When was the last time you watched a movie that feels like an extensive music video? Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive stretches the definition of “stylish” several ways, most visibly through the set-up: rooms full of recording equipment in the dark, brooding house of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) that seemingly lies in bumfuck nowhere. Adapting the vintage look of rock stars two decades past, Adam actually delves more into post-rock sound with e-bows and ambient touch — definitely the current accepted style of the sonically cool. It’s weird to notice the modernity of Adam, though, since he is really a centuries-old vampire. They wouldn’t let go of this fact, particularly through his lover Eve (Tilda Swinton), who would bother Adam every 2 seconds with questions like how was your summer with Shelley and Byron several decades ago? Seems like the only people worth remembering for vampires are those drowning in fame, and literary classics. Yet, in another word, it’s probably exactly what you will do when you are several hundred years old with nothing better to do than avoiding sunlight and sipping blood from fancy cups every other day. A slice-of-life crossed with the vampire genre. A stylishly depressing journey through the literally dark Detroit, since they are only active at night. Only Lovers Left Alive is an arthouse-spirited counterpart to the Hollywood action flicks — a story that acknowledges its aridity and chooses to jazz up the style instead.
Films that are all whimsical and full of colors usually refrain from being more than anything that is not whimsical and full of colors. The characters are pretty, problems are dreamy, and antagonists are cartoonishly evil. But sometimes, a film will put down its legs from the clouds into the firm ground of reality — and somehow also managed to keep its head in between the rainbows. Luna Papa is one of these rarities.
Many might be familiar with the atmosphere in Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov’s Luna Papa (1999), which finds itself in the midst of the Post-Soviet Central Asia that is not unlike the Eastern Europe, a land full of rocky terrains but always never devoid of colors. Embodying the visual spirit of Paradjanov but without delving into the world of vague, the film puts clear definition in its characters: Mamlakat is a quirky girl with big desire to get into acting, but she is stuck in her nowhereville with her brother Nasreddin who is off his mind (seemingly due to post-war trauma), and his eccentric father who breeds rabbit for their living. Nonetheless, Mamlakat is always happy — or at least goes through her days with an adorable level of airheadedness, an important character trait that drives much of the plot. When a theater company passes by her village, she tries to catch up to them without much luck, only to find herself knocked up months later with a mysterious man’s baby from the theater company that has gone elsewhere. Thus, the journey of the lovable family to find her child’s father begins in the land where onerous landscape meets armed legions.
Did I say armed legions? Yes, you might never encounter soldiers wielding assault rifles in a Parajanov movie, but this is Central Asia slash Middle East where people are rough and war is rampant. A glimpse of soldiers is shown here and there, and villagers don’t hesitate to show their rough edges to each other (maybe it’s just how things are in the Central Asia). Yet, what is more prominent is that Khudojnazarov didn’t choose to explore too deep into the grim reality, and instead put Mamlakat and her family in a lightheaded mess of a place that often swerve into comedy. Luna Papa never exactly puts a pin in the map for Mamlakat’s house, but the influence in the setting range from the war in Tajikistan to people delivering goods from a boat as in Kazakhstan. As the story goes, the family jumps into more and more surreal incidents like hotel residents being kidnapped, actors angered into throwing metal shield to the audience, and even animal falling from the sky. None of this are more magical than the fact that these accidents aren’t magical at all — everything is just a reaction of an action. Almost everything, at least. Best advice is to sit back and enjoy things as they happen.
Among the most enjoyable parts of the film is the stellar Chulpan Khamatova as the protagonist Mamlakat, a girl with the air of typical French movie characters who always follow their instinct without the least care in the world. The only difference is that Mamlakat isn’t living in a first world country where going places is easy and there are actually pavements for pedestrians. Mamlakat’s dream of being an actress is a glimmer of hope for a better living, but it doesn’t mean she dwell in misery in her current condition. Though at times she appeared naive, but it’s actually her optimism that is an exact opposite embodiment of naivety: she knows full well of the consequences of her actions, and she goes through great lengths to make the best out of it. Along with her brother Nasreddin and her loving father, the story of a family finding the mystical “Moon Father” is a gem of a film that wears its heart on the sleeve and isn’t afraid to rip it apart, because sometimes absurdity is simply a part of the daily life.
“We are what we are,” says J, sipping his tea without daring to give a look at his companion’s face. “Yes, I suppose. But what can you do when life doesn’t give you options?” L’s face darkened after he uttered that last word. Options. A word so out of reach, yet it never actually go anywhere. A word of possibilities. L knows this. He knows what this man will be saying next. “You do have them,” J says with a confident smirk, “and it’s up to you to embrace it. In fact, it’s also up to you to not embrace it. Options fly by every other day or so and sometimes you need to extend your hand far enough to —”
“Shut up.” J’s train of thought crumbles just as he is getting to his mate’s head. The rain outside is enough to keep a perfect shade of light he prefers, a similar one to the light currently inside his head. “I don’t need to hear that for the umpteenth time. You can mumble on about quantum possibilities in alternate dimensions for all I care.” L’s gaze is fading away into the metaphorical thousand yards inside of his mind, but J won’t feel content with letting him go anywhere. “Yes, I can, and I will. You were going on a fast train when you decided to slump yourself on a damp corner and curl your once happy little mind into submission. You don’t even realize you’re there. Not without me pointing these little trivial facts to your face.”
That tickles, J. I don’t remember you being the kind to say these things, but maybe nobody would bother anyway…
L snaps off his slight daydream once again. “I should have a — umm — enough reason to pick the gun.” Pick the gun. Never thought he could be so literal. J stops for a moment, looking for the tiny bit of hope hidden behind L’s eyes. “You never operate within reasons, mate. You just do.” Somehow this ticks off L — “And look now what ‘just doing’ has brought me! Off your shiny-ass fast train, in your words.” the seat takes a push of hand as L moves his bum for comfort. J picks up from where he left off, “You didn’t just do. You actually make a decent effort to get by, and the effort’s what really counts.” That kind of response never satisfy L. “Did you mean I should get a medal for trying, or what? I don’t see anyone going anywhere soon, except maybe you. Never the type to stay in one place for more than a week, right?” J smirks. “That’s silly. I don’t go anywhere, just as much as you do. We only differ in what we see.” “Huh? Haha, what kind of a statement is that?” L laughs in disbelief, as if J has eaten an innocent kitten alive. “I mean, our point of view differ in a way. I prefer to see the opportunity within the moment, while you seek dormancy. Neither is right or wrong, as often your silence is gold, but it’s just how we are.
“Have constraint and live within your means, not above, not below. I mean it. Not below. Going below will only stop you. Do what you need to do. I can only be here for so long, after all.” L’s wandering eyes jolt back to J. He starts swallowing J’s words. “And if I fail?” J lets out a short laugh. “You won’t! The worst that will be is just you’re not doing good enough. But it’s okay, learn to live with it. Everybody lives with it, otherwise nobody is good enough. Besides, you can’t go wrong… with a fully-loaded gun.”
J slides the revolver across the table onto L’s lap. The sound of metal sliding fortunately didn’t attract enough attention for nearby diners to check on them and choke on their food and run. Hesitant, L gets a grip of the gun. “You’re really doing this, aren’t you?” Recognizing L’s doubt, J smiles. “It’s simple. You will become me, end of story. You’re not doing this is not because of me, but because you’re not letting go of yourself.” His eyes widen. “Such kind words,” L mutters sarcastically, “aren’t you too afraid of going?”
“Where am I going?” J asks the rhetorical question. “I am not going. You become me. We become I. I need this as much as you do. So do it.”
L pulls the trigger. Only this time the bullet does not pierce his head in nanoseconds, it lies there, growing, not measured in moments but in days, weeks, months. The bullet never comes through. The bullet becomes him.
A few hours until midnight. 2013 will soon be no more. Make the most of your time, they said. Well, where were you when you last said that to yourself? Did you clean up your room? Did you go somewhere? Did you learn something? It was easy to answer these questions, it is way harder to admit them. Many things change, of course, yet you learn annually that what matters was whether the void inside you is shifting. Yet you never remember. To repeat yourself is either a doom or a divine intervention or a little bit of both. One day I was there, bathing under the vertical ray of the morning sun, but my thoughts are elsewhere, they always are. It wasn’t until the day I need to pull my conscience back down to earth that I knew that nature is ephemeral, but you are eternal. Everything doomed to perish but you. I am like an open book, but you are no less an open book than an empty one. A blank slate. Every year you tried to write , scribble, erase, make grids, until pages are no more blank but still don’t imply meanings. You walk past the years, and you learn to improve and appreciate, but in the end you just learn to learn.
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!