A Great Day For Freedom

On the day the wall came down

They threw the locks onto the ground

With glasses high, we raised a cry

For freedom had arrived!

A Great Day For Freedom, Pink Floyd

And so it ended: not with a whimper, but a bang… or at least with a large degree of whooping, running around and tearing off of school ties. After eight days of exams (or, rather, two years preparing for the IB diploma), the stress and the wait was over, replaced with an overwhelming sense of jubilance and lightness. Somehow (but luckily!) throughout the final exam, I managed to displace excitement from my mind and even at the point we were told to put down our pens, nothing seemed extraordinary. It was just another exam, one of the fifteen we each had to sit. It was just another essay, one of countless I had written in the past couple of months.  But as I went through each of the pages of my essay, numbering them and marking them with my candidate number (000794-018), it began to sink it- I realised that school was over and I had made it.

And so I ran down the stairs and outside (well, until the thought occurred to me it would be mighty unlucky for me to break both legs on the day I finished exams), probably singing something or else just grinning as I’ve never grinned before. I ripped off the tie I would never have to wear again and did a victory lap of the school oval (the term “lap” being used in its loosest sense).

I had imagined that moment ever since I started high school, and especially in the last couple of weeks. When I experienced the sense of relief and freedom at the end of my first set of exams in Year 9, I imagined how much better that feeling would be when the end of exams meant the end of schooling. When, last year, I saw my friends in the year above me come out from their final exams, I felt intensely jealous and pictured myself in their place. And finally the moment was there, unsurprising in hindsight, but quite unexpected at the time, as during the last week or so it felt like it would never come.

That feeling (labelled “diffusion of time” by Erikson– one of the many things I’ll never have to remember or write on again) peaked in the middle of the year. We were told that the middle of Year 12 was the most difficult part (even more so than exams) because all the major assessments were due in quick succession, as were language oral examinations and the such. The gloomy weather probably didn’t help either. At many points in the year, I would look at the “IB Year 12 Calendar”, look at all of the assessments and months still to come and despair. The end would never come, it seemed.

So the feeling was one of great discharge, of finally being unburdened of the stresses and requirements that accumulated throughout the two years of having done IB, especially in this year. It was a sense of freedom I remembered only distantly from the happiness of having come to the end of a school term in primary school, of having been given two weeks (or six, over the Christmas break) of holidays. Througout the IB, the workload had built up: even during the Christmas holidays of 2007-2008, I nonetheless spent many hours working and while relaxing, would still have the prospect of my assignments hanging over me. With each set of holidays, the amount of time allocated to study increased to the point where in the Term 3 holidays, I made a colour-coded study planner which had me studying for eight hours a day (anal much?). And suddenly, there was nothing. No assignments, no requirements, no study or pressure. 

And I am liberated, with so many things to do, to which I can look forward. First on the agenda was a complete purging of my bedroom, moving anything and everything related to school out of my room and into the garage. The notes and handouts- on my table, in my folders, stacked in my wardrobe- filled two photocopy paper boxes and nearly gave me a hernia as I lifted them. And filling those boxes felt so very good, leafing through the countless sheets of paper as I laid them to rest. Flipping through what I was throwing away was a reminder both of what I had achieved and what I had endured– what I would never have to worry about again. Looking at my Extended Essay handbook, blank CAS sheets, various subject syllubi and assessment markbands made me even more happy and grateful; the physical weight of what I was throwing a way a reminder of my new sense of ligthness. The fact that I can actually see my table for the first time in months is an added bonus (also to my mother, who tolerated the general clutteredness and dustiness of the room while I could still play the “hard-at-work” card).

So… three months of freedom and what to do? It would be tempting to literally flop into a sedentary mode, watching television reruns and getting up only for Doritos or coffee. But it would be much more enjoyable and rewarding to finally take the oppurtunity to do all those things I had wanted to do throughout the year but couldn’t. So a return to blogging is on the cards, as is seeing some jazz and learning bass guitar and piano accordion. Finally, I will use the indian cookbook I got for my birthday. Finally, I will read the books piling up in my to-read list. Finally, I will take up bike riding again in an attempt to raise my fitness from a dangerous level.

Finally, I am free.

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Hiatus

Hello there. If you’ve found this blog, liked it and are wondering why there haven’t been any new posts for several weeks, I offer my sincerest apologies. For those of you who didn’t like the blog, I ask: why are you reading this? Sod off!

I assure you this is not a dead blog. Being in my final year of secondary school and about three weeks from final exams, I am excessively busy with revision for this, that and the other as well as the miscellany that comes with this marvellously exciting period of change and transition (the annual Year 12 Teddy Bears’ Picnic comes to mind, as well as my current preoccupation with finding something suitable to wear to Friday’s “what-I-wanted-to-be-when-I-was-little” themed Dress-Up Day). If anybody has a Planeteers tshirt in a Large size, please be sure to let me know.

But I digress. The main function of this post is to alert my dear readers (and I know that you do exist, because WordPress gives me all sorts of charts and graphs and tables detailing your most personal information and the ClustrMap on this site informs me that though my mother has more Australian views on her blog, I am killing her in the South American and European markets) to the fact that as I am inordinately busy, I am, as of the moment unable to provide my readership with new posts.

I will however *points finger inspiringly* promise to resume regular writing once the exams are over, which would be on Thursday, the 13th of November, at approximately 11.00am Eastern Standard Time. At that point, I will likely have a lot of time on my hands to do things like photograph and review Melbourne’s nooks and crannies; as well as record some new musical titbits (which I have been promising to do for quite some time).

So despair not reader! Hope is at hand! The great Phillip Sandwich has not abandoned you completely, but is instead buried in subversive post-modern literature, history texts and news reports on the financial crisis written in Indonesian. I shall return November the 13th. Until then, I bid you adieu.

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Children of Men

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Psalm 90:3

A truly fascinating film, Children of Men is an unusual spin on the dystopian genre: mirroring the Nativity story in “a world without children’s voices”. The year is 2027 and the world has gone to shit: for a mysterious and inexplicable reason, the world’s women have become barren and no child has been born for over eighteen years. Unlike in many other films, there is no single apocalyptic event that threatens mankind; there is only the more frightening prospect of extinction by infertility: the world is to end, as T. S. Eliot might say “not with a bang, but a whimper”.

But the movie itself opens with a bang. The protagonist, Theo, witnesses a terrorist bombing following a news report detailing the stabbing of the world’s youngest person, the last person to be born. There is very little exposition of the setting in which the film is placed but for some news reports:

[first lines
Newsreader: Day 1,000 of the Siege of Seattle. 
Newsreader: The Muslim community demands an end to the Army’s occupation of mosques. 
Newsreader: The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story. 

Later, another news report shows the state of the rest of the world and the collapse of (apparently) all other societies. As a result, millions of refugees have flooded Britain, which has become a police state. For me, one of the best things about Children of Men is that there is a refreshingly small amount of exposition. Nothing of the world situation or the reasons behind the infertility is revealed, unlike in other movies in which the viewers are given a priviliged position, told information that the movie’s characters do not know. I feel this enables the viewer a greater deal of connection and empathy with the characters. Director Alfonso Cuarón says in an interview with the Seattle Times:

“There’s a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations. Cinema has become now a medium — well a lot of mainstream, and even indie sometimes — it’s become now what I call a medium for lazy readers. It’s illustrated stories. You can close your eyes and you can follow the movie. What’s the point of seeing the movie? Cinema is a hostage of narrative. And I’m very good at narrative as a hostage of cinema.”

The film centres on Theo’s journey to get the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, a refugee named Kee, to safety, facing danger both from the government and the activist movement intending to use her baby for political reasons. The journey takes them to a refugee ghetto reminiscent of Schindler’s List and into a firefight which freezes at the sound of the baby’s cry. Without giving the ending away, it is possible to say that, consistent with the rest of the film, it departs from mainstream film and does not have a definitive ending which gives the audience closure. Instead, Cuarón says that he “wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending”.

The theme of hope is developed along with the parallels to the Nativity story: Theo as the protector (but not father) escorting the mother and the child for which the world is waiting on a perilous journey. This mystical religious sense is highlighted by contributions to the soundtrack by Eastern Orthodox composer John Taverner. In addition, the film contains several elements of social criticism: including depiction of extreme anti-immigrant sentiments, human rights abuse, totalitarian government. The use of newsreel footage is particularly effective, as it draws parallels with contemporary society and acts as a warning: referencing detention camps such as Guantanamo, the War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, etc… The round-up of the refugees is reminiscent of Nazi images (such as Schindler’s List mentioned before) but the idea of allowing the government to take such radical measures in response to crises resonates with a post 9/11 audience: “It shows what people can become when the government orchestrates their fears for its own advantage” says commentator Richard Blake.

The visual aspects of the film are particularly appealing: namely its lengthy single-shot sequences. One apparently single-shot scene goes for over seven minutes and is set in the middle of a fierce urban battle. Although it seems like a single shot, scenes like these were actually filmed in several parts and stitched together using CGI. However, they are still extraordinarily effective, and according to the director, notoriously difficult to film. The visuals are wonderful and the decision not to make the future terribly futuristic makes the film look not too much different from our own world. Another visual aspect is the pervading bleakness throughout the film’s urban settings, originally in East London and then in the refugees’ ghetto. Here, as in the other visual aspects, special effects were used and to much greater effect than they normally are. Whereas most action films use special effects as a technological crutch, often as a trick to distract the audience from a lacklustre plot, Children of Men utilizes them excellently, in a way that it is not obvious they are being used at all. Colin Covert of Star Tribune says: “In most sci-fi epics, special effects substitute for story. Here they seamlessly advance it”.

Children of Men is a most effective film, combining an refreshingly unconventional approach to the dystopian futurist genre with themes of both social criticism and hope. Plot, acting, cinematography and soundtrack are all excellent. A compelling and emotionally powerful film. 4.5 stars.

An effective unofficial video synopsis of the film, with Muse‘s “Apocalypse Please“:

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Siren

Easily my favourite Roxy Music album, Siren contains so many fantastic songs. There are other albums that I love to bits yet are not so consistent. Yet with Siren, all but very few songs are excellent. With the possible exception of End of the Line, I never skip its songs if they come up on Shuffle.

Although, being a member of the iTunes generation, I rarely listen to albums straight and always play tracks on Shuffle from a large (1000 tracks or more) playlist, I really enjoy listening to Siren straight. Take Shuffle off, play Love is the Drug and don’t stop until Just Another High (well, unless there’s something really pressing!). The album just works so well as a coherent and continuing whole (although I am often tempted to repeat tracks).

Definitely my favourite song on the album would be She Sells. There are not many songs that I know of that grab the listener in the first picosecond and actually continue into a song (rather than a jingle). For me, the piano intro is just the best thing there is and the short bursts of syncopation in the verse is powerfully driving. The double-time towards the end also works, although the fade-out at the end of the song is a tad unsatisfying considering its powerful beginning.

The next favourite is Sentimental Fool, which begins a bit like something by The Mars Volta. A lengthy (about two and a half minutes!) introduction leads into silky smooth, almost dreamy vocals. The middle of the song is nice but nothing fantastic; however, the last bit (from spooky piano bit on) is hypnotic, mesmerizing. The ending is a bit of a suprise and terminates while you’re waiting for a bit more. But hey! That’s what the next song, Whirlwind is for (provided you are listening to the album– one of the main reasons this is more satisfying than Shuffle).

I could go on about every song, but I’d rather not, because then I’d never get to sleep (and only a masochist would read it all anyway). Readers please note just because I haven’t detailed each song on the album, it doesn’t mean they’re not as good. I just don’t feel I could say as much about them. It suffices to say that Siren is a very good album (have I said that before?). In short, Bryan Ferry‘s voice and music is fantastic, all the songs on the album are favourites of mine (apart from End of the Line, which I consider nothing special)– they are both interesting musically and have a good feel. I think that’s important; because you can have music that is “interesting” from a theoretical viewpoint, but they don’t “feel good”. Ferry hits the note (literally and figuratively) with the songs on Siren. 5 Stars.

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Viva La Vida

I find it hard to form an opinion on Viva La Vida, Coldplay‘s fourth album. On the one hand, some of the songs were catchy and it was good enough to listen to; but it somehow felt unsatisfying, forgettable almost. It is certainly a step up from X&Y (their third album), but not as good or memorable as A Rush of Blood to the Head (their second album). 

I feel that Coldplay‘s desire to make music that will reach more people: the review from Spin commends Viva La Vida as “an album meant to connect with the masses”. But then again, they gave the album four and a half stars, where as Rolling Stone gave it three and a half: an assessment I’m more inclined to agree with.

And it’s not as if the band is “stagnating” or anything. They have moved in another musical direction (and certainly a positive one from X&Y!), which may be interesting theoretically; but what does that matter when the music doesn’t excite you? I’m almost inclined to compare it to the direction Muse took with Black Holes and Revelations, in that both albums were intended to reach a wider (some may say more main-stream audience); but that would be unfair to Muse in that Black Holes was a pretty good album and unfair to Coldplay in that they did move in a positive direction.

Probably the most catchy song on the album is Violet Hill (which was the first single released), but the song is by no means an excellent song destined to be considered a classic down the track. Its simple chord structure and driving rhythms make it something you’ll get stuck in your head and certainly a song that would be good live; but certainly not a song to make you go “wow”.

Other good songs on the album are 42, which is reminiscent of A Rush of Blood with its soft piano, ostinato chords and simple elegance; moving to a fuller sound and then effectively returning; as well as Yes, which has a quite interesting Middle Eastern sound and works well as a song as a whole (unlike several other songs on this album).

On the other hand, most of the other songs don’t really work for me. Cemetaries of London sounds a bit like something by Eskimo Joe and Lost! makes me think of Arcade Fire (keep in mind, both of those bands bore me to tears). Lovers in Japan sounds like something from a Sony ad but otherwise not terribly exciting; Strawberry Swing and Death and All His Friends don’t do it at all for me: completely forgettable, non-songs. 

On the whole, Viva La Vida is not a bad album. If I heard one of its songs on the radio, I wouldn’t change the station. While certainly better than than the tedium of X&Y, it doesn’t quite reach A Rush of Blood to the Head and is certainly not an album that I listen to a lot or would recommend to friends. While the Internet joke “Coldplay? I thought all their fans died years ago!” is a tad unfair, I wasn’t altogether pleased with the album as a whole. Luckily, the few songs I do like salvage the album to a respectable degree and with it, my opinion of Coldplay. 3 Stars.

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Jumper

I thought I may as well include negative reviews along with the positive reviews on this blog, just to give a bit of balance and perspective. Because if you mention what isn’t so good, that which is good seems better. It’s all relative, really.

Easily the most ridiculous movie I’ve seen for ages (with the exception of movies that go out of their way to be ridiculous, such as the Scary Movie franchise), Jumper is the story of a guy who discovers that he has the ability to “jump” through space, to teleport. After running away from his deadbeat dad and sleepy town to New York, David makes a living by getting through doors without having to open them.

However, things go wrong when his carefree life of disobeying various physical and federal laws is interrupted by the arrival of a strangely-clad Samuel L Jackson, who belongs to some secretive religious order that holds a grudge against teleporters (suddenly, fanatical religious assassins seem all the rage…). In short, the film goes: bad guy goes after good guy, good guy is too quick, bad guy is temporarily foiled, good guy gets a girlfriend, bad guy goes after the girlfriend, yadda yadda yadda, his estranged mother is part of said religious order (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!)

I can’t even be bothered explaining the plot, which is absolutely ridiculous. The main redeeming feature of the film (“redeeming” as in I didn’t give it zero stars) are the special effects, which seem to be the main premise of the film. The biggest appeal of the film is the visual aspect: that the character can teleport from New York to Cairo to London to Rome, etc…, but the special effects upon which the movie is primarily based get boring after a while: after all, we’ve seen them in other films that actually had a plotline.

The film tries to be more exciting by bringing in the whole idea of the religious order going against these “jumpers”, but that is never developed; neither, unfortunately, are the characters. The action in the film is good enough and one scene involving some dangerous car driving/teleporting in the streets of Tokyo is probably the most interesting scene in the film, but the ending is a massive anti-climax (you’d think in a ridiculous action flick, you could at least get the ending right!) which attempts some sort of moral vindication of the protagonist. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t want him to be a “goodie” but to kick the bad guy’s ass!

The consensus review on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty much spot-on: “Featuring uninvolving characters and loose narrative, Jumper is an erratic action pic with little coherence and lackluster special effects”. 16% of critics gave it a thumbs up and their average rating was 4/10. I’ll have to agree with that. 2 stars.

Trailer for the film:

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International Baccalaureate

An exclusive look at what actually goes on in IB classes…

 

English Class:

Teacher: Now you see how there are many words starting with ‘C’ here? This symbolizes the naive white attitude to black sexuality.

Me: How do you figure that?

Teacher: Well, the repeated sounds sort of give that image. Do you get it?

Me: Not really. I mean, there aren’t even that many words starting with ‘C’.

Teacher: Oh. Well. Look, theres some words starting with ‘K’ and ‘Q’.

Me: But that’s not ‘C’.

Teacher: ‘K’ and ‘Q’ are practically ‘C’.

 

Indonesian Class:

Teacher: Alright people. You have to do the study. Every day!

Me: Why?

Teacher: I am like a car going in fifth gear. You must keep up!

Me: Wouldn’t it be hard to run alongside a car going in fifth gear?

Teacher: Yes. That is why you must do the study. Every day!

Me: Hmmmm… so what are you teaching us today?

Teacher: I am not a teacher. I am just a facilitator.

Me: But you’re being paid teacher’s rates, right?

Teacher: I am sorry, Sha-sha. I do not understand. Please do the study.

 

History Class:

Teacher: Alright class, today we’ll be watching a movie called “Battleship Potemkin”. It’s a very good film and you can learn a lot about pre-Revolution Russia from it.

Me: Isn’t that a Communist propaganda film? Commissioned by Lenin himself?

Teacher: Um…. er…… ok then. *plays film*

(another day)

Teacher: Alright class, today we’ll be watching a documentary called “Ten Days That Shook The World” *plays film*

Narrator: The entire army had mutinied. The Provisional Government was now left without its military support. The only group that remained loyal to them was the Women’s Battalion.

*film cuts to video of women marching out of time*

Me: LOL!

 

Physics Class:

(Class consists of three of us Australian citizens on one side of the room, and a bunch of international students on the other side)

Teacher: So what is a gradient?

(People put their hands up; Teacher chooses one of the international students)

Student: *Something unintelligible*

Teacher: Not what I’m thinking of. Gradient is what happens when you wait “one”.

Me: Isn’t gradient “rise over run”.

Teacher: No. Its what happens when you wait “one”. So what is the gradient of this graph? You!

Another student: Um…. er…..

Teacher: Its one over four….

Me: Rise over run!

Teacher: Shut up. Its one over four…. so that means… how many fours go into one?

Student: Um…. er…. one?

Teacher: Not what I’m thinking of.

 

Maths Class:

(Class is HL Maths = harder than Specialist. As thus, 95% of the class are international students. About two of them can speak English)

Teacher: Alright. Today we’re going to learn about complex numbers.

Me: That sounds complex

Teacher: Not really. It’s easier than the stuff we did last week.

Me: Very well then.

Teacher: So pretty much what it is, there’s an imaginary number called ‘i’, which is equal to the square root of negative one.

One of the international students that can sort of speak English: But Sir. You cannot square root a negative number.

Teacher: Yes. I know. That’s why we call it an ‘imaginary number’.

Me: Fair enough.

Student: *tries to imagine a number which squares to give negative one* I do not understand, Sir!

Teacher: Don’t worry. Just know that ‘i’ squared is negative one.

International students: *confer in Mandarin*

 

Psychology Class:

Teacher: Alright. Today we’re going to study measures of central tendency. This is used in psychology to understand the information you have. There are several methods to do this….

Me: Why are there several packets of chocolate cookies on your desk?

Teacher: Because we’re going to use them to help us learn about sampling.

Me: Oh.

Teacher: We are going to take one chocolate cookie of brand and count the number of choc chips in them. Then you’re going to fill in this worksheet. Then you can eat the cookies.

Me: Did you pay for those cookies?

Teacher: No, I charged them to the school account *starts eating cookies* Now, come up and put on a rubber glove and take one of each kind of cookie. Peter. You’re first.

Peter: *walks up to front, puts on a glove, takes a cookie. then takes a big bite out of it*

Teacher: Don’t eat your participants!

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