Feb 19, 2011

Cinema and Me

Cinema & Me

I am writing this note as a boy, a man and a person whose love for cinema remains undying. Until now.

As far as I can recall, my earliest childhood memory always revolves around films and cinema.
I remember my parents often took me to watch latest films of comedy troop Warkop DKI and we had to wait until the "Film Utama" neon sign switched on because I was afraid of the dark! You can read the similar story here.
Back then, we knew whether the film we were about to watch had already been screened inside the cinema or not while we waited outside, thanks to three neon signs that said "Akan Datang" (Coming Soon), "Segera" (Soon), and the aforementioned "Film Utama (The Main Film). Never knew what's the difference between the first two, but then I always thought that the first one was for the films that would play in further weeks than the the second sign.
Of course, as we age, we knew that such assumption did not always prove to be right.

The upgrade from fear to excitement began when the 10 year-old boy daringly braced the age restriction and did not sneak, mind you, but bought ticket to watch Music Box and watched the film alone. All by myself, with companion of snack that I was sneaking into, I stood alone mesmerized by Jessica Lange uncovering the crime her father did during World War II. My mind kept thinking about the film when I strolled along big roads to find "mikrolet" (public transportation) to bring me home.
A year later, the similar experience happened when, again, sitting on a front row, I watched Dead Poets Society alone, struck a conversation with a stranger and we engrossed in talks about the film. Sometime after that, I kept dreaming and wishing of entering all-boy school, which luckily by destiny, it never happened.

Those two, along with many other similar cinematic populists that marked the cusp of my transformation from a boy to a teenager, ushered in many more memorable experiences that had many things to do with cinema:
• watched Dying Young, Mrs. Doubtfire and many other films in fasting month, instead of going to mosque;
• against parents' order of age restriction, I watched The Bodyguard on Valentine's Day, with a date of course;
• watched Forrest Gump with half of classmates the first time. The second time, it was pure coincidence: after defeated from an English contest, me and my fellow team members went home and we said to each other, "let's have some rest." Little did we know that instead of resting, we went to one of the cinemas in town to watch Forrest Gump, and we realized that we all had just watched the same film when we met one another after the film ended!
• always marked my birthday in teenage years by going to cinema. Mobsters, Dangerous Minds, etc.;
• genuinely terrified by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein where Robert De Niro took the heart of Helena Bonham Carter, literally;
• after a day of busy extra curricular activities at school, watched forgettable films like Up Close and Personal and Love Affair that put me to sleep;
and so many others that unfortunately went to haze memory as the book that had the ticket stubs of those films went missing, along with some other bags a few years ago.

Time went by, I moved to a foreign shore for a few years, only to be brought back home with a rejuvenated passion for cinema. As I became more involved in the field, I gained more knowledge, all of which only fueled my belief that I absolutely know nothing about film and cinema, thus make me dying to learn.
God knows how many DVDs I bought, how many films I had in digital format, how many screeners I saw in a year, how many film books I bought, but none can compare the majestic view of cinema. Actually, my Excel database knows the exact amount, but then, who can beat God anyway?

Being a public place, cinema allows us to experience social activities of going out, meet other people or even if we go alone, we see other people. We interact with ticket attendants, concession counter staff, annoying sales people offering products, seeing posters that leave us wondering sometimes with odd photo-editing, and of course, seeing larger-than-life image with collective response.

Only last week I was lucky enough to catch a midnight screening of 127 Hours, and I could hear collective grasp of seeing what James Franco has to do in order to survive living. The collective grasp, which I only heard because I was too busy shrieking and closing my eyes, gave me a sense of excitement because everybody reacted to what they see. The communal activity of screaming or laughing, unexpectedly I encountered in many Katherine Heigl's comedies seen on big screen, have unconsciously driven me to cinema over and over again: to experience the togetherness.

For sure I can always boast that I watched many Criterion titles at the comfort of home, but then, it's only me and my dolls. Nothing beats the joy of seeing how people react together of what they see on big screen. Notice how I repeat the sentence? I can't control it. Google my film reviews, there are numerous attempts of writing "in a darkened cinema hall", because I believe on the power of films being seen on big screen. Again.
Otherwise, I won't be doing what I am doing right now, career-wise. Hard work in months are eased by people clapping at the end of films, or booing, which led to complains and discussions that I still embrace with open arms.

Time has changed, digital means start taking over. We are brought together now by RTs, Like buttons in several online sites, and films became more of a challenge to sit through without temptations of checking how many people reply or forward our opinions.
Yet, in a city with very limited means of affordable public entertainment, cinema remains a popular option. In fact, I can say with little pride, some cinemas in town have gone all the way in giving comfort and technical specifications for audience to enjoy.

Thus, imagine the shock, anguish and surprise (not necessarily in that order) of receiving the news that there will be no more new imported films in local cinema. Each imported film will have to obey new tax rules, i.e. increment of 23.75% of every film brought in the country, in addition to other taxes that have been applied to companies and cinemas.
This is the so-called attempt to revive declining interest in national film development, because cinemas now have to be filled with local films to attract audiences to go.


As I said, I am writing this as a filmgoer, a common audience who feels deprived of choices. You cannot take the rights of choosing, because people who are not free to choose are people who are imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
Films, regardless of nationalities, are worth watching for being a good on their own, not defined by the languages nor the countries they are made in or by.
As someone who is still believe by living a social and communal life, the dearth of cinema leads to living a life less culturally, especially in a city where, again, there are already limited options of mass entertainment. I don't count texting during traffic jam an entertainment, thank you.

With an exhausted disappointment, I shall end this note in a confusion. A slight of hope in me is still believing that perhaps negotiations between related parties to solve the case is still underway, as cinema chains, especially the one with hundreds of sites, face the threat of closure and leaving many out of jobs in this hard time.
The domino effect is at the brink of happening. The country's reputation is at stake, because nobody is interested to do business here.
Local filmmakers may have greater challenge to up their antes to fill empty screens and bring audiences back to cinema. I have somewhat hope and encouragement in this, that despite limited support in facilities, education and vast human resources, there'll be magic in the making. Hopefully.

In a less eloquent note, I can ask you all: please don't give up on our local cinema. Who knows how long we will have to wait until the dark clouds have been lifted off of the sky, but don't give up. The least of the very least is cherishing the memory for future generations to come that for once, a true filmgoing activity happened and was vividly alive in the face of the town.

Dec 30, 2010

2010: Indonesian Film Scene in a Year

After previous editions of annual Indonesian film kaleidoscope were published in The Jakarta Post, this year my take was published in The Jakarta Globe. Different papers, but pretty much similar observation, if not somewhat diminishing in hope. Yes, it was hard enough to start writing about the state of our film scene, as the year 2010 was nothing but bleak clouds looming over our local film scene: dwindling box-office returns, no Indonesian films in major film festivals in the world, and titles that alienate many to furthest distance.

Read the article, aptly retitled as Year of the Flop For Indonesian Film-Making by the copy editors of the paper. I couldn't do it better, so thank you, guys.
Also the graphic design team for the image below (taken directly from www.thejakartaglobe.com)

What gets left behind is the scene within the sideline of the film-making circle itself.
There were interesting occurrences happened to my amusement and wonder, somehow they bring back my faith that regardless to the mundane state of the film-making, this is the field that everybody likes to be in, be it as a maker or audience.

Which one of the following "events" did you participate in, or even aware of?


Highlights of Film-Related Experience in 2010

At least for us in Jakarta, looking back the past year, we find that cinematic life does not only happen inside darkened cinema hall. 
It has started, extended and stretched beyond what is projected on big screen. 
Take a trip down memory lane and see if you actually participated in the list below:

1. What is being talked about in Twitter is worth checking out in real life
What begun as an almost rejected application intended to work as a Post-It note has now changed lives of people and things, including films. Notable cases:

a. Released in Christmas Eve last year, Hindi film 3 Idiots became a little film that could. With only one film print being released in one cinema of Blitzmegaplex in Grand Indonesia, the film slowly developed a huge following. The story about the importance of education touched many hearts, those who already saw posted their mini reviews on Twitter. Needles to say these reviews spread faster than thr wind, they induced repeated viewings, in addition to the more audiences. The film stayed in the cinema for more than 3 months, with additional print subsequently imported. No other film stayed that long at the top of box office in recent local cinema history.

b. Without intending to boast, but being an organizer for Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest), the response to the news of the festival being in danger of cancellation was overwhelming. The festival, which has been a staple for more than a decade, could not recoup the much needed two months before the festival. People reacted by declaring their support of “Save JIFFest” on Twitter, and the support finally brought the festival to sponsorship attention again. The festival was held, filmgoers attended, and for that, we humbly thanked many for their undying support.

2. Reflecting the point above, continuing film festivals in town that have been around for more than half a decade were on fire this year. Two unfortunate cases:

a. In its 8th year, Queer Film Festival (Q! Film Festival) received serious threats from Front of Islamic Defender (Forum Pembela Islam – FPI) that prompted two venues abruptly cancelled their support to the festival. The fact that the festival suffered from such in its 8th year surprised many, and condemnation to FPI continued. However, the festival managed to go on, albeit under more thorough security protection.

b. The supposedly ultimate recognition of Indonesian filmmaking, Festival Film Indonesia (FFI), has again estranged itself from Indonesian filmgoers. First, the festival released its short-listed film selection that did not include the year’s highest grossing film Sang Pencerah (The Enlightened One). Next, the media and public pressure to the festival for excluding the film heightened, with eventually the selection committee fired the festival’s jury members, the first of such happened in the festival history. The old jury members released their choices of winners, no surprise that the above film won, while the festival assembled new jury members and chose other film, the little seen 3 Hati 2 Dunia 1 Cinta (3 Hearts 2 Worlds 1 Love) as the best.

3. Looking at those titles, we may think that other Indonesian films released this year bear similarities. Wrong. The low-brow, C-grade films continue exploring absurd, demeaning and often impossible-to-translate titles, such as Diperkosa Setan (Raped by Satan), Hantu Puncak Datang Bulan (Ghost at the Peak of Menstruation, eventually banned and re-released under different title a few months later), Kain Kafan Perawan (good luck in translating!), and the latest is undecidedly hilarious Cyin, Tetangga Gue Kuntilanak (Dear, My Neighbor is a She-Devil).

4. Some of those films featured imported adult-film actresses, most of them from Japan and Korea. This is not new, the practice has been done in 1980s and 1990s, yet the fuss continued to prompt many to find the kind of films that made them popular.

5. The film Eat, Pray, Love may be worth mentioning in Worst Film list, but it did not help getting full support and praise from Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The ministry, in charge of the nation’s film scene, did not do such to other local films.

6. Attendance of Indonesian film has been declining sharply, the lowest in the past five years. Not even having US President on the title (Obama Anak Menteng - Obama From Menteng) could help, despite getting international media spotlight.
7. Musical becomes the darling genre, but not in big screen. Instead, musical finds its way to stage, with the success of Gita Cinta the Musical (adapted from the classic 1980s Indonesian teen melodrama film of the same name) prompted subsequent efforts. Interestingly, all attempts are made by big names in Indonesian cinema: Garin Nugroho did Diana, based on a Koes Plus song; Joko Anwar scripted the original socio-commentary piece Onrop! The Musical; and duo Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza brought their commercial and critical hit Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) to become a song-and-dance showcase. Now there’s an extension to a successful film franchise.

Dec 29, 2010

Top DVDs (Home Viewing) 2010

The idea of top DVD list should expand beyond the film itself: technical specifications, special features, packaging, etc. But, living in the country of easy access to pirated stuff, be it on the open black market (5 floors of pirated DVD, anyone?), or virtually through swift access of Internet downloads, the idea of home viewing shifts from exploring a rich content of original DVD to catching up with films not shown on big screen here.
It's hard to resist the temptation, indeed.
Nobody is left unexposed to this unprecedented access of latest films. If you wish to catch up with awards season, surely the city and the country here is a haven.
Taking the opposite direction myself, I am doing my best to catch up with the past, instead. Just like what I have always been doing before moving here: savoring my nights and weekends with unseen classics, from those came more than seven decades ago to recent ones, too.
What differs is the means of getting them: the abundance of these easy-to-get stuff contains some unexpected classics, and that's where I get my hands on them this year:

- The Boat that Rocked

Pardon the pun, but the film rocked from the start, and I soon found myself in the good company of men and DJs. The linking backstory of a young guy at his coming-of-age phase could have been developed better for more emotional purpose, after all, it's helmed by Richard Curtis. However, we settle for the killer 1960s playlist. What a great loving tribute to the music of the era! It's safe to say that when Curtis lends his hand on a project at human level, he will shamelessly devour his passion on the work. Think of Love, Actually. and you get the idea. It's an ode to a great music, and we'll settle for that.

- Nashville

Another music-themed film on the list, yet taking a different approach of being set in a life-like situation where events unfold with little to nothing sort of obedience to the narrative structure. In short: Altmanesque. Yes, we find overlapping dialogues, fire-cracking lines spoken by different characters at the same time. The sole moment of reflection occurs at the scene of Keith Carradine's "I'm Easy", easily the most soulful and solemn moment that brings all characters together. It is the pinnacle of the film, the easygoing attitude that culminates in a quiet moment of desperation, failure and yearning that define each one of the characters here. Interview with Robert Altman in the special features gives a rich inside look, as he always graciously did in many of his DVDs. He was indeed the great one.

- When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

The film marks my first entry to the yet undiscovered world of Mikio Naruse, perhaps the lesser known of Japanese film directors in the mid of 20th century. It is not fair to conclude anything from one title only, but seeing the fine craft of this domestic drama (the film revolves on how a woman maintains her dignity against the pressure of big city life), my hunch tells me that his works may be on par with those of Douglas Sirk's: easily dismissed on the surface level, yet underneath, it gives a vivid portrayal of how the present society works. It helps, too, that I watched the Criterion version, allowing superb technical specs to do justice to the film's outstanding quality.

- Two Lovers

How can the core premise of two women and a guy win one over? For one, I certainly was not. What drew me: Cannes selection, directed by James Gray, casts led by Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. For once, the gamble paid off. A true small-scale drama that observes each of the object in great, intimate details (the other party being Vinessa Shaw in wonderfully subtle supporting turn), the film hooks us with silence or little talks that unravel emotions underneath. For a home viewing, it is indeed a rarity to find us glued to small screen enthusiastically await for emotional bursts to happen. Do they? Watch yourself.

- Taare Zamen Par

Seeing how effective Aamir Khan as an actor and apparently, behind-the-scene force, handles a subject of education on big screen in 3 Idiots, I came across this title expecting the same. After all, I had been aware of its commercial and critical successes, as similar to 3 Idiots. But I gained more. Yes, watching Taare left me misty eyed, as I did not expect that someone in his directorial debut can give a great abundance of heart and turning an otherwise sappy drama into ... Well, let's face it, it is still sentimental, yet the dramatic moments roll out in narrative logic that is hard not to be taken to the magical and misunderstood world of Ishaan, the central character. Having a soft spot for a director who is apt at directing non-professional children, Aamir successfully turns Taare into a very human film that simply takes us to feel.

- A Face In the Crowd

It was the film I chose in the wake of Patricia Neal's passing. It was the good choice in relations to the event, but it was a better choice in the line of Elia Kazan's filmography, in relations to a special interview with the master I saw on another film. As a nail-biting satire, the story runs from sharp to heartbreaking affection that leaves me wondering: the media world never changes in the span of half a decade. As a film, it may be a star-in-the-making pad for Andy Griffith, turning his madcap character to delusional state with conviction. Yet I was more drawn to Patricia's feisty turn that never feels forced at once, and a rare quiet performance by Walter Matthau who, let's admit it, hardly received our acknowledgment as audience in his dramatic turn. For a home viewing, the film works to ponder what we just see on the tube.

- A Touch of Class

It's a comedy of errors, and yes, the fire-cracking lines fly off the wall to our delight. Add that with steely look of Glenda Jackson in her performance that, arguably, one of the strongest Academy has ever recognized, especially in the rare comedy field. Never succumbs to being a weak character, Glenda exudes, pardon the pun, the much needed touch of class for this adult-relationship comedy. The script may falter towards the concluding point, yet Glenda carries the torch with her firm persona that elevates the whole viewing experience, initially set as a lazy weekend home viewing, to that rare home viewing where you sit up straight to observe her performance.

- Make Way For Tomorrow

 This may be the most un-Hollywood film Hollywood has ever made. Featuring very old people as central characters? Hint of socialism among society shattered by economic chaos? And for film-buff: being remade by Yasujiro Ozu for his legendary Tokyo Story? It is hard not to be left unmoved and unaffected by Leo McCarey's deft direction. He swifts from heavy dramatic moments to easy breezy loving situations in subtle manners. In fact, at times Make Way feels real that we cannot help but wonder if these characters live among us. They may do, and as proven by the superb Criterion's extras, not less than film-enthusiast film director Peter Bogdanovich and film scholars believe that the dramatic film deserves a mention in the history learning of America during Depression era. As a film study, it is worth examining. As a film itself, in the famous words of Orson Welles: "it will make hearts made of stone cry."

Dec 28, 2010

Top Films of 2010: The Top 10

The year of living dangerously. 
Oh really?

More like the year of living plainly, with variety of world cinema on big screen continues to move at a stagnant pace, thus creating heavy reliance on other sources of entertainment, i.e. pirated DVDs, online downloads and did I just say online downloads? 
Despite the minister of information and communication’s effort to block several sites, seems that getting films on the internet has become increasingly common these days.
But then watching films on small screen still cannot match the joy of watching films on big screen, albeit constant disruption of flickering lights from our mobile phones. Thus, it takes a film of an extraordinary level to make me and us at the edge of our seats, enthusiastically or sometimes anxiously await each scene unfolds and most of the times the endings that simply won’t go away. Those films that luckily we find this year are:

10. The Ghost Writer (date of watching: April 11, 2010, – my birthday! – at Setiabudi 21)

Brilliant! That's the very first word that came to mind when the final scene, of which something happens to the main character while he is off-screen but still leaves us gasping, ends, and the twists are unveiled. Having done numerous political thrillers on Roman Polanski's rich body of works, topped by Chinatown obviously, The Ghost Writer wraps itself in a much more sophisticated manner, accentuated by the overall look of the film and set designs, than Polanski's previous works. What brings them together is his acute direction that delivers engaging thriller with stellar performances undoubtedly guided by his order. Of all, it is easy to single out Olivia Williams for extracting the juiciest role in the film to a satisfying level. Next is Ewan McGregor, once again showing that once he is faithful to the material, he is willing to go extra miles for that. More subtly is Pierce Brosnan's smooth maneuver from suave to stern throughout the whole film. Plus, whoever can direct Kim Cattrall is always a plus.

9. 3 Idiots (date of watching: January 12, 2010, at Blitzmegaplex Grand Indonesia)

The biggest Bollywood hit of all time turns out to be the funniest and the most educative, so to speak. It may not challenge the convention of typical Bollywood film, with song-and-dancing breakout scenes, yet it manages to bring that to lesser dominance, with the educational content that surely hits the pang of many who have gone through such rigorous educational experience reigns above. The indicator of a good film is simplified by this film: it shall never bore its audiences to yawn. Throughout the entire 3-hour plus duration, not a single sleepy moment.

8. Scott Pilgrim vs the World (date of watching: December 12, 2010 at Kineforum)

A little cheat here: I watched this on DVD at time when the film is confirmed for JIFFest. However, having finally watched the film in its entirety on big screen when the festival ended confirmed my choice. The film takes a comic adaptation to its highest level to date when you see superb, almost zany editing is matched with quirky characters and witty one-liners that will leave you rooting for characters and engrossed in every single scene of the film. If that’s not the definition of a perfectly enjoyable film, I don’t know what is.

7. Incendies (date of watching: December 3, 2010, at Blitzmegaplex Pacific Place)

The shocking, unbelievable twist at the ending shows how this film is carefully crafted, built and delicately made to leave no single viewer unaffected. The fact that it is made from a stage play also shows that you don’t need to be confined to limited staging interpretations when adapting the play. Director Dennis Villeneuve brings the darkest side of human psychology to a very human level that, despite its bleakest moments of torture, the film makes captive of our heart.

6. Buried (date of watching: December 11, 2010, at Setiabudi 21)

The film-geek in me jumped with excitement even during the first few minutes of the film, where nothing but darkness filled the screen, only the sound of a man gasping for air is heard. It is a bravura of filmmaking that leaves one in awe. For filmmakers, it is a dream to be daring in making a film with one set and one character, yet the ability to build tension is good enough to make audiences drawn to their seats the whole time, if not feeling relieved once the house lights are turned on. Who needs 3D glasses anyway?

5. Summer Hours (date of watching: April 17, 2010, at Platinum XXI, fX)

As the film continues to unfold in moving-forward narrative flows, my mind begins to cast backward to personal recollection. In the end, when the film decides to move ahead, so is our mind to realize that in reality, life goes on. The simple idea of a story developed into a superb film with subtle performances, so subtle that is riveting, echoes loud to viewers with families, and those with a special feeling towards the families. In short: everyone. We are truly lucky that everyone involved in the film seems to be all-game in giving their honest, aforementioned subtleness, and convincing contributions to make the film a must-see family portrait.

4. Toy Story 3 (date of watching: June 20, 2010, at Blitzmegaplex Pacific Place)

It's not just a sequel: it's an ode to growing up. No companies knew this better than Disney, having been around for almost a century to entertain kids, and with each passing generation, the company is forced to rethink its strategy by paying respect to the older generation while ushering the new ones. After several failed attempts, Disney found its home in Pixar. In other words, Toy Story 3 may be the most autobiographical film from Disney and Pixar yet. How both companies can come up with the idea is beyond our knowledge, but for a company that puts a good story above all (Pixar), we shouldn't wonder that much. No other recent film captures the essence of growing up more convincingly.

3. Up In the Air (date of watching: February 20, 2010, at Setiabudi 21)

It's been awhile a film could shake us, leave us thinking of our life values and choices, that in the end, we cherish, applaud and be thankful for a film like this comes along our way. In his most mature outing yet, Jason Reitman shows his finest direction and writing that all result in a very human story. This is a film richly filled with metaphors and questions. With that, layer after layer in its story are worth being viewed over and over again. It comes with a bonus of the utmost peak performances from the three-hander: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. It will only make the viewing experience more delightful, and it will make us believe that what we see on big screen is our own lives. Perhaps the most important yet personal film of the decade.

2.  The Social Network (date of watching: November 7, 2010, at Epicentrum XXI)

Why the film is important? Because it captures the birth of how we communicate to others in the present time. It does manage to bring us in to the history in the making that pretty much defines our life. The film carries a high degree of importance, indeed. I don’t mind calling it the defining film of our present social life. But at the heart of it is a love story that we can always relate to. How the film manages to bridge romance, drama, historical importance and a thrilling tension of scientific discovery should be credited to the brilliance of David Fincher. This may be his small-scale drama at its best.

1. Inception (date of watching: July 15, 2010, at Plaza Senayan XXI)

Ever gotten out of mind-bending, puzzling dream that when you wake up, you will be left thinking about the dream all the time? That the thought never leaves you at once and you keep thinking about it obsessively? 
That gives an almost literal explanation about Inception
Calling it a high-concept thriller is a grave understatement, for the film, being a genre-bending work of art, rises above possible explanations. Those who wish to leave the dream away will be drawn back to pieces by pieces recollection, be it the use of Edith Piaf's "Non je ne regrette riens", the ensemble cast that forms as a whole inseparable unit, or the mind of Christopher Nolan. Keeping and improving a story for more than a decade do not necessarily make it overcooked. Inception is a film that will be analyzed, studied, interpreted and re-interpreted to uncover its endless layers.

Speaking of layers, from these top tiers, there are others following behind who also gave me memorable times at cinema this year. The honor rolls are for:

a. Let Me In – a loving and very human coming-of-age story that speaks tenderly to us despite its tame gory scenes;
b. The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans – the most badass film I saw on big screen this year where Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top performance is the sole key to enjoy the film;
c. The Disappearance of Alice Creed – high-concept thriller with minimum cast members and maximum enjoyment of unveiling one twist after another;
d. Kick-Ass – pardon the pun, but I had a high kick-ass time watching flawed action heroes having the times of their lives;
e. When You’re Strange – clearly the filmmakers are somehow The Doors’ worshippers, yet the fan-like attitude helps getting the film made in the right way as the most comprehensive yet lovingly tribute to the band;
f. Peepli [Live] – if Frank Capra is still alive, he would have been proud with this film that bears traces to his best, and we can’t get enough of the gritty images of India;
g. Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini – call what you wish, but I am drawn to Dickensian twist of the plot, and the nitpicking views of product placement in the film actually heightens the intended satire;
h. Agora – in a year of religious clashes, a small film like this puts us to re-examining the importance of religion in a very low-key cinematic manner, despite its big-budget scale of production;
i. Le Petit Nicolas – can’t resist the charm of old-school children story that leaves everyone of all ages captivated;
j. Splice & Shutter Island – both misunderstood films that worth revisiting for its, admit it, apparent flaws that perhaps get better by time.

Thus, it was the year of living cinematically. So to speak.

Dec 27, 2010

Top Films of 2010: Disappointing Films

Looking back at 2010, local cinemas continued to offer less variety in their programming. Aiming at squeezing big bucks is understood at the expense of us having to settle with whatever available, as long as we get to see them on big screen. Thus, we have become and grown up by the familiarity of Hollywood plotting. As the Mecca continued churning out their products, we have adjusted our seats to accommodate big buckets of popcorn and enough space to check our cellphones during the screening. In other words: the films can be of any quality, as long as we are not drawn in entirely throughout their durations.
Avoiding the mere mention of "bad films" in the above explanation and below, I'd like to share with you all my disappointment over what could have been a good film. Yet, somehow the makers miss the potential of the premises or the concepts. Instead, they drove the whole filmmaking process into something like these (based on the date of viewing):

1. Nine

How can Rob Marshall fail to put sympathy or empathy to the film's characters? Isn't he supposed to be familiar enough with the leading man character, Guido Contini, the film director facing creative fizzle? Being a fan of the musical genre myself, I had had high expectation for this. Who doesn't with the enviable cast? Yet, Rob Marshall makes the film as a distant stage experience, disallowing us to relate to any of the characters, and make them looking like a window display we see from afar. 

2. Clash of the Titans

When you want to make a bad film, make it camp. When you can't remake a camp out of the original film that has achieved cult status despite (suspiciously intentionally) the bad concept, then don't. Supposedly a mindless action flick that left me bored as I kept looking at my watch and wanting the film to end, the film failed to amuse me even a little. No, not even waiting for the infamous "Release the Kranken!" line would make the film worth watching. Totally a crime for such genre.

3. Sex and the City 2

Being a fan of the series with gallery of quote-worthy one-liners, I gave this a second chance, hoping the makers would get it right this time. The misfire on the first attempt sparks a little hope of improvement. But boy, what a total major blow!
Getting a sponsor from a Middle-Eastern country's tourism board allows the film to morph into a promotional video advertisement. For that matter, I couldn't help but wonder and pitying the women forced into walking mannequin of selfish and lifeless persona. Why do we have to care about these women on big screen, again?

4. Tanah Air Beta

After the honest and earnest King, I have a firm hope for Ari Sihasale as a director and his team of filmmakers to actually have a story worth telling beyond the exotic locales. It's okay to have King built similarly along the lines of Denias, the film of which Ari produced. Yet, Tanah was too busy being enchanted by the panoramic landscape views of its set (Flores, and East Timor?), and put proper storytelling aside. As such, we are left wondering why the two main characters keep wandering faithfully to a half-baked set-up and equally anti-climactic resolution. We praise them, but we couldn't help wishing how with a little retouch the film could have had more profound emotional impact beyond looking at postcards sold in museum.

5. Knight & Day

The last time we saw the pairing of Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz was in slightly messy but hugely watchable Vanilla Sky. The film saw Cameron takes control of every scene she's in over Tom. Important lesson to note? It didn't work otherwise. Or at least, not in the film. Then again, the whole film is already a victim for unconvincing storyline that, despite being a supposedly high-geared action film, never lifts off of the ground. Weird pacing that forces audiences to sit through the end, the film is best left forgotten.

6. Eat, Pray, Love

How can you forgive a supposedly drama/romantic comedy turned into a depressing film that leaves you loathing the film? In what arguably the most annoying character Julia Roberts has ever played, we are left scratching our head, wondering if it is possible to relate and like the character at all, something of a must-have-item for a film of this kind to succeed.
Worse, with the exception of Italy part, Ryan Murphy and team seem to be left clueless on how to capture the atmosphere of India and Indonesia in the picture. The result is bland, but this does not have worse effect than finding the whole film sucking out your positive attitude and energy. I left the cinema in full anger. Bad.romantic.comedy (or whatever the genre film is) ever.

7. Tron: Legacy

If I wanted to listen to Daft Punk electrifying scores only, here's what I do: I'll just buy the CD or download the music files and listen to the scores at my convenience at home.
I don't need to pay premium 3D price to fall asleep.

There goes my disappointment.

Obviously there are other worse films, but those fortunately/unfortunately had not been met with prior expectation or seen as having potential premise on paper. Thus, their thud quality was greeted with indifference.

Come back tomorrow for more positive aura in the best of the year! :)

-- Image of Tanah Air Beta is courtesy of www.thejakartapost.com. For all other images, courtesy of www.outnow.ch. --

Dec 26, 2010

Top Films of 2010: Top Filmgoing Experience

Catch up with the introduction here.

The year 2010 actually gave me very few options in local filmgoing experience. The lack of variety in terms of cinema I go to and the films themselves made the whole experience almost forgettable, had it not for these following films (arranged by the date of viewing):

1. Duo Kribo (Indonesia, 1977, directed by Eduard Pesta Sirait)

For the past three years, Kineforum has done excellent work in bringing filmgoers in town to revisit classic Indonesian films through its annual program of Indonesian Film Month.
The program is made in conjunction of National Cinema Day at March 30.
Little did I expect that on one Sunday afternoon (March 14, 2010), I would be sucked in to a psychedelic world of Indonesian classic rock of 1970s, arguably the finest point of the genre historical timeline.
The print bears traces of its recent treatment, which leaves out with purple-ish spots in some scenes. The storyline may be tad simple with no room for subtlety, let alone proper character development.
Yet everyone involved, including then young Achmad Albar and Ucok AKA Harahap, who also penned the film with Remy Sylado, seemed to be taken to the core world of rock-n-roll, and it is a good thing to make a highly ecstatic viewing.
I watched it in the old studio of Kineforum (139 seats) that was packed with audiences, leaving a few sat on the floor. The closest I could get to relive the experience of local classic rock in cinema!

(Image courtesy of www.akumassa.org)

2. Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story (Thailand, 2009, directed by Adisorn Trisirikasem)

What's the next bad thing when your laughter got disrupted by electrical failure? Why, it's laughing at a genuinely funny romantic comedy and got disrupted by electrical failure, of course!
I watched the film for the first time in Blitzmegaplex Grand Indonesia sometime in April 2010. All alone on Thursday evening, I enjoyed the film thoroughly from the get-go, as scenes and characters continue to charm us ... Until the big screen stopped playing the film immediately, house lights were turned on, and after a few minutes, the film started again.
Started at the minute the film had stopped? No.
Being screened in digital format, the film took its time to find the right minute, switched back and forth, eventually we settled at a few minutes before the stopped.
Did the film continue playing smoothly? No.
The cycle of the whole film playing again - then stopped - then house lights were turned on - the film being replayed happened for not less than 4 times. Eventually, instead of laughing, audiences remained cautious, anticipating the power failure. Imagine: watching a romantic comedy with a serious, stern, and smile-less face!
And it happened again. The entire screening was canceled.
Was I shocked? You bet.
It took me three weeks to finally return to the same cinema to watch the film, and boy! I was truly captivated and won over by the film's charm.
It made me laugh, cry, and as far as make-believe necessary in making a romantic comedy work, the film gives a prime example of how magic should be created on big screen. The wholesome package entices you all through the end, and it only made the film dearly placed in my memory for a long time to come.

(Image courtesy of www.enjoythaicinema.com)

3. Piranha (USA, 2010, directed by Alexandre Aja)

Remake of the 1978 film of the same name, the updated version won over the film buff in me by putting Richard Dreyfuss in the middle of a lake, ready to be the first victim of the mammal. Get it? And about the concept of putting the introductory scene of first killing prior to the title, get it? But what I did not expect is the hilarity of the film!
I watched this on Saturday night (August 28) with three friends, and we could not stop laughing, sometimes intentionally pointing at fake corpses, genital parts and other scenes. Too bad we watched it in an upscale cinema in a posh shopping mall (as the norm of how local filmgoing experience is commonly done here). If only we watched it on a drive-in cinema or in a public outdoor cinema, those scenes would definitely induce booing, clapping and cat-calling that indicate nothing but pure fun! Censorship cuts were maniacally excising as many nudity scenes as possible, which in the end was a joke on its own.
Truly fun and riotous, indeed!

(Image courtesy of www.moviecastlist.com)

4. Dawai 2 Asmara (Indonesia, 2010, directed by Endri Pelita, Asep Kusdinar)

This might be the most unpretentious filmgoing experience I have this year.
After 17 years of absence on big screen, not even cameo, the king of dangdut Rhoma Irama returns to the big screen with the formula he knows how: shameless plugs of over-the-top dangdut scenes, keeping the storyline simple, and leave the rest to average-to-mediocre filmmaking at its best. Don't even analyze the half-baked, supposedly pivotal love story here.
Still, that doesn't mean some scenes are hardly original: nobody does musical scene in Jakarta's airport yet, and Indonesian film buff might be in treat for trivia of Rhoma Irama's own filmography!
Gladly I chose the film as my first Lebaran film. Saw this two days prior to Lebaran holiday, a period known as holy grail of Indonesian box office receipts, the cinema I went to was relatively empty, with less than half capacity being filled in.
Still, that didn't deter me from smiling, laughing, even clapping at selected scenes where I can't think of words other than "camp" that is done with genuine faith to the material. You'll be left with nothing but respect to still-under-appreciated dangdut genre!

(Image courtesy of www.21cineplex.com)

5. Soul Kitchen (Germany, 2009, directed by Fatih Akin)

The name Fatih Akin and the genre comedy are two distant entities that we never thought they would come together. But when they do appear in one sentence, we don't expect that it's going to be a madcap comedy that leaves people rolling on the floor laughing so hard it hurts!
Especially one did not expect the roaring laughter to fill a festival venue. Watched this on Monday night (November 8, 2010) during Europe on Screen, I saw a rarity of Erasmus Huis (350 seats) being a full-house venue, despite being an auditorium without proper cinematic seating system. Yet, that did not stop audiences from bringing the house down with laughter, sometimes often commenting on scenes which I did not find annoying. Another rarity, indeed, as if it was a genuine open-air cinema experience (strange: I find the English translation of layar tancap has a less immediate accessible approach) that one does not get to experience in many international film festivals in the country. Yes, critical observation may find the film being, perhaps, the weakest link from Fatih's impressive dramatic filmography. But the light breeze of how the film unfolds seems to show how Fatih might be having a good time making the film, because we, the audiences, clearly have a rollicking good time watching it.

(Image courtesy of www.thefilmstage.com)

6. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall The Past Lives (Thailand, 2010, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

"If I get to see the film *finally* on big screen, I'll cry!"
That's the statement I made to my friend at the desperate hour of getting the film here. Scheduled for screening at this year's JIFFest, we got the film quite at the last minute as we did not expect that either The Match Factory (the film's distributor) or in fact the director himself, Joe, had actually booked the film for the festival. Then there were the disastrous delays: from Cologne to Goa to Chiang Mai to Denver to finally Jakarta, it was a nightmare for me and my fellow JIFFest team in programming department, as the finally came after being late for a few days, and we switched to another shipping company.
The dramatic moment, indeed.
But such drama was predictably absent on big screen. I saw the film one day after the festival officially ended, as we put up a special screening for Friends of JIFFest on Monday (December 6, 2010). It was a surreal experience indeed. I have to confess that prior to the film, I only saw one film by Apichatpong on big screen, i.e. Tropical Malady. It was weird, challenging and unforgettable. The lack of narrative linear structure allows Joe to invite us in his meditative world, switching back and forth between dream and reality the way Christopher Nolan might not imagine.
Being a mystical and mythical film, watching it on the eve of Islamic New Year's holiday (often referred by Javanese as "Malam 1 Suro" that has been made into urban legends in films and literature works) heightens the otherworldly quality of the film. After all, Joe purely made a subtle horror with equally 'hidden' slapstick comedy approach, which all in all, has made the film strangely accessible to anyone dare enough to open their mind for a filmgoing experience unlike any others.

Thus, it completes the journey for this year.

(Image courtesy of www.tribute.ca)

But what about another films that leave me stunned and speechless?
Intentionally I avoid repeated entries for this year's listing.

Thus, come back tomorrow and the days after for Top 10 Films of 2010!

Dec 25, 2010

Top Films of 2010: Introduction

Let's get this out of our chest: it wasn't a great year to remember to start this posting with.

The last year of the first decade in the 21st century has given us, at best, average cinematic outputs.

Add that with constant distraction from rampant pirated DVDs, checking out BlackBerry on very annoying too-often basis during film screenings, and other events, 2010 will not go down as the year I will remember fondly in terms of filmgoing experience.

However, being an optimist as I am and having worked for the past few years trying to get people to cinema, I find that despite the above occurrences, cinema remains attractive.

Watching films on big screen is still the best way to enjoy make-believe stories, an escapade of our mundane daily chores, a place to collectively gather our attention to one singular story in silence, and sitting in a darkened hall throughout an hour or two may be something nostalgic in the future.

Thus, I'd like to hang on to it as long as I can.

Living in a country where variety of world cinema other than the realms of Hollywood, Bollywood, and Mandarin is something of a rarity, we often have to deal and make use the best of what's present.

Turning to illegal products is unavoidable, yet one needs not to look far from the above paragraph that the communal activity of religiously going to cinema completes ourselves as a person. Too much? I just can't live in a city without cinema, that's all.  :)

With the above words in mind, I present to you my selection of Top Films of 2010 in the following categories:

1. Top Filmgoing Experience
There are 6 (six) films I saw in local cinemas this year that gave me purely aesthetic and ecstatic experiences that stay with me long after I left the cinema.

2. Top Disappointing Films
I restrict myself to 7 (seven) films with theatrical releases in local cinema this year, of which all of these films fail to live up to their potential. Thus, they may not be necessarily "bad" or "worst" films commonly featured in the year-end lists. A few may be familiar, though.

3. The Worth-Second-Chance Films
Not less than 8 (eight) films that I would give a second chance in viewing/observing/analyzing again. When I watched them for the first time in cinema, I wasn't quite sure how to make of them. But overtime, the thoughts of these films occasionally popped up in my mind, ensuring myself that they might be worth revisiting.

4. The Honor Rolls
You may call this as runner-up lists of 9 (nine) films that are too close to call with the next category.

5. The Top 10 Films of 2010
Pretty self-explanatory. Can't resist the idea of 10 (films) in the year of 2010. Will there be 11 films next year? We'll see.

But what you already can see from the lists above are films only released in Indonesian cinemas in 2010. Definitely some 2009 releases will be included, and sadly, I'll have to leave out some films released at the end of 2010 that already mentioned in this year's award season's accolades.
There will always be next year.

Also, I intentionally leave out DVDs and screeners, as it would not be fair to the idea of filmgoing experience in cinema.

Until then, enjoy!

Aug 21, 2010

For Aan

Today, I lost a childhood friend to the hands of God.

At least, that's what I'd like to believe, for it is beyond my knowledge if God embraces those who come to see Him by hands, arms, or perhaps by other means of power I am not capable in knowing of.

What I am sure of is that my friend is on his way to meet God.

At least that's what I'd like to believe.

It springs from the moment we started being friends when we were new kids in elementary school.
We moved in to the new school when we were in fourth grade, and being the two new kids in the class, we became close.

Closer, in fact, that we found out our homes were merely five-minute apart from each other.
Thus began our long walks we shared after school ended, which extended to exploring uncharted routes in small villages, finding out new places to play, kept walking and running until it was not only the school sessions that ended, but also the whole elementary school period.

We went to the same junior high school, yet temptations to find new friends were hard to resist.

We continued our encounters in the same senior high school, yet this is the time when cliques matter, of which we differ quite greatly.

Acknowledgment is enough to make us aware that each of us is present, albeit in different place, different time, and with occasional gathering under the pretense of reunion and holiday visit, we catch up.

Until now.

Today, I lost my childhood friend.

But today, I also found out that, despite the absence of many unbelievable years and missed chances, I discovered his sweet innocence as a kid who, at the tender age of a boy about to become a teenager, already possessed calm and charming persona.

Thus, I will hang on to that particular memory.

I believe, what became of him in his later years,  they were mirrors of his childhood. The moment which I am proud to be close to.

Today, I found you again.

Now, rest in peace, An.

Mar 11, 2010

It's Good to be Back

After a very long hiatus, I've decided to come back blog again.

Having made writing one of possible means to support myself financially, I didn't realize how far I was removed from the joy of writing nonsense about things I like most, without the burden of pleasing editors and meeting deadlines.

However, the said experience will reflect nonetheless in future entries.
That is another way of saying how age has been catching up on me :)

First things first: before I post new entries, I have to do some sort of cleaning up to this long-neglected home.

Some changes I have planned/thought about:
- No more shoutbox.
Any greetings should be directed to comment section.

- Catching up with the latest features on Blogger dashboard.
This will take some time.

- Keeping the same template, or more or less the same color scheme with a new template, while accommodating the changes.

And, since blogwalking has been considered a thing of the past, I hope any wanderers out there who stumble or come across unintentionally to this blog would be kind enough to offer me advise or tips-and-tricks in re-designing blog.

Anyone who offer me Viagra or 1 billion Nigerian dollars is also welcome to my grandma's dinner. She's been dead for decades.

Hope to see some familiar names, be them the returning or the new ones.

Love you all!


PS: In the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite songs sung by one of the greatest legendary singers ever graced the Earth. Been stored long enough in my Favorites tab on Youtube, little did I realize that the title alone reflects the on-and-off pause of the page.

Jan 16, 2010

3 Idiots

As much as I have enjoyed watching Bollywood films all my life, never before that the enjoyment is brought to a new height like what 3 Idiots has brought.

The biggest Bollywood hit of all time, so far, turns out to be a pleasing work with the right dose of heart, and firm assurance of its own standpoint. The issue of education being a stepping stone to wealth and prosperity rather than characters building hits home to audiences everywhere, making this easily a critical and commercial cross over success.

As shown in his previous film Lage Raho Munna Bhai, director Rajkumar Hirani believes that as long as the content is able to stand on its own, he can take care of the rest of a film's production values. While many contemporary Indian films try hard to win over foreign markets by slowly distancing themselves from Bollywood fun roots, 3 Idiots does a fair share to make it distinctively Bollywood.

Yet Hirani pumps the film with sleeker and slicker look than Munna Bhai, which viewers everywhere can be lured easily with gorgeously photographed panoramic views. 

It may not challenge the convention of typical Bollywood film in its cinematic look, with song-and-dancing breakout scenes are still kept intact to which one number will please any musical fans with reference to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire 1930s MGM style.
Still, the film manages to bring that to lesser dominance, with the educational content that surely hits the pang of many who have gone through such rigorous educational experience reigns above. 

The indicator of a good film is simplified by this film: it shall never bore its audiences to yawn. Throughout the entire 3-hour plus duration, not a single sleepy moment.

Add that with the usual strong, believable performance by Aamir Khan, and the ever pitch-perfect comic timing of Boman Irani, in particular when he sees his daughter being taken away, we see a Bollywood commercial, mainstream film that manages to achieve what many films aim to: be inspiring.

A film like this does not come every year.

(courtesy of Filmicafe.com)

(Watched in Blitzmegaplex Grand Indonesia, Tuesday, January 12, 2010. With Edwin, Iskandar, Kenny, and their friends.)

Jan 8, 2010

Not Quite Hollywood

The last time I connected Australia and genre film was a few years ago, when I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, an eerie coming-of-age horror that brought Peter Weir to global fame.

Little did I know that there had been many exploitation films happening in Down Under way before that, and even Picnic did not actually start the revolution. It came on the last remaining years of the genre's popularity in Australia, at the time when the country started to concern about its exported film and started paying attention to literary classics or period pieces.
Thus came Picnic and subsequent films, including My Brilliant Career if we'd like to expand our common brief knowledge of Australian film.

With that preconception of not many people in the world are aware of the country's illustrious film output, Not Quite Hollywood sets itself as a highly informative documentary that never forgets the root of its subject: being unpretentious, gory and fun.

Director Mark Hartley clearly shows his passion in the subject, as evidenced by his no-holds-barred methods in getting direct, many political-incorrect statements from the interviewees.
You cannot get better explanatory work of a country's cinema than from the people who lived the heydays of the industry and the sparks in their eyes still tell how much they care about the film.

It is indeed a labor of love, which in the case of documentary film can be self-indulgent. Yet, extensive research and galore of clips showing excessive force-for-fun and envelope-pushing sex are enough as reminders to keep Hartley on track.
His tight, focused script makes viewing the film like flipping through a well-designed magazine: each chapter is given a clear-cut category, and inevitable crossing-over is presented with determined degrees of importance easy for one to differentiate.

If the sentence tries to outsmart the film, believe me, nothing can.
What else can beat boobs, pubes, kung-fu kicks, buckets of blood, all presented in a sassy style with brain and getting the endorsement from Quentin Tarantino himself? There!

(photo courtesy of Outnow)

(Watched on DVD, Region 4, Sunday, January 3, 2010. Bonus features include a press conference of the film's premiere in Melbourne International Film Festival.)

My Profile

My photo
Jakarta, Indonesia
A film festival manager. A writer. An avid moviegoer. An editor. An aspiring culinary fan. A man.