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There’s somewhat a charm about 1970s. Its clothing style, its music, even its films. Director Guillaume Canet in Blood Ties (2013) tried to pull that off.

 

Blood Ties is a concoction of the melodrama of family and romance issues and the cold-heartedness of crimes and violence. Set in New York, 1974, it tells a tale about Chris (Clive Owen) who has just been released from prison. Like yin and yang, the family has him on the dark side and Frank (Billy Crudup) on the light side; him being a cop who serves justice. Frank takes good care of the aftermath of his brother’s release, he helps him find a new job, live in his house, and reconcile back with his wife Monica (Marion Cotillard) despite their father’s favoritism towards Chris. But old habit stays as a habit. Chris eventually wants to get back to the dark criminal life, posing a dilemma towards Frank as a good cop and also as his brother who unfortunately shares that blood tie.

 

As Canet’s first film debut internationally, Blood Ties is far from the criteria of a bad movie, if not at all. Some people may say the movie is dragging boring, it’s too long–but besides of that’s the signature of European films that only several can appreciate, the “dragging” word itself is necessary to build the nuance of the movie. The story is complex that it takes what it takes to tell it all. Audiences are told to wait patiently to wait for the story to be told. Not in a stuttering way, but it certainly needs a lot of pauses to let the sentimentality replaces the brutality–and vice versa–incessantly.

 

The storywriting itself is neat. It starts off with a seinfeldian conversation which reminds us a lot about Quentin Tarantino’s way of starting a story (the beginning of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, for instance, start off with seinfeldian conversations). And just when the movie catches audiences’ attention is where they insert violence as a surprise factor. Then it intertwines with sentimentality again. The whole movie is a roller-coaster ride full of twists of emotions and turns of giggles or aghast. The story poses a dilemmatic question about the position of family in one’s life, especially one who’s a grown-up man who should not have too much sentimentality in one’s life. But the brothers’ fragility is what makes audiences care for them, because the depiction of family, crimes, jobs, and the romance is just right. Canet didn’t overdo it nor did he leave anything.

 

Like a family who has two sons of opposite traits, in every character there also lies contradictory behavior. Chris may be the criminal one but look at how he awkwardly falls in love with Natalie (Mila Kunis) and the awkward yet sweet proposal he gets for her. Also the love he shows for his kids he has with Monica. Frank, on the other hand, is the cop, but he also does some morally questionable things like hitting on Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) who’s the wife of a convicted criminal Frank once arrested. Later on in the end Frank also has to decide between his job as a cop and his status as Chris’ brother to accentuate the contradictory side of him. It’s a realistic picturization of the complex human characters and it’s depicted honestly and patiently since the beginning of the movie.

 

To be brief, Blood Ties (2013) depicts a dilemmatic yet realistic story about two brothers struggling for their own lives. The movie is dragging long but not boring  in the least bit. The display of violence and romance and sentimentality is just right, honest, and not overromanticized. Blood Ties is indeed worth watching. I’ve read so much bad reviews about this movie in which I don’t understand why people dislike this movie (it only gets a 6.4 rating in IMDb, for God’s sake). Perhaps some people just dislike the way the movie uses the common formula of a good movie–like 1970s great songs as the soundtrack, seinfeldian conversation, or plain sex and gore. I admit that criticism but still the way it succeeds to make a neat story and an honest picture is what’s worth appreciating from this movie. Blood Ties is really worth seeing.

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Saman, Larung, Bilangan Fu, and other Ayu Utami’s works are outstanding, there are absolutely no reasons to doubt her. These are masterpieces critically acclaimed for its unique point of view, complex storytelling, and complicated theme. Cerita Cinta Enrico is only partially like that. It’s a simple story about one’s simple life, for simple people, and therefore captures everyone’s heart who reads it.

Cerita Cinta Enrico is a story about Enrico–Ayu Utami’s husband–from the day he was born until today. Published in 2012, the book accompanies us the readers to see Enrico’s life, starting with a historical background. Enrico was born on the same year as PRRI in Sumatera–1958–and his father was one of PRRI troops so he got trapped in the situation. Utami tells us a story about this little family’s life–about the death of Sanda, Enrico’s only sister, and also about the love of Enrico towards his mother that was so complicated as well. When he grew up he entered Institut Teknologi Bandung and he was also one of the students in the ITB Demonstration to oppose Soeharto’s re-election as the Indonesian president, in 1978. When he was a college student he was promiscuous, he thought women were some kind of toys he’d always be able to afford. This all changed when then he met A (Ayu Utami herself) as a painter and himself as a photographer. Fortunately they fall in love so the ending of the book makes everyone really happy.

From all Ayu Utami’s books, this may be her simplest story to be told. But Ayu Utami hasn’t lost her signature as a social critique. On the most part she keeps criticizing the government through Enrico’s eyes, she gives place to rebel and anti-government groups in her book as a counterbalance of government’s incessant demonization towards those groups in the approved history books. When she tells a story about PRRI, she doesn’t use the word PRRI vs government–that sounds as if the entirety of Indonesia opposed PRRI–but rather she frames the conflict as PRRI vs Java (central government). She gives poignant criticism towards Soeharto as well in the story of ITB students demonstration, framing Soeharto’s even most-applauded policy as something bad for the low-class society (Soeharto set really low price of household items but in fact, Utami states, it only harmed food sellers because they couldn’t afford much benefit from selling food due to such policy). She portrays the cold-heartedness of Indonesian military through violence they did towards the demonstrants, them being nonchalant about shooting an innocent student and them hitting a lot of students. All is well-portrayed through Enrico’s glasses, through Enrico’s real life experience.

Cerita Cinta Enrico doesn’t stop only on political issues. Utami portrays a really romantic story of Enrico’s parents–Muhammad Irsad and Syrnie Masmirah. Besides Ayu and Enrico’s romantic story, of course. The most romantic thing about this is that even Utami doesn’t try too hard to portray the romance, since romance is not the main focus of this book, but she writes it in a nonchalant way. The words flow without giving away unnecessary plots or twists. She often moves on to the next chapter after giving the readers a hint about the sentimental things–she doesn’t satisfy the need of romantic story, but the dosage is just right. And this nonchalance even makes the story sweeter without making it sound cliche.

All in all, Cerita Cinta Enrico is a very beautiful, honest story about someone’s life that doesn’t only revolve in romance (like the title may mislead the readers) but also politics. That’s a realistic view of life–politics and sentimental issues all get intertwined and Utami does a wonderful job on making it sound balanced. Besides, when you write about someone else’s life, you admit that that person has an incredible life with a lot of things go on. The thing about Enrico is that he’s not someone with high position, nor is he well-known in society. But his life is incredible. Ayu Utami has proven that his life is incredible, his mother’s life is incredible–all of our lives are incredible.

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To be really frank I’ve never made a review of a artistic movie with layers of interpretations like this movie offers. I also don’t have a credible interpretation myself, so I’ll quote some necessary interpretations and statements here. All quotes and statement will be credited, of course. Perhaps reviews of Jia Zhang-ke movies are the only reviews with footnotes and references I have in this stupid blog. So, here it goes.

 

A Touch of Sin tells a story about four people that seem to not know each other and are unrelated. It starts off with a story about a motorcyclist getting robbed by teenage thugs and how he gets away with it through violence. He later comes in the second tale of the movie. But the first tale is about Dahai (Jiang Wu) who accuses a rich man of embezzling money that should’ve been given to local people in that area. He watches this man in his private plane, in his Maserati. He criticizes all that but the corrupted system shuts him down until he chooses to do his own justice, in his own vengeance through a rifle and a roaring tiger.

 

The aforementioned motorcyclist (Wang Baoqiang) then comes in the second tale as a migrant worker who comes home to celebrate his mother’s 70th birthday. The third tale is about a massage parlor receptionist (Zhao Tao—Jia Zhangke’s wife) who gets beaten by her lover’s wife. Later on she fights back a rape attempt done by two massage parlor consumers going there to have some fun, thinking that every woman there must be some kind of prostitute. Zhao Tao’s character fights back with a small knife by painting the screen red; and when I watched that scene I wish I were in a cinema so I could share the standing applause with other spectators. The movie is closed by a story about a teenager (Luo Lanshan) who by accident is mutated to work in a nightclub as a waiter and also accidentally falls in love with one of the hookers there.

 

As McCreadie posted in her review, Jia Zhangke is that of Tarantino-style.[1] She said that in terms of violence portrayed in the movie. I do really agree though that the movie is so vocal and brave, criticizing the harsh life in modern China and whatnot, but there’s something beyond that. The style of the movie—four stories knotted by a red string; violence—reminds us a lot by that of Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (1994), right? Tian zhu ding bears resemblance with Tarantino’s style of directing and that is in the good sense.

 

Beyond the nausea-inducing violence, it is notable that the movie offers the spectators beautiful cinematography. The cinematographer, Yu Likwai, portrays rather painfully beautiful landscapes of China—the snow, the mountain, and sometimes the slum areas, in such a beautiful way as well. Also the glamour nightclub in the last tale, portrayed side-to-side with a confused teenager’s forbidden love and loneliness. Or the shooting scene in the first tale, done in front of a beautiful temple, because blood goes beautifully with temple, no? It is a high achievement for cinematography department and that makes the movie more beautiful.

 

Talking about Jia Zhangke’s movies we cannot refuse to talk about hidden meaning. Something beneath the surface. References. Addiego (2014) explained about the visual connections in the movie; that of Dahai’s red coat in the first tale to be used by the nightclub hostesses later in the last tale, or when Zhao Tao’s character in the third story gets beaten by two men resemble a lot with horse’s whipping done earlier in the movie.[2] McCreadie also explained that—in her own words—“the film’s glimpses of China today intrigue.” As like Jia’s previous movies, Tian zhu ding is a strong criticism towards Chinese government and as he himself said it in a Q&A session at the screening, “The expansion of China has been so fast, there’s been no room for the system to catch up with any kind of humanity.” (McCreadie, 2013)

 

[1] McCreadie,Marsha. 2013. A Touch of Sin. Accessed at http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/a-touch-of-sin-2013 on April 3rd, 2014.

[2] Addiego, Walter. 2014. ‘A Touch of Sin’ review: A vision of violence in modern China. Accessed at http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/A-Touch-of-Sin-review-A-vision-of-violence-in-5109394.php on April 3rd 2014.

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So I just happened to watch this movie yesterday in Nonton Bareng Perantau event. I rarely watch Indonesian movies but The Raid; The Raid is the one I like. Since the first one came up (The Raid: Redemption), I just knew that it was going to be a great movie. Directed by Gareth Evans, this action, thriller movie gets applauded internationally and became one of the most anticipated movies in 2014. With the current rating of 8.8/10 on IMDb, The Raid 2 : Berandal seems to be a huge success so far.

 

The Raid 2 starts off with blood, gore, violence. Then it moves to another scene — in a situation assumed after The Raid was over– where Rama (Iko Uwais) is “recruited” to join taskforce to debunk criminal lives of corruptors. It is a dilemma for Rama, because at the time he wants to protect his family–his wife and his child after what he’s done in The Raid. It turns out he accepts the offer and alters his name to be Yuda, an undercover cop embedded into the life of a corrupt politician in order to witness everything he does. His role includes getting into prison, becoming an inmate, and befriending Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of the targeted politician. After protecting Ucok in a muddy fight, Yuda’s recruited to join him in assisting his father’s business. There Yuda / Rama witnesses the corrupt tycoon, and tries to bring it all down to its end.

 

The thing about a sequel movie is that its prime comparison must be with its predecessor movie. In this review I’ll compare mostly about The Raid : Redemption and The Raid 2 : Berandal.

 

The most remarkable thing about The Raid is its on-screen violence. Gore, violence, and fighting scenes are the #1 factors that make these Gareth Evans’ movies outstanding. In Berandal, I felt that the fighting scenes are like dance with blood as its main companion, just like in Redemption. However, I think the fighting scenes in Redemption are slightly less “tidier” than those in Redemption. In Redemption all the fighting scenes are like rapid heartbeat motion; the pace between hit and punch is predictable and hence looks exactly like a manly dance. Meanwhile in Berandal the pace is slightly messier, they can get faster or slower just the way they like it. I don’t know if that’s intentional coming from the filmmakers or not, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing to begin with. What I appreciate from Berandal though is that the fighting scenes take in various places that makes it pleasing to the eyes but not when I followed my heartbeat to measure the pace of the movement.

 

Kudos to Gareth Evans for the scriptwriting, though. Berandal contains way more complicated story and Evans obviously gave more efforts to tell the story compared to that in Redemption. In Redemption there’s a huge plothole (you can visit the movie’s discussion board to know more about it) and even the plot twist is told in the end by an actor saying it, which, for me, is a lazy way to tell your story. Maybe because Redemption was focused on its action scenes rather than its story but perhaps the criticism towards the story got to Evans and he tried to improve it in Berandal. To be frank I didn’t understand some parts of Berandal’s story and I just got it after I visited IMDb page afterwards and discussed it with my friend. Despite the complication I think the script is stronger in Berandal rather than in Redemption, with the story told patiently between scenes and acts, though it could’ve been much better. Some of things that bug me is the way dialogues are said, since I know that Indonesians don’t talk like that. Some conversations are too awkward to be said in Bahasa Indonesia (like the inconsistent use of “aku”, “gue” and “saya” in one sentence, or when Rama whispers “Awasi aku” which is the loose and awkward translation of “Watch me.”) But still I appreciate the effort towards the stronger scriptwriting.

 

Berandal also looks way more melancholic compared to its predecessor movie. I even think that the dosage of drama triumphs over that of the action part. The most obvious part is when Prakoso is told to be caring so much for his son and family despite him being cold-blooded hitman. Also if in Redemption the main color of the movie is black and it delivers the bleak and noir nuance, in Berandal it’s way more colorful (elegantly colorful of course). Some scenes are also overromanticized and even illogical, for example when Prakoso fights hitmen out of the bar……. on the snowy road in Jakarta. Seriously, dude, if anything, Jakarta is as hot as the sizzling pan Rama once “cooks” a cop on. It adds the melancholy and it’s not bad, but it’s just surprising to me that the once cold-blooded Redemption directing Gareth Evans suddenly chooses to overromanticize and overdramatize several scenes. It seems like in Redemption Evans chose to be more like Brian de Palma, while in Berandal he was more like Robert Rodriguez in his “Sin City” manly drama.

 

The overromanticization also gets into the cinematography of the movie. Obviously the cinematography department put more effort to make Berandal more aesthetically pleasing than that of Redemption. The use of zoomed-in takes really perpetuates this nuance. I love how for example when Bejo (Alex Abbad) slides a knife to Ucok (Arifin Putra) slowly for the camera to shoot it, zoomed-in. But when needed, the camera follows the fast-paced, thrilling scenes as well; the fighting scenes (especially my favorite one inside the car–I thought it was hard to film such actions inside a small space like car but they managed to capture every movement well. Good job, indeed).

 

The soundtracks also contribute so much for the movie. Congrats to Aria Prayogi, Joseph Trapanese, and Fajar Yuskemal for its scoring. I love how the scores add so much tension and play with our emotion so well. I rarely pay much attention to one movie’s scoring but this one is kind of remarkable so let’s give standing applause for the music department as well.

 

The star-studded movie obviously offers good acting. I don’t say the acting of the actors in this movie is bad, it’s just they could’ve done much better. It is good enough, though. The casts are suitable for their characters but as with a lot of great movies I’ve watched, I want the actors to make us forget that they act. It wasn’t achieved in Berandal as well as Redemption. But then again because I love action, thriller movies and the actors succeed to deliver their best action scenes so I forgive them.

 

Oh, and also, I happened to take a picture with Arifin Putra after Nonton Bareng in XXI Emporium Kuningan. He’s handsome in real life, too.

 

This picture only accentuates the fact that I'm short but I just want to show off that I took a picture with Arifin Putra so I don't care.

This picture only accentuates the fact that I’m short but I just want to show off that I took a picture with Arifin Putra so I don’t care.

 

All in all, it’s a must-watched movie, especially if you’re an Indonesian moviegoer. Don’t listen to anyone who says that “there are too much violence” in it because there’s no such thing as “too much violence”. Action movies either bore you with lack of violence (this thing exists) or please you with its on-screen gore. There’s nothing beyond that.

When I was in junior high school I was completely in love with The Beatles everybody knew I loved them. I love them nonetheless until now, but I have to admit that The Beatles is like a formal husband I’d like to introduce to everyone but Avenged Sevenfold is more like a mastress I’d only introduce to a few who completely understand my weird obsession and taste. Avenged Sevenfold was my first love to metal songs and up until now I still worship them as one of the very few bands with lyrics to highly relate to.

 

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Here goes my list of the best songs from them :

 

1. A Little Piece of Heaven

One cannot sound like mentally sound if they say they love the lyrics. But I do. Epic, quirky, and dark are three words that best describe this song. Several people say that ALPOH is Bohemian Rhapsody’s version of Queen–and as a huge fan of Queen as well I don’t think it’s a blasphemy. I particularly love the choir and the wedding oath part. ALPOH is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard and it never really ceases to make me happy everytime I listen to it.

2. Second Heartbeat

A very personal song for me; it accompanied me in my hardest time last year and thus it remains as one of my favorite songs from Avenged Sevenfold. A very remarkable part of this song is…………. the drum. Seriously guys, when I first listened to this song it was not the vocal nor the guitar that caught my full attention but the drum. I memorize every single beat of it and mouthing it is even the perfect definition of “singing” this song. That was the time that I realized this band was beyond their depressing lyrics but more of their skill (seriously). The lyrics are about someone feeling lonesome due to his friends’ passing and the drum–once again–drives me very emotional.

3. Sidewinder

Another masterpiece from Avenged Sevenfold. They also show their skill in this song as well. The solo guitar part starting from minute 4:44 is what makes this song sounds 100000% better in my ears. Beautiful, beautiful guitar playing. So delicate.

4. Seize the Day

The words outside are not wrong. People tend to love Seize the Day and they’re not wrong. I affirm you guys’ choice by putting this song on my 4th rank. The lyrics are so romantic (“I’ve found you here, now please just stay for a while; I can move on with you around” and whatnot), the video clip is heart-wrenching, and overall a masterpiece. One of the first songs I knew made by Avenged Sevenfold and still has my soft spot.

5. Lost It All

A very underrated Avenged Sevenfold’s song. I repeat, because I don’t think it’s heard the first time; A. VERY. UNDERRATED. AVENGED. SEVENFOLD’S. SONG. You go listen this song and go tell me how awesome it is.

6. M I A

I don’t think there is ever a song that tells a story about soldiers, war, and PTSD better than this song does. It is poetic. The lyrics are written in simple words because they carry so much truths that sophisticated words cannot convey. I love it. I love the solo guitar part, the screams, and everything within this song.  

7. Welcome to the Family

Maybe Avenged Sevenfold is just way talented in making sad, angry, depressing lyrics and that is just proven in Welcome to the Family lyrics. I first listened to it in my late teenage years I guess and they told me advice about being an adult.

8. Burn It Down

Another song that makes you angry or if you just need to justify being alone.

9. Gunslinger

I have never been an avid fan of love songs but Gunslinger is just exceptional. For what is sadder than seeing your loved one go to war and you’re left with nothing to do with the situation? I particularly love the acoustic guitar playing that fades into rhythm in the reff; it’s like Avenged is afraid that the listeners would forget who they were if they didn’t play the song in rock mode.

10. Crossroads

Another personal song for me….. that accompanied me whenever I needed to justify that I don’t need to be perfect. Funny how I find both depression and consolation in Avenged Sevenfold’s songs. Crossroads offers tthem both.

 

Okay picking out only 10 songs I REALLY love from Avenged Sevenfold is really hard, so here goes my honorable mentions list, that is just as great :

11. Betrayed

12. Afterlife

13. Fiction

Best Vocal Performance : So Far Away

Best Guitar Performance : Sidewinder

Best Drum Performance : Second Heartbeat (we miss you, Rev)

Best Bass Performance : Chapter Four

 

Avenged Sevenfold own my heart, at least for the most part. My only regret is that I didn’t love them sooner that I’d be able to attend their concert. Come back here, please?

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