Imagine science film festival

Just a quick note before I doze off for tomorrow’s work.

NYC, befitting its status as one of the more interesting places to live in around the world, is the host to this amazing event called the Imagine Science Film Festival. Now I’m nuts for all things science, but I especially love this festival in comparison to other science-y things to see and do around the city (with possible exception of DIYBio-NYC).

I personally believe that arts and sciences go hand in hand and that current division between the sciences and the ‘humanities’ is something of a temporary cultural aberration that we’ll all look back and laugh at. And the kind of works I saw at last year’s Imagine Science Film Festival events showed me a glimpse of what a future with sciences and humanities intermingled together might look like. It’s not so much as the specifics of the individual films but the overarching theme pervading through the atmosphere of the whole festival itself that caught my attention. Perhaps it’s the passion of the event organizers rubbing off on others watching the films. Perhaps it was just me realizing something I already had inside me through the mirror of projector screens.

If you’re in the NYC area, make sure to check out the webpage for the imagine science films and mark the dates on the calenders (there’s a screening benefit program this September 9th). Last year most of the screenings were free and I get a feeling that it will continue to be that way this year as well. If you’re not in the NYC area, feel free to donate in return for some cool t-shirts 😉 You’ll be supporting a worthy cause.

And here’s the festival trailer for your viewing pleasure.

Coraline

I feel a little guilty about posting on Coraline when there are dozens of science write-ups sitting in the draft corner of the webpage, but I think I might as well place emphasis on the recent event. Of course, it also helps that I’m a hopeless fan of works by Neil Gaiman.

I saw the Coraline at the Ziegfeld last night, a late night sojourn that ended with me coming back home around 2:30 in the morning. The film was marvelous, and I’d suggest anyone who was on the fence to go ahead and give it a try. It’s very much like the Nightmare Before Christmas, basically dolls captured scene-byscene composed into a whole film. The film Coraline is based on the novel Coraline written by Neil Gaiman, though there were few differences that anyone who read the book should be able to pick out. You would be relieved to know that unlike most other Hollywood book-to-film adaptations, I got the feeling that certain elements of the story were edited in order to best fit the medium rather than some insane rating criteria, and on the whole it works very well. Neil Gaiman always had that fantastic flare to his writing that weren’t quite fantasy yet fantastic enough to be unreal, very much like how Stephen King had a knack for turning the usual into unreality and explored the changes in human psyche within the metamorphosis of the world (personally I consider Neil Gaiman to be a much better writer than the Stephen King, if only in terms of the ingenuity of the imagination t work behind both writers’ works). Coraline definitely has all the trappings of a fairy tale. A little girl lost in the woods, the haunted house, mysterious old woman, evil stepmother, and the circus of jumping mice. The film as a whole feels as if it was a modern juxtaposition of all the elements of the conventional fairytale throughout history, a mish-mash of all the archetypes that we all knew and loved regardless of the individual cultural background (which would also mean that the film will not appeal to you if you don’t have the taste for the fantastic, but if that’s the case what are you doing in the Coraline theater in the first place? Go watch ‘he’s just not that into you’ or something, not that there’s anything wrong with the movie). And surprisingly enough, it works well. For the duration of an hour and a half (was it longer or shorter? I lost my sense of time during the film, I still can’t figure out just how much time I spent in the theater) I was lost in the fantastic yet familiar world of the Coraline, sympathizing with the cute-as-a-button main character and being awed at the visual tour-de-force of all the dolls being lighted up and blooming into living breathing beings.

Now, you should take Coraline for what it is. If you are looking for the kind of ‘seriousness’ present in the indie film like the Pi you will not find it here. There won’t be any philosophical discourses and debates on the divinity or the holy moment in crafting film (as it was in the case of the Waking Life, another indie film which I suggest anyone with even a remote interest in movies to find and watch immediately, it might be a life-changing experience… It was for me, and despite all the heavy philosophical discourses in the film I’d say that it was also another form of fairytale distilled to the modern tastes). What you will find, however, is a very honest treatment of a little girl living and sometimes getting lost in a world where good and horrible things can happen when you open a wrong door (or should it be the correct door? Since if she couldn’t find it the story would never have taken place) in an old house. The film Coraline never tries to be what it isn’t. It’s just good at being what it is, and what it was intended to be. And shouldn’t that be mark of a good film?

The version of Coraline I saw was formatted to be watched using a 3D glass, the kind you frequently see in the IMAX theaters with all the whales swimming around and weasels poking their nose into you face. Anyone with decent theater going experience should know what the whole deal is about. On the whole Coraline works well with the given medium. If you are looking for some sort of thrilling experience with hands and eyes popping into your face you are rather unlikely to find it, but if you are looking for a beautiful 2D experience with some added flavor the current version will do. I must add that the 3D versions of the film Coraline will not be in the theaters for the duration of its run, and whatever the theater that carries Coraline will revert back to normal 3D glass-less film in a week or two I think. I especially loved the garden scene in the movie. The 3D flowers lighting up and blooming into full shapes were very beautiful to watch and brought a smile to my face… A little side note on the matter of 3D glasses. Despite the message at the beginning of the film telling you to return the 3D glasses after the film, I think the Ziegfeld theater in Manhattan (about the only place that runs Coraline right now, oddly enough considering the hundreds of theaters in the city) actually gives you the glasses as a souvenir, which I found out only after returning the glasses and walked out of the theater.

Another thing to watch out for after the film. If you are patient enough to sit through to the very end of the credits, the film will display a very special message. It’s a password. You can enter that password into the Coraline movie website to enter into a random drawing of special hand-stitched Coraline sneakers, and they even have adult-male sizes! (so it’s not just for kids) I don’t think I should tell you what the message is, but if you can’t find the password page on the Coraline website (I spent close to ten minutes clicking on everything), the nice rock given by the ladies Ms. Forcible and Ms. Spink will help immensely in finally figuring out where to enter that password (which I promptly entered at around 3 am). Will I be able to win the shoes? I have my fingers crossed. I’m definitely in need of some new pair of shoes (though it’s very unlikely that I’d actually wear the Coraline shoes even should I win it).

Fairytale always fascinated me. Fairytales are what we end up with when the gods and heroes pass away with their myths, the fantasy of everyday lives. Unlike what some people seem to think, fairytales are rarely if ever childish, unless the the creators of the fairytales actively try to sanitize it. The one word to describe the essence of fairytale would be ‘shadow.’ Exploration of the hidden motif beneath everyday events, an act that is inevitable as long as the humanity is capable of conscious thought and emotional response.

Fairytales are ever present within the very fabric of human society, because the essences of fairytales are far beyond the simple archetypes of old witches in forests, locked doors and scary things roaming in the dark. Fairytale is the last resting place of any idea that once lived in the light, that’s been aged and killed with the passage of time and lapse of civilizations. That aspect of fairytale as a graveyard of once widely held beliefs that had been relegated to the flow of time is most obvious in cultures that had been more or less taken over by the so called ‘western ideas’ in relatively recent years after the demise of their indigenous culture. Japanese and Mexican fairytales and the like are the most coted examples, but we needn’t even go that far in search of exotic locations. We can simply look beneath the stories of cross-studded stories of kings and knights in Europe to find the most unexpected beliefs sustaining their meager life as fairytales in minds of the populace.

Once that grace and grandeur of the original myths had been stripped away with time, the old stories remain with us in its cold and naked forms since nothing holds them upon distant pedestals anymore. It descends to our level and stares into our eyes, whispering things into our ears that we have been so far away to hear in the past. When myths become fairytales they be come feral. When myths speak of the giant monsters in the dark it speaks of the pantheons of gods and individual tidbits and family affairs of the whole clan complete with intrigues and jealousies. When the same myth becomes a fairytale it only speaks of the huge thing standing in the dark, it has no name, and it has no family. At that moment we realize that while we were busy counting the number of fights the gods went through in their shining armors during their heydays, the thing in the dark had been staring at us all along, silent and waiting. The moment of that realization is the moment that we realize the true depth and value of fairytales, and that is the moment we begin to understand ourselves as not just animals born a few decades ago, but human beings with thousands of years of history behind us, with hearts too deep to fathom.

The Sky Crawlers screening

Just got back from nyc Sky Crawler’s screening. I’m a little burned out, so let me just jot down a couple of points for further recollection tomorrow.

1)The screening opened with a recorded message from the venerable Mamoru Oshii himself. He said that the movie was about people who stopped/refused to grow up, and drew a parallel between the immortal pilots and the mindset of the current generation. Despite being spoken in Japanese, his words felt well thought out and serene. He obviously gave a lot of thought into this.

2)The basset hound, the major Kusanagi look-alike, gothic architecture in part of the film, strange machinery possibly playing music, lot of thoughtful dialog, and reference to the Albert Camu’s the stranger. This film has Mamoru Oshii written all over it, and that’s a good thing.

3)Everybody smokes a cigarette. Seriously, I think I saw someone lighting up practically every five minutes (the film was two hours long). It’s definitely intentional, but to what end? I think I know what Mamoru Oshii wanted to say, but won’t write it here since there’s a spoiler.

4)Lot of daring here folks. Remember that the main characters are immortal teenagers that must be killed through violence. These teenagers don’t shy away from adult situations, and Mamoru Oshii might have done some intentional dare to the censorship system. I like the realism, but some people might have issues with it. Of course, nothing perverted here. Nothing we wouldn’t expect teens in kill-or-be-killed situations to do.

5)The movie was two hours long, and in typical Mamoru Oshii style there’s a lot of philosophizing dialog, blank stares, and silent scenes. Amazingly though, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. And the characters, despite not saying very much, felt very alive and understandable through their facial expressions and motion. This movie isn’t boring. If someone does find this boring, they will probably find anything that has thoughtful dialog to be boring.

6)This is a movie adaptation of a novel and it shows. Time to time I needed to glean a lot of information from a simple scene or two, the kind of things the novel might have spent a chapter describing. I think the overall transitions were done masterfully, but it is noticeable.

7)The musical score is done by Kenji Kawai (who also did the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack), and it’s beautiful. I know I’m hunting down an ost for this one.

Will I get a DVD once this comes out? Yes. Definitely. Do I expect this movie to make full theater circuit in America? Unfortunately, that’s very unlikely considering the subject matter. As stupid as the censorship is, it’s not going away anytime soon, and this film has a few things that might make your normal High School Musical lovers feel uneasy (not that there’s anything wrong with liking High School Musical).

I think I had a couple of other points I wanted to make, but my brain is all mushy right now. Gotta go to sleep for tomorrow’s lab session.