The young woman stares into the night in the back seat of a cab somewhere in Tokyo, listening through tons of voicemails from her grandma who came to visit her for the day but she is yet to meet her at nearly 11 pm — and she doesn’t seem willing to. Grandma left a voicemail from earlier that morning telling that she’s arrived at the station waiting for her at an easily noticeable place. Another voicemail to tell that she’s still waiting after a few hours have passed and hoping to have a lunch with her. Deep into the night, she keeps listening through them as the cab sways through traffic — another clip of grandma’s frail voice from a few hours ago telling she have already eaten by herself and now back to the place still waiting for her. And it goes on and on, right until her grandma has to catch the train back home without being able to catch a glimpse of her granddaughter. The young woman is still with her dead eyes that now begin to water. She asks to pass the station to see if grandma is still there. Indeed, the unfortunate lady is looking around in hesitation for her beloved granddaughter under a landmark statue. The young woman asks the driver to go another round to have the second chance of seeing her grandma from behind the car window. She tries to look indifferent yet she wipes her tears, but not once does she ask the cab driver to stop.
This early scene in Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love is quite possibly the most heartwrenching moment I’ve ever witnessed in cinema.
Kiarostami is without a doubt a veteran, highly acclaimed director, but the scene’s moving catharsis goes beyond great direction alone. Anything involving the elderly is bound to touch our heart one way or another: the careful steps of their frail limbs, the hope of seeing their grandchildren, the mourning of fellow elderly friend’s passing, the forgetfulness that slowly chips away their mind. Being old is commonly associated with wisdom, yet for the younger generation, old age is often associated with fear — not because their wrinkled skin are scary, but because it represents a possibility of a lost hope. In facing growing old, we have two common fears: the thought of deteriorating physique until the point of death, and the thought of having virtually lost any chance to do anything outside the limitation of the body, money, and responsibilities. Through the eyes of Akiko, played by Rin Takanashi, we explore a few things regarding her relationship with her grandma: that she is in Tokyo for studying but turned into a high class prostitute instead, that grandma is taking care of grandpa back in their hometown, that Akiko is not ready to face her and possibly tell the truth because — most importantly — her grandma trusts her sincerely in being a good granddaughter in a big city. She would rather not meet her grandma than having to lie to her. It’s an entirely different level of honesty. It is not that old people are fragile enough that small confessions will break them completely, it’s that they actually have lived long enough to see what life has to offer, and to learn from missteps that they have done. If anything, they would want their descendants to have a better life than they do. This turns into expectations, and as many other granddaughters would do, Akiko would certainly not see her grandma’s expectations crumble into pieces. The whole movie basically runs around these ideas — a “micromanagement” approach into small conflicts in our daily life rather than big extraordinary storyline. Then, the scene alone seeks to inquire about our devout sentimentality with the elderly: do we relate our actions to the old people out of fear of one day becoming them, or out of respect of everything that they’ve been through?
Another year, another dystopian movie. Will people ever stop making movies based on projections of the bleakest future of humanity? I hope not, because among the neon-lit urban settings, dirty creepers on the street level, and endless sight of skyscrapers, there will be some of them that will stand out as true classics of the developing genre known as dystopian cinema. Cuaron’s 2006 Children of Men is one that has been hailed as a modern classic, even when it’s not consciously putting itself in the ever-so-familiar grim metropolitan landscape that Blade Runner popularized. This is also the case with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer: At first, having won an invitation from Jakarta International Film Festival to a special screening of the Korean auteur’s Hollywood debut (thank you Muvila!), I wasn’t particularly excited to the thought of watching yet another film with ragged slum dwellers battling futuristic machines. But Snowpiercer ultimately proves to be something of an outlier in the dystopian genre, and might very well fare better critically than other blockbusters of this year.
Adapted from a French graphic novel La Transperceneige, of course there are plenty of backstory that need to be curbed so to not add excessive length to the 2-hour film. Joon-ho chose to spill them in a straight out text-on-screen method, which admittedly seems practical, if not pragmatist. The alternate history of how a substance released into the air to fight global warming that turned the world into a freezing wasteland was appropriately compacted, though, as the film will no longer expand into past details but rather on the life aboard the eternal train ’Snowpiercer’ that runs endlessly around the world on a perpetual engine, built by the eccentric magnate Wilford to contain what is left of humanity for the last 17 years since the accident happened. Yet, the central theme of the story is not the post-apocalyptical chronicle of humanity, but instead social disparity: The thirtysomething Curtis (Chris Evans) has been living along with the unprivileged people on the back of the train that is not unlike the prison with armed guards and food rations in the form of protein blocks. The class system goes a long way, literally, because along the length of the train, the life of its inhabitants gets more civilized and peaceful with Wilford living in the frontmost of the train in the face of its sacred perpetual engine. With his sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell), Curtis has planned a revolt to regain their freedom by pushing their way to the front, fighting endless line of guards headed by the borderline crazy Mason (Tilda Swinton).
From here the story is quite easy to guess: The outcasts fight their way up to the front, one car at a time, with a colorful choice of casts including Octavia Spencer (the maid from The Help), John Hurt, and also Joon-ho’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho and the young Ko Ah-sung as father-daughter pair of substance addicts who doubles as the gate opener for each car. It essentially transforms into a more familiar structure of video gaming where you pass through levels with increasing difficulty, and it’s only natural if at one point in the future there will be a game released based on the movie. The good thing is you don’t always get stuck in the gritty industrial setting, though, because as the story progresses, the interior evolves into various spaces, from a grade school classroom to Seaworld-like aquarium tunnel — all set within tight spaces as much as a railroad car can allow, so props to the set designers for creating such a potential masterpiece.
Even when the first 15 minutes is wholly unconvincing from a storytelling perspective, fortunately, as evident in his past works, Joon-ho can create a great narrative to wrap all the seemingly loose ends from various points in the story into a solid plot. Some aspects tread the fine line between “better left unsaid” and “disappointingly unexplained” (why the only option to survive is to ride the train is one of them), but for what it’s worth, Joon-ho did well by focusing only to the part that matters to the story — that is, the revolution of the oppressed. The tail people’s revolt isn’t much of a Occupy Wall Street story but rather slanted to the hack ‘n slash approach, with a particular battle scene full of people with hatchets that will remind you of the iconic Oldboy scene (Park Chan-wook is indeed the producer of this film). Unlike the other sci-fi fictions with social disparity as its main theme, Snowpiercer instead focuses on creating an immersing story regardless of the moral value, and carefully weaving its social commentary in between the dialogue, particularly in the development of the Curtis character. This approach as a whole is better at engaging the audience, while still leaving something to ponder on after the credit rolls.
Still, the cream of the crop is reserved for the impeccable acting that fill every scene with emotional intensity. Chris Evans as Curtis might be unconvincing in the first sight, but his 2-dimensional character quickly turns into a persona that people can empathize on. Tilda Swinton, though, is the real face of the black humor that Snowpiercer is so full of: Over-the-top, expressive sociopath that is unabashedly evil yet still funny in a certain light. Other characters like the classroom teacher, impeccably played by Alison Pill (that chick from The Newsroom), puts on questionable moral values hidden in a borderline crazy behavior not unlike the people in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Ultimately, the strength of the film lies in the hands of its actors working up the effective script, and the claustrophobic dystopian setting serves more effectively in the background to support Snowpiercer as a mostly action film with a sci-fi theme, and a damn good one at that. Definitely watch it when the wide release comes to your nearest theater.
Do you commute daily and often spent the trip aimlessly looking at the traffic jam? Do you drive daily and hate yourself because you accidentally deleted everything but Skrillex in your iPod? If so, do yourself a favor and go download a few podcasts for your next trip. Yes, podcasts have been around for a few years now but I just got into listening to some of them since the beginning of this year, and I wonder how many great episodes I’ve been missing. For the uninitiated, podcasts are basically radio shows in the form of downloadable episodes so you are free to listen to them anytime you want. The topics vary, from science investigation to interesting life stories to new music (just like real radio). You can either download them manually from each websites or fire up your iTunes/other media player and use the podcast feature to browse and load them up to your iPod/iPhone/Android phone/your player of choice. I personally use iTunes and my undying iPod Classic or I just use the BeyondPod app in my Galaxy SIII to directly download them into the phone. (The latter is much more practical.) If you’ve got some cash lying around, Pocket Casts should be a better option on either iOS or Android. As very, very few (Indonesian) people I know listen to podcasts, here is a heads up of my favorites for those who want to spend better time earning new knowledge while commuting/driving — and yes, it helps with your English immensely. Go ahead and stock some, you won’t know when the right time comes to listen!
Hosted by Jad Abumgrad and Robert Krulwich, this is hands down the best podcast I’ve ever followed. Radiolab brings you interesting occurrences on daily life and puts a deep, detailed research and wraps it up in a story accessible for everyone. If the science-y vibe scares you, don’t, because the stories are way more than just science journal in audio form. One of the latest episodes looks into a specific tribe in Kenya that bore almost all of the best runners the world have ever seen. Another puts you into perspective on how we perceive speed and time, from the microsecond-sensitive stock trading to a decade-long experience on seeing a substance drop (as in water drops). Lately they’ve been more into biology, with all the genetics and whatnot, but I ensure you Radiolab will give you a more eye-opening morning commute than any music ever.
All Songs Considered
Pitchfork is so 2007, man. Okay, maybe it’s still relevant, but for those who want to get into the hottest new music without the time to read all the fancy reviews, NPR’s All Songs Considered gives the best bang for your buck. Well, it’s free, so no bucks involved actually. Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton will take you every week to discover fresh artists and hear new tracks from the established ones just so you now have a reason to leave the playlist you’ve been listening to since high school behind. You’ll get Death Cab for Cutie, James Blake, Of Montreal, and even The Beatles, but you’ll also discover the unheard-of La Luz, Mapei, Perera Elsewhere, and many others that you will learn to love. All wrapped in informative and often funny talks between the hosts.
Stories. Everybody’s got one. Even your cashier at the nearest Circle K probably have one interesting story in his life that would totally get your attention. The Moth is all about stories, directly from the very person who experienced it. My favorite is about a guy with Indian descent (that is, the Asian India, not Native Americans) that told a story about how his family faced the mortality of old age and how they don’t seem to be afraid of death. Every episode is not equally interesting, especially with people whose culture are so detached from the world we live in that we can’t really relate to, but when it’s good, it’s gold.
Dubbed by its creator Roman Mars as “a tiny radio show about design”, the show talks about the design (or architecture) in objects in our daily life that are 99% invisible to us but are definitely crucial, hence the name. From revolving doors to the iconic I Heart NY logo to the reversed flow of Chicago River, it might surprise you how much thought have been put into objects that we casually meet and use everyday. As someone who have always wondered who made the stripes dividing the lanes in the road white or why the shot clock in basketball is set to 24 seconds, this one will have you answered.
New Yorker Fiction
The New Yorker is a publication with a reputation, and the fiction section is always nothing short of wonderful. This podcast takes you into the short stories that have been published in past issues, read by notable authors who are fans of the stories. One important thing to note is that before the storytelling starts, the authors will tell how they fell in love with the story or the author, and sometimes, how it made them got into the world of writing in the first place. Oftentimes it offers an endearing insight about the author’s love of literature, something that I’m sure a lot of people could relate to. My personal favorite is Francisco Goldman reading ‘Clara’ by Roberto Bolaño. So sultry, self-aware and pandering. If you’ve got no time to read a book, you can always listen.
December is not here (yet), but I’m calling it already: Rhye’s Woman is my favorite album of 2013. Calm, minimalist soul-infused lounge music? It’s either I’m getting old or the current trend of music is going in a good way. (It’s also my favorite because of this rare occasion where both Dinda and I can enjoy the same album.)
Delving through the drapes of concise bassline, androgynous vocal, and the occasional strings, it’s hard to believe that Woman is the duo’s debut album. It’s also quite difficult to grasp that there are only two of them. Toronto-based Mike Milosh collaborated with Robin Hannibal a few years back for Hannibal’s main outfit, Quadron, but only after both coincidentally relocated to LA did they started the formerly mystery project only known as Rhye. They released Woman back in March, and the result is something that will probably make Sade rolls quite happily in her grave — wait, she’s still alive, so there’s that.
Comparisons with the 90s smooth jazz champion Sade is not without reason: both infuse R&B, jazz and soul into their music, both features prominent female vocal (although Milosh is most definitely a guy), and both have lax tunes that won’t offend even the most aggressive criminals. Though the ear-splitting strings is dominant in the intro to the opening track, Open, the rest of the song and the album goes like an expensive lotion. The duo thankfully didn’t spend too many time meddling with adding various arrangements and only keeping it to a bare minimum, with only Milosh’s contralto vocal (who many, including me, will mistake for a woman’s), definitive beats, and additional strings and horns here and there. The music mostly flows with a certain restrain, never too high or low as if they were afraid to hurt someone’s ears. On tracks like 3 Days, though, they seem to let go and found power within those classy instruments in a spirit not unlike Disclosure or even Volcano Choir to a stretch. But their signature is indeed in containing their power and emotion. Listening to Rhye is not to absorb the glare of the trembling bass or passionate wails, it’s more like tiptoeing between fragile glasses full of wine.
Last month was the first time I didn’t write anything up here, and it’s not like the month before that I have anything notable to say either. Today is nearing the end of October and I am still in the campus as an undergrad student, so I guess I have more than a free time to have something to write about.
Now, as I grow up I noticed that grown-ups seemingly have a tendency to not share personal issues in a negative light, for either keeping a professional image or just to avoid flaunting their flaws. Yet our nature as a social being compels us to share thoughts, emotions, ideas — basically anything in their mind, in order to maintain a decent psyche. I, for a lack of a better person to share, vent myself by writing.
I’m no Lemony Snicket, but recently I’ve had my fair share of unfortunate events. Not getting a schedule for the thesis defense, busted laptop, breaking up stuff, et cetera. Most of them are out of my control so I won’t gripe but the effects are what got my attention: that being in a limbo is as unsettling as being down in the dumps. I am being an observer to myself. When you have no clear objective on the days in front of you, suddenly you are hyper-aware to what happens around you and how it affects you. You wake up with no sense of wonder. The world revolves and you stand fixated in a point in space and time. (Not quite literally.) You move, you eat and you interact, but the neurons in your head pulsate the same mood over and over again.
Another interesting thing to note is the overwhelming lack of response to everything. Like flipping a little switch inside the head to turn off the need to react in fear of involuntarily releasing a toxic foul mood to those around you. Even the one closest to you, because s/he is the least of people you would want to be fed up and leave — and because of fear that s/he does not care. You retract inside, you feel alone, and you retract deeper. You resist existing.
And no, it goes beyond the casual advice to “suck it up and deal with it”.
The end of the month is here again already, and yes, I have been writing practically nothing for some time now. It’s the month I turned 22, so shouldn’t I have something to say? Well, I won’t, not until I am able to finish my final assignment and graduate with pride. So, see you soon and enjoy your September!
“Banyak orang yang merasa pintar, tetapi tidak banyak orang yang pintar merasa.”
– Pak Iwan, warga Kampung Pulo
The hours, they are creeping in like windows on an empty house
drinking dust and waiting for a new owner
to live in them. The hours are living in the present. Your presence,
your furniture, your collection of building sketches are
the ones that need repeating.
The hours are fresh-painted walls in a museum, never elsewhere
but white spaces are never anywhere. Safe and sound in a plain view.
Your fingers twisting magic words,
your mind formulating fantasy,
your eyes concentrating.
The ones that need repeating.
A man walks into his cousin’s life, meeting her tycoon husband and suddenly gets his pass into the 1920′s New York high life. His mysterious — but extremely wealthy — neighbor throws up huge party at his huge mansion every week, and secretly was the old lover of the man’s cousin who tries to get her off her unfaithful husband. Drama ensues.
There. I just saved you from trying to read into the already simple storyline of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a high concept adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel of the same name. Despite having a certain affection of American Classics, I somehow haven’t got to reading the actual novel, but I can tell you one or two things about the 2013 adaptation: the whole damn thing is incoherent. Not the story, fortunately, since most literature adaptations are usually saved in the story department however bad the whole movie is, but the way everything else connects with each other to create a bearable movie.
The slow motion scenes. The costume design (this one is actually wonderful). The overlaid quotes. The cheesy CGI. And the worst offender, the hip-hop/The XX/whatever else resembling a soundtrack! Look, many people dislike Sucker Punch like it was Hitler’s first movie. I liked it, since Zack Snyder made it fully conscious that it will be so over-the-top as the movie goes that he can hear the jaws dropping on the floor as the robot samurai dragons or whatever they are march to their death by the protagonist girls in their scantily clad outfits. It was meant to be extravagant. It was Snyder’s wet dream, and people should forgive him for still making a decent movie out of it.
Meanwhile, The Great Gatsby, as far as I’m concerned, was about 1920s America. A real decade in a real world, despite being set in the fictional West Egg somewhere in Long Island, NYC. Luhrmann made a good approach with a wonderful detail to art direction, creating wonderful costumes and lavishly extraordinary scene of Gatsby’s house parties. But it doesn’t seem to come anywhere beyond the eye candies. Nobody can deny that what is beneath is just a simple love drama between three people, and Luhrmann never tries to expand beyond that. Tarsem’s The Fall practiced minimalist storyline with gorgeous costume design and cinematography. Premium Rush explored a simple, well-thought premise through high tension scenes to keep you on the edge of the seat. Luhrmann’s Gatsby adopts none of those, and instead layered a very basic drama with pretty costumes and endless CGI makeup. If I wasn’t familiar with the title before, I wouldn’t believe it was an adaptation of what is considered as one of the Great American Novels.
The only thing worse than the sleep-inducing story exploration is its incapability of creating the atmosphere of NYC in the 1920′s. During the movie I asked myself numerous times on what inspires the director to insert a half-decent rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” in one of the scenes. Holy crap. I’m pretty sure in one of the deleted scenes there were a time traveler who accidentally gave his middle school music collection to the folks in dapper pants. Is this American Pie? And in the mellower scene there was that signature The XX sound. Come on, this isn’t Twilight. Not to mention Lana Del Rey. I’m pretty sure Pitchfork jizzed in their pants, let me check for a moment — nope, even they hated it. Dude. I’m not exactly against putting outlandish music in your movie, but I’m not sure many people would appreciate an unexpected reality check halfway through their popcorn. Sorry Luhrmann, but Nick Carraway should have better left his draft titled simply “Gatsby”.
Full disclosure: Aside of not having read the original novel, I also might or might not have fallen asleep for a couple minutes while watching, so maybe I’m missing a thing or two here.
This is a story. I might want to write about it more in the upcoming days. Enjoy.
Timetrip Mourning Blues
Andy came quickly through my door. This is it! He said, but I didn’t get what he’s saying just yet. This is the living proof! A human through time! I was shocked for a while, thinking maybe he had knocked his head somewhere on his way home, but I followed him anyway. I walked outside to see a man in a brown suit, holding a newspaper clip which I later learned had the headline: Young Footballer Lost Without Trace. It dated back to twenty years ago. Andy said he bumped into the man on his way home, and being the big sports nerd he is, he recognized the man almost instantly.
The man was Joaquin Mourning. He was a footballer.
Show me what you’ve got, I said after taking him and Andy to a field. I produce a ball from my bag and passed it to him. According to Andy, if you are really Joaquin, you should have no problem getting through Andy and score between the two pine trees. He stood there for a while, swiftly dribbling to the already prepared Andy, swerving to the left before stopping the ball with his right foot and made a quick spin to the right of the gullible Andy. Such finesse. With a single long shot, the ball landed smooth on the grass field. Such precision. His movements wasn’t of someone who is in his mid-forties, and he certainly doesn’t look like one. Comparing to the newspaper photo, he probably aged only a year or two. Now, do you believe me? He didn’t say a word but it was written all over his huge shit eating grin.
Curiosity has got the best of us already. We talked and talked. He didn’t know what happened, other than that on a Tuesday afternoon he suddenly jumped forward by a minute over and over again, and later on that day he was gone and arrived in his room exactly 14 hours later in a single blink. It seems to work on his own will, and while there is probably no limit on how much forward he can go in time, it wasn’t the case in space since he can only move in approximately a 1 km radius.
Also, he can’t go back in time. Only forward.
Joaquin was about to finish his sentence while he vanished into thin air in a blink. No poof, no cloud of smoke or whatever. Andy was speechless. Had I not talked to calm him down he probably would lost his shit right there. A time traveler, describing his experience, and gone in half a millisecond.
I can see the huge disappointment in Andy’s eyes. But it need not to last long. In around four and a half minutes some young man came running across the field towards us. It was Joaquin, again.
Taking time to catch his breath, he apologized briefly. That it wasn’t intentional. Sometimes, just very occasionally he would lost control and jumped a few minutes forward to somewhere close. I looked at his eyes. He stared back. I couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. Somehow his hair seemed just a tiny bit shorter. He couldn’t have got his hair cut in four and a half minutes, not to mention all by himself. His ears would have been chopped off. Why did you came back running? I asked him, because he could very well just walk off anywhere just fine leaving us in disbelief over his story. I need you guys, he said. I am not the only one who can blink. No, I am the only one. Probably. But I am not one. Someone is on my heels. Minutes, days, months, years — he is coming closer and closer.
What can you tell of him? What does he look like? Andy and I got more curious since today will probably turn into a big adventure we’ve hoped all our lives to live. Aaron hesitated. No, it’s not hesitation. He knew exactly what he was going to say. He just loves a big, dramatic pause. The man, he said — is myself.