Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dancing in the Room that Moves

"It's long gone, that carry on from December
It is no matter, if you remember
Mulled paper bag wine
And too much bedside whiskey
I will roll my heart up
I will roll my heart up in my sleeve"

A Sail (2010) by Lisa Hannigan

He was on the wrong side of 6:00 AM, loathing every step he was taking to work. In his ears were a pair of noise-cancelling earphones which he treasured for the portable isolation it offers. A Sail came on, leading in with the reverb of its rumbling bass line layered with the melancholic Irish monotone of Lisa Hannigan. He subconsciously tried to match his steps to its beat - um, two, um, two-three, um, two, um, two-three - but desisted the moment he realised how unnaturally he was pacing.

He saw her coming towards him from the other end of the building's compound. Eye contact. Smiles. He pinched one of his earbuds out of his ear and dropped it, letting it dangle from one shoulder in anticipation of the inevitable exchange of workplace pleasantries as both of them arrived at the elevators in unison. "Hey," he said to her, and she to him. Silence. He restored the errant earpiece to his ear as they waited for the numbers to count down to G. Noticing that he had one hand in his pocket, he wondered: Why does that feel awkward? Should I take my hand out? Why is this suddenly bothering me?

He stole a glance at her. She caught him. Smiles again. Her lips parted and met mutely. What are you listening to, he read.

Picking one earbud out of his ear, he offered it to her wordlessly and she accepted, placing it in turn into hers before the warmth had leached out of it. The elevator interrupted and they stepped on in tandem, lockstepped awkwardly by a single black strand of wire, listening to the Irishwoman singing by their sides,

"It's long gone that I carry on from the winter
I asked you upstairs
Until we tangled in my hair"

Hair, her hair - he was too close enough to smell it. It was a clean fragrance mixed with that summery scent that some women's hair naturally exudes. He could count her lashes, see every distinct ray of her patterned irides, and lose himself in the infinite midnight of her pupils. Suddenly, his noticed his heart pummeling against his chest from the inside, so hard and so loud that he was sure she could hear it. It was fifteen seconds of eternity before he - before she - realised that they had not picked a floor, any floor. Both the tiny room and the tiny moment they occupy was suspended, as if waiting for time to remember where it was going. The only proof that time had not actually stopped was the song.

And he went for it in an instant of reckless abandon. He lifted one hand and held her delicate chin lightly between his thumb and finger, and closed the space between their lips down to a fraction of a desirous inch. He felt the chill of a sharp, nervous gasp for air of a girl drowning in unexpectation. Oh my god, what am I doing? screamed a tiny, pathetic, and incredibly faraway part of his brain. Her bosom lay against his, and he could feel her heart beat in time with his, just as hard and just as loudly. Then, her surrender reflex kicked in place and uncoiled every tenseness in her body, and she breathed warmly on his mouth. Her eyelids wavered and finally fell. He instinctively understood, as every lover who ever lived and loved in all of time understood. They kissed lightly, and all pretensions of boundaries and individuality were obliterated in a single simple meeting of the flesh.

The bridge of the song they shared swelled majestically to the plucked strings of a banjo - a quaint, jesterly instrument that Ms Hannigan somehow managed to wrung victory and a brand new hope out of, banishing evenings and strangling winters in fourteen notes.

"I will roll my heart up
I will roll my heart up
I will roll my heart up
I will roll my heart up"

A believer in love at first kiss,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Descendants: A Review

"Everyone's cross to bear is the crown they wear on endless holiday.
Everyone raises kids in a world that changes life to a bitter game.
Everyone works and fights, stays up all night to celebrate the day.
And everyone lives to tell the tale of how we die alone some day."

Up All Night (2011) by Blink-182

Warning: after the poster, it's spoilers all the way down.

I was once in attendance of a lecture where I learned that anagnorisis, leading to peripeteia, is the hallmark of an effective and superior tragedy. Anagnorisis is a Greek word denoting "recognition" and in Aristotlelian tragedy, it refers to the recognition of his or her or some other character's true identity, or uncovers the true nature of one's own situation. Peripeteia means to fall around or to change suddenly, and in dramatic context, it speaks of a sudden reversal of circumstances.

The Descendants can be broadly described as a drama in equal parts tragic and comedic - much in the same way one can describe real life, for that is what it is basically about. No, not all of us belong to an incredibly wealthy dynasty which descended from Hawaiian royalty and owns 25,000 acres of pristine real estate on the island of Kaua'i, but Matt King does and yet, his story remains sympathetic precisely because of how earthy, how human it is.

And it all started when his wife descended into a coma after a freak boating accident.

One unexpected benefit of going to medical school was that when the doctor told Matt King that his comatose wife was never going to regain consciousness - citing her lack of brainstem reflexes as one reason - I knew from the get go that there is never going to be a huge, triumphant scene where she opens her eyes and ask, "How long have I been asleep?" If that happens, it would have been a fucking miracle and I would have written this film off as fantasy (because that had never happened, ever). Knowing that when characters interact with her, they are essentially speaking to a corpse puppet made to look like it's alive allowed me to focus solely on the people around her, because she's just a prop. Now, according to Elizabeth's advance directive, she was to be disconnected from life support and thence sprang forth the story of this movie.

The thing I admire most about The Descendants is how it acknowledges the complex layers we human beings consist of, and displays them. Too often are characters simply playing a part, rather than being people in their own rights within their universe. Bad guys are there to be adversaries for the hero to defeat. The girl exists for the protagonist to win. However, the world of The Descendants was not built out of cardboard, but of finely woven tapetry.

The Descendants Poster
George Clooney is Matt King.

It was upon this rich and intricate fabric that anagnorisis unfurls. We follow Matt King as he tries, with much dignity, to pick up the metaphorical jetsam and flotsam of his family in the wake of his wife's demise - and failing miserably in the process. The first significant discovery Matt made was that the reason why his eldest daughter, Alex, had a falling out with her mother was because she was cheating on her father. One of the more memorable scenes in the film had Clooney ran all the way to the house of a couple which he and his wife was friends with, and confronted them - and as it turned out, they knew about the affair all along. Oh, so much of our lives are hidden from us that it's surprising that we even consider ourselves living! Of course, at the moment of anagnorisis was the peripeteia of Matt's relationship with his inanimate wife. Before the discovery, she was the wife he regretted for not lavishing enough time and gifts on when he could. Afterwards, she became a stranger who can no longer offer explanations for her secret betrayals.

After learning of his wife's unfaithfulness, he went off an unlikely quest of finding his wife's lover to tell him that she would soon be dead - so he could go and see her one last time to say his goodbyes. He knew, from his wife's confidant, that she truly loved this other guy, and it seemed like the right thing to do. I mean, she was ready to leave Matt for him so it must have been something special. The second huge moment of anagnorisis came when Matt discovered that Brian Speer, his wife's lover, is actually a real estate agent looking to make an obscene amount of profit when Matt decides to sell his ancestral land on Kaua'i. Up till that point, the overarching plot of the land deal was just a background element, one which Matt approves of wholeheartedly - until it suddenly became deeply personal.

The third point of revelation was subtler, and it came when Matt finally confronts Brian Speer and found out that Speer thought of his relationship with Matt's wife as nothing more than a fling, and that he already has a family which he was deadly afraid of jeopardising. Once again, how Matt sees his dearly departing wife flips on its side, and she changed from a lying cheat to a lonely, neglected spouse, looking for love in a wrong place - and I (and Matt) felt sorry for her. It was a masterstroke of storytelling, and though it didn't have the pomp and glamour of a twist like that of The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, it sent the same chill down my spine.

There are many smaller, but no less significant moments of anagnorises peppered throughout the movie, and two came immediately to mind. One was Sid, Matt's teenage daughter's socially-retarded friend, who was inexplicably tagging along on Matt's strange little errand. He was the impossibly odd, screwball character comic relief that seemed to be far more at home in an annoyingly quirky indie film than in a meditative family drama like The Descendants - and he was so stupid and rude that we in the audience (and Matt) couldn't understand why his daughter could even tolerate having him around. Essentially, he was one-note and out-of-place. When we learned that Nick's father recently passed away in an drunk driving auto accident (both drivers were drunk) and his mother had been trying to keep the family together, all of a sudden, it makes sense why Alex (Matt's daughter) hangs out with him. She identified with him, and just as unexpectedly: Matt with Sid's mother.

The other was of Matt's disapproving father-in-law (played by Robert Forster), who is of the opinion that his precious little girl could have done better than marry Matt who he considers to be neglectful and scroogey - and he never missed any opportunities in letting Matt knows that. In fact, he went as far as to blame Elizabeth's accident on Matt, saying that it wouldn't have happened if he bought her her own boat. It was incredibly difficult for me to watch Elizabeth's father verbally abuse Matt while singing praises of his little girl (and at one point, he even described her as "faithful"). It would have been intensely satisfying if Matt had exploded and call out the old man by letting him know of Elizabeth's infidelity - but he stoically never did. And when we peeked through the doors through Matt's eyes as he saw his father-in-law looking at his broken, emaciated daughter and looking lost, we are glad that Matt didn't.

The film ended in a scene I swear I had seen in another film - but cannot remember which. Matt was sitting on a couch with his two daughters, sharing a blanket and watching the documentary March of the Penguins which I recognised from Morgan Freeman's commentary. It was almost too apt. It's a father and his kids - and an absent mother - weathering their own little Antartic storm on the beautiful islands of Hawaii.

Addendum: I just found out that The Descendants won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Glad it did.

Didn't expect to like this film as much,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From Bedlam to Bedroom

"I'm gonna fight 'em all
A seven nation army couldn't hold me back
They're gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back"

Seven Nation Army (2003) by The White Stripes

I'm listening to the Glitch Mob remix.

I have a love-hate relationship with my chosen career, and these days, it's gravitating far too much to the hate side of the spectrum. I hate being the Ward Captain for the sinking HMS Female Surgical Ward. I hate being accountable for my colleagues' screw ups, and I hate having to be the person to talk to them about how they can improve on their performances when all I want to do is mind my own fucking business. I hate that our workload doubled due to an unprecedented deluge of new patients in the past few weeks. I hate the fact that on some days, there are only three house officers available to perform the collective job list of the ward while I'm still getting requests from my bosses to send ever more house officers to the endoscopy and the fluoroscopy rooms, the clinic, and the operating theatres - and then having to explain to those same bosses why the millions of little jobs in the ward were not accomplished to their utter and complete satisfaction.

Most of all, I hate being in a position of leadership I neither desired nor asked for. It happened when I was in the OB/GYN department, and now it happened again. I am by nature a loner, an outsider, a contrarian, and an irreparably twisted weirdo. Why do the people in-charge keep getting these ideas that I should instead be part of the establishment?

It's been a couple of weeks since I had breakfast or lunch and my stomach is starting to forget what those feels like. I'm making amends to myself by having really nice dinners every day and then going home to make myself an equally nice drink. Today, I made myself a rather long, sippy White Russian - one part vodka with one part Kahlúa on the rocks, and then topped off with almost two parts cream. For purists, that's far too much but I am of the opinion that there's no such thing as too much cream.

It was heavenly, indulgent, and I damn well earned it. And I'm going to watch Midnight in Paris nursing it for as close as I can approach forever.

Having a slice of me-time,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Most Dangerous of Worms

"The modern king has become a vermiform appendix - useless when quiet, when obtrusive in danger of removal"

Austin O'Malley

For this post's quote, I nearly went with "Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen!"
In a way, it's actually more apt.

Last month, I had the opportunity to perform my very first emergency appendicectomy after having observed and assisted only once (a couple of months ago at that), and right before scrubbing in, I spent a couple of minutes reading an online step-by-step guide on how to do it. Most of my superiors agree that a house officer should assist in at least three appendicectomies before going for it, but lucky for me, the medical officer who was supervising me did not ask if I've fulfilled that informal quota. Having Caesared a baby out of a mother's womb before, slaying a little worm really felt safe in comparison. Incidentally, the worm Ouroboros had bitten its tail and came full circle - when I was 5 years old, an appendix tried to take me out. Now after 5 years of med school, I served my cold, cold revenge and took one out.

However, this post is not about my mostly ad libbed journey through my medical training. It's about the vermiform appendix, which is basically Latin for "worm-like extra-bit".

The Gastrointestinal Tract Simplified
You'll notice that "worm-like extra-bit" is a very accurate description.

Appendicitis refers to the inflammation of the appendix, and it happens when its teeny-tiny opening into the caecum gets blocked by something. That something may be a bacterial or viral infection, parasitic worms, cancer, swallowed foreign objects, or a faecolith (which literally means "shit stone"). Depending on which part of the world you live, how old you are and which gender you belong to, there's about 6 to 16% chance that your appendix will try to kill you in this lifetime - and 27 out of 10,000 times, it will actually succeed, even in spite of the full force of modern medicine. Just owning one is a possible mortal hazard waiting to happen. So why oh why are we equipped with a self-destruct mechanism hanging uselessly off our large intestines?

If you believe that God created us in the form we now inhabit, then you must also believe that God is a blithering halfwit who can't even build an alimentary canal without accidentally installing a killswitch. However, if you understand evolutionary biology, you'd recognise the appendix as a vestigial organ serving none to non-essential functions as suggested by its high variability in shapes, sizes, orientations and positions and evidenced by homologous structures in other animals. The appendix is basically part of the caecum writ pathetic, and in herbivorous mammals, their caeca are capacious and contains cellulolytic bacteria which aides in digesting plant material. In animals less dependent on vegetation for food (such as us humans), most of our caecum is a shrunken worm-like structure. In fact, some carnivores have their entire caecum reduced to an appendix vermiformis. Further proof that the appendix is a vestige of our evolutionary heritage is that our ape cousins like orang utans have larger appendices while our most closely phylogenetically-related species, the chimpanzees, has an appendix very similar to ours. Rhesus macaques, which is considered lower primates compared to chimps and orangs (and is more distantly related to us than either), don't even own an appendix but instead, have a broad caecal end much like other herbivores. We are technically in the process of losing our caeca, and the appendix is what we get out of it.

Okay, those of you who paid attention in 2009 saw the internet exploded with scientific news of a possible function for the human appendix. To understand this, you must first understand that our guts are commonly filled with helpful, "good" bacteria which lives symbiotically with us, helping us digest food, teaching our immune system how to fight, and fending off so-called pathogenic "bad" bacteria. When our gastrointestinal tract does get invaded successfully by non-native microorganisms and everything is being washed out in a diarrhoeal holocaust for example, the appendix functions as a kind of bomb shelter for the local friendly bacteria where they wait out the shitstorm, ready to recolonise our colons (heh) as soon as conditions are right for them again.

Some creationist cretins who denies evolution touted this particular bit of research as ahah! proof! that since the appendix has a function, it is therefore not a vestigial organ and that God is awesome while Darwin smells.

They neglected to note, however, that the paper in question actually supports evolution. It aimed to explain why the appendix, being the peril disproportionate to its perks to higher primates, is still being conserved in their bodies. It is an interesting bit of medical science, but one of its senior authors accidentally stuck some feet into his mouth and, much to the glee of creationists everywhere, said:

"Maybe it's time to correct the textbooks. Many biology texts today still refer to the appendix as a vestigial organ."

Wrong. A vestigial organ, by definition, doesn't mean that something is useless. Evolutionary vestiges refers to any diminished structures that played a larger physiological role in a species' ancestor than in present. Charles Darwin himself wrote of vestigiality in On the Origin of Species as much: "an organ, serving for two purposes, may become rudimentary or utterly aborted for one, even the more important purpose, and remain perfectly efficient for the other." In the case of the human appendix, it is the reduced part of the plant-digesting powerhouse of a caecum our evolutionary forerunners used to have in their employ i.e. vestigial. Maybe this narrow annex of the caecum have found new life as a reservoir for our gut flora in times of disease but so what? This happens all the time in evolution and we even have a term for it: exaptation. Feathers are the classical example of this process. It first evolved to keep theropod dinosaurs warm (yes, velociraptors were covered in feathers), and was then coopted for display and flight in their avian descendants.

And you know what? What minuscule function the vermiform appendix does perform for us doesn't seem to be all that important after all. Countless patients undergo appendicectomies every day around the world, all to no apparent ill-effects to their health. I mean look at me: 20 years without an appendix and still counting. You don't see me dying just because occasionally, water spouts out of my ass instead of crap after some bad sushi. But if I didn't have that appendicectomy 20 years ago, I very well could have.

So there you go: is God an omni-incompetent nincompoop or did evolution happened? You decide.

k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sophie and the Sin of Athenian Idealatry

"Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

Rosemarie Urquico

An excerpt from the essay reply to Charles Warnke's You Should Date An Illiterate Girl. I like both pieces.

There is a girl I'm in love with, and her name is... let us call her Sophie. Sophie is perfect, and embodies every quality - rare or otherwise - that I admire in a girl. She's about 5'1" of perky impishness and dimpled smiles, and she wears her hair in that pixie-cut chic I adore oh-so very much. But these are merely the frosting, and not the cake.

The thing about Sophie is that she is a prolific and voracious reader of books. All books. From autobiographies to bildungsromans, historical fiction to sci-fi, and the highest to the lowest order of fantasies. She reads them all no matter if its written by the Brothers Grimm or the Sisters Brontë, Edgar Allan Poe or Ishiguro Kazuo, G. K. Chesterton or Sidney Sheldon. She had been there and back again, into the wardrobe and down the rabbit hole. She had beheld Dorian Gray's portrait in its various stages of decomposition, walked away from Omelas and witnessed the passion of the Nazerene. She always carries a paperback in her handbag, several volumes of audiobooks loaded into her MP3 player, and a thousand more in her Kindle just in case  because she thinks that there is no worthier pursuit to fill the intermissions of her life than ink in its myriad forms. She had visited worlds beyond ours, and lived more lifetimes than the single one helping we are allowed. I want to reminisce with her these places we have been to, these lives we have led. I want to sit across from her as she swims between the pages of a new novel, and I in mine. I'll steal glances at her. I'll watch as as her eyes brighten and her breath halts - and then she'll break surface for a moment just to read to me a line or a passage which excites her, touches her or simply blows her mind out of the water.

As she consumes pages and proses, she also crafts them. She's working on a novel and holds the ideas of several hundred more in the bookshelves of her mind. She could think of no higher calling than to leave at least one of them behind before the light of her consciousness goes out, and no higher honour than having it considered worthy enough to be catalogued in the sum total of humanity's bibliography - a sentiment I share with every fibre of my existence. She understands the crippling paralysis of the writer's block, and the pure joy of finding the perfect words, the bon mots, in expressing precisely what she means to say. She also writes a blog and record every opinion and emotion which inhabit her psyche, and document every worthwhile experience of her beautiful life - because every life interpreted through the lens of carefully-considered, heartfelt words is more splendiferous than one which meanders unlettered. A writer is an uncommon creature which does not merely think, but thinks also about thinking. I cannot identify with those who only wade in their stream of consciousness but never stood at the banks to watch it flow, taking notes of its liquid form, its ripples, its waves. Most of all, I want a lover whose mind I can read.

Sophie is intelligent and loves the accretion of knowledge for its own sake. She believes in the silent power of knowing how things work around, above and inside us. I like it that she comprehends the concept of falsifiability, delights in the fact that dinosaurs still exists today and often on our dinner plates, and knows that the Dirac Sea is not a body of water. I like it that I can argue with her about gravity; on the plausibility of gravitons as predicted by the quantum field theory versus the geometric elegance of Einstein's general relativity. I enjoy our coffee talks where we discuss comparative theology, debate on the merits of Kantian ethics, and wrestle with the Platonic Theory of Forms (which we refer to as the Hylaean Theoric World because we have both read Neal Stephenson's Anathem and loved it). I recognise in her my intellectual equal, and if you lived a life surrounded by simple people and simple conversations you would celebrate this discovery too. It's like she's at just the right height to dance with. Or to kiss.

There are so many women who walked by me without so much as leaving a faint footprint in their passage through my life - faces without names that I shared a seat with on buses and trains, drift past as I stroll down a street or in a mall, or sat across from in a café or a library on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Behind one of these faces is Sophie.

Oh, if only I know which!

Forgive me, Sophie. Forgive me O Future Lover for I have sinned against you. I am a daydreamer, a hopeless romantic and an idealator of the worst degree. And I am in love with the idea of you.

Romanticidal maniac,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Benefits of Being an Asshole

"Sometimes I park in handicapped spaces,
While handicapped people make handicapped faces.
I'm an asshole (He's an asshole, what an asshole)
I'm an asshole (He's a real fucking asshole)"

Asshole (1993) by Denis Leary

Does it make me an asshole that this song amuses me?

I just punched out an overnight shift playing doctor in the Female Surgical Ward to a beautiful blue-skied Saturday morning. After a serviceable free breakfast at the dietitians' office pantry, I envisioned a good time at the movies so I made my way, by my winsome lonesome, to the mall which hosts the least depressing movie theatre on this side of Borneo. The 12:30 PM screening of Spielberg's War Horse was the beast I intended to catch.

Afternoons are perfect for movie matinées because the halls would be habitually unpeopled, and I will not feel the frost of my mortality while I wait at the box office queues. "Un billet, s’il vous plaît," I asked in English when it was my turn and I was informed, to my horror and indignation, that the hall in which the film was playing was reserved exclusively for couples, pairs and deuces only - and that if I must trespass into that turf for twosomes, I was obliged to pay double.

Essential background info: the Kuching MBO cineplex has this one stupid theatre which was retooled to host twin seats for people who wants to touch each other when they are not-watching a movie so they can charge them an extra buck. Like so many other decisions of the chief executive cretins that run the company, it was avaricious, shortsighted, and betrays an uncommon lack of business sense. Just take a look at their recently redesigned official homepage: it's a case study in how not to design a website. It runs entirely on Flash (necessitating a long loading time), autoplays loud stock noises, features klunky pixels and colours from the early 90's, and massively obstructive navigation. Some old fart probably saw it and okayed it because he thought it looked cool, dynamic and hep. That same old fart probably still has an active Friendster account, wondering where everyone went.

I know that the couples' theatre is a scheme which lost MBO more potential potential profit than it earned them. An average screening will see about one quarter of its seats occupied by duos and evens (this being an optimistic projection) while they turn away singles, trios and odd parties which would have gladly paid to fill out all those other vacant seats for them.

Anyway, I started ringing friends up - but 15 minutes, as notices go, was pretty short and not a single one of my on-and-off movie-going mates could come through for me. Having exhausted that option, I toyed with the idea of waiting at the box office till another odd number comes along wanting to see War Horse as well, but the crowd was quite thin that day. As half past twelve loomed ever closer, I knew drastic actions were in order. You see, I had just completed a seventeen-hour shift. If I want to see a Steven Spielberg movie that's going to make me weep like a newly-deflowered maiden, then you can wager your donkey that I was going to get my way.

"I would like to speak to your manager," I told the box office attendant, smiling politely as I did so. She seemed cowed and explained that nothing could be achieved by that because of their ticketing system was rigged in such a way which made it impossible to sell odd numbers of tickets for that particular theatre. Yes, "impossible" was the word she used. Challenge accepted.

Don't worry, I mouthed and shooed her along.

In a moment, the "manager" in the shape of a surprisingly young lady appeared. I introduced myself, shook her warmly by the hand, and proceeded to lay my grievance on her. She repeated that same bullshit apologetically about how the system was programmed and that if I want to see War Horse that day, I must purchase two tickets. Still smiling, I told her, "Clearly, you aren't authorised to make any useful decisions here. Please show me to someone who can."

She then flagged down this unassuming chap in a company polo neck and presented him to me, and after exchanging niceties (I always make it a point to do that), I unloaded a speech, all in one explosive burst of verbal diarrhoea, that I had been drafting in my head the whole time. Like so:

"I am a regular patron of your cinema and I come weekly - frequently more than once - to catch the new features because I'm something of a film enthusiast. Today, I want to see War Horse. I looked up the showtimes online. Then, I drove all the way from my house to get here, only to find out that this film is screening in the couples' hall and that I can't see it without paying for two - a crucial piece of information which was not mentioned on your website or any other film sites that carry your schedule. This had happened a few times before and I was forced to watch something else or go home. I just saw the seat availability for the 12:30 PM show, and you had only sold two pairs of tickets so far. You are obviously running at a loss and I am obviously rather pissed. So my question, Mr H, is what can you do for me?"

An Asshole Shitting on Someone
It went down pretty much like this.

It was a little too grandiloquent for standard Malaysian parlance but I aimed to intimidate. And you can't argue with the results.

"Okay, we are aware of this problem because we had gotten complaints before. We are changing our policy but till then, please be patient with us, sir. Right now, you can watch the movie," he said and immediately ordered the box office girl to sell me two tickets for the price of one. Impossible my ass.

I actually had a second hell-and-brimstone speech in reserve involving consumer associations, smear campaigns and nuclear PR fallouts had the first one failed. I also had plans on escalation and making him put me through to his superiors in their headquarters if he proved to be incompliant. You see, I really, really wanted to watch War Horse.

Also, don't fuck with me when I'm post-call.

P.S. Having held three jobs (and technically a fourth now) in the service industry - including one in a cinema - I feel totally justified in being a teensy-weensy bit demanding and difficult when I deal with customer service representatives. If you, like me, run into this same problem with the Kuching branch of MBO, you are welcome to try brute-forcing your way through the way I did.

Asshole par excellence,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, February 03, 2012

Chronicle: A Review

"Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system - with all these exalted powers - Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

Charles Darwin

I am a fan of the the found-footage aesthetic, even when it is indulged in for completely spurious stylistic reasons. While I have not seen The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, I certainly enjoyed Cloverfield immensely. Maybe it does not work for everyone, but the persistent acknowledgement of the camera's eye adds a layer of realism which regular films lack - it's kind of like the visual equivalent of a first-person narrator versus a third-person omniscient one. It certainly helps that I am practically immune to motion sickness thanks to a lifetime of reading in moving vehicles and playing frenetic first person shooter video games.

One realisation I arrived at while watching Chronicle is how ubiquitous video cameras are in our daily lives. Practically everyone and their pet camel owns a camera phone or digital camera these days and it seems that every inch of everywhere has security cameras watching it. Found-footage films had, in the past, been criticised for "recording" events that they have no plausible access to but it's a complaint that, I feel, had gotten hollower and hollower over the years. With enough free time and clearance, it's conceivable that someone can stitch together a coherent chronicle of a series of just about any event at all.

The film was marketed as a Jackass-esque feature following the hilarious pranks and follies of three teenagers after they mysteriously gained telekinetic powers from a freak crystal accident (the narrative wisely chose to leave that angle grossly unexplained). They blew girls' skirts up, relocated parked cars, terrorised children at departmental stores - and then one of them caused a tailgater to swerve off-road into a lake, nearly killing the driver. Every group of high school friends always have that one guy who ruins the shits and giggles for everybody else, and Andrew is that one guy in Chronicle.

Spoilers will be running loose and amok from here onwards - because there's no point discussing any work of fiction using only vague allusions.

Chronicle poster
Does not reflect what the film is about at all.

Andrew is the protagonist of Trank and Landis' unconventional superhero story. He is pretty much that weirdo kid in American Beauty who carried a video camera everywhere and obsessively filmed everything - but with an abusive stay-at-home father and a mother dying from Vague Hollywood Terminal Illness. Throw in industrial-strength high school unpopularity and bullying, perpetual virginity, and superpowers, you'll have the recipe for a budding psychopathic supervillain. Dane DeHaan played Andrew ably and is one of the many unexpected delights this film has to offer.

I also thought that it's a modest act of genius to marry psychokinetic abilities with the handheld camera of a found-footage movie. Half the time, no one even needs to be physically holding it, eliminating the much-maligned jitter-cam effect.

The violence in Chronicle is presented as-a-matter-of-factly and somehow, the film ended up being more disturbing for it. When someone's head impact against the asphalt, it leaves a bloodstain behind. Andrew's descent into darkness leaves a trail of those stains behind as he find sadism increasingly more permissible. He started small, tearing a spider limb to limb, before graduating to forcibly pulling teeth out of someone's head and crushing people with vehicular objects. Some of these visuals were really awesome, when they weren't inspiring revulsion in my stomach. Andrew also waxes philosophical about how predators do not feel pity for their preys, and how we experience no remorse in killing insignificant insects. It then turned into rather heavy-handed diatribe against the theory of evolution, perpetuating the discredited stereotype of an amoral survival-of-the fittest-type Darwinist. Bad movie, bad! However, the scene accompanying Andrew's nihilistic musings was so bad-ass that I instantly forgave it.

Several other script flourishes soured Chronicle a little for me. One character name-dropped Plato's Cave as they descended into a hole in the ground for apparently no purpose. When they introduced Michael B. Jordan's character as the token black guy of the psychic trio, I mentally hoped that he wouldn't be the first person to die - and I was disappointed when he proceeded to do just that.

Made for only $ 15 million, it looked as cheap as it costs. I wonder if the decision to shot this in the found-footage format was financially-motivated but still, the special effects are good enough to not take the audience out of the film most of the time - unlike in Attack the Block. In spite of its lack of polish, I still enjoyed Chronicle immensely. Go watch it if you aren't prone to getting motion sickness, and if you are, pop some motion-sickness medicine and go see it anyway.

P.S. Psychic nosebleeds!

Has an anti-motion-sickness superpower,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Back When I Was Still Using a Pencil

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?'"

Howard Ikemoto

My favourite definition of art was one proposed by scientist and artist Desmond Morris and to paraphrase a paraphrase by Joe Fulgham from the Art episode of the Caustic Soda podcast: "Art is anything that humans do that's not done for survival, procreation and entertainment."

I personally prefer explaining myself through prose while relegating what modicum of visual artistic skills I do command to illustrating my written words (examples here, here and here) and doing pro bono design work for my college's student council (here, here, here and there). Of course, most of what I've showcased in my blog here were created after I've discovered Photoshop and taught myself how not to suck too badly on it. Before that, I made art the traditional pen-and-pencil way, and it was the only way by which I expressed myself before I discovered my love for the English language when I was sixteen years old and started indulging in expressionistic writing seriously (I had a poetry phase but I would prefer not to talk about that). While I couldn't paint, I certainly sketched prolifically in my entire childhood, through high school, and into my early university years. Unfortunately, most of what I produced was lost to the yore of yesteryears with only a handful of later pieces surviving into digitalisation.

Because the internet never forgets, I managed to resurrect a few from my now defunct deviantART account. Do click on them to embiggen,

Typewriter Ogre and Mouse
An ogre toting a typewriter and a bank vole. No reason.

The Shepherd Tree
I called this one "The Shepherd Tree".

Old Man and Girl
An aging pilgrim and a little girl.

From the Mirror
A fan art of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell entitled "From the Mirror".
I experimented with a new technique for this, smudging lines with my thumb and fingers.

A sorcerous wraith: I was mostly practicing how to draw fabric realistically here.

When I was a kid, I always thought that I would grow up to be an artist of some kind before my aspirations morphed into a more literary pursuit. That, and I went to medical school for some reason. I even had watercolour lessons for a spell which did absolutely nothing except convince me that I lack, probably on a genetic level, what it takes to paint with actual brushes - so I quit it like I quit my piano, organ, taekwondo and Chinese classes.

Anyway, what do you think of them?

Has skills useless to his day job,
k0k s3n w4i