No Man’s Land

I just saw The Dark Knight Rises. It’s an interesting little blockbuster.

All in all, I would say I liked it. I think the second was superior but I also think this film is better than the first. However, in the years since The Dark Knight I’d forgotten how melodramatic the dialogue in Nolan’s Batman films could be. It also had a somewhat clumsy thematic link to the Occupy Movement, the story being based mostly on the No Man’s Land arc from the comics, where Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the United States and anarchy rules the land.

I do think a stronger thematic connection could have been made between the villain, Bane, and Batman, particularly since they are both figures who deliberately disregard established social structures, but perhaps it’s better that link shouldn’t be returned to when it was used so well in The Dark Knight (the link being violence and insanity in that case).

The movie was good, not great, which makes it sound somewhat disappointing for what’s supposed to be a summer blockbuster, but then again, I can’t remember the last time I exited a movie theatre thinking, “That was awesome!” Perhaps I’m just picky.

Isn’t it good?

After all this time I’ve finally seen the film adaptation of Norwegian Wood. I’m really not sure what to think.

As it is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Norwegian Wood as a movie. Having read and liked the book, I already knew what was supposed to be happening. I don’t know how someone approaching the movie as a movie would evaluate it.

However, I am not that hypothetical person. I did read the book and then I did see the movie. I can only react from my own experiences and not from someone else’s. So how does the movie stack up against the book?

First, it’s definitely not a poor translation of a book to film. It successfully captured the quiet mood of the book but at the same time it’s also its own thing. Props for that.

Still, it should be no surprise that I still prefer the novel. That’s almost always the go-to answer when evaluating book-to-film adaptations, with a few notable exceptions. Yes, Midori is peculiarly forward in the film, but it’s a pity there wasn’t enough time to show the variety of her strange flirtations with Watanabe.

Additionally, I’m not sure how well the movie conveyed the strangeness of the book. Haruki Murakami’s stuff is always suffused with an air of quiet strangeness (technically I believe it would be termed magical realism but somehow labelling it makes it seem more dry and boring). The film got the quiet part right but the strangeness didn’t come across as well.

Also, this is probably the only Haruki Murakami novel that will ever be turned into a movie. It’s probably the most conventional one in terms of plot and yet the movie adaptation by necessity still turned out a bit peculiar in conveying its narrative. Good luck filming something like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Anyway, I don’t regret watching this movie. It’s not a bad way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.

The glory of violence

I saw The Raid: Redemption yesterday. It’s hard to describe my reactions to the movie without speaking entirely in clichés. It actually was balls-to-the-wall action. It actually was superb and thrilling. It was almost literally pure action (I think there may have only been 10 minutes in total where nothing violent was going on). It’s not ironic and it’s not metatextual. It’s just legitimately good.

My god, it’s incredible.

Gymnopedie No. 1

The last episode of Community ends with a piano piece that was maddeningly familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place it. Apparently it was from My Dinner With Andre, but knowing that fact didn’t scratch my itch since I’ve never seen that movie at all. So then I looked for the piano music on Youtube and found the answer in the comments: Gymnopedie No. 1 is the piece used in the trailer for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Whew, I’m glad I found that out, not knowing the answer was really starting to bug me. And to think, I would have been simply out of luck in the days before the Internet. Thank you, Youtube! Also Internet Movie Database, that site has answered innumerable questions for me as well.

Mickey Rooney vs. Dennis Hopper

I ... I could have sworn "Blue Velvet" was the sequel to "National Velvet"

Man, I remember watching Blue Velvet late one night on tv. I knew nothing at all about it beforehand besides the fact that it was showing on Showcase, the art film channel. I think I was still in high school at the time. I still don’t get it.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

I watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya last night. Word on the street was that the movie was a good addition to the Haruhi Suzumiya series, and I really must concur. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get into the series until a few months ago, since apparently the last new content was from 2007. That must have been a long three years for the fans.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler’s Wife – not in terms of plot or even aesthetics, but rather in the way both use science fiction in the service of the story. They’re not like too many other science fiction stories, where the writers are too busy geeking out over the ray guns to bother about the characters or the plot. Rather, the fantastic elements in both stories exist to drive forward the fundamental relationships at the heart of their respective plots – in Haruhi Suzumiya’s case, it’s about a misanthropic girl learning to appreciate the mundane and a misanthropic guy learning to appreciate the fantastic (with that term encompassing time travelers, psychics, and aliens). However, both Time Traveler’s Wife and Haruhi Suzumiya aren’t just regular stories with science fiction stuff thrown in, they would be fundamentally different without being science fiction.

I like Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s always got such interesting ideas.

Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood has been made into a film and has premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

It looks rather like another tragic romance story, which I suppose is understandable. I hadn’t realized it when reading the novel, but a lot of what happens is internal. If you were to simply list the things that happened then the book would seem like an above-average love story. Look at the plot: guy goes off to university and is torn between his feelings for his dead friend’s girlfriend and a new girl who excites and challenges him. I sincerely hope the director manages to capture the air of quiet strangeness that’s always to be found in one of Haruki Murakami’s stories.

Paul Gilroy on Ali G

I really should stay up to date on my email.  There was an extended discussion of Borat on the Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list last November, and part of what came up was this article by Paul Gilroy analyzing Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous film, Ali G in Da House.  And there was a long discussion of Big Brother that just ended.  Dammit, this was all good stuff.  Okay, I’m definitely going to participate in the new e-seminar about Urban Larssen’s working paper, “Imagining a World of Free Expression in the Making: Romania and Global Media Development.”

Goodbye Edublogs

Let’s see other people. Actually, I’ll see other people and you can just cry as I walk away or something. That’s right, I’m finally moving to a new site. The lucky winner is Anthroblogs for their non-annoying spamless hosting solutions, plus there’s that whole anthropologist ghetto they’ve got going. It only took me an entire month to accomplish the move. Thanks go to John Norvell for letting me join his merry band.

Actually, I’m still not done with the move. I want to migrate all of my posts at the very least and I’m screwing around right now with Perl scripts to do just that. Let me tell you, it’s not simple at all, especially for someone who used to play Tetris back in programming class in high school (six years ago, I might add). I’ll probably have to move comments manually which will add another layer of frustration to this bastard of an undertaking. If anyone is better than me at Perl, I’d be glad to accept their help.

I’m also trying to finish a chapter of my thesis to include as a writing sample in grad school applications, so I might not have the new blog set up the way I want until the new year. Until then, don’t mind the exposed wires and wet paint as you follow me — into the future!

Here’s what you can expect to see over there:

Cavite (the movie)

I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino. Got to say, I wasn’t impressed. I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful. One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club.  Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings.  And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone. Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing. Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

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Cavite (the movie)

Cavite.jpg

I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino.  Got to say, I wasn’t impressed.  I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful.  One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club. Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings. And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot of Cavite centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone.  Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing.  Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

I grew up partly in Cavite, but that has nothing to do with my dislike of the film.  Rather, it’s clear to me that I’m not the target audience.  The movie is obviously set up with 2nd generation Filipinos in mind, since the whole thing is about the anxieties of the 2nd generation in regards to their Filipino identity.

The first thing that didn’t fly with me was the language.  I speak Tagalog well enough, and to me, the menacing voice on the phone issuing Tagalog commands didn’t sound menacing at all.  In fact, the guy sounded like a complete tool.  It was hard to take his threats seriously since he actually has more of a comedian’s voice.  I kept expecting cellphone guy to start cracking toilet humour jokes.  Not only that, but it seems rather odd to me that Adam, the main character, should understand Tagalog, since his family is supposedly from Mindanao and I would expect him to be more fluent in Chavacano or other more regionally-appropriate languages.

In fact, language is one of the things that 2nd generation Filipinos have an ambivalent relationship with.  Obviously, Adam has passive fluency in Tagalog so that the story is able to take place, but he also talks almost entirely in English because he’s “not comfortable with the language [Tagalog]”, just like many 2nd generation Filipinos.  Quite a few don’t understand any Filipino languages at all, what with their parents wanting them to assimilate completely.  That, or they’re embarrassed by their parents’ languages and make an effort to speak entirely in English.

In this case, the menacing voice on the phone represents the Filipino-ness that 2nd generation Filipinos (the kind that would watch this kind of movie) want but don’t quite feel they’re worthy of.  The voice is the inadequacy that 2nd generation Filipinos feel towards being Filipino, that they’re not really authentically Filipino if they can’t speak Tagalog, have never been to the Philippines, can’t eat balut, and all sorts of other things.

In fact, the movie is all about gaining this elusive authentic Filipino character.  Cavite begins by forcing Adam to confront the poverty and material deprivation in the Philippines (what could be more authentic than the poor?) and he is then forced to participate in other “authentically” Filipino experiences such as watching a cock fight, drinking soda out of a plastic bag, and eating an unhatched duck egg.  In fact, the scene with the balut is significant because watching foreigners recoil at the thought of eating balut is one of the pastimes Filipinos engage in with outsiders.  Having eaten the balut, Adam has proven that he is really Filipino.  The taunts of the voice on the cellphone are merely the prickings of his guilt at not being Filipino enough.

So this movie is actually about discovering one’s identity, and not just any identity, but ethnic identity.  Therefore, it’s about discovering what one always already is, or so the proponents of ethnicity will claim.  Still, the journey of ethnic discovery parallels the journey of the tourist in many ways.  Both centre on finding the authentic among foreign Others, particularly savage Others (the poor, the non-white, and the non-Western).  Second generation travellers might argue that they’re different from tourists, that tourists only see the surface, the superficial, but we have penetrated this wall of inscrutability and have beheld the true faces of the Filipinos.  In fact, we have always been Filipino, so there was never a wall there in the first place.  But the desire for the authentic still marks both journeys.

The search for authenticity is of course not politically neutral.  Second generation Filipinos look to the Philippines as a source of identity because they cannot find it in their home countries.  That is, the search for inclusion within the Philippine imaginary is contingent on the exclusion that 2nd generation Filipinos experience in their lives outside the Philippines.  Identification is always a political act, and a diasporic imaginary, as James Clifford put it, can be seen as making the best of a bad situation.

Which is all well and good, but the political goals of 2nd generation Filipinos don’t speak to me at all.  Cavite didn’t resonate with me because it showed me nothing that I hadn’t already seen before.  Rabid dogs on the street?  Floating mountains of garbage in the rivers?  Squatter children bathing outdoors?  Ho hum, how very boring.  Adam is shocked, but I sit and wait for the movie to start.  By the time it ends, I realize those scenes were the point.  And there’s nothing more boring than watching a movie that was made for someone else.  I wish I’d just gotten Superman Returns.