Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Aeon Flux

For the uninitiated, Aeon Flux is based on the series of animated shorts from MTV. Set 400 years into the future, it tells of a surviving utopia of humans after a virus eradicated 99% of the world's human population. The colony now live in a walled environment, under the leadership of the scientist who discovered the cure for the virus.

But with any kind of leadership rule with some hinting of hanky-panky behind the scenes, there will always be that bunch of rebels (like Star Wars, Matrix, etc) ever ready to upset the status quo. Here, the Monicans (as they are known) are avenging those who have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and like James Bond, have cool toys to accompany them on missions. Charlize Theron plays the Monican's top assassin known as Aeon Flux.

And she is just about the best thing in the movie. Full of close ups on that pretty face, and long shots of those incredibly long limbs, Theron waltzes her way through the film with ease, given the character's sheer invulnerability and ability to subdue any opponent without breaking into sweat. She does a few wardrobe changes too (drool), and her hair, now jet black, styled ever so beautifully at all times when she's kicking ass.

The movie rehashes the usual sci-fi themes that have been beaten time and again, that of mortality, and the morality behind immortality. Probably I haven't watched the MTV shorts to understand more of Aeon Flux, but as a standalone movie, you sort of guessed its the usual "bad-to-clone-humans" storyline about one-third into the movie. By the time you're half way through, you would have guessed what's next on the agenda, and how it'll end.

One sore point about Aeon Flux is the lack of a credible, strong villain. The baddies kinda lacked focus with its internal bitching, and double-crossing / switching sides so often, they make villains look so embarassingly fickle minded about their cause. Most of the time though you'll only see lots of foot soldiers in ugly uniforms, dispatched like bowling pins. Also, I felt that the filmmakers sort of changed their minds about the ending - quite clear what had happened, and quite amazed at what happened thereafter (Not wanting to spoil, just look out for a character).

Given the film's length (approx 90 minutes without end credits), very little is said about the abilities of the Monicans, except they make excellent assassins (or at least Aeon is), with abilities that can be enhanced by changing some body (spare) parts. The cool thing that they have is the telepathy amongst the agents, as well as their Handler. Kiss goodbye to meeting rooms, where you can have ultra-cool meetings in your cerebral cortex instead.

And that's where the special effects struck gold. Other than that, and the teleportation effects, for a movie set in the future, it looked relatively low-budgeted, if compared to contemporary sci-fi peers of recent times.

One surprise I got was Pete Postlethwaite's appearance as the Keeper - I thought he looked quite funny in his costume, although his underused character played a pivotal role in the events that unfold.

So except for hardcore Aeon fans, or admirers of Theron, this film could prove to be unappealing given its relatively weak sci-fi story as the backbone. Ooh, I must rave again, Theron looks absolutely gorgeous with her uber-chic hairdo and slinky black lycra.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

[DVD] Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The first thing that strikes you from this 1964 classic, is the extremely long title! Directed by Stanley Kubrick (2001 Space Odessey, Eyes Wide Shut) and starring the talented Peter Sellers (the Pink Panther franchise), this film touches upon the use of nuclear weapons, or the lack of controls thereof.

In this nuclear age (and during its infancy at the time of the film's release), this question is always in the backburner: Who is given the authority to launch these weapons of mass destruction, and what controls are there to prevent the authority from being abused?

The film begins with one crazed US general being able to order the B52s in the air (Cold War time, these bombers are always in the air to strike targets within 2 hours) to attack the Soviet Union with its nuclear bombs. The US President (Sellers) questions how this is so, and the very plausible reason being, if a sneak attack happens on US Soil and on the US Government, then there must exist a system for the lower echelons to launch retaliatory strikes. Which was what happened, except that the US was not under attack.

Sellers is excellent in his multiple roles as a British officer attached to the crazed US general, the US President himself, and Dr Strangelove, a Nazi scientist turned US Presidential adviser. Now that the US is seen as the aggressor, Sellers turns in a fine serious performance as the President, who has a lot of answering to do to his Soviet counterpart. However, tables are turned when the Soviets confirm the existence of their doomsday device, which on one hand sounds absurd, and on the other, raises the stakes for the world's survival.

What appeals in this movie is that, given its various serious theme, Kubrick manages to inject wicked humour into it effortlessly, like the sexual innuendos galore (the riding of the phallic shaped nuclear bomb, the talk of bodily fluids), yet keeping the audience fully aware of the gravity of the situation.

This is definitely one of my favourite movies of all time. And Seller's performance, need I rave more? (Look out for James Earl Jones' maiden appearance on the big screen too!)

The Code 1 DVD contains loads of features, but of most excellent value are the documentaries, one on Kubrick's claim to fame and his movies, and the other, close to an hour's worth of Dr Stangelove's making of details. You must watch them to appreciate the movie a whole lot more.

Code 1 DVD Extras: 2 documentaries, split screen interview with leads Peter Sellers and George C Scott, Theatrical trailers, Advertising Gallery and very quirky animated menus.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Saw II

I'm such a fan of the original - I like blood and gore, and Saw had one of the more intriguing and sick stories around, which saw the introduction of an original villain in recent memory, Jigsaw. What worked in the first film was the strange premise of 2 seemingly unrelated characters being put in a life and death situation, forced to compromise or die together. Also, the twist at the end was oh-so-nicely done, that it just begs for a sequel to be made.

But I was initially skeptical at how a sequel could top the original Saw. Sure, Jigsaw returns, but are we expecting more of his sick games to beef up the sequel, leading it predictably to more of the same?

Surprisingly, it doesn't. Now, you have a group of 8 persons stuck in an unknown booby-trapped building in which they have to escape from. Needless to say, Jigsaw has the entire plan rigged right from the beginning, except that the audience and the players don't know how, or why. It's reasonable to say that you'll be expecting characters to die one-by-one, in bloody manner (so promised the tagline) befitting the original.

While Jigsaw was mostly heard and not seen in the first movie, here, he's seen and heard in full glory. Donnie Wahlberg plays detective Eric Matthews, who leads his partner Kerry (Dina Meyer) and a group of SWAT to take down Jigsaw. Playing a psychological game with Eric, Jigsaw taunts him while explaining to the audience a little bit of his own background, which tied to elements from Saw.

Fans of the original will squeal with delight when these tiebacks, settings and even a character make an appearance in the sequel. It links the two movies together very nicely, and I wonder why the local distributors didn't have a back to back screening this time, like what they did for Kill Bill.

Alas, the version shown here, despite its NC-16 rating, is a watered down version. Obtaining a decent box office returns would have ruled out the M18 or R21 cut. However, don't let this minor nitty gritty spoil your fun.

At times, this movie hums along and you find predictable elements (at least I thought it was under threat of becoming a so-so mediocre sequel), but the last 10 minutes will leave you at the edge of your seat, and deliver when you least expected it, applying a signature that says "Yes, this is a Saw movie". Another sequel, if there is any, will be in my list of must-watch.


Perhaps this was touted as a romantic comedy with a psycho-analytical character thrown in, kind of like Analyse This and Analyse That. Put the characters in a crazy premise, and see how their relationship work out. Meryl Streep stars as Lisa, a psychologist to Uma Thurman's Rafi, who, unknowingly to both, is dating her son David.

Rafi's just been freshly divorced, and has only Lisa to talk to about her problems, and new life found when she met a new man in her life. She lies about David's age (increased it from 23 to 27), and wonders if a younger man would be suitable for her. You know it's situational comedy time when Lisa finds out about the truth, and discovers that she's caught between maternally protecting her son from a non-Jewish girl and frowning upon their relationship, and the conflict of interest between herself as a professional, and her client.

While the trailers seemed to suggest that most of the film will dwell on this aspect, and provide many laughable moments, this film is actually more serious that it looks in examining two major issues - that of religion, and the age gap between lovers.

David is an aspiring artist who's bumming around in life, until he met Rafi and moves in with her. While initially a novelty - Rafi enjoys and exhilarates about the sex and his manhood to Lisa (uh oh), though through cohabitation she starts to discover that David is still immature in his manners, and this gets personified in a hilarious scene where he prefers to spend more time on his Nintendo. Being 37, she feels her biological clock ticking, and wonders if she would be selfish to impose on David and have him grow up quickly. Given the age gap, it's also about sacrifices that one would make to bridge the difference, especially in expectations from the relationship (though in the beginning, it's all about the sex).

Like most romances, boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy falls out of favour with girl. David has issues with telling his estranged mother about his relationship with Rafi, first because of their 14 year age gap, but more importantly, he knows that religion will play a major part in having her accepted as part of the family. Which makes you wonder about real life romances as well, the role of religion in a relationship, if it has the power to make, or break.

Uma Thurman is already 35, but still looks ravishing on screen, despite a few visible wrinkles. Newcomer (well, TV veteran) Bryan Greenberg holds his own as the young adult David Bloomberg, especially against veteran Meryl Streep.

Prime is a bittersweet tale, and I find it set in realism. Gone are the overplayed lovey-dovey moments, and I welcome the fact that with every relationship there are issues, and the major ones are the obstacles which determine if the relationship can survive, or not.

[DVD] Everlasting Regret

A romance set against the backdrop of a developing Shanghai, Everlasting Regret tells the story of Qiyao, played by Sammi Cheng, who seems to be out of luck with the men she encounters in a 40 year period.

Check out my review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

Thursday, November 24, 2005

[DVD] Empire Records (Remix! Special Fan Edition) (1995)

This quirky take with memorable characters take place in a span of 24 hours in a record store known as Empire Records (Tower Records anyone?) It highlights a day in the life of the store employees, made up of teeny boppers like proverb spewing Lucas (Rory Cochrane), suicidal rebel Jane (Debi Mazar), slutty Gina (Renee Zellweger), smarty pants Corey (Liv Tyler), amongst others.

The story starts off with Lucas taking nine thousand dollars from the cashier at night before he closes the store, and loses it all in a hilarious sequence at Atlantic City. Joe, the co-owner, learns about this, and the recovery of this amount of money forms the running theme in this movie.

Thrown into the plot is an equally hilarious character Rex Manning, a has-been singer who's due at the store for an autograph session with his fans. You'll definitely dig one of his cheesy music videos. Corey has a crush on Rex, and tries to seduce him, but falls flat in embarassment. Of course she's shocked when good friend Gina manages to pull the seduction off, and me-ow, a catfight ensues.

As if the day isn't bogged down with too much activities in serving customers and spinning good music in the store, the employees learn that their beloved Empire Records will be absorbed by Music Town, a larger competitor. Therefore it's also a race against time to preserve the identity of their store.

But it's a feel good movie, with feel good songs sprinkled with the occasional metal, so the ending is somewhat predictable with all threads and sub plots merging into one grand finale. Needless to mention, my primary objective is actually to watch Liv and Renee in one of their earlier movies :-)

Code 1 DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, music videos

[DVD] The Patriot (2000)

Brought to screen by the creative team behind Godzilla, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin bring on board 2 actors of Australian descent (Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) to tell you a tale of the American Revolutionary War, set in the year 1796, where the British are whipping the Continental soldiers real bad. It doesn't dwell too much on the big picture, but focuses on a smaller details which might stir your interest to read up more on that part of history.

Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a retired soldier, now farmer, who has a war reputation of being a brutal, efficient man of war. He tends to his land and brings up seven children, of whom the eldest, Gabriel Martin (Heath Ledger), goes against his father's wish and enlists in the Continental army to pursue his ideal of freedom and just cause.

As Benjamin warned, this war will be fought not on some faraway place, but at their doorsteps. And true enough, he finds British soldiers on his land, who finds fault with him, murders one of his sons in cold blood, and taking away an injured Gabriel. Enraged, Benjamin massacres an entire platoon of soldiers, and earns himself the nickname "The Ghost", in one of the more intense battle scenes in this movie. It's satisfying to watch how one man (and his two other children) plan an ambush and take on their enemies, while showing no mercy in their quest for revenge.

Drawn reluctantly into the war by his personal unfortunate episode, Benjamin volunteers for service and links up with Gabriel to recruit a band of militia Patriots to take on the well organized British soldiers, using guerrilla tactics to ambush and contain the British in the south, stalling their plans to move up North to crush Washington's troops.

It's interesting to note that the British general Lord Charles Cornwallis (played by Tom Wilkinson) was portrayed as a gentleman who fights fairly in his own opinion, and prides himself in doing so. But when the desperation for success creeps in, he sanctions guerrilla tactics against the civilian townfolk in order to get to the Patriots (sounds like modern day terrorism?). You can't help but laugh at his naivety when being conned by Benjamin in one prisoner exchange scene.

As with most war movies after Saving Private Ryan, blood and gore get a fair bit of air time, and back in the 18th century, war is fought almost face to face. There is the musket, which fires only one shot, then requires a reload, and a long bayonet affixed at the tip for that bayonet fighting in close quarters. But what really is terrifying is the artillery's predecessor - the cannon. Many scenes in this movie show how a simple cannonball can decapitate human limbs, and even rip a human head off the torso. Pretty gruesome stuff.

Running close to three hours long, this movie doesn't bore you with its many subplots about family and relationships, but rather, these elements enhance and bring forth the horrors of war, that everyone out there is a brother, father, son, and highlights that not every war is meant to be for a honourable cause. It could be as simple as fighting for, and with, the person beside you.

Code 3 DVD Extras: 2 Making-of documentaries, many deleted scenes, commentary, An art to film comparison, how the visual effects were produced, trailers, and a photo gallery.

Monday, November 21, 2005


This review is brought to you courtesy of a movieXclusive preview session, otherwise it won't be out so soon!

I was full of hope for this movie, mainly because of its stellar cast of Simon Yam, Samo Hung and Donnie Yen, and the hype up confrontation cum battle between the latter two on screen. With their martial arts background, action fans will be in for a treat. Also, with the string of disappointments so far with Mob Sister and Election (the edited version shown here), I'd thought that this one would've lived up to its potential (no coincidence that Yam was in the other 2 films mentioned).

While I enjoyed the movie and its build up, I felt particularly let down by the ending. The beginning of the movie with its explanation of the background of the Chinese Astrology the film identifies itself with (hence the acronym SPL) would have set the expectation, but perhaps its the execution that I couldn't come to terms with. Then again, it provided one of the better special effects / stunt shots. It could (and I am speculating here) the ending was such cos "I'm the bigger star here".

But I'm digressing. It's a cops-and-robbers story that has set its main focus simply at cops going all out to nab the robber. Simon Yam and his team of maverick cops share their common hatred for Samo Hung, the same way that Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness and his Untouchables do with Robert De Niro's Al Pacino. They try to nail the mobster, but each time he goes scot free. Things get interesting when opportunity presents itself, as morality gets questioned, and highlights the good/bad/ugly, black/white/gray situations that cops sometimes find themselves in with that universal question - Do the means matter to justify the end?

Thrown into the fray is hotshot-ultracool demeanour cop Donnie Yen, who is supposed to take over from Yam as the latter is set to retire over the Father's Day weekend. He too has his loyalties challenged when he learns of the plot that Yam and team pulls. What appeals is the way these characters get sucked into a chain of events that neither can pull out from - does fate/destiny/the stars all determine the chain of events that follow?

The subplots get in the way sometimes, as the pace for the events that follow that weekend gets broken up for sentimentality - Yam's taking care of a little girl smells like Mob Sister's, a cop buddy's love for his estranged daughter bears some resemblance to The Rock's Sean Connery, and Samo Hung's love for his wife and newborn child interrupts tense moments with its dreamy mobile phone ring tone. I was also wondering whether Simon Yam found it deja-vu to be driving Yen around in a car, showing their jurisdiction - seemed too familiar with a similar scene in Election where he was driving Tony Leung around to show him their territory.

Though you might expect to see punches fly between Yen and Hung, and with its M18 rating, you really don't get to see punches until at least 30 minutes into the movie. While the fight between the two upstages Daredevil's (hero versus oversized Kingpin; I'm still amazed by Samo's agility at his age), it's really the battle between Yen and newcomer Jing Wu (an uber-violent knife wielding villain) that is the highlight and makes this movie worth the price of admission. It's fast, slick, violent, and beautifully choreographed, you'd just wish it could've been longer. Violent it is, and uncensored, but it doesn't get too gratuitous with blood. The fight sequences stand out for its stark brutality, and perhaps also for its realism.

You must forgive the acting at times though, as there's nothing to shout about really. Simon Yam is the no-nonsence, but willing to bend the rules cop, Donnie Yen with his over-confident attitude, and Hung just hams it up as the cigar chomping Kingpin of Crime. But perhaps I would like to shout about the introduction of Yam's team to the audience when Yen visited their empty office - it's very retro, with the characters given the spotlight after undergoing a short action sequence in a police raid.

On the whole, the movie works, up till the supposed ending which put me off, and where the final "hurrah" brings it down a little. It has many stylized moments accompanied with an upbeat soundtrack, but it's substance over style that matters sometimes. I'd recommend it for the stylo-mylo moments, the alleyway fight, and the suggestion that not everything can be categorized into black and white.

[DVD] Visionaries

Those who grew up in the 80s will definitely remember this cartoon series. Who would've forgotten the animal transformations and the magical chants to activate powers from their staffs?

For those who want to relive those moments, there's a special collector's edition DVD box set out now! You can click on the movieXclusive logo below to read my review of the box set!

The Undecided

So, here it is, our amateur debut, on its international (read: internet) release!

Courtesy of dgital, you can finally view our 5 min short film which was entered for Fly-By-Night 2005 by clicking on this link

Enjoy, and all comments welcomed!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

[DVD] Mighty Joe Young (1998)

Merian C. Cooper came up with the story of King Kong first, about the 40 foot giant ape which was discovered in Skull Island, then brought back to New York to wreck havoc. He too dreamt up the story of a smaller ape - 15 foot, who lives with his human protector, and brought back to the USofA where he wrecks minor havoc against poachers.

Joe is a gorilla whose parent died under the hands of poachers. Being the target, he in turn was protected and raised by the Young family, namely Jill Young, who lost her mother too on that same faithful night. 12 years later, Jill (Charlize Theron) have to find safe haven for her ape friend Joe, whose day out attacking explorer/researcher Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton) brought unwanted attention to itself.

Jill and Gregg form an uneasy alliance as they transport Joe to a man-made habitat in Los Angeles, and the habitat and Joe come under attack from the same poachers 12 years ago, this time wanting revenge.

It's a simpler tale compared to King Kong, but somehow I find the storyline a poor cousin to that of Kong's. It's difficult to live up to classics I suppose, but there are moments enough to elevate the film.

Like the action sequences. The first time we see Joe as an adult gorilla taking on the research team in their jeeps was a sequence to behold. You can see the CGI-ed Joe in its full glory as it gallops(?) with incredible speed and using its wit to overcome its aggressors. The scaling of a ferris wheel felt like a weak homage to Kong's scaling of the Empire State Building. Then again, Joe is about 1/3 the size of Kong, but can it roar as loud too.

Or the moments where Joe actually coos like a baby, when Jill teases him / plays games / sings lullabies. Along the lines of Kong, only a beauty can tame the primal beast.

Mighty Joe Young is a remake of its 1949 debut, which featured a stop-motion animated Joe. And oh, did I mentioned I watched this also because of Charlize Theron? 'Nuff said!

Code 3 DVD: bare bones version.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Just to get it straight, I have not read a single line in a Harry Potter Book. Not that I don't want to, but because I don't have the time. Probably when I finally watched all the movies would I consider and find time to read what JK Rowling had originally intended. So, at least you know that my review is solely based on the cinematic franchise.

And I'm glad to say that this movie had lived up to its hype of being darker and more adult. Gone are the muggles (hardly see any now) which opened each HP movie before (with added comedy, now thrown out), and you're plunged straight into the thick of action with the Quidditch World Cup. Which turns into a massacre of sorts, signalling the inevitable of the evil Lord Voldemort.

Not that the muggles are left out on purpose, but if you had taken a look at this book's length, it's no surprise that unnecessary subplots need not get translated to screen. Stick with the main plot, and trim it down to a more palatable 2hr 45min movie. But with so much going on screen, you will hardly realize the length of time in which you butt is on a cinema seat.

So what's the main plot you say? It's the Tri-Wizards tournament, a potentially deadly series of 3 games which pit the skills of the wizards from 3 schools against each other. The winner will be crowned with eternal glory. But something seemed strange when Harry Potter somehow got nominated by the Goblet of Fire to participate, thus bringing the number of contestants to 4, and breaking the age limit set in this tournament. As usual, there is always a major mystery that runs throughout the movie - the motive behind his nomination and taking part in the Tri-Wizards tournament, which gets solved in the end with the introduction of a twist (which may not be a twist for those who've read the books).

So while Harry is surprised and becomes the reluctant hero, he has to grapple with first loves and crushes, while trying to convince best friend Ron that it wasn't his intention to gain eternal glory and therefore rigged his nomination for the tournament.

Great care is given to make the tournament come alive with its special effects, and to that, it's faultless. While we didn't see the other dragons in action, the Hungarian species (no dragons were harmed in the making of this movie, says the end credits) which challenged Potter could be one of the best action sequences in Goblet of Fire. However, with the intense focus on this, something's gotta give way, and sadly, it's the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. Not that they don't get to interact, but the camaraderie and the bickering these folks endeared themselves to are somehow sorely missed. Goblet of Fire seemed more like a one-man show (Harry Potter's), while the other two become peripheral characters. Quite a pity.

But the actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint still delivered, and with them growing up in real time, adds a dimension of maturity to the cult characters they play. So much is said about Radcliffe's half nude scene (with a character from a past movie), and of Cho Chang, but what probably iced the cake was Ralph Fiennes' appearance as Lord Voldemort. One word - chilling!

One scene did irk me though, and that is the careless editing at the prom/ball scene. One minute Harry and Ron were sulking at the table, with Hermione obviously in cloud nine with the company of Viktor Krum, the next minute they're bickering and she's crying. While I know what they are trying to get at, and hint at a possible jealousy between Ron and Hermione, the editing was poorly done and was just jarring, disrupting the pace and flow. I didn't figure why they would want to scrimp on that scene, what's a few minutes more in a long movie, or they could take it out altogether.

Nonetheless, I dare say this is the best Harry Potter movie to date, though some would disagree with my opinion that the movies have seemed to better itself with each sequel. Bring on the Order of the Phoenix!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Making of "The Undecided"

As one of my friends put it, it's part-action, part-thriller, part-sci-fi, part-comedy. It's all that and more actually, because what do you expect when you put 4 film nuts together?

Fly By Night 2005 SponsorsIt's Finally Here!

A whole lotta ideas, that's what! It was a crazy 40 hours, which led to the birth of our maiden (virgin?) short film effort aptly called, The Undecided. Here's my take on the journey, and be sure to check out my fellow collaborators blogs: dgital, massb and overider for their take on the same spate of events too

Friday 11 Nov 05 1930hrs

The announcement was made at the Substation's Guiness Theatre, and the theme for this year's Fly By Night Video Challenge 2005 was

The Theme^#&$*)

The OrganizersTan Pin Pin and Yuni Hadi

Yes, you saw that right. It's pretty insane don't you think? You could interpret it literally, figuratively, translate it to numbers, translate it to words, read it vertically, treat it as a vulgarity, the possibilities are endless.

Ready To Roll!Raring to Go!

So what did we do?

Fly By Night Instructions!Gotta Read Instructions!

Friday 11 Nov 05 2000hrs

We went for dinner lah! Hungry after a day at work, we adjourned to Plaza Singapura and tried out the fishy restaurant at MarketPlace. Can't work on an empty stomach right?

But First. Dinner Beckonsmassb Shocked By Amount of Food!

Sure we brainstormed as well, over a meal of fish-and-chips, deep fried shrimps and prawns, while being in awe at the blowtorch used to cook the seafood platter, and learning something about diving from overider. And oh, we met massb's ex too, labelled the Psycho-Babe, which somehow crept into our brainstorming ideas.

Friday 11 Nov 05 2100hrs

I Smell Starbucks CoffeeCoffee Smells...

Being chased out after finishing our dinner, we needed somewhere quiet to continue brainstorming. Starbucks at Plaza Sing didn't make it, so somehow we ventured to Park Mall's Olio. But since it closes at 2230hrs, we had to make do at the benches outside Park Mall.

We Really Need CoffeeThe Dazed and the Wide Awake

Ideas were thrown about, discussed, and thrown out the window faster that you can say Fly-By-Night. It's pretty amazing, that we started off with wanting to do serious drama, but ended up with what we finally had. We did a vote of the ideas thought up over dinner, and eliminated the list of possibles to the list of probables by doing a 4-man vote.

Propositioning?How Much? :-P

It was pretty difficult, as we had different ideas and had to weigh the practicality of each. Thus, science fiction was discarded, together with ordinary ideas like the chronicles of a boy late for his exams. We actually had Cleopatra Wong agreeing in principle to help us out in our effort, but given that we didn't know the general direction of our story, we might not (and in the end didn't) need to enlist her help. If you're reading this Cleo, thanks for agreeing to help us out! Given this experience under our belt, we might need to next year if you'd like! :-)

massb Proving a Plot Pointmassb Scaling Lamp Post!

The clock was ticking away, and we were getting nowhere, though it doesn't necessary mean it was a bore. Many ideas were considered, but somehow we managed to poke loopholes in them as we dwelled deeper into the story. It's tough, coming up with a credible yet fun story, and having it easy to film.

Friday 11 Nov 05 2330hrs

We thought we were nearly there, and at this moment, we were running amok with a story about a relationship, about a note, a suicide note, a library, a note in the book in the library, a twist in the story, a supernatural element, a montage... wow!

But we poked at the loopholes and threw it aside. Hmm.... we still didn't have a shooting script at this point, let alone a broad outline. We still had the ideas coming, and had to take turns to elaborate on them.

How Now Brown Cows? Still Clueless!Is There No Script?!

And then, at the level of exasperation, we thought, it would have been great to have filmed what we just gone through - the endless "arguments" and the horsing around. And then it struck us.

We could do a simple mockumentary showcasing the Organizers and the Contestants' point of view of the entire event. Thrown in would be montages of various genres of films, which would allow us to experiment and have loads of fun experimenting.

So by Saturday 12 Nov 0030hrs, we headed home, but only with a broad outline, and nothing more. We decided that we can fill in the blanks as we moved along later, and since massb had drama sessions in the morning, overider, dgital and myself would meet up at 1000hrs to start our project.

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1030hrs

So We Started The Day Early...Road Trip!

Make that 1030hrs, and overider picked us up in his cool vehicle (yes overider, you da man! Our driver cum actor cum cameraman cum storyteller cum everything else, then again, most of us were too, except for the driving bit :-) where we headed for...

... With Breakfast From McDonald'sHappy Meals!

MacDonald's for breakfast - King Albert Park. Again, we can't work on an empty stomach eh? And we discovered overider had chalked up close to 4000 points to redeem burgers for a whole year! WOW!

It's pretty serene at this point of time, we didn't feel compelled to buckle under pressure and produce some form of script. We still had an outline, a broad one at that, but what we did was to surf the net for movie gossips at joblo's

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1200hrs

Finally massb called and woke us from our lethargy, and it's time to pick him up to venture into film production proper, and dgital's workplace. It's an office somewhere in the west, which provided us with great interiors, and later, fantastic rooftop and carpark for probably one of our best and cheesiest moments.

But first, we realized that overider's Toyota had its fuel tank showing E, and in no way do we want to experience the limits of Toyota's reputable fuel consumption. While at the nearest petrol kiosk, we saw overider's secret family!

And Met With Overider's So romantic, hold hand somemore leh!

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1300hrs

Finally, we had an office space to shoot something, and it's not before long we had to change into our wardrobe - one formal attire for an office look, and the other an informal attire for our contestants look.

We Should Have Gone With The Full MontyI tell ya we should spoof the Full Monty!

We did film quite a lot of footage in this setting, with crazy antics like hoisting tripods and 360 degree camera angles. Our nerves were calmed once we shot our first clip, but thought that it could improve a whole lot more. There were reshoots, and reshoots, with various ideas thrown in each time before we shot. It's kinda amazing that we developed and discussed the scene first, then proceeded to shoot them, just like that. Still no script. Ain't that tough after all Wong Kar Wai :-D

Low Budget War of the Worldsmassb and the alien.. ermm.. camera tripod

It's pretty mundane stuff that we hacked up for the organizer's bit, basically just to poke fun at them. However, we seemed to dwell a hell lot of time here, probably just getting into the groove of things. One thing's for sure, we got more comfortable in front of the camera. I was a bit conscious at first, looking into the camera when delivering my lines, but as it went on, I didn't even knew it existed.

Or Brokeback Mountain!No, we ain't touching R21 material!

Tony Jaa!

This was cut off from the final product, but we had myself dissing overider after he did that stunt kick on me and massb, and we had overider proclaiming himself to be better than Jaa. Pretty fun time we had shooting this sequence, the Kick which was preserved in the filmlet. Massb also improvised with his dramatic falling over the chair stunt, and we had to reshoot the entire scene again because of the lighting conditions - this is not gonna be the first time we reshot or rearrange stuff due to the (poor) light.

We enjoyed ourselves so much with filming action sequences, we decided to do 2 more before embarking on our location shoots, not all of which we went, but these were some that were planned: Esplanade, Labrador Park, WWI and WWII Memorials, National Library, Toys R US, Registry of Marriages, Fort Canning, and dgital's place.

Carpark Crime

So we went back to the carpark, and created a quick murder scene, with detectives overlooking the body of a slain man. Overider somehow came into the shot, and the scene in which you see, was it. The knife that you thought you saw, was actually my red pen. :-P And no, no overiders were harmed in the making of the scene :-P

Rooftop Rumble

This was unbelievable - we thought of this insane scene where overider will try and ram me and massb with his Toyota. We did film the discussion for this scene, so perhaps it'll go into the making-of documentary.

The Car That Tried To Knock Us DownVrrrroooooooommm....

So massb and I were coming out from a stairwell, and just as the vehicle approached at "top speed", we had to fling ourselves away from danger. Not bad eh? All action, with no stunt double leh! But we weren't satisfied, and filmed what you saw in the scene later, with me and overider Vs massb in a car toolkit Vs yellow umbrella fight. Sort of. The amazing thing was we only did it in two takes - one as a rehearsal on what we're gonna say and do, and the other with the camera rolling. Not bad, for amateurs.

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1630hrs

It was hot hot hot at the rooftop, so overider's car gave us airconditioned comfort as we made our way to the next destination, Labrador Park, to make use of the cannon monuments for our War scene. Along the way, I think the sky was unhappy and spat on overider's windscreen. Twice.

A Change of Environment Might Help!So, where are we heading?

Only overider and dgital brought along their No.4 as part of their wardrobe change, so naturally they were casted in starring roles. You can see that from the final footage, the camera was trying hard to take shots above the waist, cos the bottoms were jeans! And all we had was one helmet and one jockey cap, but good enough to make it seem convincing.

Of Guns and Runs

It's like kids playing at the playground, with imagination running wild. Here, overider had to imagine himself putting rounds into the big cannon, while dgital had to steer the gun to the right direction. Perhaps the most outrageous moment was to have them imagine they had fired the gun - it's in the final footage, it's madness I tell ya! :-D

Looks Like This is a Job For...One of those stylo publicity stills

Our Boys In Green! Fire In The Hole!Fire in the Hole!

The next sequence was to have the two of them (plus me, the camera man) run up some forest slope. We only did two takes, one which had some dramatic light shining down on our soldiers, and overider somehoe blocking dgital towards the end (running in a single file), while the other had overider run off screen, and right into a tree (damn, too bad didn't capture this moment!)

'ello! Anyone There?!Don't Try That At Home Kids!

There's a deleted scene here, which showed massb sulking as he didn't get a chance to play soldier. Pretty cute, with a piece of leaf rebounding to poke his eye haha!

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1730hrs - It's Time To Get Married

Running + Slope + Afternoon = loads of sweat. It was almost evening when we made it out of Labrador Park, and along the way, stole a footage of a groom and bride while they were posing in front of some door. Thanks, whoever you are!

And it was another long drive to ROM, where we shot a clip of massb awaiting his Juliet. Actually it's an excuse for us to reminisce about this cute chick we saw yesterday at substation :-P

Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?Seriously Waiting for his Beau...

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1815hrs

It was a quick journey back to the Substation to film the competitors portion of rushing out of the Guiness Theatre, to serve as a kind of transition / introduction to the characters. A big black mercedes was parked right in front of the entrance, and we were racing against time to shoot this before night falls.

No choice, had to park the park slightly in front of the entrance, and do the shoot. It was tough as there were curious passers-by who got into the camera frame, but before we can say "SIO AH SIAM AH", we finally completed what we set out to do here.

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1815hrs

Our stomachs were growling, so it's off to the revamped Marina Square for a dinner of...

Chicken Fuel for DinnerKFC!

It's also ample opportunity for us to rest our tired legs, and to recharge. We noticed a dark alleyway at the carpark that we earmarked for a possible shoot, but that was not to be. But we had an Ed Wood moment of inspiration, to do a UFO invasion over the Esplanade. Here, you see overider with our UFO prototype:

Richard and his New Toy UFO"Now all you need to do is to attach strings..."

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1900hrs

There were many purposes going to the Esplanade - we can visit our friends at PopCornPop and shamelessly borrow their Star Wars Lightsabres for our shoot, go to the Library to return our DVDs, or shoot something in the library. We didn't do the first one cos we're not shameless enough. We did the second one cos if we didn't we'll get fined, and the third one, we didn't dare risk it because of the warning sign posted at the door which says no photography or videography.

But we did go to the rooftop of the Esplanade, twice. The first time we had chanced upon an ongoing show at the ground floor, where 2 female fighters were duking it out with their swords, sparks and all, to the crowd's delight. We had wanted to use the footage, but in the end it will become a deleted scene.

We had a mini interval leaving the rooftop and chancing upon an extremely huge butt crack. What can we do? It was staring at us right in the face! Tsk, the hipster jeans these days...

Toilet Got Hantu Leh

And we returned to shoot a horror sequence at the Esplanade roof male toilet. We thought we were in luck when we checked the cleaning schedule - the cleaner just left, therefore the toilets are clean enough for us to film up close.

Alas, there are a number of users who popped in and out, and we had to somehow block, and make it uncomfortable (by staring and telepathically asking if they had finished with their business) for them so that they don't linger on too long to either
1. think we were up to hanky panky in the toilet - there were 2 guys in a cubicle :-P
2. alert security

But of course, after the shoot, overider had the urge to utilize the toilet bowl for real...

Saturday 12 Nov 05 1945hrs

We needed the dialogue scene for the competitors, and instead of wasting more time going back to where we started it all - outside Park Mall's Olio Dome, we made do with the foyer of the Esplanade theatres.

And we didn't expect to be interrupted big time by the bloody ringing of the bell and announcement that the show (for that night) was about to start (at 2000hrs). So we had to shoot-stop-shoot-stop-rip-out-hair-swear-shoot-stop. Until all the paying patrons are safely inside the theatres enjoying whatever production was on stage.

It was a musical chair moment as we had 4 of us, but only a 180 degree angle which was properly lit, so we had to move about to be visible on screen. I think many at the lobby thought there were 4 mad persons who can't decide where to sit.

Also deleted was a scene in which I gave our Romance idea a thumbs down :-P

And at this point, we realize that we were threading on thin ice when the battery of the camera was down to about 25%, and here's the best part - the camera doesn't have a DC inlet, and the charger is with dgital's friend! Bless that friend though, cos she had to cut short her outing on a Saturday evening just to be at home to pass us the charger. We owe you one!

Saturday 12 Nov 05 2030hrs

So it's back to Marina Square where the car was parked, and off to shoot our Horror clip at a block of HDB flats opposite massb's place in the East. We had to choose a correct block - those upgraded ones where the lifts have the look-in windows. Why? Cos we wanna reverse a Ju-On shot, a passenger in the lift, with the "ghost" staring in.

You'll never believe the difficulty in getting this done. For starters we gotta scrimp on the battery life, meaning on-off-on-off-on-off the camera just to enable us to make that perfect shot.

Second, we had to choose the busiest block, and the lift continuously got used by the residents! We aren't gonna scare their wits out, so we had to start-stop-start-opps-someone-came-into-the-lift-oh-they're-gone-start-stop. dgital and I thought we spend the longest time, EVAR!, riding in a lift, from ground to level 16, down and up and back again.

And I think the spirits were against us too... as the shot we wanted somehow had a reflection of me holding the camera, and of dgital standing next to me, preparing to be spooked. Here's the best bit - what you see in the final product, was a combination of rejected film + static shots (due to battery dying). The battery did give up at the final moment, but that's when we decided that principle photography was over.

Saturday 12 Nov 05 2200hrs

Really Flying Into The Night - It's Tough Work!Road Trip at Night

It was to dgital's place for editing, but without battery, it's gonna be near impossible to get the clips uploaded in full. We tried, but it died on us halfway. So in the meantime while waiting for dgital's friend to get home, and for overider to arrive her place to pick it up, we ogled at dgital's DVD collection, and were in the warm hospitality of his folks - fueled ourselves with food and drink :D

So by 2330hrs, overider had already gone off (I think he clocked maximum mileage for a day) to fetch loads of people, massb and I decided to go home, shower, rest, before coming back again to dgital's place to do the editing at 2am.

Sunday 13 Nov 05 0100hrs

dgital tried to call me, but I was already in comatose state. Woke up at 0130hrs, and got updates from massb in a cab on the way to dgital's place, that overider got lost in Punggol, and dgital had to make a trip to his friend's place to pick up the charger. (Overider on the road the whole day and night!) And we've got at least an hour to spare for the batteries to charge to a reasonable level.

Sunday 13 Nov 05 0200-0500hrs

It's a blur during these hours - dgital and myself editing the film (actually more dgital than me, I was the eye power :P), and massb going through a selection of music.

Fact is, I didn't know when overider arrived - it was a surreal moment, burning from lack of sleep, to the insane rush of editing. Sometime within these hours, we decided to continue with our Signs spoof, and went creative with aluminium foil.

Forgive Me For I Have Sinned...Overider Dishing Out Free Blessings...

Editing was a pain though - software couldn't work, and we had to rely on Microsoft's Movie Maker (Bill Gates gonna be proud), some clips which we wanted ended up on the virtual floor - which we later realized, almost all our "organizers" scenes were edited out :(

Do Not Disturb - Editor At WorkChop-Cut-Paste!

Sunday 13 Nov 05 0600hrs

Finally, we got down to our last shot for the day - the classic Signs spoof which somehow made its way to unofficially represent our short film. And that last bit where overider turned to look at massb, was unrehearsed. I dunno why, but somehow overider adds his nuances at the right moments, at the right places! :D

Protection From Mind Reading Aliens!

After which it was a mad rush to re-edit the film, and at this time we were suffering from lethargy, but we had to persevere. Wonder how the other teams were doing.

Ultraman Doesn't Suffer From Lack of Sleep!Should've Included an Ultraman Vs Godzilla spoof too...

Sunday 13 Nov 05 0700hrs

It was so kind of dgital's folks again, as they had prepared breakfast for us (wow!). Adding music was a challenge too, but we managed to find some appropriate music to mesh in, like the A-Team theme, parts of 2046 (which was also used for the 2 beat / cut-scene in the lift horror film), and Green Hornet for overider's Tony-Jaa-ish moment. I think this was probably the best bits. Music fuels the soul, and we had a good time listening to some gems.

But wait! There's more! We actually forgotten about the ending we wanna shoot, so dgital had to don his formal attire once again to complete what we had set out to do. So finally, after 36 hours, we were done.

Sunday 13 Nov 05 1000hrs

Almost. It was a pain rendering the movie back to DV format. There were some unexplained skips that threatened our short film, and the second time, the battery ran out again and aborted the process. We were hinging on the last rendering, do or die, to make it. (And we thought it was the quality of tape that had a part to play too) :P

Sunday 13 Nov 05 1215hrs

We were finally out the door, overider and I, to submit our work. Burned a CD too in record time containing the film and some production stills, and off the the Substation - we just had to get there by 1300hrs, or all will be lost.

The GoodsAre We So Proud of This!

We arrived at 1245hrs, and submitted our entry just before the eventual winner did. Hey, it came with a boxset leh!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

... and the Winner is...

Not us. (oei, maiden foray into making a short film leh, whaddya expect?)


The more important thing is that we had loads of fun. And the experience and memories gained is something which would never be forgotten.

Who would've expected that we ended up with something that wasn't even totally, remotely, close to what we had in mind during first discussions? Who would've expected that we ended up with comedy and spoofs, when we originally thought about doing serious drama, which progressed to love, which morphed into suicide, and ...

Who would've expected that we did so many on-location shoots, some of which were unplanned of too? At some office rooftop, at Labrador Park, at some HDB block, at Esplanade, even dgital's place was used as well! (and became one of our publicity stills)

And the best part is sharing our effort together with the rest of the 52 teams (make that 40+ teams, as some had to drop out for various reasons), and the sweet satisfaction gained when the audience laughed with us (or at our absurbdity perhaps!)

There were short films of all ranges and genres, those that I can recall are serious drama, foreign language, bikini-clad-woman-walking-along-the-beach-picking-up-shell-which-swears-at-her (sorry, even in my slumber at Substation I remember this one :P), loads of swearing, Matrix spoof (I like their green screen effect), Karaoke video, students and teacher swearing in class, a social commentary, a blair witch spoof at Old Changi Hospital, Mahjong, a Loser / Creep music video, a computer game, a worshipper, WMD (heh, I like his accent), carpark rendezvous, animation (cute cat that), a couple from overseas (I like their technical abilities, though I think they were let down by their storyline?) and one at a hospital too!

But of course, the Winner stood out, for their Kung Fu Hustle spoof.

Then again, cheers to all the participants in Fly By Night Video Challenge 2005!

I've been in a game show to experience how tough it is to be under pressure, under spotlights, and now, after going through this, it's never easy making movies (who said it was anyway?), even though they may be crappy ones. There's always a story to every movie, and later on, I shall share about The Undecided :-)

Watch this space!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fly By Night Video Challenge 2005

By the time you read this, I will be taking part in the mentioned competition with the usual suspects massb, dgital and overider.

It's a competition where a group of 4 come together to create a 5 minute video clip based on a theme which the organizers will provide at 1900hrs today.

So... stay tuned. If I / We have the time, there'll be live updates on the making of process in any or all the blogs mentioned, including yours truly. Otherwise, you'll just have to wait until Sunday at the earliest.

50 Teams, 40 hours, 5 minute video, 1 winner.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

[DVD] Serendipity (2001)

So a pair of black cashmere gloves on a Christmas shopping trip brought two attractive strangers together, and they proceed to spend the most incredible night together at a cafe and an ice skating ring. However, the girl is a New Age Spirituality freak, and makes it oh so damn difficult for the guy to get anything out of her, even her name!

It just drives a man insane, and she proceeds to make it so challenging and leave everything to Fate - Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) had to write his name and contact number on a five dollar bill, which Sara (Kate Beckinsale) proceeded to use, and if the note comes back to her because of Fate, she'll give him a call. On the other hand, she wrote hers on a book, which she will sell to a second hand book store, for Jonathan to look for and browse at each time he passes by a store.

However another serendipitous game in a hotel finally made them part ways, but parting is such sweet sorrow, and each of them take active steps in seeking out each other when Fate comes aknocking - Jonathan seeks out Sara's last name, while Sara takes a trip to New York, and both make round trips around the Big Apple, revisiting places they have been to together.

Fans of American Pie will cheer at the small scene where Eugene Levy appears as a conniving anal Bloomdale's salesman. And I like the scene using the Godfather movies as an analogy which Jonathan uses to explain his crush for Sara. While the couples shared Cassiopeia, I'll never forget my own Orion moment.

The surprising thing though, is that you might bat an eyelid during the introduction. Both couples have their respective other halves (engaged, going to get married), but proceed to flirt so closely and strongly with each other, and to seek each other out. Ok, perhaps Sara's Zen-music boyfriend is a bit of a jerk (it always plays out that way yeah?) but this is a Hollywood romance after all, one that deals with a fortunate accident.

I've always been a fan of John Cusack - he's one of those underrated character actors in nice quirky movies; High Fidelity's still one of my favourites, and the soundtrack in this film is pretty cool too. And Kate Beckinsale, ok I confess, is the real reason why I'm watching this movie. They share a certain chemistry which is so enjoyable you're rooting for them to get back together as soon as possible to experience the magic again.

So if you're feeling in the mood for a bit of cruel Fate filled romance comedy, then Serendipity is for you. Cuddle up with a loved one and pop this DVD into the player. Serendipity moments? Anytime for me :-P

Code 1 DVD Extras: The gem in the extras are the deleted scenes. As mentioned above, some might bat an eyelid at the flirtation scene in which their respective partners are quickly forgotten. The deleted scenes were worse, so probably that's why they didn't make the final cut. Most of the scenes featured were from the introduction, with a totally different conversation piece at the Serendipity cafe. You must watch them to know what was originally intended.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Oliver Twist

This review brought to you courtesy of a FunkyGrad contest, otherwise, I really won't think I have the time to watch this when it premieres (stay tuned for a crazy week ahead I tell ya!)

"Please sir, may I have some more?" Ah, the immortal line from Charles Dickens' classic, from the book Oliver Twist, telling the story of an orphaned boy, with sheer incredible luck and a melancholic, likeable face. The book has been remade into movies countless of times, and this one is Roman Polanski's take.

I haven't read the novel (yes, I heard gasps of horror) so I can't offer a scene for scene comparison. So perhaps you could shed some light on the short summary I'm about to give. The first 10 minutes will highlight the immortal line where Oliver is sent to a factory made up of orphaned boys. There, he gets sold to a coffin maker, where he makes his escape. Throughout his journeys, he meets up with many benefactors who assist him in one way or another. Some good, like Mr Brownlow, and some bad, like Fagin, who's the caretaker of a group of child pickpockets.

And it is in London where Oliver was picked up by the Artful Dodger, and introduced to the rest of the crew led by Fagin. He learns the trade, but in a botched first attempt, gets sort of rescued by Mr Brownlow, and has his first taste of a decent life.

However, the lowlifes are afraid of him squealing their whereabouts to the police, and hence, recapture Oliver and uses him to steal from Mr Brownlow. And of course I won't bore you with the details but suffice to say that the main villain of the show, Bill Sykes, an associate of Fagin, gets more screentime than Oliver himself towards the end.

It's a lavish production, with big sets. The streets of Old London were beautifully created, and so was the soundtrack chugging so indiscreetly in the background. Ben Kingsley, as Fagin, disappears into his role behind the makeup - you'll hardly recognize him, and Barney Clark as Oliver seemed likeable enough too, and provided enough emotions to punctuate the final scene.

So for those, like me, who have not read the book, this should prove to be an invaluable 130 minute introduction to the real thing. Sure you can have more, by picking up the book.

P.S. Surprisingly, there are both English and Mandarin subtitles, so you won't get lost in the Old English used by the characters. My dear, indeed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

[DVD] Dead Man (1995)

Johnny Depp didn't adopt that weird hairdo first as Willy Wonka in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. He did that bob-hairdo as William Blake, an accountant in this movie. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, who did Coffee and Cigarettes, and Broken Flowers (starring Bill Murray in a role written for him), this is a black-and-white western tale about one man's extraordinary journey starting from the town of Machine.

The introduction is queer, with seemingly endless and repetitive shots of Blake on a train from Cleveland to Machine, interspersed by scenes of the train wheels chugging along. He arrives in a strange town and discovered that the job which was waiting for him, had been filled. Lost, he wanders about town and got a one night stand with a lady.

Alas, his life goes downhill from that point on, when the lady's ex-boyfriend arrives and a shootout occurs. Pinned with the blame of a double murder, Blake escapes to the wild west, and got rescued by Nobody, a native Indian, who is equally surprised at how Blake survived having a bullet so close to his heart. And still lodged.

Hence an uneasy friendship between the two men is forged as they hold off bounty hunters after Blake (from a bounty of 200 to 2000 dollars), but Blake has to put up with Nobody's mumbo-jumbo and quoting of poetry. Indeed, the words of wisdom spewed is simply hilarious at times, as they just don't make sense.

It's shot in black and white, and deliberately slow paced, so this might not appeal to everyone. However, the number of stars in this show will probably raise your interest level, like Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Gabriel Byrne, Lance Henrikson, Michael Wincott, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thorton, Alfred Molina and Steve Buscemi.

But what's beautiful about the film is the awesome soundtrack from the rocksy/folksy guitars riffs of Neil Young. Which without, the movie would just not work. It's pretty violent in some of the shootouts, but nothing is made too outrageous. Keep your ears peeled at the dialogues and conversations too.

So if you're a fan of Depp, why not give this movie a watch?

Code 1 DVD Extras: One incredible long sequence of deleted scenes pieced together, and Neil Young's soundtrack music video. Also, there seems to be some "commercials" of other film trailers too. Hmm...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

[DVD] Little Buddha (1993)

I haven't seen much of director Bernardo Bertolucci's films, the only one in which I could recall vividly was The Last Emperor. In Little Buddha, Bertolucci attempted to tell the story of Siddhartha, Buddha himself, but somehow I felt it was a bit too little, as this film also told a separate story about a reincarnated Lama.

Bridget Fonda and Chris Isaak star as the Conrad couple Lisa and Dean, whose son Jesse is believed to be a reincarnation of a Lama from Bhutan. This led to a visit by the Lama's disciple Lama Norbu, who introduces Buddhism to the Conrad family. However, he's not sure if Jesse is the one, but indications have made the case strong. The tale takes all of them back to Bhutan where they meet up with another 2 potential candidates, and contemplate just who was the actual reincarnate.

At the same time, the story of the origins of Buddha is weaved into the narrative, which was what appealed to me when watching this movie. I am not an expert in Bhuddist studies, but I felt that the story was well told, and the cinematography for this segment, just wondrously majestic. I believe many at that time balked at Bertolucci when he casted Keanu Reeves in the role of Siddhartha, as he was better known for his surfer dude image. But I thought Reeves did credibly well, and suffered for his art in making a credible Prince, though some would cringe at this attempt to speak with an accent.

Buddhism doesn't get shoved down your throat, so for those who are staunch in their respective religions, no worries, this movie doesn't attempt to be preachy. It makes interesting the journey to Nirvana and Enlightenment, through the Middle Way, and I would say it would make interesting general knowledge (I am not vouching on the accuracy as I can't) in which to build upon.

Perhaps what I felt was a let down was the other major segment on the search for the Lama reincarnate, as there were minor sub-plots which got introduced but not further developed. I would be more interested to learn about Siddhartha's path to Nirvana in more detail through film, but probably that's another story for another filmmaker to make.

Code 1 DVD Extras: Extremely bareboned version.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

After watching this movie, I feel compelled to correct what the marketing folks did, promoting it like an outright horror movie with plenty of "BOO" moments, and not an inclination that a major portion of this film takes place in a courtroom. I believe the trailer does not even hint at this having courtroom drama-mama moments, to which many in the audience that I watched this with, went "bor-ring", "dull", and disappointed many horny teenage boyfriends who thought they could eat tofu with each frightening scene.

May I again repeat that this movie does not have plenty of moments which will make you jump, or your heart race. Neither should you associate this film with the kind of expectation from the superb The Exorcist - this film treats the ritual with some respect and doesn't sensationalize it, nor have any kinky spirits to possess the poor victim with abilities to walk backwards down a staircase, or find creative and vulgar uses for the crucifix.

What this movie is, it's based on a true story (of course names, etc have been changed, but the premise kept intact) of a priest being hauled to court to stand trial in the 70s, having being accused of causing the death of a young girl through neglect. It's a tussle between science and faith as both defense and prosecution bring forth their theories about the events leading to the faithful night of the exorcism.

Therefore, the act of casting spirits back to where they come from, is told only in flashbacks, and at times, with the scientific point of view in mind to debunk spiritualism. The narrative works for a courtroom movie, not so for a horror film. Perhaps the talking point in the movie, is the debate on the need to create a villain, in order for the hero to be a hero. It's similar to the theme that M Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, and John Woo's MI:2 touched upon. I'm neither religious or spiritual, and this film, like Constantine, drives home the point that it doesn't matter whether you believe in "them" - they believe in you / they are around.

Laura Linney shines in her role as the lawyer who took on the case as it's publicity and promotional opportunity, and Tom Wilkinson is believable as the Father who dared to challenge Evil in the face. However, kudos must go to relative newcomer Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose, in highlighting the fear and pain that her character goes through. And ooh, the body contortions will just freak you out, and what surprised me was the unusual possession she experienced.

I know that there'll be a group in the audience who'll give the thumbs up if John Constantine bursts into the scene and bitch-slaps the devil out of Emily Rose, in order to speed up the pace, but to such horror-action lovers, this will not be your cup of tea. The pacing is somehow deliberately slow to drum through the themes it wants to touch upon.

To those who are patient, this movie tells the controversial story of a woman's decision to undergo what she has gone through, all in the name of Faith, and a man of God's decision to ensure that her message gets told.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sky High

Since this is a Disney movie, I guess you'll know what to expect: humour, safe action, some camp, lotsa colour, and a feel good factor. Sky High is all these and, surprisingly, a whole lotta fun too! Sometimes music makes the movie for me, and when I heard "Everybody Wants To Rule The World", I knew the filmmakers had this done right, for a superhero movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Sky High refers to a special school hovering up in the sky, where the children of super-beings go to, for an education to learn how to harness their powers. Interestingly, they do not learn whether to use it for good or evil, it's entire up to them (i.e. no moral or social studies here).

Will Stronghold had it tough from the start - being the only child of 2 Superhero parents (most have only 1 parent as a superbeing), he had to uphold both his parents and the general population's expectation of his perceived abilities, which he knows is, none. What's more, his parents are the most powerful of them all, and everyone in school naturally gives respect to his family name. Alas, here's where the fun starts.

There are plenty of one-dimensional characters, like the school pranksters, the loner with an attitude, the most popular girl in school, the cheerleader, the coward, the Haves and the Have-nots. Rather, make that the Heroes and the Losers/Sidekicks. Like local schools, Sky High segregates lessons between those with heroic-like powers (super strength, speed, ability to fly, etc) and those with more benign and less powerful abilities. However, my favourite scenes are those lessons with the Hero-Support group (a more politically correct term for Sidekicks), taught by a teacher, whom I suspect is a jab at a grown-up Burt Ward Robin.

While this is mainly a kid's show, there are more adult themes thrown in. Though adults would probably get tired with the Loser to Hero storyline, they'll probably get more of the inside jokes and references thrown in abundance in this movie. Hamming it up as the adult characters in the movie are Kurt Russell as The Commander, and Kelly Preston as Jetstream - Earth's mightiest couples, and TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Cater appears as Sky High's principal - do listen for a classic line! Bruce Campbell contributes to the humour as the typical Coach Boomer (sonic boom abilities), but my favourite ought to be Ron Wilson - Bus Driver!

So while the storyline's nothing to wow about, the delivery is still top notch, and it's pretty enjoyable watching a typical US high school drama with super powers added to spice things up. The special effects are well done too, though cheesy at some points, again, just to jab Adam West's Batman (the pole, the bat-computer like computer).

If you're a fan of cartoons and comics, you'll definitely not want to miss this - you'll be in awe at how many familiar references you can catch in this movie!

P.S. I swear there's a scene in the trailer that did not make it the final cut - and that is the one where Russell and Preston were chained up and held above ground. If I'm wrong, let me know.

[DVD] Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

If you're into Japanese anime, and a fan of monsters, vampires, mystery, and Marvel Comics' Blade, you might want to check out Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

Here's my review of the DVD for movieXclusive, which you can read by clicking on the logo below

Thursday, November 03, 2005

[DVD] King Kong (1976)

This movie is as old as I am, but it's not the original. Yes you heard me right. The original big gorilla debut in 1933. and this is a remake. Unless you've been residing in Mars, you'll also know that Peter Jackson will be adapting King Kong for the big screen for a release next month, and thank heavens it's closely based on the original.

While this film also adapts from the same source material by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, it has taken certain liberties and artistic license to change some character backgrounds and premise. For example, the film crew has been replaced with oil prospectors, and the blonde lass doesn't start off the journey with the team, but actually plucked out unconscious from the sea, an actress wannabe who didn't enjoy Deep Throat (don't ask). Gone too is the iconic scene atop the Empire States Building, now Kong scales the World Trade Center and hops between the two towers (alas, September 11 changed it all).

However, this movie still retained much of the story's structure - team ventures into island, chances upon island inhabitants, inhabitants kidnap blonde lass as a sacrifice to the great Kong, the beauty and the beast sequence, the capture of Kong, bringing him back to New York, and all hell breaks loose.

Just not quite. This Kong is quite benign in nature, and only goes berserk when jealousy makes him go on a rampage against those trying to prise his lass away from him. The effects look dated if you watch them today, and the animatronics probably made a giant ape hand - that's the only mechanical limb you get to see up close, the rest can be figured as a man in a rubber suit, captured using various techniques to achieve the desired proportions for size. Don't go scrutinizing the plot too, as there are gaping loopholes, and plenty of minor characters. Oh, Singapore's mentioned a lot of times in the first twenty minutes, as the ship crew navigates from Surabaya, Indonesia en route to looking for oil.

Starring a very young and very hairy Jeff Bridges in the role of a professor / ape expert, this movie is probably famous for introducing a very nubile Jessica Lange in her first feature film. She could be considered as the Jessica Simpson of that era, having prancing around the island in hot pants and tank tops, various strapless gowns and in wet island garb, which gave way to a wardrobe malfunction when Kong molested her with its finger (don't ask - the ape's probably horny too).

So while awaiting Peter Jackson's masterpiece, why not get your hands on this adapted classic too? Good for compare, contrast, but don't go bananas over this one if it doesn't meet your expectations.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


After having watched Tony Jaa in Ong Bak about a week ago on TV, I was waiting for the day when Tom-Yum-Goog finally made its way here. There was a film in between these two, called The Bodyguard, which wasn't released in the theatres here, so I guess I gotta hit the shops to look for it.

My friend massb has likened the introduction of Tom-Yum-Goong to watching National Geographic, and he's right. It's an idyllic Thai village scene where Kham (Tony Jaa) grows up and bonds together with herds of elephants, and it might even looked as if it came right out of Kipling's The Jungle Book.

It's a picture of calm before the storm, and the first 10 minutes set the scene, as the elephants will play an important aspect in this movie as it gets elevated into mythical status (check out the CGI scene, looks like Jackie Chan's The Myth, with its historical fights). You'll know right away that this is a Thai movie, with its excellent fusion of Thai elements into the storyline - the elephants, the rivers, the rituals, Buddhism, "Tom-Yum-Goong", and of course, Muay Thai.

With elephants, the natural baddies are first and foremost, the poachers, who kidnap our hero's pets (wrong move). Of course these baddies belong to a larger crime family and syndicate operating out of Sydney, Australia, which deals with drugs, human and animal trafficking, prostitution, all with the blessings of corrupt cops, and led by a transvestite (yes, you heard me right).

Tom-Yum-Goong may refer to a shrimp dish in Thailand, but in this movie, it refers to a restaurant which serves as a front for illegal activities. Action fans need not wait too long for Tony Jaa action, as he plunges head on into fights with the Thai gangsters first, in their bungalow hideout. And that's just to whet your appetite for more mayhem! Bridging the fights from Thailand to Australia is a short boat chase scene that looked right out from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but that's the only weak action sequence in Tom-Yum-Goong.

There are plenty of fights in Sydney to keep all action fans happy - like the massive battle with the Aussie streetgangs (on roller blades and bikes) in an abandoned warehouse, which also showcased Jaa's agility and acrobatic ability. I thought that somehow the cinematography during this sequence let Jaa down at times, especially when he weaved in and out of the trains, the camera just couldn't keep up, and was positioned at a bad angle.

But that aside, it made up for itself in a beautifully filmed, one-motion tracking shot of Jaa making his way through a four-storey restaurant, kicking major rear, without seemingly any cuts (I said seemingly, as there was a part where water droplets stained the camera, but somehow disappeared abruptly). Doom has its gimmicky first-person shooter perspective, this one here has its classic third-person perspective, as if you're controlling Jaa in a coin-operated fight console, taking on the baddies with various swift moves.

If you've known by now, I kinda likened Jaa's movies so far to Bruce Lee's (some see shades of Matrix in this movie), and there was another action sequence in which Jaa was up against hordes of gangsters in an enclosed room (think Lee in the Japanese dojo in Fists of Fury), and he floored them all with bone-crushing, limb-breaking kicks and punches. Move aside Steven Seagal, Jaa's doing it faster, and more lethal! The fights with the huge wrestlers too was a highlight (ala Lee in Game of Death with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), as was the final fight with the final "boss".

Perhaps my favourite in the movie is the scene at the temple. Water, Fire, and a looming Buddha, Jaa takes on three distinct exponents one-on-one - the hip hop breakdancer, the Chinese wushu sword expert, and the Western wrestler. While this movie has done away with Ong-Bak's repetitive sequences (yes, we know what Jaa is capable of already), the slow-mo in this particular set is pure poetry in motion. It's different from Ong-Bak, in that Jaa, like Lee in Enter The Dragon, gets beaten up and injured. You can inflict pain and injure Jaa, but like Lee, he bounces back with a vengeance, sans shirt too.

Jaa has let his action do the talking instead of his acting abilities (no stunt double, no wire-work, no special effects), and I have no qualms with that, given after all, this is an out and out action movie. Petchtai Wongkamlao, who plays Inspector Mark, and has been featured in all of Jaa's movies, returns to add his comedic touch to the film as a Thai-immigrant policeman in Sydney, and fans of Ong Bak will also be pleased that this movie is helmed by the same director Prachya Pinkaew.

While Hollywood struggles to find worthy successors to its 80s and 90s action heroes like Stallone, Van Damme, and Schwarzeneggar, Asia has already found one to takeover the mantle from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li (as the latter two seemed to have drifted and indicated a preference for dramas). He's Thai, and his name is Tony Jaa. You heard it here first, he's gonna be setting the bar for action movies to come. He can only get better, and I'm already a huge fan!

Peter Chan - Perhaps Love Press Conference

Peter Chan was here in Singapore during Deepavali, to start off a series of publicity for his upcoming romantic musical-drama, Perhaps Love.

You can check out my one-man coverage of the marketing press conference, featured on the movieXclusive website, by clicking on the logo below, as usual :-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

[DVD] Collateral Damage (2002)

This was one of the films whose release schedule was affected by the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001, because its content touched a raw nerve, having depicted terrorists detonating bombs in downtown Los Angeles, and planning another at Washington DC. Even when released finally in 2002, the big budgeted action sequences did not succeed in making the film a decent box-office success.

It was also Arnold Schwarzenegger's last few films before he ran for Governor, and in this film, he plays yet another heroic figure, a fireman called Gordy Brewer whose intrinsic responsibilty is to save lives. However, his family became collateral damage in a Columbian freedom fighter's bringing of terror onto the shores of the USA, and this caused an about turn in Brewer's character into a life-taker, seeking revenge.

Given that the government's hands are tied, Brewer decides to go at it alone, planning to go after The Wolf whose organization admitted responsibility to the bombings that killed his wife and child. The movie then plods along as we follow Brewer's infiltration into Columbia and to the terrorist organization's base camp. He meets up too with The Wolf's wife and kid, and somehow forms a bond with them, given his own loss.

The action contains nothing much that has never been seen before, so those who are expecting thrills and spills along the lines of the fantastic Arnold vehicle True Lies will be disappointed. However, things pick up towards the last 30 minutes into the show, as the plot contains a slight twist that catches you off guard and makes you go "now why didn't I think of that". It kinda plays on the assumptions of man, and why couldn't it be possible I'd say.

The violence begets violence message in this movie is obvious from the onset, and makes you wonder about the world today with the terrorist threat always looming. Some scenes like the planned attack on the train station might also ring too close for comfort, given that real train attacks in Madrid and London did happen since the movie's release.

Nonetheless, this movie is still watchable, and perhaps it is inevitable that you wonder why Arnie's star seemed to fade out during his last few films. Perhaps it's too much of the same thing without much variation on the heroic action. Nothing much can be said of Arnie's acting, but it's pretty amazing the amount of mayhem a lone fireman can inflict!

Code 1 DVD Extras: Audio commentary by director Andrew Davis, additional deleted scenes, and two documentaries: A Behind the Scenes and one titled "The Hero In A New Era" containing mostly interviews with Arnie and Andrew Davis.
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