Saturday, 31 March 2018

One Month on Netflix

At the beginning of March, one of my friends started to create a Netflix account and was kind enough to let me have access to it for free during the one-month free trial. As someone who has always wanted to try Netflix, I wasted no time to start going through all the series I've had my eyes on. It also helps that time was of the essence here—I've got only less than 30 days to explore as many nooks and crannies of Netflix as I possibly can, which ended two days ago, in fact. It's been rather interesting and very entertaining to see how Netflix can be immensely different from TV—or cable, for that matter. Here are some of my favourite series and films and what I think about them.


The End of the F***ing World

This series is everything I want and more. It's got the aesthetics that speaks to me, with an incredibly quirky story and unexpected plot twists. It's basically the story of James and Alyssa who one day meet, decide to start a relationship and the next day embark on a journey away from their hometown. Alyssa is a hot-headed, foul-mouthed teenage girl, while James is a self-proclaimed psychopath with the desire to kill her. It is not set in a dystopian universe—contrary to what the title might have you believe. In fact, it's set pretty much in present-day Britain, although with all the aesthetics reminiscent of 80s United States. There is no set plotline, creating the illusion that anything could happen—and they do. Please let there be a season two!

Black Mirror

Or what I'd like to call, "Your Futuristic Nightmare Now on Screen." Firu and my friend Jess roped me into this one and I haven't looked back since. I finished the entire four seasons in around a week—or less than. It's so addictive! The whole premise is basically stories on how technology could take a turn for the worst. Each episode isn't connected to the other, so you can basically just choose whichever to watch and not even look at the rest. It goes without saying that most of them don't end well, although there are anomalies where things work out for the best—or leave on a cliffhanger. It's also like a melting pot of pretty much all British actors. My favourite episode is "Be Right Back," featuring Domhall Gleeson and a romantically twisted story on love and grief.

Jessica Jones

One of those series I've been wanting to check out for the longest time. Although I'm not into Marvel much, this one just reminds me so much of Veronica Mars—with added cool factor on the main character. Krysten Ritter does an immensely amazing job playing her! So different from all her other roles so far, I think. Jessica Jones is a girl who lost her family in a car accident one day and woke up to super strength. Seventeen years later, she opens a private investigator office, while having to fight demons from her past—the first being Killgrave, a mind-controlling psychopath who claims to be in love with her. Maybe his powers work on me, because I am completely in love with him! I like Jessica because she doesn't set out to be a hero and can, in fact, come off rather standoffish.

Girlboss

Someone called this one "The most millenial series" on an Instagram story once. A fact I do not doubt, especially with Sophia Amoruso being the, uhh, mainstream female inspiration of today—creating the term #girlboss. So much so, that, at first, I gave up after watching two episodes. However, afterwards I came back round to it, decided to stick it through—if only for the gorgeous actor who plays Shane—and ended up enjoying it. In case you didn't know, this series is the (very) loose retelling of Sophia's journey to turn her eBay store into a worldwide online clothing business. I can't help but to see the resemblance to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, to be honest—except less of an organised genius.

Atypical

A series I dipped my toes into without knowing anything about it beforehand—and ended up loving! Atypical is a story of a teenage boy with autism who starts to gain interest in acquiring a girlfriend and the dating game. It doesn't focus solely on the boy's search for love, but also how his family handles life in general. Sam reminds me a lot of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, except with manners and good intentions. I love the relationship he has with his sister Casey. The series feels, to me, a little like a Jodi Picoult novel. What I notice the most about this series is its diverse casts and their non-stereotypical roles in the story—probably the only series where I've seen a male Asian stud. I don't know, I just think that's cool.



Okja

If there's ever a reason for me to create a Netflix account, it would be this film. Having interesting casts, such as Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Lily Collins and Steven Yeun, I am very, very intrigued to watch it. Okja tells the story somewhat starting in South Korea, where a girl named Mija and her super pig friend named Okja live. Little does she know, however, that Okja is given by a U.S. company called Mirando to her family to raise and be slaughtered for meat. When they come to reclaim the 10-year cultivated animal, Mija is determined to get her back. I think it's a Sundance-selected film of 2017. The story is beautifully written and delivered—without forgetting to include comedy amidst all the drama and action.

Icarus

When this documentary feature won an Oscar, I didn't really understand why. It's not after I watched it did I realise how profound and eye-opening its content is. Here is a documentary that completely pulled back the veil from the doping system of Russian athletes. If you think Lance Armstrong was scandalous, you ain't seen nothing yet. It starts out with finding out from the inside how Russia could have possibly pulled this shit off for years without being detected—the athletes have always tested negative for performance-enhancing drugs. It goes way deeper than you probably imagine, rooting deeply in politics and putting people's lives in danger.

The Meyerowitz Stories

The way that this movie was presented is so unique and fresh: it is segmented into four segments that aren't necessarily chronologically immediate after the previous one. The story revolves around the Meyerowitz family, consisting of the father Harold who has been married three times, with two sons and a daughter—one of whom from the second marriage. Harold is an insufferable, undiscovered artist and his children compete to make him proud. Starring amazing actors, such as Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, it is a hilarious, not too exaggerated, yet touching and close-to-reality depiction of a family drama.

I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore

Let me just preface this by saying: this is not everyone's cup of tea. I went in knowing almost absolutely nothing about the storyline, except that I have a vague memory of hearing the title somewhere before. The story starts out simple: a woman who's been getting pushed around by people has enough when someone breaks into her house and steals some of her most valuable possessions. In the search for her stuff and her effort of reclaiming them back, she becomes friends with a neighbour and encounters some pretty gory, bloody and unexpected turn of events. Expect a lot of violence, disgusting contents—including pretty vivid vomit—and, obviously, strong language. I love that the main actors are Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood—two people who you probably would never imagine to get violent at all—but, boy, did they prove us wrong.

Irreplaceable You

There has to be at least one romance movie in here, don't you think? Here is a story that I never thought to look at before. On paper, it seems pretty cliché, but in execution absolutely heartbreaking. Abby is a young woman who's always been in love with Sam and taken control over everything, even after she is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. While undergoing treatment and joining a support group, Abby finds time to set everything up and make sure that Sam is taken care of after she is gone—particularly in the dating department. A romantic story with all the feels that also makes sense to me. I think I would do the same as Abby, had I been in her shoes. Love the cast very much—Christopher Walken cameo was so unexpected! The last bit during the credits got me so hard.

If you have any Netflix favourites, please let me know! I'm still thinking about actually subscribing to the service, but ran out of things to watch.

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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Revisiting Narnia

If you read my blog last month, you might have seen my review of Harry Potter—which I read for the first time at 25. Well, that experience has somehow awakened the desire in me to read The Chronicles of Narnia. Unlike Harry Potter, though, I actually did read Narnia in high school, around the time the second movie came out and the third movie was announced. However, I only read 3 books out of 7, but I do remember loving them all. This time, I thought, I'd read all of the books—including the ones I already read 8 years ago. What I didn't know—although it makes a lot of sense—is that the books aren't published in chronological order, but started up with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so I thought it would be interesting to try and read it in the order of publication. And here is what I thought about the series as a whole.

First Impression

Well, not exactly first impression, is it, when you've read the book 8 years ago? But I've forgotten most of what I read anyway that it felt like finding the books anew again. Naturally, for a book that was written over 50 years ago, the language used by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles is rather peculiar. It is incredibly poetic, rich with metaphors and symbolism. The writing style is also very interesting, in which Lewis seems as if he's interacting with his young readers—who are his target audience for Narnia—and completely including them in the story. He 'speaks' indeed like a fatherly figure would to a child, repeating various advice and moral lessons—even just the practical kind. The language he chose to use really amplifies the fact that Narnia was meant to be a fairy tale—which, I believe, is still pretty much valid today too. There is a certain Enid Blyton vibe about Narnia too. I think it lies in the sense of adventure in the air—although Famous Five never go to another world—and the beautiful sibling relationship between the children. It may be a different time, but these things always give the same feelings.

Getting Deeper

Unlike Harry Potter, it takes more to understand The Chronicles of Narnia than by simply comparing the book with the film. This world created by C.S. Lewis is rich with symbolism. If you've read his other works, you may realise that he is a devoted Christian—even after losing his faith for a while—and Narnia is none other than a beautifully wrapped religious teaching for children. And, because it is so and because The Chronicles are meant to be a fairy tale, the characters are mostly not quite well-rounded. That being said, you will encounter some who develop rather well, including Caspian, Eustace and Edmund. In fact, Caspian's youth, mature and old age are laid out beautifully throughout 3 of the 7 books. Edmund, on the other hand, has been portrayed in his childhood, adolescence and adulthood—growing from the selfish traitor to the just king and, later on, a rather wise teenager both in Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Now and then, though, we manage to see the flaws of our beloved protagonists. Lucy can sometimes be jealous and insecure, Edmund was once a traitor and bully, Susan can be vain and self-centred and Peter tend to be vindictive and proud. It is, however, important to note that most of these vices will be appeased in the end.

There is a major flaw to the whole writing of The Chronicles, however, in that Lewis didn't intend to turn it into a series when he wrote the first book. In result, the stories can sometimes create discrepancies within themselves and contradict themselves—most of them go unanswered. For example, when Lucy Pevensie first set foot in Narnia, it seems she was the first human being to ever enter that realm—The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. However, it turns out that humans have been there from the start—with Digory, Polly, Uncle Andrew and Frank in The Magician's Nephew. The origins of The White Witch/Jadis also contradict themselves, in which there are at least two different versions available in the aforementioned books. Those are just a couple examples, however. If you pay close attention, you'll probably be able to spot a few more.

What I think is also worth noting is the era in which Narnia was written. Why? It honestly plays a huge role on the kind of subject matters being brought up within the pages. There are two incredibly prominent aspects that I can't help but to spot: racism and sexism. At the time, of course these two words have very different meanings from what they do today. In fact, I'm pretty sure racism was barely a thing in the 1950s. In the first book, you can already see evidence of sexism done by Lewis—Edmund's sexist remarks about girls' minds having no maps, Aslan's forbidding Susan and Lucy to partake in battle—which, at the time, probably qualifies as manners and courtesy. However, you can see that even Lewis is developing in that part, later on managing to create strong female characters, such as Polly and Aravis. But, I think, without meaning to, Lewis has also managed to create feminine strength that is entirely different from masculine strength. It lies, for instance, in Lucy's ability to trust and be generous to others, in Jill's capability of admitting faults and learning from others, and in Polly's bravery and forgiving nature. Without having to put them in a battlefield, C.S. Lewis has created female protagonists at the epicentre of most of his stories.

As for racism, unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Lewis was improving. He created a whole Arab-inspired country Calormen to play the role of a terrible society and, ultimately, villains—complete with a God that is portrayed like a demon. While Lewis seems to model Narnia from the Great Britain, it is very much idealised to include only the most glorious and wondrous things, whereas Calormen is filled with slavery, superficial gratification and cruel deities. For a Muslim who lives in what some may call a Third-World country, this definitely bothered me a bit. But, personally, I tried to read it with a grain of salt. Take in the good and leave out the bad. Narnia, not unlike so many other fairy tales and stories, is definitely comprised by the perspective of the author. His experiences and upbringing obviously play a part. I'd like to believe that had he been alive on this day and age, he would have a completely different view on this matter.

Books vs. Films

It's probably unfair if we talk about this series without mentioning the films one bit. Just to be clear, I'm referring to the 2007 onwards Disney version, played by casts, such as Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton and Ben Barnes—not the older 1970s version, which, yes, exists. As I've mentioned before, the books were written in an entirely different era from ours—having been over 50 years already by the time they made it to the big screen—the characterisation, language and portrayal of storyline need to be adjusted. For instance, in the first movie, the bit about girls shouldn't join a battle is completely omitted, although Susan and Lucy still aren't part of the fight. Some of the characters' personalities are slightly changed. In Prince Caspian, Caspian and Peter can't seem to get along, both fighting for the role of leader and Susan falls in love with the prince. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy's jealousy of Susan and Edmund's issues with the White Witch are emphasised. Some parts of the stories are changed too. The battle with the White Witch becomes the detailed climax of the story—whereas in the book it is mentioned briefly. Caspian and Peter first lead the army to a failed ambush of Miraz's castle, which causes so many lives. The order of destinations of travel in Voyage of the Dawn Treader is re-arranged.

Similar to Harry Potter, there is a modern sense of humour involved in the films. In LWW, there are little conversations between Lucy and Susan and Edmund and Peter that seem to melt the tension in the air. Or the fact that Mrs. Beaver flattens her fur upon meeting Aslan for the first—to which Mr. Beaver says she is already beautiful. In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin the dwarf has his own flavour of sass, underestimating and doubting the four old kings and queens of Narnia. Edmund also shows his sense of humour, surprising them with an electric torch—after Peter asked whether anyone had a match—and taunting Miraz to accept Peter's challenge to a duel. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep teases Eustace about swordsmanship and Edmund and Caspian seem to be equally attracted to Ramandu's daughter. Completely irrelevant to the story, I'm sure, but they ease the audience anyway.

Unfortunately, VDT as a film didn't do so well in the box office—something that I completely understand. In the film, the exciting journey of the Dawn Treader seems to be played down incredibly, that it ceases to be really interesting. Such a shame too. It is actually my third favourite book of the bunch—after The Last Battle and The Magician's Nephew. The end seems to imply that they are ready to make the next film—supposedly The Silver Chair—with Eustace's mother's mention of Jill Pole. However, it doesn't seem to work out well after the outcome of VDT itself.

Conclusion

At the beginning, I must say, I thought Narnia is simply a young adult series written in a different era. To me, they are reminiscent of Enid Blyton's works—filled with a group of children stumbling upon adventures at one point or another. It is, however, filled with so much symbolism that eludes a certain air of mystery around the world of Narnia. Even after you read all seven books, there are still things up for questioning—especially with C.S. Lewis's jumbled sense of chronology. But that's what keeps the books timeless, I believe, as it keeps the attraction alive. You may read it at a different age and have an entirely different impression about the books from what you used to believe when you were much, much younger.

Personally, I find the characters endearing and loveable, especially the Pevensie siblings. We see them grow up from selfish, immature little children to wise, ripe adults. We see how their characters change throughout the book, learning to overcome their insecurities, flaws and vices—as we all do. We see them step into a unknown universe, face challenges of all sorts and bid farewell to various friends over a span of a few years and several centuries. I find myself getting sucked into their lives, wishing to know what they are like when they are not in Narnia or when Narnia is at peace and has no need for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. It was kind of heartbreaking for me to read the last book, as I can no longer be part of their lives.

Let me leave you off with further reading recommendations. Firstly, my experience with Narnia has been immensely enriched after reading the Pocket Companion to Narnia written by Paul F. Ford. It includes a lot of insights to the literary, biblical and cultural references Lewis has included in the Chronicles, as well as snippets of his life story that may have contributed to the storyline and the way the subject matters are discussed. My eyes were opened to various things I never really paid attention to before and mysteries behind several aspects of Narnia. Secondly, I would recommend reading Neil Gaiman's short story titled "Susan's Problem"—to be found in his compilation "Fragile Things"—which tells his interpretation of Susan's life after "The Last Battle." I find it absolutely heartbreaking and riveting. I think C.S. Lewis would have loved it!



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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Current Obsessions

I can't tell you how long I've gone without having a smidgen of thought on personal style, blogging or, well, social media in general. Lately, my mind has been overflowing with the thoughts of piling assignments, work stuff and, delightfully, books. It's probably one of simplest joy at the moment—quite possibly the only one I can completely indulge in nowadays. According to Goodreads, I am at the moment 5 books ahead of schedule—with my goal of reading 45 books this year, fingers crossed!—with currently 14 books in total. So far so good, don't you think? Aside from literature, I've also been trying to take care of myself better—starting with setting out a workout routine. It's nothing groundbreaking—just an aerobics class once a week—but it's good to keep my muscles moving. That and my conscious take on consuming food have helped me lose weight and feel better about my body. Something else I've been rather obsessed with is Netflix. I recently finished The End of the F***ing World—and completely fell in love!—and now am still following Violet Evergarden and The Crown. Can't wait to raid everything Netflix has to offer!

Old dress // hand-me-down skirt + purse // thrifted loafers // photos by my sis

Yesterday my sister and I went on a little hangout time to an imported book sale at a local store. It was quite a last-minute decision. A free time I honestly can't afford—and, yet, I went anyway. I probably will regret that decision greatly today. Oh well, I'll just have to make it up somehow, right? Says someone who hasn't made progress on her work and class assignments. Well, anyway, I had a rather grand old time at that book sale, rummaging through mountains of books before deciding what I would actually pay for. Luckily, at the very last minute, I found this wonderful book I've been lusting over for a year or so. Have you read this one? I'm very intrigued to find out all about it. As per my 25 Before 26 goals, I try my best to just purchase books from my to-read list. This one definitely fits the bill! Okay, yes, there are still technically 10 or so books I have yet to explore on my own shelf, so this one might have to wait. But it's still so exciting to finally own a copy. What have you been reading/watching lately? Do share along!

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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Meet Me at Lantern Waste

「さよならから一番遠い場所で待ち合わせよ」- RADWIMPS, "Sparkle"

Life after Firu left technically has only been a few days, but it definitely seems like several years already. It feels strange to go back to my routine, as though I'm betraying the limbo we both indulged in for the last 30 days. To be honest, I expected to cry myself to sleep more nights than I did. It surprised me a little bit to see that I found no urge to shed my tears by the third night. Maybe I just have a lot of other things on my mind, enough to distract me from the need to bawl. Maybe it's true what they say: you are stronger than you think you are. But still, every morning when I wake up, I'm just reminded by all the memories we share. It's hard to remind myself to keep breathing—I tend to forget when I freeze, willing the world to stop spinning. Also, reunion brings new memories, which adds to the list of things I can't see without wanting to break into a million pieces by the sheer nostalgia of our brief time together. It was clever, if not thoughtful, for Firu to spare the last full day here for me. We had the best date of our lives and I can't stop recalling pieces of it. Oh, the woe of the romantics!

Thrifted dress + jacket + loafers // hand-me-down purse // Sejauh Mata Memandang scarf // photos by my sis

One of the things I've been doing to keep myself busy and well distracted is reading The Chronicles of Narnia (review coming soon!). Okay, technically, that's what I've been doing since February too, but I'm completely hooked. Now that I'm done with the series, I'm reading the Pocket Companion. It's just so interesting to dive deeper into the story and symbolism, etc. When my siblings and I went out on a bit of quality time and I asked for these pictures to be taken, I saw the lamp posts in the area and was quickly reminded of the Narnia reference. By the way, the spot in which Lucy Pevensie comes into Narnia for the first time—and meets Mr. Tumnus the faun—is called Lantern Waste. It's not mentioned until The Magician's Nephew came out, where Lantern Waste becomes the point where the world of Narnia begins. I guess you can sort of say the title of this post has a double meaning: "Meet me at the beginning." Beginning of what, who knows?

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Too Much Is Never Enough

Towards the end of January, Firu came back home to Indonesia and stayed for the entirety of February. As something for which I've been waiting for the last 3 years or so, this instilled all sorts of reactions on my part. I expected the happiness so intense, my mouth would rip in two from all the grinning and beaming I wouldn't be able to help. Yet I didn't expect all the tears and emotional turmoil from not being able to see him every second of every hour of every day. Insane, I know, but the life I left with him was one where we could literally wake next to each other. I guess I expected everything to revert back to how it used to be, if we just see each other again. Maybe we could go back to being young and carefree, completely oblivious to adulthood and all the anxiety that comes with it. But nothing ever happens the same way twice and I am left disappointed by reality.

Don't get me wrong, I am still extremely ecstatic that he's come home, even for just a brief moment. We got to experience all the new and old things together again. This felt both like a déjà vu and something completely unfamiliar. Those eyes still warm my heart, those hands still guide me through and those shoulders still offer protection and comfort. But this is uncharted territory, we've never been here before—him coming to visit me in a place we were both born and raised, from a place we slowly morphed into adults a thousand years ago. It felt both nostalgic and uncomfortable, as if we don't really know if we fit right in anymore.

Here's the thing: he didn't tell me he was coming until he was already there. He caught me completely unawares. I'd already given up on the idea of seeing him again for maybe the next five years—but now here he was, ready to take me in with all the cellulites and hairy limbs and flaws invisible to the internet. And what if I never recover? It took me three years to make peace with the thought of touching him, breathing the same air as his and feeling the heat of his body next to mine again. It felt surreal and exhilarating, but also scary, because it's as if he reset the clock all over again. Will it take me three more years to be okay to be without him again?

While we are still a loving couple, I can't help but to notice that our relationship has grown a whole lot more complicated than it used to be when we were much younger. Adulthood brought with it new flavours of anxiety and burdens that we weren't entirely prepared for: finances, societal pressure and career. Whatever happened to the people who believed that love conquers all? Was it naïve to think that we could overcome hell and high water, if we only have love for one another? Mind you, ours is still a perfectly functional and happy relationship—one that I'd fight tooth and nail to preserve—but I guess I just miss the simple inner workings of my mind from way back when. The mind that hasn't yet learnt that distance is the tower of babel made of steel and concrete, that some worlds are not for you to save and that feelings are individual languages often lost in translation. 

The past 30 days have been a bonding experience like never before. I felt like I kept saying the wrong words, driving him further away from me in a way that geography alone can't do. But, somehow, he kept coming back to me, like a wave at the beach. He opened up to me the way a morning glory does right before dawn. For what felt like the first time throughout the whole of our relationship, I saw him vulnerable with some of his cracks and craters exposed to me. All these concerns and pressures I've never seen before. How could that possibly be when all this time I thought he was perfectly smooth and beautifully untouched? Wasn't I supposed to be the one with all the scorch marks and carved out parts? I lay my hands on his wounds, hoping that my touch would heal them, if only a little bit. Then, just on the second-to-last day, he showed me the best day of the past few years. Without realising, he's reminded me of all the ways he could cherish me, of all his gestures I always see when my eyes are closed tight, and of why we believe we fit like two puzzle pieces. It'll take me years to live it down, I'm sure.

Now we are once again oceans apart. My tears still flow down the stream, but I'm forced to get up to another day of pretending I know what I'm doing. It may seem like everything goes back down to earth, after spending so much time in the clouds, but I already know that it's not going to be the same again. I guess I thought if I could touch him, I'd be able to capture him forever. But it's not time yet. Someone once asked me whether I wanted to keep this going until then, but it's not a question I can answer. If I'd had the choice, do you think I would choose this constant pain in my chest, this endless stream of tears, these days of feeling like a zombie? Of course not. Who'd choose the in-between, if they can have everything? But we can't, and so we endure. That is the best we can do right now. Let's face it—it'll never be enough, but it'd have to do for now.

'Til we meet again!

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