The last piece of the current batch for The Spoils is done, and I was told by Tenacious Games that I’ll be able to show them publically in early March, once they’ve been to the printer. I might paint more for the next batch, depending on what my schedule is like.
Elena just got her driver’s license, and on first try too! We (me and her driving instructor) were so sure she’d fail, because she’s a very nervous driver–the kind that will immediately slow down and not know what to do as soon as any tiny thing goes wrong. Her reaction time is also very slow (never played any games while growing up, including sports, video games..etc), so it takes her a long time to react to any changes on the road. Now that she’s got her license, I still make sure she never drives alone because she needs time to build up faster reflex and decision making ability while assessing road conditions. The stuff her driving instructors (she tried two Chinese ones, at a total of $800) taught her are only useful for passing riving tests, and are completely useless in practical driving. In fact, some of the stuff they taught her are downright dangerous! I had to undo a lot of the bad habits they taught her (or teach her a lot of the driving common sense they didn’t teach her). My brother Dennis’s father-in-law is a reserve cop, and he confirmed that a lot of traffic accidents happen because Chinese drivers are taught by Chinese driving instructors, and the instructions are not always sound in terms of practical driving safety, though they do help you pass the driving test given by the DMV. It’s kind of like how native Asian English teachers will teach academic English that will help you pass tests, but is useless when it comes to real life situations, yet that is the kind of English taught in schools throughout China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan..etc.
In the recent years, private English instruction schools that advertise “genuine foreign teachers!” have popped up all around Asia–they are basically non-native teachers who are white, and thus will teach “practical real life English.” Many of these teachers do not speak any Asian languages, which to me is kind of pointless. How can you explain the subtleties and nuances and complexities of a another language if you have no base of reference to use for analogy or explanation?
Here are some quickie thoughts from recent movie viewings:
Flags of Our Fathers – I liked the combat scenes more than I liked the dramatic scenes, because I felt the dramatic scenes were a bit heavy-handed. How many times do we need to be reminded that the Native American character felt disgusted by the whole thing, and that he feels like a fake?
Letters From Iwo Jima – Dramatically it’s more interesting and engaging than Flags of Our Fathers (the two films are companion pieces to each other), but there are a lot less of the epic combat scenes. I liked the atypical portrayal of the Japanese soldiers, as it humanizes them and makes them easier to relate to than the stereotypical portrayal of loyal, proud, and fearless Japanese soldiers who would die for their country without batting an eyelash.
Pan’s Labyrinth – I really wanted to like this film, but in the end I was disappointed. It’s not a bad film–I just didn’t like some of the execution, and how some of the characters behaved didn’t seem believable to me–even for a fairytale. I feel that the glowing praises from the critics for the film seem a bit excessive–in other words, this film is overrated in my opinion. It also seems strange to me that Children of Men is on average rated lower than this film, as I feel Children of Men is a far superior film in just about every way.
The Illusionist – Although the film is very predictable (at least to me, as I figured out the entire structure of the film by the time the Norton and Biel’s characters meet again as adults–and that’s at the beginning of the film), it was still entertaining enough to sit through. I had hoped for more realistic explanations of the elaborate/complex magic tricks, but I guess that’s just not the focus of the film.
I’ve always liked Edward Norton, although I feel he hasn’t grown as much as he should’ve as an actor. Maybe this is because he had such juicy roles to play right at the beginning of his career, and it’s hard to find roles that top his early ones. I mean really, his roles in Primal Fear and American History X–very hard to top those.
Apocalypto – Mel Gibson is a director whose film I’ll always watch, simply because the man’s a very talented director. He might have a bit of a martyr syndrome, but at least his outlook is one of idealism. The film itself is certainly engrossing, but it was a lot more simplified than I had hoped. I wanted to see Gibson make a statement about how power and superstition corrodes an ancient civilization and destroys it from within, but the film is mostly an action thriller.
Cars – To date, I’ve never disliked a Pixar film (although my first viewing of Finding Nemo irritated me so much I turned it off before the plot even really kicked in. My second viewing of it was much, much better). I really do feel that Pixar is one of the best storytellers in the world currently, as they instinctively know how to tell a great story, and the beautiful visuals are just icing on the cake. Other studios try to copy Pixar’s success, and although some can achieve similar technical excellence, they just aren’t nearly as talented as storytellers. No amount of budget, staff, marketing muscle, or board meetings can equate the brilliance and purity of talent, and Pixar’s got more of it in its little toe than…well, you get the point. Oh yeah, I liked Cars. Are you surprised?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake) – Embarrassingly, I must admit I’ve only seen the beginning of the original, and it felt quite dated and had horrible acting. I quite enjoyed the remake, as it was technically very well made, with a more modern sensibility, and far superior acting. Of course, I understand the original’s place in film history,and I will watch the whole thing one of these days, even if for the sake of educating myself on this famed classic. Oh, and although Jessica Biel is a bit of a “buterface” (only a little bit), the director really showed off her package in the remake. Elena and I were both drooling whenever she was on screen with those tight jeans and bare midriff.
Superman Returns – I like Brian Singer as a director, and I think he did a good job with Superman Returns. I was hoping for a film that was less safe–less faithful to the apple pie vision of the classic, but I ended up during the whole film comparing Brandon Routh to Christopher Reeve, simply because they really tried to capture the same feel of the classic. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane was nice–she’s far cuter than Margot Kidder (as a kid I always wondered what Superman saw in her–she seemed dorky and homely to me), and has more of the kind of aura that I believe Superman would be attracted to. Kevin Spacey as Luther–well, either you like Kevin Spacey or you don’t. I do, so I enjoyed his performance.
Little Miss Sunshine – Although I enjoyed this film, I do feel it’s way overrated. The messages conveyed in the film were simplistic and a bit naive, and the ending was surprisingly silly (bordering slapstick), even though I was aware it’s supposed to be a comedy/drama. My favorite parts of the film were the ones dealing with the teenage son–I could totally identify with him and his angst, although I’m way past my own angst (I better be, at age 34).
Monster House – Cute film, and thankfully not another modernized fairytale or talking animal story with pop culture references–I can’t stand those anymore. I was almost sure the girl’s voice was done by Kirsten Dunst since it sounded so much like her, but it wasn’t. The secret behind the house was a bit bizarre for a children’s film though, as it unintentionally vilifies obese women with bad temper.
Clerks 2 – Although I think Kevin Smith is hit or miss (and usually more miss than hit), I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. The geek humor won me over, and I liked the general positive attitude as it balances out all the cynicism.
The Breakup – A quality comedy/drama, but perhaps a bit overrated. I guess it’s one of those films that appeal to the general public, and it is safe enough, yet has enough of a unique take on the relationship thing to have gotten all the praises. I was hoping for something edgier and darker, but then again, it’s a Jennifer Aniston film afterall.
Blood Diamond – I was surprised to see Jennifer Connelly in this film, although she fits the role quite well. DiCaprio is an actor I’ve always respected, because even as a kid, he had a dark intensity about him (he played a street-wise troubled teenager in the TV sitcom, Growing Pains). The film was entertaining and the story is one I care about, because I’ve always hated diamonds for as long as I could remember. Even as a child I thought diamonds were ridiculously overpriced and the prestige our society bestowed on the damn pieces of rock was disturbingly perverse.
Idiocracy – I don’t know what Mike Judge did to piss off Fox, but they seem to want to make his life hell. Idiocracy was released with no promotion, no trailer, and only in 125 theaters nation-wide, and this was after suppressing its release of two years (as opposed to the normal average of 2,000+). The film itself is an extreme satire that makes fun of the less intelligent trends in pop culture, corporate greed, environmental apathy, and the stupidity of urban youth culture. Although the satire is biting and spot-on, the execution is often done with toilet humor (literally, toilets are involved), which I think was a bad choice. It does have some knee-slapping moments though, and is worth seeing.
The Lake House – Two actors that doesn’t do anything for me, and a remake of a foreign film (The original was a Korean film titled “El Mare,” starring the very spunky and cute Jun Ji-Hyun, better known as the “My Sassy Girlfriend” chick)–it had to be bad, right? Well, it wasn’t a train wreck, but it wasn’t a good film either. Watch it if you really have nothing better on your “Movies to Watch” list. Why did I watch it? Well, I wanted to see how a Korean film would be adapted to fit the American audience–call it a lesson in contemporary cinema trends. I fear for Old Boy. I hope they don’t destroy that one.
And here are a couple of TV shows I’ve enjoyed recently:
How Music Works – Excellent British TV program that teaches the inner workings of music in a way that even non-musicians could understand and appreciate. It even covered a few things I didn’t know. The host uses well-known examples in both classical and modern music and points out the similarities and links between them in terms of how they incorporate music theory in identical ways. Similarities between music from different cultures are also talked about, and how human beings all respond to music in similar ways, regardless of where we’re from. Highly recommended.
The Office – I’ve known about the show (both the U.K. and the American version), and finally gave it a try. The U.K. version wasn’t as funny to me, as the satirical nature of the content really needs a biting edge to work, and the U.K. version was just a tad too low-key to strike the funny bones hard enough. The American version is just so much funnier, because the comedic timing and the cast is simply turned up a notch, and thus strikes the funny bones harder. My favorite moment so far was when everyone made up fake diseases for the health care forms they had to fill out. “Hotdog fingers” had me choking on my food–literally. Elena was worried for my safety and declared that The Office is simply too dangerous to watch while eating or drinking.