2017年9月28日 星期四

Movie review - "Their Finest"

I decided to watch the movie “Their Finest” because of its claim about the British sense of humour. Eager to appreciate the witty dialogue, I was all ears right from the very start. I did not disregard the Chinese subtitles completely, though. Taking care of both languages at the same time could be a bit tiring especially when there were so many details to take in for a good understanding of the story as a whole. But it was worth all the while. I enjoyed the dialogue and regret my inability to remember some of the witty lines.

“Their Finest” is a movie-within-a movie. It is a period piece (1940). During the London Blitz of World War II, Catrin Cole, the leading actress, is recruited by the British Ministry of Information to write scripts for propaganda films from a woman’s perspective. The entire movie is about the formulation of the script ideas and how the script undergoes reconstruction as the movie shooting is in progress. It’s interesting how the script writers, Catrin Cole and Tom Buckley, communicate with each other and with the other crew members about the best presentation of the story. Ideas and dialogue work out among the team and wittiness is often what each of them needs to win the others over in an argument. There are thus plentiful comic moments. And it is Ambrose Hilliard, the one playing the role of 'Uncle Frank', an old actor, who carries most of the wit and humour of the film. Though wearing a sober look on his lined face, he brings laughter almost every time he starts talking. One of his best quotes is: “I can mime smoking but I can’t mime smoke.’

It is the time when London is under nightly attack by the Luftwaffe, but the film is not intended to cause fear or bring tears to your eyes. Though deaths of known characters are reported from time to time, the work of script writing goes on unhindered. Tom Buckley is once seen writing the script on the typewriter when German planes start bombarding London with bombs again. Little disturbed, he simply turns the volume of the radio up to cover the air-raid siren. Everyone seems to have learned to live with such chaos for, though sad at the losses, they know well that life must go on. Is this one of the inspirations for us, people who take a peaceful lifestyle for granted?

“Their Finest” also has some romance in it, though the romantic part seems to come a bit too late. Shortly after the two script writers have declared their love for each other, Tom Buckley is knocked down by a fallen shelf and dies instantly in front of her very eyes. Such a tragedy comes as a heart attack. But the movie still lives up to its claim as a comedy and will not allow the audience to leave with a heavy heart. 'Uncle Frank' pays a visit to Catrin Cole, who is too grieved to get back to her script writing. He says something about ‘death not being supposed to dominate life (the exact words are lost) ’. And after his departure, the lady cheers up miraculously. She is soon found to be watching the film, the one for which she has written the script, tearfully and smilingly, with satisfaction and pride on the face. The movie is a tremendous success. She resumes the work of script writing, with Tom Buckley in her heart as if he were still there working with her, sharing a hope to contribute something meaningful in this time of war and in their own lives.

The movie is a must- see. I recommend watching it twice, once to enjoy the story itself and the second time for the pure enjoyment of the beauty of the script, if, like me, you are interested in something with a Britsh sense of humour.

2017年9月21日 星期四

Stay tuned


Some friends ask me why I have been sharing the videos of teachers posted by the DSEJ. My answer is very simple: they are worth sharing.

Having once been an interviewee myself, I understand very well how much effort has been put into the production of a video of this type. The closing credits showing the list of the crew members involved throws light on the different stages of production. The filming alone may have taken months. Often quite a number of people appear in the film besides the interviewed teacher himself. The scene of the shooting may also vary widely according to the event chosen. Following this are the various post-production processes. In brief, a lot of work is entailed before the final product is ready for broadcasting.

The main attraction, however, is the film itself. Each of the documentary films is dedicated to one particular teacher to be paid tribute to. In the film, the teacher shares freely about himself and about his work. Having once been a teacher myself, I find it interesting to learn about the experiences of other teachers, especially those working on subjects different from my own. It is a great delight to find out how we share the same ideas in our attempts to enhance our students’ academic motivation and, on the other hand, how we differ in our approach when confronted with similar problems. I marvel at one or two creative methods mentioned. Frankly, I would have borrowed them for my own teaching if I had learned about them before my retirement.

From their sharings, I have identified a few concepts that are common among all the interviewed teachers. Almost all have remarked on the need for the teacher to play the role model with his attitude, his expertise and his great sense of integrity. He can then influence his students with his enthusiasm about teaching; if the teacher enjoys teaching, the students will enjoy learning too. Besides, it is essential for the teaching to be coherent with the needs of the students. This can be done by establishing a close teacher-student relationship through frequent contact outside the classroom. It is also emphasized that the teacher should remain persistent in his efforts even in the face of the most difficult problems.

Though a retiree now, I still see this as a great opportunity for teachers, interviewees and viewers alike, to learn from one another's teaching experiences.

Indeed, I am much impressed by the high level of professionalism with which the documentaries are made. A few of this year’s series are scheduled to be broadcast in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

2017年8月19日 星期六

Some considerations about Macau’s Smart City Development

picture from http://europe-ul.com/makes-smart-city-smart/

It is reported that Alibaba group will collaborate with the Macau government to turn Macau into a “Smart City” with the use of cloud computer technologies. This is welcome news to us Macau residents as it brings hope about creating more sustainable environments in our city.

Personally, I am particularly interested in the suggested use of artificial intelligence to optimize transportation management, as traffic congestion has been one of Macau’s ingrained problems. Based on information from different resources, I would like to point out the importance of new urban mobility with reductions in car use and ownership as well as increases in cycling, public and shared transport.

One suggestion is the adoption of the digital car sharing system, which enables people to share the use of a car without having to own one themselves. The individual members of the car-sharing community will have their complementary driving needs identified by an advanced algorithm that uses social profiling and geo-location. An app will help one locate the nearest of the vehicles parked on the city’s streets. After use, the car can simply be parked within a designated area in the city for the next user. The members can thus enjoy the freedom and benefits the car affords without shouldering huge costs. They also play a shared role in reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

Besides, I am in favour of a bicycle sharing system. It can be an even better solution to problems of traffic congestion, noise and air pollution by providing access to bicycles as another choice besides motorized vehicles. The bicycles can also connect users to public transit networks, thus solving what is often known as the “last mile” problem. What’s more, e-bikes could be a new tourist attraction, enabling the tourists to move around the city with better ease. As in the case of the car sharing system, great convenience is ensured with the use of smartphone mapping apps to show the locations with available bikes.

However, whether Macau will become a “Smart City” depends very much on government policies and the residents’ support. It is hoped that the above mentioned measures will be given favourable consideration as they are likely to contribute to Macau’s better environments by making a great difference to the current condition of transportation.

2017年8月14日 星期一

Movie review - The Red Turtle

Where animations are concerned, my personal preference often involves beautiful natural scenery and hyper realistic images, whether hand drawn or digitally generated, that seem to be the work of an artist. And it was with these elements that “The Red Turtle” became my first choice of a series of films offered by the “World Animation Festival in Summer” now in progress at the Cinematheque Passion.

The film is in fact a display of artistic pictures and images that look like those in real life. There are scenes of the undersea world, beach rocks the man climbs up and down, incoming and outgoing tides, sunrise and sunset as well as long straight trunks of bamboos in a rainforest. In fact, watching the film is an experience of browsing beautiful paintings in a moving panorama. And, as in almost all animations, especially a dialogue – free one, there are fantastic sound effects that bring the various scenes to life, such as the pattering of the rain, the roaring of the waves, the thundering of the tsunami, etc. In fact, with the eyes closed, the viewer could imagine himself enjoying the stunning performance of a brilliant orchestra.

Of course, I did not go to the cinema for the mere enjoyment of the paintings and music. The film does tell a story. It seems a survivor story in the beginning. The man, washed up onshore after a ship wreck, makes repeated attempts to build a raft with the hope of sailing out to the sea, but getting more agitated and frustrated each time the raft is battered and scattered into pieces by an unseen creature. The viewer would thus expect his continuous fight with the attacker until his final victory. But, unlike Robinson Crusoe, who succeeded in leaving the island eventually, our hero in the story spends the rest of his life there with the Red Turtle, the creature responsible for the destruction of the rafts, which has turned into a woman.

So we may consider this a magical realism story. There is unspeakable love between the couple. They somehow make me think of Adam and Eve as they are the only humans on the island. They get along so naturally with the other creatures that they seem to have become part of Nature and Wilderness themselves. The birth of a child makes no difference to their harmonious and peaceful life. As the child grows up, however, he gradually feels the call of the sea. And then the day comes. He bids his parents good-bye and swims out to the sea accompanied by a trio of red turtles. We are thus reminded that he is himself a red turtle. The story ends with the mother turtle also swimming back to the sea after the death of her husband in his old age.

The story is simple and with few dramatic elements. I am not even aware of a special message for the viewer to ponder. It may not be appealing to kids. However, I appreciate the feeling of comfort it affords, the kind of peaceful comfort I would enjoy while reading a novel, preferably on an island as peaceful as the one where the castaway had a romantic encounter with a turtle-turned woman.

2017年7月10日 星期一

This is how a child ought to be treated, austic or not

"Life, Animated” was my first choice of a series of documentaries offered for the month of July. It is about the long struggle of a boy named Owen to survive the long period of darkness in which he was trapped by autism.

Owen was diagnosed to be autistic at the age of three. The years that followed saw his parents struggling with the specialists to help him recover his lost speech and to come out of hiding. There was little success at first. When he was six, however, Owen made his first attempt to utter a word. To his parents’ surprise, he was found to be making use of Disney animated movies to make sense of the world he was living in, the ordinary world. His parents then started talking with him in Disney dialogues. He thus gradually learned to speak and navigate the social world.

Owen spent hours immersed in animation in another way too; he produced his own cartoon stories. There was one in which he portrayed himself as the protector of sidekicks. That was the time when he was troubled by school bullying. His drawing thus relieved him of negative emotions, giving him comfort and security.

The movie is honest about Owen’s struggles as well as his family’s. Disney movies had not made life a bed of roses for Owen. He could not easily tackle the challenges on his path to independence. He chose to watch “Bambi” on the first night when he was on his own, showing his anxiety in the absence of his mother … just like the little Bambi. And when he had fallen in love with a girl, his brother worried about his lack of knowledge about lovers’ intimacy. But before this problem was solved, something happened which gave them a still harder nut to crack. The girl soon broke up with him and he felt as though it was the end of the world. Finally, he managed to make sense of his heartache by drawing and navigate his way through the rough reality.

It was with joint effort that Owen’s family had succeeded in setting Owen up in life. They had jumped into his language, and into his world rather than bringing him out to where they were. They had shown with their experience how the autistic child’s affinity … his love for Disney movies … could be explored to provide a pathway for his social and personal growth.

“Life, Animated” is a story of love and resilience. It inspires us with the message that to help an autistic child, there is no professional, no fixed way. What needs to be done is to recognize the joy in the child and respect the child for what he is instead of the person they wish he could be.

Isn’t this the right way a child ought to be treated, autistic or not?

2017年7月5日 星期三

Students can be brought together to form a “meaningful” community

According to the article “Group Therapy” on the Digital Life page of the South China Morning Post (June 3, 2017), Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, wants to use his social network to foster “meaningful” communities and bring the world closer together.

I agree that the idea of mere sharing of pictures and live videos among circles of friends and family is already outdated and that people of shared interests can be nudged into online groups, sharing thoughts, offering support and organizing events. Here I would like to suggest that among the proposed “meaningful” communities can be one formed by students with the aim to enhance their academic motivation.

Recent research shows that social networking can serve effectively as an education tool, enhancing students’ academic ability and boosting their learning in various fields. It has also been proved that the more often students make use of social networking, the more involved they are in school activities. They can thus enlarge their social circles and seek help more easily when needed.

Besides, students can broaden their horizons by social networking with their counterparts overseas. Learners of different cultures can communicate and be empowered to explore new ways of thinking and learning. By sharing the teaching and learning materials, they can work on joint projects, thus getting involved in global problems and concerns, to which they can come up with innovative solutions.

Moreover, social networking is capable of enhancing students’ social capital, which is associated with the ability to secure benefits by virtue of membership in social networks. Imagine being a member of a group composed mainly of students of a world famous college! Undoubtedly, youngsters with accumulated social capital have an edge over others in their future development.

Last but not least, students engaged in online communications can develop a sense of belonging to the community with an openness to varied ideas. And this is exactly how Facebook can help make the world a less divisive place.  

2017年6月23日 星期五

Do gleaners deserve better social attention? – movie review -- “The Gleaners and I”


I had doubted how a movie could last for more than an hour without a story to keep the audience amused until I watched “The Gleaners and I”, a documentary. Though lacking in amusing elements, the movie grabbed my attention all the way through.

As shown in the poster with a few females bending over what appeared to be stems of wheat, the word “gleaners” first appealed to me as women gathering a ripe crop from the field. The movie, however, shows gleaners of various kinds. There are gleaners seeking to survive on leftovers on farms, in orchards, vineyards and even oyster farms after the harvest. There are also urban gleaners who live off discarded produce in the streets.

The movie thus brings to light the problem of wastage in both rural and urban areas. Because of overproduction, a lot of potatoes, apples and grapes are left to rot on the ground. Similarly, over consumerism has led to huge amounts of unwanted goods thrown in the streets.

However, such revelations are not meant to sadden the audience. The gleaners, rural and urban ones alike, appear to be enjoying themselves. Without the least sign of self-contempt, they talk cheerfully about their experiences. One interviewee boasted of staying in good health despite his decade-long consumption of discarded outdated food. A lecturer who teaches French to immigrants is found to be feeding daily on vegetables thrown out of fresh markets. In response to the director’s curious questions, he can even explain the nutritious values of the vegetables he chooses. Another hopeful delight is the exhibition at which everything on display is picked up from the street. So gleaners are not limited only to those suffering from poverty. And there are other claims to the unwanted goods than just something to fill the stomach with.

The word “I” in the movie name suggests that the director has a part to play in the movie. Indeed she can be considered a gleaner herself. With the use of a handheld digital video camera, she travels from place to place, gleaning ideas, images and people’s emotions to make her film. She does gleaning literally, too. She has a collection of abandoned objects gathered on her filming trips. What impresses me most is a glass enclosed clock without the hands. “Then,” she says “I won’t have to think about the passing time”. The heart-shaped potatoes are another pleasant surprise.

In this age when there is so much talking about environmental protection and waste reduction, the movie offers another perspective from which we can ponder the issue. Gleaners perhaps deserve better social attention for their contribution to the idea of turning waste into value.

Let me sum up by saying that documentaries can be interesting. They are more true to life than ordinary kinds of movies, even those about a life event, as documentaries show the real world we are living in.

If you are interested in documentaries, there is a series to be screened in Cinemathetique - Passion in July.