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Jakarta, Indonesia
I lose important items constantly, and am a failed teetotalist.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Up - An Uplifting Adventure

Hoping to convince the Sunday editor to let me do a weekly movie column, harking back to my halcyon days in Dar... so I did a sample review of Up, another instant Pixar classic...

Up (PG, Walt Disney Pictures)
Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Featuring the voices of Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer

















Pixar have done it again. Their latest offering, Up, the tale of a lonely old man who decides to pursue his childhood dreams and fly his home to South America, is a visually and emotionally satisfying treat for all ages that will leave you with a smile on your face long afterwards.

Up opens with a black-and-white “documentary” about infamous adventurer Charlez Muntz who travels all over the world in his airship The Spirit of Adventure. Just like us, a little boy, Carl Frederickson, watches rapt in the cinema audience, refusing to lose faith when Muntz is accused of faking the discovery of a mythical bird and stripped of all his honours. He wanders the streets of his neighbourhood, searching for his own adventure, and finds it in the form of toothy chatterbox Ellie who also idolizes Muntz. After bombarding the quiet boy with her plans and dreams, she announces, “You don’t talk much! I like you!” She makes him promise that one day he’ll somehow fly them to Paradise Falls in South America, following in the footsteps of their shared hero.

The ensuing wordless montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together succinctly conveys how their loving marriage is marred by two profound disappointments; never being able to have children nor the adventure of their dreams. By the time we catch up to the present day, where a now alone and bitter Carl (voice by Ed Asner) is stubbornly trying to protect his home from contractors, we know him well. Despite his typical grumpy old man demeanour, we empathise with his deeply buried regrets and broken heart.

Luckily there’s not much time to dwell on sadness, because Up quickly kicks into high gear, as Carl defiantly propels his home into the air with the aid of a veritable rainbow of balloons, and with Boy-Scoutesque “Wilderness Explorer” Russell (Jordan Nagai) as an accidental hitchhiker. The unlikely adventurers are soon facing various trials and tribulations, from lightning storms to talking dogs, in Carl’s quest to move his home to the top of Paradise Falls, and Russell’s mission to earn his final Wilderness Explorer badge by assisting Carl.

Pixar breaks new visual ground with every film – i.e. the lush underwater environment in Finding Nemo – this time it’s the weather and aging effects. Unlike in other special effects-laden films that seem to be simply showing off (yes Star Wars 1-3 and Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, I mean you), these aesthetic touches enhance the story. When Carl and Russell get caught in a vicious storm, the thunder and lightning serve to crank up the suspense, instilling vertigo in every viewer. The crinkles on Carl’s face and the creaking of his joints amplify his expressions and add comedy, especially when he engages in a walking-stick attack against a similarly arthritic nemesis.

Even more impressive than the visuals, is way Up deftly tackles a difficult topic: losing a loved one. Up is not afraid to make you cry, but rather than lapsing into emotional manipulation, it strikes the right balance, threading its dramatic heart with plenty of action and humor. This successfully comes together particularly due to the spot-on characterisation of Carl and Russell and their developing relationship.

It’s refreshing for an animated film to focus on an elderly character, and crotchety Carl is the perfect blend of comic and tragic. Despite his sky-high fantasy, he is down-to-earth, and viewers young and old will be able to relate to him. Russell starts off as the usual, annoying “Are-we-there-yet?” little-brother type, but soon evolves into the hero of the piece, unwittingly leading Carl into the very quest his inner child wanted, by virtue of his good heart and Wilderness Explorer values.

The villainous Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) is the only other main human character, with the rest of the cast nicely rounded out with a bunch of quirky, expressive creatures, including Kevin, a colourful Dodo-like “Snipe” who forms a reciprocated attachment to Russell and Dug (Bob Peterson), a dopey, would-be-kidnapper canine who talks with the aid of a hi-tech collar and decides to devote himself to an unwilling Carl.

Plus, despite the fact that there are a number of cinematic luminaries offering their vocal talents these do not at all distract from the characterisation. Far too many animated films these days rely on stunt vocal casting (see Angelina Jolie cameo-voicing a fish in A Shark’s Tale and a tiger in Kung Fu Panda) that seems to serve little purpose other than to boost ticket sales.

The only problem with Up is that most of the emotional punch is packed into the introduction and that after a novel first half, it unfolded rather predictably. However, even when it becomes clear where it’s going… you’ll still enjoy the ride. And make sure you’re not late to a showing, as it is preceded by a truly delightful short, Partly Cloudy, which well complements the main feature. Up is among Pixar’s very best, ranking up there with Wall-E, Finding Nemo and Toy Story.

**** 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

City of Ghosts... and beyond...

Pygmy's latest posting inspire me to get a bit more visual. I really also wanted to do a Love-based piccy-thing... but certain tech things aren't facilitating this right now. Next time!

Here are some of my favourite pictures from my recent trip to Cambodia.



Late afternoon, Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville. I love how this looks like it was done in oils... a happy mistake!




The view from the upstairs restaurant at Beach Road Hotel, where Anne and I stayed.



"Magic Geckos" along Street 240, my favourite place to sup and shop in Phnom Penh.



An elephant having its daily meal at La Croisette, view from Doll's balcony, Phnom Penh.



Lady Penh atop Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh. Doc was paying her tribute.



Mau, Doc's usual tuk-tuk driver, Phnom Penh. Funnily enough, he was also carting me and Anne around, before Doc got to PP... it really is a small world there.



The Bodhi in Kampot. I fell asleep here for a couple of hours when I was drunkenly dragged here much later that day...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Return to the Big Durian

I've actually been back for a week now, but am still allowing the decaying shroud of my holiday in Cambodia to envelop me. It's part of the reason why I procrastinated on completing what I imagined to be an easy travel piece on Phnom Penh, I didn't want to put it down into words, signalling it was over. The other reason was Buffy, and the way its taken over all my free time lately! Behold the new Whedonite.

It's not so bad being back actually. The trip to Cambodia was exactly what I needed -- relaxing, inspiring, heartwarming -- but I missed my family more than ever while away(I always want them with me in Cambodia), plus was spending money I don't really have, so returning to the family bosom was comforting. And I am more certain that I ever I will return to live next year, shortly after my contract is up. Hopefully I can find a job.

I've decided to stop trying to love Jakarta, I never will. It's just unsuited to me. I felt so content in Phnom Penh -- no doubt partly because its familiar and nostalgic, but also because its so much easier. No traffic, lots of lovely shopping and dining, a view of a river... open spaces. I may as well be living underground in Jakarta, so rarely am I willing to face outside, with thick air, thick traffic and lack of pavement. When someone in PP asked me what Jakarta was like, I tiredly answered Thick, and they nodded. The no-pavement thing is so annoying, but I guess rarely anyone walks from place to place here, so they don't need them. I won't go on like this because the theme is essentially that Jakarta sucks, Phnom Penh rules.

I wonder if I can truly like any new place, if there isn't a part of me embedded in it, so to speak. The only two cities I know I feel at home in are London and Phnom Penh -- and I am half-English (and went to uni in London) and grew up in the latter. Everywhere else I've been, in a living sense, rather than just a holiday way, has felt a bit off, perhaps that was simply unfamiliarity. I think back on my time in Dar es Salaam fondly, remembering it as a beautiful haven, at the same time, if I dig deeper, I also recall the profound loneliness and boredom. Jerusalem spooked me, despite the beauty of the Old Town, the tension could be felt everywhere, and at night I heard ancient howling (probably just the wind blowing around the Mount of Olives) that unnerved me (I worried if I properly listened to it, I could actually understand what the howls were 'saying'). I have this romantic idea of trying out a new city every year of my twenties. Cities that I imagine I might like to live in include San Francisco, New York, Edinburgh and New Orleans. For the sake of my area studies, I'd like to try some more Southeast Asian cities.

Other than all that, I guess almost everything I wanted this summer. Best friends visiting (Tofu and Anne), Cambodia, seeing Doc again, a proper holiday, all tangled up together.

I am back now. Time will pass. Better make the most of it. But for a bit longer, I will gaze at my too few holiday pics -- here is a shot of the tranquil Mekong in Kampot, just before the sun begins to set.



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