Tag Archives: narrative

Making Till We Meet Again: Backpacking and Screenwriting with Johan Matton

tillwemeetagainTill We Meet Again is an award-winning indie film focused on the way relationships can both begin and change when traveling abroad. So far I have been given the opportunity to watch and review the film, as well as bounce a few questions off of director Bank Tangjaitrong in the first installment of “Making Till We Meet Again“.

Today I’ll be sharing an interview I conducted via email with Johan Matton, whose role in the production include writer, executive producer, and acting as Erik, one of the leads. That being said, while the film was ultimately directed and brought to life by Tangjaitrong it can’t be argued that its very existence largely lies on Matton’s shoulders.


David tells Joanna that being in Thailand “realigns you with who you really are.” It seems apparent from the film, which you wrote as well as starred in, that you’d been there before. How much truth do you think there is in that statement?

I wanted the character David (Emrhys Cooper) to come across as a flirtatious, charming person who always knows what to say but is still real and sincere, not the stereotypical obstacle of a man for Erik and Joanna that he could have been. I believe in this moment he speaks about what is true to him; he is not just using catchy lines to charm Joanna (Linnea Larsdotter) at this point, I think he means it sincerely and believes this to be true. For me I believe in individuality [laughs] and that expressions such as this where “you” means “everyone” can be a bit naive.

Some people might be aligned, some people may not. However, empirically for me, Thailand definitely aligns me and I find myself looking inwards and realizing what more I can give to the world and how egotistical New York makes me if I do not take enough pauses from the city. I also believe strongly that some people do tend to get grounded sometimes when they travel and change perspectives from the loop of life we are usually in. So the statement is true to David and for me, but most likely not to everyone. Continue reading

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Making Till We Meet Again: Director Bank Tangjaitrong on Filming Your Home Country

tillwemeetagainLast Wednesday I posted my review of Till We Meet Again, an award-winning American-Thai production. The film follows the experiences of a couple traveling through Thailand, paying particularly close attention to how separation and loneliness play a part in their relationship.

Following that is “Making Till We Meet Again“, a series of interviews with the creators. The first of which is an email Q&A with director Bank Tangjaitrong to get insight on how Till We Meet Again came to be. Following sometime after should be interviews with Johan Matton, who both starred in and wrote the film, as well as co-star Emrhys Cooper.


From what I could tell this is actually your second time working with Johan Matton, with the first being your award-winning short film That Girl, That Time, which you wrote and directed. He was the star of both films, but actually penned the script for Till We Meet Again. Can you share anything about your experiences working with him, as well as having him on story duties this time around?

I always look forward to my collaborations with Johan as we’ve worked together so many different times in the past from a director-actor capacity. With Till We Meet Again, Johan was not only the actor but also the writer and producer, and to most directors that would be an immediate red flag since lines would be blurred and there wouldn’t be a sense of hierarchy with too many “voices” on set, but that was not the case here. Collaboration is essential for me and I try to bring in the best people for the job and learn from them and listen to them. Every idea was valid whether it came from an actor, producer, writer, gaffer, etc. But it had to all be funneled through the director and he or she would choose what works what doesn’t and I think Johan understood that. During the shooting process our relationship was always about director and actor first, that was the priority.

I read that you were born and raised in Bangkok, and wanted to know what it was like filming the majority of a feature film in your home country. In particular I noticed that while shots are certainly beautiful, they never feel exoticized. Unlike, say, the way Thailand was portrayed in The Hangover Part II where it’s very clearly depicted as a foreign place.

The way we shot Thailand was very important to our story and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just including famous landmarks and treating the visuals like an ad for the tourism authority. We needed to find that balance between what’s expected of a film shot in Thailand but also a film about the human condition. It’s important that a scene that takes place in the confines of four walls can be equally as intriguing as a scene on a secluded tropical beach.

walkin Continue reading

The Last 3 Books That Made Me Cry (And Why You Should Read Them)

I love getting lost into the world of a book. You know how it is when you can’t handle taking a bathroom break or stopping to eat lunch because it might mean tearing your eyes away from the page? Luckily, as an English major, reading is a big part of my learning experience. Not every book I’ve been assigned to read has been my style, but some of those books have been so good that they sucked me deep into the story until the next things I knew, tears were streaming down my cheeks.

For the sake of this article, I won’t be focusing on all the books I’ve read over the past year. If you want to read a fantastic overview of a wide span of books, I suggest you check out Evan’s 2014 Literary Awards. Instead, I want to share the last three books that made me cry, and, more importantly, I want to discuss the larger issues that make each of these three books valuable reads.

Each of these novels engages with what it means to live in a post-colonial world. In each story, it quickly becomes apparent that the horrors of colonization do not simply end the moment government policy changes.

While I will avoid any key plot points in these books, I will be alluding to general context around the books. If you prefer to go into your reading experience with a blank slate, I should warn you, Spoiler-ish content below.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Generally regarded as the post-colonial prequel to Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea opens in Jamaica, shortly after the abolition of slavery. Rhys’ protagonist, Antoinette, comes from a family of plantation owners who were brought to financial ruin by abolition. As a child, Antoinette struggles to understand what separates her family from the rising class of British capitalists.

By writing from the perspective of a child on the wrong side of history, Rhys prevents any oversimplification of her narrative. She also challenges the idea that colonial injustice somehow ended when slavery did.

Rhys’ strong narrative style creates a story that will immediately pull you in, but her imagery and carefully thought-through word choices create layers of meaning that make this novel much more complicated than it appears at first read. While it initially seems to be a Gothic Romance, Wide Sargasso Sea also explores a variety of important questions around race and gender. Continue reading

Storing Characters: If Not The Fridge, Then Where?

Not all appliances are created equal, and that certainly rings true for longtime readers of comic books. While some of us have discovered the phrase simply by taking part in the discourse that surrounds superhero titles, there are those among us who can remember reading Green Lantern #54, which featured the titular character discovering that his girlfriend had been murdered and stuffed in the aforementioned kitchen mainstay.

Since then [and thanks to Gail Simone] nofridging“fridge” has become both a noun and a verb, and occurs to a character when, according to TV Tropes, “[they are] targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, abused, raped, incapacitated, de-powered, or brainwashed for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action.” It shouldn’t surprise you at all to learn that most characters who have been fridged are, you guessed it, women, and for the benefit of men to boot.

This particular topic made its way back onto my radar after an internet-response-to-comic-book-happenings debacle that I don’t want to get into [Brett White goes into what took place as well as the resulting backlash quite well, if you’re interested], where one of the listed grievances against a particular writer was that he had fridged a longstanding female supporting character.

Timothy O’Neil, whose blog has somehow missed making its way unto the links sidebar, tweeted the following with that in mind:

Continue reading

Django and the N-Word

Let me begin by explaining that this is not a review of the simultaneously acclaimed and decried 2012 Tarantino blood-fest. You want to hear one of those, I’d recommend clicking over to Spill or The Escapist’s “Escape to the Movies.” No, what I want to talk about are some specific elements and segments of the film which have become points of contention, controversy, and debate in the past weeks.

Let’s start with the most obvious:

I. Saying “Nigger” Every Other Word

I won’t claim to know your stance on the word “Nigger”- heck, I’m not even sure of my own stance. Perhaps you view the term as so degrading and reprehensible as to merit burning it from spoken language. Perhaps you believe that appropriating and using the word strips it of its power to even be used as an insult. Maybe you see it as being purely contextual- a term of address with audience and a terrible insult with another.

It’s all Elmo ever thinks about

There are probably strong points to be made on all sides, but perhaps the stance you cannot take is that the use of the word “nigger” was inappropriate for the movie.

Now before you take up the battle-cry of “Tarantino is just trying to shock us!” or “Tarantino uses the word excessively in his other movies!” I have to say this.

You’re right.

It’s Tarantino; that’s not an excuse, that’s a fact. You wanna take up his use of the word in other films, then that’s part of the whole debate mentioned above. Simple truth of the matter is that this use of the word “nigger” would still be controversial if the film had been made by anyone else. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s assume that this movie, with selfish or noble intent, is trying to demonstrate a glimpse of the world in question; the use of that word is almost bound to come up. I might throw out the example of Mark Twain’s classic novel Huckleberry Finn, and while by sheer volume Django probably has Huck beat for use of the word, by percentage I’d posit the two are pretty evenly matched. The escaped slave Jim is repeatedly and almost exclusively referred to as “Nigger Jim,” as are the other black characters in the book. Now Twain was anti-slavery and used that word to demonstrate the dehumanization of African Americans (which is why taking the word out of versions of the book is so dumb), as well as reflect the general use of the word. Now I’m admittedly no historian, but if the writings of Twain and other authors are any indication of the times, I wouldn’t say the film is quite so far off as some critics might suggest.

And speaking of historical accuracy…

II. The KKK, or Lack Thereof

There is a scene in the film during which a group of men wearing white sacks over their heads attempt to stage an attack on Django and Schultz. New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb writes “Tarantino depicts the K.K.K. a decade prior to its actual formation in order to thoroughly ridicule its members’ (literally) veiled racism.” While that scene was (in my own opinion) side-splittingly hilarious, Jelani, and many others, are dead wrong in assuming that this scene depicted historical inaccuracy.

Take this section from Huckleberry Finn:

Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark — and it’s just what they WOULD do.

“So they always acquit; and then a MAN goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you; that’s one mistake, and the other is that you didn’t come in the dark and fetch your masks.

Again, this is a Tarantino movie set in a Tarantino universe. That’s not a defense, simply, as I’ve already stated, a fact. If you’re looking for a historical account of the pre-war South, a spaghetti-western revenge flick probably ain’t the best place to look for it. There are going to be certain inaccuracies, and there are going to be things the filmmaker has to get right- but all of that is beside the point (which we’ll get to in a minute). All of that’s to say if you’re gonna try to criticize (or praise) the movie’s deviation from historical truth, make sure you’re (1) doing it for the right reason and (2) that you’re critique is actually right.

III. Samuel L. Jackson as Uncle Tom

In Django, Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of the villain’s head-slave Stephen, who isn’t so much a character as a caricature of the most groveling, snivelling Uncle Tom you will ever see or even imagine. This guy makes Uncle Ruckus look like Eldridge Cleaver.

You are guaranteed one genuine Gordon hug if you know who Eldridge Cleaver is.

I’ve heard people call this portrayal offensive, bordering on “black-face” in its depiction of stereotypical “black” mannerisms. It’s exactly for that reason that I didn’t have a problem with the character.

I really have no reason for putting this gif in here…

See, the entire point is to make fun of the guy- and not just him, but the quisling slaves that did indeed exist. I don’t think that this portrayal robbed the film of the gravity of slavery anymore than Bugs Bunny foiling a cartoonized Hitler robbed WWII of it’s gravity.

Now let’s get right to it-

IV. The Horror, The Horror

LA Times journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan said this of Django’s depiction of slavery: “It is an institution whose horrors need no exaggerating, yet Django does exactly that…”

This is a flat-out falsehood.

If Django Unchained exaggerated the horrors of the slavery, if the film depicted one one-hundredth of the horrors of slavery, I will never write again. Despite the allegations of this critic, the truth of the matter is that we could depict the institution of slavery for a century and be no closer to depicting an ounce the inhumanity of it all than when we first started. Does the film exaggerate slavery? Absolutely not. Does it make light of it? Certainly this was a concern of mine going into the movie, but having seen it, I really don’t think it can be faulted there either. The film does, I believe, make a distinct effort to show slavery as brutish and ugly as possible. Or, at the very least, the slavery scenes; this is, after all, a revenge movie first and foremost.

V. The Point

That’s the thing I feel most people are missing here. This ins’t a movie about slavery, this is a movie with slavery in it. It’s a revenge film in which one sorely persecuted character dispenses well-deserved justice upon his persecutors and we all nod our heads in approval and feel a sense of pride and joy well up as we look into this fantasy where the bad guy does get what’s coming to him. Slavery is the backdrop, not the subject, of the movie, but it’s just such a major issue that most of us are getting hung up on it. The equivalent might be bashing a western on the basis that the actual “wild west” was pretty peaceful- factually true, but still missing the goal of the story.

No, this is not a historically accurate film. No, it doesn’t capture the horror of slavery. No, it doesn’t even try to wrestle with it. No, it’s not a discussion of our checkered heritage. No, it’s not the film to drag that dark, bloody history out into the light of day.

But damn it, it’s a start.

Monsters: A Book Review

I don’t normally review books in soft-copy. It’s difficult to read from a computer screen for that amount of time, and I find it easier to relate to a book’s solid permanence; if I can pick it up to hold and read, maybe you can [and should] too. That aside, I agreed to review something a friend had written, so here it is in all its candidness.

Monsters: a collection of short stories is exactly that, seven tales penned by  Caleb Bollenbacher, a 2011 graduate from Baylor University. Only available on Amazon for the Kindle, an excerpt of the book’s description is as follows:

Nobody yearns to be a monster. But sometimes it works out that way.
Sometimes you merely find yourself looking into the face of one.
Sometimes that face is your own. Continue reading

Hugo: Scorsese Tells a Story and is Awesome at it

source: alualuna.wordpress.comHugo was another demonstration that a large part of Scorsese is dedicated to documentary. His movie plots rarely rely only on a simple story structure, but draw at truth about some world or society or person – in The Aviator, it was the telling of the life of Howard Hughes; in Kundun it was the exile of Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatzo from India; In Shutter Island it was the mechanics of early 20th century mental health treatment. Scorsese has also made a fair share of documentaries, on topics like Italian cinema, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan.

source: typofile.com

The film tells the story of early and revolutionary filmmaker Georges Melies

In Hugo, Scorsese tells the story of Georges Méliès and the beginning of filmmaking in general. At points the movie goes very far into documentary-land, like in the flashback/exposition which serves as the emotional denoument of the story, which rather adorably self-consciously begins with a full-on direct shot of Ben Kingsley’s face, and involves long clips of Méliès’ original film.

Scorsese uses archetype expertly well, wielding it like a tool and using structure as a support, not a creative hindrance. The plot devices are intentional, elegant, and familiar enough to be pleasant but done well enough to avoid the negative aspects of cliche: the plucky, adorable girl, the awkward side love story, the child-who-is-the-exception-to-the-rule, and the ultimately relatable and flawed authority figure whose villiany is centered on the fact that he does not notice that the child is the exception-to-the-rule [complete with semi-frightening animal companion, physical deformity, past pain, awkward love interest…].

source: hollywoodreporter.com

Hugo and his father, who is briefly and attractively played by Jude Law

The aesthetic themes of the film, too, are constructed elegantly. Hugo is a boy who only sees the world through cracks and holes – through the numbers in the station clocks, through the holes in the vent windows, and through the metal grid of the automaton’s chest. He ultimately enters the world through these cracks, too, when he slips out of the vents or climbs out of the clock face to hang outside. Hugo’s relation to cracks and holes and small spaces mirrors Méliès’ relationship with the camera lens: he sees the world through a lens and ultimately enters it through the lens as well.

The film uses as sort of wheel spokes Hugo’s various relationships with the people surrounding him. The most obvious one is his father, and the automaton which connects them. There’s also, however, the fact that in a fit of frustration he flings himself into his degenerate uncle’s armchair; there’s the moment when the previously hostile bookseller (given gravitas by being played by Saruman) lends Hugo Robin Hood, and there’s Hugo’s emotional infiltration to Georges via Isabelle and Georges’ wife.

The film is ultimately a demonstration of developed connections and necessary maintenances, without which the characters would remain inoperable, like the broken automaton. The relationship aspect of Hugo includes Scorsese’s relationship with the film itself, and the thing reads like a love letter to filmmaking in general.

Worth noting:

source: aceshowbiz.com

Sacha Baron Cohen in Hugo

Sacha Baron Cohen is absolutely brilliant in his complex portrayal of a character which could very easily be buffooned.His stuttering speech is not quite ridiculous enough for us to laugh at, and it complements the familiar crippling self-consciousness that sort of oozes out of his character’s dialogue. He is a fool, but in a relatable sense. He is terribly awkward, but we cringe instead of laugh at his misfortunes. His air of self-confidence is quite transparent and allows us to see the very real human being underneath. Sacha Baron Cohen does excellently.

It seems kind of moot to point out that Ben Kingsley also does a tremendous job. The part spans a huge amount of time and character development, demanding that Kingsley not just play the secretive, intelligent, and broken older Méliès, but also the pre-war inspired artist, delivering platitudes to young boys while wearing a lobster costume. In Hugo, Ben Kingsley is everything that his part should be.

The aesthetics are another solid part of the film. Hugo is (and it does this wonderfully) a war-era film glazed in steam punk. The aesthetic is wrapped in gears, trains, skeleton keys, and old video cameras, and topped with flower sellers in berets and a reassuring sense of the fantastic – lovers of flim noir, steam punk, cyber punk and any aesthetically-intentional style may drool a little. I am unsure about how I feel about 3D – I am too poor and not interested enough to see the more expensive version of the movie – but the fact that directors like Scorsese and Jackson are using it is making me consider itmore carefully. I can at least see how the aesthetic would work well with the round, polished dimension that 3D movies have.

Hugo is a story and, if you Wikipedia Georges Méliès, a true one at that. Its comments on the changing public reception to fantasy and story telling are especially pertinent: the generation that grew up on ultra-ironic media like Shrek, The Office, and SNL are more often receiving stories told unapologetically, like Hugo and Avatar and Harry Potter, and it is interesting to see how we’ll react.