My wife and I have been watching the first season of Lost (yes, we’re slow) and one of the episodes featured a classic French song, La Mer by Charles Trenet and after that I just had to search Youtube for the full version of it. In fact, we’d recently spent one evening searching for classic French songs after learning of the surprise win by Marion Cotillard of the Best Actress award for her role in La Vie en Rose, so I thought it would be nice to write a post of some of the songs we found.
When studying the French language at the Centre de Linguistic Appliquée in Besançon, one of the exercises we were given was to transcribe the lyrics of French songs, beginning with nursery rhymes and moving on to classic songs and more modern pop music, which was how I learned about many of these songs. I’d actually guess that most English speakers in Malaysia would actually have heard of them in one form or another, only most won’t know their titles and singers, so here they are.
Ok, here’s another round of China bashing by me. The Chinese government has just banned actress Tang Wei, who is of course best known for her role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, from all media in China. The kicker here is that although Lust, Caution was understandably controversial in China, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) had already approved it for release last year after its producers cut some footage from it. It seems however that the release of even the censored version offended someone higher up in the government so it has put pressure on the SARFT and the film’s producers and this is the result.
What really angers me about this, aside from the issue of a government handing out an approval from one hand and taking it away with another, is that the Chinese government chose to ban Tang Wei and only her. Why not slap a ban on co-star Tony Leung as well? What, it’s okay to show a Chinese man having sex but it’s not okay to show a Chinese woman having sex? Why not ban Ang Lee as well? After all, no one is more responsible for what happens in a film than its director. Of course there’s the little fact that both Tony Leung and Ang Lee are internationally renowned artists and who can forget how gushingly proud all Chinese were when Ang Lee won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain despite its very politically incorrect content in Chinese eyes.
Meanwhile, Tang Wei is just an unknown starlet who took off her clothes in front of a camera for the whole world to see, embarrassing China in the process, so it’s perfectly alright to censure her for it. Good job, China.
While I generally leave most superhero movie news to The Superheroes Base, I felt that Watchmen deserves a special note here. The movie adaptation to be directed by Zach Snyder, who also directed the movie version of Frank Miller’s 300, is still at least a year away but the release of the photographs of the main characters has me psyched like few movies have. Pictured above is the Comedian, who is sort of a melange of DC’s Joker and Marvel’s The Punisher. Note his crazed grin and the yellow happy face badge on his shoulder. It’s details like this that make me hope Snyder that will do his best to be as faithful to the original graphic novel as possible.
The other photographs on the site are from top to bottom: the Nite-Owl, who is a sort of Batman with high-tech gadgets and vehicles; Ozymandias, who represents the peak of humanly possible perfection in both physical and mental abilities; Rorscharch, who is inspired by Steve Ditko’s Objectivist superhero The Question and is every bit as psychotic as the criminals he hunts and the Silk Spectre. I’m not sure which Spectre the photo represents though, since in the comics the title is held by a mother and then passed down to her daughter. The most glaring omission here is the god-like Doctor Manhattan, the only one among them who actually has superpowers.
Watchmen is worthy of special attention here because it is one of the very few comic books that have transcended its superhero genre to be recognized as a genuine piece of art. It is the only comic to have won a Hugo Award and the only comic to have been included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels. It tells a dark story that bring superheroes down to the messy, grimy and morally ambiguous real world. My only worry is that the short length of a movie adaptation wouldn’t do the story justice. Please get and read the comic if you can. It will be worth your time.
Apologies for the poor quality of the screenshot. I had to disable hardware video acceleration to take it. It’s from a recent Hong Kong movie that my wife and I just watched, called Gong Tau in Cantonese, and badly translated as Oriental Black Magic in English. Check out LoveHKFilm.com (which happens to be my favourite site for reviews of Asian cinema) for a full review.
By any reasonable standard, this is one terrible film. It has bad acting (Mark Cheng is impossibly stone-faced no matter what kind of crazy shit is happening while Maggie Siu is a hopeless mess of hysterics in just about every scene), a perfectly predictable by-the-numbers plot hurried along by wildly implausible yet convenient events, sometimes extremely fake-looking CGI, and absolutely zero sense of actual horror due to the lack of any tension or dread. What is amazing about this film however, is its sheer excess that as LoveHKFilm points out, has not been from Hong Kong in a while.
Full frontal nudity, both male and female? Check. Mutilated baby? Check. Gross autopsies and vivisections? Check. Animals shredded into stringy bits? Check. It’s like the film makers held a round table to brainstorm ideas for the most shocking and disgusting scenes possible and high-fived each other over every sick suggestion. You know how in some games when characters get blown up and you end up with gory bits of blood-drenched remains scattered all over the place that are now known as gibs? Well, if you ever wanted to see what gibs might look like in a movie, Gong Tau is the film to watch.
Even the ridiculousness of the Asian curses aspect of the movie pales before the excessive gore, but they still deserve some mocking. I mean, flying heads? Mind control? Black market magicians selling each other corpse oil? I don’t really need to reiterate my longstanding disdain of superstitious nonsense here, but I have to say that sometimes the best way to show how stupid something is, is to take it to its extremes. If stuff like this really works in real life, why are we still using bullets and bombs?
Anyway, check out this movie if you have a fetish for disgusting gore, or I suppose if you want to see pretty new actress Teng Tzu-Hsuan fully nude, but there’s really no other reason to put up with this pile of crap.
While we’re waiting for Heroes season 2 to be completed before we start watching it, we wife and I have been hunting for something interesting to watch on a regular basis. We tried an episode of CSI: Miami at first, but it was so atrociously bad that I refused to watch any more of it. Slow-motion scenes which serve to do nothing but show how cool the main characters look? Pointlessly violent and unrealistic gunfights? Super-technical solutions that are improbably illustrated with pretty 3D graphics? Please no. As I recall series star David Caruso first made a name for himself in the highly regarded NYPD Blue, which was a well-written police drama that focused on character development. CSI: Miami is simply inane and shallow in comparison.
So I’ve just finished rewatching the first season of Heroes and again I’m struck by just how incredibly geeky it is. It’s very obviously a show written by comic book fans for comic book fans and a lot of its appeal comes from consciously emulating the elements that work in comics and translating them to television. Not all of the borrowings from comics work in practice of course: Mohinder Suresh’s opening and closing narration might come off well in a comic, lending it a literary air, but in the show the bland reading comes across as pretentious and boring. Still, things like the awakening of unusual powers in unsuspecting ordinary people, plots within plots on a grand scale, showdowns between heroes and villains, bursts of frantic and spectacular action, and even nail-biting cliffhanger endings to episodes are all part of what makes traditional superhero comics so great.
Favourites lists are tricky things, whether they’re for books, films, games, songs or something else. People often rank a particular work highly merely for its personal nostalgia value. Fair enough, but don’t expect the same sentiments to reverberate in the reader. Other works might seem to deserve a place in the rankings because it was innovative in its day even if the techniques it pioneered has since been replicated and even improved upon elsewhere. Jurassic Park with its use of CGI is one such example for me: I shall never forget that magical first sight of the magnificent brachiosaurus towering above the awestruck humans while docilely munching from a tree.
Another reason to rank a film highly is because you enjoy watching it over and over again. Yet however much I enjoy action films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Matrix, I have reservations about including them in my list of favourite films. It feels to me that a film needs to be something a little more profound and substantial to merit special mention.
With all this in mind, here’s a selection of five of my favourite films, arranged in no particular order. They’re favourite films to me in the sense that I like them a lot, that I like others to watch them and hear what they think of them and that I greatly admire the people who crafted them and wish that I had a modicum of their talent. Do note however that I watch fewer films that I probably ought to so my list is only drawn from a fairly small sample. Spoilers follow by necessity.
I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said about Memento. The reverse chronological order of one of its two narratives strikes some as gimmicky, but I think that it is essential to placing the viewer in the shoes of the confused Leonard Shelby. The way the two narratives, one in colour, the other in black-and-white, merges into one as the film inexorably approaches its dread-filled climax is stylistically brilliant and makes the progression of the film feel like an unraveling puzzle.
Philosophically, it’s true that the film isn’t that deep, but the way it raises the questions of how central memories are to human personality and how easily we lie to ourselves in order to protect our own self-image is chilling. The people around Shelby viciously abuses his condition for their own ends, and director Christopher Nolan seems at first to draw audiences to be sympathetic to his unique plight through scenes such as Shelby’s Sisyphean efforts to expunge his pain of losing his wife by destroying mementos of their life together. But ultimately it is Shelby’s own willingness to manipulate himself just as callously and cynically as his abusers that is the greatest tragedy.