Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Squid and The Whale

I'm proud to announce that I have a new favourite movie. (Okay as I'm typing this Blogger is furiously redlining the word favourite as if it doesn't exist. I'm just going to write that a few more times just to piss Blogger off. Favourite, favourite, favourite, favourite. It's how the Brits spell it, dumbass, get over it.)

The movie is called The Squid and The Whale by Noah Bachbaum, starring Jesse Eisenberg from the Social Network fame. It's about a dysfunctional family (aren't all good Hollywood films about dysfunctional families?) trying to work things out. It's a straightforward story with intricate details on how a divorce affects children.

The reason I like this movie is because it shows how pretentious it looks when you talk about Dickens' novels, how ridiculous it is to talk to girls about The Metamorphosis, and how uptight it sounds when you say things like 'kafkaesque'. No, that's not the main theme of the movie. Those are just some literary references littered here and there during the course of the movie, but I pride myself on getting jokes and references in movies, whether it's a stupid one liner, or a clin d'oeil to Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle. Even when watching Ferris Bueller the other day, as they were visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, I had to pause many times to recall the names of paintings (and their painters) Ferris looked at and gloated to myself when I got everything right.

Another thing I liked about this movie is the very appropriate use of Pink Floyd's Hey You. Of course, I've never been a big fan of Pink Floyd as I find their stuff intensely depressing, but over the years I've collected quite a number of their songs on my iTunes and somehow can never find the courage to skip them whenever my iTunes was playing one at random, so they've kinda grown on me (don't tell this to my ex-roommate though, because I'm still pretending to hate Pink Floyd whenever he's around).

As far as I'm concerned, parents getting divorced might just be the worst preventable thing that can happen to a child (I had to add 'preventable' because I know some might say "I don't think so. Your parents could die in a plane crash." Well that's definitely worse, but it's somewhat not preventable or at least not something your parents had control of, so it doesn't count.) When I'm getting married, I'll make sure it's something that will last forever so that my kids will not have to go through our divorce. It's ambitious, and bit stupid considering you can never predict what the future holds, but it certainly is not impossible. There's a reason why people vow 'till death do us part' at their wedding. It's because - as far-fetched as it sounds - it's still a plausible idea.

I recommend this movie to everyone. Although I do have one critique: Jesse Eisenberg can act, but only as himself. He's almost totally devoid of emotion which, luckily for him, is what the characters he's played often required. I do think he's talented, but somehow I feel like he needs some range in his acting. It's easy to play yourself in every film you do, but it's not always impressive.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Julie & Julia

I just saw Julie & Julia. Meh. Nothing special. I watched it because apparently Julia Child developed her passion for French food when she was in Rouen, the town where yours truly has resided for 3 years and counting. Although the Rouen shown in the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the real one. They must have shot it in another quaint French town nearer to Paris since all French towns look similar anyway.

I think the story would have been more interesting if they had focused more on Julia Child rather than weaving two different stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell together. I find Julie Powell annoying and whiny, and doesn't really contribute to the story.

I've seen several Nora Ephron films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. Frankly, Amy Adams is just a younger version of Meg Ryan, Ephron's muse. Neurotic, clumsy and cute as a button. If this film was made 20 years ago, I'm pretty sure Meg Ryan would have been cast as Powell, no doubt about that. It reminds me of the series Samantha Who where Christina Applegate plays her character almost exactly the way Jennifer Anistion plays Rachel in Friends. It's like these directors have run out of ideas so they are telling actors, "Do you remember _____ in the movies/series _____ ? Do it exactly like that and get it over with."

And God knows I love Meryl Streep, but something's a bit off in this movie. She seems like she's trying too hard to be chirpy, and what's up with the shrill voice? Sometimes the way Streep acts in this movie made me think of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, very jumpy, very bubbly and extremely fake. But that's justified by the fact that the woman was batshit crazy, and Vivien Leigh pulled it off marvelously. Julia Child, on the other hand, was not crazy. So why play her like that? I think this is what Katharine Hepburn meant when she said she didn't like Meryl Streep because she could almost hear 'click, click, click' in Streep's head. It's like she's too mechanic when playing a part.

I liked the use of Charles Aznavour's Mes Emmerdes in the soundtrack though. Very French. And when I say that, I mean classy but vulgar. If only people knew how vulgar the French actually are. It's just that the French language is so beautiful that people seem to overlook the vulgarity of the people.

All in all, I think Julie & Julia is only okay. The only thing I had in mind after watching the movie was how the hell can I make boeuf bourguignon without using red wine?

p/s: Julia Child went to a bookstore called Shakespeare & Co., one of the very, very few English bookstores in Paris. I went there a couple of times and found it a tad expensive although, given the fact that good English reading materials (especially older ones) are hard to come by in France, the pricing is still reasonable. Luckily I've found 2 other cheaper - albeit a lot smaller - English bookstores in Paris so I don't have to go to Shakespeare anymore. Having said that, Shakespeare is still the best English bookstore in Paris in terms of size and number of books (used & new) available.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I love Ferris Bueller. Slick, witty and very, very cool. And live in the 80's. I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again. I love the 80's. The music, the films, the fashion sense. Ha. I know people give a lot of crap about the 80's fashion but I think it's super cool and needs to be brought back. Especially the Nike SB Dunk. Those are awesome knickers.

Ferris Bueller is the shiz. He's popular and gets away with everything. He knows the words to Danke Schön and Twist & Shout by heart, and sings them in front of thousands of cheering people. He drives a Ferrari like he just don't care. He skips school because he's already a genius.

When I grow up I want to be like Ferris Bueller. To him, the whole city is the Cheers' Bar, where everybody knows his name and is always glad he came.

By the way, what happened to Matthew Broderick's career? I remember him in Inspector Gadget but that's it. Oh and he's married to Sarah Jessica Horseface, that's all I know. He's such a good actor. It's a shame we don't really see him much these days.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Fork It Out If You Can Afford It, Cheapskate

I love a good bargain. Who doesn't? The feeling of buying something for a lot less than what's written on the price tag is just heavenly. I know a good deal when I see one, as much as I know when I'm being ripped off.

When travelling, I love to go to those street vendors hawking cheap, small memorabilia. Of course, it's good to be street smart when buying something off the street, especially since as a tourist you have this invisible brand on your forehead that says 'cash cow', very alluring to those key-chain sellers looking to milk you dead.

Over the years, I've learned to be more insistent when bargaining. When I went to Hong Kong, the racist Malay in me finally surfaced when I came across these Chinese vendors who tried to pass off obviously fake Emporio Armani belts for the real thing (stray threads don't lie) and sell them at exorbitant prices. I don't really fancy counterfeit stuff anyway, but I might have considered buying one if they had at least had the courtesy to admit that it was fake. I don't know the first thing about bargaining, so I tend to get ripped off pretty easily.

But while there are street vendors who try to make an easy penny out of unsavvy tourists like me, there are others who are just trying to make an honest living. When I went to Bali, there was this lady carrying a baby in one arm, and a handful of souvenir stuff on the other. She offered us 4 t-shirts for 5000 rupiahs (around 2 ringgit) which is sinfully cheap by any standard. I took 8 t-shirts, but one of my friends kept telling me I was getting ripped off since I could have gotten them for a lot less.

You know what? I don't care. This lady has been walking for hours with a baby in her arm, and all she asks for is 2 ringgit and she's not even begging. I don't crap money, but I know I can afford ten times that amount so why should I insist on an even lower price? That's just cruel. If you can afford to pay for an authentic Balinese whole body massage, you can surely fork out 2 ringgit to buy these t-shirts. Heck, you've paid 90 ringgit for one Hard Rock Café t-shirt and all of a sudden 2 ringgit for four shirts is too expensive?

Of course, I ended up buying those shirts and also some key chains, decorative chinese fans, pens and useless shiny shells (all these for less than 15 ringgit which my friend still considered exorbitant) but when the lady breathed out 'thank you' and looked at her baby with a smile that says 'we'll have something good for dinner tonight', I instantly knew that it was the best 15 ringgit I've ever spent.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Unlikely Discovery

The freakiest thing happened 10 minutes ago.

I was in the middle of watching The Color Purple (I just finished reading the book a couple of days ago) when all of a sudden I thought to myself, "This Celie girl reminds me of Tracy Chapman." I can't quite put my finger on it, but I'm pretty sure it's not her looks. Maybe it's her somberness, or the way she always manages to see the small good things in life in spite of her suffering.

Of course, as a potential sufferer of adult ADD, I paused the movie, opened up iTunes and put on Fast Car, my favorite song of Chapman and probably one of the greatest songs ever written. Somehow when watching The Color Purple, I could almost hear Fast Car playing continuously in the background, since the lyric is all about pain, hope and dreams. While humming along to the song, I looked up Tracy Chapman on Info Concert to see if by any chance she had a concert coming up in France (which she didn't). I also looked her up on Wikipedia just to know what she's up to these days.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that sometime in the mid-90's, she used to date Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple!

Yes, I was watching a movie based on a book written by Walker, and somehow made a possibly far-fetched connection between the theme of the book and that of the music of Tracy Chapman, and found out that both of them actually used to date. Coincidence? Don't think so.

This either means my eyes are so perfectly in sync with my ear that I  can be a Hollywood music supervisor (the one choosing which song to be played during a scene of a film), or that I spend so much time looking up crap on the internet that I'm starting to get good at the 6-degrees of separation game thing.

post-scriptum : If you're into feminist literature or just curious about the lives of black people in the American South around the turn of the century, you should definitely get this book. Of course one can't help but be reminded of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird when reading it, but The Color Purple doesn't only talk about segregation and racism, it also deals with the patriarchal black community where women are expected to get abused and take the back seat in everything. A very interesting read for me (and pretty light too, as I finished it in a day).