Category Archives: Films & Television

Source Code

I heard that this was a mindbender film so I embargoed myself out of reading anything about it. That means no reviews, no forum posts talking about it, nothing. That’s probably why I enjoyed the film as much as I did, given that:

  1. It has a terrible title which tells you nothing whatsoever about the subject of the film and, more importantly, is a misnomer given that the term “source code” in computer programming does not mean anything even vaguely resembling what they refer to in the film.
  2. The science involved is claptrap of the lowest order. How do you explain how a dead man’s mind can contain all the information in the universe? It’s quantum mechanics. Parabolic calculus. Just brilliant.

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The Back to the Future Trilogy

Knowing that we’d have a lot of free time on our hands while we get settled back in West Malaysia, we’d arranged a couple of hard disks worth of stuff to watch. For the curious, this includes all three seasons of the highly acclaimed Deadwood series and the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show that I’d missed out on watching as I was studying in France when it originally aired. Among the films we have are all three installments of the Back to the Future trilogy, a selection that was prompted by an off-hand comment from Deimos Tel`Arin of Flash Games Download. It took me a while to remember that I’ve never actually gotten around to watching the third film of the series.

Part I

Like every guy who grew up in the 1980s, the original Back to the Future film has a special place in my heart as part of a pantheon that also includes other cult classics like The Goonies, Stand by Me and Some Kind of Wonderful. Even watching it today, the scenes are so familiar that I can almost recite the dialogue word for word. I can still perfectly recall the frisson of excitement at the first sight of the DeLorean time machine, the envy-inducing stylish ease with which Michael J. Fox handles his skateboard, the madcap craziness of pretending to be a space alien to scare someone from the 1950s, the infectious power of the Johnny B. Goode performance and so on. There is zero doubt that the original film still holds up and deserves every single one of the many accolades it has received.

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The Social Network

Near the end of The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is worried that the legal proceedings are making him look like the bad guy. So the young lawyer played by Rashida Dati (whom my wife and I have come to know from watching the US version of The Office) assures him that whenever emotional testimony is involved in a case, she automatically assumes that 85% of it is exaggerated and 15% of it is pure perjury. As strange as it seems, all clues point to the writer deliberately inserting this phrase to refer to the film itself.

I’d put off watching this for a very long time even after reading numerous favorable reviews of it. I kept thinking, “It’s a movie about a kid in college building a gigantic social networking website. How entertaining could it be?” I was wrong because this turned out to be one of the most riveting and entertaining films I’ve watched in recent memory. But a quick check on Wikipedia suffices to reveal that it achieves this by the simple expedient of taking tons of liberties with the facts. Even its writer Aaron Sorkin admits that he wanted to tell an interesting story first and foremost and this film isn’t meant to be a historically accurate documentary.

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The Founding of a Republic

My experience of writing a game diary for Hearts of Iron 3 prompted me to do some extensive reading on the Chinese Civil War and the early years of the People’s Republic of China. Naturally, this led to seeking out and watching The Founding of a Republic, the 2009 historical film made to mark 60th anniversary of the country. So who says that videogames aren’t educational?

There is no doubt of course that this is a propaganda film. It was explicitly commissioned by the China’s film regulator and made by a state-owned film company. It’s main claim to fame outside of China is that it features dozens of celebrities, albeit mostly in very minor roles, all of whom worked for free, no doubt out of a sense of patriotism, or maybe just out of fear of causing offense and missing out of paid gigs. Yet within China itself, it has established itself as the highest grossing domestically produced film, suggesting that despite being propaganda, it is not entirely without merit.

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Spartacus: Blood & Sand

It seems that the new trend for television series is to have short seasons, averaging 12 to 13 episodes per season, rather than the normal 20 to 23. Since incidences of this trend correlates strongly with the quality of the series, this is something that I very much approve of. The latest example of this that both my wife and I enjoyed is Spartacus: Blood & Sand, and boy, has it been a wild ride.

As usual, I first read about the series on QT3. The initial buzz was quite poor however and after I learned that the people who worked on it were also some of the same people who were responsible for Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, I sort of lost interest. But then a weird thing happened. Usually shows get hyped up and then interest levels off after a while. Instead, Spartacus premiered as a bit of a damp squib, but then garnered more and more critical acclaim.

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Shaolin

My wife and I watched the new Shaolin during the Chinese New Year holidays. As my wife commented, it looks like a shoo-in for the Hong Kong film awards. For my part, while it’s production values are undeniably sky high and it has decent kung fu, the Buddhist philosophy is conveyed is far too blunt and heavy-handed a manner. I tend to agree with this reviewer’s take on it being a self-indulgent extravaganza. Since it was made with the close cooperation of the real Shaolin temple, it’s no surprise that the temple is portrayed in excessively reverent terms.

For anyone curious what the real Shaolin temple as it exists now is like, this article from the National Geographic magazine is much more interesting. Most of it is a very respectful account of the last respects paid to a Shaolin master, Yang Guiwu, as well as a meeting with his most famous student, Shi Dejian. It’s quite amusing how the modern world has managed to intrude into the world of ancient martial arts.

Shi, having decided that the Shaolin monastery has become too busy and too worldly for his purposes, has retreated to a more secluded and difficult to access mountaintop where he has built his own monastery, but as he recounts, his fame is such that even this does not dissuade admirers and challengers. Within the space of a week, he has had to entertain a television crew who had brought along a professional mixed martial arts fighter to challenge him, a research team from Hong Kong University who wanted to study how his meditation regimen has affected his brain activity and a Chinese Communist Party official who wanted him to cure his brother’s diabetes.

The article is too polite to criticize the Shaolin temple too harshly but it’s hard to shake the impression that the writer is at least disdainful. He describes how the temple was, contrary to the portrayal in the new film, essentially a wealthy estate with its own private army and its has frequently being criticized throughout its history for its riches and its taste for luxurious furnishings. Today, the various projects the temple is officially involved in include television and film ventures, an online store selling Shaolin branded products, touring kung fu troupes and a plan for Shaolin franchises abroad, including one in Australia. It appears that many of the workers at the temple, wearing robes and bearing shaved heads, aren’t even monks at all but employees paid to look the part.

Such is the importance of the kung fu teaching industry that theĀ  city of Dengfeng is now full of competing martial arts academies who pay commissions to touts to welcome new arrivals and bring them to their schools. The masters interviewed for the article even bemoan how high kicks and acrobatics aren’t part of Shaolin kung fu at all, but students expect them and so many academies incorporate these moves into their repertoire. So it turns out that even at Shaolin itself, traditional Shaolin kung fu is in danger of being forgotten as students learn what is effectively the movie version of kung fu instead.

The Walking Dead

My wife and I have just finished watching the first season of The Walking Dead series, which isn’t that hard considering that it’s only six episodes. My interest was first piqued by Han’s mention of the series and I even downloaded some copies of the comic to check them out. But it would have been impossible to avoid the buzz on QT3 anyway. Not only is the series about zombies, but one prominent QT3 member, Gary Whitta, formerly editor of PC Gamer and currently a Hollywood screenwriter, appears in a cameo role as a zombie in the premiere episode. This led him to release photographs from the set before just about anywhere else on the net.

Six episodes is too little to go on to form much of an opinion but so far I’m impressed that they’ve mostly managed to avoid having the survivors get into trouble by making stupid mistakes. They make solid plans that take account of the zombies’ capabilities, place appropriate value on stocking up on firearms and ammunition, take care to kill zombies silently whenever feasible etc. One great example is when one sister cradles the corpse of the other sister, knowing full well it was going to be zombified. It would have been cringe-inducing if it had turned out to be just another cliched example of someone being too emotionally weak to do what was obviously necessary. But the tough sister turned out to have her shit together after all.

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