Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All We Have is the Present

I distinctly remember something my Year 7 History teacher told my class on the first day of high school. Being the first lesson of the year and of our secondary schooling, Mr Osta wasn’t going to go all Alexander the Great and Treaty of Versailles on his class of lackadaisical pupils. He had to start off simple, and he couldn’t stoop any simpler than the question, “What is history?” To get the discussion rolling, he dropped a whiteboard marker on the floor and proclaimed, “That’s history!” I sat in my chair thinking, “Sure, that marker hit the floor five seconds ago, but that does not constitute history.” Well, that was eight years ago, and I see the world through a different lens now.
You see, Mr Naz Osta was correct on that day back in 2005. If it happened one second ago, it’s history. Sure, dropping a pen may lack the gravitas of a memory you have of fighting for your country in the Second World War, but it shares one thing in common with that situation: it happened.  We should all make a conscious effort to revel in things that are happening, because they are reduced to memories once they have happened. I’m not saying you should savour every single second of your time on Earth (root canals, long queues at the bank = FUN!), but you should be attuned to recognising the moments that are worthy of a place in your photo album and be able to wrap your mind around them with the force of a boa constrictor strangling a field mouse. How often have you come home from a party feeling desolate down to your soul? Heck, I’m an introvert, but even I feel a bit empty arriving home from a place that was loud and colourful. It’s that absence of noise and laughter that kills you the most, right? Sure, a lot of parties are just plain terrible (any party hosted by me), but the really good ones make you wish there were at least 30 hours in the day. But hey, suck on this: there are only 24 hours in the day. That’s why you should:
a) Take some pictures at the party.
b) Realise while you’re at the party that a party only goes for a few hours and once it’s over you have to go to sleep and wake up the next morning to go to your shitty job or work on an essay that was only assigned to see if you’ve been doing the weekly readings. Then, think “Fuck! I am having fun tonight and this fun is only temporary.” You shall then proceed to savour the party so hard your head begins to ache. In other words, take mental pictures.
I’ve reached the part of this post where I have to issue a trigger warning. The remainder of this post may induce bouts of intense nostalgia, or what the Portuguese call saudade - a longing for a person or thing that will never return. Do me a favour and turn to the person nearest to you and give them a hug. OK…maybe avoid that sweaty guy who reeks of cigarettes on the train, but if it’s someone you know, do it. (This is a great opportunity to make a move on that guy or girl you like; tell ‘em a blog asked you to do it.) Home alone? Go hug your dog, cat, iguana, rock, or other pet. I’m asking you to do this because these people and animals in your life won’t be around forever. But look, they’re around now, so appreciate them. A few months ago, I was trawling through folders on my computer and I dug up some photographs that were taken around the same time Mr Osta defined history for me. I saw photos of myself holding my old dog, Boyo, who passed away in 2011. I saw photos of my mum and my uncle, and both were sporting fewer wrinkles than they have today. Most of us would know that feeling of finding photos of deceased grandparents and quickly putting them away before you reduce yourself to a blubbering mess. When someone takes your photograph, it never occurs to you that it will one day be something you look at that triggers a memory. All you think is, “Is my skin too oily?”“Do I have something in my teeth?”, “Will this be going on Facebook?“  There’s a lovely sentiment in The Perks of Being a Wallflower where protagonist Charlie muses, “…there was a time when these weren’t memories. That someone actually took that photograph, and the people in the photograph had just eaten lunch or something.” When someone takes a photograph, they are preserving a moment they want to remember. Before the invention of the camera, people painted to depict things as they were, so there has always been this affirmation that memory is never enough. It’s why some people get tattoos, and why people on YouTube upload clips of concerts they recorded on their phone. We like to romanticise photographs for the nostalgic joy they provide, but they can also remind us of how things aren’t the way they once were. So, next time you get your photo taken, be prepared to look at it ten years down the track, and to feel terribly old and melancholic when you do so.
How do you know that you weren’t born when you woke up this morning? What if you had been unconscious since time immemorial and only saw the world for the first time today? Well, of course you weren’t born this morning. You know when you were born, and yet it feels strange to consider that you have been a sentient being for all of these years. I know I’m sounding vague right now, so let me try something with you. February 17, 2003. Can you tell me what you were doing on that date? No, I don’t want to hear “I went to school” or “I was on a holiday in Honolulu.” I want specifics, dammit. What did you have for breakfast that morning? What TV shows did you watch that day? What were you doing at 7:34 pm? Unless you had a birthday on that date, or it was your wedding anniversary, you won’t be able to give me a recount of that day. Heck, even if it was a special day for you, you won’t be able to remember everything. According to, at the time of writing, I am 7,397 days old. I have lived through every single one of those days, and yet the only one that really matters is the day I am currently living: April 17, 2013. Every day that has gone before is irretrievable. The things I did on those days cannot be undone. As for the days ahead of me, they’re not even guaranteed because I could get hit by a bus this afternoon. While our past is largely a blur, we can still prove that we have one. I’m a huge sucker for things that carry sentimental value, and so I have kept a lot of books from my primary school days. It’s weird to open up a book and see things I wrote when I was a kid. I see messy letters side by side that form some semblance of a word, and the words come together to form a sentence.

Pictured above is a pathetic excuse for a drawing of a female human being.  I drew this picture on November 8, 1999. I was a six-year-old kid in Year 1. I know this because the date is written at the top of the page with my name next to it. I don’t remember drawing this picture, but I KNOW I drew it. I sat on a chair in my classroom with a lead pencil and a set of crayons at my disposal and I produced this shitty representation of a human being (check out that dislocated leg!). This was drawn 14 years ago. This picture proves that I existed 14 years ago. Because we go to sleep at the end of each day, an illusion is created that each day is the beginning of a new life. We live in 24-hour segments. Once today is over, it becomes yesterday, and yesterday will soon become last week, which metamorphoses into last month. Twelve months accumulate to become a year, and before you know it, the years pile up until you’re left with a hazy memory that can only be triggered by something you find a decade later in a scrapbook. Whatever you are doing today will not be remembered unless it is fucking significant. April 17, 2013 is just another day that you live because the only other alternative is death and that sucks. You will not remember April 17, 2013 on June 26, 2032. If you like, you can write a note saying “I wrote this on April 17, 2013″, stick it in an envelope labelled June 26, 2032, and open it on that date. The memories of this day will have been eradicated by the passage of time, but you’ll have that interface between past and present; a relic that says, “I was alive 19 years ago. I was alive and I had the sentience to write this note for myself.”
I’m not sure if this post has taught you anything, but I’ve been meaning to write it for some time. This is the product of many nights spent lost in melancholy, thinking about the unfairness of life and why everything has to end. As I come to a close, I realise this blog post will one day be forgotten. I will also be forgotten, as will any children, grandchildren, and so on that I have.  But hey, fuck it. If I wanted to give you a sad ending, I’d tell you to watch Requiem for a Dream. I write because it calms me and it makes others happy (from what I’ve been told), and if you can read my words and forget for a moment that your life has an expiry date, then I have done my job.
P.S. If the remote control from the movie Click is ever invented, please let me know.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

March 2013 Film Wrap-Up

As you should all be aware by now, I had to put an end to my 365-Day Film Challenge. I explained my reasons for doing so in this post. I know I usually post my film wrap-ups on the first day of each month, but I have been extremely busy as of late due to an internship and uni assignments. Because the Challenge is over, I won't be writing as much about each film I see.

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012) = 4/5

Believe it or not, I had never seen a David O. Russell film before this one. I found the pacing of this film unusual, but everything else really pleased me. It reminded me that happiness is all the more sweeter for those who have known tragedy. Bradley Cooper should disassociate himself with the Hangover franchise and choose more roles like this one. Jennifer Lawrence was very impressive, although her performance didn't scream 'Oscar-worthy' to me. Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro brought valuable experience to their roles and were a pleasure to watch.

American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) = 3.5/5

Whenever people talk about this film, it's usually because:

a) It launched the careers of Harrison Ford, Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss.
b) It is one of only two films directed by George Lucas not belonging to the Star Wars series.

There's an electric energy to this film which helps to fashion the Zeitgeist and ethos of the early 60s. The soundtrack is this film's pulse, and the songs have a way of transporting you to those neon-lit streets. What stopped me from liking it more is its structure. The individual scenes are well edited, but I don't like the way the film jumps from scene to scene and character to character without segues.

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (Steve Oedekerk, 1995) = 4/5

Note: This film was not part of the 365-Day Film Challenge.

This is one of the films I grew up on. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it, but what I can tell you is that it's one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I think it's far superior to the original Pet Detective, and Carrey is at his slapstick best. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) = 4.5/5

Pick any ten slasher films from the past five years. Now, combine them, and the final product will not be as scary as Picnic at Hanging Rock. Great horror films acquire that label incidentally, not via convention. I wouldn't call this a horror film. It is a mystery film that creates an ambience of horror for the people who watch it. It implies that, sometimes, bad things happen without any explanation. Nature is more dangerous than any axe-wielding murderer, and it will one day subsume us all. This is one of the greatest Australian films ever made, with haunting music and gorgeous cinematography.  

Never Been Kissed (Raja Gosnell, 1999) = 2.5/5

First of all, I may have only watched this movie because of the title. I have never been kissed, and I thought this could provide an opportunity for some corny empathy. Well, I didn't do much empathising. Instead, I was shaking my head at how average this film is. And it's not like it tried to be good but ended up being average. It felt as though director Gosnell strived to make a movie that epitomises mediocrity. Look, I wasn't expecting a teen film that tapped into the John Hughes ethos, but I was hoping for a lot more than what I saw. To its credit, it's a movie I would have liked if I were younger and hadn't been overexposed to this formula. 

Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994) = 4/5

One thing I'm notorious for is my dislike of action movies. I watch less than five action movies per year, and I have always said that, ironically, action is the genre that bores me the most. Despite this, I freakin' LOVED Speed. I love it because it manages to wring so much excitement out of a very simple plotThere are moments where it seems a bit outrageous (in that excessive 90s way), but the film is so exhilarating that we don't have the time to care. 

Angel Baby (Michael Rymer, 1995) = 3/5

There is not a lot of joy to be found in this film, and as a result, it was rather hard to watch. The pacing also makes this a tough viewing experience. The performances by John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie are outstanding, but I couldn't fully invest in their characters' lives. On a trivial note, this film is worth seeing if you want to see several Australian things you won't see in any other film: e.g. the Australian Wheel of Fortune, a Telstra public phone box,  and a Kmart store.

The Hairy Bird (Sarah Kernochan, 1998) = 3.5/5

If you're after a "chick flick" that doesn't contain all the usual female stereotypes, then this is worth checking out. It's more memorable than many other films of the same vein, largely thanks to intriguing characters.

Adam (Max Mayer, 2009) = 3/5

When your protagonist is autistic, you run the risk of oversimplifying his or her daily struggles. I think that's what happens here in Adam. Hugh Dancy is quite good as Adam, a young man with Asperger syndrome, but the film just feels so contrived. What exactly is this film trying to say—that autistic people can fall in love too? It's not enough to make an audience care for a character because of their diagnosis. The character needs to be strengthened with a distinct personality. This film also lacks a distinguished atmosphere. These characters inhabit a world that too closely resembles the one we walk upon each day.

Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960) = 4/5

My first Godard film. It wasn't always engaging, and I felt as though it took some time to settle on its tone. There were also times where I found the characters too self-indulgent. Nonetheless, this hallmark of the French New Wave is well-written and beautifully shot, even if it heavily relies on jump cuts. 

Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004) = 4/5

I loved Almodóvar's Talk to Her, and Bad Education had a very similar atmosphere. It's a dark, sexually charged film that works on multiple levels - campy elements intersect with a noir-inspired plot. I think I'll have to watch it at least one more time to fully appreciate it, as there were times where I couldn't separate fantasy from reality. 

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) = 5/5

It explores drug addiction without the maudlin hopelessness you would expect. Boyle's direction is fiercely inventive, and it's one of the strangest yet most rewarding viewing experiences I've had in a long time. There were times where I burst out laughing, and times where I recoiled in curious terror. It's just that type of film.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995) = 4/5

Only Woody Allen could incorporate a Greek chorus into a modern comedy and make it work. Mira Sorvino is very compelling as a prostitute, and Allen avoids characterising her in accordance to dated, bland stereotypes. 

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010) = 4/5

A poignant film about mortality that contains some transcendent images. Javier Bardem's performance is staggeringly good, but the film could have benefited from a shorter runtime.

Small Time Crooks (Woody Allen, 2000) = 2.5/5

Despite some sharp exchanges of dialogue, it meanders between scenes, searching for rhythm that never comes. A very middle-of-the-road Woody Allen film with made-for-TV movie sensibilities

Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) = 3.5/5

If Eastwood wasn't in this, I wouldn't have watched it. For the most part, I enjoyed Dirty Harry. It's slick and suspenseful, and I was surprised at how well it's aged. That said, there are a few flat spots, but Eastwood has a screen presence that boosts the material. 

Last Train to Freo (Jeremy Sims, 2006) = 4/5

We've all found ourselves on a train with unsavoury people at one point or another in our lives. You know the feeling...a person boards the train, and just by looking at them, you can tell it isn't going to be a relaxing ride. You try to avoid eye contact, but this doesn't stop the person from approaching you. Sometimes they're fairly innocent, but they can often be intimidating. It's why so many people don't feel safe travelling on public transport at night (or at all). This film is an exposition on what makes these public menaces tick, and what sometimes lies beneath their fearsome veneers. While it does feel a bit too theatrical at times, this exercise in minimalism is worth a watch.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) = 4/5   

We need to talk about how fucking traumatising this film is. Wow. It takes a while for you to warm to it, and even then it leaves you cold. A very moody piece of work that's too morose to enjoy, but too fiercely original not to recommend. The editing style is not for everyone.

City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) = 3.5/5

Despite great storytelling, it didn't move me as much as I expected it to. I'll have to revisit this one. This was my first ever silent film (hold your snobbish calls of "Really?"), so maybe that is why I experienced some disconnect.

Breaking Away (Peter Yates, 1979) = 4/5

I do not like cycling, and yet I loved this film. It doesn't try to be artsy. It's honest, uplifting filmmaking. The cast is so watchable, and when the credits roll, you feel as though you're saying goodbye to a close group of friends. I don't think it deserves to be cheapened with a clichéd label such as "coming-of-age". Breaking Away is just so damn authentic. 

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) = 4.5/5

So, I finally saw this film, and it was actually pretty damn good. I became very invested in the life of the enigmatic Charles Foster Kane, and I couldn't help but admire how ahead of its time this film was. 

The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012) = 4/5

A well-paced, coherent documentary that tells a naturally unsettling story - a Frenchman claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years. It provides great insight into human behaviour, but feels somewhat incomplete.

The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010) = 4.5/5

Note: This film replaced Like Water for Chocolate on the original 365-Day Film Challenge schedule.

Edited from the BAFTA award-winning TV series of the same name, The Trip is an absolute pleasure to watch. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were made to share a screen, and you feel like jumping inside your television and asking them to dinner. The film is more profound than you expect it to be, and when it's all over, you immediately want Coogan and Brydon to come back. Seriously, watch these two men impersonate Michael Caine and it will make your day.  

The Burning (Tony Maylam, 1981) = 4/5

It's that rare kind of slasher that manages to be cheesy AND scary. This is the stuff urban legends are made of. It is sorely forgotten and needs to be seen more. 

The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005) = 3/5

Note: This film replaced Saving Private Ryan on the original 365-Day Film Challenge schedule. 

It tries to strike the perfect balance between suspense and gore, but doesn't quite work. Still has plenty of scares, though.