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November 26th, 2006

08:37 pm - New Year, Fresh Beginnings
Well, its not a New Year but I'm kinda feeling like its one, so it might as well be one.
For the New Year, I would like to:
- Work less but work smarter
- Add a little more spontaneity to my routines
- Be a more attentive and appreciative person
- Test out how much of our world is cynical and how much of it is romantic
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: Yu Heng - Jiu Shi Wo

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June 7th, 2006

10:29 pm - Movies, Movies
Haven't been watching too many movies lately but I'll take a stab at the few I watched.

Mission Impossible 3
I liked this more that MI2. And I am sure it was much better than the action movie dregs that preceded it this year (Ultraviolet, anyone?). But the fact that it was better-than-average does not speak well for commercial blockbuster movies as a whole. Here's hoping that it will not be so by the end of the summer season. Most of it played like an above average episode of early Alias, which is not bad per se but I can get that shit weekly or get better shit on 24. Once again, it seems that as good TV shows climb up in one direction and mainstream commercial movies fall a little every time, they start becoming more irrelevant, serving the same purpose as a theme park ride. Still, I do enjoy getting on once in a while.

Election 2
I seem to giving off major movie-hate vibes these days. Of course, that is not completely true. So, when it feels that way, I wander off a little and watch something like Election 2. Johnnie To has successfully created his modern Hong Kong Godfather. This movie worked off many of the themes left unexplored the previous time out. I was actually rather afraid that the film would turn out badly since it came out so quickly after the first. But I was gladly proven wrong. Guess he had always had enough ideas to fill this saga. With this movie, the triad genre has really gone all the way around.

Chungking Express
When people start lamenting the state of the movies and using it as an excuse to condemn the entire medium as a whole, it tends to pass over a very important consideration. Movies have a rich history. Its vaults are filled with so many gems all through the years from all corners of the world, that it is humanly impossible to watch all the good movies ever made even if you spend your whole life doing so. Its golden age may have passed, but all good art is timeless. I don't know why I never watched Wong Kar Wai until I accidentally watched '2046'. The themes always seemed right up my alley. Still, better late than never means I had to do some catching up. Wong Kar Wai is really great at conveying moods. Where '2046' is an orgy of melancholy and 'In The Mood For Love' is a torturous sequence of stop-starts and waiting, 'Chungking Express' is his biggest commercial success and its easy to guess why. He turns his gift for evoking moods here to heedless momentum and whimsical joy. The movie is not really a happy story but I was smiling away the whole of the next day.

X-Men 3
I'm always a sucker for comic book movies. I don't think I have really hated any. X-Men 3 is more ambitious than its predecessors, falls a bit short but still ended up good. Still, throughout the X-Men movie franchise, it has always nagged me with unfulfilled potential and now that it has fully run its course, I felt a bit down that it never quite got fulfilled. That should not detract from the fact that this is the best of the series. As an example, a comic book movie series that has fully lived up to its potential in my mind is Spider Man. I could see the ending for Spider Man 2 from miles away but I was still whooping with joy and excitement when it came around. Thats a good comic book movie.

Next week: Back to TV probably. We can credit The Simpsons, Seinfeld, cable or DVD but whatever the case, TV is good nowadays.
Current Mood: blankblank
Current Music: KT Tunstall - Through the Night

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June 2nd, 2006

11:53 pm - Global Warming
With the release of the "An Inconvenient Truth" movie, the Net and media, in general, is rife with global warming debates. Looking about all the postings and commentaries, I found a seriously disturbing pattern that I never quite realized was there before.

I was mainly reading through American sites and basically, everyone made the issue into a left-vs-right political debate. Ok, the film may be a blatant Al Gore political tool, sure. But, the troubling thing is, global warming itself has become a political debate where one can win by outarguing the other party, nevermind that the Earth doesn't really care how it turns out either way. Either that, or its China should reduce first if I'm supposed to reduce. I'm guessing Chinese forums will say the opposite.

Next up, people then start to question the scientific consensus. This, of course, isn't helped by Al Gore's preposterous "kar liu" claims of 100% consensus. Scientists never achieve 100% consensus. No group of people ever achieve 100% consensus.

But the large majority of research has confirmed the impending dangers of global warming. I can't quote you the exact percentage but I'll wager its somewhere around 75%. Maybe I'll give the doubters some concessions and say its 60%. Heck, I'll give you 50%. 50% is the equivalent of a coin flip. Ok ... its Heads, haha, we can laugh our asses off on the scientists and their stupid research and feel smart that we never listened to those idiotic worst-case scenarios. Hmmm... Tails, oops.

Are we actually considering gambling the entire world on a coin flip?
I mean, there are already proposed solutions out there that don't require too much sacrifice on our part. If we start making even some simple changes now, we can slowly but surely steer the course away from ever needing to find out if the worst-case scenario models will pan out or not.

Then again, it seems there are people who put "The hole in the ozone layer" in between apostrophe marks. The reasoning goes that it was all a conspiracy since the problem got solved and we did not witness the first hand destruction. Its like sitting in your castle while others won the war for you and then not believing they fought at all since you never saw it first hand.

Still, all this publicity should be good. Interestingly enough, big media conglomerates like Time Warner seem to have taken a conscious decision lately to highlight global warming. Here's hoping that all the renewed attention may lead to stronger political will within the next 5 years.
Current Mood: pensivepensive

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February 18th, 2006

12:56 am - Preaching the Veronica Mars gospel
I think I've made clear in previous posts before how much I adore Veronica Mars (the TV series). So much so, that I have been trying to spread the word nowadays, in a manner of speaking. And failing miserably at it.

Now, I clearly understand the challenges faced by the show's marketing team. I would first proclaim that the show is good. Then, of course people would want to know what the show is about. I would stumble around for words and find that I have no better way to explain it in a concise manner than the official marketing summary: Its about a teenage girl detective. Of course, everyone knows that premise sounds lame from the moment you say it. Then, you try to explain that it is not the premise but the execution that is special. But it still sounds too kiddy, people will complain. Then, you try to spin the story that it is somewhat darker and more mature. So, people might think, darker, hmmm ... CSI gives us plenty of murders to solve every week. How about Veronica Mars? Well... I think one person dies during the course of the season, so that doesn't really cut it.

Finally, recognizing that I can't explain, the logical person would ask for a simple ultimatum. What show is it similar to? Well, the premise brings to mind Buffy, Alias, CSI, any teenage soap, heck, even The OC. I could blurt any of that but I would never be convinced. One example: the guy doesn't like Buffy. Maybe, the supernatural and all that. Then, my immediate reaction is to go back on my words and say its not like Buffy. No supernatural at all, see... all grounded in real-life. But then, I realize the cause is lost since I don't really know how to sell the show well anyway.

Which brings me to my new appreciation for the task of the show's marketing team. And my attempt here to use this blog to organize my thoughts a little. (Rather amusingly, my experiences at promoting the show went almost the same way as the funny little FAQ on the MarsInvestigations.net website).

Lets see: The show's premise sounds too teenagey for adults leading to easy dismissal. But then, kids won't completely get the material either. The show is really set in the world of the typical teenage comedy, so it would sound like too much candy floss for the intellectual crowd. But then, the depth and complexity is too much for those seeking brain-dead entertainment.

So, I guess my new sell for the show would be this. Its my favourite season of television, ever. "Ever" is a strong word but there it is. I hesitated to admit this to myself earlier when I was all excited following it cos we all get too excited sometimes. But, I've found myself more than once rewatching episodes for fun and enjoying them even better. And now, I'm sure. Its my favourite season of television.

Still, I'm objective enough to know that its not and will never be everyone's cup of tea. Its a unique show and you may not like it. But you could give it a try if you have the time, cos if you like it, you will love it. Its like the show I always wanted to make myself except that I did not know it would turn out like this until I saw it. What do you know ... its good to have a favourite show.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Liang Jing Ru - Yong Qi

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December 31st, 2005

02:38 am - Elitist
I have been feeling more and more like an elitist lately. And that statement in itself is very much a good example of it.

Thing is, I have always liked good mind games. When people say something is there underneath the layers but I don't see it, it becomes a personal challenge for me to peel off those layers. Thats how I feel about "appreciating the arts" as well. But for the longest time, whether it was because of studies, distractions or indecision, I had never really worked up the enthusiasm and the energy to delve into all these mysteries and hidden understandings.

But then, over the past two years or so, I have found myself much inspired all of a sudden, in the pursuit of understanding for all those things that keep me inspired. My indulgences and my muses. Music, books, movies, philosophy, words & meanings, the whole lot. And the more I learned, the more I grew to love, and so many new horizons opened up that everything felt so limitless. Its like I was living my adolescence 6 years late.

Which brings me back to elitism, sophistication & critique in terms of appreciating the arts. As it turns out, there are so many layers underneath the exteriors and there is so much to understand and contemplate. But as always, learning too much opens up a whole other can of worms. Now, I see subtext behind every detail, hidden meanings behind every action and undercurrents behind every emotion. And with it comes critique, the shade of judgement that quietly drops across your eyes and filters everything through its lens. But would I have it any other way now that I have dug it all out and it calls out to me so plainly?

And hence, it goes back to that elitist sentiment. Heck, even this whole post hints of it. Once, I thought that all that I am seeing is plain to see. That they were obvious enough that most everyone could and would absorb them as I would. But more and more I have been proven wrong. More and more, I have seen people, and I mean all sorts of people around me, failing to notice what has become plain to my eyes. I am not talking about taste, preferences or particular aversions, those are another story. Rather, many things seem to elude many people, in arts, on issues and in the world around us. Even more, I have often been surpised by how many things that I have taken for granted in knowing, has fascinated others.

Now, of course, I sound like an arrogant jackass. And I do feel that I have become more proud over the past two years. In my defense, I don't claim to have all the answers but the lack of more informed discussion or the will to pursue better understanding does worry me. All this once again, leaves me as usual a little lonelier. Its somewhat sad to find sometimes, that there is no one around me for me to share and discuss with and that I am reduced to trawling the Net to find those discussions and thoughts. But then again, where would I have learned so much, without the Net?

So, where does all this lead me? It would be interesting in the future to look back on this piece I have written and see how I would feel about it. For now, what I can say though is that my somewhat newly discovered passion in the arts has never disappointed me. I have found inspiration and joy. And frankly, I have never had a larger zest for life. Not just the vicarious pursuit of it through the arts. Even my real one. Its knowing that I always have something to fall back on. Its the thing at the back of my head that reminds me, "Hey, there are more important things than this and there is so much beauty to appreciate in this world." So yes, my self-importance seems to have grown but I do so want to share it with everyone and I do hope I don't come off too obnoxiously while I do that.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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December 15th, 2005

10:50 pm - Movie Binges
In the face of the hectic rhythms and uncomfortable moral choices of everyday work life, a movie like The Constant Gardener really helps to knock things back in perspective.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: Bugy Craxone - Fuck the Melancholy

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November 25th, 2005

11:58 pm - The Ghost Whisperer Bottomline
Yup, the topic of the day is the Ghost Whisperer.
What you may ask, is that? Well, its a person that whispers to ghosts. quite obviously.
And its a TV show.
And what is it about? A person whispering to ghosts, of course. And a girl too. A hot one. Jennifer Love Hewitt to be exact.
So, you've got a show with JLH and ghosts and you call it the Ghost Whisperer.
How more obvious can you get?
And whats even better than sounding obvious? Do it obvious too, apparently.
You would think that in this postmodern age, one would like to give a little satirical twist to proceedings, give a little wink to the audience.
Nope, you shoot it straight up.
When you get scares, you get bright-flashing, symbals-crashing, "BOO" moments.
When you get JLH, you get every excuse for low-cut dresses on parade.
When you get dramatic, you up the dramatics.
And when you get to the ending, remember that "subtlety is not a word", "melodrama is GOOD" and "when you reach for it, milk it, my friend, milk it for every last drop"

Really, the Ghost Whisperer deserves its very own special mention. People should stop using the word "sappy" until they've seen a Ghost Whisperer ending. The "satire" bulls-eye is so large, I think satirists may not even want to make the effort.

But surely every story must have a twist and what is the one I'm trying to work towards here. Yup, you've probably guessed it, Ghost Whisperer actually works. No, I don't mean its good. I'm not that generous. I was rummaging in my head to find the word to describe it and I found it: its 'competent'.

And then it all fell into place. This material, shot in this approach, could sink like quicksand but strangely it floats, due to its 'competence'. Acting, directing, writing, everywhere I look, there is just that degree of competence. And little by little, they add up. And what is it that binds them all together. Well, its the 'book'. When they say 'by-the-book', these people have taken the good old-fashioned book to heart. And in doing so, they've shown me one thing: the book works. Thats why its the book. All it needs is some degree of competence. You don't need inspiration cos the book will always elevate everything just a little.

Which brings me to my little concept of the day. Its the title of course, "The Ghost Whisperer Bottomline". Its a simple one, really. If you're borrowing heavily 'from the book' and not even bothering to show at least a Ghost Whisperer amount of competency, you've just fallen under my bottomline. And sadly, I've seen a bunch of these. Well, now I have a shiny new yardstick to beat them over their heads with.
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: Chisako Mikami - 3 Set

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11:30 pm - Replies to the old reply
Just the replies I promised earlier.

"last comments on AD also, the problem is, that it's hard to find any contrived joke funny. witness the hilarity of something that's said in the spur of the moment, against something which is preambled with 'have u heard about the one...'"
- Hmmm... not much to say here. Its apples and oranges. We pretty much worked this topic throroughly and anymore would probably be flogging a dead horse.

"long TV lengths vs. short, determinate movie lengths"
- True, for bad movies, the pain is shorter. But then again, when its bad, TV or movies, its best to just avoid it.
- Movies have more powerful payoffs due to a short and sweet duration. TV can bring quite memorable and affecting moments due to its time and consequently, emotional investment.

"movies more honest"
- Once again, apples and oranges. Profiteering does not affect me as long as the end result is something I fancy.
- You're right though that the need for bottomline causes many good TV ideas to get canned, whereas outlets like DVD and film festivals keep niche movies alive. But then again, cable and DVD is bringing the same advantages to TV in recent years.
- Personally though, I think TV peddles in middle brow fare well nowadays. Stuff not as daring as the indie movies but more nuanced than broad blockbuster movies.

"adverts & delays"
- Maybe why my TV viewing experience improves so much is because I don't actually watch them on TV. I get them on demand, no cuts, not ads, no annoying previews, no hype. Just fresh and clean off the slate, all surprises intact. Maybe, maybe. Which makes me want to go get the DVDs. Hmmmm...

"last paragraph"
- Its coming up and I'm hoping that its not as dry as this.

After all this, it seems that others out there also seem to singing the improvement of US TV in recent years. I stumbled on a couple of links of movie critics having favourable impressions of TV.
Hmmmm... not sure if thats a good sign or not.
Just as long as they don't pull my favourite shows off the air and continue to come up with good, new ones.
Current Mood: listlesslistless
Current Music: Judy and Mary - Hitotsu Dake

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November 16th, 2005

11:19 pm - A break in transmission
Just got my hands on Chisako Mikami's new album. I've quite completely accepted the fact that the intensity of her early work are things that have come and gone inevitably, with the passage of time. And I was pretty much looking forward to an evening of slightly-above-mediocre stuff.

Well, as it turns out, life occasionally reminds us that surprises are waiting around the corner. The album is good. Its actually good. She's succeeded in carving out her new terrain and built that unlikely bridge between her old self and her mellow new self. It comfortably and assuredly resides in a space that her previous album was hinting all over at but never quite arrived.

Don't get me wrong. I would have probably enjoyed the album anyway, regardless if it was actually really good or not. But sometimes it seems, fans do get rewarded for their insistence.
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Chisako Mikami - Insane

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November 9th, 2005

10:36 pm - A reply for toforgive's blog
This post is in reply to a posting on toforgive's blog. I got kinda overexcited reading shiny_aubergine's literate analysis of TV shows that I felt so stoked to try it myself and overshot my comment. So anyway.

My own opinions on the shows Jeremy vouches for:

A good example of using archetypes well. A key is perhaps focusing solely on their work and letting personal life seep in only a little. Thus, removing much need for 'fakey' plot devices. Anyway, I think the name for this type of approach is 'procedural drama'. Another good example of this genre is "Without a Trace"

One of the best TV characters out there. Archetypal but with many added facets and depth. Sharp episodic writing as well. And this is probably the way I like my TV characters.

I think both the key advantage and drawback of TV as compared to movies is the amount of time you would spend with a character. That much time allows for a lot of space for character development and makes it easy to flesh them out. But given too long a time, a character can run out of space for fresh development and thus giving rise to the need for obvious plot devices to keep things interesting (in a manner of speaking). The other alternative is to keep things grounded by progressing at a natural pace of character development (an option many movies employ) but given the length of time a TV series is expected to fill up, this generates too much inactivity. However, I feel some good series have managed to retain good balance, if not over the entire duration of the series, at least over a large portion of seasons. When done well, the long setup of TV allows for hefty payoffs occasionally.

This show is hokey, I'll admit as much, based on absurd scenarios and circumstances. But, it does a great job of embracing its scenarios and proceeding logically from that vantage point. And Terry O' Quinn's acting is a good example of that on this show. Funny, that it came from the creator of Alias, which started the same way and started spiralling out of control over time.

Other current shows I personally vouch for (unmentioned by shiny_aubergine)

Veronica Mars
I realize that I've lost my objectivity over this show as I 'discovered' it by downloading on a whim without advance information and watching it grow, sprout wings and soar. See, fanboy speaking. But, the first season was absolutely brilliant. It only just started its second season and it was formatted as a single-season show end-to-end so I am reserving judgement on its longevity till later. There were so many things I loved in this show that I might probably have another dedicated post on it later. Great characters, clever setting, memorable scenes and one of the tightest season-long themes. If you have not heard about this show, its probably because its a show with no real solid market, with a premise adults would thumb their noses at but an execution that would not relate to the average teenager.

Arrested Development
The best comedy on TV, IMHO. The show is just funny. I don't need to go on about any character development, originality, devices, etc.. Its a comedy. Its simply hilarious. Enough reasons.

My Name is Earl
TV comedies are back with a vengeance!! Still first season. Jason Lee is Earl on TV. Its funny. Whoever acting as Earl's brother is brilliant. Its also sappy but it has earned my indulgence.

Another use of reducing archetypes to their most basic level that it becomes funny. Only its not a cartoon. If you can buy that conceit, there is light at the end of this tunnel. And it can affect in unsuspecting ways, similar to that cartoon analogy.

Other stuff I watch regularly but hasn't earned my personal 5-star treatment:
Everybody Hates Chris - Created by and based on Chris Rock but he does not appear. The pilot was superb. So far, the follow up so-so.
The Office (British version) - Don't tell me you don't like this one.
Gilmore Girls - My personal indulgence that I revisit from time to time. I know every way this is manipulative and how it exists in 'hyper-reality'. But this is my own little excuse for TV time.

Show I really want to see for myself
Freaks and Geeks
This show is like the old fond relic every critic speaks of with a high regard. It supposedly undertook the most realistic attempt at portraying teenage life ever. Not brushed up like the regular teen rom-coms, not intentionally broody like the high school satirical dark comedies, just plain old realism. It did not even allow itself the luxury of stylistic dialogue like say, Veronica Mars. Just what real teenagers would say, acted by actual teenage actors who look like regular teenagers. Needless to say, it was not successful and got pulled after one critically acclaimed season. But suffice to say, I'm really curious.
Current Mood: excitedexcited
Current Music: Cocco - Mizu Kagami

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