District 9

I wanted to see this movie because of Peter Jackson’s name on it and all the raving reviews, not just from critics, but from twitter land, also because we couldn’t get tickets two weeks after it premiered. I didn’t know too much about the story probably thanks to the vagueness of the trailer.

The last time a movie trailer that let on nothing of the film was probably the original Matrix. Interesting enough, Matthew made the comment as we left the theatre tonight, “The best sci-fi since the Matrix.”

I was blown away.

Not just because of the originality of the plot, the imagination, the special affects. All that were amazing in their own right. but what’s more, it is the humanity of it. The closeness it has to reality. A parallel universe that could very much be true. Acting, production, cinematography, music. It was perfect.

By the end of the movie, the entire audience were with the aliens, and cheering at every human being vanquished. It was thrilling.

I came home and did a little research on the director Neil Blomkamp. 30 years old. So very young! Reminded me of another young director whose debut feature film i loved earlier this year: Cary Fukunaga and his Sin Nombre. Two very different films, completely opposite in style. But the talent of both are equally brilliant. Looking forward to more great movies from both…

Some interesting bits about South African born and Vancouver based Neil Blomkamp:
Video clip of interview with Neil Blomkamp on the making of District 9
transcript of another interview with Blomkamp on the movie.
Original District 9 short film by Neil Blomkamp
– A couple of Nike commercial Blomkamp did but was shelved later: Crab, Revolution.

None of these shorts can hold a candle to the feature film itself.
Now everyone, go see the movie in theater while you still can. You will love it. ūüôā

*Just checked boxoffice stats. This little film with $30MM (even Julie & Julia had $40MM budget!) has already grossed over $80MM by Friday 8/27/2009! Awesome!

of Human Bondage

Finished reading Maugham’s of Human Bondage just now.

It is a good read and i enjoyed it, but didn’t care much for the ending.

I’ve only read one other full length novel by Maugham: The Razor’s Edge. Both have bad endings.

Notes to self:

  • visit Toledo and see more El Greco’s paintings.
  • Read “Don Fernando“, Graham Green hailed it as Maugham’s best work in his Collected¬†Essays, 1938.
  • Read “Looking Back” and see how Maugham “blew up his own monument.”

On the book itself. What impressed me the most was still Maugham’s cool and sharp observations. Completely rational, completely¬†surgical. Nothing escapes his laser sharp eyes. He has a gift to sniff out human weakness. Including his own. Rather than accusing him of being cruel, I think he was more a surgeon, dissecting and exposing human emotions to the last final detail, more out of curiosity rather than cruelty.

His¬†description¬†on the madness of passion was so precise and true. He redefined the term “love-hate relationship”. Instead of the common understanding of you love/hate the person at the same time, in Maugham’s world it means, you hate yourself for loving someone so unworthy yet you can’t stop loving her. One sees the comedy and sadness of it all. I wish i had read this in my younger days. I doubt it would have helped me in anyway, because you can’t reason with madness, but at least it would have comforted me to know that I was not the only one, and certainly not the most ridiculous.

I read the Introduction by Gore Vidal after i was done with the book. Found this paragraph hilarious.

For seven decades Maugham had rigorously controlled his personal and his artistic life. He would write so many plays, and stop; and did. So many novels, and stop; and did. So many short stories… He rounded off everything neatly, and lay back to die, with a quiet world-weary smile on those ancient lizard lips. But then, to his horror, he kept on living, and having sex, and lunching with Churchill and Beaverbrook. Friends thought that Beaverbrook put him up to the final memoir (Looking Back), but I suspect that Maugham had grown very bored with a lifetime of playing it so superbly safe.

Writer’s Room and Its View

First saw the photo collection of writer’s room on douban.com.. From there I was able to trace the source at guardian.co.uk, where you could read what each writer has to say about his/her room.


Then i came across Norman Sherry’s description of Graham Greene’s writing room in Antibes, where he first interviewed Greene for the 3-volume biography of the writer.

The Main room of his flat was modest in size, thirty feet by twelve.¬† There was a bamboo sofa and two bamboo chairs. Above the sofa was an abstract (flowers) given to Greene by Fidel Castro. White bookshelves filled two walls, and on another wall was a muffin-coloured print of lunardi making his ascent in a balloon in 1789. Near the window a table performed the dual function of dining table and writing desk. There was a black and white television set, used mostly to watch the 7.45pm news from Paris. There were some personal touches – eight pictures¬† but no photographs – and if our living rooms are places which reflect our personalities, was Greene’s an accident or a calculated revelation of character?

I’m incliend to think it was neither – just a statement of what its inhabitant needed in order to live and to work. None of the trappings proclaim a successful writer, merely the basic necessities for writing and living – nothing superfluous, a statement of fact. As Greene wrote of Scobie’s room in The Heart of the Matter: “To a stranger it would have appeared a bare, uncomfortable room but to Scobie it was home.¬† Other men slowly build up the sense of home by accumulation… Scobie built his home by a process of reduction’.

Writing at his dual-purpose table, Graham Green faced into the light through a window which shows a fine view of the marina, a few yachts in the winter sun (it had stopped raining) and on the far side of the basin the low slung, immensely powerful sixteenth century Fort Carre, mountain-solid.

– The Life of Graham Green Volume I by Norman Sherry

It shows the limitation of a single photograph used by the Guardian series. Often to capture the setting of the room, the photo had to omit the view. And you would almost always “hear” bout that missing view from the writier’s writing accompanied the photo. Without the view, the room is incomplete. It doesn’t have to be a grand view, a garden, some greenery,¬† or even another apartment building will do. It is an outlet, a place thought could wander.

Bloodshed vs. The Cuckoo Clock

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Reading “Midnight in Sicily”. It is slow going. Not because the book is not interesting, but because it is too interesting. I feel like I owe myself one blog entry every couple of pages.

[Notes to self: a future device that i would love is a tablet sized, kindle-like thing where i could read a book, highlight passages that i like and type out notes on the side as i read easily. The notes and highlighted sections become bookmarks, search-able, and can be extracted into a draft of an essay that i could edit further if i want. The key word here is “easily”.]

1. The word “Bloodshed”.

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – The Third Man, by Graham Greene

I’ve loved this quote because it is clever. Now i also realized i loved this quote because it is in past tense. “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had…terror, murder, and bloodshed,”¬† Under the false sense of progress, we could make light of bloodshed and terror when they are in past tense.

Now i’m reading Midnight in Sicily, and i realize that “terror, murder, and bloodshed” is never a past tense in Italy. It is on-going. At least till 1995 when this book seemed to be written.

That knowledge horrifies me. Reading the Greene quote above again, i feel more horror than humor. Substitute the cuckoo clock for Renaissance is not too dear a price to pay if we could do away with bloodshed in present tense.

2. Specialty in Trade

[1982]…in the north of Brazil, Tommasco Buscetta was … in the company of Gaetano Badalamenti. Badalamenti had been the first of the Palermo bosses Riina had defeated. He’d seen the writing on the wall in time and got out before the slaughter and was doing good business running drugs in north and south America. Buscetta too, after seeing the mediation between the Palermo families and the Corleonesi was hopeless, had returned to Brazil tohis own drug business and his wife and family.

This little paragraph on the two ex-mafia bosses from Sicily cracked me up. The specialty of trade seems to stay within a people from certain geography. Wenzhou-er from China is known to be great small business owners, all over the world (Paris, South America, Middle East, you name it). Cantonese are known for their restaurants. And Mafias drug business?

3. The South vs. The North

A political scientist from Harvard called Putnam has found the paths of northern and southern Italy were already diverging nearly a thousand years ago. The feudal kingdom founded in the south by the Norman mercenaries was, like the Byzantine and Arab states before it, a centralized and absolutist state. Administratively, economically, socially the southern regime was very advanced. Its constitution in 1230 included Europe’s first codification of administrative law in seven hundred years. It founded Europe’s first state university in Naples in 1224. It was a multicultural society ante litteram, tolerant in religion, in which Greek, Arabic, Jewish, Latin and Italian vernacular arts flourished together. But wealth in the south came from land, not commerce, and the regime’s efficiency of rule reinforced the social hierarchy. Its very strengths inhibited change, while in the north by the twelfth century Florence, Venice, Bologna, Genoa, Milan had already evolved into a network of communal republics.¬† They were city states with an active citizenry and a professional public administration. They made their money in finance, trade and commerce and the institutions of modern capitalism had their origins there.

Except the metropolitan style tolerance of religion and diverse culture, this reminds me the contrast between Europe and China. The Northern Italy described here symbolized Europe, while the Southern Italy resembled China almost to the dot.

What’s happening in Sicily and southern Italy at large is probably less an Sicilian or southern Italian character, more a human condition under certain geo and economic condition?

Web Surfing vs. Reading

I am acutely aware that many hours when i used to read have now been taken up by web surfing.  This simple substitution tends to mislead me in thinking only the access point of information has shifted, from a paper based book to a computer screen, everything else stays the same.

But that’s not true.

When it comes to the recipient’s mental state, web surfing resembles television more than it does a book. It is passive rather than active.

90% of the things i come across during my web surfing leaves my mind, at best placid, at worst a complete blank; while 90% of my book-reading fascinates me and gives me the urge to write something, to note down something, or to express something. My mind is so much more active while reading than while web surfing.

Why is that?

Is it because web publishing is easier, so the content are largely blah? While paper publishing is much more demanding, and as a result, most of things on paper are more condensed, more precise, better written, more interesting?

Or am I better at identify good readings on paper than on the web? as a result i spent more time browsing blend content on the web?

Or maybe the internet simply resembles TV program more than it does a book. It is more varied, with lower quality, but more addictive than a book.