Thursday, December 30, 2010

Schindler's List : Part II (The Movie)

Well I just reviewed the book, so now let's review the movie. (This is surely a first, as I'd never actually reviewed a book, but Schindler's List (or Schindler's Ark as it was originally known) is so good it deserves a lengthy review).

As per usual, I always find film adaptations somewhat disappointing. Spielberg's Schindler's List isn't any different. It's an astounding film by any standard, but doesn't hold a candle to the book. Sure, you'll say "Yeah, now you try cramping a 398-page long book on the Holocaust and see if you can do any better - or at least half as well."

I'm far from complaining about the film. It's just the way I feel about adapting something to the big screen while trying to be completely loyal to the storyline. You just... can't.

Why am I saying this? Well first, you can't transcend from words into moving images without losing the essence of literature: poetry. If Poldek Pfefferberg had wanted this book to just be another true account of things, he wouldn't have needed Keneally. He could have just gone to another run-of-the-mill writer and gotten it published all the same. Would the story have been told? Yes. Would the message have been delivered? Sure. But would it have had as much impact? Absolutely not.

For example, for people who didn't read the book, would the shower scene in Auschwitz be as moving? I doubt so. For in the book, the prisoners were said to have speculated about gas chambers in Auschwitz and grown fearful of them, although they were all still in Plaszow and such a killing method didn't exist there. So when they were mistakenly brought to Auschwitz instead of Oskar Schindler's factory in Zwittau, and asked to strip down before going into the shower room, the prisoners were having their worst nightmare realized as they were persuaded that, instead of water, the showers would emit deadly Zyklon-B gas and immediately kill them. To their pleasant surprise, water came out (albeit a bit icy). That was why they cried for joy.

And of course, the story of Josef Bau getting married in the concentration camp didn't make it into the movie, which is such a shame because people would have liked to hear love stories during the Holocaust, especially one involving a German guy and a Jewish girl.

Another problem I found in the movie was the casting of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes. They both looked so much alike that if I hadn't read the book, I would have thought that Oskar Schindler was a person suffering from a multiple personality disorder who would save a Jew one day and kill another Jew the next day. They both played their respective characters extremely well though, although I doubt that the real Schindler and Göth were half as good looking. And is it me, or was the book version of Amon Göth a thousand times more sadistic and murderous than the one in the film?

All in all, I still enjoyed the 3-and-a-half hour film thoroughly since it helped put images on the people and the places in the book. I wouldn't have known how enormous the ghetto was, or how the trains looked like if it weren't for the movie.

And the cute little kid in the picture above? It's Olek Rosner, one of the kids who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a pile of human shit. And most importantly, he looks like me when I was 6 years old.

Schindler's List : Part I (The Book)

I am obsessed with The Holocaust. Not in the Nazi "The Final Solution to the Jewish question" way, of course. It's more towards the amazement that the killings of these people were done coldly, swiftly, in quantities unprecedented, by means ranging from the most primitive (beating and hanging) to the most modern (electric fences, gas chambers, lethal injections); and most importantly, with the rest of the world kept in the dark about it.

I bought Schindler's List (the book) about 4 years ago, but never actually got around to finish it. 50 pages was my personal record, at which I would stop reading in favour of some other more fun activities, start becoming oblivious of the book's existence, and later forget everything I'd read. Lather and repeat.

Throughout the years, I've had the chance to visit one of the concentration and extermination camps in Dachau, read books and biographies of people involved directly or indirectly in the Holocaust, talk to grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors (a friend of mine actually has a grandmother who fled Hungary to escape the Nazi), and even talk to some Israelis I met during travels. Having been raised in a society where Jews and Judaism both mean scheming, money swindling, slick bastards whose only raison d'être is to corrupt Muslim people and conquer the world via fraudulent means, I've grown apprehensive of the Jews. In my country, a mere mention of the word Yahudi could cause endless debate on how the Jews are comparable to rats - dirty and resilient, with a cunning mind.

I watched Sophie's Choice a couple of years ago, and was appalled by the atrocity of it all. The idea of a Herrenrasse, the Hitler ideology, the punishments carried out on people who didn't have the chance to be born Aryan, the decadent lifestyle of blue-eyed German officials whose livers got to enjoy filtering the best Martelli cognac at the expense of unpaid Jewish labourers, most of whom would end up dying by virtue of their race.

So I picked Schindler's List (again) off my bookshelf, determined to finish it once and for all. I spent, in total, almost 25 hours on the train during the holidays without, at all, reaching for my iPod. The book was engrossing enough, even with Thomas Keneally deadpan penmanship. He didn't let emotion or judgment weigh in on his writing. Every torture, every killing, every act of suffering was presented as matter-of-factly as possible, with extra attention to details. He didn't make Oskar Schindler a saint, because at the end of the day, he was still one of the SS-officials who reaped profit from the system. He was a big drinker, gambler and womanizer, who might even have been involved in transactions of the flesh in order to get what he wanted.

The only difference between him and the other Nazis, was that he had a heart. This led to the compiling of the famed Schindler's List, a list of Jewish workers he wanted transferred from the Plaszow concentration camp to his enamelware-cum-artillery components factory, to be used as factory workers. People begged, fought, and bribed to be on the list, because they knew what the list actually symbolized: deliverance. They heard rumours on how the soup at Oskar's had more body, how his workers got to eat twice as much bread, how the doctors at Oskar's actually cured people instead of administering lethal injections, and how no one would die if they worked for Oskar Schindler. Next to Plaszow, Oskar's factory was not just a haven, it was a paradise.

I loved the book. And from now on, I will swear on Thomas Keneally's writing style. If there's anyone who can make true accounts of gruesome stories literary and poetic, it's Keneally. During the course of the book, we skipped from story to story, from a person's point of view to another. It took more than just bland recounting of a story to make it interesting, and Keneally knew it all too well. That was why he told the story of three-year-old Genia who witnessed the assassinations of the adults around her, the story of the German Josef Bau courting a Jewish girl he fell in love with and ended up marrying in one of the prisoners' barracks, the story of Schindler and his philandering ways, as well as the story of the villain Herr Kommandant Amon Göth, to whom murdering a person is as trivial as lighting up a cigarette.

At one point, he so vividly described the cold weather in which the prisoners were told to strip naked and run around, and I happened to be reading while waiting on an open-air platform of a train station (it was 3 degress outside) and shivering to my bones, that I felt as though I was one of the Jewish prisoners. Running for dear life.

I'd recommend the book to anyone if it weren't a bit hard to read, both grammatically and figuratively, as Thomas Keneally - as exceptional as he is as a writer - tends to emblazon his sentences with lengthy descriptions in between commas, so much so that oftentimes I got lost in descriptions and missed his point entirely.

It's still a great book (the Booker Prize it received can attest to this). I know my holidays have been enriched because of it, and now my perception of the Jews has radically changed for the better.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hits and Misses

"A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it." - The Economist

Well said. I couldn't agree more. As a matter of fact, I've read two of Dan Brown's novels and found them well-researched, highly entertaining and very clever... since I was 16 at that time and didn't know better. In fact, I actually introduced The Da Vinci Code to everybody around me to the point that by the end, the pages in my copy were falling off the binding. I actually thought he was the best writer around.

Now that I've had the opportunity to travel the world, get more exposure on worldly literature and snap out of my immature conspiracy theorist phase (and I have to say phew.. good riddance!), I've come to realize that Dan Brown isn't all that. I'm not saying he's a bad writer, far from it. He's a terrific writer, he knows how to combine history, religion, conspiracy and entertainment in order to make a book irresistible not only to the highly educated (who eventually find his books to be shitty, by the way), but more importantly to the masses. It's just that his writing lacks poetry. It doesn't hurt to rhyme once in a while, or to throw euphemisms, or to actually tell a story beautifully instead of telling it by means of straightforward delivery.

When I went back to Malaysia a few years ago, I went to Kinokuniya just to browse around. I love doing that. And having friends who could never be punctual if their lives depended on it, I find my book-browsing hobby a blessing. In fact, I once waited at a shopping complex for 2 hours (or was it 3?) for a friend and I made no fuss because there was an MPH bookstore nearby and I spent the whole time finishing a book on Carl Sagan.

Anyway, I went to Kinokuniya and all I could see was these Stieg Larsson books piled up on the best-sellers shelf, next to the Twilight novels. Apparently people were buying them like hot bread, although I had never heard of them. I didn't even know who Stieg Larsson was.

So I took one copy, went to an isolated corner where's there's a small stool, and read away. After 20 pages, I could not go on. It was not bad, per se. It was just that my mind was urging me to stop, because I had already read this kind of stuff before. Over and over again. By hundreds of different authors with different styles, but all with similar ideas and execution. How and why Larsson's books have all been translated from Swedish into hundreds of languages, I'll never know.

This might come of as a snobbish entry. Maybe because it is, I don't know. My point is, people need to crawl out of their caves and look at books from a different angle. Just because a book has a glossy cover and is being hawked by the most reputable publisher, doesn't mean it's a good book. It only means this publisher's got dough and good PR people.

I have nothing against pop culture. I just get irked when it dumbs people down.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


We were strolling on the Champs Elysées, when suddenly Yasmin saw Fnac, a French media store selling electronic stuff, books and DVDs.

"Let's go in, I need to find a couple of things," she said, tugging me along. We went straight to the DVD section.

"Oh I love this movie," she said, pointing to About Schmidt. "I've never seen it," said I, a bit woefully. At that moment I really really wished I had seen it so that we could talk about the film. Or anything, as I was like a puppy, so eager to please and to impress.

"Really? I'll buy it for you," she said. Then she grabbed a Sidney Lumet DVD (I can't remember which film it was, in fact I'm not even absolutely sure if it was really Sidney Lumet) and said laughingly, "This guy is so brilliant, he could film my hand and make it look like a million dollars." She also picked up a couple of other DVDs, one of them Barbra Streisand's Yentl. She told me it was impossible to find it in Malaysia and that Yentl had the best musical score of all time.

And now I'm watching Yentl for the first time. I can't help thinking of Yasmin. She truly was one of the greatest filmmakers Malaysia ever had.

What's Your Addiction?

Lux Æterna from Requiem For A Dream. This piece of music is every bit as incredibly disturbing and gut-wrenching as the film itself. It is so beautifully crafted I can't stop listening to it. Alfred Hitchcock managed to associate violin with gore, and Darren Aronofsky - or more precisely Clint Mansell and The Kronos Quartet - took that to another level in that they produced hauntingly beautiful music that stays with you and not just annoying high-pitched violin noises that make you grit your teeth.

I love Requiem For A Dream. I read that Aronofsky wanted Giovanni Ribisi in the role of Harry, which would have been awesome as I'm a big fan of Giovanni and can totally see him killing it as a heroin junkie. Jared Leto was fine though, although in the beginning I had quite a hard time believing he was an addict due to his clean-cut image. Jennifer Connelly is superb. I first saw her in In The Bedroom (a shitty movie, but Jennifer was great in it) and then in A Beautiful Mind (she did Requiem first but I saw A Beautiful Mind first so yeah.. and who cares about chronology anyway) and I thought her mind-blowing. There's something about her that says disconnection, as in she seems distant in her roles, but at the same time she's very relatable and real. Am I making any sense? Okay let's put it this way. Zooey Deschanel is also distant and disconnected (and hot!) in 500 Days Of Summer, but in a more flaky and stoic way, while Jennifer is more emotive and expressive but still somewhat spacey and out of reach.

But the show stopper in the movie must be Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb. Her portrayal as a lonely woman addicted to prescription pills is just pure genius. She brings this frightening bipolar quality to the character the way Meryl Streep did in Sophie's Choice. And Streep went on to win an Oscar for that (just sayin'). Sara Goldfarb's monologue about being old and ignored makes me cringe. It's so true on so many levels that I wouldn't want anyone past 40 years old to see this movie lest they'll end up being junkies.

All in all, I've watched Requiem many times and each time, I got goosebumps. Hats off to Darren Aronosfky, and I can't wait to watch Black Swan (also by him, plus there's Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis totally doing it).

Friday, December 10, 2010


I've seen one of Fritz Lang films, Metropolis, and I didn't like it but nevertheless was extremely impressed by it. After all, it was 83 years ago. It's touching to think how far we've come since then.

I don't think I even managed to sit through the entire film since the subject matter of dystopic capitalism was quite hard to stomach given the picture quality, the frantic nature of characters in silent movies and not to mention, the missing scenes that they later had to replace with title cards depicting what was happening at the moment (I still remember one of the cards saying, "The princess fell down", or something to that effect and it was pretty damn funny).

So last night I tried to watch M, also a film by Lang only this time it's a talkie. It's one of the oldest courtroom dramas, and God only knows how much I love courtroom dramas (Kramer vs. Kramer, Philadelphia, To Kill A Mockingbird (both the book and the film), In Cold Blood (only the book as I've never seen the film) and Legally Blonde (one of the best chick flicks ever haha). M is considered Lang's magnum opus, so it should be good.

The verdict?

I kinda like it, but it's not something I'd watch twice. I mean it's pretty awesome for a German Expressionist film, but somehow I failed to derive pleasure from watching the movie. I think I'm gonna have to be 15 years older (and a lot more mature) to be able to actually love this film.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

I'm rewatching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. One of my favourite films of all time. In my opinion, while Jack Nicholson evidently steals the show in this one (as in every other film he's in), this film has one of the strongest cast ensembles, from the nurses to each one of the mental patients.

Playing a mentally ill person must be one of the hardest challenges for an actor. I remember Leonardo DiCaprio killing it in Gilbert Grape (I hate him now, but let's not forget that he used to be good), Vivien Leigh in Streetcar, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Rani Mukherjee in Black, Mr. Os in Adik, and of course, the mighty Sean Penn in I Am Sam.

I refuse to put in films like American Psycho and As Good As It Gets in the list, as I don't really find the main characters crazy. In American Psycho, Christian Bale is a very well-groomed and well-mannered psychopath, and psychopathy is not really a cuckoo-kind of mental illness, IMHO. And Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets is just obsessive compulsive, and that's not really a mental illness as much as a personality tic. Although, I'm no shrink so everything I say is from a layman's POV.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is one of the films I would want to keep in my future movie room (of course I will have a movie room in my future 3-acre mansion) and watch every other Saturday night with my kids so they will grow up better than other kids whose cinematically-challenged parents make them watch cartoons all day long.

By the way, isn't this the most awesome way to store your cigarette pack? To hell with rectangular bulges on your pants, T-shirt sleeves FTW! (Although I do have doubts concerning one's ability to pull this off if one is not Jack Nicholson.)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Stupid Films That I Absolutely Love

Everyone has a stupid ill-fitting t-shirt or pair of jeans or even underpants that they love to wear on weekends or even anytime when nobody's around. It might look horrid, but damn it's comfortable. In fact, I have these Aeropostale pants that I would rather not be caught dead in, ever, but which I put on every night. I'm absolutely confident that they are a must for a good night sleep, without which I would be the crabbiest, most groggiest sonofabitch during the day.

Speaking of tattered comfortable clothing, I also have a list of guilty pleasure films that I love to watch whenever I'm bored and have absolutely nothing to do. They are nowhere near the best films list, not even in the 100 miles radius. But they're so good it's the only thing I want to do when it's raining outside and the temperature's dipping into the sub-zeros. I call them my 'Aeropostale movies'.

1. Demolition Man

This is my number one Aeropostale movie. I've watched in since I was maybe 6. And I never look back. I've got all quotes and unfunny jokes committed to memory, down to the subtlest indefinite articles. It's a movie set in the year 2032, where society is ruled by a single man by the name of Cocteau and food is in the form of 3 flimsy lines of sauce. People wipe their asses with 3 seashells instead of toilet papers, and sexual intercourse involving fluid transfer is not just frowned upon, it's against the law. Police officers use tasers powered by liquid nitrogen (?) and they are not acquainted with martial arts skills since they are not trained to deal with 20th century criminals (because in 2032 apparently everyone is an abiding citizen ahah how about that). The most ridiculous thing must be the profanity-detector machine which every room in every building is equipped with, and it's sole purpose is to issue a fine every time a foul word is uttered.

This movie is the reason why Sandra Bullock is my most favoritest actress on Earth because she just has a way of making stupid lines believable. And Stallone has never been more stoic, but he kicks ass in this movie (surviving a burning building full of explosives? Classic.)

And Wesley Snipes is just the most bad-ass of all bad-ass criminals. He makes Cyrus The Virus look like Forrest Gump. I mean, if he were aboard the Con Air, he woulda flown that goddamn plane.

I fucking love this movie and am not afraid to say it. Haha. This is my answer to Ebert's Shawshank Redemption.

Okay I would love to continue writing down my list but suddenly I feel so hungry so I'm gonna have to cut this into several postings. Later.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Ladri di Biciclette

I watched The Bicycle Thieves years ago and had a hard time deciding if it was as great as people said. In the end, I didn't even think it was good. I guess I was a bit confused by the film. Of course I had high hopes before watching it, what with it being on every top ten list ever made, winning an Oscar and getting rave reviews from every film critic from every generation.

And I was disappointed. I remember watching the word 'FINE' appear on screen and me saying, "That's fucking it?" in disbelief. I thought it was a bit too simple for my liking. And I refused to write a review on it, because I didn't really have anything nice to say about the film, and I was afraid people (read : the 2 people that read this blog) would call me shallow and stupid.

In short, I thought The Bicycle Thieves was extremely overrated and people who praised it were mere sheep who would agree on everything if it would make them look smart and artsy-fartsy. For me, it took only one reputable film critic to give a standing ovation and the whole world would follow suit, because those who don't would be seen as fools. It's the Emperor's New Clothes all over again. Only in this case there was no child to point out that The Bicycle Thief was a naked emperor and so the fable went on.

Boy was I misguided then.

A lot of things have changed since then.

I went to Italy for a month. Alone. And I fell in love with the people, the food, the language, the scenery, the everything.

I took up Italian for a whole year.

I watched other neo-realist and new wave movies and loved a lot of them.

I learned that Hollywood was far from being the barycenter of arts and films. And the Oscars were just rich Hollywood people giving awards to each other, completely overlooking the stuff that really counted.

I started reading philosophy.

All in all, I grew up.

So the other day, I revisited The Bicycle Thieves with a blank slate in mind. Now that I was in a different place mentally and spiritually, I would love to watch it from a different point of view and give it another chance at blowing me away.

And I was pleasantly surprised. No, I was baffled. I was completely blown away by it. The irony is (I love irony), the thing that I hated about the film is now the thing that makes me find it so special : the simplicity!

I still don't think it's the best film of all time. But it definitely ranks high on my list.

ps : The boy in the movie was so expressive, more so than his dad. I'd love to pinch those chubby cheeks. Haha. I do have a question though : Did his dad really make him drink wine? He was 7 for God's sake!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I think I'm over Hollywood. Okay not really, since I just saw The Social Network the other day and loved it. But in my defense, I loved movies based on true stories and this one happened to be a Hollywood production, so I didn't watch it because it was an American production but because I was interested in the storyline.

You'll never believe me so what's the point. Besides I'm not making a strong case for myself, am I?

I admit that for the longest time, I thought Hollywood was the only place decent movies could come from. I mean, back when I was young, my cinematic experiences were restricted to Disney cartoons, Jalan Ampas movies and Hollywood blockbusters. So how would I have known that somewhere, people who didn't speak English were also making excellent films only with inferior budget and even smaller exposure?

Fortunately in my town, there's this one cinema called Le Melville which mainly (but not exclusively) shows films from around the world in their original language (I hate voice-overs). I've been there a couple of times, most recently to watch Uncle Boonmee, the Thai movie that won top honor at Cannes 2010.

(I also watched the infamous Deep Throat there for their Pornography History week and I have to admit, watching the first pornographic movie in the world on the big screen with other people clapping and nervously laughing was awesome and awkward at the same time. Everybody was trying to look like they were just healthily curious and they weren't the least bit turned on, but to me it felt bizarre that suddenly the human perversion was a cause for celebration. It was like a collective effort to prove that we're all the same anyway. Except for that weird looking dude who chose an isolated seat at the back and noisily fapped to Linda Lovelace. Then again, the ushers did distribute condoms and tissues to everybody for good measure. And Linda Lovelace was being rammed by some random dude(s), so I guess fapping was in order. As a friend once said, appropriateness is just a state of mind.)


I have this list of films I have to watch before I die. And the list keeps getting longer and longer each day while the number of films being crossed out has not incremented since I don't know when. The thing is, while a lot of them are Hollywood films, the majority were renowned foreign movies. Of course, if you separate them by countries and languages, Hollywood still comes out on top. So I decided to put Hollywood on the opponent's court and all the other films on my court, resulting in Hollywood getting its ass kicked big time! Granted, my players wouldn't know how to talk to each other because there's no subtitles at sports' arena (it would be hard to provide subtitles for ALL of them anyway) but you get the idea.

So now I'm picking up where I left off, so the next film I'm going to watch from the list is Nosferatu. I downloaded it last week but only get to actually watch it this week. People told me that once I've watched German expressionist movies, it'll change my views on cinema altogether. While that might be an exaggeration, I kinda had the same 'awakening' with art when I discovered Edvard Munch's The Scream. So I'm actually kinda pumped up to watch Nosferatu.