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a dream within a dream – is that possible?

There was only one show in recent times that caught my attention and I was glad that I managed to watched it on Friday – the latest psychological blockbuster, Inception. Before I proceed to share my thoughts about this, I’d like to go on record to place this outstanding movie in the list of my all-time favourites. It contains all the ingredients that I hunt for in a movie:

  • A multi-layered plot,
  • In-depth character development,
  • A couple of twists-within-a-twist,
  • A memorable script, and of course,
  • Convincing acting skills.

I’m thoroughly impressed with this film; after all, there aren’t many movies that leave me speechless when I exit the cinema. Yes, I do recommend that you catch it.

Now, there is a huge variety of movie genres and while I prefer drama and inspiration to action and chick-flicks, the ones that truly take my breath away (and arrest my mind) are what I call, “culture-shapers”; I will rename it when I think of a better way to call it – basically, movies that change the way we look at things, us, or even the world.

I’ll list a few examples that come straight to my head. The Sixth Sense causes us to rethink the whole realm of the dead and how it may possibly exist amongst us; The Prestige makes us question the scale of evil that human beings are capable of and the extent we possibly would go to achieve what we’ve set out to do. Inception investigates the subconscious activities in our minds when we dream and leaves us to under ponder upon the hidden creative power that we may have; The Matrix (though it’s not in my list of favourites) challenges us to think about reality and whether we really live in a time and space which we perceive ourselves to occur in.

Basically, all the above-mentioned movies (and I’m sure you could think of more titles) makes us contemplate and challenges us to review what we think we actually know. Without getting existential (and irreverently irrelevant), I actually think it’s great to reexamine the normalcy of what I think is normally normal – know what I mean?

To state the obvious, I’ve decided to call these movies “culture-shapers” simply because they could potentially shape our culture. Regardless of demographic make-up, we will always remain an impressionable generation and it’s films like these that influences us to cross-examine what we’ve been brought-up and educated to think.

(I shall digress here – I think it’s a paradox to be “taught” how to think and in spite of how ridiculous that sounds, we don’t even do that enough, especially in our country – where we are educated to deliver what’s right – where the “correct” answer is the one that gives you the highest score, and not actually what you agree with, or even have a chance to agree with. All right, I think I’m starting to lose my train of thought here and as well as to lose you in them so I shall withhold these particular thoughts for another post in future, if ever. Now, back to movies that make you think…)

There are all kinds of movies, some with twisted and distorted values, some that satisfies our adrenaline appetite, some that quench our lustful desires, some that takes us on a journey back to our childhood days, some that inspires us to dream and achieve things, some that makes us fall in love, some that gently reminds us about the important things in life… And some that simply just makes us think. I’m a huge fan of that last genre because I think it’s the best thing that a secular production could make me do – to think. I’d rather fill my mind with things to think about than things which are spoon-fed to me.

Here are just 15 of my all-time favourite movies (and you’ll understand why I’ve never been a mainstream movie goer), in no order of preference:

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Shawshank Redemption
  3. Remember The Titans
  4. The Prestige
  5. The Devil’s Advocate
  6. The Butterfly Effect
  7. Tuesdays With Morrie
  8. Forrest Gump
  9. Braveheart
  10. Good Will Hunting
  11. Finding Forrester
  12. Dead Man Walking
  13. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  14. Deception
  15. Inception

I’m sure I’ve missed out other great titles in this list (such as The Godfather trilogy and Schindler’s List which I’ve been wanting to watch for the longest time already). Do you know of any other to recommend? It’d be great if I could hear from you – what’s a “culture-shaping” movie you’ve watched and why did it leave and impression in you? Do leave a comment and share your thoughts with me.

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how should you apply and appreciate talent?

As I lounged into my seat to observe AS’s piano recital at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory yesterday, I realised that I grew frustrated at my inability to fully appreciate the beauty of the Chopin pieces that she was apparently playing so brilliantly. It was an accomplished performance, no doubt; her fingers moved so much faster than I could move my lips, musically it sounded like a formidably difficult piece to pull off with so many off-beats, odd synchronisations, and flats and sharps that seem to fit in perfectly when they normally would sound out of place. It was only the second time I saw Singapore’s child (now teenage) prodigy in action but there I was, reclined in my comfortably red seat, wishing that my musical knowledge was more inclined so that I could appreciate her performance at the level that it was meant to be appreciated at.

How do you enjoy a performance you can’t appreciate? I’m inclined to believe that talent is best appreciated by the talented, for our enjoyment is vastly limited and restrained to our personal capacities and standards – I could never fully comprehend the difficulty of AS’s piano pieces and the level of her accomplished techniques; my enjoyment was sadly limited to a mere sensory admiration, instead of a technical, emotional and intellectual appreciation. Football, music and even preaching are all art in various forms but our appreciation of even its respective equipment knowledge or showmanship styles has been greatly marginalised due to our ignorance of these art forms. We won’t even be able to comprehend the painstaking efforts and countless hours invested to perfect the art.

I found myself asking two questions:

  1. How should you apply the talent at your disposal?
  2. How should you appreciate the talent on display?

So as I fidgeted in my seat, I naturally recalled the parable of the talents, where it’s not about how much talent you have, but about what you do with it. Each of us would have our assigned lots in life. The whole idea is to utilise the lot in the best way you know how to; for the more you use it, the better you get at it and may possibly even acquire new skills along the way. I think this is applicable to any art form. Think about it – if I decide to practise scales in a bid to up my guitar playing ability, and I get good at it, I will open up the door to new genres of music for me to learn and appreciate. In football, if I put myself through dribbling drills, I will eventually get stronger on my weaker leg, and I will open up the option of eventually shooting or crossing with my weaker foot. Before I could polish my abilities as a lead singer, I had to ensure that my basic singing abilities were above average. Practice doesn’t just make perfect – it paves the path for new skills.

I remember a quote by John Keating from one of my all-time favourite movie, Dead Poets Society:

“… And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…

These are what we stay alive for.”

I think that beauty is multi layered – where one standard of excellence is carefully smuggled beneath another. I juxtapose the foundations of three art forms – the left and right hand of a pianist, the skill and the fitness of a footballer, and the preparation and oration of a preacher. The pursuit of excellence and the discovery of new art forms will exponentially enhance and elevate our appreciation of life.

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