Tuesday, February 28, 2006

[DVD] Sepet (2004)

Sepet Poster

I've always been unable to answer confidently when someone asks me what my favourite movie is. You're learning it here first, I've found it. It is Sepet. I love this movie to bits. And I find it so unforgivable to have missed it when it was released on the big screen locally. But the question would be, why Sepet?

You'd know by now I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned romance. Sepet is one of those classic romances, with a contemporary touch, and a realistic take on love, life, relationships at all levels. It is honest, sincere storytelling, and having it ring so close to home, with a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual take, just makes it endearing. It's not a Malay film, or Chinese film, but it's a Malaysian film, one in which a person like me, from across the Causeway, can and will definitely enjoy.

Director Yasmin Ahmad has crafted two charismatic leads, in Jason (Ng Choo Seong), the pirated VCD peddler with a penchant for poetry, and Orked (Sharifah Amani) the student. One's Chinese, the other's Malay, and Yasmin has weaved a loving story between the two, sans all misconstrued prejudices. We're drawn into their love at the start of their budding relationship from their chance encounter when Orked patronizes Jason's stall in a busy market street, and witness them grow in their affection for each other.

The diverse family backgrounds are highlighted from the beginning. We see Jason reciting poetry so lovingly to his Peranakan mother (played by Tan Mei Ling). He seemed closer to her than his father, and we learn that all is not too well between the squabbling parents. In a dinner scene with his family, we learn that his brother (later played by Alan Yun in Gubra) had married a Singaporean, and the relationship with the in-laws are not that cordial too.

Contrasted with Orked's family, the loving parents portrayed by Ida Nerina and Harith Iskander, who share many a scene expressing their love (which had irked Malaysian censors), and with a housemaid Yam (played by Adibah Noor) adding to the comical close knit ties within their family.

But, cliche as I may sound, love knows no bounds. Sans race, sans religion, sans family backgrounds, love will find a way. We follow their courtship, and it isn't that these obvious differences are swept beneath the carpet. No, they were brought out, and we realize the challenges that lie ahead if our couple were to be together, and to challenge these misconceptions.

But in typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl fashion, we see how their relationship loses ground when Jason confesses to Orked to have impregnated another girl. To be "fair", he did the deed before he became committed to Orked, but felt that sense of responsibility to take care of the other. It's somewhat depressing, knowing that he and Orked are a match made, but events that transpired before meeting your soul mate, came back to haunt. I thought deeply about this, and was wondering if there was any possibility about reconciliation and forgiveness. Sometimes there will be, sometimes there will be not, but sometimes they may come too little too late. And from what Yasmin told us, I understood the ending, why it ended the way it ended, drawn from her personal experience, and the emotions I felt.

But therein lies a higher objective, which I thought was a respectable Wow moment. With the way it ended, I felt that yes, I believe that Yasmin has achieved with most audiences (unless you're on the road to no redemption) throwing away any deep sense of prejudice, to want the two leads to be together, after the fact that is akin to riding on a ferris wheel to the top, enjoying the sights, and then being thrown over. It dawned upon me the power of her story, simply told.

The movie's also peppered with plenty of movie references and subtle jokes, besides the obvious ones which you laugh out loud. There are digs at society, and some events will make you ponder, like how Orked managed to get a scholarship with 5As, when Jason actually scored 7, and got none (hey, VCD peddler also got the smarts, ok!)

The chemistry between the leads is so believable, that you cannot help but fall in love with both. Jason is the atypical sam-seng boy with dyed hair, dances a quirky dance, filial son, with a heart of gold. You might presume that Orked is the demure pint-sized girl next door, but inside, she packs quite an opinionated punch, which works in her favour when battling against prejudices. And the two of them put together, genuinely make a cute couple.

The musical selection is beautiful, and I was initially surprised that Sam Hui songs were used throughout the movie. They were the evergreens in Hong Kong Pop, and contributed effectively to the mood of the movie. The cinematography too emulates picturesque moments when the leads are together, be it sharing a meal or conversation in a fast food restaurant, or sitting at a pier or a bus stop to wait out the rain. Things and situations associated with budding love.

There are tonnes of films out there which are loud, brash, and easily forgotten once the lights come on. I've come to appreciate smaller films which are intricately crafted, a simple story with layered complexity, and something which can endure the test of time. A story that comes straight from the heart. I believe Sepet is one of them. I like.

Code 3 DVD contains behind the scenes footage (though I had hoped it could have more), and the trailer. How I'd wish there would be a director and casts commentary. :-)


P.S. here's a link to a brilliant writeup I found, which includes the titles of the Sam Hui songs used in the movie.

Gubra World Premiere

Gubra World Premiere CrowdEager Crowd Awaiting

The world premiere of Yasmin Ahmad's new movie, Gubra, happened last Monday at GV Grand. The usual suspects, Shaiful and me were on duty, together with Richard and Lokman who were there as they had won tickets to attend.

You can read more about the Gala by clicking on the movieXclusive logo below:



Naturally, there will be what we deem as the Richard Moment. It's almost always uncanny that something most peculiar will happen. Richard was supposed to meet up with us before going to Great World City together, but he had to look for a relatively hard-to-find copy of Sepet, which was sold out at HMV Heeren and Cineshop. He did find it eventually, and after we had made so many calls to find out where he was. But when we proceeded to the theatre foyer, guess what - they had loads of copies on sale, and cheaper than what he paid for too! Another Richard Moment for the annual!

Pre-Gala DiscussionPre-Gala Discussion with Yasmin Ahmad

So while waiting for Yasmin's darling Richard, we discovered we were relatively early at the gala. Yasmin was already there, and so were Sharifah and Alan, but they were upstairs at the Gold Glass reception area doing an interview.

Sharifah Amani and Alan Yun InterviewSharifah Interviewing Alan?

Alan Yun and Sharifah AmaniStrategizing Too!

We mingled around a little, strategizing the angle to cover the gala (on duty, so got added responsibility, you know?), though I had it easier this time since I was the designated photographer. There was plenty of food too!

Food!Richard Playing Waiter

More Food!Hey, Save Some For Me!

Anyway if you had read the coverage, you would roughly have an idea of what transpired throughout the event. There were local television stars, veterans and up-and-coming newbies all eagerly anticipating this movie.

Shaiful Listening InShaiful Listening In

Of course there is always time for pictures for the album before we were ushered into Hall 6 for the premiere proper.

Yasmin and IYasmin Ahmad

Alan and IAlan Yun

Sharifah and ISharifah Amani (Orked) and I

Kenneth Tan, GV's MD gave the opening speech (some things we've already heard from him in our earlier interview), before Yasmin and Sharifah addressed the audience, the former letting us know of her upcoming projects, while the latter, all giggly, told us we definitely must stay after the end credits roll, that we'll not regret. And she's right!

Yasmin Ahmad Introducing GubraYasmin Introducing Gubra

We were sitting in front of the reserved seats (heh, off duty personnel Richard and Lokman knew how to pick seats ah), so Alan was seated behind Shaiful, and Adibah Noor was seated behind me. Always a blast to watch a movie and keeping your ears peeled at what the cast had to say about certain scenes.

At the end of the movie, I suppose everyone could tell we were quite reluctant to leave. We hung around, speaking to folks, reluctant to leave, got some autographs, reluctant to leave, said our farewells, reluctant to leave, said our final farewells at the lobby of Great World City, before we had to leave. It had been a wonderful wonderful evening to cap a surreal 48 hours.

Richard ThinkingRichard Contemplating...

But hey, we're pretty on about meeting Yasmin again for supper (on us of course), and if her schedule permits! *Still Keeping Fingers Crossed*

Gubra

Gubra Poster

I'm not going to review this in the usual manner. I hope I'll be able to dwell much more on what this movie meant to me, and how I related to it. It isn't easy, as my thoughts have been rather scattered, because Gubra meant a lot as I ponder during different times. I am most likely to watch it again, after yesterday's world premiere at GV Grand. So before I begin, let me warn you that the rest of this review (if I may still call it so) is full of spoilers. So watch the movie, then come back and read the rest of it. We will agree to disagree, and I truly welcome your views on your emotions towards this excellent movie. But before you leave, remember, you ABSOLUTELY MUST stay behind for ONE SCENE at the END OF THE CREDITS. You will not be disappointed.

First and foremost, the characters. It's an ensemble expanded by including a parallel story, for comparison, about the family of a muezzin, the irony of his being neighbours with prostitutes. Gubra's other story is more familiar territory, a continuation of Orked's life, being seven years after Jason's death in Sepet. Orked is back from England, and is now married to Arif (Adlin Aman Ramlie), and seems to be having a happily married life. In a comical buildup to the hospital scene, we are quickly introduced to Orked's family, like her loving parents, the housemaid, and the driver.

Having her father hospitalized allowed Orked the chance meeting with Alan Lee (Alan Yun, with a super nerdy hairstyle at first), who's the married brother (now divorced from his Singaporean wife) of Jason, her all so sweet Ah-Seng boyfriend from Sepet. The Lee family too is in the hospital, because the Nonya mum pushed the Chinese dad over a staircase, much like their constant fights which we're familiar with.

But the richness is in the relationships between the characters. Is love and forgiveness, intertwined? Probably. We contrast adultery experienced by a modern couple, and that between traditional folks of an older generation. On one hand, we have the blissful, model couple in Orked's parents and the muezzin and his wife, but on the other, it seemed that the Lees, in spite of their constant squabbling, actually do love each other, in a rather subdued manner. Spouses who stick together despite abuse, is it because there's no choice, or does it demonstrate to a certain extent, true love, and constant forgiveness towards the hateful things one says to another? It's interesting to see that there were certain dialogue which mentioned the potential "goodness" of marrying to someone of a different race, but we know, at the end of the day, idealistic as it may sound, it all boils down to the basic conduct of how a person lives out his humanity. On a rather lighthearted note, we also see a budding infatuation between a hospital attendant and Orked's maid, contributing to the initial stage of budding love, and jealousy which the driver experienced.

It's a totally different ballgame in the muezzin storyline. We do see the very close knit family unit of a religious man, which is contrasted with that of the single parent prostitute who has to bring up her young son. She does what she does out of pure basic survival, and is seeking forgiveness from God for the lifestyle she decided upon. The introduction of a gambler used to portray domestic violence was painful to watch, though it is through these episodes and down-trodden characters, we see the compassion extended by the muezzin and hi wife. They live simply, but are happy with their lot. Something that we can emulate with being contented with what we have.

The usual social observations that we noticed in Sepet also found its footing in Gubra. You wonder and are amazed at how the director managed to skillfully weave them in together with the narrative. It doesn't prod disrespectfully, but in subtleness lies its effectiveness. The multi-lingual, racial, religious society of Malaysia is again highlighted through the same narrative style, be it in dialogue or action. Liked that moment of conversation Orked shared with Alan when in his pickup truck en route to some grub. Indeed being in a multi-ethnic country ourselves, we can identify easily with almost everything discussed on screen.

Gubra, like Sepet, started off simple, as simple as butter spread on bread, breakfast lovingly made by a wife for her husband in the early morning. But just like Sepet, if I could paraphrase what Yasmin mentioned, we are taken on a joyride before thrown on the tracks. Gubra had a simple intro to the muezzin storyline, and a comedic intro to Orked's story. But things aren't meant to last as we see. Like Sepet, we are drawn into their world through its light hearted moments, yet we witness events that spiral emotionally downwards from then on.

Being cheated upon and having promises broken is never easy to handle. It makes it worse when matrimonial vows are broken so easily, as we witness with Arif's infidelity, and his constant lies. It's painful to watch Orked undergo this betrayal, although she managed to keep herself composed (I wonder if it's a conscious effort on hairstyling, during the funny periods in the beginning, it was like a lion's mane, and when she left the husband, it's all coiffed up nicely). We know she's capable of having stand up for herself given her strong will, and leaving her husband, given her leaving Jason when he confessed to having impregnated someone else.

But we're led into another theme of forgiveness, if she'll forgive Arif just as she forgave Jason. One might say that it is easier to forgive the latter because there was no sacred vows taken between man and wife. That of forgiveness and compassion also featured in the other storyline. Compassion through inaction can serve as a double edged sword. While you hope that through compassion, you would touch another person to change their ill ways, but if it's a deep rooted rot, we'll never know how we could have helped to avoid tragedy, if we had not exhibited that emotion in the first place.

There are plenty of scenes which highlights Yasmin's wry humour, sometimes to elevate the seriousness and tragedy, without much dialogue, but told through images. Like the scene in the clinic where the erectile dysfunction poster teases you, yet you're anticipating the discovery of the seriousness of an illness not mentioned explicitly, but suggested through another common poster. Or the savage attack near the end, which we do not get to see, but we know from an earlier scene how wrong and dangerous it can get.

There are 2 most powerful scenes in the movie, at least for me, which made me almost tear. The first was the scene where Alan brought Orked to his home, to his brother's room, to handover Jason's letters, which Jason didn't have the courage to deliver, his poetry books, and his broken handphone, which was still ringing when the paramedics arrived at the scene. In the beginning of Alan's and Orked's encounter, there was a mention, and a quizzical look from Orked, as if in disbelief, that she was so sure she had indeed spoken to her loved one. That scene in the bedroom, when she delicately handled the items, was so silently sad. In Sepet, she cried so hard when she reluctantly read Jason's letter en route to the airport, and here we feel her immense feeling of loss, after what she had gone through. It almost made me wanna cry, and lend her my shoulder to cry on too, just like Alan did.

The other scene would be the scene after the end credits rolled. To my surprise, we see Orked snuggled against Jason, and he was wearing a wedding ring. Did this happen in the past? Was she dreaming of what could have been? Or was it a figment of her imagination, the crystallization of her sense of longing to be in safe arms after her disappointing marriage? Yasmin shared with my friends and I about the true meaning/purpose of this scene, but I felt it's a bit tongue-in-cheek leh. Yasmin, serious ah? :-D

I would recommend that you rewatch Sepet again before you watch Gubra, not that Gubra can't stand on its own, but I feel you'll be able to relate to Gubra and her characters and themes even more. If you can't get your hands on the DVD, then make your way to the local theatres as there is gonna be a rescreening. Watch Sepet, watch Gubra, and let's discuss the movies over a cup of tea.

It's simple, yet complicated. Beautiful, yet tragic. I heart this movie!

Gubra - Conversations with Yasmin, Sharifah and Alan

I'll have to admit, I'm finding it extremely difficult to pen down the events that transpired in the last 48 hours. It's almost surreal, watching a film that I instantly fell in love with, and on the same day, meeting the director and cast for an interview which turned out to happen over dinner, then the next day attending the world premiere of the sequel, and watching it with them in attendance. It's a simply amazing feeling, being drawn to the screen world, then meeting them in person, and sharing a conversation. I have so much to say and write about, that I really don't know where and how to begin.

Friends, most of you should know by now, that my favourite Writer-Directors include Cameron Crowe, Quentin Tarantino, and M Night Shymalan. Very diverse personalities producing very diverse works. Cameron I have met and spoken to in a very short 3 minutes which lasted for eternity during the local premiere of Vanilla Sky years back, while Shymalan and Tarantino, I just enjoy their works. I have a new favourite, and who would've known she actually hails a little closer to home, just across the Causeway, a truly fantastic lady, Yasmin Ahmad.

I have never imagined a meeting over dinner. We (Shaiful, Lokman and Richard) were supposed to interview Yasmin, Sharifah (Orked) and Alan (in Gubra) at about 1830hrs on Sunday for movieXclusive, the last of a series of interviews behind the mainstream media. Somehow it worked to our advantage(?) that the earlier interviews stretched, and we had to do ours over dinner (although initially we were hesitant if we were interrupting their meal), which actually as we found out, is the first full meal of the day for the trio.

But allow me to bore you with something else we did during the long wait. Like meeting at the Esplanade Library to borrow DVDs (and then during dinner, launched into discussions into those movies, like Richard's busty selections, and massb's Annie Hall, which was referenced in Gubra as we found out yesterday). And while thinking up questions to ask, Linus was there too to see us hard at work. But perhaps the craziest thing was to look for a Sony Mini-Disc player disc (eh?). Don't worry if you don't understand. We discovered, after walking around countless of shops in Funan, that it seemed to be an obsolete product. The players are sold, but not empty discs.

All this while we were waiting for the call to confirm the time and venue. And finally it came. Thomas informed us that we could conduct the interview over dinner at Westin's Kopi Tiam. Wow, it suddenly dawned upon us that we're meeting Yasmin! And Orked! And I'm sure all this while Shaiful's heart is beating like mad, haha!

The instant warmth Yasmin exuded, was infectious. And I was surprised too that she can speak Cantonese ah! After the usual pleasantries, we were at first dumbstruck at how to go ahead with the interview, as the venue, quite frankly, was more suited for meals rather than long conversations. But we were eager to hear what Yasmin had to say about the questions we had for her (although Sharifah did comment at some point that Yasmin's answers were all the same, to which Yasmin replied 'cos the questions were the same mah. Opps!) And she took a genuine interest in us too. Like Shaiful's upcoming play which she was so on to attend, but can't due to her scheduling commitments, and upon learning that we wanted to do short films, advising that short films are addictive, and for us to take that leap of faith to do features. Heh. She did find some of us familiar, and we learnt that she did visit Shaiful's blog before, as did we visit hers periodically.

We thought Sharifah Amani and Alan Yun looked visibly tired, but of course, after a full day of interviews, who wouldn't be? Fortunately, our interviews progressed from Q&A, to simply just having a very nice candid conversation amongst friends whom you know from a long time back. It really seemed that way. Wait. It was that way. We even had inside jokes and barbs traded, like our prediction on Shaiful's "Dark Side" question. It's simply amazing to discuss a wide range of issues, remarks on and about critics, some topics not pertaining to films, learning about one another, of Sharifah's love for Bollywood films, and of Alan's most memorable scene in Gubra (cannot say, spoilers leh! Heh!). Sharifah was very fiesty, more so than her character Orked in Gubra, if I can say so. Alan though was the relatively shy person amongst the three, but once he warmed up to us, he's like an army buddy, haha. Some of you might find him familiar (as did I), because he's a model, and has appeared in local ads before. Throughout the session, you can observe and feel the strong chemistry through the bantering between director and lead actress. Like no-holds barred siah.

You can probably read more about the session we had at the movieXclusive website by clicking on the logo below. And for the fans of Sepet who are wondering about the ending, and what it meant, we were so pleased to have heard the explanation from Yasmin herself. It's touching, and I think one that I can relate to. (I'll elaborate more when I post my review of Sepet).



Oh, before we called it a night, we had a group photo taken, courtesy of Thomas who became our photographer.

Gubra - Alan, Sharifah and Yasmin, with mX Crew
[LtoR] Alan, Shaiful, Me, Sharifah, Yasmin, Richard, Lokman
Yes, eat your heart out guys, I got hugged leh!

There's a little backstory of how I ended up where I'm standing. Suffice to say that it's all because of the "do you know how I know you're gay" joke that Richard had a penchant for, that didn't work against me this time :-P And yes, Richard became Yasmin's darling, you know? :-D

Yasmin, Sharifah, Alan, if you're reading this, Thank You for the friendship, and for the stories that touch so close to the heart.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Yasmin Ahmad Is In Town!

Yasmin Ahmad is in town, and so are Sharifah Amani and Alan Yun to promote their lastest movie, Gubra.

My friends and I had just spent the most amazing evening having dinner and an interview, wait, make that the most awesome chat/discussion amongst a group so big, and topics so diverse, I don't know where to begin. Guess you'd just gotta wait for the official report at moviexclusive.com before I rave on about the session. All thanks to Lighthouse Pictures too!

So do yourself a favour, and go watch Sepet and Gubra! There's a double bill feature coming up, so go see ok? I'll be posting the regular reviews soon.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Munich

The Munich 1972 Olympic games will forever go down in infamy for the killing of Israeli sportsmen by a terrorist group known as Black September. If you wish to know more about the motives and happenings on that fateful day, including the ineptness of the Germans to manage the entire situation, resulting in the deaths of almost all the perpetrators and the victims, do check out the documentary One Day In September. But not to say that Steven Spielberg's Munich fares any less. My recommendation is to watch the documentary first if you wish to understand more of what happened before, then to follow up with Spielberg's movie for the tale of what happened after when the Mossad went after the mastermind planners. So that you'll not be as irritating as the bimbo sitting behind me asking her equally clueless boyfriend "what happened? Why like that?"

Spielberg's movie is as every bit, Spielberg. It grips you from the beginning and never lets go until the end. For those who did not heed my advice above, don't worry, there's a re-enactment of the terrible event from the point where they entered into the Olympic Village, and various scenes thereafter en route to the airport are edited in between the movie. As mentioned, the movie places focus on the Mossad's attempt to wipe out the terrorist masterminds, and we follow the journey of their appointed leader, Avner, played admirably by Eric Bana, who now probably has cornered roles for the tough yet sensitive guy, like Hector in Troy, or Bruce Banner in Hulk.

And it's this spy-versus-spy game, that this movie excels in. We take the usual peek into government organizations sponsoring clandestine operations, and assembles Avner with a team that looked straight out of Mission: Impossible's IMF. We follow them through the missions so carefully planned ala Ocean's Eleven, aimed at sending signals to the Israeli oppositions that force will be met with force, and violence with violence. Indeed violence begets violence, and what goes around comes around, but at what cost? Information brokers are all set to profit from violence, and in the world of secret agents, so long as the price is right, you get your information, regardless of what you want to do with it.

But the movie also takes a more personal look into the life of Avner, who started off with gusto and with a deep sense of patriotism in their missions, before we slowly see the toil being taken on a family man who can't be with his family, or his home and country, and the degeneration of Avner into paranoia. When you're playing hunter for so long, and you find yourself one day being the prey, that's the effect it'll have on you, of over suspicion on the pretext of playing it safe.

John Williams is at his element here in providing a soundtrack that is intense and fits the movie perfectly. During mission scenes, you'll feel just as tense as the characters planning and executing (pardon the pun) their hits. Avner's team comprises of folks who are not exactly field experts, but their camaraderie on screen is at its finest. I was paying attention to Daniel Craig's highly volatile character Steve, and I'd still think he doesn't have what it takes to become Blond, I mean, Bond. And besides Craig, the only other peculiarly minor letdown I have was the final bed scene between Avner and wife. I thought the editing was done in a very distasteful manner, though I understand what it was trying to get at with the intersplicing of the Munich massacre. Somehow it could have been done better.

It's a controversial film, but only for the controversy surrounding the subject matter, and of Spielberg's roots. It doesn't glorify either side, or try to make a statement which side is right. Two wrongs never made a right, and the movie's narrative plays it that way.

On a normal year, this film would be a strong contender for Best Picture, given all the predictable ingredients required for a win. However, Brokeback Mountain would probably snag the trophy for its more intimate feel as compared to standard fare of a crowd pleasing film. But the message in Munich is nonetheless clear, as hinted so subtly at a small scene of tuning a radio.

Wolf Creek

Based on true events supposedly, Wolf Creek is an Australian production that adds its two cents worth to the slasher genre. However, audiences today won't buy too much into "based on a true story/event/life/etc" gimmick, especially if your end credits contain a line that reveals all events in the movie are purely fictional. Right.

Nonetheless this movie takes its cue from disappearing folks in Australia, having more than 30,000 people doing a Houdini, 90% being discovered within the first month of disappearance, and the remainder being out there, somewhere, unaccounted for, gone perhaps.

Oh, there are lots of creeks at the outback, like the Emu's, but our story takes place in the more sinister sounding Wolf Creek (Wolfe Creek actually). But it takes about an hour before the real action began, which is a long yawn. During the first hour, you don't get to see much except tolerate the weak characters on screen, characters you don't care about anyway because you know they are fresh meat, and having that meat pounded is all you care about (otherwise, why bother with a movie like this?)

An Aussie bloke and two of his British chick friends are on a road trip across Australia. Like I mentioned, the first hour is pretty boring as they make their way to various pit stops and attractions, like Wolf Creek Crater, a pretty amazing sight to behold, touted to be a site where a meteorite came crashing down. Just as they are about to leave, their vehicle fail to start and are contemplating spending the night under the stars. To their good fortune, a friendly Samaritan comes along and offers free help.

But there's nothing like free lunch, or is it? It brings back what your mama always tell you about talking and trusting strangers.

It's like Haute Tension (High Tension) shown last year, and Jeepers Creepers combined, with its bogeyman hunter character, but it's no Blair Witch Project in the atmospheric department. The degree of gore is comparable, but not that many scenes because it's pretty low budgeted. In some scenes, you thought that even sicker stuff would be presented, given the array of equipment made available, but alas they were not to be. Which makes one wonder, if we could go even more extreme than writer-director Greg McLean.

Which of course isn't a very good sign if you have ideas that can probably top the writer and director's vision. Either you're a sick sick person, or the movie is mediocre when compared to slasher greats. And it won't do you any favours if you're planning a road trip in Australia anytime soon, and your vehicle happens to break down.

The Fog

Hollywood has not gotten over its John Carpenter remakes, and The Fog is the latest in a series. From the trailers, we were teased that "there is something in the fog", but we do not know what. And no, despite being nice to look at and all, the Fog is not at all suffocating.

Antonio Island is celebrating its founding fathers, and we're introduced to the descendants of the Malones, the Waynes, the Castels and the Williams. Tom Welling (Clark Kent in the Smallville television series) stars as Nick Castle, the hero of the story who runs a washout boat business. Maggie Grace stars as Elizabeth Williams, Nick's girlfriend who has returned to the island and somehow feels responsible for the events that transpired when the fog descents. Selma Blair stars as Stevie Wayne, a single parent running the only radio channel up atop the only lighthouse on the island.

Pretty standard fare, one-dimensional characters. What will probably keep you engaged in the movie, is the quest to discover the truth and back story to the entire fog shenanigans. A mysterious menacing looking fog arrives, contrary to physics and wind directions, and strange killings and happenings occur on the island. Age old objects like a hairbrush and timepiece turn up at the beach, and itchy-handed folks pick it up despite us folks knowing bad things will happen.

But it bores you after a while, with its usual sins of the fathers theme having little depth (ok, so it's a horror flick after all). It's simple, but with potential, which degenerates into almost a Pirates of the Caribbean copycat in the special effects department. And the special effects and makeup could perhaps be the only saving grace in this movie. There are loopholes in the storyline, especially the ending. You understand what the filmmakers are trying to suggest, but it just doesn't make much sense anyway.

Is it frightening? No. It's a tame pussycat in its scares, relying on cheap, loud, clanging and knocking of metal three times to signal the demise of the characters who hear them, knowing that Evil is around and knocking at your door. Any more, you'll probably go deaf with the theatre's surround sound system.

If there's a movie like The Fog which can be made, perhaps someone would be bold enough to make The Mist, or The Haze in local context. Don't waste your time, you'll need strong fog-lamps to attempt to look at the good in this picture. Being a Tom Welling groupie fan, will probably help.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

49 Days

It's crazy to be doing a movie marathon of 4 movies in a row, and having 3 of which are from the horror genre. However, having completed those 3 first (the last being Spielberg's Munich), they again prove that the horror genre is diverse, and all 3 are different - the mystery-thriller, the ghouls-spirits, and the slasher flick. Onwards, shall we?

This Hong Kong horror movie has 2 titles, one the Chinese one which means the rhino's horn, while the other in English refers to the seven by seven equals forty-nine days of the initial afterlife, in which the body's spirit will roam the earth before proceeding to the netherland. And this movie actually talks about both in a rather interesting manner.

It's my second Stephen Fung - Gillian Chung pairing in a movie, the first being their take on martial arts in last year's House of Fury. This time, they take on the supernatural, with Fung playing a Chinese physician who had to leave his village, wife and daughter to try and make a comeback in his medical hall business. It took him four years to build a brand, but jealous opposition got him framed and imprisoned. Gillian Chung plays his lawyer who investigates and tries to prove his innocence, yet getting entangled romantically to the leading man. Thankfully the romance bit is tossed aside midway to focus more on the mystery of the story.

It's no M Night Shyamalan, but the influence from the writer-director is nonetheless heavy. The movie relies and references the mystical powers of the rhino's horn - the many uses that it has for Chinese medicine like acupuncture, and its ability when lit to see spirits. To those unfamiliar with Chinese afterlife, this movie too explains to certain depth what those forty-nine days are. To brand this film as an outright horror movie is incorrect, while it has certain standard aspects like the building of atmosphere, this movie plays more like a thriller-mystery, and its theme of Fate and Retribution.

Which somehow, plays a bit like one of my favourite movies, Frequency (Jim Caviezel-Dennis Quaid). While the production looks like a straight-to-television movie, the story is suprisingly above average. The spatial jumps that happen every now and then could be there for narrative sophistication, which could catch you offguard, but please hold your horses about potential plot loopholes when you notice them. I was finding fault with them, and they irritated me (thought it was slip-shoddy work), but as the movie progresses, you'd come to appreciate when the loopholes are addressed. Not all though, but most, and that's good enough by me.

The acting however, was below par. It's clearly a Stephen Fung vehicle considering the amount of screentime he has, but he didn't manage to flesh out his character thoroughly. Gillian Chung's role was also one-dimensional, considering that hers was a lead role too. There are plenty of smaller characters in the movie, but their roles were either to lend comic effect, or are the villains.

Being a PG rated film, it's a pity this movie has its gory scenes censored. But if you're looking for a mystery-thriller with a touch of the supernatural thrown in, then this movie would be my recommendation this period.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rumor Has It

Based on a true rumor, the premise of the movie was set up oh-so perfectly, especially if you're a fan of Mike Nichols' 1967 Dustin Hoffman-Anne Bancroft movie, The Graduate (with its immortal line uttered again in this film). It's pretty creative to have that story and characters intertwined with the narrative of this movie.

In this Jennifer Aniston vehicle (is it always that the wives of more famous husbands get meatier roles when they break up?), she plays an obituary writer (another fashionable job since Jude Law became one in Closer) Sarah Huttinger, who's the fiancee of Jeff Daly (Mark Ruffalo). However, she's commitment phobic and is getting cold feet each time Jeff brings up marriage, and it doesn't help that they're attending her sister's (Mena Suvari), therefore meeting her dad (Richard Jenkins) and other relatives she can't get along with.

But rumor after rumor, and having realize that her deceased mother had gone for a fling before her own marriage, Sarah begins an investigative hunt into those (un)faithful days, and with probing for more information from her grandma Katharine (Shirley MacLaine), she discovers Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner), the man whom Dustin Hoffman's Ben was modelled after. So it goes that the writer of The Graduate, Charles Webb, is a close friend of Beau, and the story is based loosely on his dalliances with Katharine. Which also means, as Sarah discovers, that the book and movie, is based on her family!

But it gets better (or is it worse?) as Sarah herself falls for Beau and has a one-night stand, bringing to mind all the dirty, sick thoughts of possible incest. The audience gets teased every now and then when you attempt to piece together the possible relationships between the characters, and it gets worse as we go along, until the final revelation at the end. It's amazing too how you become glued to the story, despite its simplicity in its themes.

Which is surprisingly not romantic relationship per se, which got shoved to the sidelines, but that of commitment. It tries to examine what makes people stick to each other, and what it takes to accept, forgive, and find courage to move on. If you're bringing your date to his movie, have the correct mindset - it's not just another simple date movie, but one which sets both of you thinking. It's got some kick in it too, all thanks to references to The Graduate movie.

Lifting this movie is again the veterans of Shirley MacLaine and Richard Jenkins. MacLaine has played the grandma role to two sisters earlier this year in In Her Shoes. However, this is not a simple rehash of the role, as this one's a little more slapstick, a little more Mrs Robinson, a little more caustic in language and character, but a lot lot lesser screentime. Richard Jenkins too plays the familiar father figure who stands by his daughters, ala his dad role in North Country shown earlier. No doubt that their roles are small, but their characters, all powerful.

Kevin Costner seems to be moving to making smaller movies. I won't say that he's excellent in this movie, because it felt like it was a stroll in the park. Having him falling for and romancing a younger woman in Aniston, was similar to his role last year in The Upside of Anger. All eyes though will be on Jennifer Aniston, as her character has certain takes on relationships that cut a little close to her real life split and how she moved on.

It's a movie which you think the trailers had revealed all, but trust me, it delivered a lot more than what the trailers suggested. It's fun, witty, and refreshing to a certain extent. Do give this movie a watch if spoilt for choices from the Oscar contenders amongst the crowded theatre schedules.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Final Destination 3

I wonder why I missed the first two movies of the franchise, given that I'm a fan of gore (the bloodier the merrier). But you need not have watched the first two movies in order to enjoy Final Destination 3, as it's pretty much a stand-alone movie utilizing the same premise.

Which is when someone actually somehow foresees the future, where something tragically fatal will happen to him/her. They pull out from the situation, and following along (whether they like it or not) are a few others. The tragedy happens, and they all escape death. Death is naturally upset, and continues to kill off the characters who were supposed to die.

But of course, if you can cheat death again, you're off the hook. You know you're in for a good, satisfactory ride when the opening credits are stuffed with relative unknowns, meaning they are the fodder who will die in ways imagined by the writer. Co-writer and director James Wong, who was involved in the original movie, returns to extend his vision of the franchise.

There are numerous references to the earlier movies, like the number 180 which pops up, and also to serve as research material for the characters in FD3 (hard to imagine that the first movie was SIX years ago!). Nifty special effects are also the hallmark of the FD movies, which bring to life the filmmaker's sadistic vision of deaths in various ways from being fried alive to huge objects becoming giant human-swatters.

The movie also sticks to the usual slasher/horror conventions, of knowing that bimbos will die in the most idiotic way ever. Don't go looking for logic in the elaborate setup before character deaths - it's like every implausible element that will impact or contribute towards someone's death, will be looked into. The coincidence might make you shake your head at the sheer audacity of it all, but then, if Death's looking for you, all angles must be covered, and you must die. Like right now. In a fashionably bloody manner to boot, as if to punish you for having cheated initially.

Being rated NC-16 here however, meant that certain scenes had to be cut. Strangely, suggestive scenes like a character licking the boobs of a nude woman keychain, and the bimbos stripping down to their birthday suits, get the snip. But the glorious bloodbath (save one) get shown uncut. As the show progresses, you get to see more. So I guess if the movie is rated for violence and gore, most nudity will get cut off, and probably vice versa? One wonders.

Does this movie scream sequel again? Maybe, if the filmmakers can come up with some more creative ways to die, in bloody good fashion, then perhaps the franchise would probably continue. If you're really hard up and stayed until the end, you'll just be rewarded with a maniacal laughter.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

[DVD] Hot Pursuit (1987)

After a hiatus of weeks, I'm back with scouring the library for more John Cusack movies. Hot Pursuit is one of his earliest movies, even earlier than the previously reviewed Say Anything. Here, he plays a teenager whose Chemistry exam stands in the way of spending a Caribbean holiday with his girlfriend and her family.

However, his professor turns a blind eye to his flunking of the exam and the need for remedial lessons, and Cusack has to pursue his girl and her family as they had already set off without him. It's a decent comedy as he gets into situations like missing planes, spending the night with ganja-smoking Caribbeans, getting entangled with a pirate of sorts, and so on. And it all boils down to his ability to be able to save his girl and her family when they become victims of some thugs who take over their yacht.

Fans of Ben Stiller would also want to watch this for one of Stiller's early performances on screen, and a villain at that. He doesn't have much lines, and neither are they funny though.

Like most teen romance comedies of the 80s, it's pretty predictable stuff, and plays like a teenage boy's fantasy of how a holiday could probably turn out, and becoming the hero who saves the day. Suitable for those boring weekends which you want to waste away.

Barebones Code 1 DVD containing no extras.

[DVD] One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

There are tonnes of wuxia stories and films out there, it's quite difficult to be established as one of the classics. One-Armed Swordsman happens to be one of the best remembered and loved stories that defined wuxia, and it is no doubt that actor Wang Yu and director Chang Cheh were made household names.

Common themes in wuxia like brotherhood, romance, piety, revenge are all rolled into One-Armed Swordsman. A son of a servant who died valiantly protecting his master, Qi Rufeng of the Golden Sword Clan, Fang Gang (Want Yu) was brought up by Qi Rufeng as one of his disciples, but his daughter Qi Pei-er accidentally chops off Fang Gang's right arm in a fit of petty anger.

Running away and injured, Fang Gang was saved by a village girl Hsiao Man, who nurses him back to health, and passes to him half a sacred kung fu manual, which has only the left-handed moves left (yes, it's that convenient). Swearing to leave the martial arts world and minding his own business, little does he realize that a rival clan has developed weapons and moves to counter the Golden Sword Clan, and are out for blood.

Realizing that he cannot let down the master who has brought him up, Fang Gang goes to their rescue, against the wishes of Hsiao Man. Caught between two benefactors, Fang Gang has to make the decision, one in which only a true swordsman will definitely make.

The martial arts, compared to today's standards might seem cheesy, but it's the good old days sans wire work. The teahouse fight remains one of the better sequences, and they all get as bloody as they can get, hence Chang Cheh was also known as the "ketchup" director. You'll marvel at how smart editing actually allows for some "slick" martial arts moves to be performed.

Characters are kept simple - the good are good, and the bad are really evil, and look the part too. It's a one dimensional world, but that keeps the storyline simple as you await the action to begin.

So for that introductory look into the world of Wuxia, One-Armed Swordsman might just be the vehicle for you - characters, themes, weapons, the hallmark elements of a good wuxia film are all there.

This Code 3 DVD contains a behind the scenes gallery, the trailers, production notes and biographies, and a segment on 5 animated works done by various educational institutions in Asia. The winning segment comes from Singapore, and it indeed is a beauty to watch.

[DVD] The Green Hornet (1966)

No, there wasn't any movie made of the Green Hornet, rather, this DVD is a combination of 3 of the television episodes put together. There wasn't any attempt to splice the movie into one long narrative, nor come up with original material like its sibling Batman series (also executive produced by William Dozier).

Created by George Trendle, the story of the Green Hornet is similar to many other masked vigilantes created before, like Batman (very similar, with their characters wealthy background and the use of a sidekick), the Shadow, and The Lone Ranger. And who can forget that hypnotic and iconic theme song with its blaring trumpets and similarity to the flight of the bumblebee?

Van Williams stars as the Green Hornet, aka Britt Reid, a wealthy man who runs the Sentinel newspaper as well as a television station. Like all rich folks with plenty of money and a deep sense of justice, he investigates crime as his alter ego, the Green Hornet, with his green mask, black hat, and the Hornet's sting, aside from his gun. Naturally, he has a sidekick known as Kato, kung-fu master extraordinaire, played by none other than the best in the business Bruce Lee.

Of course the action sequences all belong to Lee, with his exhibition of martial arts. The Hornet himself fights with the usual fist-only punches like a boxer, but with Kato, the action is spiced up. And that is basically the appeal of The Green Hornet.

In this DVD, the three stories are forgettable - the first deals with a club whose members develop their own agenda to rid crime, the second has aliens who want to take over and detonate a H-bomb, while the last deals with Chinese Triads. While the stories might seem ordinary, you'd still glued to the screen just to watch Lee in action.

And if it's action you want, then it's action you'll get. Instead of sitting through the stories to glimpse the action, this Code 3 DVD has a "fight" menu for you to zoom in on the action sequences only. It's a pity though that there's no preview or description to describe what you're about to see.

Also included in this DVD is a set of photo gallery, as well as a documentary of the Green Hornet's transport - the Black Beauty, as built by Dean Jefferies using a Chrysler Imperial.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hidden (Cache)

If I'm asked to recommend a film with style but no substance, then this movie will be it for the year thus far. So much have been raved about the direction, that the storyline is left hanging deliberately. Perhaps there's not much of a story to begin with?

We start off with a motionless camera capturing from afar, a series of apartments. Precious minutes go by as the credits start to roll, until someone hit the rewind button, which is when you realise you're watching a tape. Or rather, the married couple Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (a bloated Juliette Binoche) are. Some twisted mind has sent them a video of their apartment from across the street, though it is friggin' impossible to do so without them, or anyone, noticing a high-end good quality voyeuristic cameraman doing so.

So you get more and more of such tapes being sent over together with childish pictures of incapacitated heads spewing blood, some with different settings, or clues, which Georges decides to investigate by going on-site. What happens, I will not reveal, but it is boring just to watch them go about trying to find out who the perpetrator is. The plot gets more and more absurd, so much so that you'll be screaming for it to end halfway through the movie. The premise gets terrifically set up, but the delivery has so much more to improve.

It is disappointing. From the trailers, you feel that you're up for some good old thriller with satisfying twists. But what you get is a painfully slow movie, which tries to conjure and allude France's history with the Algerians. The saving grace is probably both Auteuil and Binoche's performance, as a husband who finds it impossible to reveal his past, and therefore causing extreme tension with his wife, who finds it almost impossible to trust.

There's a full scene in which a boy hacks up a chicken's head, and the camera lingers until the chicken dies. This is what this movie is, a headless chicken running around in futile, boring audiences until its end. The plot is like Georges' character when he was almost knocked down by a cyclist - exhibiting great bravado with his initial challenge, but when challenged back in return, cowers and wraps up with the tail in between its legs. Pah!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Zoolander

I am five years late. Just as I was so prepared to watch a Ben Stiller caper, with the posters all up at local theatres, the movie disappeared from the radar, and was banned in Singapore. Why? Because the plot was about a fashion model being brainwashed ala The Manchurian Candidate to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister.

Why? Because Malaysia was being used as a sweatshop that hires child labour to manufacture cheap garments created by the western fashion houses, and they are not happy that the PM has outlawed working children. Hence the insane sounding plot right in the beginning. However, someone forgot to tell Ben that the Malaysian footage didn't look like Malaysia, but more like Tiananmen Square. Where got wave banners like that? Got space meh? But since we're friendly neighbours of Malaysia, when they banned it, we banned it too, to show solidarity.

Anyway, for refusing to watch illegal downloaded copies, I was finally rewarded when GV decided to screen it here (no more ban? why now?) for a limited period, even though I suspect since it's a Village Roadshow production, why let it collect dust in the archives?

Ben Stiller co-created and plays Derek Zoolander, male model of the year 3 times in a row, with that killer Blue Steel look - an anal retentive look which actually seduces and is popular with the crowd. As most would already know, this comedy parodies almost everything about the fashion industry, like how himbotic male models can be, and amplified that dumbness more than 100%. Zoolander loses his crown to up and coming male model Hansel (played by Owen Wilson with long flowing locks, surfer dude style), and decides to retire.

But since the chief villain and fashion guru Mugatu (Will Ferrell) requires a dim-witted model to be his assassin (they have buff muscular bodies, and listen to instructions), his assistant Katinka (Milla Jovovich, yummy) brings Zoolander to a secret day spa to be brainwashed, and ready to be a killing machine during the opening of the Derelicte line of clothes.

Real life Mrs Stiller Christine Taylor plays Matilda, a nosy journalist who tails Zoolander to try and get to Mugatu, and gets entangled in the assassination plot. But don't worry, the storyline isn't as complex as I've described. It's filled with plenty of insane subplots and scenes, like Zoolander's retirement decision to join his dad and brother (Jon Voight, and an uncredited Vince Vaughn, who doesn't speak a word), an orgy of sorts with dwarfs, and even a walk-off competition between Zoolander and Hansel, with closure that comes straight out of Stephen Chow's campy movies.

The real scream actually comes from the dozens of cameo appearances of the who's-who in the fashion and entertainment industry. Just as a flavour, there's Karl Lagerfield, Donald Trump, Tom Ford, Natalie Portman (who declares her love for Zoolander), Winona Ryder (who tries to seduce Zoolander), Gwen Stefani, Heidi Klum, Fabio, Fred Durst, Paris Hilton (!), Victoria Beckham, and even Billy Zane. You can refer to IMDb to get the entire list of credited and uncredited appearances. But what's the icing on the cake is David Duchovny's role as an X-File-ish character straight from his Fox Mulder days. Simply brought back the memories, in a funny way, including the many 80s and 90s pop music injected into the movie.

So for those who have held out to finally experience Zoolander's new Magnum look, this is your chance. The movie might be dated, but it sure doesn't feel that way. Great fun.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther actually refers to an enormous pink diamond with a flaw in the shape of a panther, and not to Inspector Jacques Clouseau, but because of the iconic pink panther's appearance in the animated opening credits, along with the all too familiar theme by Henry Mancini, it's all too easy to associate one with the other.

Of course, many Pink Panther / Jacques Clouseau movies did deal with the pink diamond, but there are other tales weaved into the Clouseau mythos that did not. Peter Sellers owned the Clouseau role, and it is naturally a pair of big boots to fill. But I'm glad to say that Steve Martin has taken this role on bravely, and brought a new, more in-your-face slapstick dimension to Clouseau. Purists might call it blasphemy, but for the new generation, it might serve as a springboard introduction to the Sellers' version.

This movie is set early in Clouseau's career as an Inspector, prior to the first Sellers movie. It's an updated retelling however, with things like the Internet and Viagra worked into the plot. And the plot is extremely simple - the French football coach gets assassinated during a football game, and his Pink Panther diamond goes missing. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) deliberately assigns police idiot Clouseau to the case, while secretly working behind the scenes to try and track the case himself, for the medal of honour.

So we follow Clouseau and his assistant Ponton (a clean shaven Jean Reno) as they go about their investigations, bringing them to casinos, recording studios, football changing rooms, and even to New York. There are plenty of situational comedy, slapstick, and loads of subtle sexual innuendo wordplay, playing up on Clouseau's mispronunciation and double takes. But certain scenes do stretch it a bit and somehow could be omitted, like the part where he engages an American speech coach.

What made this movie enjoyable, is the casting. Steve Martin brought a sense of familiarity, and he partners Jean Reno really well. The chemistry between the two men made this movie watchable, as we see Reno breezing through this with a deliberate straight face. Match Point fans might be glad to see Emily Mortimer here as Clouseau's bespectacled secretary, and it seemed that she was there as an unexpected love interest, as well as to further certain gross humour from the start.

Beyonce Knowles stars as a singer (what else?) and she can add this role to her resume for being featured in another detective/spy franchise (the other being Mike Myers' Austin Powers). Sadly, she doesn't do much here except pout, dress sexy, perform sexy, and sing, compared to her much meatier role as Foxy Cleopatra.

But the real gem in this movie, is that of Clive Owen's appearance. Watch out for that casino scene, where he appears in a tuxedo, and in a role that gives everyone a glimpse of what he can do as 007. That suaveness, that campy drink made fun of, and easily discovered as being in her Majesty's secret service. Sadly, it's a role that's not to be, but here, he hams it up as 006 (you must listen closely to Clouseau's follow up comment on that!). It's a real blast!

Take note too of the mini Smart car. I discovered its wide existence in Europe about two years back, and have often marvelled at the thought if I could squeeze comfortably into its tiny interior. It'll also make an appearance in Summer's anticipated The Da Vinci Code, so I wonder if one day this vehicle will make it to our shores here.

Alas, this film is (drumroll please) censored at a point. And that's very disappointing. I thought the whole dance sequence with Clouseau and Ponton could have contributed to more laughs. I was laughing, then stopped when the music jerked, obvious that a censor's scissors had made its effect felt. It was a bad cut, and perhaps one which was unnecessary even to keep it within PG levels.

The storyline is predictable and it's nothing to shout about. But to chase away long workday blues, then give The Pink Panther a watch, You just might be tempted to get your hands on the original series, just to see Clouseau work his magic in his other adventures.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Capote

The movie is nothing to shout about, but Philip Seymour Hoffman's role as Truman Capote just screams Oscar!

You can read my review of Capote at movieXclsuive by clicking on the logo below:

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Nudity, gratuitous nudity. But let's not get carried away shall we? Mrs Henderson Presents, based loosely on real events, tells the tale of how an English theatre in London's West End called the Windmill was revived, and showcases the people involved in putting on its productions.

Grand English dame Judi Dench plays Laura Henderson, a rich and recently widowed woman who is at the crossroads of what to do with her twilight years. She decides to buy an old theatre on a whim, and hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it. Despite their differences, they come up with a successful hit, but like all who are the first to market and with weak barriers to entry, their innovative idea of a non-stop revue gets easily copied, and they are faced with the usual slump in their box office.

Mrs Henderson then presents another idea of having nudity on stage, modelled after the French's revue, to bring in the crowds and to stand out amongst their competitors. And here's where the comedy picked up a bit, as audition calls look like American Idol and Are You Hot? combined into one. The banter between Henderson and Lord Chamberlain (chief censor at that time) in order to get his permission for such a live act is memorable, as she "innocently" mouths off words that seem too vulgar for Chamberlain to utter.

What appeals in the movie is how Hoskins and Dench play off their characters against each other. Their dialogue though at times vicious, are always laced with wit, especially in Dench's retorts. Dench puts up an award winning performance as an eccentric lady who spares no effort in showing her emotions when in solitude, although she does throw a childish tantrum or two around. Hoskins too held his own, though the depth that the filmmakers tried to inject into his Jewish Vivian Van Damm character seemed a little too contrived.

The first half of the movie is extremely fun as the cast and crew go about attempting what has never been done before in an English theatre, but midway through the film, the pace gets jarred with the introduction of World War II and Hitler's bombing campaign over London. Subplots get introduced and got rid off faster than you can say "Bomb Raid". You have a quick love affair, and some pondering about the war (with a beautifully light deprived Picadilly Circus, and the raging fire engulfing much of London. But what I felt was a pity of not being played up, was the perceived rivalry between the nude models, and the actual performers who sing and dance. It was suggested at, and then forgotten altogether.

While the movie has its shortcomings, Mrs Henderson's revelation will explain why she did what she did. That scene, though predictable and expected to be coming, actually gave the film a much needed closure after dangerously threading on having the plot being too scattered. The song and dance added flavour to the movie, but I hesitate to brand this movie as an outright musical.

One thing though, I'm quite surprised that the censors here are quite lax with this movie, nary a cut amongst the nudity, not only of the female form (full frontal, and back too), but full frontal male nudity get passed as well, which I thought was R21 territory. Perhaps it's like what the one character in the movie mentioned, so long as the humans do not move, it can be considered art, and not alluring.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. (Sorry, weak attempt in trying to be musical here)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

[DVD] Shattered Glass (2003)

Hayden Christensen is best known currently for this role as Anakin Skywalker in the new Star Wars Trilogy, and if you're up for some other movie starring this relative newcomer, then Shattered Glass would be the movie for you. Along the lines of recent corporate scandals, and in many movies made about them like Rouge Trader, this movie recounts what happened in a magazine called The New Repubilc where its editorial integrity was taken a knock in 1998.

The New Republic is one of thousands of magazine publications in the USA, but the only one which touts itself as the inflight magazine of Air Force One, meaning it gets read by politicians and people who make decisions which influence public policy. Like most credible publications, it has a respectable history, and prides itself with the uncanny knack of unearthing the careers of its young reporters.

Stephen Glass (Christensen) is one such young rising upstart, someone who can do no wrong, and is very popular amongst the staff of The New Republic with his seemingly endless "lobangs" and eye for certain stories. However, Glass has all along been exploiting a loophole in the editorial process to have his articles printed, and that is the submitting of his own notes for events he seemingly covered, and the creation of countless of supporting lies to cover up his initial lie of having been there, with the creation of fictitious names, events, quotes, organizations, and even voice mails, websites and fake business cards and email addresses.

Until one day, Forbes magazine online had a story to follow up from New Republic, and their checks turn out some surprising results. From here, the pace quickens, as New Republic's new editor Chuck Lane tries to probe more into Glass' misdeeds. And what's interesting is how office politics is used to sway rational opinion on what needed to be done with a misbehaving staff.

Peter Sarsgaard has had a pretty busy 2005 with supporting roles in Jarhead, Flightplan and Skeleton Key. I believe he's certainly growing to be a method character actor, with awards long overdue. Here, he plays a man who was air-dropped into the editor's hot seat, thus not being popular with the staff. He has to balance between keeping the magazine afloat when this crisis breaks, and yet having to keep his other staff in place pending unpopular decision he has to make on Glass.

But to the keen-eyed observer, scenes between Sarsgaard and Christensen really looked like much of the banter between Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, for some reason, with the former's slight resemblance to Ewan McGregor, and the latter's portrayal of the whiny and helpless Glass whose hand was caught inside the cookie jar.

At the end of the day, it's always the truth that will set you free. Covering up is only contributing the problem by making it snowball into something that can't be managed. It's a good reminder in these times which we live in, where the call for transparency and proper corporate governance take centerstage.

The Code 1 DVD contains an audio commentary by the director and real life editor Chuck Lane, but the real gem is the actual 60 Minutes interview with the real Steve Glass, and listening to him tell the story in his own words.

[DVD] Scream 2 (1997)

Given the success of the original Scream, it is inevitable that there would be a sequel, bringing back cast members from the first movie who survived the massacre (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox), and adding new popular faces that would add to the body count, like the underutilized Sarah Michelle Gellar.

In case you've forgotten the iconic beginnings of this franchise, it is again reprised with a movie within a movie, as Gail Weather's (Cox) successful book about the incident has been turned into a movie called Stab, starring Heather Graham in Drew Barrymore's role, and David Schwimmer (not seen though) and Tori Spelling in the roles of Arquette's and Campbell's respectively. It's an incredibly cheesy beginning, which stayed true to the way the original was played out, and guest stars Jada Pinkett Smith too.

With the original Scream poking fun at slasher flicks in general, this sequel pokes fun at, you'd guess it, sequels. A new copycat serial killer is in town and stalking Sidney (Campbell) and the surviving gang has to race against time to try and find out who this sicko might be. Could it be a copycat down to the last detail such that Sidney's new boyfriend, an alpha-male jock, is involved? Or one of the surviving cast from the first film? Or how about the innocently accused Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) who's released from prison, and wanting to get back at Sidney for putting him in jail?

The gore factor definitely has been reduced (or was it because I was watching a Code 3 version?) and relies on the usual soundtrack crescendos to pull in the screams (put intended)? And speaking of the soundtrack, there were moments were Broken Arrow's was used liberally throughout. The in-jokes and numerous references which made the first Scream a darling, were sadly missed in the sequel.

The ending again is a twist when the killer is revealed. Though like all predictable villains, a long extended monologue always seemed to be the order of the day. Guess that's just the way the genre goes. Like what was mentioned, there are only a few sequels which surpass their originals, and sadly, Scream 2 is not one of them.

Code 3 DVD was a barebones version, nothing special included, which is a pity.

Brokeback Mountain

Here's my challenge: Watch Casanova and Jarhead (both now showing in local theatres) before watching Brokeback Mountain, to appreciate and to keep fresh in your mind, the acting range of both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. One plays a king of lovemaking, while the other plays an army grunt, in which both are alpha-males roles. Then when you watch Brokeback Mountain, you'll probably be wide-eyed at how these two have a go at each other.

Based upon the 1997 short story by Edna Anne Proulx, you must have your head stuck in mud if you're not aware this movie is about two cowboy shepherds who share a relationship up in the mountains of Brokeback. Set in 1963, we see Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) team up in their job to shepherd sheep to graze, and having strict orders to be separate most times to take care of their flock.

But being together alone in the mountains, sharing their lives with each other, brings them too close, and soon, they share a forbidden illicit relationship (hey, they're supposed to be macho cowboys, and it's the 60s of free love and Vietnam looming) that transcends the usual boundaries of male bonding.

It's like a summer love, and after an hour into the film, we explore how this love affect them as they try to ease themselves back to normalcy. Except that things are never going to be normal anymore. While they establish families - Del Mar with his fiancee Alma (Michelle Williams), and Twist with rich Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway in another role which she shows off her assets), they cannot forget their throes of passion they had sparked back in summer of 63. Before long, they get together again to reignite their passion for each other and continue over a period of 20 years.

One thing's for sure, the story will still play out decently if you substitute gay love with heterosexual roles, like the countless of movies on cheating spouses, but there'll be a very distinct lack of punch. You'll notice that the male couples share similar trials and tribulations of any relationship - the love, passion, how much one party is willing to give the other, and how much the other will reciprocate, and unfulfilled dreams. What gives this movie the edge is how the characters are compelled to look for each other for solace, and the deceit and lies they have to go through in order to be together.

It's a movie that's paced slowly, but gives opportunity for the audience to admire the postcard perfect (CGI-enhanced) landscape of the mountains and plains, to study the expressions of the characters, to listen and ponder upon the dialogue. Lee Ang had made Chinese Wu-Xia movies sexy, and it's no wonder that he has also managed to add a touch of sensuality that permeates throughout Brokeback. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack helps too in keeping the mood and emotions in check, serving to add to the narrative in periods of silenced dialogue.

Perhaps something which I thought was pretty neat, was the idea brought forward from Kinsey, that there is a degree of homosexuality in all of us, and it depends on how gay you are, or have the courage, to come out of the closet. What's interesting is when you think about whether the notion of gayness stems from nature, or nurture. If you'd seen the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about, and how passion can consume someone, that it takes over all sensibility, and about the propensity of risk you're willing to take.

Heath Ledger had a pretty busy 2005, with diverse roles in Brothers Grimm, Lords of Dogtown, Casanova and this. I've seen all of them, and while I disliked Grimm, I thought his roles in 2005 should be credited with an Oscar win for this. Jake Gyllenhaal too plays Twist with a touch of machoness, and yet is able to slip back into needy whining gentleness with a flick of a switch. Michelle Williams' role, while small, is accentuated by the particular one scene in which she discover the truth. It is powerful - nothing much said, but everything said through the eyes. Perhaps the weakness link is Hathaway with her megawatt smile and bimbotic blonde looks, as the clueless wife of Twist caught in between some major family squabbles.

Homophobes will probably give this movie a miss, but to generally brand this as a gay movie will be missing the point. I'd recommend it to everyone I know to watch this with an open mind. It's an out-and-out dramatic story on relationships, and it's classic storytelling at its best, with excellent acting and strong direction, cinematography, heck, this movie deserves its 8 Academy nominations, so let's see it take home some honours (I'm not sticking my neck out just yet, until I watch all the other contenders).

P.S. Yes, this movie is shown here uncut. If you're not celebrating this movie, at least celebrate the fact that we can get to watch it here as it is intended to be.

Casanova

Hollywood has depicted many legendary lovers in one way or another, from Don Juan to Valentino, and this time, Venetian playboy Casanova gets the big screen treatment in the form of Hollywood "It" boy Heath Ledger playing the title role, with much aplomb.

Hollywood's Casanova, set in the 18th Century, isn't a very serious film, taking its cues from 90s styled period productions like The Three Muskateers (which also starred Oliver Platt) and Man in the Iron Mask (with ex-Hollywood "It" boy Leonardo DiCaprio). Casanova, as we learn, lacks mama's love, as he gets abandoned while she sets off with her unseen lover, but not before she vowed to return, and therefore bringing to our attention that his view of love is probably screwed to begin with.

He sees women as conquests, and if Geishas can stop a man in his tracks with just one look, Casanova can bed thousands of women with his sweet nothings, and I mean nothings. Becoming the god of fornication brings about infamy to his name, until he has to salvage it by settling down with the right women, or face the church's wrath.

While setting his sights on probably the last virgin in Venice (yes, the image of Virgin Mary did come on screen), he's also attracted by the strong willed Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), in a role that personifies feminism. She cross-dresses as a man to get to educational institutions, writes under a pseudonym to express her thoughts on the modern woman, and holds on to the notion on one true love. Alas, she's engaged to a pork lard merchant from Genoa, Paprizzio (Oliver Platt), whose family wealth is much needed to the Bruni family.

There are countless of cheese that added plenty of camp to the characters, and stretched was the notion of mistaken identities like a grand Venetian Masquerade, as Casanova schemes his way to get past the Church and women to get to his prize - Franscesca. Certain scenes seemed implausible, like American Pie styled antics in the grand ball, as we see Casanova wriggle his way out of tight situations he puts himself in.

But the Catholic Church perhaps got the most flak, like the depiction of horny nuns, dim-witted investigators (Jeremy Irons sleepwalking through his role as an Inspector Closeau clone), and having strange powers like the restoration of a woman's virginity. Corruption too prevails, as the Papal Office seemed eager to strike shady deals in order to further its cause.

The movie has its moments, but not enough to carry the entire movie through. It stuck to safe predictable formula to entertain, and offers nothing much in its censored version shown here. Good probably for a boring weekend, and if you want to check Heath out to compare with his role in the other Oscar heavyweight movie.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Syriana

Based loosely on real life CIA agent Robert Baer's experiences in the Persian Gulf, and brought to the big screen by Traffic scribe Stephen Gaghan, Syriana tells the tale of extremely shady dealings, politically and economically, of the oil industry. It takes on the entire vertical chain, from the Arab Emirs, the profit driven businessmen, the corrupt politicians, the clandestine networks, down to the alienated worker, the determined terrorist, and even as high as the top political office of the USA.

It's no wonder that many have called this film anti-American, and pro-Arab. But in the way it's presented, you can't help but nod in the film's direction for daring to discuss and suggest what it says at point blank. It's serious, no holds barred, and brilliant.

George Clooney won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor as CIA operative Robert Barnes. Yes, supporting, as there are so many characters in this movie, each with almost equal screen time, there isn't just one protagonist's viewpoint, but a myriad of others. So many different emotions of the characters are evoked, and the actors all delivered them well. Much has been said of paunchy Clooney and his beard and all, but don't let that distract you from his performance as the pawn in the entire game, and from noteworthy others.

Everything's related, and everyone's connected. You'll have to sit through it very attentively, and pay attention to almost every line of dialogue to appreciate the very rich and complex story. It helps though, with both English and Mandarin subtitles, for you to read what your ears have missed.

But perhaps what struck me most, were the sections on the unidentified Gulf country, with the challenge for power in the changing of the guard, and the focus on the individual downtrodden migrant worker, who through misguided teachings, finds himself on the forefront of the war on terror. It cut close to probably what could have happened, and the reasons behind it happening. And with so many suggestions on the wheelings and dealings of the corporate world, its effect on governments, the oil industry in general, the quest for insatiable power, US foreign policy, this film is loaded with political "big picture" firepower.

Once you're through with the movie, if you haven't been reading current affairs in between the lines, perhaps this "fictional" story might just spur you to not take things verbatim, and spark that conspiracy theorist in you. Highly recommended stuff.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

[VCD] The China's Next Top Princess

If you're game for some straight-to-VCD movie, then you might want to check out The China's Next Top Princess. Nothing raunchy or scandalous though, but you might want to lull away a dull weekend afternoon.

Click on the movieXclusive logo below to read my review of the movie!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jarhead

Welcome to the suck. 6 months of waiting for 4 days of "battle". Finally a decent yet different war genre movie set during the first Gulf War, which featured what was touted by Saddam as the Mother of All Battles, not. Jarhead is based upon the book by former Marine Anthony Swofford, on his experiences in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations.

But we start the journey from the beginning, at the boot camp, and that, to many NS men, will bring back fond memories of the BMT days when nasty drill sergeants rained down vulgarity filled commands, and punishments meted out from whims and fancies. You'll chuckle wholeheartedly, but of course not when you're at the receiving end. The burly platoon mates, the sexual innuendos, the male bonding sessions in the bunks, the various antics, the talk-cock sessions; nostalgic I tell you.

Jake Gyllenhaal, who seemed all over the local screens this early 2006 with Proof, Jarhead and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain, plays Swoff, a Marine Scout Sniper whose perspective we see the War from. He's no angel though, as we witness his trials and tribulations in the United States Marine Corps sent to the Middle East. The supporting cast of Peter Sarsaard as his buddy, and Jamie Foxx (in another military role after the disappointing outing in Stealth) help lift the movie with their fine performances.

What appeals in this movie, the strong points, are the numerous elements that are identifiable with Gulf War I - the friendly fire, the air strikes, the looming threat of chemical warfare, the television coverage and interviews with troops you see so very often over CNN, the dubious anti-chemical agent pills, the oil well fires, and the smokin' civilian convoys. They're all there in the narrative, played out as it is.

We also look into the difficulties the men face when stuck out there in a different land, in an indefinite period of waiting - the loneliness, the worry of their loved ones being unfaithful, the rush to wait and the wait to rush, the time offs, the duties, training, massive water hydration parades, and even the hand jobs to past time. Naturally we do see certain bits that fell victim to the censor's scissors, but somehow I'm not really complaining.

And the cinematography is brilliant. With the aid of digital effects, the desert never looked so blinding in the day, and so alluring in the night. The oil-fire smoke-filled night sky looked awesome, and so real, you could feel the heat and the oil droplets raining from above. And the pop music interjected at various points in the movie, is just groovy and adds to the flavour.

However, at certain points this movie cuts a bit too close to Apocalypse Now with scenes of war machinery cutting its way through the desert land, and in scenes where the troops go beserk in their chilling and celebration, though an earlier scene somehow prepared you for its upcoming similarities. Also what I thought was a minor technical boo-boo, keep a look out for the dust covers on the rifles. Hmm.

This is my recommended movie for the week to all NS personnel; you'll definitely find something you'll identify with. And to the rest of the folks, never mind about the war setting, this is one intense drama that might just appeal to you. Welcome to the suck.

A Season for Love

This review is brought to you courtesy of movieXclusive, otherwise you'll probably have to wait until a week or two.

It's been some time since I've watched a movie with a relative huge ensemble cast (think the last was Crash), and little did I expect this Korean romance movie to boost the same too, with fine acting, good comedy and lots of love demonstrated in various ways.

There are 4 separate stories in this film, and it's difficult for me to judge which of them is superior than the other. Each looked into its niche area, and have ample screen time to develop its story, though the characters do get intertwined in one another's story with little conscious interaction.

The first concerns a firefighter and his girlfriend, who works in a TV station as a news translator for the mute. She's waiting for him to propose, focused on the rationale that given his dangerous job, she likes the idea of him having to think of her, to hesitate for a while before jumping into danger. He, on the other hand, is waiting for that perfect opportunity, setting and all, before popping the question. Initially I thought that this was the most stable of the relationships, until they hit a brick wall in their communications, and as usual, misunderstanding ensues.

Breaking down of communications also happen between the firefighter and his soon-to-be sister-in-law, but that provided some of the best comedic situations in the movie. She's mute, and had her life saved by him (but he fell for the sister, so don't ask). She works as a Snow White doll in a theme park, and gets infatuated with a painter who frequents the same park. However, she's slightly disfigured on her face, and hides behind the Snow White caricature all the time. I found this to be something that I could relate to, being shy, yet bold when hiding behind a mask. Given by the audience's reaction, this piece probably is the most popular with its identifiable theme of infatuation, and the cutesy way in which it got played out.

The third story is about a mother-son relationship. The mother, being a career woman, hardly gets to interact with her child, and the son misses his mother badly. Until an illness confines her to the hospital bed, and they start to bond as mother-son would, given plenty of communication opportunities. However, as the story unfolds, it's also the most predictable of the lot. It's touching, but not as touching as the mother-son relationship in the Japanese movie Be With You last year.

The last story, and perhaps the saddest of all, is between a boy and a girl who've broken up. The girl's stuck in a dead end job and yearns to be rescued by an economically stable guy, but the guy's she's in love with (or used to be) is perpetually stuck in unemployment. When they broke up, the circumstances under which it was told to him, brought him an entrepreneurial opportunity. He tries to woo back his love, and I felt that the ending for this segment was the best in the way it developed, with the fine cinematography of reflection and rain.

The soundtrack is kept simple, with the theme song played over and over again in various situations. But somehow it's strange, that the same song, when played, seemed able to evoke the different emotions the situation wants from you. And that I'd tip my hat off to.

Halfway through, I thought that it would make a nice Valentine's movie, with its bountiful picturesque and heartwarming moments. But by its ending, even though events played out is typical of a weepy, I'd still recommend it for this season of love, for the plain message of not taking a significant other, a loved one, for granted. Tell them "I Love You", now.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Constant Gardener

Finally! After such a long wait, this movie has finally made it to our shores (I have been lamenting the same fate of other acclaimed movies recently). Directed by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (who did City of God), The Constant Gardener finds itself sandwiched between two others movies released here in the same period, sharing with North Country an aspect about whistle-blowing, and with Syrianna on the corruption of conglomerates.

While Syrianna takes on oil corporations, Gardener tells a tale of clandestine governments, and the morality issues faced by pharmaceutical companies. Adapted from the novel by John le Carré, Gardener explores and suggests what-if scenarios (I say "what-if" as I humbly ask if what was suggested by the film could have been inspired by some form of real happenings), of having human guinea pigs in the testing of new medicine. In contention here is a new drug for the treatment of tuberculosis, though HIV was also briefly sharing the spotlight in the plight of the African nations. The stark question posed, which makes you wonder, is whether it is right to have dying Africans, or those who are already terminally ill, test new medicine, and presenting to them Hobson's choice.

And Kenya was the choice location in the movie, with having both the hustle and bustle of the cities, and the lush desert plains both beautifully captured on film. While you feel the chaos in the cities and rural squatters in rusty brown hues, you'll also feel the peacefulness and emptiness of vast lands. You'll contrast the corruption of officials of the Haves in their cocktail parties, and the simple, poor lives of the Have Nots.

Ralph Fiennes puts up an excellent performance as Justin Quayle, a British diplomat in Her Majesty's Service. It's indeed a surprise exclusion in the Academy for his portrayal of an easy going man with green fingers (hence The Gardener). His mantra is to mind his own business and not get too involved with the locals, but as the movie evolves, we will see a change in this stand. However it calls to mind certain issues that again will set you thinking - if you want to help, how much and how far will you go? And why a certain group, and not others in similar situations? Resources will be your constraint, but what is the criteria in which you will base your decisions on? Now that you're made aware, will you still continue to turn the blind eye?

His spouse Tessa Quayle is played by Rachel Weisz, whom I'm not sure why her performance, while solid, is nothing to warrant a shout for an Academy nomination. Nonetheless, she's the centre of the entire scheme of things, and her story gets mainly told in flashbacks. A whistle-blower definitely ruffles feathers, and you know you're in a fix when you ruffle the feathers of the wrong bird. Extremely blunt and determined (and also giving the filmmakers an opportunity to air their opinion on the Iraqi war), she discovers that there's more than meets the eye in the way medicine is dispensed to the African poor, and sets off on a crusade in which the means could justify the ends.

But we slowly learn and unravel the mystery of what happened, and who's involved, as the Gardener takes us on his trail of investigation, digging through clues, and weeding out red herrings, piecing together the entire event. It is the film editing here which gets the thumbs up. Just as you accept something at face value, there is enough suggestion again to make you think otherwise.

In case you're wondering if the meandering narrative or themes will put you off, you might be glad to know that central throughout the movie is the love between the couple. How so much unsaid, and circumstances not explain could lead to suspicion, or deliberately done so to protect the other. Although the leads spend considerable time apart, we could feel, especially from Justin, the strong emotional attachment he has for Tessa, right up until the ending, which is just about right in the way it should end.

It's a wonderful film, one in which you'd have to stay attentive to truly appreciate. It poses questions but doesn't get preachy, although they do prod at your conscience. Given it's insane release schedule together with Walk the Line, Jarhead, Syrianna, and with North Country and Match Point already screening, we're indeed spoilt for choice which to watch first. I'd say watch them all!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

[DVD] Truman (1995)

There are many films made about the President of the United States, ranging from the fictional stuff like Air Force One, to biographies like Nixon, or event movies like Thirteen Days which recount how he goes about making decisions that would result in certain impact for the world.

As history buffs would already know, Harry Truman is the president who succeeded Franklin Roosevelt in the last days of World War II. He was the one who had the unenviable task of authorizing the use of the Atomic Bomb on Japan, and other exploits like having a hand in the creation of the UN, fighting for civil rights, etc.

However, this movie doesn't have an iota of exciting moments, as it chronicles the life of an extraordinary man in an extremely flat paced made for TV movie. As the movie puts it, everything in life came late for him, and we follow his life in his 30s as he seeks to enlist himself for WWI. Events come and go, like the discovery of the Manhattan project, and it feels as if it's made up of pieces of events joint together, with nary a little effort at gluing the pieces seemlessly.

Gary Sinise puts on a fine performance as Truman, but otherwise, this movie is too straightforward. Perhaps having put focus on certain events, and having an in-depth look at them, will make this movie more compelling.

This Code 1 DVD is bare-bones, which is quite a pity, given the tons of material that could possibly be included.

North Country

First impressions, you might think that this movie is another Erin Brockovich wannabe, with Charlize Theron stepping into Julia Robert's single mother shoes in yet a film about an underdog which takes on a large corporation in a legal battlefield. Or probably take off from a sexual harrassment theme from a Crichton novel.

Based upon the book "Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law", and of course, a dramatized Hollywood version of the first successful sexual harassment case in the US, you might hesitate that this movie might bore you with many of the legal mumbo-jumbo with plenty of objections and sustained motions.

This movie is more than that, and it doesn't overdo its courtroom scenes. Sure, they are there, but it doesn't take centrestage. What is core in the movie, is how relationships amongst the various characters are played out. And the telling of a story of one woman's fight against stacked odds.

It also examines the difficulty of being a single mom bringing up children who don't appreciate you for what you are and what you're doing for the family, and society's judgement of you based on damaging rumours and hear-says. Whether you would buckle under pressure, or stand up and be counted.

And of course, surviving in a male dominated industry such as mining. There are sexual jokes, innuendos and suggestions aplenty, as red-blooded men find it difficult to resist making off-coloured jokes, and bragging about their balls. If you look at it both sides, sure, when men congregate, we'd sure like to behave the way we behave with little inhibitions (no, I don't mean gay, that's for another movie), but with the ladies around, you'd just got to restrain yourself. It's not about being macho, but boils down to basic courtesy and being polite.

Throughout the movie, you'd experience how Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) changes her outlook on such situations and advances, from brushing them off initially, until they become too hot to handle. And being the whistleblower (the "in" term for 2005) doesn't help one bit, as it just makes the environment even more electrified. As the movie unravels, we learn more of her character, although some might already anticipate the slight twist in the movie with regards to her child.

As mentioned, what appeals in the movie is the relationships. Charlize as her character is caught in the middle - being the child to an unforgiving father, and having her past misdeeds catching up to her and embarassing her folks. But yet being a parent herself to her children, and worst, having them exposed to nasty rumours, having them looking down on her despite her immense love for them. The ups and downs, joy and pain she suffers - it makes you forget she's the one-dimensional killing machine in Aeon Flux.

Would Charlize win another Oscar for her performance? In my humble opinion, based on 2 other nominee's performance - Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, and Resse Witherspoon in Walk the Line, I'd say she has the upper hand. But I've yet to watch Transamerica and Mrs Henderson Presents, so I'll hold off my prediction for now.

But having a good supporting cast helps too, with Frances McDormand as her friend Glory, Sean Bean as Glory's husband Kyle, Woody Harrelson as the reluctant hockey-player turned lawyer Bill White. For the first time I actually hear a lawyer character reveal very frankly about the perils of a court case - where it's almost like a "damn if you do and damn if you don't" situation, with having to live with every dirt being dug up on you. Sissy Spacek stars as Josey's mother Alice Aimes, and Richard Jenkins rounds it off as the father Hank - watch out for his emotionally charged speech, which is pretty true if you ask me.

If you're in for some serious family and relationship drama, sprinkled with a dash of courtroom action, with loads of harassment examples, then North Country is the movie to watch this week.
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