, an actual professional-type camera, a boom mic, whoa! In the past, all I had was my trusty little camera, with a flashlight (and an add-on camera light) for lighting. It was the most economic method of filmmaking, yet now, I have access to these babies! They are currently in my flat, here's a photo of them.

Swifty's Temporary Filming Equipment

Yes, your eyes aren't deceiving you, the stuff are in a shopping trolley, and the shopping trolley is in my living room. Basically, the concept of this documentary I am doing is about me and three others voicing our fears. As it is a self-reflective documentary, we take turns as cameraman, director, sound person and interviewee (or actor?).

But to make things more interesting, after we voice out our fears, we are supposed to CONFRONT our fears, Fear Factor-style. Right, so, I have to actually touch and feed a dog, while another girl, Cat, who is afraid of the dark, will be tossed into a dark room until she loses her shit, while another, Pam, who has this unexplainable fear for snakes, will have to actually stroke a snake. I wonder whether it's possible for her to be as hardcore as my little sister? (pic below)

Little Sister Carrying A Snake.

... or will she loses her shit?

I am currently filming the progress of producing this documentary (which means that I have my camcorder set up behind the video camera filming the documentary), so I'll put it up when it's done. ONCE I can upload my videos.

As for my personal thoughts about documentary... well, they definitely ain't my cup of tea, I don't see myself possibly making a documentary in the near future. A mockumentary is possible, but a documentary is something that can only be done if there is something I strongly believe in that I want to chronicle, or investigate. But what can that be? Hm.

Speaking of filmmakers who shifted from drama to documentaries, I am currently looking into German filmmaker Werner Herzog (who made last year's critically-acclaimed Grizzly Man, which many believed should have been nominated for the Oscars). Not really sure about his background, I'm just starting to collect the five movies he had made with Klaus Klinski (I have Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo thus far, I also have Mein leibster Feind for reference's sake, haven't watched either of them). I'm eager to see what their fabled partnership is all about. Will watch Aguirre later tonight.

Anyone else who has seen stuff by Werner Herzog? What are your thoughts about him and his movies? Any recommendations? And good sites about him you can direct me to?

My creative works seem to share a common theme...

Dawn Yang, or Dawn Yeo, returns to The Great Swifty Speaketh!During the editing assignment, a raw footage from a short film is given to groups of two to edit into a watchable short film. The rushes weren't anything special. It's about this guy who works in the filming equipment room at the Media And Communications School of Murdoch University. It was late at night, someone called Monty phones in to book a camera, the main guy complied. Then, suddenly, a hot babe walks in, flirts with him, seduces him into giving her the last camera. Hot babe leaves happily.

Monty, a big dangerous-looking dude comes in, pissed off that his camera had been given to someone else. Monty beats up the main guy.

I guess that should be what the original film was like. The audio track's completely removed, hence we have to put in sound effects of our own. Basically, it allows LOTS of room for creativity. Anyone could come up with their own reading and interpretation of the footage they saw.

Although I'm usually a Sony Vegas user, this assignment managed to make me become better versed with Adobe Premiere Pro (which is pretty much used by most people I know, and also taught by my uni), and someday, perhaps I would come up with something regarding the merits of these two editing software I use (for the time being, go read DVguru's comparison of the four top editing softwares in the market, it's great for all aspiring filmmakers and editors).

Speaking to people who did this assignment last year, I learnt that the ones who scored the highest were:

1) Someone who made hot chick and main guy had sex in the office (implied with sound effects), and then being caught by Monty (who is hot chick's boyfriend).

2) Someone who turned the short film into a horror tale. Hot chick's a GHOST!

3) Someone who stuck to conventional route, but spent lots of time on adding dialogue for the sound effects (via dubbing!)

Therefore I did what no one had done by dubbing the film with... JAPANESE DIALOGUE. Now, what makes this even crazier is the fact that I do NOT know Japanese, what I did was to cut out random snippets of dialogue from the anime, Cowboy Bebop, and put it in my project. Therefore, anyone who actually knows Japanese would 'WTF!' through the whole thing, or giggle like crazy. I stuck with the conventional route, except, instead of being beaten up, my main guy got SHOT by Monty. And as main guy died, he lamented the fact that he never got to know the hot chick's name.

Here's the end result.



When telling my aspiring filmmaker friend Sebastian, who is chillin' in UK, about what I did, he immediately remarked about it being rather similar to this aborted stageplay, Adieu, I did back when I was 17. I couldn't help but agree, and said that it's also similar to my second short film,Forced Labour. My creative works, both writings and films, are seemingly united by a few common themes! It's always about regret, yearning and the lost opportunities of romance! It's possibly influenced by my personal life, and it's funny that I've never truly noticed that until tonight. It's all subconscious, I try to pour my emotions to tell a good story, and ultimately, they are all united by a similar theme. Here's a summary of my works that belong to this category:

Adieu = Takes place during the 1920-1930s era, like a film noir. My main guy walks into a bar, speaks to the bartender, tired and world weary. Then he sees his ex-flame appearing onstage, singing. He sees a new possiblity in life, leaves the girl a note while she's still singing. Goes off somewhere to meet up with her, unfortunately, he's murdered by gangsters who had a history with him. Hours later, the bar singer stands alone, waiting for him, not knowing that she's not going to see him again.

Forced Labour = A business transaction between two rival gangs (led by women) was interrupted when one of the gang bosses had to go into labour. The protagonist, Karen, has to help her sworn enemy deliver the baby despite their unspoken past. It's finally revealed in the ending that Karen's husband was gunned down three years ago by the pregnant gang boss shortly after Karen had a fight with him. Karen's selfless act was possibly driven by her own regret of indirectly causing her husband's death, or never fulfilling what he had wanted.

The Cottage (Blogathon 2005 Story) = A time traveler tries to resurrect his dead lover. His (mis)adventures, presented in journal form, are mostly wistful ponderings and monologue directed to his absent lover. Ah, I still love the 'Let my love for you flow in the River of Time for eternity' line in this one. But yeah, you can probably see the picture now.

Even my upcoming short film deals with similar themes, even though it takes place in a postapocalyptic internet-less world. A girl grappling with the shocking identity of her online boyfriend, and also the feeling of loss and regret of someone who had always been in love with her, but never the chance to express his feelings.

Hell, even my DAWN YANG WEBCOMICS are like that.

Dawn Yang, or Dawn Yeo, should appear in Swifty's future films.Who else does stuff that explore these themes? To my consternation, I could only think of Wong Kar Wai (read this analytical article about his meditations on loss), and to a lesser extent, Christopher Nolan (his films have more to do with guilt and regret than real heartbreak). Urgh, that means I'll be following the footsteps of shitloads of other aspiring filmmakers out there! I'll become an incompetent WKW-wannabe and churn out rubbish like The Third Generation!

Now, like Sebastian had asked, what kind of works will I make when I get married and have kids in the future? Of course, judging by my current situation, whether THAT will really happen is in doubt. But for the time being, I won't mind revisiting themes that seem to haunt most of my works. It's not as if I am deliberately trying to tell the same story, but I guess subconsciously, it's something that will slip through no matter what I do.

BTW: Can anyone name some other directors who tend to make films about yearning, regret, losses, lost opportunities in romance and heartbreak? I think Shunji Iwai's one of them too (though not that apparent).

(Sorry, Dawn)

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'A History of Violence'

Viggo Mortensen can still kick ass even if he's not Aragorn in A History of ViolenceI read that when director David Cronenberg was shooting A History of Violence, he asked his wife to visit the set, and then had sex in front of cast members Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, so that they would know what to do during the sex scenes. That's... dedication. (UPDATED 18th of Feb 2009: After being called out by a commenter for the opening paragraph 3 years after I've first posted this review, I've decided to include the URL of the source I mentioned, which, now that I've read it again, is of dubious credibility. Perhaps I was a little more gullible back then when it came to reading sensationalist tabloid pieces)

Of course, when I was seeing it in the cinema, many people snickered and giggled during the two much-talked about sex scenes, and some wincing and groaning during the second staircase one. I felt that the scenes were pretty over-the-top, but someone in IMDB justified the scenes like this in reply to someone who made a remark similar to mine (and that the sex scenes were entirely unnecessary and slowed down the pacing of the film):

"Obviously you didn't get the meaning behind the scene on the stairs at all. Or with Edie's own history, for that matter. Hers was A History of Sex, as clearly evident with the cheerleading escapade and "we didn't get to know each other as kids" scene. She had a past that was driven by sex and this was parallel with his of violence. Finally the two pasts of the characters caught up with them and collide in a scene of raw honesty, passion and need. These characters used what they knew to connect with one another and then hope for the possibility of a new life together that was true and impenetrable. This Film was Freaking Brilliant in Everyway Possible. Sorry that you have such a Garbage Screenwriting Prof. Sounds like he could use some more schooling. Sex is necessary. It is part of the human condition and the driving force behind many lives. To deny it would be untrue to the spirit of what makes us alive."
Sure. Okay. I guess this is one of those movies where people can interpret in many different ways.

As for me, I just think of this movie (an adaptation of a graphic novel) as a pretty cool thriller/action movie which seems to be more realistic than your usual stuff. Viggo Mortensen, who rocked as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays Tom Stall, an owner of a diner a small peaceful town. Tom's a normal guy, a great husband to lawyer Edie Stall (Maria Bello) and loving father to Jack and Sarah. He lived a pretty normal life, until he killed two robbers during an attempted robbery in his diner. Tom was turned into an overnight national hero by the media.

But then, shady, dangerous men from the Philadelphia Mafia led by Fogarty (ED HARRIS!) began visiting Tom and family, calling Tom by another name, Joey, claiming that it was Tom/Joey who left him disfigured twenty years ago. That endangered the entire family. Was Forgarty just some crazy old guy? Or mild-mannered Tom actually did have a shady past kept hidden from his family all these while? Will the family crumble while facing such adversity?

Well, I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free, but many could say that the film's pretty predictable, and the plot twists weren't the highlights of the film, but the examination of the characters. Yet when some revelations were revealed, some members of the audiences gasped loudly. Yet I still think this is an action movie/thriller that is rather unlike others you see from Hollywood. A generic action hero would've been embraced by his family, his heroics and superhuman feat would have been taken for granted by those around him, yet things are different in 'A History of Violence'. By turning into an unlikely hero, everything around Tom started crumbling. Edie, usually cool and composed, started suspecting her husband and believed Forgarty's accusations, whilst Jack began attacking his high school bullies in return (my flatmate and I cheered during that scene). Think Spy Kids, but imagine that instead of being excited and diving into their own adventures to save their parents after learning that their parents are top spies, the two kids began questioning everything they have believed in the past, and became more and more depressed about their parents' identities, until ultimately, they coudn't trust their parents anymore. Yeah, something like that. Imagine the characters in The Incredibles being just as depressed because of the same situation.

Viggo Mortensen is still a cool as Aragorn in A History of ViolenceMy untrained mind is incapable of looking into the deep social meaning behind A History Of Violence (or maybe I'm just lazy), hence I only think of it as an action movie/thriller with character drama and realism. The action scenes were pretty intense and violent, and got some mixed reactions from people in the cinema. My flatmate and I cheered and went 'whooooaaa!', while some middle-aged woman beside me gasped and said something like 'I'm feeling sick, this is too graphic, I can't bear to watch'. This film explores a mixture of human emotions, of people facing a conflict between love and hate, of tasting the glory of being a hero, and then facing the ugly consequences, of watching an idyllic family falling apart because of circumstances beyond their control. So yeah, all kinds of conflicts, thus the different kinds of emotions it can generate from its audiences.

You'll be surprised by the different kinds of reviews for this movie. Here are some for you to check out: David Lowery's Review | Amit Tripuraneni's Review | The Tower Library's Review |

Once again, if you've reviewed the film too, feel free to post your URL here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'A Chinese Tall Story'

Charlene Choi seriously didn't suck in this film
This film has received some rather mixed reviews, and it did only middling business in the box-office, but knowing that this Jeff Lau film is a quasi-sequel to Stephen Chow's Chinese Odyssey (which was also directed by Jeff Lau), I was looking forward to see this film, and was rather annoyed that I never had the chance to see it when it was showing at the cinemas, nor was I able to find anyone to watch it with me. It was already judged as a shitty film. Perhaps it had to do with the cast. Having guys from Boy'z as the Tang Monk's (Tripitaka) disciples doesn't really help matters. Nicholas Tse's once-promising acting career has been buried by one tabloid news after another, and Charlene Choi? Well, she's from Twinz. What more do I have to say? I can't even name a film which she doesn't annoy me... except, maybe that Andy Lau film last year. That's because SHE DIED IN THE BEGINNING OF THAT FILM.

Right, A Chinese Tall Story, like Stephen Chow's Chinese Odyssey ten years ago, and the more recent disgustingly overrated anime Gensomaden Saiyuki, is loosely based on the Chinese classical novel, Journey To The West. So yeah, it's still about a monk, Tripitaka's quest to retrieve a scripture from the west, and he's protected by his three disciples, Monkey King, Piggy and Friar Sand from all kinds of dangerous demons and stuff. Usually, in past adaptations (including the Stephen Chow flick) the Monkey King is the most colourful character of them all, a badass devil-may-care type who does most of the asskicking. But then, this film is a rare exception, with the spotlight focusing upon Tripitaka instead, about an unlikely romance he was involved in. ... a monk falling in love??? Maybe disgustingly overrated anime Gensomaden Saiyuki showed how juicy the roles of the other characters can be, since it focused just that much on Tripitaka (called Sanzo in the series). And having bad boy Nicholas Tse as Tripitaka? Whoa, that's like asking Russell Crowe to play the Pope.

This is a wacky fantasy film, with anachronisms appearing everywhere, and all kinds of films being parodied. Monkey's Golden Staff transforming into the battlemech from Matrix Revolutions? Tripitaka dressed up as Spider-man? Monkey King attempting the whole 'whispering secret to hole' trick from Wong Kar Wai's In The Mood For Love and 2046?
An alien princess who holds a cigarette like Tony Leung in In The Mood For Love? Getting involved in epic battles against UFO and demons? This is one insane film.

And as I've said, being a fantasy film, I didn't really understand this particular line from this review from BRNS.com:

Here reformed rebel Tse plays naughty Buddhist monk Tripitaka, on a pilgrimage to the hallowed city Shache, which turns out to be yet another stereotypical portrayal of what moviegoers in China today are supposed to expect India to look like. Thus, the place comes nestled around some hills and you get people dancing in the streets to the merry tune of off-screen snake tamers. Whoa, as Neo would probably have quipped.

Er, hello? This is a fantasy film, I see a fictional fantastical city with some kind of exotic Indian influences, not a so-called stereotypical portrayal of India. That's almost like dissing elves in Lord of the Rings for being a stereotypical portrayal of tree-hugging hippies. I am directly addressing this review because, this review also claimed that 'the awkwardly-titled newer film has more to do with stuff from the first half of this decade, namely goofball comedies like The Lion Roars and Himalaya Singh. And when we tell you that Tall Story's not even as accomplished as those, that should be enough to seal its fate and consign the thing to that dubious realm of half-baked movie projects hovering somewhere between the recycle and bargain bins.' Sorry, but I definitely do not think that this film is worse than that steaming pile of turd known as Himalaya Singh (read my review here). In fact, to compare this film with Himalaya Singh is a travesty. The humour in Tall Chinese Story may be rather over-the-top, but ultimately, it has some pathos and emotion during the third act of the film, Himalaya Singh was a puke-inducing vicious slap upon any viewer's face.

It's difficult for me to summarize the plot of this film. Tripitaka and gang get ambushed by armies of demons during their quest. Tripitaka manages to get away, and then runs into this ridiculously ugly lizard imp chick (Charlene Choi). Ridiculously ugly lizard imp chick falls for Tripitaka due to some wacky misunderstanding. On their series of misadventures to rescue Tripitaka's disciples, she tries to turn him into a bad boy, and also to win his heart.

Yes, the comedy in the film can be amusing and fun, but one can feel that it's too over-the-top sometimes, but I guess it's Jeff Lau's style to embark in such pointless Dadaist humour. So that the shift of gear from madcap comedy to emotional drama can be felt more strongly, he did that very successfullly with the classic Stephen Chow film (after all, the 'if my love for you has to have an expiry date, let it be ten thousand years' quote is a rip-off of Takeshi Kaneshiro's line in Chungking Express, but it became a classic quote that entered Chinese pop culture), he did that too in the mediocre and bafflingly critically-acclaimed Chinese Odyssey 2002 with Faye Wong and Tony Leung. And I think it worked too in this film. I liked it not for its humour, but for the surprising charm and emotion. I was surprised how 'epic' the film was (if the CGI in this film weren't that bad, exactly like a PS2 game, I think this would've been very mindblowing), and how affecting the romance between Tripitaka and ridiculously ugly lizard imp chick was, which all led to a heartfelt finale with numerous memorable lines. Let me paraphrase some:

"Her love for you is the greatest love of them all because she loved you without expecting to get anything from it."

"The furthest distance in existence is not between a two souls of a one-sided love affair, but between two who clearly loved each other, but could not be together."
A Chinese Tall Story
... right, I suck at translating them, and I don't have the DVD with me right now, but I doubt the subtitles are much better.

Joe Hisaishi, regular composer of Hayao Miyazaki's (he did the music for all Studio Ghibli classics directed by Miyazaki, from Nausicaa to the latest Howl's Moving Castle), was splendid with the score he did for this film, hell, the music was so stirring that it had me all choked up in certain parts of the film. Which is also something I didn't expect from this film too.

This film is no masterpiece, but it's infinitely better than The Promise (top-grossing film in China on 2005, nominated for Golden Globes... oh please). When I finished watching A Chinese Tall Story, I shook my head and wondered where the hell did all the budget went to in The Promise. The Promise was overwrought with sheer pretensions of grandeur and self-importance, A Chinese Tall Story didn't take itself that seriously, hence I could accept the cartoonish CG effects in the latter more than the former. Besides, I feel that A Chinese Tall Story has more of a heart than The Promise. And cartoonish the characters may be in A Chinese Tall Story, at least I feel more for them than the ones in The Promise.

This film really isn't that bad.

Other reviews of A Chinese Tall Story: Lovehkfilm.com | Brns.com | Twitchfilm.net

If you've reviewed the film too, feel free to post its URL here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Swifty's Sci-Fi Satirical Slapstick Becomes... An Emotional Love Story? Also, A Jim Jarmusch Question.

This picture is done by a girl called YoshimiThe Postgrad Diploma students are supposed to be working on two projects thus far. A self-reflexive (reflective?) documentary which involves all four filmmakers sitting before the camera talking about themselves. And also the toilet paper epic I mentioned few days ago.

The documentary is a bitch, because we can't really find a good topic that can make things interesting to watch. Will people want to see us wanking about our filmmaking dreams? I can imagine people groaning when they hear another person claiming filmmaking as a 'childhood dream', or a 'part of life', which is bred from 'an unparalleled passion for films', and that regardless of it being a difficult business and industry, we will 'trudge on to realize our dreams'. Such maudlin crap makes me want to puke. I mean, let's face it, 90% of the aspiring filmmakers have the same reasons why they want to be filmmakers, instead of sympathizing with them, or connecting, I will most definitely feel annoyed with such a documentary (I watched something like this today by former Murdoch film students, and even though they went on to win awards left and right, I didn't like the documentary). So no, I don't want to torture my audiences with something like that either.

This is Yoshimi's actual self-portraitOr maybe I'm just a self-centered, egoistic, narcissistic scumbag who doesn't like to hear about another person who is too similar to himself.

But then, Pam, who reads this site, managed to come up with a wondrous topic that had me celebrating in joy. We speak about our fear, and who knows? It's something that can be developed. I can voice out my embarrassing fear for dogs. And then participate in a crazy stunt where I try to pet a dog. It's like Fear Factor. Hmm. I shall ponder.

As for the toilet paper film, the tentatively titled Arse Wipe, or Shitstorm, I'll be resuming work on my storyboard after posting this entry.

These are all mere practices to get me ready for my upcoming sci-fi film that I will be working throughout the second half of the year. I've mentioned here that it has evolved from a supposedly funny satirical tale to something more conventionally dramatic. The satire remains, of course, my two main characters, Edward and Maya will still run into a bunch of colourful characters who are dealing with life without internet in this postapocalyptic city, and here are my ideas thus far, which I've jot down for my supervisor on my synopsis last week. (if you've forgotten, it is also based on my Blogosphere tale two months ago)

This is Yoshimi's cousin, but the picture's done by Yoshimi!‘Bloggers’ = Some homeless bum who carries his personal diary around begging others to read it and then leave a comment.

‘Chatroomers’ = Someone who goes around speaking to strangers. They begin their conversations with ‘hi! A/S/L? Let’s be friends! LOL!’

‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers (MMORPGers)’ = A group of people who are dressed up like fantasy characters congregating, and then whacking each other with foam or toy swords (in the background)

‘Counterstrikers’ = similar to the MMORPGers, just that they dress up in commando uniforms and carry toy guns. Counter Strike fans.

‘File-sharing Vendours’= Someone driving a van (like an ice-cream van), sharing dvds and cds he has stolen from video and music shops.

Yoshimi herselfDigital cultists = A bunch of cultists gathering around a computer, praying and worshipping.

My short film follows a 3-act structure too. First Act is a road movie where the two main characters are in a car. Second Act is a quest movie where the two main characters wander through a foreign city searching for someone (while meeting the aforementioned weirdos). Third Act is where everything is revealed in a startling twist.

This time, instead of drawing my influence from the very low budget short film Jettison Your Loved Ones (download it!) or Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville. I'm aiming more for a... er, Lost In Translation (two souls bonding at a foreign land, whose relationship can be interpreted as friendship or romantic) meets About Schmidt (not About Schmidt specifically, more like Wes Anderson/Alexander Payne-type humour) meets Pi (insane black and white, claustrophobic settings, the last place a subtle understated romance would take place in).

After hearing my idea, my supervisor asked me to seek two films by Jim Jarmusch, its title has escaped her though, so it could either be Permanent Vacation or Stranger Than Paradise. It's about a bunch of guys trying to go to a beach or something, anyone has any idea which one she's talking about? She said there's this tormented love story in it too that I can use as inspiration too. Hmmmm. (Unfortunately for me, amongst all the films done by him, I've only seen Ghost Dog, which is pretty awesome and funny).

(Pictures by Yoshimi, who knows not the existence of this site)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Graduation. Oh, and Annie Proulx's pissed that Brokeback Mountain didn't win the Oscars.

I know, I have no idea why I'm so gorgeous eitherI spent the last few years doing my degree on Marketing Management, not entirely something I liked to do, but I did for practicality's sake. My minor was English Literature, to serve as a refresher to my course. Business units, for me, were always dry and boring, thus I needed something interesting from the literature units to challenge my mind, and constantly dove into my filmmaking and writing endeavours (like this site) for the sake of reducing the numbness I get when doing a business course.

But that ended last year. I've already finished my degree since then.

I'm currently doing my Postgrad Diploma on Media Production, and I can finally do the things I've been wanting to really do for years, like filmmaking. And yeah, you might have seen me posting about my adventures during the past few weeks.

However, I finally had my graduation ceremony tonight (or rather, last night, 13th of March, 2006), and for the first time in my life, I was dressed formally, how utterly awesome. Of course, unlike everyone else who were there, I wasn't exactly in a festive mood. They have really graduated (and have embarked upon a new chapter of their lives), yet I still need to go for classes the day after the ceremony. I'm still stuck in uni for a year to pursue my dreams.

There was a moment near the end of the ceremony when everyone except for the graduants were asked to stand and applaud, celebrating the efforts and achievements of all graduants. It was pretty spine-tingling. I shall post photos of me in the graduation gown... if they don't look too stupid. And I'll post videos of it too, once I can find a place where I can upload my videos. GAH.

To recognize this significant moment, I shall post a gorgeous photo that I took of myself after I returned from the graduation ceremony. Man, I'm such a hunk. I certainly look better than I did two weeks ago at Sony Tropfest... man I was FAT! (or maybe my lady friend is just too skinny...)

How the hell did I look so fat during Sony Tropfest?


Now, on an entirely unrelated note. A week has passed since my birthday, when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain on one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. Much have been written about this travesty. Some condemned the Academy for being conservative homophobes (which, according to Academy president, is a silly accusation), even Stephen King (who had believed that Crash would win all the while even though he felt that Brokeback was the superior film) was asking everyone to let go and move on.

I personally believe that the likes of Brokeback Mountain and even Munich would be remember longer than Crash even though Crash was the much easier film to watch (someone called it 'dark', but give me a break, almost everyone had a happy ending, it felt more cheery than depressing in the end, like the substories of that dude with a daughter and her invincible cloak, Sandra Bullock ("I once hate people with different skin colour, but I've now learnt my lesson, boohoo"), Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton (I paraphrase this from a comment I saw on a blog entry: "Honey? You know the cop who molested you last night? His young partner saved my life today!" "Really? The cop who molested me last night saved my life today too!"), Matt Dillon ("I was an asshole, but I just became a hero, and I'm really not an asshole, just frustrated with dad's condition!") etc. Hey, I liked Crash too, after seeing it, I told my dad that he HAS TO see it! And I was even rooting for Matt Dillon to win the Oscars. But never have I ever thought of it as Oscar-winning material. Of course, someone made an even more scathing accusation after the Oscars.

"Hah! Look at the irony. By awarding an anti-racist film, the Academy had just shown how racist they are by shunning a film directed by a Chinese!"
The person who made that comment was me, unfortunately.

Yet someone else had more to say about Brokeback's loss during the Oscars. Annie Proulx herself. Yes, the author of the Brokeback Mountain novel (yes, to the uninitiated, the film is based on a book) had LASHED OUT AGAINST THE ACADEMY! It's certainly rather unexpected. But amusing, go read her article! I've never seen something like this before (... an author being so pissed off that a film adapted from his or her novel failing to win Best Picture oscar). I do agree with what she said about Hollywood's love for mimicry. Too many acting awards have been given to people in biopics during the past few years (Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Jamie Foxx), it's just pretty freaking ridiculous. Hell, almost every year, someone in a biopic is nominated for the acting awards.
"Hollywood loves mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb. But which takes more skill, acting a person who strolled the boulevard a few decades ago and who left behind tapes, film, photographs, voice recordings and friends with strong memories, or the construction of characters from imagination and a few cold words on the page? I don't know. The subject never comes up. Cheers to David Strathairn, Joaquin Phoenix and Hoffman, but what about actors who start in the dark?" - Annie Proulx
And here's Richard Roeper's (Roger Ebert's partner) reply.
"In two decades of writing about movies, I have never heard such bitching and moaning and griping about a film not winning best picture. Enough is enough. You lost. Try to handle it with some grace." - Richard Roeper


If there is this one day when I'm nominated for some major awards, and lost out to somne other film, and I can get this kind of hardcore support from my friends. I don't think I even need to win the big ones anymore. More on my filmmaking adventures in my next few entries.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Syriana'

George Clooney's substory is the most interesting, to me.Syriana is, well, not an easy film to follow. It's about the global oil industry, terrorism and Middle-East politics. So many characters, so many different locations, so many subplots were going on that despite my brilliant mind, I had trouble following the film, then the trouble started subsiding, then, it came back, then it subsided again, and then came back, and subsided, until I was shifting from full understanding of the plot to slight confusion within minutes. Yet in the end, I knew enough to know that the ending was a depressing one. The CIA were portrayed as bastards whilst the business world was shown as a cesspool of immoral, manipulative rich men.

George Clooney, angsting manfully.Two American oil firms were merging, and they were involved in shady deals like bribery to achieve their goals. An oil broker (Matt Damon) has to deal with the death of his young son in a freak accident, then partners with a Gulf prince (who owns the hotel where the freak accident that killed Matt Damon's young son occurred). An ambitious attorney (Jeffrey Wright) has to help serve as the fixer for the merger between the two oil firms because they are being investigated by the Justice Department. A Pakistani youngster was getting increasingly involved in a deadly crusade against the oil firms. A middle-aged CIA agent (George Clooney in an Oscar-winning role) gets betrayed by an informant, and then gets betrayed by the CIA, poor guy was very much screwed. Argh, screw it, if you want a somewhat better synopsis, go read Hollywood Reporter's review.

A picture of normal George Clooney to appease my female readers.Being an ensemble flick, I guess even if George Clooney was arguably the main actor (his screentime is arguably the longest), he ended up being labelled as a supporting one. But by fattening himself, he did add some gravitas to his character, making the poor guy the one most would most probably sympathize with. It also helped that he was in a WINCE-INDUCING torture scene... HIS FINGERNAILS WERE PLUCKED OFF!! If you saw the film during the evening on the 7th of March, in the cineplex of Garden City, Perth, the guy making disgusted sounds "Eeeeeew! Uuuuuurgh! Oooooowaaah! Ooooouch!" might be me. (whether he deserved an Oscar or not is debatable, I personally find Jake Gyllenhaal's performance more mindblowing in Brokeback Mountain)

This film is more like a mind challenge, it doesn't really hit me that emotionally. But I guess it's sorta good. Was thinking that it was a thriller because of the trailer, but it's pretty talky and slow-moving. Not something I would watch again, but yeah, I guess it's all right. Hmm.

"Well, what really struck me is the fact that this is how the world really operates and that is scary because i do not know much about it, and it's scarier now that i know these are the rules of the game." - Sebastian Ng on Syriana
Other reviews/entries/articles of Syriana: One Guy's Opinion | eFilmCritic | The Darliquinn's Underweird | Kimputer | Fi Fie Foe Fum | Reporter.co.za | Choking On Popcorn | Sebastian Ng

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Match Point'.

Scarlett Johansson... mmmm, Scarlett Johansson...Match Point is Woody Allen's much-lauded latest flick. Much-lauded because it is entirely unWoody Allen, it's not a comedy, it doesn't have Woody Allen in it, it doesn't have Woody Allen getting it on with some young actresses, it doesn't have some guy like Will Ferrell trying to imitate Woody Allen, it doesn't take place in New York. Critics were excited to see Woody Allen doing something so different from his usual stuff, it's the equivalent of seeing John Woo tackle a romantic comedy (without pigeons in it), or George Lucas attempting an erotic thriller, or Uwe Boll doing a serious biopic about James Joyce, or Michael Bay doing an explosion-less family drama, or... well, you get the idea.

This is a very British film (well, I'm sure the real Brits would argue that the Brits in the flick don't really act like real Brits, which would be lost to me considering that I have no idea how actual high-level Brits would act) about a tennis instructor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the girly dude/love interest in Bend It Like Beckham, and the guy who played Elvis in the Elvis miniseries) who managed to befriend a rich dude (Matthew Cooke), marries the rich dude's sister (Emily Mortimer), and then has an adulterous affair with rich dude's fiancee (Scarlett Johansson). Then, some complications occur, the guy faces the possibility of losing all the luxury he has gotten after marrying the rich chick when the wrong woman got pregnant. He has to TAKE ACTION!
Basically, the main guy of the film is the bad guy, it's a matter of whether you would root for him, or root against him. The elderly couple sitting next to me were whispering angry insults at the main character while watching the film. It's interesting, it's also about how luck is mostly responsible for a person's success. Some may not like this idea, wishing to believe that it is dilligence and patience that are keys to a person's success, but then, luck is crucial in everything. After all, this guy has an adulterous affair with Scarlett Johansson... SCARLETT JOHANSSON, omfg.

Whilst I was allowing my eyes to feast upon the beauty onscreen, my mind scattered towards a thousand directions, I tried to put myself in the guy's position, and realize that even if I will remain faithful to my wife, the sight of Scarlett will most probably make me hide in the bathroom and weep every night for not marrying her. Er, damn, this review would've been longer, but I Ohhhhh... Scarlett Johanssonfind myself having some difficulties trying to articulate a proper review. It's all Scarlett's fault, really. Life had never been the same since I saw Lost In Translation and Ghost World. It's unfortunate that people in Malaysia wasn't truly introduced to her until the mediocre (it's NOT Michael Bay's shittiest film, to be honest) The Island (my review here). And I also happen to be one of the few people in the world who saw the Brit film she was in last year, A Good Woman too. (my review here) Hope that she can get a more juicy role though, she was the lead in The Island, but ultimately just a love interest, and then I think she didn't seem to fit in A Good Woman (it was a kind of role anyone could pull off, since Helen Hunt was the one getting most of the attention)

Anyway, this is an interesting film, but I wonder whether it will still be that well regarded if it weren't directed by Woody Allen. I just enjoyed it when the main guy started doing truly evil stuff... to the disgust of the elderly couple sitting next to me.

Other Reviews of Match Point:

The Reel Life | The Bleeding Tree | Thirtynothing | I Got News For You

Note: If you've done a review of Match Point, just feel free to post the URL at the comments section.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Doing A Short Film About... The Importance Of Toilet Papers?

Progress Report of Swifty's Untitled Sci-Fi Project

The problems with the previous version of my postapocalyptic satirical sci-fi epic are rather apparent. It's too complex and confusing to be put in a 10-15 minute SHORT FILM, combining satire (poking fun of people’s overreliance on the internet by showing those homeless bums) with sincerity (romance between Edward and Maya) is not a good choice, one has to be chosen over the other.

(Read the idea here. And read my pitch here.)

And to have so many themes in a short film is dangerous as well... the themes I had in consideration were:

• Technology becoming an extension of humankind.
• Humanity’s overdependence on technology (and the internet).
• Machine vs. humanity
• The line that separates humanity from machine is blurred.
• Human interaction ruined by technology
• Technology substituting human emotions

I can't pile them all in a short film. Therefore I have to pick the ones that are entirely necessary. Emotional resonance has to be added, characters must have more depth. I am not attempting a farce in the vein of Jettison Your Loved Ones (which IS very bloody awesome, go download it!). Therefore, I must streamline things, and by doing thus, I came up with an entirely different approach for the original idea. Traces of satire will still remain, but I am turning this into more of a love triangle between Edward the camcorder guy, Maya the lovelorn chick and mysterious Dave, her online boyfriend. (Note: Names aren't confirmed)

My lecturer had asked me a couple of these questions after reading my initial plans for the short film.

"Are you telling a story about a girl who traversed half the planet, past the seven seas to seek her loved one, only to get a devastating surprise? Or are you telling a story about a society ruined by the collapse of the Internet? Or are you telling a story about humanity becoming so depersonalized that they feel better interacting with one another via technology and machines, than with each other?"

I wanted to tell all three, but I can only pick one to focus on, the rest will only be peripherals, so I guess I have chosen to tell the story of a girl journeying to seek her loved one, which is very much different from my original idea of doing an epic tale of a girl wanting to save the world. It'll remain black and white to make things more alien, and so that despite shooting my film at contemporary Perth, people can still assume it takes place in an alternative world, or the future, or something. Hm.

After telling my tutor about my new approach of the tale, I guess she seems more excited with it. Although she suggested that I should ditch the 'cool and mysterious, good-looking yet entirely mute younger brother' role so that the story can become more about Maya and Edward and mysterious boyfriend Dave. And it'll be more like a road movie, where they occasionally run into some characters that show how messed up the world had become (perhaps I shall have a look at Homer's Odyssey again, even though it was adapted not too long ago... by Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou? with George Clooney in it)

Pay attention when Swifty is talking, or Takako Uehara's gonna kick your assI'm not revealing the ending, but if delivered well, it'll be pretty sweet. Most first-time filmmakers will attempt to do something macho and badass, the latest Quentin Tarantinoesque film, or perhaps a hardcore sci-fi thriller. I can't believe I'm doing a, well, love story.

On the other hand, remember my original idea where the main baddie that has conquered the workd is this megacorporation called Yahooglesoft? (Yahoo + Google +Microsoft), I don't think I'm being overdramatic. With this whole thing about Google's Gdrive, they might actually have taken another step to world domination. Read more about Gdrive here, it's kinda disturbing, and scary. Who knows? If I get more money, and can do a longer film, I might just do something about Yahooglesoft!

Swifty's New Short Film. Project Title: 'Asswipe'

This is a project for my Screen Production class which I conceived suddenly yesterday afternoon. A group of people were supposed to do a 3-minute short film, shot in 2 hours, and then complete via continuity editing instead of jump cuts and such.

Anyway, the summary of this awesome short film is:

A guy takes a shit in the university public toilet, then realizes that there weren't any toilet rolls anymore. In desperation, he peers out of his cubicle to see whether anyone's out there... then with sheer Metal Gear Solid stealth, he had to sneak into other cubicles to find toilet rolls, while avoiding humiliation and embarrassment.


I think it'll be a masterpiece.

Brief Oscar Thoughts

More of my thoughts about the Oscars will come later. My predictions were here. Like most people, I didn't expect Crash to win over Brokeback Mountain. I got 13 out of 20 correct. Was expecting Memoirs of Geisha to be shut out completely from the Oscars (I am blinded by my dislike for Zhang Ziyi), was surprised to see it winning Best Art Direction, Costume Ah, Takako Uehara is disappointed that Brokeback Mountain lost tooand Cinematography. Was expecting Paradise Lost to win over Tsotsi too. And was hoping that Constant Gardener would win for editing. And then was thinking that the conservative Academy would award Crash's In The Deep instead of Hustle and Flow's It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp (some call it the first rap song to ever win the Oscars, but hey, didn't Eminem's Lose Yourself won too? WTF!) And I didn't expect the last Star Wars film to not get anything at all (it lost Best Makeup to Chronicles of Narnia). Hmm.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's The Great Swifty's Birthday! + Some Brief Oscar Thoughts.

Ang Lee was robbedOn the 6th of March, 1984, in Singapore, I was born. That was two decades and two years ago. How do I feel? No different from when I turned twenty one, which was no different from when I turned eighteen, still the most eligible bachelor in Malaysia. Perhaps there will be a time when I throw huge and garish parties for my birthday, inviting politicians, celebrities and members of the media to celebrate with me, but that day hasn't arrived, and I remain merely a low-profile film student who keeps his birthday to himself. No parties were thrown, so I will not cover the entire entry with photos of people you barely care about in a party you don't even wish of being there.

Perhaps a quick recap on how this site has evolved since going 'public' on July 2005?

Unfortunately, that will most likely be a snoozefest. What is worth reading on this site has already been archived and can be accessed via the numerous links at the left sidebar. My film reviews, literary articles, webcomics and other miscellaneous stuff. After all, it is always rather unfair to count the 'highlights' of your life, since some will be unhappy that I left them out of the 'highlights'. Hence they will start disputing my choices, and because I am such a nice guy, I will put them in as 'highlights', even though they aren't exactly my 'highlights', which will render things pointless.

There are some who had been following this site when it was some random personal blog back in July 2005, there are some who just started reading this when it became more literature and film-centered during the past two months, and some who started reading this during various moments of this site's existence. There are some who are desperately wanting to seek either their daily dose of Dawn Yang or Tammy of NYP, only to walk away disappointed when they realize that I am not exactly exploiting their names happily like others do. You are reading about my birthday via this site, so chances are, you don't really know me in real life, because this site isn't exactly known to that many real-life friends of mine. It's an unfortunate habit of mine to constantly maintain a line between my personal life and my cyber life. Therefore, I assume you are mostly readers and visitors of this site, and some of you may have regularly communicated with me via MSN. To those who have been reading this regularly for months, I thank you for your continual support, for those who have just started reading this site, I thank you and hope that what is here is enough to maintain your interest so that you will return in the future, to those who have stumbled here randomly via search engines and happen to read about my birthday in this entry, I thank you for this rare and unexpected visit.

My birthday was an uneventful one, except for hearing the news of Crash's unexpected victory in the Academy Awards (to the outrage of millions and millions of film sites out there). Crash is a feel-good crowdpleaser, Brokeback Mountain is a controversial uncomfortable tearjerker, Crash is easier for one to enjoy, yet I know that Brokeback Mountain is the more important, and by far the more critically-acclaimed film of 2005. Perhaps it will be remembered as the Raging Bull of the 21st century, or Goodfellas. Crash is enjoyable, and it has won the Oscar, but Brokeback Mountain is the film that has integrated itself deep within contemporary culture, and I believe it will remain more so than Crash. However, Ang Lee becoming the first Asian ever to win the Best Director award is a joy, his versatility and sheer skills will make his future films something to look forward to. And we'll be glad that he's not the type who recycles tricks... like tossing in pigeons, or slow-mo gun fights featuring people holding guns in each hand etc. So yeah, I'm sure he'll appear in future Oscars.

Most people tend to like giving shoutouts during their birthdays, I would've done the same, but I am really uncomfortable with leaving people out, therefore, I will say that I am giving YOU, yes, YOU, who are reading this, a shoutout. Like I said, thank you for reading this entry, if you've made it this far.

Given my lofty godlike status, my birthday might've been a bigger deal, but I didn't have internet access for the past few days. This entry should've been posted on my actual birthday yesterday too, but my university's pathetic piece of shit internet system's been down. But at least it's still 6th of March in certain countries. I hope.


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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Stumbling Into The World of Robert Altman

Robert Altman is such a cool-looking old dudeA short film idea I had in 2004:

It takes place within the span of a night in a mamak stall. (note to international readers: Mamak stalls are indian restaurants opened for 24 hours that can be found anywhere in Malaysia. It's a favourite hangout place for all kinds of people. People are there for the great curry dishes, the fried noodles, the roti canai (indian pancakes), the drinks (just milk tea, coffee etc. nothing alcoholic). A hangout place where people can just chit-chat, or watch the latest English Premiere League match. It's a subculture in Malaysia) An ensemble flick where a colourful cast of characters will be involved in various kinds of subplots while they were at the mamak stall. A bunch of football-crazed fans mouthing off while watching a game on TV, a man whining about his work with his buddies Clerks-style, a bunch of high school girls trying to entertain a Japanese person (from a student exchange program) with the mamak food, leading to comical results, a young couple confronting each other for their infidelities, a wealthy couple complaining about the less-than-satisfactory condition at the restaurant, a bunch of old men speaking about old times, two policemen resting from their duties, a pirated DVD peddler comes over to display his stuff.

Meanwhile, within the kitchen, conflict arises between the different employees due to a minor incident. The owner of the mamak stall struggles to keep everyone from killing each other while trying desperately to hide the fact that he had sold the restaurant to someone else (kinda like barber shop), rival chefs trying to outdo each other etc.

Just let the camera roll. Show the actions amongst these people. No plot, no three-act structure, just show the audiences how colourful a Mamak stall can be.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten entirely about this idea after I came to Perth.

Funny that this idea for an ensemble flick came back to me nearly two years and two short films later. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was planning to write about the man known for his multi-character epics, Robert Altman for the Robert Altman Blog-a-thon. This Blog-a-thon is called by Matt Zoller Seitz to honour this legendary director, who is receiving the Lifetime Achievement award during the upcoming Oscars (ON MY BIRTHDAY!). I immediately signed up for it because, well, I happened to have just finished watching 'The Company' hours earlier (and fell asleep halfway through), and based on the comments on that site, I doubt the others were going to write about it.

If Robert Altman acts, he could've been the hero in an action movie. The asskicking grandpa.Then, I remembered that I've only seen a grand total of THREE Altman films, Popeye, Gosford Park and The Company. Just these three, and neither of the classics like MASH or Nashville that launched him into prominence. Therefore, to have a guy who has only seen THREE Altman films writing something to pay homage to Altman would be rather difficult, whilst writing a simple review of 'The Company' would make things rather pointless and insincere, but ignoring all these, I popped 'The Company' into my DVD player to start watching again. Yet my attention wavered, and during I couldn't find myself going through the beautifully choreographed dance scenes without pressing the fast forward button. I was clearly in danger, yet too stubborn to admit that I was definitely not the right person to do an Altman article.

The film ended, the credits started to roll, and I continued staring blankly, wondering what I could do. My father was on MSN, thus I decided to seek counsel from him, the conversation was pretty much like this:

The Great Swifty: Dad, I've just joined this Robert Altman blog-a-thon, and well, lots of people will be writing about him, I think.

Dad: Have you seen Nashville? I saw it when I was your age, and I loved it.

The Kinda Great Swifty: Nope.

Dad: MASH?

The Sorta Great Swifty: Nope.

Dad: Then which film are you going to write about?

The Kinda Sorta Great Swifty: The only one I have in my hands, The Company. But it's difficult to write, the whole thing's like a documentary!

Dad: That's Altman's style.

The Really-Not-So-Great Swifty: Uh oh.

Not entirely happy with my predicament, I seeked Guestblogger Justin for help, hoping that he could conjure a surreal Altman-related article, perhaps something similar to the one where he pointed out the gay subtext of West Side Story. Alas, he had only seen Gosford Park, thus meaning that I had to deal with this by myself.

As you can see by now, I'm using the Charlie Kaufman method from Adaptation. As I can't write anything interesting about something, I shall cop-out to write about myself writing about that particular item. But by doing this, will I be lynched?!! Better shift the attention to the movie again.

Here you go, finally a screenshot of The Company, directed by Robert Altman, written by Barbara Turner and Neve Campbell

The Company is a 2003 film directed by Altman after Gosford Park, yet it was seldom spoken about. Perhaps it was considered a disappointment after the critical acclaim of Gosford Park (a film considered by many as another high point of Altman's career)?

This film is set in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago (an actual company, with the real dancers being in the film), and it follows the company for a season. Many call it an ensemble drama, but is such a film still considered an ensemble drama when we never really get to know most characters as individuals? The attention is focused more on a young member, Loretta 'Ry' Ryan (former Scream queen Neve Campbell, who co-wrote the script) and the chef she is romantically involved with (James Franco, Harry Osbourne in the Spider-man flicks). Then there is also the artistic director/ co-founder Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), who gives advices like "You're all so pretty. You know how I hate pretty."

Watching 'The Company' was like watching a documentary, it wasn't really bad, just that it didn't generate a single ounce of emotion from me, thus failing to blow me away (... I doubt that was Altman's intention, directors like him don't aspire to 'blow someone away', I guess), just a matter-of-fact look at a ballet company and its members. Like all documentaries, it only appeals to me if its subject matter is something I am interested in. Whether is it truly an accurate depiction of such a company is not the question, although I assume that the world in the film is less a mirror of reality than a representation of reality altered by Altman's vision (... I'm stating the obvious, am I?). And without much effort, he drew me into a world of ballet, I think someone from the ballet crowd, or someone interested in this would've appreciated this film a lot, alas I am not a member from such a crowd. Perhaps this film does not really suck, just that I'm not its target audience, I think it will be rather difficult for me to actually sit through it again, but then, that is pretty much like being dragged off for dinner with people who don't really click with you.

Robert Altman looks almost pissed off that I'm doing such a crappy job with this entry... or is he actually smiling?Film reviewers of The Company are divided into two camps, those who like the documentary-style approach Altman used for the film, and those who er, don't (based on Rotten Tomatoes, these people belong to the minority, but the IMDB message boards might show otherwise). Lawrence Journal World's review states that The Company" 'is just as narratively misplaced (as Kansas City). Although the rehearsals and performances are scrutinized in great detail, the people behind these episodes are a complete enigma.' and similar to what I've said, 'It's like the audience has been asked to attend a dress rehearsal conducted by complete strangers and told to sit in the corner and not ask questions. Even an amateur home movie of this same subject would feature some thread of a plot.' While Eric D Snider's gripe about the film is slightly different: 'Even the rehearsals have a certain fascination to them, as it is intriguing to see how something like this comes together, the nuts and bolts of it all. Where the film goes wrong is in showing the characters away from the stages and the rehearsal halls without giving them anything to do.' (his review is here)

But here's what Altman had to say about his approach (from the Hollywood Reporter review which calls the film 'the film a visual and aural extravaganza open to many repeat viewings.'):

"We were not trying to make a dramatic film, we were trying to make a 'day in the life of, the problem I had in doing this picture is that I had 45 dancers and five actors. I couldn't make the dancers learn to act, and so I had to make the actors become kind of like non-actors."

Someone else thinks that Altman was certainly doing more than just a 'day in the life of' film, and that's Roger Ebert, who said that '"Mr. A" is based on Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey's legendary director and choreographer, and that no doubt is true. But there's another Mr. A standing right there in full view, and his name is Robert Altman', (Ebert's review here). The film idea is Neve Campbell's (she joined the National School of Ballet in Canada when she was nine), but perhaps it was also Altman's method of showing us a glimpse of himself, how the problems faced by Mr Antonelli in running the company is similar to Altman's, financial constraints, the juggling of delicate egos, his uneasiness with praises (both from him, or for him), and the undertaking of a project no one else has ever tried. Despite not enjoying The Company, I do like the feeling of authenticity we usually see in Altman's films (well, not Popeye...), nothing stagey, nothing melodramatic, just a bunch of people gathered at a particular place at a particular span of time doing what would be deemed natural in the world constructed by Altman in his film. (the scene where a dancer ruptured her Achilles tendon, bringing a sudden end to her career was disturbing to me because it was shown in such a casual manner, no sad violin score or close-up of that dancer weeping in sheer agony, and everyone running into the room in slow-mo to her aid, and then cutting back to the dancer screaming inaudibly as the score continue soaring). And thanks to him, I actually have an extra idea for a project I can work on.

Anyway, I shall end this entry by asking what do YOU, my dear readers, think of The Company. Is it a lesser work of Altman? Or is it an underrated masterpiece? How about rating it from a scale of 1 to 10? Or is it the kind of movie that defies conventional methods of rating? Don't be shy, Robert Altman is asking you to speak up.

(Other Robert Altman related articles from the Blog-a-thon can be viewed here)

Now is YOUR turn to speak, says Robert Altman
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