Music (and a bit of cinema): the lovely/fringe and the dull/traditional

 

I have a new musician to admire: John Coolidge Adams. His music is minimalist. As the name suggests, it is a postmodern style. I don’t know how to succinctly explain what minimal music. But, I can explain how it affects my psyche.

When I listen to it, I feel like I am stuck between two worlds: the corporeal and the metaphysical. It is unusual because most musical works bring me to either one, never both at the same time. I love such balance. It is a feeling which I wish I can experience more. It also gives me a fresh outlook about the arts.

Oh, and when I said I listen to minimalism, I was referring to the works of Adams. I have barely listened to the ones made by other similar composers. The sensation I described was provoked by Adams’ own aesthetics. But, that does not mean I cannot appreciate minimal music in general.

When you listen to it, the postmodern inclination is very audible. But, unlike many postmodern works of art (the ones I have encountered, at least), minimal music does not try too hard to be weird. It sounds odd, sure. But, there is still sincere artistry. I also wish it is being used more as film soundtracks.

I hate how sterile Hollywood soundtracks are. The same boring melodies and arrangements over and over again. Of course, it is unsurprising for mainstream entertainment with their orthodox mentality. But, orthodoxy is not always a bad thing.

John Williams can conjure refreshing tunes out of long-established musical style. Some of the most memorable melodies in Hollywood are his creations. But, he is a rarity. Many contemporary Hollywood composers seem to suffer from a case of creative infertility. They let the strictly-imposed orthodoxy hinder their creativity. They easily give in to the cultural establishment.

Yes, minimal music is odd. But, it is also not entirely distinct from what we consider to be classical music. Why is it so hard to find films that embrace it? Besides Philip Glass, I can’t think of any other minimal composers that compose original soundtracks. This issue is not just about creativity, it is also about pragmatism.

Proper soundtracks mean greater immersion. Horror and thriller films match well with eerie-sounding experimental music, sci-fi films with electronic music, fantasy films with ambient genres like new age. Oh, and speaking about fantasy films….

I love the Harry Potter franchise, the soundtracks included. I applaud John Williams (him again) for composing one of the most memorable theme songs in the history of cinema. I applaud him for including Jazz, medieval music and unworldly ambience for the soundtrack of Prisoner of Azkaban. I applaud Nicholas Hooper for including Celtic influence in Order of Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince But, I am also greatly disappointed.

Apart from the things I said, the music is still plagued with boring cliches. In fact, I also hate its constant lack of ambition. First of all, Harry Potter is set in Great Britain, specifically its technologically-quaint magical world. How come there are only three HP films that use Celtic and medieval European music? Wouldn’t they be more culturally fitting?

Second, the Harry Potter universe is a place where magic exists. How come that none of the soundtracks embrace ambient styles which can evoke a sense of unworldliness? There are lots to choose from. Ethnic music, including the Celtic one, can be ambient. How about new age with its fairy tale-ish inclination? Heck, even minimal music, like the ones by Philip Glass, can be ethereal.

Wait, I said something about this issue is about artistry and pragmatism. I forgot to talk about the latter. My apologies.

As I said, employing more fitting music induces better immersion. But, my statement was in the context of enhancing films’ overall artistry. People don’t realise how it can also be used to generate profits.

The idea of artistry’s profitability does sound bizarre, especially to the most uncultured swines and to cynics like me. But, idealism and craftsmanship stand out in a sea of conformity and mediocrity. They foster uniqueness.

Yes, uniqueness can be a financial suicide. Can be. Not always. With the right filmmaker and marketing strategies, a well-crafted film can still a box office success by being conspicuous. It does sound like a fanciful hypothesis. But, there are notable examples of profitable artistry.

Pixar films came to mind. They are distinct from most so-called family-friendly films. Their emotions are quite raw yet unsentimental. Romance is not the force that moves the story forward. The characters never burst into songs in unlikely circumstances. When there are villains, they are of shades of grey. Relatively defiant, still popular.

Harry Potter franchise itself can be quite defiant. The adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban successfully evokes the feeling of sinister force lurking in every second. The Half-Blood Prince one has pacing and atmosphere so calm, it feels quite soothing. They stand out among other HP films and any films marketed to younger demographics. Again, relatively defiant, still popular.

Easier said than done, I know. But, without doubt, sell-outs are not the only who can money; visionaries can do as well! Knowing the original source material, with its thematics and commentaries, Harry Potter films have the potentials to be even more profound in every aspect, including the music.

Sticking to the already-established styles does not make you pragmatic, it makes you a coward who let himself/herself crippled by risks.

Oh, and I use the words ‘visionaries’ and ‘sell-outs’ too liberally here. I know we should not throw words around just like that. But, I cannot help myself. I admire anyone who still nurture their idealism despite the immense coercion and I hate anyone who easily gives in to even the weakest of all pressures. God, I hope I will never be a sell-out.

My self-righteous rant ends here.

Image credit to US Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Primer: when a film feels close to home

The first time I knew about Primer, it was around the year 2010. It attracted my attention because it is a highly-acclaimed, low-budget sci-fi film, directed and written by Shane Carruth, a software engineer who has a degree in Mathematics and who hadn’t made a feature film before, with the help of a small crew of five. At that time, I did not have the desire to watch it.

Seven years later, I encountered the title again and, this time, I was livid to watch it. I finally watched it on December 9. I had heard many good words about Primer. But, even after reading countless positive endorsements, I was still emotionally unprepared.

I am not ready to dissect its unconventional and deeply complex narrative; it will probably take me years and many buckets of tears to untangle the devilishly-intricate chronology. Heck, I will never start on dissecting the science and evaluating its soundness; kudos to Carruth for not dumbing down the jargon-laced dialogues. But, I am ready to talk about its ‘realism’.

Of all the films I have watched, this has to be among the most realistic. I am deeply immersed in the story to the point of almost feeling at home. When I thought other films were bona fide, Primer brings it to the next level. The fact that it is sci-fi can be surprising to some people. For me, it is partially surprising. Let me elaborate.

Believe it or not, speculative genres like sci-fi are able to embody realism. Not literally, of course. Instead, they make use of allegories and ideas to illustrate the real world. In fact, the so-called more ‘realistic’ genres often fail to explore real life issues. So, I am not surprised by the sense of realism.

What surprises me is how near-perfect the immersion is. Despite dealing with real life issues, the audience is still emotionally detached from the characters and stories in most fantastical films. Thematically, Primer is not special as it deals with unethical use of technology, a cliche of the sci-fi genre. But, I have my own ‘theories’ about how the immersion came into being (I use the ‘t word’ very loosely here).

The directing and editing were so neatly-done, they look like the works of an experienced professional. The cinematography, however, is grainy at times; it still reminds me about the film’s micro budget. But, that seems superficial. I am sure there are other elements, more abstract ones that contribute to the immersion. (Oh, and condescending tone in this paragraph is unintentional. My apologies).

The special effects are almost non-existent in Primer, unusual for a film of such genre. Apart from how impressive it is to convince the audience that this special effects-deprived film is sci-fi, I also believe it’s a contributing factor to its realism; the audience knows how special effects are just visual ‘fabrication’. I am not saying that special effects ruin the immersion. I just think that, more of than not, they are only used to emphasise escapism.

Previously, I mentioned about how Carruth refused to dumb down the scientific jargons. Besides its praiseworthiness, it also entices me to believe in the authenticity of the science. In many sci-fi films, the lack of technical language make them look disproportionately more ‘fi’ than the ‘sci’. The rest of the dialogues, however, are very down-to-earth.

When the main characters are not speaking jargons, they are speaking in an everyday language. No floweriness, just mundanity we are familiar with. Don’t get wrong. I do love poetic language; it can make great narrations and monologues. But, admittedly, it can be uncomfortably artificial in dialogues.

Oh, and the acting. For me, the lead actors’ performance radiated sincerity. They effortlessly performed dialogues that were cut off mid-sentences and overlapped each other, which parallel real-life casual conversations; I wouldn’t be surprised if they improvised their lines. Also, despite not being overly-animated, they were still able to convey emotions; not every normal living person is loud and extroverted.

I believe those elements contribute to my wonderfully sublime experience. Their audibility and visuality make them relatively tangible. But, I should not forget one abstract element which can be easily missed: the depth.

In this case, it is less about the depth itself and more about its presentation. Some films, both commercial and arthouse, try too hard to look profound, they end up bearing an image of pompousness and superficiality. Primer is the complete opposite.

Instead of a film with deep and hidden meanings, it merely presents itself as a story of two men who accidentally invented a time machine, which they use for their selfish gains. Basically, humans who become corrupt when the opportunity arises. Even when you are not one of them, I am sure you are mindful of how irresistible the dark side can be. Quite mundane if you think about it.

As I said before, with its theme of technological abuse, Primer is not thematically groundbreaking. But, instead of dwelling on it, the film treats the overused subject matter as nothing more than an accessory; it prefers to accentuate the genuine human story.

I really wish more films (and TV shows as well) follow Primer‘s footsteps. More mundane languages, more natural acting, more sincere human quality. Obviously, such motion pictures exist. But, I just wish they were more bountiful and more widely-accepted. One can dream.

Oh, and as I am typing this, I have only watched the film twice. In the future, after watching it for the umpteenth time, I will certainly change my opinions. It would be disappointing if I fail to refine my reasoning and knowledge.

BvS: a never-ending, action-infested clusterf**k… with moments of surprising depth (a shamelessly late review)

From the title alone, one can tell I will be bashing the film which many people have relieved themselves on for the past two years. So, if you are a fanboy or fangirl who only see imaginary flawlessness in your beloved motion picture work, click away.

Or don’t. Besides bashing the hell out of it, I am also planning to discuss about the film’s positive aspects AND attempting to persuade you to reflect on the dissenting voices. I don’t care if I will be persuasive or sound like a self-righteous prick. Okay, now let’s start with the beating.

First of all, the story is horrendously tedious! Not slow-pacing, but tedious. A slow-paced story encourages us to patiently wait or even to not expect anything at all; we are encouraged to relish the present. This is more common in arthouse films where immersion is crucial and non-negotiable in every scene.

A tedious story, on the other hand, keeps lingering on the same points despite its promise of incoming fresh scenes. It is nothing but a spawn of broken promises and aesthetic disappointment. Unless you are easily awed by mindless jam-packed actions, there’s nothing that can save us from a film’s tiresome pacing.

In fact, BvS is unbearable because of its mixing of tedious pacing and high octane actions. The three-hour-long duration makes it even more gruelling. I left the cinema feeling mentally exhausted. Personally, I don’t mind the exhaustion as long as it is legitimate. A film may provoke strong emotions that last for hours (or days). It may also provoke us to think hard as it is either loaded with information or confusing at the first watch.

Confusing. Also what BvS is to me. On this part, I am not sure if the problem is with me. Maybe I failed to pick up vague hints that can enlighten me about the story. Maybe I was (and still am) unfamiliar with the original source material. If it’s the latter, we have a problem.

An adaptation must be able to stand by itself. The original source materials are its inspirations, not its extensions. If we need to explore them for more info, why bother adapting them in the first place? Is the entertainment really less about quality and more about profit-making? Did I just ask a rhetorical question where I seemed to fake some level of profundity? But, as I said, I am still not sure if the problem is with me.

Oh, and I am going to end the bashing with something predictable: Martha. Arguably one of the most mockable moments in the history of mockable entertainment. Two individuals immediately bond with each other just because their mothers share the same name. The heartwarming charade is so brazenly displayed, its so-called warmth becomes hollow and insincere.

And yet, meaningless and deceitful facades still dupe us. We still hate subtlety because it requires understanding of life beyond what the basic senses tell us. That’s unfortunate since subtlety is one thing that brings depth to works of arts and entertainment. Subtlety helps us to dodge traps like self-conceited pretentiousness, sickly sweet sentimentality or, in the case of Martha: the movie, shameless idiocy.

Enough with the bashing. As I said in the beginning, I will also talk about the film’s positive features. Just because I hate something, that doesn’t mean it absolutely lacks any redeeming values. In this case, it is the not-so-subtle menace shown in two scenes.

The first one is Batman’s nightmare scene. Apart from the drastic change of setting and Batman’s voice, it doesn’t feel dreamlike at first. The ensuing chaos also seems normal. But suddenly, in the middle of the mayhem, winged-demons are arriving from the sky, snatching every single human that is seen as a threat. It literally looks the beginning of God’s wrath.

Except they are not demons; they are not even supernatural. Once you take a close look, you will see they are mere human soldiers, completely clad in black armour and adorned with mechanical wings. But, how the scene was crafted really does wonders.

Camera angle, showing the ‘demonic’ soldiers’ daunting arrivals from the sky. Background music, laced with droning male vocals. The limited colour palette of light brown and black, evoking hell on earth and man’s inner darkness respectively. As a result, those flying soldiers look like they were born among hellfire. Even the wingless and more human-looking soldiers look demonic as well. It is a very nightmarish. But, not the scariest scene ever made.

Heck, it’s not even the peak of the film’s disquieting atmosphere. For me, Lex Luthor’s painting scene is the winner for possessing greater subtlety and requiring more in-depth dissection. The said painting depicts the biblical angels and devils, with the former emerging from the sky and the latter soaring from the underworld.

Its appearance on the scene is very brief. Brief, yet assertive. Once again, the background music was well-composed, this time with haunting string sounds. But, what makes the painting domineering is the remarks of Lex Luthor, who exudes a menacing aura (if I may use the word). He said:

[The painting] should be upside down. We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.”

That’s not randomness. If you try to interpret it (using logic, of course), the results would be so fitting to the narrative… and internet users have done so. Some think it represents Superman who is probably seen as the devil by Lex. Others think it represents Lex, who sees himself as the ‘angel’ who fell from grace, aka the devil. Symbolism is one boundless space, always open for any sound interpretations.

Subtlety. Yeah, I know. Said that a zillion times before. Bla bla bla bla. But, I want to keep underlining its importance in conveying depth, as proven by the two scenes. Subtlety is the only reason why I don’t hate BvS completely. In fact, I am now open about the possibility of me hating the film less in the future. I might have missed other hidden messages!

Let me change the topic for a while and tell you a story:

I am a Harry Potter fan. I love most of its characters, their quirks and surprising complexities. I love the expansiveness of the fictional universe. I love the thought-provoking thematics, unpretentiously expressed throughout. I love its progressive social stances. I even have made my own analyses about the series, encouraging the growth of my critical thinking skill.

And because of that skill, I cannot unsee its flaws.

Apart from the inconsistencies (which is common in any long-running series), there are also defects like lack of novelty, unexceptional writing style and hasty series finale. I hate how Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix, especially the latter, are given poor film adaptations by having their depth thrown away. I also believe Half-Blood Prince understands the HP spirit more than the original source material itself. That’ll stir up the fandom.

I hope you, BvS fans, are still here. I know some of you are rational enough to not make a God out of your favourite film. But, for those of you who do and still adamant about its absolute perfection, let me ask you something:

If I have the ability to shit on Harry Potter, one of the things I love the most in my life, why can’t you accept that BvS, your beloved film, has its faults?

You don’t need to be a pretentious snob to criticise the film. No need to be a Batman and/or Superman hater. No need to be a hardcore Marvel fan. Heck, you don’t even need a highly intellectual mind.

All you need is to accept that imperfection is inherently inescapable, even for the things you love dearly.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: distasteful, menacing and poignant (a late film review)

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A note for those who haven’t watched and want to: I am not going to spoil the plot. But, I am going to describe the film’s general atmospheres which may or may not be detailed. If that’s enough of a spoiler for you, please click away.

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I was conflicted about watching GOTG 2 because, you know, it’s a sequel. Disappointment was what I expected and disappointment was what I got.

First of all, the off-colour humour. Personally, I CAN enjoy it. I’ve even have told far more obscene (and frankly abusive) jokes to my friends. They are also a very useful outlet to vent my anger and frustration. But, unlike the screenwriter (or the producer who probably pressured him), I know the time and place to express them.

The first volume was as comedic as this one. But, the difference is its humour was very clean; violence is the most blatantly adult aspect of the film. Not to mention that Guardians of the Galaxy is marketed solely as action, adventure and sci-fi franchise, NOT risque comedies. As a result, the lewdness is a very unpleasant, in-your-face surprise. The disappointment doesn’t stop there.

Sentimentality. I love it when entertainment works include emotions that humanise the characters. But, I hate it when their portrayals are too skin-deep and sugary, pandering to shallow individuals who can’t see pass the pretence. For me, this practice encourage insincerity and actually invalidates genuine human emotions. Depth and intricacy are needed to add realism and soundness to the emotions. But, despite the distastefulness, it’s not all disappointment with this film.

Apart from the crude ones, there are also cleaner and more refined jokes we encountered in the previous one. Their wholesome nature gives them a much more universal appeal and relatively uncontroversial in any genres of films. The inclusion of the lewd one, however, is both unnecessary and detrimental, both in aesthetic and practical sense. Without the franchise’s trademark humour, I would hate this installment a lot more. But, admittedly, it can also be more superior in other aspects.

Menace. In pop culture, this film included, it usually starts with the introduction of something too good to be true. If something seems that way, it must be perceived as a red flag. There are also a few hints of the alleged ominousness, noticeable to both the audience and the characters. We know something’s off and yet, we don’t know what that is. In the story’s culmination, the truth is revealed…and boy, menacing it is.

The revelation is deeply unnerving for me. Admittedly, not everyone shares my idea of threat to the psyche; what disturbs me in the arts and entertainment may be nothing for you. But, whether you agree with me or not, it is undeniably an unforeseen dimension that conveys darkly ethereal spirit. This element makes a pop film like this more appealing to me.

An infatuation with the sinister force seems odd or even grotesque. But, personally, I find the attraction justifiable. In the arts and entertainment, its is meant to remind us of its existence in our life. When it comes to the notoriously-vivid arthouse films, the audience is ‘forced’ to experience the vile ‘face to face’. Savour the foul taste, no sugar allowed. A bit different case with pop films.

In many cases, they are nothing but sugar overloads. Every inch of the film reel is caramelised by corporate demands. But, once in a while, hints of pungency sip through the sweetness. Overall, the taste is still sweet. But, the subtle foulness cannot be ignored entirely. In the end, you have to admit there are other layers to the taste.

Depth, created by the stack of layers. Without any ‘undesirable’ ones, pop films would be only surface-deep. There’s nothing to offer other than what can be seen with the naked eyes. The pungency gives us a reason to explore beyond what they can see. In light-hearted comedies, it can be a surprise.

The abundance of humour prevent us from expecting the polar opposite. So, its presence (when noticed) juxtaposes with the merry atmosphere we have immersed ourselves into. It is a deep, hidden well of nasty-flavoured yet drinkable fluid, surrounded by vast sugary fields. If you haven’t discovered it, you really don’t know anything about your surrounding environment. In some films, including GOTG 2, the well is not that hard to find.

In this film, the sinister force is visually expressed, making it physically visible to the audience. Admittedly, the imagery is really not that scary. But, for me, it is more than enough to represent darkness. Just looking at it, we know that we are dealing with a malicious being. Not only the well is present, its content overflow to the surface, forcing everyone to face it. The film’s depth does not stop at the ‘taste’. It also extends to the human psyche.

Yes, I did complain about the gooey sentimentality. But, actual psychological depth is still abundant here and it comes in several forms. The soundtrack, for example. Like the previous installment, this one features pop oldies.

I do prefer them over the newer ones. But, having them as soundtracks in contemporary films activates my warm inner self. It makes me nostalgic of the colourful past that I didn’t experience myself; I haven’t figured out how and why this oddity comes into being. Anyway, this is not all about me.

The featured songs also happen to be the main character’s personal favourites. Along with his walkman, they are the only entities that emotionally link him with his childhood on earth. There’s more to this infamously rebellious man-child. But, his past is neither surprising nor mysterious. Overall, not a complex individual. The other characters, however, are relatively so when compared to him.

Crude, lawless, evil. You may think those traits are innate to the characters, that they absolutely define them. When you think you know them well, they unfold previously-unknown facets of themselves; we become surprised and start seeing them in different (albeit slightly) lights. In the end, we find it hard to synopsise them as individuals, knowing how deceptive their facades are. Again, not that different from the previous installment. But, again, there is one aspect of both films in which the successor aces out its predecessors: death.

The first film has a somewhat mature treatment of death. But, being a pop film it is, the portrayal is almost completely trivial. In the second film, the trivialisation also occur…to some minor characters. When it comes to the other ones, their death is glaringly horrifying and inhumane; they are murdered simply because their murderers think, ‘why not?’. In that short yet graphic moment, the film had its joy wiped out.

Those murdered characters aren’t really characters. Their names aren’t mentioned and they’ve got nothing to offer for the plot’s development. We are not emotionally attached to them. But, they are human enough to make ourselves affected by their death. If the attachment is there, we would be made teary-eyed…and that happens when one of the important characters die.

It’s incredible how a film with bouts of mawkishness can also possess emotional profundity. That one character’s death is not laced with sappy dialogues and background music. In fact, the subsequent funeral scene is not that reliant on dialogues. The atmosphere is expressed more through the characters’ body languages, camera angles and, unsurprisingly, an oldie pop song as the background music.

Neither the melody nor the lyrics manifest any embodiment of heartache. But, the latter wonderfully allude to the bonding between one of the main characters and the departed one. The song exudes familial warmth. For some, its inclusion can seem odd for this particular moment. But, I think this works really well.

A simple yet deep song about family, unassuming bodily languages, not a single flowery word being uttered. This moment conveys heartfelt grief…along with tinges of nostalgic joy and hope for the incoming future. There is no self-conceited emotionality, there is only wholesome and warm tenderness.

Tenderness. The film’s best feature and one reason why it still manages to win me over.

Lala Land: perseverance and (almost) dead dreams (a very late review)

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*may contain spoiler*

I don’t think it is one of the best films I’ve watched. The film has nothing new to offer. Not to mention I haven’t watched other highly acclaimed Hollywood films of 2016. As far as I concern, it may not even be one of the best of the year. But, calling it one of the worst is also an overkill.

I’ve seen comments on Facebook who said it’s a sad attempt to re-create Grease, which I’ve watched as well. They are both romantic musicals….and that’s literally the only obvious similarity between them. In fact, I can think of many differences between the two, like:

Grease is a feel-good film with a happy ending while Lala Land is a about struggles and heartbreaks.

Grease is a Rock ‘n’ Roll musical while Lala Land is a Jazzy one.

From the title alone, it’s obvious Lala Land is a self-aware musical who realises about musicals’ obvious lack of realism. Grease lacks such intelligence.

Grease barely uses special effects while Lala Land uses them lavishly.

Grease features high schoolers while Lala Land features adults who work full time.

Grease was shot in late 1970’s and set in 1950’s. Lala Land was shot and set in 2010s.

Those six traits are more than enough to refute the Grease-wannabe ‘criticism’. But, I admit Grease is stronger in two aspects: its choreography and its status as a classic…which is more a case of memorability and old age rather than actual quality. Therefore, it cannot be counted as a strength.

Anyway, judging from this article, you can tell I am going to talk about human perserverance. So, I’ll start with a question: how do humans persevere in pursuing their dreams?

Seriously, how? How are they so undeterred by the long series of rejection? By their crippling sense of deprecation? By how the entire world seems pinning against them? The main characters experienced all of those.

It began with them possessing healthy amount of self-esteem and bright outlook of the future. For many years, they were optimistically pursuing their dreams. Then, very gradually, they became more and more defeatist. Their relationship went downhill. They even momentarily succumbed to their fates. Dreams fading fast.

Eventually, the dreams did come true. They achieved their desired careers which they were naturally talented at. But, it was not wholly joyful. Like every success story, theirs won’t exist without personal sacrifices. We literally cannot have all the nice things. It’s a bittersweet tale. Now, to actually answer my question…

Maybe resilience is an answer. So, the question should be, ‘how to be resilient?’. But, I also wonder if resilience has its limit. I cannot answer that because I’m not resilient. Resilient people out there, does resilience have a limit? Does it?

I don’t know if the characters are resilient. They persevere for many years and almost gave up their dreams. They worked hard and they didn’t take opportunities for granted. They didn’t believe in luck and easy results.

Maybe their loved ones are also a factor. They can provide us emotional and pragmatic supports. Well, assuming if they have such loved ones. Some people don’t have one near them. Some only have toxic ones who are willing to do anything to crush the dreams. In those cases, what should they do?

The characters had each other and supported each other, no matter what. The relationship goes beyond mutual romantic attractions. Without each other, I’m sure their destinations would be a lot harder to reach. Each of them still have their living and kind loved ones. But, they don’t show support. At least, not on-screen.

Maybe it’s optimism. Again, I don’t know how to possess it. I’m also unsure if it’s a significant factor in one’s success. It’s also mistaken as ‘forced positivity’, which discourages us from dealing with negativity healthily and is very harmful.

As I said, the characters were initially optimistic. When the optimism ran dry, they didn’t force positivity on themselves. If they did, they would be in greater emotional wrecks and probably go even further from their dreams. The ending would be a lot bleaker.

I know that my hypothetical factors of perseverance are erratic, far-fetched and too theoretical. But, I genuinely want to have it. It would be more than advantageous to my life, especially with my current state. I’m desperate enough to even reference fictional characters.

*sighs*

Inferno: an intellectual fail (a very late review)

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Murders. Lives at stake. Art history puzzles. Ask Robert Langdon for help. Accompanied by a pretty lady. Lots of actions. People die anyway. Unexpected bad guys. Problem’s solved in less than 24 hours. Just another Robert Langdon story.

I haven’t read the novel. Is it a disappointing film adaptation? Can’t say. A disappointing stand-alone film? It is. I was initially intrigued. Our hero suffers concussion, memory loss and visions of hell, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. The film sucked me in. Now, I regret the immersion.

It’s just another mindless action film. Imaginary physical actions mean nothing to me. But, the film’s other aspects do. Mystery. Surrealism. The grotesque. I’m a sucker for them. They help me understanding the world and myself…and they disappear halfway. But, one thing disappoints me even more: unlike the previous films, Inferno isn’t thematic.

The Da Vinci Code condemns deceitful religious authorities; the film shares the condemnation. Angels & Demons discusses “religion vs. science”; the film doesn’t discuss it, even though it’s still there. Both deal with the (in)validity of religious truths. I love having such discussions, taboo or not. That’s why TDVC and A&D feel personal for me.

Inferno’s villain believes killing most of mankind is good for its own sake; less greed, better earth. The future of earth and humanity. It’s both compelling and personal. I condemn his method, but I share his cause. The film has the opportunity to push a discussion. But nooooo! Let’s demonise it and block any discussions! Breed like rabbits! Fuck the earth! Human lives matter! TRUMP 2016!

*takes a deep breath*

In the west, religion is no longer a taboo topic. Hollywood indulges the trend. But, the idea of population control is still sinful. Many feel it demonises procreation and even demands our extinction! So desperate to keep their views unchallenged. Again, Hollywood indulges.

Don’t get me wrong. I love low-brow entertainment; hate to be thoughtful all the time. But, if it can get deeper, do it! Yes, the deeps are dangerous, dark and have grotesque inhabitants…and that’s exactly why you must explore it! Confront the harsh environment and ‘twisted’ creatures. That’s how you grasp life. That’s how you learn. Life’s not all about the comfort of the shallows.

The film doesn’t even need a lengthy discussion. Just have a character that asks “What if the villain’s right? What if we’re wrong?”. Just bring up the questions. The audience would be exposed to a conversation starter, albeit subtle. It would also encourage them be less black-and-white. I seriously hope the novel is unlike the film.

Despite his poor writing skills, Dan Brown brings intellectual and emotional depth to TDVC and A&D. If Inferno is just like the film, it bertrays the entire Robert Langdon series. I hope it’s not true. It comforts me that profound low-brow entertainment exists.

You may ask why overpopulation is personal for me. Well, I’m interested in it; I see it as an actual problem. But, as I said, it’s still a taboo. I’ve been accused of misanthropy simply for bringing it up. Someone also said passing our genes is more valuable than environmental liveability. Hard to have reasoned and civilised discussions about it. But, it’s not all about overpopulation.

I’m also interested in other topics in which I have controversial stances on. Controversial as in mine can’t be put in any boxes. That’s enough for people to label me as an extremist. I know we can’t blame such dangerous mentality on one thing. But, I believe pop culture is a significant factor. Now, I’m ending it with a potentially controversial statement:

Pop culture must have a sense of social responsibility. Pop culture and everything that reaches the masses.

Those peculiar, fantastical and thoughtful genres

I am referring to three in particular: magical realism, surrealism and absurdism.

If you tell people to describe them, they would say ‘confusing’, ‘weird’ and ‘pointless’. Of course, they are wrong about them. But, the ignorance is understandable. The three genres are of acquired taste. Even not all of the lovers grasped them at first.

All three have one similarity: they encourage contemplation. They want us to reflect on our own life. They make us contemplate about what is true and what isn’t. They encourage us to reconsider our outlook concerning our own existence. Either that or they make you die of boredom or confusion.

Contemplation is not exclusive to strong realism. Even unworldliness has the ability to foster its growth. Realism reminds us about real life entities we are already aware of. Those three genres prefer us show us we failed to notice by ourselves: life’s ‘abnormalities’.

Their portrayal are always deadpan. No explanation to their existence and mechanics. They are just another life banalities we deal with every single day. What kind of ‘abnormalities’ they are depends on the genres. I’ll start with magical realism.

As the name says, its oddity is the magical elements. It encourages us to acknowledge the ‘magic’ in our real life. The stories feel both very real and fantastical at the same time. Those are more than enough to disaffiliate the genre from fantasy.

Unlike magical realism, fantasy is escapist. Magic is explicitly depicted as a non-existing entity. It abducts us from the real world temporarily (or permanently…). Viewing the two genres interchangeably is ignorance; unacceptable if it comes from actual fantasy writers and fans. Okay, I should go on to surrealism before I end up ranting.

The peculiarity of surrealism comes from its liberal blend of the conscious and the subconscious. It illustrates how both are inseparable from each other. All of our actions are, on some level, affected by something intangible deep inside us. Oh and it’s not to be confused with absurdism.

On the surface, it may looks similar to surrealism. But, instead of depicting the subconscious, it depicts the absurdity of life (the name’s obvious). It reminds us that even our conscious world can be senseless at times. Sometimes, we have to accept it.

Not only they want us take heed of the life abnormalities, the trio also inspire us to embrace them. They are benign and even enriching to our life. Forsaking them seem unwise; doing so, we are defiling our own very being. Those three genres can utilised as our guidance. Well, that’s my personal outlook, anyway.

I may also add a fourth ‘peculiar genre’: science fiction. I find it a unique genre because it has a place in the world of entertainment and the arts. I never thought sci-fi could be artsy until I found Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

From there, I managed to find other artsy sci-fi films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (artistry highly debatable, though). Each one has something in common: contemplation about our relations with science and technology. Yes, that C word again.

They dwell on how our life are tremendously shaped by the existence of science and technology. They supply us with greater practicality and alter how we regard our fellow human beings and even ourselves. That’s what artsy sci-fi films have to say. I never thought they could have such capacity until I found Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

From there, I managed to find similar films like Stalker (also by Tarkovsky), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. I am excited to watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe (I’m sure I butchered his name) and read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

I am even excited to explore new genres as well.

Invisible barriers in moving images (and why I love them)

4.2.3

If you told me to characterise art films, I would say things like unorthodox narrative, strong thematics, lack of popular appeal and heavy use of symbolism. Old news, even for novice film buffs. For a long time, I couldn’t think of anything else. Then, I realised the unorthodox narrative has an affect on (some) art films: lacking visible barriers.

In escapist films, the audience is given straightforward information when a scene is shifting to another one. We are always prepared. Art films don’t do that. They would rather have us get ‘confused’. It feels like we are transported to a completely different universe suddenly. We need to exercise our brains. Even experienced film lovers can get confused. I’ll elaborate.

Art films lack the boundary between the conscious and subconscious, the past and the present. We are brought to from one world to another liberally. The filmmakers only care about the aesthetics they deem suitable. They don’t believe in ‘border patrol’. They don’t think they owe us explanations and clarity. As a result, their works are of ethereal quality (for some of us, at least).

No, this is not surrealism. Surrealism mixes both worlds, ‘disrespecting’ the worldly logic. Every scene in a surrealist film shows them all at the same time. The genre is a reminder our subconsciousness, how it affects our waking life. Even though many art films feel surreal, they actually aren’t.

In non-surrealist ones, the ambiguity makes it difficult to distinguish them. There are no barriers. Transitions between the two worlds do exist. Well, sometimes. When they do exist, they are very abstract and obscure. Objective analyses are always futile. But, subjective ones aren’t.

We, the audience, always try to make our own interpretations based on our metaphysics. In every single one of those exegeses, the distinction between both worlds are a lot more clear-cut. Obviously, none of them are scholarly and universally accepted. But, they work. They contribute to our better understanding of the films. Everything becomes ‘more coherent’ through our personal lenses.

The older I become, the more I appreciate this aspect of films. It does have one practical benefit: it encourages me to be more mentally focused. You cannot let your mind wandering around while watch. If you make an effort in the immersion, I guarantee you would be a lot intellectually rigorous as a person. But, there is another benefit that you probably cannot relate to: the metaphysics.

I am a very introverted person. I love to nest inside my mind. I am so disappointed with the real physical world and my mind is always there as a sanctuary. Either that or I take a refuge in the cyberworld. Obviously, if excessive, they are unhealthy and I would need a help. That’s why art films (and other forms of the arts) help me.

The ethereality is so unworldly, I have only encountered it either in my mind or the cyberworld. It is wonderfully expressed through a fusion of sounds, visuals and movements in such films. Because of them, I don’t have an excuse to be entirely enwrapped by my own world. I also don’t have to worry about getting so obsessed with them. They are not escapist in nature; they would not imprison me from the real world.