126. Frozen

I had the delight of watching Disney’s Frozen earlier today.

(not to be confused with the 2010 film, also titled Frozen. Just… don’t)

Perhaps rather fittingly, thanks to the cloud of gloom and the constant rain that had appeared (and seem to have taken residence) over the Klang Valley since earlier this morning, I was freezing to death while seated in the air-conditioned movie theater. That, combined with the fact that I was seated right in the middle of my row and suddenly had to use the toilet at about an hour into the movie, should have made my experience quite unbearable.

But no. I stayed – the cold and the pressure in my bladder notwithstanding – and continued to enjoy every beautifully-animated frame of the movie.

(also, I paid RM15 to watch it in 2D, and I was determined to get my money’s worth out of the experience)

What can I say? I’ve said before that I consider Mr. Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight to be the greatest movies I have ever seen, but there’s just something about Disney that will always hold a special place in my heart. Kind of like how a grown, rough, tough manly man might be very much into big guns, explosions, and fast cars; there will always be that little soft spot that he has for adorable little children.

Let me just start this off by saying that with the rest of the fandom, I squeed in excitement when they announced that Idina Menzel was being cast. I mean, Disney casting a Broadway legend? I cannot think of any way in which this could go wrong. Sure, Tangled had its songs, and Mandy Moore pulled them off with her wonderful voice; but when Tony award winner Ms. Menzel signs on, you just know that whatever comes out, it’s going to be absolutely epic.

And epic it was. I loved every one – yes, every one, even the one by the trolls, and the one about how reindeer are better than people – of the songs. Our main star Kristen Bell really did more than just try and keep up with Ms. Menzel’s powerful performance – she matched, and in her own way projected the emotional depth that the words and the songs required of the roles, creating a truly unforgettable experience when combined with the strong performances given by the rest of the cast.

The animators had really outdone themselves with the spectacular work on their creation of ice and snow. Every snowflake that came floating out of the sky was a marvel. The animation team actually managed to capture that unique powdery, frosty, flaky feel and look of actual snow; and if you haven’t seen the film yet, just wait for the part when the Snow Queen raises her icy castle out out the ground. The ice appears, crystallizing majestically and forming translucent walls that refracts the sunlight in that awesome way that ice uniquely does – and as you bask in the sheer beauty of it all, remember how this was all done by some very talented folks on very good computers – people who took the time to travel out into an Ice Hotel in Canada just to study how light reflects and refracts off these frozen surfaces.

Finally, hats must come off for the directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, the latter of whom wrote the screenplay, for an intelligent, creative, and beautiful storyline that cleverly weaves an analysis of love and isolation with the exciting plot, utilizing cold and warmth as symbols for the human conditions. Theirs is a work of art that can be appreciated from the youngest toddler to the eldest citizen, inspiring wonder and bringing unique meaning to members of every age group.

The stories that truly matter are those that touches the heart; and the team at Disney has definitely created a story that matters in Frozen.

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81. William Shakespeare: Troll

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I’m pretty interested to watch this year’s Romeo and Juliet film, the one starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld, written by Academy Award winner Julian Fellowes, when it comes out in theaters. This is due to a number of reasons:

ONE: It is a “traditional” retelling of the story

Which basically means that they are going to depict it in the time and setting that Mr. Shakespeare wrote it for. Now, the only other Romeo and Juliet film that I know is the 1996 one that Baz Luhrmann directed, with a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and a very young (and very hot) Claire Danes in the leading roles. That one was a modern interpretation of the story, but kept most of the dialogue it adapted intact. Interesting as it was, the appeal and the beauty of the setting just didn’t come through. But on the subject of keeping dialogue intact-

TWO: They are not using Mr. Shakespeare’s dialogue

Along with half of the world, I gasped at this news. How dare they! How dare they defile Mr. Shakespeare’s perfect work, his beautifully-crafted words! Treason! I say “treason”!

Calm down. Julian Fellowes won the Oscar for best screenplay in 2002. He should know what he’s doing, right? I cannot yet comment on this,not until I have watched and properly evaluated the writing of the film.

(now on the subject of Academy Award winners adapting classic works: I would pay good money to see Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Someone from Hollywood who is reading this, please make this happen)

THREE: They are selling it as “The Most Powerful Love Story Ever Told”

They are also selling it as a film from “The Greatest Playwright Ever Known”, but considering that Mr. Shakespeare has more writing credits to his name on IMDB than any other writer, living or dead, I wouldn’t want to contest that.

But seriously – the most powerful love story ever told? Let me break down the premise of the play for you: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love, then everyone dies. Now, seriously – the most powerful love story ever told?

If Taylor Swift’s hit song is anything to go by, I think Mr. Shakespeare has successfully trolled the whole world, even after he’s been dead for 400 years. No, really, YouTube videos and elaborate practical jokes notwithstanding: William Shakespeare is the greatest troll history has ever known. He set the most brilliantly-crafted words of dialogue to some of the weirdest stories that people ever took seriously.

A love story? Everyone dies! A historical play about a tyrannical king? Let’s adore him! Writing his will? “I leave to my wife, Anne Hathaway, my second-best bed”, he writes. Whatever the hell that even means.

So get this: the greatest writer of the English language never wrote a single original plot in his life; ended pretty much every single one of his plays with everyone dead; and simply adored sex jokes.

I kid you not – read the very first scene that opens Romeo and Juliet, and you’ll understand what I mean. Also, he is said to have made the very first “yo momma” joke. It goes something like this:

DEMETRIUS
Villain, what hast thou done?

AARON
That which thou canst not undo.

CHIRON
Thou hast undone our mother.

AARON
Villain, I have done thy mother.

So here’s to you, Bard of Avon; eminent playwright; esteemed fellow; and greatest troll of them all. You have trolled the whole world over, and in doing so won them all.

79. Oh Gravity!

Guys. Guys. Listen to me, guys. If you love science fiction like I do, and if you love stunning visuals set to heartbreakingly beautiful music like I do, you need to watch Gravity.

The picture is absolutely gorgeous. For us mere mortals who cannot join the astronauts up in space, this film makes for a pretty good substitute to that experience. You think the sunrise is beautiful? Or you love watching the northern lights? Think the stars twinkling away in the vast darkness of the universe are stunning? Wait till you see it IN SPACE!

It’s movies like this that frustrates me as a writer – because I have no words powerful or evocative enough to capture the sheer beauty of the picture. But allow me to try anyway:

Space. Dark. Impossibly vast. Empty. Stretching on forever in every direction. This infinite darkness is punctuated by little specks of light – the light of distant stars. The Earth lays beneath our feet, a giant blue marble that we call home, hovering in this massive space alone, its only neighbor millions of kilometers away. Hovering above the earth’s faint blue glow is the International Space Station: a modern marvel. The most expensive man-made structure to date, and a true testament to human progress.

Now those things tethered to the International Space Station? Those funny little white suits, clumsily fumbling their way, trying to figure out what’s up or down when those things don’t exist? That’s us. Small compared to the International Space Station. A tiny speck above the great big ball of dirt that is earth. Infinitesimal in the largeness of the galaxy. Nothing in the unfathomably large universe.

Yet it is us who sees the stars. Who tastes the colors. Who feasts upon the beauty and the grandeur that is creation. Us. Little petty beings who could choke on our own saliva if we weren’t careful about it. It is us who takes all of this in, observing the magnificence of the universe, becoming part of its largeness though being such little creatures ourselves. Us.

And that’s all I can do to describe a single frame of the film. Seriously, if behind every picture is a thousand words, then this 90-minute film shown to us at 24 frames per second is worthy of volumes dedicated to simply describing the sheer majesty of the scenery.

(24fps means 1,000 words per frame = 24,000 words per second; and since 90 minutes = 5,400 seconds, the number of words that can be used to exhaustively describe the picture of the film is calculated by 5,400*24,000, equaling to 129,600,000 words; which is the number of words in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, multiplied by 230)

Don’t even get me started on the music. The score is breathtaking, and the music is interwoven into the storytelling so seamlessly that it becomes not just an aspect of the experience, but an inseparable part of it. Special honors must go to the sound mixer, who managed to bring the sounds of space into the movie theaters and into our ears.

If you’ve heard me talk about the things that I look for in a movie experience, this film gets full scores in the first two items: the visuals and the sound. If I had to complain about something, I’d say that I would have preferred a richer story, but what the heck. Gravity wins by virtue of its beauty, and that its plot is at least comprehensible to the average human mind.

(I’m looking at you, Terrence Malick)

All in all, it’s a great experiential film; and if you watch it, fork out that extra money to watch it in IMAX 3D. Unless 3D or sci-fi is not your thing, I guarantee that you will not regret a single cent spent on this.

73. Dude, How Have You Not Watched This Movie?

More gems from family group chat:

ELDER SISTER
Billy has 49 pieces of bacon. He eats 35. What does he have now?
Happiness… Billy has happiness.

ME
What.

ELDER SISTER
I’m so jealous of Billy.

ME
You can buy bacon too.

MOM
Fat cholesterol.

ELDER SISTER
Totally going to.
Delicious cholesterol.

MOM
Evil cholesterol.

ELDER SISTER
Yummy cholesterol.

MOM
Killing cholesterol.

ELDER SISTER
Happy cholesterol.

MOM
Happy dying cholesterol?

ELDER SISTER
Awesome cholesterol.

MOM
Only God is awesome.

ELDER SISTER
Fine.
Godly cholesterol.

MOM
?? ???

Someone should just make a show out of my family’s life.

People around me are continually surprised at the number of movies I have never watched. It appears that since I am a writer of stories, I should have, ought to have, must have watched a particular list of movies in order to qualify. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • The Matrix
  • The original Star Wars trilogy
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Fight Club
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Back To The Future
  • Groundhog Day
  • Blade Runner
  • Donnie Darko
  • The Godfather
  • Memento
  • Scarface
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Any of Woody Allen’s or Quentin Tarantino’s movies (except for Midnight in Paris and Reservoir Dogs)

The news, when broken to them, is usually immediately followed by a “Dude, how have you not watched this movie?” reaction on their part. I used to shrug and go, “Yeah, how have I not watched these movies?”. But these days, I cannot help but feel slightly annoyed at this.

Hit rewind to a few years ago: I was just beginning to discover the joys of writing stories, and was just starting to take it seriously. Now comes along a fellow book enthusiast, and we begin talking about the books that we like to read, and she mentions that her favorite book is The Secret Garden, by Frances H. Burnett.

I, of course, had to admit that I have heard of the novel, but have never read it. Upon hearing this, she gave me a look of what appeared to be dismissive contempt, and this came out of her mouth:

“You haven’t read The Secret Garden?? Don’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t read The Secret Garden!”

Well, excuse me.

I wasn’t aware that there exists a list of books that I must have read, or a list of movies that I must have watched before I can properly qualify as a writer of fiction. I mean, I understand the joys of experiencing a classic; but I don’t think there is a necessity for it. At the end of the day, I couldn’t care less if Mr. Nolan has only watched 3 movies in his entire life, or if Ms. Rowling has never read a single word of Stephen King’s work, because the both of them tell pretty damn good stories.

It is, of course, the responsibility of every writer to read a lot, and to write a lot; and the more quality works they surround themselves with, the better. But seriously, don’t be that guy who goes, “Dude, how are you even a writer when you haven watched/read this and this, man?”, because it’s bloody irritating. Can you imagine other people doing the same thing to you?

PHYSICIST
Dude, how do you not know about quantum theory, man? It’s literally the most important thing in the world!

ACCOUNTANT
Dude, how can you not know about how the double-entry system works, man? It’s what keeps businesses running and people employed!

MUSICIAN
Dude, how have you not heard of Kraftwerk, man? They’re the raddest thing around right now!

PROGRAMMER
Dude, how don’t you know about tall recursion, man? It’s the best thing ever!

PHILOSOPHER
Dude, how don’t you know that you don’t know, man? It’s, like, the beginning of all knowledge!

Parents, tell your kids; kids, tell your parents; friends, tell your friends:

DON’T BE THAT GUY.

13. Dinner and a Movie

(I’ll get back to continuing that post on gaming after this one)

I had the opportunity today to spend some time with some of my favorite people on earth. Over 4 hours or so between 8P.M. and midnight, we talked, laughed, ate, and learned how to roll sushi together. And just like what we do with anything we’ve just learned, we took it to the logical extreme, just to test the boundaries of weirdness. This is what we ended up with:

Chicken sausage and a banana fritter wrapped with Japanese rice in a sheet of seaweed, covered in mayonnaise.

Needless to say, it was the strangest thing I have tasted all week; but far from the strangest thing I have ever tasted in my life. But that is one memory to be shared another day, in another post.

We all gathered around the TV area, tummies full of oddities, and watched Hugo – the one directed by Martin Scorsese – from start to finish, and it was beautiful.

I could talk about the amazing performances delivered by Asa Butterfield, Chloë Moretz, and Sir Ben Kingsley; or the intricately-designed sets that planted us right in the middle of a train station in 1930s Paris; or even about how every frame of the movie was so beautifully shot, every detail so perfectly saturated and textured.

More than all the above, however, was the sense of wonder it inspired. The storytelling, if you may. It was a simple, clean movie – no line of dialogue was wasted, no single shot that seemed unnecessary. It wasn’t a movie that tried too hard; neither was it one that was unambitious. But by the pure virtue of it being so honest to what it was, the film’s message resonated in me in a way that few other things could have.

Brilliantly executed, with performances as natural as breathing in the air around you – it’s not too far a stretch to call Hugo a masterpiece, delivered by master craftsmen and craftswomen.

(I sound like I’m fanboying here; but really, go and watch the film if you haven’t It’s wondrous)

I’m not the kind of person you’d want to watch a movie with. Not alone, at least.

Especially after watching movies as insightful and as well made as Hugo, I tend to lapse into a super-INTP state where I begin picking the movie apart and examining it in my head, to appreciate the whole for each of its individual parts. Watch a crappy movie with me, and I’ll laugh with you about how ridiculous it was after it has ended. Watch one that is beautifully made with me, and I’ll retreat so far from the real world that you may begin to think that I was offended by the movie or something.

After contemplating upon Hugo, I guess there will always be an innate part of us that appreciates beauty – not just visually, but also on deeper, emotional levels, whether we admit to it or not. As much as some of us may embrace the darkness in life and the harsh edges of reality, I believe these things only serve to highlight the things that make life beautiful.

We appreciate the light because we have seen the dark. We have come to love the thing that is good because we have seen the face of evil. The shadows we see are what helps us perceive depth – and really, what beautiful thing has ever existed that was without depth?