Sunday, February 28, 2010

Avatar - The Movie the Myth

I know it has been months since Avatar came out but my enthusiasm for this movie has barely subsided. Truth is, Avatar is more than a movie, it's a breakthrough in the way we'll view films from here on out. With its compelling story, Avatar is an instant classic. But even as legions of overnight lifetime fans fantasize about the greatness that is Pandora, I have to say, this movie truly represents the complete decline of intellect in movie making and consequently the movie goers.

I did not geek out and watch the first midnight showing, but shortly thereafter on X-mas day, I did make up for it by being the first in line in the earliest showing. I dragged along my geekiest friend, Han, to watch the film in IMAX 3D with me. He reluctantly agreed only because he had seen it just the day before. Subsequently, I also went for my second showing with my second geekiest friend, George, who insisted I watch it at the Metreon with its giant ass screen. This is the same guy that listens to the sound track 24/7 on his ipod and constantly asks me to listen to snippets while asking, "Do you remember what part of the movie that piece came from...What, you don't? It's when he's flying. Jesus, did you really see the movie"? sigh...

So, here's some tips on where to watch this magnificent movie. It is important to know it's a technically sublime 3D that requires proper technology to view all the affects in its glory. You MUST watch it in an Imax 3-D equiped theater. It's a consensus that you should try to sit near the back of the theater, in the middle section. It allows you to see every point of the film. It's the only way to truly absorbed the awesome special affects!

All this Avatar worshiping aside, I have to say one thing, WTF! Dubbed as the "Dancing with the Smurfs" film; it does have all the elements of the white man entering seemingly dangerous "native" territory only to win over the hearts and minds of its people. Avatar takes the concept of cultural appropriation one step further by introducing animism. Animism is the belief that all things have souls and we all share this planet in perfect harmony. This includes reverence to dead ancestors as their souls live. Also nature, including animals, rivers, trees, also have souls and therefore should not be threatened in ways that would create instability in the natural order of the planet and its inhabitants.

As an animist from Viet Nam, I have no issues understanding this concept. Of course souls of people and other living or once living things share this planet. And yes, destroying nature or disrespecting dead ancestors have grave consequences. Apparently this sounds like BS mumbo jumbo to many in American society. So much so that director and creator of Avatar, James Cameron, had to incorporate into this narrative a "scientific" component to "rationalize" animism.

This was done through discoveries made by lead scientist Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver). As she explains it, the planet of Pandora is composed of a complex system of quantifiable energy networks more complicated than the human brain. Uh, okay, I guess it's not enough to just believe in the obvious. Rather, the importance in the balance of nature has to be scientifically validated for an audience to buy into what Pandora and the Na'vi people represent. Sad...Hey, should not be shocking but it's disappointing how incredibly myopic the US society is. I worry about the earth and more and more, wonder what 2012 will bring.

Lastly, true to Cameron's maudlin nature (see Titanic), Avatar is laced with tear jerker moments throughout the movie. I, being the cold hearted individual that I am, resisted. However, in the last scene where the Na'vi people and their supporters supervise the ironic march of pathetic human invaders back to their "dying planet," I indeed shed one sole tear. Only in Hollywood does the white invaders lose and have to pack up and go home. In reality, a whole population of American natives were nearly killed out of existence, lands and way of life stripped, children separated from parents, remaining peoples are relocated to secluded slums, many of which live in deep poverty and addiction, and our Earth is dying...

Congrats on winning the Golden Globe for Best Movie and Best Director, Cameron. More is surely to follow...but sad realities remain and this movie does nothing to rectify that. Capitalism, baby!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới - Happy Year of the Tiger!

Wishing all a happy new year!
May all your wishes come true.
Now go collect those
little red envelopes!

Oh, and Happy Capitalist Play on Guilt of People
Who Should be Good to their Partners Daily
Instead of Just One Time a Year Day too!

Friday, February 12, 2010

WONDERLAND: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith by Jason Eskenazi

From time to time, Monkey Lounge will have guest bloggers. For this post, we have the musings of Mochi Mochi. Read below.

The chic for western photographers is as follows: go to japan and be wowed by the difference in culture. take photographs which are "amazing". The west is titillated and trades off of the mystique of Japan as "the other". This formula is all too familiar, and honestly it smacks of orientalism. Once the formula has been established, and in the case of Japan that was over 150 years ago, it becomes an easy thing to repeat. It's easy to make cool images in Japan because it's easy to aestheticize the Japanese culture. But repeating the work of others, and continuing or habituating colonialist patterns is not how great art gets made. So photographers, turn your lens somewhere else.That's what Jason Eskenazi did after growing up in Queens during the Regan era and hearing of an Evil Empire. Eskenazi, winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Fulbright Scholarship, Dorothea Lange Prize, Alicia Patterson Foundation Grant, turned his lens to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He spent much of the 1990s capturing the gritty aftermath of the fall of the former USSR. Rather than aestheticizing the experience, Eskenazi has documented the fracture and breakdown of a superpower in a deeply personal and moving way. Seeing the fall as a tragedy he approaches his subjects with empathy. Eskenazi spent years looking for a way to tell the story of Russian communism, he found the answer in the Russian love of the fairy tale - the fairy tale of communism.
Stringing photographs together in a meaningful sequence is the bane of the amateur, and the delight and challenge of the great photographer. Eskenazi used the outline of the classic fairy tale as a basis for his amazing book of tightly edited, evocative, and unsettling images: WONDERLAND: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. While not following a strict narrative, Eskenazi starts in the place where many classic fairy tales begin: a child was abandon or lost a guardian, and is pushed into the world or the forest of uncertainty. This, his first book, won the 2008 Best Photography Book prize from Pictures of the Year International, and is now in its second printing (the first printing sold out completely.) I just ordered my personal copy of the second edition.
In the last 25 years you could have found Eskenazi working for Time or The Times in in Haiti, Afghanistan, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine or Dagestan. Currently you will find him working as a guard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and exhibiting his work in galleries in New York City. Eskenazi heard the call of photo journalism during its hay-day, before the fall of the publishing and news empires. He wanted to use his lens and vision to change the world on a grand scale. Such idealism is hard to sustain against the tide of realities of the world. Eskenazi now works on grants and creates his own assignments, choosing to make images according to his own standards. He is now changing that same cruel world little bit by bit, one set of eyes at a time.
You can find his wonderful book and learn more at

Jason Eskenazi talks about Wonderland
and Title Nation
from Habitus A Diaspora Journal on