The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002)


Lucía and Jun-Dai at home on 25 May 2013.

Michael Caine is certainly one of the more watchable personalities in Hollywood. He carries this film very well.

I am not very knowledgeable about history, and while various books and films have been me some sense of what the Vietnam War was like from the American perspective (however inauthentic or inaccurate that impression may be), I have very little sense of what Saigon was like prior to the Americans’ involvement in the conflict.

There is a certain romance to being in the privileged class in in-between places and temporary limbos created by conflict, like in the film Casablanca. This film (and I presume the novel) captures Saigon in its prewar limbo in a way that feels very much like Graham Greene.

Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, 2013)


Lucía and Jun-Dai at the Empire Leicester Square on 25 May 2013.

In keeping with the J.J. Abrams tradition, Star Trek Into Darkness features a lot of spectacle, intense action sequences, poor character development, and a fairly simple and predictable plot.

Visually the film is quite something to look at. This was also my first time seeing a film in “Dolby Atmos“, although that really just mean the explosions were louder and coming from more directions—it didn’t really make the experience more immersive in any meaningful sense.

Abrams takes a lot of short cuts in his filmmaking, and while the whole film ties fairly neatly together, I’m left—as I was with his original Star Trek quasi-prequel—feeling like something is missing. Abrams is able to evoke much of the Star Trek world quite effectively, but he adds pretty much nothing to it. The various TV shows were generally about ideas and full of references to literature, etc. The films were mostly about character development, giving us a better idea of what makes Kirk Kirk, or what makes Spock Spock. In the abbrievated, homage-paying world of Abrams, we’re never really given time to reflect on the characters, and all of the action sequences seem like foregone conclusions. We know how the warp core scene is going to play out, we know how the fight on the levitating transports is going to play out, we know roughly how the two guys in space suits hurtling towards the airlock of the USS Vengeance while Scotty is stalling a security officer is going to play out. The overall effect of these scenes—action sequences with the end goal already clearly established and the means fairly strongly hinted at—is that we are riding a roller coaster whose course we know about in advance—it’s still exciting, but there are no surprises and when the ride is over we can leave it all behind us.

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)


Jun-Dai, Lucía, Arif, Ed, Ray, Philip (and others?) at the office on 3 May 2013 at about 20:00.

Less heavy-handed than I remember. I remember being really annoyed by the repetition of the head-hand-heart theme, but this time it seemed like it was just in a few key places.

The film definitely seems less fragmented in the 150-minute version than in the version I saw some 10 or more years ago.

3 May 2013Permalink

Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski, 2013)


Lucía and Jun-Dai at the BFI IMAX at 18:00 on 21 April 2013.

Not as visually stunning as I’d been led to believe from, but the film was less dumb than I expected. Kind of interesting to see this after watching Trance, since the films have a few things in common. Trance did a much better job of coming out with unexpected plot twists from nowhere, whereas in Oblivion everything is sort of banked on a couple of major plot twists, which are pretty well foreshadowed and entirely predictable.

Moon is a pretty obvious comparison point for Oblivion, although it is a much more focused film that really tries to grapple with a single problem.

Oblivion is one of those films that’s interesting to think about a bit, but start to seem pretty stupid if you think about it too much. Why do the drones suddenly stop working when the Tet explodes, given that they’re capable of running without it the rest of the time (such was when it’s on the other side of the planet)? Why do the vehicles and other devices have no remote operation? Once Jack is considered hostile, should pretty much everything stop working for him (hovercraft, gun)?

Oblivion‘s broad scope comes at a price—the story is told from Jack’s perspective, and we hear a bit of Julia and Malcolm’s history, but mostly the world is unknown to us. We only get a glimpse of what life is like for Malcolm’s crew. We have no idea what has happened to the rest of the world. The Tet itself is a bit of a MacGuffin, since all we see inside of it is empty space and pods—we are meant to imagine that a civilisation is there, but what that civilisation is like or how it lives is irrelevant. In this sense we realise that we are not really meant to care about what happens to humanity, we are really just concerned with what happens to Jack, since the story is about him.

There is an interesting question embedded in the film: If there are many Jacks and they all have an equal claim to loving Julia and to being the man she loves and married, and she knows no difference between them (except perhaps for the main Jack who’s gone off to get himself killed), how is one to deal with this problem? The film avoids this question, of course, as it does the question about what Jack would do about Victoria were he able to save her.

Victoria really gets the short end of the stick in the film. We are not meant to like her, because she’s a goody two shoes, and because she represents a usurper to our heroine Julia. She does nothing particularly wrong, but she’s treated as an unsympathetic character that somehow represents the lure of techno-fascist mindlessness of the world Jack inhabits in the beginning film, and she’s basically brushed away as a character. If the aliens had their way and were able to replace her with Julia-clones, then she really would have been brushed away to irrelevance on a whole other level.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)


Lucía and Jun-Dai at the Vue Cinemas Islington at 18:30 on 20 April 2013.

An entertaining thriller. It starts out as a heist film, but really ends up falling into the story-within-story, which-reality-is-real genre. Sort of an Inception-lite, if you will.

There’s a funny moment where Elizabeth’s shaved public hair moves from being an odd moment in a scene to a plot point.

There’s also a scene at a fancy restaurant called Yauatcha, which I’ve passed many times (though I’ve never gone in—it doesn’t look much like my sort of place).

In a way it’s a bit sad that it didn’t end up being more of a heist film. The heist scene itself was nicely set up and executed, and I think I’d have enjoyed the film more if it had been more about that and less about the character’s weird emotional interactions with each other.

Hagen Quartet playing Beethoven at the Wigmore Hall

They played the third Rasumovsky Quartet (Opus 59, No. 3) and the Opus 130 (including Grosse Fuge).

Jun-Dai, Lucía, and Sandy at the Wigmore Hall at 19:30 on 19 April 2013.

The fugue in last movement of Op. 59 No. 3 (which they played at breakneck speed) and the Grosse Fuge are both pretty exhausting to watch. It’s nice once in a while to see a concert of pieces that I know really well, and these are two of the more famous Beethoven quartets. I listened to my parents’ LPs of the string quartets many times growing up. My favourite was Opus 18 No. 4 (which I managed to destroy by leaving it out in the sun until it warped too much for the needle to stay in its groove), but Op. 59 No.3 always sticks in my head, mostly for the cello pizzicato opening of the second movement and for the fugue at the end. I never realised (until watching it) how much of the second movement is pizzicato for the cello.

Wigmore Hall is beautiful, and I’m glad I finally got to see it. I’d very much like to go back. The performance was excellent. Better seats would have been nice (these were the last ones left), but the balance between the instruments was better than I expected, and it was nice to be close enough to really see the players’ intensity.

More than anything, this concert reminded me how much I like chamber music. Seeing it does torture me a little inside, though, as I miss few things more than playing in a string quartet. I suppose seeing Schubert song cycles performed would have a similar effect.