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My Short Films

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Puffy Amiyumi

Swifty: Posting for Justin.




Puffy or Puffy Amiyumi
I'm hesitant to post about Puffy (or 'Puffy Amiyumi' as they're now known, so as not to piss off P-Diddy) because I fear adding more shit to the heap. In case you haven't been paying attention, Puffy did what no other J-pop act (including Hikki) has been able to pull off: they got big in America. Okay, this is relative big we're talking about, but the average teen is at least likely to have heard of them. Granted, they cheated, getting recognition through an English-language cartoon show which, although Puffy or Puffy Amiyumifeaturing their music and (vague) likenesses, has only a tenuous connection to their actual Japanese personas. Anyway, I hate them now because they sold out (just kidding, 'selling out' doesn't make sense in any conceivable way applied to j-pop; it's like criticizing an orange for being, um, orange...).

Puffy were one of the first J-pop acts I got into, and their early stuff had a big effect on me. My last post was about Nanase Aikawa, and it's interesting to draw parallels between Puffy and Nanase. Both started out with images that contravened conventional J-pop iconography (i.e. they weren't portrayed as pornographic children, in essence) and both came to rely on semi-unknown American rockers to write their songs. While Nanase came off as a black-clad tough girl years before Nakashima Mika's turn in NANA, Puffy were plainclothes popstars, dressed down and 'quirky' (they had their own variety show and talked about Basquiat. That's like Destiny's Child saying how much they admire the runny eggs and cannibalism in Dali paintings). And while Nanase picked up Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman to add shred, Puffy's 'godfather' was Andy Sturmer, a founding member of Jellyfish.

Anyway, they put out some great music. The 'NICE' album is just about flawless, and their earlier J-stuff was good, too. I'm pretty disappointed that I'm compelled to hate them now for being 'too big.' In my opinion Puffy's best song remains their debut single, 'Ajia no Junshin'. What to watch for in this video, apart from the shitty production, is that Ami and Yumi LOOK LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE. Hell, by Tokyo standards, they're even pretty uncool. They could be your junior high school friend's older sisters, the ones you don't actually have any interest in. NotPuffy or Puffy Amiyumi surprisingly, they're more made up in the American show's live-action segments featuring them. Their videos have also picked up budgets. It isn't the same, and you don't get to see why their act was so unconventional at the time, especially by Japanese industry standards.

Still, 'Ajia no junshin' is a great song. It's got some ABBA, some ELO, a bit of everything. But then, their entire catalogue is like that, perhaps even moreso under Sturmer: not so much derivative as a kind of collage-music, bits of other records chopped verbatim into the mix, or else backing tracks stolen note-for-note. They were doing mashups before anyone had thought of the term. In other words, you don't have to listen to the more pretentiously indie Cornelius or Pizzicato 5 to get a taste of the way J-music cuts up the fabric of Western pop like a FunDips-snorting Burroughs with safety scissors.

It's a great song.

I'm really sorry for the Burroughs analogy.




Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Snakes On A Plane'

Josh is a friend of mine who appeared in my two last short films, Forced Labour (look out for the guy who played rock, paper and scissors with Justin at the beginning of the film) and Vertical Distance (still unavailable to the public, alas) . He tends to go... overexcited at the movies.

Incident 1: Almost got him and Justin killed by rabid Potter fans when both of them went to see Harry Potter 4 (my review here), all because he couldn't stop laughing during the death scenes.

Incident 2: Brought him along when I went to see X-Men 3 (my review here) with Michelle (aka my favouritest person in the world) and her group of friends. He, er, asked Michelle's friends to shut up when they were gasping at the Superman Returns trailer. Then was, well, cheering when Jean Grey's kissing Logan. Oh, and some laughter during some death scenes too.

That's why Snakes On A Plane was the perfect movie to see with him.

Now, we all know about the film, its internet fueled hype, how bloggers were hyping it up because of the crazy title, and how people were making songs (look for them at Tagworld), doing mashup videos for it (look for them at Youtube). Then its ultimate disappointment at the US box-office.

I haven't cared that much about the film at first until I realized that it turned into some kinda Rocky Horror Show-type experience for American cinemagoers (audience participation IS a necessity, people MUST throw parties while watching the film). THAT definitely perked my interest.

Unfortunately, when I went with Justin and Josh, we forgot to bring the Snakes On A Plane participation script with us. Which sucks, because half (or more) of the fun is taken away.

As we were watching the afternoon show, the audiences were relatively quiet, in fact, I assumed most people were actually taking the film seriously.

THEN Josh came to the rescue.

Him with his inappropriate laughter and shouts to the screen.

If we were watching some other film, I would've been embarrassed, scanning the exit, looking for a way to crawl out.

But this time, JOSH saved the movie. NOT Samuel L. Jackson, NOT the Snakes on a plane, but JOSH. Yes, great old Josh!

"YES! IT BIT HER TIT!"

"OH YEAH! IT BIT HIS DICK!!"

"HOOOHAAAAA! THAT DAMNED DOG'S GONNA DIEEEEE!"

"BLOOOOOOD!"

And obviously, a raucous applause from us all when Samuel L Jackson went 'I want the motherfuckin' snakes off the motherfuckin' plane."

Few days later, my dad, who just saw the film, complained to me how bad it was.

I smirked. It wasn't hard to know why it was such a horrible experience for my dad.

He didn't watch it with Josh.

"ENOUGH ABOUT JOSH!" You scream. "WHERE'S THE REVIEW?"

And hence my dilemma. You see, the film IS very forgettable. Despite seeing it only last Friday, that's just three days ago, it's impossible for me to write an actual review. I can't even remember most of it already, neither does Justin.

Well, we remember, er, snakes on a plane, and Samuel L Jackson, killing snakes on a plane, and people, getting killed by snakes on a plane, but, well, that's it. Only advice? Go with a bunch of loud friends, your viewing experience will be enhanced. Watching it by yourself will only make you wish that you were eaten by snakes on a plane.

Snakes On A Plane-related Videos:

The music video



Snakes On Claire Danes





Related reads:

Bhuvana Sundaramoorthy's Blog: Snakes On A Plane
Apparently, there are still bloggers who have not heard of the film at all prior to its release. I... kinda envy Bhuvana.

The MovieBuff: Snakes On A Plane Review
The MovieBuff enjoyed it, but noted that the sex, gore and profanity's been censored in Malaysia (obviously). The snakes were tame.

Freakonomics Blog: Snakes on The Internet, too?

The guys here suspected that the Internet hype's MANUFACTURED (by people involved with the film). Dum dum dum!

Sinosplice: Life In China: China-style Snakes On A Plane
See what the actual Chinese title for Snakes On A Plane is. Hehe.

The Viral Garden: SoaP sucks, and I need to admit it...

Mack Simpson vs Mack Collier (of Viral Garden). The former fired off this missive to diss bloggers who hyped the film, condemning them of their silly optimism regarding Snakes On The Plane. The latter responded. Mack vs Mack, baby! Now if only their face-off will feature snakes on a plane!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Help The Great Swifty Rename His Short Film!

Girl Disconnected is just the working title of my upcoming short film. Of course, originally, I was thinking of sticking with the title, but Yun Chin, my producer/ assistant director, felt that it doesn't seem appealing, or particularly memorable.

And after many sleepless nights of thinking and angst, I have to admit that she was right.

The title Girl Disconnected was conceived by Alex (you may know him as Professor Alan Wong from my webcomics) when its story was much different from its current incarnation.

When I started developing its story, its settings was meant to be a futuristic world reeling from the Digital Apocalypse, where Internet had collapsed entirely and everyone had to cope with it. Thus the heroine, Maya, and her genius hacker brother and that next-door neighbour who secretly loves her, has to journey to the depths of YahooGleSoft Tower to restore the Internet, so that she can speak to her online boyfriend again. (it was loosely based on this unfinished satirical short story I wrote back in January, if you're interested in reading, go read Part 1 and Part 2)

But numerous revisions and rethinking and reconceptualizing and many other things that began with 're' later, I turned it into something more fairy tale-ish.

And it became a story of a girl who took a train to the moon to seek her love. Simpler, weirder, more quirky and magical.

While the title Girl Disconnected is somewhat relevant to the plot (the girl, with her tireless search for love, the fact that she always lives in her imagination, is seemingly disconnected from the outside), I really don't mind changing its title.

(I personally would go for Girl On The Moon.)

Any suggestions from you all? I might pick the few I like and hold a voting poll. (IF I have that many people chiming in their suggetions, haha)

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Location Hunting for GIRL DISCONNECTED

Was doing some location hunting for Brian The Cinematographer three days ago for my short film, Girl Disconnected. Went to University of Western Australia (first three photos are taken there), and then somewhere near the city beach (second three photos). Here are some photos for you all to ogle at. Once again, I used my usual blurry, dreamy effect from Photoshop, with varying degrees of success. They're all taken by Brian.

Swifty Sits On A Bench, Posing

Swifty Sits On A Bench, Pondering

Swifty Looks At The Lamp Post In Awe

Swifty Looks At The Beach

Unnecessarily Dramatic Photo Of Swifty At The Beach

Swifty At Sandy Dunes Of The Perth City Beach


Not much to say, hence the photos.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Thank You For Smoking' And 'Miami Vice'

Some quick reviews for the last two films I saw in the cinemas, Thank You For Smoking and Miami Vice. Unfortunately, I actually missed the beginning of both films. Gah.


Thank You For Smoking


Saw this film with Michelle AKA My Favouritest Person In The World (Justin's too). Thank You For Smoking's a satirical comedy following the chief spokesperson of Big Tobacco, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), as he spins on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son who idolizes him. No matter how much you're against smoking (and I'm the kind of person who snaps at friends when they're smoking in front of me), you'll end up rooting for the smooth-talking, charismatic Nick Naylor.

Michael Jordan plays basketball. Charles Manson kills people. Nick Naylor talks. And he is definitely pretty damned good at it. His arguments are convincing, when presented to him in a TV show a boy stricken with cancer because of cigarettes, his argues that anti-tobacco parties want the boy to die, yet it is the best interests of tobacco companies to keep the boy alive AND smoking.

As he told his son in once scene, his job isn't about proving that he is right, it's about proving that the other party is wrong, thus making him right.

William H. Macy (who, according to IMDB, amazingly filmed his role in the entire film for LESS THAN AN HOUR) plays Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre, Nick's nemesis who wants to put a large warning label on cigarettes (with a poison sign) as if someone would actually pick up a cigarette package, read the label, and decide not to smoke. Pretty much a representation of government officials who decide what the people want instead of having the people decide what they themselves want. Oh my, government officials who underestimate the intelligence of the masses, compromising their freedom of choice. Sounds familiar?

Anyway, the film's directed by Jason Reitman. Son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the excruciatingly bad My Super Ex-Girlfriend that came out recently (watch me rip the film apart here). I definitely look forward more to the son's future film than the father's, as much as a Ghostbuster fan I was during my childhood.

Watch the ITALIAN TRAILER of Thank You For Smoking (because you can find the normal trailer anytime you want):




Other reviews of Thank You For Smoking
Random Thoughts In The Quest for Wisdom: Film: Thank You For Smoking
Stephen Simmonds liked it.

Tulsatv.com: Thank You For Smoking reviewed by Gary Chew
Gary Chew suggests that Stephen Colbert should play Nick Naylor. Hmm.

Miami Vice


I loved Michael Mann's previous film Collateral. I ranked it as one of my top ten favourite films of 2004. In an interview in American Cinematographer, Michael Mann said that as far as he was aware, Collateral was one of the first movies to attempt to make a "look" out of digital video rather than trying to make DV look like film. And to me, the city of Los Angeles at night had never looked more beautiful. Whoa.

That's why I was looking forward to Miami Vice (despite not remembering anything about the old TV show, nor being a fan of Colin Farrell), because I knew that Michael Mann's going to continue experimenting with digital filmmaking here.

Okay, and I also wanted to see it because I was eager to see how Gong Li would fare in a Hollywood film (I chose to skip Memoirs of Geisha).

Saw this with Justin. He ended up enjoying it more than I did, probably because he walked in with zero expectations, while I was hoping for something more intense. Even if it weren't a shoot-em up, I thought it would be more of a thriller. But the film's actually pretty slow. (did pick up during the last third)

However, the cinematography IS amazing. The raw digital look of the film is nice and unique to look at. (although my visual effects designer, Priscilla, told me that she hated it, darn) And I definitely think that Gong Li is a MUCH better actress than Zhang Ziyi. But then, I did giggle a little when she first opened her mouth in the film.

I don't know. As cool as Colin Farrell looked in the film, I just felt that he was in the wrong film. As if he had just been plucked out of A New World as Captain John Smith, but given guns and a new exotic chick to fall in love with. It's kinda unconvincing that a cold ice queen-type like Gong Li's Isabella character would hook up with him... after a ride on a speedboat. WTF? A pairing between (Oscar Winner!) Jamie Foxx's character, Ricardo Tubb's and Isabella would've been more interesting.

Another problem with the film is that the heroes were TOO unstoppable, hence lessening the tension of the film, there is not a single moment when you feel that their lives were in jeopardy. Even Superman got stabbed in the back with a Kryptonite, even Jack Sparrow, well, you know what happened to him in the end of Pirates of the Caribbean, but nothing fazed the two heroes at all, they just waltzed through scene by scene, having everything under control. Ricardo's reaction when he learnt that his girlfriend had just been kidnapped is similar to a guy who had just stepped on a chewing gum in a train station. THAT'S how hardcore they were.

Not a horrible film... like My Super Ex-Girlfriend, but not a film I would recommend.

It just needs to be more emo... with a Phil Collins soundtrack... like this clip from the TV pilot back in those days.




Other Miami Vice reviews:
The Sensetrovert: Miami Vice: All About Speedboats and Hot Shower S3x
Howsy points out Michael Mann's obsession with shower sex in this negative review.

OUPblog: Miami Vice: Death Of The Cop Action-Film?
Nicole Rafter ain't too impressed either.

The Mumpsimus: A Conversation after Miami Vice
Matthew Cheney and his friend have pretty different opinions of the film. Fun stuff.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Nanase Aikawa



Old school action. Nanase Aikawa was big in the mid-90's; she had kind of a 'tough' reputation (okay, this is relative 'tough' for what we're talking about here) and considered herself a serious rock singer. Marty Friedman from Megadeth also joined her crew and wrote a bunch of wanky guitar solos for her. (Remember him from the 'Rust in Peace' album? With that Hangar 18 song? No? Uhh...well...)

'Yumemiru shojo ja irarenai' was her first single, and captures her before she became really self-assured or well-known. Her clothing style and vocals are a little different in this than they would be later on, but I like them more than the later stuff. She seems cool in an uncool way, like she borrowed her yankie biker brother's clothes and started posing in front of her bedroom mirror. Her later videos had too many overdone conceits, like a Bonnie and Clyde remake and a homosexual love triangle ending in murder. I'll stick with Kumi for the story-videos.

The other telling thing about this video is how EIGHTIES it is. Although this was 1996, the bubble economy had collapsed and the recession set in, meaning that musically, at least, Japan was still stuck in the late-80's mode of big hair, bomber jackets, and shitty production values.

On the other side of the Pacific, a song like this would have been inconceivable at the time. Watching 'Yumemiru shojo ja irarenai' is like entering a parallel universe where grunge never broke and Lillian Axe got taken seriously. It's a trip.



Swifty's Production Diary: Audition Madness! Australia's Next Top Model! The Incestuous Brother Who Destroyed Swifty's Acting Career RETURNS!

Check out previous entries of the Girl Disconnected Production Diary.

Introducing Girl Disconnected

In which I introduce Girl Disconnected by giving a brief summary of its plot.

The First Production Meeting
In which I talk briefly about my production team and the ideas that sprang out during the meeting that can hopefully finance the film.

Four Eyed Monsters. Slacking Off From Script Revisions. Conflicts. The Loneliness of Art.
In which I feel a wee bit of PRE-creativity depression, and speaks about conflicts that destroyed group dynamics in previous attempts in filmmaking. Also voices out possible influences for upcoming film like Darren Aronofsky (whilst providing trailer of his upcoming film, The Fountain) and then plugging indie film Four-Eyed Monster's vodcasts and marketing via new media.



Pardon the lack of updates, my dear Swiftyholics, too many things have happened, connection's been horrendous, totally busy!

Anyway, time for me to keep you all updated on the production of my upcoming short film, Girl Disconnected, which I haven't talked about for nearly two weeks, I think.


- Brian the Cinematographer and I sat together last week to devise all kinds of visual storytelling methods for the film, and numerous of my stylistic trademarks (fast-mo, split screens etc.) will be retained.

- Some problems have occurred. I have yet to get myself an art director who can help me take charge of production set design. (Christine, who was originally the art director, will be involved in the production of another documentary, hence she can only concentrate on the costume design) A problem I can hopefully rectify as soon as tomorrow.

- I said tomorrow because by a strange stroke of luck, I met Brandon, a professional cinematographer from uni just now whom I recognized from last semester when he gave a demonstration of lighting sets and stuff. I made a passing mention that I'm missing someone to help with the production design, and VOILA, he immediately gave me the phone number of his business partner from a production company he had just started.

- Audition had begun. I received numerous emails and calls responding to it...

- One is from Sarah Lawrence, a contestant in last year's Australia's Next Top Model! Has quite a lot of experience in acting on stage, television and numerous short films!

- And here comes the craziest irony! Remember when I mentioned how I almost starred in an angsty short film about incest? And that my acting dreams were dashed when someone else took the role? That someone else, Chau (whom I had referred to unjustly as 'THE INCESTUOUS BROTHER!' since he played an incestuous brother in Qipao the short film), is now slated to play the male lead, Wiler.

- Look at the above sentence again. Insane huh?

- Guestblogger Justin's contributions in auditions have been substantial. Whenever someone's auditioning for the female lead, he would play the male lead, whenever someone's auditioning for the male lead, he would play the female lead.

- Audition videos MUST be kept for the upcoming DVD. Yes!

- Considering that Justin's been plugging so many Japanese artistes lately, I might someday plug Ego-Wrappin', this wondrous Japanese jazz group I discovered three years ago and never stopped listening since.

- Check out the video first.




Saturday, August 19, 2006

Kana



"KANA is a fairy that lives in the forest, sings about humans, and makes stuffed animals and clothes. The forest is in space, on Saturn. Her hair color changes depending on the season and her mood. "
-here



Kana wears panties on her head, claims in interviews that her son is a stuffed panda named Travolta, and sings like a combination of Bjork, Ai Otsuka, and early-80's Lydia Lunch. In other words Kana is punked out. (I've also heard some of her stuff compared to a Japanese version of Sleater-Kinney, which, again, is bizarre but makes sense).

She used to be a model for the Gothic and Lolita Bible.

Not all of Kana's music is good. A lot of it is shit. But many of her songs push the boundary of "logically this should be unlistenable but it's genius." They are nothing if not emotive.



You will probably hate it at first, just warning you.

Keep listening.

This is true avant-pop, with the occasional death-scream.

Log up her official site.

You can download all of her albums for free, here.




See an interview with Kana. This is the most hardcore thing ever. NOTHING can prepare you for Kana in this interview.



Watch Kana's 'Chimame' video. Good stuff, her outfit is awesome.



Thursday, August 17, 2006

Swifty's Alternative Ending To Sepet, And Also Some Thoughts About The Sharifah Amani Incident

Well, not really MY alternative ending, it's really my friend's, who told me this when we were in a bus few days ago. But I couldn't help but share it with you all here.

I guess I was prompted by the recent incident where Sepet (and Gubra) lead actress Sharifah Amani accepted her Best Actress award at the Malaysian Film Fest while condemning the excessively conservative parties of Malaysia with the line (I paraphrase): "if making movies mencemarkan budaya (corrupting the culture), let's make more movies then". I heard from my friend, Sebastian (who now uses that quote as his MSN nick) that the backlash was pretty vicious, with people saying that she shamed her race, her country, her ancestors because she opened her line with (I paraphrase again) "I sound stupid when I speak Malay."

(I interpreted as her admitting that she sucked at speaking in Malay... while most threw accusations of her being a traitorous scumbag who insulted her own mother tongue. Hoo boy.)

Enough with that. Apparently, KDU College had used the universally-loved Malaysian film Sepet (read my review) by Yasmin Ahmad (her blog here) for their screen studies class, and what students had to do was to come up with an alternative ending for the movie after they've seen it. So obviously, this is done by disregarding the existence of the actual Sepet sequel, Gubra (which I've seen on the plane to Perth, but couldn't review yet because I can't understand half of the story due to my deteriorating grasp over the Malay language).

And yes, this contains spoilers, so proceed only if you've already seen the film, or don't intend to see the film, or don't really mind spoilers:


Jason, on his motorbike, tried chasing after Orked as she was on her way to the KL International Airport, attempting to stop her from studying abroad in England. The accident that would've killed him in the actual Sepet ending was averted, and he managed to make his way to the airport, only to realize, to his consternation, that he was too late, and Orked had already flown off.

Helplessly, he stared as the airplane disappeared into the skies.

Years later, Orked returned to Malaysia after completing her studies, joyless and disillusioned after numerous failed relationships. To her surprise, she found out about a newly-opened fastfood chain named after her, selling the best french fries in the country.

Overwhelmed by memories of her first date with Jason at McDonald's, which she remembered for all the tiny little things: His voice, his laughter, the smell of the french fries, the flowers, him asking why Malay films had degenerated so badly since the days of P. Ramlee... Orked stepped into the restaurant.

The restaurant was bustling with activities, people lining up for packets of french fries that filled the air with a heavenly scent, sending Orked into a hypnotic daze, barely aware as she was getting nearer to the counter. Finally, it was her turn, and she saw the face that had haunted her dreams for many nights in many years, the love of her life, the one she lost and endlessly yearned for.

Jason.

He had not changed much, his face perhaps weathered slightly by age, yet the slit-like eyes, which were targets of ridicule for her Malay friends, but which she found so mesmerizing in the past, widened in shock as he saw her. The polite greeting he gave to his usual customers was stuck in his throat when Jason realized that standing before him wasn't a usual customer.

Orked smiled, the first time she ever smiled since her separation with Jason that felt almost like a lifetime ago. Around both of them, time stopped again, the world became silent, becoming witnesses of this long-awaited reunion of these two lonely souls.

"I opened this for you." He said, shattering the wall of silence that fell between them. "I knew you would return."

Carefully maintaining a mask of nonchalance, she ordered her fries, and with trembling hands, took the tray to an empty table. Shaking her head, wondering whether what had just occurred was merely a hallucination. Her suspicions were proven wrong when she felt a gentle touch upon her arm as Jason took a seat beside her.

A brief conversation occurred. With him telling her how he spent the last few years mastering the arts of frying the perfect french fries from the best French chefs. How his foray in starting these restaurants kept him sane as he waited for her return. Financial success meant nothing to him when she wasn't there with him. She completed him.

Yet softly, she halted his words and his declarations of everlasting love by suggesting a meeting at the lake the next day. The lake where they spent a magical evening watching the setting sun back then, when he explained the amount of time he needed to fall in love with her. She loved him then, and that place, in her heart, would always be their special place.

Things would be meaningless unless fate allows our union at our special place, she said. Let us meet there tomorrow afternoon, I will wait for you.

There is no need to wait, he said, I will never let you wait again.

No phone numbers were exchanged, just smiles of longing that burned deep in each other's souls.

A day later.

Jason drove in his car, speeding to the destination she had mentioned. Fueled by steely determination, and some kind of mad desperation, gripped by the fear of losing her again. He ran into another car at a junction, a deafening crash of glasses shattering, a sharp pain on his head.

His vision cleared, and he realized, to his surprise that he was relatively unscathed, except for a bruise on his head. Yet the car he ran into wasn't so fortunate, he saw the driver, lying facefirst on the wheel, covered with blood, shards of glass jutting out from flesh.

He wanted to save the driver, but by doing thus, he would be late for the meeting with Orked. Jason knew that it would kill him to wait for another few more years, or perhaps, there would be no wait, perhaps she would disappear from his life forever. He sped off, silently muttering an apology to the driver whose car he slammed on.

Reaching the lake. Jason gasped in relief. Allowing himself to calm down by looking at the water, at the ducks that swam across, hearing the sounds of rustling leaves around him, the melodious chirpings of the bird.

Yet Orked never came.

Night descended upon him. But she never came. Disappointment filled his soul. He returned to his car with a broken heart.

It wasn't long before he found out that the car he crashed into earlier that day was Orked's.

He killed her.




The End
(And so, Gubra never existed)

"Whoa!" I shook my head in disbelief, originally expecting her to come up with some generic saccharine happy alternative ending for the movie. "that's pretty twisted, and nihilistic, and cynical!"

My friend smiled, telling me that she got a High Distinction for what she wrote.

I wasn't surprised.

Anyway, if thin-skinned fuddy duddies continue accusing independent filmmaking as a corruption of culture in Malaysia, gee, I guess I myself would have to make more films too just to spite them and satisfy my own twisted pleasure.

Related reads:

the storyteller: Why She Remains My Anak Emas
Yasmin Ahmad defends Sharifah Amani.

Blogazine: When You Speak In English, You Sounds Even More Stupid
An entry directed at Sharifah. Pretty harsh words.

go and die: I dunno how to speak in Malay laaaa
More harsh words.

The Sensintrovert: Yasmin Ahmad To Make May 13 Movie
Howsy gives a summary on the whole incident, and also Yasmin Ahmad's relationship with one particular alternative media.

MyAsylum: Gubra: Best Picture at 19th Malaysian Film Festival
Walski congratulates Yasmin for her victory at the Malaysian Film Festival, and also voices out briefly the challenges of making movies in Malaysia.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Over The Hedge', 'Just My Luck' and Korean Film 'Family Ties'

Recently went through a film marathon watching Over The Hedge, the Lindsay Lohan (!!!) vehicle, Just My Luck, and a Korean film called Family Ties. Here are my brief reviews:

Over The Hedge

Dreamworks' latest foray in 3D animation. Besides Antz and the (good but vastly overrated) Shrek films, most of Dreamworks' 3D animated films had been rather mediocre. My greatest annoyance about these films had always been the pop cultural references. They are admittedly funny in the Shrek movies, but usually fall flat, or seem awkward in others. Seriously, these pop cultural jokes are so jarring that they really take away my enjoyment of the film, making me feel unnecessarily cynical whilst watching a children's film. What's the point? Oh right, score some easy laughs from older members of the audiences, but it removes the sense of timelessness that we see in most Pixar productions.

(For example, when I saw a character named Stella, why was I NOT surprised that there would be a Streetcar Named Desire reference where we have someone yelling STELLAAAAAAAAA Marlon Brando (R.I.P.) style?)

Of course, it's unfair to compare a Dreamworks animated film to a Pixar film, since I've read about how the former usually churns out a film much quicker than the latter (notice that there's a Dreamworks animated film every year while we have to wait 2-3 years for a Pixar film), and its strategy is usually to recruit an all-star voice cast to cover up its deficiencies. (Over the Hedge is no exception, having Bruce Willis, William Shatner, Steve Carell, Nick Nolte, Thomas Haden Church, Eugene Levy and even Avril Lavigne doing the voices.)

The film's about a scheming raccoon (Bruce Willis!) who tricked a mismatched family of forest animals (a skunk, hedgehogs, a squirrel, a tortoise and possums) into helping him repay a food debt he owed a psychopathic bear by stealing from a suburban sprawl. Right, we are supposed to be rooting for the cute little animals because they are cute, and decide that the humans (the human mom looking uncannily like that mom in The Invincibles) are evil because they are materialistic and cruel (by hiring a pest-killer to kill these animals in the most violent of ways), but come on, I felt that the reactions of the humans are pretty justifiable, I would've been driven to blind rage if my food at home had been stolen nightly by animals.

But anyway, the scheming raccoon gradually learns the meaning of family, of unity and equality, falling into a dilemma between saving his own hide, or continue lying to his new surrogate family. Gee, I wonder how that would work out for him. Over The Hedge is supposed to be a film with heart, but its heart feels so manufactured that I was incapable of feeling anything at all. It's those kind of film that would be forgotten not too long after you've finished it. You aren't even missing much even if you haven't seen it. Go watch Cars instead.

Watch music video of Korean superstar BoA's 'People Say...', theme song for the Korean version of Over The Hedge.




Just My Luck

Okay, yes, this is a Lindsay Lohan film. And when I mention Lindsay Lohan, people are more likely to think of the recent incident when CEO of Morgan Creek, James Robinson wrote her a stern (hate?) mail berating her for her unprofessionalism (poor work ethics, partying too much blah blah, the usual, you know) at the set of Georgia Rule, and not long after that, she was sacked by Island Records for ignoring her promotional campaign, causing the flop of her single in UK.

However, I tend to try ignoring the private lives of celebrities and be objective when watching a film starring them. (hence I didn't ignore Mission Impossible 3). Thus doing what your usual indie filmmakers wouldn't do, I decided to watch something that would've been easily avoided or labeled as trash by them... Just My Luck, merely because I am intrigued by its outlandish (but admittedly silly) premise.

The luckiest woman in the world (Lohan) kisses the most unlucky man in the world (Chris Pine, who is significantly better and funnier here than in that rubbish The Princess Diaries 2) during a masquerade ball, her luck is transferred to him. He becomes very lucky. She becomes very unlucky. Haaaahaaaa.

Because I don't really have such highbrow tastes (or rather, my expectations for such films are low: Make me laugh, and I'll be happy), I was actually entertained! Perhaps it fulfilled the sadistic streak in me when I watched HORRIBLE things happen to Lindsay Lohan. Heee hee heeeee. But then, in comedies, it's always enjoyable to watch actors willing to poke fun of themselves, and she did.

There's not much I can say about this film, it's mindless fluff, it also serves as a promo video of sorts for British band, Mcfly (whom I've never heard of and thought was some pop group when a Japanese friend of mine, Yuko, was constantly ranting and raving about them). You can add McFly on Myspace if you want to.

Video of Lindsay Lohan talking about Just My Luck:



Family Ties 가족의 탄생


I know nothing about Family Ties (but then, I'm usually oblivious to most Korean films unless they've made a huge splash internationally), but was spurred to watch it due to Koreanfilm.org's (mostly) positive review. While it is called Family Ties in English, I believe its more literal translation is The Birth Of A Family, a title which seems initially meaningless until I gradually realized what was this ensemble film about, and it's really cleverly constructed, but I'll try to keep things spoiler-free.

Instead of really telling a story about different members of a large family as I've originally expected, this dramedy is a little like an omnibus, with three different stories playing after one another, but thankfully, this film is NOT like the mediocre Ssunday Seoul (which I reviewed here), as these seemingly unrelated stories turned out to be, well, related in the end. And it's definitely smarter than those 'twists' people love so much in M Night Shyamalan films.

The first story is about Mira (Moon So-ri), an owner of a restaurant, whose idyllic life was shattered when she was suddenly visited by her ex-jailbird younger brother Hyung Cheol (Eom Tae-woong) and his MUCH older wife Moo-shin (Ko Doo-shim). Lots of awkwardness occurred (hey, imagine what would happen if YOUR brother married someone who is old enough to be your mother), made worse when Mira's fiance was verbally abused by her emotionally unstable brother during dinner.

Suddenly, Moo-shin's ex-husband's ex-wife's CUTE little daughter (confused?) turned up. And Hyung Cheol disappeared just as abruptly as he appeared, leaving Mira, Moo-shin to their unknown fates. I liked the end of this particular segment, when the film became surprisingly poetic, the passage of time represented by two unmoving women eating their dinner, oblivious to the sight of a little girl dancing, waltzing, running and playing with her dog at the courtyard outside, amidst the unending cycle of day and night. That moment made me went 'whoa'.

Second story is about a quick-tempered tour guide Seon-gyeong (Kong Hyo-Jin, who was absolutely electrifying in this role) furious with her former boyfriend appearing at one of her tours with his new girlfriend, and also the fact that her mother (Mae-ja (Kim Hye-ok, fantastic too) was having an affair with a married man, and having a child from the affair. Desperate to move abroard, she suddenly received news that her mother was terminally ill. And what would happen to her young half-brother?

One absolutely amazing scene was the one where Seon-gyeong attempted to humiliate her mother's married lover by visiting at home, and confronting him, in front of his family, about the affair, and asking whether he loved her mother. To her surprise, he actually said yes very calmly, ignoring the possible consequences they would bring to him and his family (and being an understated and subtle film, we never had to go through the pains of watching what happened to him). And another that I liked was when Seon-gyeong attended her half-brother's sports event in his kindergarten. Ahh.

The third story is about a young couple, Kyong Seok (Bong Tae-gyu, last seen in Ssunday Seoul as that poor tormented teen wolf) and Chae-hyun (Jeong Yoo-mi) and the problems they faced. His cool, loner attitude clashing with her over-affectionate attitude, as he became increasingly annoyed (and jealous) at her penchant to help her friends, and compromising the time they would've spent together.

Something I could really relate to, and actually experienced, not too long ago.

But anyway, the third story is the one that reveals the connection between all different stories, so I'm not going into further detail, if you have the chance, search for the film yourself. Its quirkiness and lack of melodrama made this a much comfortable film to watch compared to those cringe-inducing Korean TV dramas. Argh.

Video of Loveholic's 일요일 맑음 - 3rd Nice dream (that is featured in the film):




Friday, August 11, 2006

Perth Premiere of Murali K. Thalluri's '2:37'

Two days ago, right after I discovered this joyous event, I attended the Perth premiere of an Australian film called 2:37 at Leederville's Luna Theaters with Kelly and Agnes. I was eager to attend it because director Murali K. Thalluri (a bloke same age as I) would be there for a Q and A session hosted by my teacher of last semester's Directing Actors class, Annie Murtagh Monks (who innovated this rehearsing tool for actors called the Visual Thought Learning method that I wrote about here).

First, the film summary (via IMDB because I am a lazy bastard, but at least I'm filling in the names of cast members, make sure to correct me if you find any errors):

A contemporary, ensemble drama telling the complex tale of six high school students whose lives are interwoven with situations that so many of today's youth are faced with. The story takes place during a normal school day. At precisely 2:37 a tragedy will occur, affecting the lives of a group of students and their teachers. As the story unfolds, the individual stories of the six teenagers are revealed, each with its own explosive significance. An unwanted pregnancy unravels a terrible, dark secret of Melody's (Teresa Palmer); all is not as it appears for the seemingly confident school football hero, Luke (Sam Harris); an outcast, Steven (Charles Baird) must deal with everyday taunts from his peers; a beautiful young girl (Marni Spillane) battles an eating disorder; a stellar student, Marcus, (Frank Sweet) constantly struggles to win his parents' approval; while another, Sean (Joel Mackenzie), uses drugs to escape from his own demons. 2:37 is a thought-provoking cinematic journey that is at once beautiful, devastating, passionate, bold, controversial, unforgettable and above all, humane.

So the film has multiple substories going on, some events shown twice, albeit from a different perspective. Then there are interviews with the characters that intercut with the film's storyline that are shot in black and white, allowing us to see their motivations, backgrounds and inner thoughts in more detail. And they are definitely REALLY tormented characters. I mean, take 'Uneven' Steven for example, dude's grown with three uteruses, so he pisses all the time without being able to control it, and then there's Sean, who just came out of the closet, but was poked fun of by asshole homophobic classmates who probably hated Brokeback Mountain and Lance Bass (seriously, Lance Bass-dissing is an asshole thing to do, the guy's the voice of Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts, man!) too. And worst of all, Sean is practically living in the plot of Brokeback Mountain, the man he cannot quit (I won't reveal whom he is, but most would've been able to guess it early in the film) having a girlfriend and denying his own homosexuality.

It's compelling stuff, to see so many hardcore events occurring in a high school, to see a high school filled with so many douchebags. It's like Neighbours with an edge. And that's not a bad thing, because Neighbours is cool. Soap operas are so underrated. Ahhh, I still remember my high school days when everything's so peaceful and uneventful, and all I could angst about was, well, homeworks, feuding with school authorities for the English club I was running, and high school crushes who ignore my advances.

(Kelly: I don't think this is supposed to be soap opera. It's more like hardcore real life drama.)

Hm.

Ah man, I'm rambling already. But yeap, the film is interesting and engaging because it's more or less about guessing the identity of the student who committed suicide at the beginning of the film. Where all six characters' lives turning into hell, it's increasingly likely that any one of them could've committed suicide (or unlikely, if you're smart enough to know that this film wouldn't be THAT generic, and a TWIST has to be there to surprise everyone).

In fact, I was hoping that it was a mass suicide like something from a Mishima Yukio story. But alas, that didn't happen.

I even thought that there'll be something insaner, like, some creature from another dimension had just popped out in the toilet and killed the student. And the entire film would then turn into a glory splatterfest where EVERYONE IN SCHOOL gets eaten, and the entire Australia vanished after a nuclear explosion caused by the creature's fart.

That didn't happen either.

There's a twist (or a cheat, depending on your view). And I'm not going to spoil it. (but if you're desperate for spoilers, just go read Michelle Wheeler's review)

Anyway, it's an enjoyable film, more engaging than many Australian films I've seen thus far. The suicide scene has lots of blood splattering around. Whoa.

No, I've not seen Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which this film had allegedly borrowed heavily from, but I can definitely say that this film is really incredible for its slickness. Despite being an indie film (Murali K. Thalluri managed to raise $1.1 million dollars for the film, not from the unsupportive government funding bodies, mind you, but from the richest people of Adelaide that he and his co-producer visited) this film has the aesthetic qualities and feel of a studio film.

In fact, this film does not even have the rawness we usually see from debut directors attempting their first feature films. The kind of rawness we see in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Kevin Smith's Clerks, Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotapes, Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Nolan's The Following or Aronofsky's Pi.

Murali K. Thalluri's story and his making of this film is filled with drama that's worthy enough to inspire a film of its own. A victim of a really brutal street attack in his hometown (which caused Kelly and I to cringe when he described it during the Q and A session), Adelaide, he was beaten up by group of youths with knives and broken bottles, leaving him near death, stabbed in the right eye, and even though it recovered, he cannot see anything out of it anymore.

A high school friend of his took her own life, after sending a video to him describing her intentions. He wrote the film as a tribute to her, and also to save his own life. Because six months after his friend's death, he attempted suicide too because he was depressed. Girlfriend broke up with him, medical problems got more serious. Thankfully, the painkillers and alcohol did not kill him, and when he regained the ability to work again, he wrote the first draft of 2:37 in 36 hours, never venturing out of his room.

Losing his original sound guy (who went off to make Ten Canoes, another Aussie film), the resourceful Murali K. Thalluri attempted to get, in his opinion, the best sound guy in the world, Leslie Shatz, who had worked with Coppola and all Gus Van Sant films. Contacting 30 reporters who had interviewed Shatz, Murali K. Thalluri managed to reach Shatz, and then got Shatz into helping him.

And inspired by Catch Me If You Can (not sure whether it was the book written by Frank Abagnale Jr., or that Steven Spielberg film starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hanks), Murali also pulled an Abagnale (or pulled a Leo?) by forging fake certificates and getting a teaching job in some acting school in order to spot talent. It was where he managed to discover Teresa Palmer (chick who played poor pregnant Melody) and Clementine Mellor (chick who played a character called Kelly who had my friend Kelly gasping in surprise).

And in the end, the film was made. Then shown in the Cannes Film Festival for its world premiere. Not just a gifted writer, director and producer, but also an expert negotiator and a real-life James Bond (infiltrating in an acting school, genius.) The Australian film industry, long dormant until last year, had finally found its hero, its Chosen One. I'm sure he will serve as an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers throughout Australia. Here are some of his very invaluable philosophies that many can learn from.

Murali K. Thalluri speaks to The Great Swifty


Its Chosen One has spoken. Film schools around the world shall quiver with fear.

Disclaimer: Murali pics and quotes taken from IF Magazine (my favourite filmmaking magazine!) and Esoteric Rabbit Blog (via Energiser Bunny). Gorgeous Great Swifty pics taken from The Great Swifty himself.)

View 2:37 trailer:

>


Yumiko Kurahashi's The Woman With The Flying Head and Other Stories

This message is an urgent one, to alert you of something you, and the world, needs to know about:

A writer of great importance and originality, as yet more or less unknown -

Yumiko Kurahashi 倉橋 由美子.

Yumiko Kurahashi 倉橋 由美子


I didn't like being watched by it. I tried in vain to persuage myself that it wouldn't matter, that it was something like a doll. The problem was the eyeballs. The cheap artificial eyes L had stuck in its face were looking at me. Those eyes made its face look like that of a virginal angel. Still, they were fake. I poked them out with my cruel fingers. In their place appeared two black holes, from which the scent of nothingness rose like a dark flame. The angel's face was transformed into that of a devil - my own face. I kissed it on its opened lips. It was no secular kiss, with teeth clicking, the tongue penetrating, and saliva flowing back and forth. I was directly kissing the nothingness that was about to draw me in. I extended my tongue and let it swim freely in the other world. I realized that somehow his penis was in my hands, and mine in his, and that we had been making love like two men. Then, we made love like a man and woman. A piece of cellophane tape had been applied to its vagina - the part of its body that came from Aphrodite. L must have done that.

This is from a story in which a brother and sister use a mindless, hermaphroditic alien as a sex toy. The alien itself is hollow and filled with the universe, and at the end, to escape an arranged marriage, the brother and sister climb into its vagina, to freedom in the reaches of cosmic space.

This was written forty years ago.

The next story is about a foursome between a human couple and their cats, told from the cats' perspective. The psychodynamics of this are impossible to describe; it has to be read. Then there's the story about 'The Woman With the Flying Head"...

Kurahashi's writing seems to exist in some other dimension, one I want to inhabit. If you don't understand the genius of any of this yet, you're not qualified to read this blog. In fact I want everyone reading this to immediately order her shit now, right here.

You heard it here first.

The thing you want to note is the shitty quality of this book. Look at that godawful font and generic cover art. It looks amateurish and not worth your time. The really sad thing is, Kurahashi deserves A+ publishing design, and a huge audience. When I master Japanese (give me a few more years yet - still intermediate at the moment) I will translate all of her shit and hopefully convince someone to publish it with better production. (even A-list writers like Akutagawa [who has about 150 short stories, maybe 10 of which are currently in print in English] are next to impossible to find or out of print)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Swifty's Short Film, Vertical Distance, Used As Example For New Film Students In Uni?

It all happened yesterday evening as I was walking out of my flat to attend the Perth premiere of Australian film 2:37 (will post about this in great detail on my next entry) when I ran into an acquaintance (our more appropriate relationship would be... he is the boyfriend of a friend's friend) who attended the screening of my short film, Vertical Distance (screenshots here) last semester. The conversation was like this:

Him: Hey man.
Me: Heya!
Him: You know this short film you did last semester? The one with Jiyoung's (a Korean friend of mine) cameo in it?
Me: Vertical Distance?
Him: Yeah! It was shown in a Screen Production 1 class last week.
Me: Eh? What for?
Him: As an example of a good short film.
Me: Whoa!
During film classes in uni, teachers usually put up some exemplary short films from previous semesters as an example for new students. It's always like a challenge to these aspiring filmmakers, "You want good grades? Aim to do as good, or better than this short film!"

Whoa again. Rendered speechless.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Lady In The Water'

The following factors may help you enjoy Lady In The Water more:
  1. Do NOT read a single coverage of the film's troubled production. The less you know, the better.
  2. Do NOT have any expectations at all. (but this is common sense)
  3. You are a hardcore M. Night Shyamalan fan. Anything he does can please you. The Village made you cry, and its 'twist' made you fly.
  4. You do not know that the Indian dude in the film who is destined for greatness by writing a book that will inspire the future US president is played by M. Night Shyamalan himself.
  5. You share M. Night Shyamalan's hatred towards film critics and any film-critic bashing is considered witty to you.

Because if you know too much about the film itself and you've read too much coverage of it, it's impossible not to allow your judgement to be slightly biased. The less you know about the film, the better. Forget about the highly-publicized divorce between Shyamalan and Disney after the execs voice out their dislike for his script (causing the director to burst into tears), forget about him commissioning a book that chronicles Shyamalan's struggles against the 'money-hungry Disney' and his courage to keep his film alive by moving to Warner.

Let's face it, Shyamalan's arguably the most popular film 'auteur' in Malaysia (most people treat Wong Kar Wai with disdain), all his films get to be shown over at the country's cinemas (a privilege denied even from Tarantino himself, whohoo). People have a high tolerance level towards his work. So, if you started watching the film without knowing the story behind it, or, well, without knowing that Shyamalan himself was playing a crucial supporting role in it, everything would've seemed much less an ego trip. But more a sincere attempt to craft a good film and tell a story from his heart.

I'm trying to be VERY objective about this film by IGNORING the fact that Shyamalan chose to play an author who was destined to change the world via martyrdom. I mean, come on, it has Paul Giamatti in it, a FABULOUS actor whom teenage girls will never appreciate because he's not hunkilicious like Johnny Depp, the cinematography is by usual Wong Kar Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle (who also shot Infernal Affairs and Hero), whom I usually admire. Paul Giamatti acted well, as usual, and the cinematography, hm, well, actually, I was pretty underwhelmed. Strangely, the film didn't look as good as Doyle's Hong Kong works. Oh, and Bryce Dallas Howard, ah, I don't know how I should judge her acting. I guess it's all right. Looking forward to see her as Gwen Stacy in Spider-man 3 next year.

Buildup was yawn-inducingly slow, the stereotypical portrayal of the Koreans annoyed me, the whole dissing of the film critic character seemed more bitter and juvenile than actually witty and funny. At least there wasn't a blatant twist in the end, and if Shyamalan fans were calling it original, I guess it had to do with the fact that it excluded said blatant twist in the movie. Second half was better, it dealt with the concept of community, where everyone who lived in the apartment were roused from their boring everyday lives to participate in something magical and fantastical.

If this were a better film, it would've tickled my imagination. It would've tapped into some people's yearning for a more interesting life, where battles between good and evil can be fought, to save the world from the baddies, to display courage never displayed before. Unfortunately, all these didn't really happen. It was just a bore at the beginning, that gradually got somewhat interesting, and then... the credits rolled. The only thing that lingers is a feeling of emptiness.

Oh, and this comes from a guy who actually liked Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and yes, even Signs (because I thought Joaquin Phoenix beating the crap out of the alien with a baseball bat was hardcore), and some moments of The Village (Joaquin Phoenix's oh-so-manly declaration of love! And Adrien Brody stabs Joaquin Phoenix, ouch!).

Overall, I'll place Lady In The Water in the same level as The Village.

Other reviews of the film:

The Gallivantings of Daniel Franklin
Daniel rips the film apart.

Eye on Everything
Eyeris calls it one of his favourite films this year.

Dream Ink
Zahar admires the technical aspects of the film and thinks that Shyamalan can still be promising in the future.

4Eyes
'He' and 'Her' think that the film is all right.

Clapboard Jungle

Catherine thinks that Shyamalan playing author who is destined for greatness is an egoistic, self-serving thing to do.

Luther At The Movies

Martin's not too impressed.

weColumbus

J Caleb Mozzocco thinks it sucks too.

Watch the parodies of Lady In The Water:





Swifty And Guestblogger Justin Reviews 'The Devil And Daniel Johnston'

Update (10:30am, 8.8.2006)

Swifty: OMFG! I just realized that the following review is the 666th of the blog! This is nuts! I mean, we definitely did not plan for this, but man, to see entry number 666 is a film review of a documentary with 'the devil' in its title is kinda creepy!





Justin: The problem with this film, from my perspective, is that it failed to convince me that Daniel Johnston was a genius.

I know that that isn't a requirement for the film to be great. There have been plenty of great documentaries about seemingly less-than-noteworthy figures. But when roughly a third of this film is comprised of family, friends, managers, and acquaintances declaiming on how Johnston is a better songwriter than Brian Wilson and some kind of visionary that THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW, the trouble is that I need proof of this, proof that Johnston is actually a guy with something to say that hasn't been said before or hasn't been said as well. And I just wasn't getting this. Johnston's artwork is creative and interesting, but nothing I hadn't already seen done by similarly talented people at least as far back as high school. The incorporation of eyeballs, cartoon characters, Satan, and other iconography isn't new, nor is it technically interesting enough to seem distinct. Some of his music (at least the excerpts presented in the film) is interesting, but not something that seems like it would stand up to repeat listening. Hell, didn't Wesley Willis sing about Casper the Friendly Ghost too? How many of these mental-illness singer-songwriters do we really need?

As for Johnston's family and friends...well, the term "enablers" springs to mind. Johnston's ex-manager Jeff Tartakov seems borderline in love with Johnston, stockpiling his artwork and recordings long after Johnston has dismissed him. His parents are well-meaning but clueless, allowing him to hop on and off his medication courses at will and not taking institutionalization seriously. It's interesting to contrast this film with something like Crumb, Terry Zwigoff's documentary about the life of comic-book legend R. Crumb. That film had at least twice as much insanity (example: Crumb's heavily psychotic brothers molesting women, dressing up like pirates, and getting off on Bugs Bunny) but also showed Crumb as a man with a sense of humor, an individual who, while hating the world, was at least able to engage with it enough to produce recognizeable caricatures. Johnston never gets out of his own Sunday School-on-acid headspace long enough to make the effort; he comes off as a cipher, and not a particularly likable one at that. The little quirks of phrasing and Christian homilies of his songs conceal a vast self-promoter, a man by his own admission obsessed with fame and wilfully ignoring his medication so as to appear more 'crazy' for live performances. Throughout the film, he manifestly doesn't care about anyone but himself, and as his behavior puts his friends and family in danger numerous times (such as crashing a plane flown by his father by throwing its key out the window, or breaking into an elderly woman's house and terrifying her into jumping out the window and breaking her ankles); you begin to think: they should have kept him in the mental ward. The moments of humor, such as Johnston penning a song about Mountain Dew and trying to become a spokesman for Pepsi, or ranting at audiences about the numerical symbolism of the Bible, feel more than a little exploitational, as if the intended audience, both for his music and this film, is a bunch of hipster kids getting off on Johnston's 'outsider art' chic. The whole time he was fucking over Sonic Youth in NYC, I thought, does being a dick to famous people qualify to make you an artist? So, what I got from this film is that Daniel Johnston is a schizophrenic egomaniac with religious delusions who can pull off cool high school-notebook-esque drawings (which look good on T-shirts - of course) and novelty records. This puts him beneath Weird Al Yankovic, a little to the right of Henry Darger, and roughly in line with Tiny Tim. Does the world need to know? Not really.

Swifty: To me, one scene in the film stood out. It was present-day Daniel Johnston reminiscing Laurie Allen with a wistful smile, she was the love of his life and the one who inspired a thousand songs, his muse, his source of endless creativity and inspiration, whom he lost forever after she married an undertaker. His memories of Laurie forever revisited via the videos he shot with his Super 8 camera, a pretty young woman with a beautiful smile, reacting candidly whenever Daniel's camera was pointed at her. It was poetic, it was heartwrenching, it was bittersweet.

It may have been twenty years ago, but how could one forget the pains of first love? The agony of unrequited love? The yearning of imagined perfect love? The whole thing hit a bit too close to home, making it difficult for me to not relate a little bit to Daniel Johnston.

"My god! Daniel Johnston reminds me of... me!" I exclaimed after Justin and I finished watching the film and walked out of the cinema, to his wild befuddlement.

All right, just that part about pining for a lost love. And dabbling in many different art forms at once.

Like Justin, I was never convinced that Daniel Johnston is a genius. He reminded me of a Jean Cocteau (a French filmmaker/ essayist/ dramatist/ poet/ novelist/ boxing promoter/ artist etc etc) biography I read on Senses of the Cinema recently. There are some gifted artists whose talent fell short of genius, but were drawn towards more than one kind of art form. In Daniel Johnston's case, he was a singer songwriter, home video maker and visual artist. Despite the lofty praises heaped at him by his ex-manager, family members and friends in the interviews featured in the documentary, with claims of his works sounding like Beatles + Symphonies + all kinds of musical masterpiece in history, better than Brian Wilson, rivaling Bob Dylan, I never took them seriously as they were just, well, opinions of people close to him and in awe of him.

(I mean, if a documentary about me is made, and my doting parents are nice enough to tell the world that I am Orson Welles' equal, I would be happy too! ... while the rest of the world are crying for my blood.)

The scene I mentioned in the first paragraph was also important because it was the one and only time when the present day Daniel Johnston was ever interviewed throughout the film. Unlike Robert Crumb in his documentary Crumb mentioned by Justin, Daniel Johnston remained too medicated to actually host his own documentary, we could only know him through old video footages of him, through the audio diaries he recorded himself in the past, and through the words of his family and friends. It's not a documentary of Daniel Johnston, more like a documentary of Daniel Johnston to other people, or Daniel Johnston's influence, or Daniel Johnston's memories (either of his own, or what people remember of him). Thus before my eyes, I saw the actual Daniel Johnston disappearing beneath his own myth. And ended up seemingly getting to know the people who spoke about him more than the actual him.

I liked the film. His fall from grace was painful to watch, and many times, he looked like a jerk for the things he did. But come on, was he deliberately being a jerk, or was he so affected by his condition that everything was unintentional? Does he even know what is it like to NOT be a jerk? But for me, I gradually felt that it was those who looked after him that were actually admirable. His family for example, and the devoted manager he fired. Oh, and Sonic Youth.

But then, I AM fascinated with Daniel Johnston after the film, going through one article after another about him for the past few days, checking out his videos on Youtube, curious to know what had happened to him since the events of the documentary, curious to know the blank spaces that were not filled in by the film. I could've written much more about Daniel Johnston, but this is supposed to be just a review of The Devil And Daniel Johnston, so I'll leave it at that.

But here's what I found:

Other blog reviews of 'The Devil And Daniel Johnston':
The Reeler | Celluloid Eye

Trailer of The Devil and Daniel Johnston:



Some Daniel Johnston videos:





Sunday, August 06, 2006

Swifty's Production Diary: Four Eyed Monsters. Slacking Off From Script Revisions. Conflicts. The Loneliness of Art.

My course coordinator/ teacher/ lecturer/ supervisor, Melanie (whom I always known as Melanie Rodriga, but was apparently credited in films she's involved in as Melanie Read!), sent me an email few days ago after reading the latest draft of the Girl Disconnected screenplay. She loved it and was very encouraging, telling me that it has huge potential to be very magical, meditative and emotional. What struck me most was her description that Girl Disconnected was like a futuristic Alice In Wonderland meets Chungking Express. It's funny that throughout the past few months of developing Girl Disconnected, Alice In Wonderland was the LAST thing in my mind, even though I did draw ideas and influences from children stories and childhood imaginations ("I want to fly to the moon and see Chang Er, yippee!"). Guess it's a subconscious thing.

The screenplay was returned to me by Mel with comments and suggestions for cuts, which are really useful for me in my painful attempts to keep my film within the 15-minute mark (I was originally aiming for 20-minutes). Most of the changes I have to make are pretty minimal, just fix and shorten the voiceovers, which were pretty excessive and bloated at times, rearrange the sequence of one particular flashback scene so that it doesn't have to be a flashback. Yadda yadda... I'm starting to lose my readers.

I went through some films in the past few days for inspiration (for visual techniques), most notably Darren Aronofsky's (a brilliant director too few people in Malaysia have heard of, alas) Requiem For A Dream (2000), listening to the director's commentary (something I seldom do). Aronofsky, you see, is my hero, firstly, for being the father of Rachel Weisz's child, and secondly, for being so great (done only three films so far in the past eight years). Just look at the trailer of his upcoming film, The Fountain, below.



"Together, we will live forever!"

Whoa, it gives me the chills.

And in addition to watching numerous films, I've also been watching the video diaries at Four Eyed Monsters that I mentioned few days ago. I just reached episode 6 while writing this. More and more, I am enthralled by the process of their film's production. Perhaps I find that I can relate to the work Arin and Susan have put in their films, along with the methods they use to market it on the new media. Each episode, they bring me through the various stages of the film's production, from how the idea was conceived, to the acting classes they attended, to the world premiere at Slamdance Film Festival, the disappointment of not attaining an actual distribution deal, yet everything wasn't perfect. The bond between Arin and Susan was stretched to the limit, there were conflicts not just between them, but also with others involved in the production, a law suit that almost happened, some friendships that may be forever affected.

(By the way, the vodcasts have a great soundtrack! And I'm adding most of them onto my Myspace list)

They were somewhat painful to watch, because they remind me of some things I myself had to go through in making my last short film, Vertical Distance, and also what I know I'll be facing when the actual production of Girl Disconnected is beginning next month. I guess what I was seeking when watching their videos was reassurance, that whatever happened to me usually happens to other film production groups too. I appreciate the transparency that is allowed only in independent film productions, where you can get close to the filmmakers and everything they are facing. I believe that conflicts must exist, as long as they are not detrimental to the quality of the film, conflicts mean more if they are productive, and can help everyone improve on their works. Unfortunately, some things can turn really ugly. And when it does, you'll start wondering whether you were wrong, that you had a hand in causing, or prolonging the clash. Would I've done something different to change things? Am I really such a monster?

I compare this entire year of taking the filmmaking course to doing my literature classes last year. As much as I love filmmaking, excited by the possibilities of fulfilling a lifelong dream, of creating something that can make a difference, it is undeniable that writing is a much peaceful thing to do. With my English literature classes, all I had to do was shut myself in my room and write, be it critical essays of books or comparisons of Shakespearean plays and movies, and then submitting it without hassle. The quality of the work is entirely dependent on myself, and because of that, you answer only to yourself, it's less stressful, less complications.

Film production is interesting because it is comparatively less lonely, I have fellow crew members beside me, I can listen to their opinions on how to help develop the film. And these opinions are usually invaluable, because I am given an entirely fresh perspective on the screenplay I wrote. And in return, I can work with their ideas, mix and mesh it with my own, turn it into something that can make the film better. Everyone can grow together.

There are times when your paranoia overwhelms you. You may question why your teammates are just thinking of it as a school assignment and looking so much at the grades they will get from it? Why can't they just be as passionate in it as you do? Why aren't they as excited of the project as you are? Why does it feel so lonely to sit in the editing lab sometimes? Again, are you being a monster for not being able to convince those in your group to share your vision and passion? But this is reality, different people have different reasons for doing the same thing because they have different values and beliefs. To not realize that is naive.

But then, during the rare moments when you realize you are not alone in the whole filmmaking process, and that the ones you work with, you feel, happen to be in the same wavelength as you are. It can be a pretty joyful feeling. Ultimately, to me, dealing with people is just as challenging as the creative process of filmmaking (if not more). Looking forward to the next production meeting on Tuesday.

Currently enduring the calm before the storm. The short amount of peace I can savour before jumping into a non-stop working state.

Strangely, I hate the calm and peace. It bores me.

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