Thursday, November 29, 2007

Terrorism is a pretty sensitive subject for a movie, especially one that tries to reflect our present reality as closely as possible. In "The Kingdom", terrorists create a bloodbath at a family picnic for expatriates in Riyadh. The attack is coordinated with cold, calculated precision to maximize the body count of civillian men, women and children, as well as security personnel and emergency response crew.

In the attack, we the audience see the confusion and feel the panic of the crowd. We watch in horror as a man is gunned down while attempting to reach his stricken child. We are helpless as a security guard lures people to him with promises of safety, then detonates himself in the crowd. When the gunmen's vehicle gets rammed by a genuine police vehicle and they crawl out of the wreckage bleeding, there is a sense of relief that the carnage has been stopped, and when they get shot because they refuse to surrender, justice has been served. But that little prepares us for the next attack that follows, just when we think that everything's over.

"The Kingdom" puts the camera firmly in the perspective of the "good guys". The maverick FBI team that takes an officially unauthorized trip to Riyadh face innumerable political, linguistic, procedural and cultural obstacles as they investigate the attack with one of their own numbering among the dead. The team's liaison (aka babysitter), a dedicated, competent and resourceful Saudi police officer is likewise hampered by his own superior officer who is little more than an idiot and a brute. When they come under attack by the same terrorists, outnumbered and outgunned, we celebrate each time another terrorist gets taken out and the team comes closer to rescuing their kidnapped team member, and uncovering the mastermind of the operation.

The team has our sympathies as well because we get a glimpse of their families and feel their comradeship with one another while they are off duty. As for the terrorists, they are mostly anonymous; just another psycho raghead popping up to be cannon fodder or punching bag who deserves what he gets.

By skewing the view, the movie goes beyond the simple narrative and pushes us into an emotional response and shows us the motivation behind this cycle of violence. It isn't political, religious or poverty-related. It simply is the desire for revenge. One side can never view the situation from the other perspective. On "our" side, we see fathers getting killed, children murdered, innocents blown up. But in the climactic battle scene, a grandfather is killed, a brother shot, and we realize why a little boy's eyes glint with such malice in the aftermath. It never ends as long as the solution appears as a zero-sum game.

The movie wasn't as political as I had initially expected. The pacing is quick and exciting, with lots of gunplay and explosions to pass off as an action movie. At times, it almost feels like Counter-strike. Because of the pacing, the resolution becomes too convenient; they get the guy they're looking for, case-closed. Things are seldom so simple in reality.
Surfing wirelessly at the airport while waiting to collect the Wongs from their BKK trip. Flight had been seriously delayed, hence this post's ungodly hour.

Must thank NBS and B-lo for their company earlier this evening. They called me out and we had dinner at this steam-boat place on Liang Seah Street, then browsed Bugis Village to shop for girl things. Bugis Village has undergone quite a transformation. It's cleaner and has wider walkways along the main thoroughfares, and entirely air-conditioned. It looks more organized than I remember. Doesn't seem like I might find anything I want in there, but it's worth a closer inspection when I have the time.

The steam-boat came with two soups in a split boiler. On one side we had a seafood soup (strong prawn flavour) and on the other a chicken soup (strong herbal flavour). I suggest boiling the kidney and liver a little longer than what appears necessary. After I took the girls home, I was very grateful to go home myself to take care of my stomach that started doing flip-flops while I was driving.

Ah, the Wongs should be making their appearance any time now...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The bear stretches and yawns, dragging his mangy carcass outside his cave to breathe fresh morning air and blink in the sunlight once again. He'd been hibernating along with his "Heroes Season 1" box set, which is a great companion through the long dreary winter.

He's kicking himself a bit 'cos if he had picked it up at Gramophone instead of Blue Max, he'd have got it cheaper by $15! Doh! Oh, well, caveat emptor.

Heroes is the X-men tale of the '00s. All flawed human beings (losers, dark-siders, freaks) gifted with a superhuman ability. There are consequences, of course, in how they fit into 'regular' society, but to be honest, even regular human beings often find it difficult to fit in with each other as it is.

It's the tension in wanting to be part of a larger society versus the desire to stand out from anonymity and homogeneity that makes Heroes so appealing. That, plus the drive to find some meaning in our special circumstances -- but nothing less than "sav[ing] the world" will give us that meaning.

That's a nice ideal, but the danger is that we sometimes feel that we need a superpower before we can save the world. Instead of developing and using what abilities we have, we sit around and wish we we had more while the world goes to heck around us.

So if Ando, the amazing no-power man (his only skill is that he can speak English), can get caught up in the adventure, why not us, whomever we are? All right... slowly... put your hands in the air... step away from that cave... and go up, up, and awaaaaaayyy!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gorgeous women's dates tend to be guys who look like crap, observes Julia Allison. She's right! Take a look at the horrendous monstrosity June ended up marrying:

A pudgy, unglam, balding (hence pathetically attempting to cover up by wearing a fish on his head), drooling troll of a human being whose very visage would scare a vampire if they met face-to-face in a dark alley at midnight.

June has her own pet theory why gorgeous babes hang out with mirror smashers, and she'll say that Allison has got it backwards. The uglier the guy, the less likely other women are likely to come sniffing around him and try to take him away. Pragmatic, and makes sense.

Whoever's right, for the guys, the obvious lesson is this: as soon as you get picked up by a gorgeous woman, get ugly real fast and you can hang on to her for life!