Monday, January 30, 2006

Zodiac: The Race Begins

My new year resolution is to watch every made-in-Singapore commercial movie that hits the big screen. Nearly accomplished that last year, except that the chicken in me made me miss The Maid during the lunar seventh month. But somehow alarm bells were already ringing about Zodiac, touted as Singapore's first 3D animated movie.

Since it's the first, perhaps it's expected we go with expectations set real low? Check. But it's really, not good. The animation is rather coarse (ok, so you're telling me we cannot compare with Pixar?), and looks like it's straight out of a bad blocky videogame. There are certain sequences that looked like a cheap ripoff of old puppetry techniques, though I'd like to think of it as an excuse that the filmmakers were being lazy, or in a rush to finish this in time for the lunar new year.

Too many "flipping-of-the-pages", and a narration voice over, to cover up the fact that the storyline is relatively weak. Most of us would already know that it was a race to decide the order of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, but this was a race that lacked one crucial ingredient - excitement! The pace is pretty much flat, with no highs or lows (more lows actually) to bring the audience into the race proper.

The much touted voice of Fann Wong playing two characters - the cat and the snake, will make you cringe. Most of the voices are rather scratchy and sound amateurish, not to mention that the animated mouths don't sync too. Given 12 key characters, a heavenly king and a tree demon, there is a distinct lack of voice talents required. The characters too are pretty weak, having the focus only on the rat and the bull, while the others are pretty much forgotten and disposable. It doesn't help by swinging the focus between groups of characters, and the villain is probably the weakest link which poses no threat.

I wonder who did the subtitles, as it had loads of typographical and grammatical errors. And I was surprised too that this movie actually had an English track, recorded by local DJ Jamie Yeo, and some unrecognizable others from the credits. Songs are part and parcel of animated movies, but this one had really cringeworthy songs, meaningless lyrics and having characters break into song and dance, for the sake of doing so.

Is this a decent effort? I'm not sure, given the slip-shoddy execution. But if this movie could open doors for any up and coming budding animation company, then they have a relatively easy job of raising the bar.

Fun with Dick and Jane

This is a remake of a 1977 comedy of the same name, an update of the same premise of your happily married couple who found themselves in debt and having to rob in order to pay the bills.

Starring Jim Carrey (who produced this movie) and Tea Leoni, they're Dick and Jane Harper, who are living the American dream, with nice house, nice car, nice kid, nice housekeeper, and nice family dog too. A promotion to Vice President of Communications in a conglomerate makes Dick Harper arrive. But only for a day as his first task is to make the televised announcement of his company's finances, and found out that the company is in dire straits.

So begins the barrage of comedic situations where Dick and Jane struggle to sustain their livelihood with the minimal amount of resources, with situations even as absurd as getting deported. The jokes are not laugh-a-minute, and at times seemed too contrived, even for a Jim Carrey movie. We know what he's capable of, but in this movie, he's somewhat restrained in his delivery, perhaps having to share screen time with a partner in Leoni made him cut down the antics?

But the movie's obvious jab is on the recent spate of corporate scandals, and in that it does quite well, working them into the movie with no holds barred. It even had the cheek to give special thanks in its credits to the executives at Enron, WorldCom, and had a direct reference to the shredding episode of now-defunct auditing firm Arthur Andersen.

Alec Baldwin certainly had a field day as the villain of the movie, the CEO of the conglomerate Globodyne who siphoned off every penny from the company before it collapsed. Is he going on the decline, having to play supporting roles, and the "bad guy" as well, the latest in recent memory being another CEO in Elizabethtown? Hmm.

Is this comedy memorable? Sadly no. It's ok for the occasional laughs, but absolutely nothing to make you laugh in tears. Fans of Jim Carrey, you'll lament the good old days. Bring them back!

Real: The Movie

Goal! probably gave football fans a reason to cheer that there is finally a movie worthy of the sport, nevermind the teams that were featured in it. It got the right moments of excitement, joy, trials and tribulations that most football fans could identify with in players and their clubs. However, Real: The Movie takes the genre two steps backwards, even though you know it's like a congratulatory pat on the back of the club itself.

Partly produced by Real Madrid CF, Real attempts to weave fictional narratives into a plot which glorifies its players (not that it does a good job anyway), and also to point to the fact that it is the most successful, recognizable football club in the world, with fans all over the place, able to connect with one another through the club's sporting ambitions.

The first narrative is that of a school teacher who arrived in Madrid, and staying a stone's throw away from the revered 80,000 seater Santiago Bernabéu stadium. He's like the chorus, trying to sniff out the reasons why Real Madrid permeates through the life of the city, and are worshipped by crazed fans.

Then there's Tokyo, which is hot on the heels of Beckham-mania, with the story putting focus on the relationship between a teenage couple interrupted by the girl's fixation on Beckham. Relatively short, and not much meaning to it. If you dislike Beckham, you'll probably puke at the various shots of his mug upclose.

Speaking of Beckham, there is a narrative thread which copies Bend It Like Beckham, having feature a teenage female footballer from New York. We follow the story of Megan, a hotshot footballer who suffers a career-threatening injury. The reason why this plot line is included, is to tie it into Ronaldo's comeback from injury. But the execution is weak, and we see probably the worst piece of acting from an eye-candy.

Perhaps the best story is that set in Senegal. We see upclose how remote villagers experience the events of a football game, by having the dad travel on foot for a total of 4 days, round trip, to watch the game on television, and return to the village to recount everything he saw to wide-eyed children. This is perhaps the most heartwarming of it all, one which demonstrates a father's love for his child.

And on a similar premise, and the weakest, is that set in a Venezulean town, about a young boy and a strange old man who happens to be quite a footballer himself. At the end of the day, it's nothing much except for a community sitting down together, supporting different teams, one camp Real Madrid, the other camp Barcelona.

With of course, the expected build up to the huge game of the movie, that of arch-rivals Barcelona of course. However, this is no Goal! with fictional figures inserted into the game. Rather, it's like watching a re-run of the season 04-05 game on a large screen, with dramatic moments only, which they won (naturally) 4-2.

The separate narratives are, well, separate. Which makes it seem like little short stories stuck together. Though there are some redeeming features, like the little nugget of facts done Hitchhiker's style, and a behind-the-scenes look at how the large club prepares itself for games with its meticulous planning. For those who have not been to the stadium, we're also granted a sneak peak into the high tech locale, but unlike Goal!, we didn't see the entire dressing room.

In case you're wondering if this review is biased as I'm an Arsenal fan, no. If you don't believe me, don't tell me that you've wasted time and money watching this. If anything, this movie is suitable only for Real Madrid fans only, not football fans in general.

And for that, I'd wish the Gunners win the home and away legs of the Champions League against the Galacticos come Feb/March. Go Gunners! And hang in there for the sequel to Goal! set in erm, Real Madrid.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

[DVD] Ben-Hur (1959)

There are tons of material out there on Ben-Hur, so I shall keep mine short. There's only one reason I watched this, and that is to watch it in its entirety. Shown on TV countless times, I don't have the patience to watch it with advertisements, so all this while I survived on bits and pieces of the film.

Ben-Hur, like all classics, have a single sequence to define it in cinematic history. The much talked about chariot race, still holds till this day, a spectacle to behold, and which Star Wars Episode 1 emulated in its equivalent called the pod-race. It has also won an unprecedented (until recently tied) 11 Academy awards in its time too.

Also subtitled as a Tale of the Christ, the story of Jesus bookends this long movie, with the birth at the manger in Bethlehem, to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. In between, there are moments in which Judah Ben-Hur meets Jesus, though we never see the face of the Christ. There are other biblical characters mentioned / seen too, like Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and Jesus' parents Joseph and Mary.

Charlton Heston plays the title character Judah Ben Hur, an Jew aristocrat in Rome conquered Judea, whose childhood best friend, a Roman called Messala, is now second in command to the Roman governor. Unwilling to become an informer to Messala to name Jews involved in upcoming rebellions, Messala has Judah banished to slavery and his family imprisoned.

Swearing revenge, we see how Judah overcome various odds, and incredible luck which sees him through his slavery, his rescue of a Roman general, becoming his adopted son, and returning to Judea to exact vengeance on Messala, hence the grand chariot race.

Though I must admit it does get a little draggy, and the dialogue a bit stilted and colourful, but there are enough moments in this plot to keep you riveted in your seat. So if you're game for some serious good old styled story-telling, watch this classic.

This Code 1 DVD contains a full length audio commentary by Charlton Heston, and a behind the scenes documentary called Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic.

[DVD] The Right Stuff (1983)

If you're into aviation and the outer space programme, then this movie is for you. Chronicling the lives of the early pioneers of jet planes, the NASA Mercury astronauts, and the space race, The Right Stuff tells the story of the lives of these men, and what exactly fuels them to take on life-threatening missions to propel humans into the final frontier.

But this movie is not a documentary, and doesn't play out as such. It's a dramatized account based on the book by Tom Wolfe. We begin by witnessing Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) breaking the sound barrier - Mach 1, in the record breaking X-1 plane. The movie then takes on two diverse acts, those of the pilots in competition to become the fastest men alive, and the other which shows the space race pioneers, NASA's 7 Mercury astronauts in Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), John Glenn (Ed Harris), Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) and Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen).

While their missions are different, their character traits are similar. To always beat the competition and set new records. They are pilots, so the usual stereotypical cocky arrogant attitudes come into play. What makes them special, is that they got the unexplainable Right Stuff, to have what it takes to push the envelope. Their wives are also put under a minor spotlight, as they band together and wring their hands while awaiting news of their husbands safe arrival from their missions. Bear in mind that these are the first manned space missions (though very simple), and in those days, the astronauts travelled alone, not in teams in flight.

If you'd enjoy Apollo 13, then this movie treads on almost the same ground. Except that there is no single, gripping "death in your face" moment as played out as in the Ron Howard movie. We see how politics comes into play in events that help boost national pride, and how the Americans and Russians outplay each other by constantly going one up against each other. We also experience how the pilots deal with being the "it" person for the moment - you're the hero now, but after the next mission by someone else, you'll soon be forgotten.

It's a drama based on real events, enough to engage you for a good three hours to experience the one-up-manship between pilots and the nations engaged in the space race.

This Code 1 DVD is full of facts and figures for the aviation/NASA buff, with information ranging from cast and production, to the individual pilot bios and the NASA timeline on the Mercury programme.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


The first Jet Li movie which I watched as a little boy, was his Shaolin Temple. Jet next shot to fame and prominence with the various Chinese folk heroes that he played in the late 80s and 90s, like Wong Fei Hong, Fong Sai Yuk, Zhang San Feng, and even taking on Bruce Lee's Chen Zhen role in a Fist of Fury remake called Fist of Legend. In Fearless, he plays martial arts master Huo Yuanjia / Fok Yuen Gaap, whom I presume most who are familiar with Fist of Fury, will know who this chap is.

Like Fong Sai Yuk, Jet's portrayal of Huo Yuanjia starts off like Fong, who initially is a cocky person, proud of his skills, but nothing interests him more than the challenge in the ring. He's uninterested in politics (at that time China was being "invaded" by shiploads of foreigners), and adopts a whole host of disciples who prove to be his downfall.

Also like Fong, we see Huo reeling from his carefree days, get into some serious soul searching, before returning for the finale. But Huo returns a more calm and measured person, setting up the famous Jing Wu Sports Federation, and taking on a whole host of foreign fighters to inspire his countrymen that they are not the "sick men of the east".

As this is much touted as Jet Li's final martial arts film, it's plain obvious of the messages he wished to use this platform to spread. Scattered throughout the film are various martial arts, and probably life philosophy on themes like respect and responsibility, that violence isn't the means to an end. Somehow you forgive the fact that it's so blatant, and it seemed to work well into the plot and narrative, given that Huo's mission in setting up Jing Wu, is for that purpose to, to "spread the word" so to speak. From his early days of Chinese battling Chinese for the "Number 1 pugilist" title, Huo learnt that instead of fighting each other, they should unite in the face of new and external threats, but yet to remember not to neglect the home front, which he personally experienced from tragedy.

But no, the kungfu doesn't suffer from those messages though. In probably one of the most violent Jet Li movies (it's rated NC-16 here, and no cuts detected, except for the absence of Michelle Yeoh's scenes which ended up on the cutting room floor), with bone crunching and blood spewing - you might think that Tony Jaa's acting in it. And director Ronny Yu takes his time to showcase many of Li's moves, be it plain martial arts moves with the fists, with the various weapons used, or Yuen Wo Ping's jazzed up wire work for some of Huo's fights.

And there are many fights which will keep the action fans happy. Though the much touted ones shown ad nausem in trailers against the foreign legion, seemed a bit short in the final product. The filmmakers did keep one awesome fight scene under wraps though, and that is between Huo and nemesis Mister Chin in a teahouse - wreaking tables, chairs, flipping around pillars, navigating through different floors, and ending up in the wine cellar.

It's probably a fitting end to signal Jet's departure from the martial arts movie scene, with the portrayal of Huo given the known circumstances of what happened to the character. Though there are various interpretations, the essence is retained well in the movie. It is inevitable, and there is no Chen Zhen character to distract the audience from what is essentially a showcase movie for Jet Li.

(P.S. I still can't figure out how Michelle Yeoh would have played out in the movie, and no disrespect to her, I thought it worked well, except perhaps for the unnecessary lengthy middle where Huo was searching for himself)

My Kungfu Sweetheart

Fans of 80s and 90s Hong Kong Mo Lei Tao comedy might want to venture into director Wong Jing's latest offering for the Lunar New Year. Starring Cecilia Cheung and Leo Ku, you can read my movieXclusive review by clicking on the logo below.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Match Point

Written and directed by Woody Allen, it surprisingly doesn't feel like what I would have expected from an Allen film, nor did I think that I had the patience to sit through one. However, this movie had converted me to wanna watch what Allen had to say in his earlier movies, not that this movie, in my opinion, is representative of the legendary director's style.

Match Point, through its trailers, looked like another Closer, with its look at one aspect of the modern spousal relationship - that of adultery and fidelity. However, Closer had a more sophisticated plot and relationship tangles amongst the chief characters, while Match Point took on a more straightforward approach. You could say it's like The Talented Mr. Ripley, with the similar focus on one man and his actions to deceive all around him.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Chris Wilton, an ex-tennis professional turned coach in England. He befriends one of his students Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), and is somewhat smittened by his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Being aimless and at a cross junction of his life, Chloe and her wealthy family presents Chris a possible path down a ready made high flying boardroom career and a stable family.

But of course, the fun and trouble comes in the form of Tom's fiancee Nola Rice, the one with the come-hither looks, played to scandalous perfection by Scarlett Johansson. It's a dilemma to men with the lack of self-control, as Chris goes all out to straddle two boats, and starts to question which is love, and which is lust.

One cannot expect to take the cake, and eat it as well. What was really neat is the presentation of the dilemma in a cold, calculated manner - do you want to continue being with your wife who endears herself to you, for all the material comfort enjoyed thus far and knowing that you have a known future laid out in front of you, or would you seek to give them all up to be with someone volatile, with an uncertain future for both when you seek to choose the mistress?

This is possibly Allen's longest film to date, and it really feels that way. He takes the time to set up the entire premise, treating us to operas as the philandering Chris enjoys marital (and economic) bliss, while at the same time scheming to bed his mistress regularly on the side with loads of quickies. But the beauty of it is in the second act, where what exactly will go wrong in such an adulterous relationship, will.

The final act, while probably fitting for a man in extreme desperation, seemed a bit too Hollywood, despite this being done in collaboration with BBCFilms. It relied too much on Luck, just as the opening sequence of the determination of a match point when the ball hits the net. It's plainly simple - either side will mean you'll either win or lose.

Rhys-Meyers put on a convincing performance as the guilt-ridden, pleasure seeking Chris, with his loathing of being with his wife, and oh-so-eager puppy dog looks when being with his mistress. At least while she's still not that demanding. As I mentioned, Johansson played the sexy-come-hither chick to perfection, but somehow I felt that she lacked the ability to exude the emotional depth of a mistress who steps up her almost impossible to meet demands from a man who cannot decide, or have the strength to tell his wife of his affairs. Glenn Close she is not.

So be warned that this film might seem to plod on, with scenes that you might think could be excluded to tighten up the pace. However, do pay attention to the dialogue, as it often proves rewarding, and to those who are thinking of having affairs, think twice - the trouble when you happen to get yourself attached to an emotional wreck, could be tough to deal with. Luck may not be on your side.

Monday, January 23, 2006

[DVD] Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

Before the TV series Lost made being stranded after a plane goes down hip, there was the Flight of the Phoenix. This is a modern remake of the 1965 original, and we follow a group of misfits who must play on one another's strength, and one man's ability to think out of the box, in order to make it out alive.

Dennis Quaid plays cocky pilot Frank Towns, who together with his co-pilot AJ (played by Tyrese Gibson), are tasked to fly a group of oil-riggers out of their just-closed outpost in the Gobi desert. Led by a lady called Kelly (Miranda Otto), this group of men seemed close to that ensemble lined up in Armageddon.

On a routine flight out of the desert, they encounter a humongous sandstorm, which Towns underestimates, and ended up with a broken plane in the middle of the desert. Well, you should know the rest, it's the usual distrust turned into camaraderie building opportunity, as the troupe gathers to build a new plane (hence called the Phoenix) by salvaging parts from the rubble. Sandstorms, electrical storms, and nasty nomads stand in their way, and it's kinda fun to see how our survivors overcome these challenges on their road to freedom.

Perhaps what appealed to me was how this film was shot. My eyes were constantly glued at how it made the desert so enchantingly sexy. The special effects too were great, from the sandstorm, to the usage of effects to bring out the whole "what-ifs" scenario. Slow motion techniques were used sparingly, but nonetheless effectively.

And I just got to raved about the music. You wouldn't think that Outkast's Hey Ya would make it to the film, but it did. But what takes the cake is the awesome use of Massive Attack's Angel during the entire scene when the group approaches a gang of nomads. Wow. I dig that song, and to witnessed it being used in that sequence, totally blows me away.

Don't expect too much from the plot, as it's as simple as it can be, with of course, some plot holes thrown in. Questions like food and water will ring throughout the movie, but I suppose one can gloss over the fine details and accept that they had enough to tide them through.

The Code 1 DVD contains the director and producers commentary, deleted and extended scenes, and one almost 45 minute long making-of documentary titled the "Phoenix Diaries". It's one extremely detailed look at the making of the movie, without using too many footage from the final product.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

LSRS #2 - Production Log #6: Rewrite!

The decision has been made to drop certain scenes, and along with it, one minor, but pivotal character. The entire premise shouldn't change much, and in fact, gives us ample time for the major sequences, and probably buy us time to meet our 15 minute mark.

Anyway, it's gonna be a challenge to try and retain the essence of the story. Few ideas brewing, but it's always tough to decide on one. Oh, character names will be changed too, for purely aesthetical reasons :-D

First day of principal photography is tentatively 31 Jan 06. Need to go down to Mustafa before that to buy essential supplies!

[DVD] Conspiracy (2001)

It was just as Hitler tasted defeat at the Russian front, that a little known meeting was arranged to mark one of the worst events in humankind. That meeting, known as the Wannsee Conference, was to put into motion the evacuation of the Jews from Germany, then the rest of their controlled territories.

15 officials from various departments were in attendance, chaired by SS Chief of Security Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and SS Major Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), and has in its members several lawmakers and doctors. They sit and debate (well, not much of a debate actually) the notion of evacuating (read: Eliminate) the Jews, and you'll probably witness how casual it all sounded to some of the members.

It was interesting to see how Heydrich cajoled everyone into agreeing to his plans, by hook or by crook. And it's very chilling to see how semantics were danced about, and how methods were discussed as if it was a process so trivial - the building of concentration camps, the techniques of gassing and how to perform it, the statistics of the kill that would have them reach their target numbers intended.

Based on a surviving record of that meeting, despite the fact that the minutes are to be read, memorized and destroyed, this HBOfilm is a good watch to peek into the decision making process, into that stain in human history, and the unthinkable evil that humans are capable of.

If you're a fan of Downfall, then perhaps this depiction of history will interest you.

I Not Stupid Too

No, you need not have watched the original I Not Stupid to figure out what's going on. Gone are the major Khoo Family (with the Hokkien-swearing Richard Low) and the main narrator, Terry Khoo. Instead, newcomer Ashley Leong takes over the narrator's role, as Jerry, the new addition to the Liu Family, with Jack Neo himself, TV actress Xiang Yun, and Shawn Lee as Tom.

Then again, forget that this is a direct sequel in terms of characters, as Joshua Ang (who played the rebellious schoolboy in the 1st installment) returns, sans mother and kid brother, but with the introduction of an abusive dad played by TV actor Huang Yi Liang. I Not Stupid Too is a standalone movie, with much of the hallmarks of a Jack Neo movie splattered in it.

Gone are the much identified and constantly played out political satire and comedy from the first movie, although Selena Tan also returns here, she plays a totally different character from the much disguised political party figure in the first, to a school principal who uses "according to the law" like a crutch. But Neo still injects ample social and topical issues here.

On the school front, we see the much criticized Speak Mandarin campaign take a hit, as well as a swipe at the arcane teaching methods of the language. Those who hated the process of learning the language, will probably smile with glee as we're presented with the need to evolve the teaching methods of yesterday. Topical issues and debates like the teacher hitting student in class and the media splashing the news everywhere, and public caning also get discussed, but it's somewhat lacking that only both sides of the spectrum of views are presented, without any deeper exploration from the basic coffee-shop talk.

In trying to up the topical hip quotient, smacks of the mention of blogs and the use of it as a narrative tool seemed ok, until you realize it's a blatant Singtel advertisement. Product placements galore in this movie, ranging from Nokia, to in-your-face New Moon abalone cans, and even the UOB bank.

While the actors put up commendable effort in bringing to life their characters, you can't help but to think you know much of them. They're like characters common in television drama serials, with their melo-dramatic moments. Surprisingly, much of the comedy and satire left in this movie is confined to the 1st third. The remainder of the movie focused on the other 2 children leads as they mix with bad company and ended up being blackmailed. You might think it's absurd given today's savvy kids, but these are things that are happening - savvy kids can also be gullible too. And you'll never expect that it actually turned out to be one heck of a weepy - many sniffles were head amongst the audience, so those with a weak emotional heart, bring along some tissues.

Some might not appreciate that this movie has plenty of sub plots introduced which gets resolved hurriedly, and the length of over 2 hours might make some gawk. There are only certain points in time that you would twiddle your thumbs at the slow moments of the film.

But kudos to Neo for highlighting an important plot running throughout, and it's the strong message to parents that they must always remember they bear primary responsiblity on the upbringing of their children. He seemed to hit the nail on the head in the portrayal of the current family climate, that neglect and the lack of communication are prevailing, which much be stemmed.

Not bad for a commercial film, with a moral of the story that the showing of appreciation is always much lacking in our society, amongst family members, colleagues and even friends. Certainly this movie has legs to be in the running for film awards.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

[DVD] Say Anything (1989)

It's weird, but it has happened. I've been subconsciously borrowing DVDs which has John Cusack starring in them, and this time, it's John Cusack together with one of my favourite storytellers (storyteller, cos he wrote and directed his own films) Cameron Crowe, in Crowe's directorial debut with Say Anything.

From this early work, you can't help but notice the foundations laid for Crowe's later works, with the loads of music incorporated and some moving the narrative forward, and the enjoyable characters he creates - some seem so ordinary, yet so real and special, the idiosyncrasies that have, the quirky situations they're put in, the character development.

Ordinary, identifiable characters have become hallmarks, and in this film, it is no different. Perhaps what made this simple story endear itself, is the chameleon John Cusack. Here, he plays average joe Lloyd Dobler, who has just graduated from high school, but has no big plans for himself in the aftermath. He's at a lost at what to do, but had stunned his cohort by dating the school sweetheart, and the brainiest scholar at that. That unattainable beauty with brains, Diane Court (Ioan Skye), the object of every schmuck's desire.

But then you have her overprotective father who objects to their relationship (don't they always?) and a looming corporate scandal (like NKF's) which questions morality between two different camps of thought. The bigger picture might already seem familiar given that the boy-meets-girl-love-breakup-reconciliation theme has been done to death, but what appeals is the really witty dialogue amongst characters, despite some stuff looking out of date (hey, it's a 1989 movie after all).

The Special Edition Code 1 DVD comes with so many extras, check this - 13 extended scenes (those shortened to speed up the pace, so it's included here instead), 10 deleted scenes (those that didn't make the final cut, which explained in more detail certain subplots like the corporate scandal cum investigation), and 5 alternate scenes. There's also an audio commentary by Crowe, Cusack and Skye, as well as the theatrical trailers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Le Grand Voyage

You'd think you're in for some serious sightseeing when the premise of the movie takes place primarily between two characters as they travel 3000 miles or so from France to Saudi Arabia, going through most of Europe - Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, before arriving in the Middle East. But this is not a tour, and there are no stopovers for soaking in the sights.

Reda's father is in his twilight years, and wishes to do the Haj. However, since walking and taking the mule is out of the question, he chooses to travel to Mecca by car. He can't drive, and therefore enlists the help of Reda, to his son's protest, to get him there in their broken down vehicle.

But Reda doesn't see the point of having him go along, when his dad could opt for the plane. He resents the idea of having put his personal life on hold for this pilgrimage he couldn't understand. And hence, we set off in this arduous journey with father and son, being not the best of pals.

The beauty of this movie is to witness the development of the father and son pair, the challenges they face, the weird people they meet, having to duke it out in varied weather conditions, and alternating rest stops between motels and sleeping in the car. We see an obvious generation gap in them trying to communicate to each other, the father trying to impose on his son, and the son trying to assert himself as an adult, but circumstances we see, reveal that Reda is quite a fish out of water. Through the many encounters, they actually team up quite well despite their differences.

It's perhaps quite apt to have this film released here last week to coincide with Hari Raya Haji, and having the opportunity to watch our protagonists join the other pilgrims in their Haj. The final scene in Mecca is truly a sight to behold, and you too would feel the claustraphobia and fear as Reda tries to hunt down his dad amongst the thousands of people congregating. The sights of Europe were perhaps deliberately not dwelled upon, so as to build up the anticipation of and focus on the final destination.

It certainly rang home the thought of telling and showing loved ones how much you appreciate them for who they are. Don't miss this, and yes, book early - I was pleasantly surprised that this evening's session was still a full house.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Walk the Line

How uncanny. Today is the day that Walk the Line won big at the Golden Globes, winning Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy, as well as snagging the Best Actor and Actress - Musical/Comedy for both Joaquin Phoenix and Resse Whiterspoon. Today is also the day that I attended my first GV Surprise Screening, and Walk the Line was shown.

You've got Elvis, and you've got Johnny Cash. Walk the Line chronicles the life of country music legend John R. Cash, who performed alongside other music legends like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. It also tells of the struggles of one man's determination to make music his life, the reliance and subsequent battle against drugs, and looks into his various relationships. Sound familiar?

Of course it does. Walk the Line is in 2005 (locally 2006) what Ray was in 2004 (locally 2005). I know it's probably unfair at making the comparison, given that both musicians' music are so different. But the way the narrative is structured for Walk the Line, resembled that of Ray's quite a bit, that you might think you know what would go next when you substitute Jamie Foxx with Joaquin Phoenix. Both had to pick up music, both won nods for their accurate portrayals, and both had to sing in their actual voice. Drawing parallels, we see how both draw inspiration from their life encounters and encompass them into musical lyrics, how stardom grew in their heads, how succumbing to drugs screwed everthing up, and how they harness creativity in making comebacks.

While Ray was a more personal look into Ray Charles' extraordinary career, Walk the Line seemed to have tried to cover more ground, but somewhat loses its focus occassionally. Too many subplots just got tied up at the end without much detailed exploration, like the strained relation between Johnny and his father (played so stoically by Robert Patrick), whom the former is blamed for the death of his beloved brother, or the struggles June Carter (Resse Whiterspoon) has to face being a divorcee in days were marriage is sacred. Equally glossed over too is the matrimony development and deterioration between John and his wife Vivian - we know he loves her and managed to provide her material needs, but all she longed for is his presence. Sigh, sometimes you can't have the cake and eat it too. He works hard to build up his career (therefore spending a lot of time on the road), and can't seem to juggle and find the work-life balance.

Where does Resse come into all this you say? She plays his best friend and fellow performer on the road, June Carter. It's like the third (married) party coming into the life of a lonely married man giving in to temptation. She tried her darndest best to reject Johnny, but ultimately caved in to his persistence.

But both of them, when paired up on screen singing their songs, have the exact same power as Ray's in having you tap/sing/groove along to the tunes. Their chemistry is a delight to watch. If you're not too acquainted with Cash's music, this is as good an opportunity to do so. Until the drugs rear their ugly head and the tunes just stopped while he undergoes some soul-searching rehabilitation. A pity that his comeback at recording live at Folsom Prison, was too short, otherwise it would have been a really good way to cap it all off.

It's a good film nonetheless, though I felt that those who have watched Ray might have sensed a deja-vu.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pride and Prejudice

I'd say I must thank Heavens for bestowing upon me, a second chance to finally watch the most excellent Keira Knightley version of the timeless Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice.

Most of you would already be acquainted with the rich story about the sweet romance amongst the wonderfully beautiful Bennet sisters, in age old England. But this movie, in my most humble opinion, tended to place focus on the love between Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), and between Jane Bennet (Bond girl Rosamund Pike) and Mr Bingley (Simon Woods), allowing us audiences to witness folk dances while they tease each other.

And we also bear testament to the challenges of love in those days, where manners maketh a person, and prim and properness the order of the day. With gentle bows and curtsies, we learn of Elizabeth's rebellious streak to break all norms, and the lessons everyone can take home, in not judging a book by its cover.

It makes you count your lucky stars (or do we?) about how we approach relationships these days, although some things, like the second guessings, and the waiting games we people play, seem to continue its stickiness like glue. Class and prestige make marriages like a business alliance more than that of love, and with age, makes some like a matter of convenience.

Supported by an experienced veteran cast of Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench, the lovely Keira is up for a couple of awards for her role as Elizabeth, and I'd say, give them to her. Bravo! Her performance was most delightful, and brought to life a range of emotions that you cannot deny make this role hers. Matthew Macfadyen too holds his own opposite Ms Knightley, with his Mr Darcy so pompous, and yet so gentlemanly.

Oh, I haven't read the classic (please pardon me on admitting to this most unforgivable sin), but for what it's worth as a movie, it's jolly good entertainment, coupled with a fair bit of eye candy. Though I did hope that the movie did have more time to explore in depth, some of its rushed subplots.

(P.S. I know the review reads weird, but heck, after 2 hours of that accent and language, it gets to you. Ha! And yes, I know it isn't perfect too)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

[DVD] Ronin (1998)

I have a good friend who's been raving about how good this film is, and it took me actually this long to watch it. At its time, I suppose the plot's intriguing, with betrayals being the only constant in a complex cat and mouse game in the streets of France.

Robert De Niro plays Sam, a mercenary who joins a band of merry men of various shady background in a mission to grab a metal briefcase from a group of heavily armed men. Amongst the team are various ex-secret agency folks, like Vincent (Jean Reno), Spence (Sean Bean), Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) and Larry (Skipp Sudduth). Will too many crooks spoil the broth?

It plays out like the first Mission Impossible movie in its level of sophistication and mission preparation, although this movie has loads of gunplay, and the best part, the car chases. It's BMWs, Peugeots, Mercedez, continental cars of various makes, making slick maneuvers through narrow streets and along busy highways. Definitely top notch work, without the use of digital technology, but relying on good old stunt driving.

The plot might be confusing for some, so my advice is keep your eyes and ears really peeled to what's going on screen. Before you can say "Betrayal", it's double and sometimes triple crossings between characters aligning themselves with their various factions, and of supporting characters from CIA, KGB, IRA all working towards obtaining that steel briefcase, whose contents are never revealed.

Robert De Niro and Jean Reno pair off really well as strangers forced to work together amidst a world of lies and deceit, and bring about certain flair to their roles and camaraderie. It's an interesting film, a little dated, but exciting enough nonetheless.

Code 1 DVD contains an alternate ending.

[DVD] I Not Stupid (2002)

OK, I admit that the reason why I'm watching this - it's homework for the upcoming sequel which I intend to watch when it's released in the local theatres. Therefore I needed to be acquainted with the source material other than bits and pieces from the extended television serial.

Jack Neo has made movies which have been box-office successes locally, grossing millions, starting with the very popular, but very raw, Money No Enough. It captured the attention and appealed to the heartlanders, who gave him a resounding vote of confidence at the box office. Following that are many social dramadies like That One No Enough, Liang Po Po, and the likes.

But perhaps none struck the chord so closely, as that jab at the typical Singaporean kiasu-parents, school administrators who are fearful of their rankings, the much criticized EM1-2-3 streaming in primary schools, and the introduction of perceived foreign talent on our shores.

And that's what I Not Stupid is about, and more. Compared to his previous movies, I Not Stupid has matured in refining its story telling techniques, having social issues subtly weaved into its dialogue, and giving the audience the ability to draw chuckles out of caricatures of the government in its characters (Selena Tan as the big-momma, dressed in all white, all the time, anyone?)

The casting also took some major changes, without having J-Team members as lead characters here. The 3 child leads did quite ok, given that they have veterans actors as their parents helped a lot too.

The plot did seem to wear on as it seemed to drag to make it 2 hours, which contributed to quite a bit of plot holes. Also, some subplots seemed unnecessary too, or if retained in the film, wasn't succinct to the point, like the kidnapping subplot.

However, if you've been following Jack Neo's movies, then it is marked improvement. The jokes are less slapstick, though it was kinda strange to have characters telling jokes, and everyone around laughing. Not that it was bad, just quite unnaturally acted.

So am I ready for I Not Stupid Too? Frankly, yes. Though the trailer did not reveal too much except for the public caning scene, I'm silently geared up for more social issues being taken to the stand, and awaiting to see how Jack Neo spins them together for another ride.

Special Edition Code 3 DVD contains 2 music videos from the movie, song lyrics, packaged into a pictorial book containing the synopsis and cast and crew interviews and biographies.

[DVD] John Q (2002)

John Q is your everyday man, the blue collar worker with lots of debts to pay. The kind in which Banks don't hesitate to send the repo man over for a default non payment. The kind whose up late at night trying to work out his sums and play it right. In short, a typical average family person with typical family problems.

However, things turn for the worse when his only child Mike requires an urgent heart transplant to save his life. Sure, not that hearts are easy to come by (trust Hollywood to make it within an hour or so), but the bottomline is, John has no money to pay for the whopping 250,000 dollars surgery.

Which brings us to something real - medical costs, wherever you are, is always spiralling upwards. While hospitals and their doctors make millions, how many are willing (or able to?) work around the administration to perform a life-saving operation, for free, or a nominal sum. Don't get me wrong, it's difficult to be "free", because everyone will take; it's human tendency. But it does raise some questions as you sit through this movie.

Ah, the insurance companies get another stab at being unscrupulous as well. Downgrading and changing John's policy without his knowledge, isn't really ethical. But it's always about business, and with businesses, it's again about the bottomline. John Q tries all avenues to raise funds, and gets caught in red tape aplenty.

So when faced with a wall behind his back, John Q finally snaps and decides to take matters into his own hands. By holding a host of characters - the surgeon (James Woods), a security guard, a pregnant woman, a rich yuppie couple, etc, while being made into the local hero by the media, and those who had enough of red tape. It's somewhat satisfying to watch on screen how favours are swung his way, and how incredibly lucky he can get, as John negotiates with Police Negotiator Frank, played by veteran Robert Duvall.

It's compelling drama, by Denzel Washington no less. Completing the cast are Ray Liotta as the police chief who screws up a rescue attempt, and Anne Heche as the uncompromising, cold hospital administrator. But towards the end it degenerates into typical Hollywood fare - entertaining, but lacking serious punch to make a statement on topics it highlighted in the first act.

Barebones Code 3 DVD with no extras.

Memoirs of a Geisha

It's been a long wait for the movie to come to our shores, and I'd tell you it's all well worth it. Having touted many directors' involvement with this project (like Steven Spielberg, who's now producer), Rob Marshall finally got chosen to helm Arthur Golden's bestseller. And having an all recognizable Asian cast to shoulder this Hollywood production, is an achievement in itself in my opinion.

To the detractors who were up in arms over the casting of non-Japanese actresses as the leads, what's up with you? Sure they're not natives from the land of the rising sun, but bear in mind this is a Hollywood production, and it's all about the business too. Having actresses that the West are not familiar with, is like taking too huge a gamble. So we have Zhang Ziyi as the protagonist, whom a number would be familiar after her turn out in the caper Rush Hour 2, as with Michelle Yeoh with her stint as a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies. Gong Li would be familiar to those in the art house circuit with Wong Kar Wai's 2046 making its rounds. We do have Japanese in the movie, though mainly the male leads like Ken Watanabe (after a dismal appearance in summer blockbuster Batman Begins) and Cary-Hiroyuki "Mortal Kombat" Tagawa.

And it's indeed commendable effort from the actresses fronting the movie, having to learn and be convincing in the age old culture of the Geishas. There's another camp who're lobbying that the film is not accurate. Hello, this is a movie, based on a fictional novel. You want accuracy, go watch a documentary or something. Perhaps the only thing I found peculiar was the addition of the English subtitles, as if the Asians cannot speak properly and audiences need help to decipher their accented English?

Zhang Ziyi plays Chiyo/Sayuri, the daughter of a fisherman who got sold away as a young girl to a Geisha house. It's the usual rags-to-fame storyline, where rookie gets bullied, endures hardship, and one day, with a bit of luck, gets the opportunity to become one of the most famous in their profession of choice. And indeed the strength lay in Ziyi Zhang's competence in pulling off this coup, acting opposite 2 other accomplished actresses.

Gong Li plays Hatsumomo, a famous Geisha in her time, by with a wild, arrogant streak in her. She feels threatened by the arrival of the young girl Chiyo, and goes all out to frame and make life difficult for her. From the start, you know that these two characters have hatred running through their veins. It's interesting to see Ziyi and Li pair up - 2046 doesn't count as they didn't share scenes together. Both were once director's Zhang Yimou's muses, with Ziyi touted as the new Gong Li when she emerged from the scene. They do share some similar facial features, and it's somewhat strangely satisfying watching their cat-fights on screen, as if it's a wicked tale of Celebrity Deathmatch.

Michelle Yeoh plays Mameha, another famous Geisha in her time, and here, she takes on a more mature role, developing a mentor-protege relationship with Chiyo/Sayuri. Mameha teaches and refines Chiyo, and orchestrates her, if I may use the word, career of Sayuri. From the onset, Mameha has big plans for Sayuri, and we see the politicking side of the world of the Geisha, of becoming famous, of crafting a reputation, and the deft plotting that one must adept to in order to survive in the dog-eat-dog business world. Michelle and Ziyi paired off in Lee Ang's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as adversaries, and probably had memorable scenes together when fighting off each other in the rooftop and teahouse battles. Here, they go to the other side of the spectrum in becoming "sisters" as they coordinate to outwit, outplay and outlast Hatsumomo.

The most interesting would probably be the second act where we witness the meteoric rise of Sayuri. We are introduced proper into the complex Geisha life of rules and protocols, accompanied by the brilliant score of John Williams' and with Yo-Yo Ma on the cellos. The beautiful costumes and rich sets also become testament that the filmmakers spare no effort in bringing Kyoto, and the world of the Geisha, to life.

Perhaps the third act of the film, set after World War II, was the weakest of the three, as it seemed rushed to achieve closure for the romance between Sayuri and the Chairman (Ken Watanabe). It's a love that cannot be expressed freely, although one which had started from an infatuation, from respect, and became an obsessive fuel to become the best. With face and reputation at stake, it's truthfully sad that this is no period Pretty Woman. Perhaps the only uplifting moment in the third act, is the unexpected twist of betrayal, that you'll never see that patient stab in the back until it is too late.

It's a beautifully complex movie, and I'm amazed by how much can be weaved into what is seemingly a straightforward plot. This movie might give non-readers an excuse to pick up the book to learn more and dwell deeper into the psyche of the characters. But first, be enthralled by the movie, a must-watch this January.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Long Weekend

Feel like in the mood for some gross out jokes, beautiful chicks and lotsa fake boobies? Then The Long Weekend might just be your movie of choice this err.. weekend!

Don't say I didn't warn you! You can check out my review of the movie at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below


I could begin by telling you that Proof is this year's A Beautiful Mind, but it is going to be difficult to prove that this movie is as good as the Oscar winning film, so I shall attempt to prove that it's not bad.

Anyway, mathematicians might rejoice that here's another movie which celebrates mathematics, and the rigours involved in the scientific methods to proof something, be it a hypothesis, equation, or theorem. Yes, although it trivializes and makes it look like it could be thought of in an instant, it still provided enough tension to make it look hip.

Based upon an award winning play written by David Auburn, Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Catherine which she played in the West End stage version. A daughter of a brilliant mathematician played by the fuddly-duddly Anthony Hopkins, we see that she's on the verge of insanity as she imagines talking to her recently deceased father. She fears that she is threading along the same path of madness as her father, since both had been rather reclusive in her bid to care for him.

There are many heart-warming moments between father and daughter, as he flits between sanity and insanity, but ever providing her that strength in challenging herself, to not throw her life away, providing that bit of extra in believing in herself.

Some may have experienced, in one way of another, the sacrifices children make to care for their aged, sick parents. How many would drop everything just to nurse their loved one back to health, or to accompany them in their twilight? Contrasting Catherine's character is her sister Claire (Hope Davis), one whom those in the same situation, might be able to see in some other sibling (hopefully not) - the one who's giving the excuse that they're too far away, with mounting work, the one who pays just lip service. And of those perceived friends who turn up at your funeral to celebrate what was, a long time ago, as they have shunned you when you were sick.

This film isn't just about maths, but it's chock full of human drama and emotions. Playing a fellow geek is Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal, who falls in love with his idol's daughter. However, this love is put to the test under her suspect conditions, as well as a notebook which contains a certain proof that neither he, nor Claire, believe is the work of Catherine. The heart-wrenching moments of not having your loved one believe and trust you, it's all there. Though I kinda liked that claim Catherine made about being better than Hal, about being more gifted and about him being unable to accept the reality that a non-graduate could produce ground-breaking work that most graduate students can't even understand.

Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't have a platform to showcase his acting chops (save that for Brokeback Mountain), as this film is primarily Gwyneth Paltrow's stage, and she portrays Catherine with grace, a tinge of madness, and vulnerability. Her scenes with veteran Anthony Hopkins are the highlights in my opinion, though I thought it wasn't much of a challenge for Hopkins anyway, by just being there.

The narrative at times in the beginning really feels like you're watching a play, with the dialogue having a very play-like slant about it. Then again, it managed to adapt well into the moving pictures medium. The difficult part, for some, might be the transitions between time that seem to have the effect of losing the audience, or at least, I had some moments before realizing that it's oh-back-in-time-oh-now-current-time. However, the way the narrative is juxtaposed in this manner allowed a "whodunnit" to be weaved, as we slowly discover the secrets behind that notebook containing that geeky-land-shattering proof.

Is there a thin line that separates madness and genius? Perhaps. Sometimes it takes a madman to break boundaries and go for the seemingly impossible. If you don't believe me, then you'll have to see Proof for yourself. What seemed to have screamed out at me, is a reminder of what an old soldier told our platoon of privates once - don't let others look down you (sic), you do not look down yourself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story

The premise of this movie is so similar to 2003's Seabiscuit, you'd think you're watching yet another biography of a real horse in some extraordinary, inspiring film that might just make you want to head down to the nearest race course and observe a real race.

But Dreamer (or Sonador as the horse is named) takes a slightly different angle in this tale about second chances and comebacks. If compared to Seabiscuit, yes, we have a horse with great potential faced with the troubles of breaking a leg during a competitive race. As with all race horses, this means instant death, as they have no future value, and are bred for the sole purpose of racing.

We also have a superb trainer, Ben Crane, played by Kurt Russell, and the doctor (Holmes Osborne), the written-off jockey (Freddy Rodriguez), the stablehand (Luis Guzman), etc. But here's where the similarities end. Dreamer is a more personal film, with family friendly characters, like the daughter (Dakota Fanning), the wife (Elizabeth Shue), and the grandfather (Kris Kristofferson). Nursing the horse back to health had actually brought the family closer together, and that in itself makes this film quite cliche in its many "been-there-done-that" before moments to touch.

Dakota Fanning has held her own against "father-figure" heavyweights like Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, and Tom Cruise, though many would have pointed out that she had rivaled Naomi Watts for the 2005 Scream Queen honours with her performance in War of the Worlds. Here, Fanning has returned to more credible acting, albeit in a safer role.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, is a heartwarming tale about believing in oneself, having dreams, believing that you can achieve, and take action to achieve those dreams. While watching the movie, I can't help but chuckle at the parallels in seeing how my team and I are sticking together, just like those characters, in wanting to see our dream of making a short film, and entering it into competitions (in this case, the Breeder's Cup) come to a reality.

It's that kind of film, an inspiring one. It might be cliched, the premise might be too good to be true, but hey, success might come to those who dare to dream, believe, and more importantly, do.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

[DVD] The Virgin Suicides (1999)

This film was Sofia Coppola's feature film directorial debut, based upon the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. It's actually a sad tale recounting the lives of five sisters, as perceived by a group of teenage boys who admire them from afar.

The Lisbon sisters (from youngest to oldest, starting from 13 years and each a year apart) - Cecilia (Hanna Hall), Lux (the recognizable Kirsten Dunst), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese, live an extremely sheltered and protective life from their parents, played by James Woods and Katheleen Turner.

The beginning is quite abrupt with the death (an apparent suicide) of youngest daughter Cecilia, impaled by the garden fence. The town is shocked, but somehow, as the boys observed, the other sisters seemed to take it in their stride. These boys serve as eyewitnesses to a tale of their own fantasy of befriending the sisters, as they dream of taking them out on road trips, to the outside world.

However, one other boy did make contact and succeeded, with his own group of friends, to get the girls out to the Homecoming. Played by Josh Hartnett, the coolest guy in school, Trip Fontaine, however suave he might be, turns out to be a marijuana smoking jock who's only for a session of "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am". When Lux fails to return home together with her sisters (she was making out in the middle of a field), Mr and Mrs Lisbon go ballistic, and confined the girls in their home, like prisoners in their cells.

As the younger boys engage in a series of voyeuristic observations, and eventually establishes contact with the Lisbon sisters, it's a case of too little, too late. They try to rationalize, account for, and piece together the events of that faithful night, but could not come to a satisfactory conclusion.

And that's where some might find this film wanting, with some subplots never fully explained, or shown on screen. But that's the way the narrative is, from the flawed memories of young boys who never fully understood the events, nor are close to the girls enough to know their thoughts and dreams. They can only speculate, and fantasize, and that's about it.

The visuals are kept simple, but made an impact nonetheless with the sisters' deaths (ok, with a title like that, you don't think they make it out alive, do you?). Plenty of soulful music make up the soundtrack, but none more meaningful that the haunting sounds of Playground LOve.

While the film might have taken a pot shot at unreasonable and strict parental upbringing, it didn't evoke enough strength to see it through beyond mere suggestion. But for what it is, this movie is intriguing, though it poses quite a bit of questions on what could have happened.

Code 1 DVD contains the theatrical trailer, a making of featurette, a photo gallery and a music video.

[DVD] 9/11 (2002)

It's true that you always remember what you were doing at a point when disaster or tragedy strikes. And none more so that September 11, 2001, a date which changed the entire global landscape in its fight against terrorism.

No, this documentary didn't set out to be dwelling on the events leading to 9/11. Rather, the filmmakers, brothers Gédéon and Jules Naudet, set out to do a documentary on the trials and tribulations of a rookie New York firefighter. They had gone to the academy and done some shoots of training, and had handpicked their "proby" (probation firefighter) to join them in an NY firehouse, home to Ladder 1 and Engine 7. But their production was to develop and contain at that time, believed to be the only shot of the first plane slamming into the World Trace Center.

I was travelling back with a friend on the train from a night of LAN gaming, and received a call at about 850pm local time from my Dad, who informed me of the above. Few minutes later, he told me there was another, and that the WTC was under attack. By the time I arrived home, the upper floors of the twin towers were ablaze and in smoke, and to my horror, they collapsed, under an hour.

The filmmakers had two cameras running that day, one who had followed a team out on a routine call, and which immediately raced to the WTC upon hearing and seeing the plane crash into it. We follow what is possible the only filmed sequence of events in the lobby of WTC1 where the first responders of firefighters, paramedics, and police had to make sense of what happened, and to quickly develop a plan of action. The other camera, held by the other brother, was making his way to WTC to look for his sibling, and along the journey, captured the many expressions of New Yorkers, as well as the sense of chaos in and around Manhatten.

Peppered throughout the documentary are numerous interviews with the men from Ladder 1 and Engine 7, which miraculously, did not suffer any casualty. But being survivors also brought about its own set of psychological turmoil, as they struggle to come to terms with the event. Through the events that unfold, we learn of the strong camaraderie amongst these men who risk live and limb each day on their jobs, to save lives.

We began with what the documentary was supposed to be, before events of the day totally swung in and became the focus, right up to the rescue phase where hopes of finding survivors under the rubble were kept alive by the men who work round the clock in making sense of the collapsed steel structures. It's not a film that is fabricated, and what you see here cannot be recreated in any other documentary (and heavens, not soundstages for Hollywood blockbusters). It's as close as you can get to that day, witnessing the event up close, from safety.

Code 1 DVD contains a separate extra hour of 4 sets of interviews with the men of Ladder 1 and Engine 7.

[DVD] Pi (1998)

Darren Aronofsky shot to prominence with this relatively low budgeted movie which looks like it has a million dollars ploughed into its production. It's inspiring to see how this black and white film dwells on science fiction so effortlessly, given its very simple plot.

Long time Aronofsky collaborator Sean Gullette plays Max Cohen, a mathematician who's looking for patterns amidst chaos. He is determined to predict and look for patterns in stock markets, and comes dangerously close to a solution until his computer Euclid, breaks down. During his quest to uncover and recover what Euclid produced before it broke down, he comes across a religious Kabbalah cult, as well as a pesky banker, who is more than meets the eye.

Those with a slight interest in mathematics might also get a kick out of watching how maths can feature and get filmed stylistically in a film like this. Like the Fibbonacci sequence, and how the Kabbalah texts can be represented by numbers. Some numerology also makes its way into the narrative. It's interesting to note how a simple story is able to accomodate these various subplots with ease, and how they all are brought together to make it visually arresting.

The cast is relatively small, and much hinges on Gullette's portrayal as a lonely, and sick man who's bordering on the edge of madness (don't most geniuses?). Most of the supporting characters are played by family and friend\s of the filmmakers too.

Accompanied by a great soundtrack, this Code 1 DVD also comes with plenty of extras, like deleted scenes, separate audio commentaries by Aronofsky and Gullette, production notes, trailers and a music video. It is substance combined with style.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

[DVD] The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Identity theft has in recent times become a concern, with so much of your personal information made available online, it's relatively easy for someone else, to be you. Someone could probably learn about your name, your banking account, the school you went to, and so on.

And that's the premise of The Talented Mr Ripley, minus the technology. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a professional leech. He has the uncanny ability to remember minute details that get dropped off here and there, and has the charisma and confidence to assume your identity and pass it off. He's a master impersonator and forger too, skills in which an identity thief will find essential in siphoning funds from your accounts, or write letters and sign them off as yours.

By chance, he meets a shipping magnate, Herbert Greenleaf, and he's tasked with getting Greenleaf's good for nothing son, Dickie (Jude Law), back to the US. Dickie's been living the good life with fiance Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Italy, and as Tom gets to interact with the rich folks, he begins to enjoy the high life as well.

Living it off, eating well, visiting jazz clubs, sailing on a yacht. Dickie's lifestyle seduces Tom, and the latter offers to be a "double agent" for Dickie. That is, until things spin out of control, and he unwittingly slaughters Dickie.

Which of course gives him the best opportunity to assume Dickie's life, while at the same time, eluding the authorities, and from those who know Dickie intimately. It's interesting to see how Tom squirms his way through various situations, as each lie led to bigger lies to tell and cover up. But it doesn't degenerate into a "whodunit", rather this movie is rather dark in tone as it progresses.

Matt Damon totally rules in this one. We're accustomed to his Bourne roles, as well as the sidekick roles in various movies. Here, he plays a schizophrenic psycho to great effect, outshining everyone else. Jude Law's role as Dickie was kinda short, and doesn't showcase much of Law's acting abilities, I thought that the story might offer Dickie some sort of comeback to avenge what Tom did to him, but sadly, it did not. Gwyneth Paltrow didn't had much to do here, kind of like her role in Se7en. Cate Blanchett appears as a minor character Meredith Logue, the first person whom Tom impersonates Dickie to.

Unknowing to me, this film does have homoerotic undertones, in Tom's relationship with Dickie (or what he actually suggests), and Tom's relationship with Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport).

Unfortunately, this Code 1 DVD is also the barebones version. Would have loved to hear the director's commentary on this movie.

[DVD] Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

I've keeping my run of John Cusack movies with each trip to the library. Not that I'm on the lookout for his old movies deliberately, it just happens. Not that I'm complaining, but he's always been one of the few who play characters so diverse, it's almost impossible to stereotype him. He's fast becoming one of my favourite actors, besides Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington, amongst others.

School reunions are one of those social events that you either love, or loathe. If you're a somebody back then, and are sort of somebody right now, it presents to you an opportunity to brag about it. If you're cruising along fine, then you're probably curious about how others are doing, and want to take stock. If you're a nobody then, or now, then you'll probably not want to attend at all.

John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a professional hitman whose at the crossroads of that decision. 10 years ago, he abandoned his date for the prom, and never made contact ever since. Also, he's wondering how he could possibly tell anyone about his current profession. He's also finding that life is becoming meaningless, and is seeking for something to lift him up from the doldrums.

His secretary (played by real life sister Joan Cusack - there are a total of 4 Cusack siblings in this movie) arranges a perfect opportunity for him to mesh work and play, and packs him off back to Grosse Pointe. Naturally he seeks out his old flame Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), and tries his best to make amends by offering to go to the reunion with her.

However, his nemesis and hitman rival Grocer, played to hiliarity by Dan Ackroyd, is pissed at Blank for not wanting to join up in his union, and he wants to bump Blank off. He's provided with some of the best dialogue, and banters with Cusack so well, you just beg for more of their scenes together.

It's a quirky movie (aren't most of Cusack's movies) which is thoroughly enjoyable with its excellent selection of songs, wonerful dialogue, and delightful action toward the end. Watch out too for a short appearance by Jenna Elfman!

The Code 1 DVD is nothing to shout about - the barebones version.

Green Street Hooligans

You've seen them on television, and you've read about them in the news. Europe is particularly aware of folks who travel for football games amongst neighbouring countries, only to have them create trouble or duke it out with the locals or one another, if the results don't go their way.

While 2005 had a look at professional Premiership football with the movie Goal!, it's time the cameras took a look too at the supporters of the game. Not just any plain old armchair supporters, but really passionate ones, who live, breathe and eat football, and bond together to form Firms (i.e. gangs). Similar to mafias, triads, what-have-yous, Firms thrive on reputation. The bigger the stunt, or the fight, the bigger the reputation gets spread. And it's usually (as explained in the movie, though of course, in better light for West Ham United) the better teams having weaker Firms. I'd like that acknowledgement that Arsenal is the better footballing team, but having a terribly weak Firm, while Spurs are poor in both haha! We also learn what irks the Firms most, besides rival Firms.

Elijah Wood plays Matt Buckner, a Harvard journalism dropout for a misdemeanour he did not commit. He flies to London to meet up with his sister, and gets introduced to his brother-in-law's brother (duh) Pete Dunham. Pete's the head honcho of the Green Street Elite (GSE), the Firm of West Ham United, and I'd like the beginning of their budding relationship where Pete educates Matt on aspects of football (not soccer, mind you). The pot-shots at UK-US relations are hilarious, as we see Matt get introduced to the other core members of GSE. Of course him being a Yank doesn't endear him to GSE, but they're willing to overlook the point and give the rookie a chance to prove himself since he's brought in by Pete.

We only have one football match to watch (ala Goal!), as the rest of the movie focuses on Matt's transformation from wide-eyed newbie, to mean fighting machine. Elijah Wood didn't have much of a difficult job to do, as all he did was to continuously wear that scowl on his face for the second half of the movie. And it actually degenerates into some sort of UK-football version of Fight Club, where members of rival Firms whack the living daylights out of one another to prove their point. Perhaps co-star Charlie Hunnam did a better job as Pete, ringing home his performance as a leader, and a surrogate big brother.

The plot, to me, was engaging material, though it came with some predictable subplots like betrayals. It tries to make the point that violence begets violence, but doesn't offer any suggestions otherwise, because fanaticism in football is real and continuing issue that might seem to mar the sport. Some might deem this movie as romanticizing hooliganism, but it tried to balance those attempts by having a major character (pardon the pun) rationalize and play the devil's advocate.

I'm not sure why we had to rename this movie locally to "Football Hooligans". I know Green Street Hooligans might make some go Huh? But this is the internet age, where information is at the tip of your fingers, and all you have to do, is just to google it, or go visit (not as if I'm promoting it, but yeah, common sense). It's one thing having movies renamed worldwide (like Danny the Dog aka Unleashed), and another having a fiasco like "The Spy Who Shioked Me".

It's an interesting movie, with grand themes about not letting your buddies down, and for standing firm in what you believe in. Though the premise is controversial (brutal gang fights and all), it did seem like you're watching an updated, Caucasian remake of movies like A Better Tomorrow and Prison On Fire. Just remember to keep whatever inert tempers in check after leaving the theatre.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

LSRS2 - Production Log #5: About What Ah?

"The basic theme is about friendship...

We know... despite... ability... strengthen... but... small...

Contrast... But... lacks... footsoldiers.

... gained... not let... down."

Haha, I feel like JK Rowling...

LSRS2 - Production Log #4: Locations

Did some scouting for a choice location, probably narrowed down to one, for the facilities it offered

1. Near makan (air con food court, fast food, coffeeshop, and hawker center)
2. Near a place to buy drinks / snacks (7-11 nearby)
3. Near toilet facilities (once rated the cleanest in Singapore)
4. Near MRT
5. Relatively quiet

But we're invited for a weeekend gathering next week, which might provide us as an alternative place for location shoots.

Gotta get it right, otherwise continuity will haunt us again :-)

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Before I begin, I confess that I am a Cameron Crowe fan, having seen most of his movies, which I enjoyed, and having met and spoken to him during his Vanilla Sky premiere in Singapore back in late 2001 (with Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz in attendance as well). So you might think that this review is biased, that I'm gonna praise this movie sky high. Fact is, I will, only because it's an enjoyable film, with many fascinating facets to it, and one which made me ponder through the points presented throughout.

While most critics (pah! what do they know?) panned this movie, and I think many here might not like it too (groupies of Orlando Bloom don't count) and I'd like to speculate why. It might be because of the many little disjointed subplots that this movie actually contains. There's not really a main theme, but many small ones. No one big idea, but many little ones. But that is Life, isn't it? So many non-linear events happening around us all the time, some making sense now, some don't, some perhaps later, others none at all.

But that in essence is what this movie is all about. It's about the discovery of oneself, about the celebration of life, even in death. It's also about the concept of failure, that it is definitely not the end of the world, that if faced with defeat, to take all 5 minutes to wallow and whine, then move on, because the world is not going to take pity on you.

It's about letting go of inhibitions, and living life as it should be lived, as you would like to live it. But Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) certainly doesn't begin as such. He's a shoe designer whose latest model bombed in the market, and is faced with a fiasco which cost the company close to one billion dollars in losses. His is a life of perceived success, until his world came crashing down and he contemplates ending it.

But news about his father's death interrupted his own plans to die, and he's tasked with the responsibility of cremating his father's remains to bring back to his family in Orlando. However, his father's extended family and relatives have plans to bury him, and herein lies his dilemma - how to drive home the point that they should respect his family's wishes, even though his father Mitch was many things to many different people, and they remembered him in their own unique way.

Through the interaction with these relatives, he learns more about his father than what he already thought he knew. Similar to In Her Shoes where the character in question rarely or never takes up screen time, we learn so much of a person through dialogue, and many eulogies given, some comical of course.

Which is similar to other Crowe movies, the injection of wry humour, great music and many quirky characters which add colour to the plot. And one such character, which I think most would love to hate, would be Claire Colburn, played by Kirsten Dunst.

Here's one character with so much optimism, you'd think it's too good to be true. She contrasts the pessimism in Drew with her positive attitude, and many might think the road trip finale is one that might be stretching credibility. But hey, she's demonstrating the idea of living life with passion, and going after what she wants, never dwelling on the what ifs and of course, never letting the fear of failure get in the way. She brings about a new dimension to what we seen in Drew, with his plans to die cast in stone, and what we see in the many compromises between Drew's extended family. She's Spontaneity, the kind who would light up any party with life and exuberance.

The finale too hokey? Well, I've had my fair share of crazy/weird things done before, and looking at it in positive light, all it boils down to is meticulous planning, passion, and a dash of luck. Which brings me back to Cameron Crowe again. It reminded me of that particular insane night when it all happened. The road trip, though long, provided what I'd like to call a quick tour of the USofA (it really seemed like it), against a background of choice music. Makes me wanna go on one myself too.

Particularly poignant to me would be the part about family. Drew regretted not having done certain things with his Dad, like postponing their road trip indefinitely. Woke me up to the notion that with mortality, you should never put off things that you plan to do with family. You'll never know when it'll be too late, for regrets.

Much have been said about the two lead's acting, but I'd like to add that I love their portrayals of their respective characters. Bloom and Dunst have great chemistry, which makes their scenes a joy to watch. I thought Susan Sarandon chewed up the screen in her limited screen time as Drew's mom, who initially we thought was going insane when the love of her life passed away, until we realise the immense passion she had for him. Really touching moment, disguised by comedy.

While Vanilla Sky had a relationship concept known as f* buddies, here we're introduced to being Substitute People. Though it's the first time I'm hearing it, the concept's definitely not new, and I guess many would be able to identify such situations in their lives. And think them through.

With so much to offer in a compact 2 hours, Elizabethtown certainly is a complex movie. One which should be enjoyed when you're in a positive state of mind. Definitely a reminder of what our priorities should be, in the hustle and bustle of life.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In Her Shoes

And I've started this year in the theatres with Cameron Diaz! Before you generalize this film as "just another chick flick", check out my review of the movie. It's a heartwarming tale, with solid acting chops from the lead actresses. Definite must watch for the girls, and guys, you'll kick yourself if you miss this one!

Go to my review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

Monday, January 02, 2006

[DVD] True Colors (1991)

This should be my "John Cusack" holiday weekend, with 2 DVDs rented starring the actor. Earlier, I had reviewed one of his earlier works when he was a teenager - Better Off Dead, and here, I'd think it probably is his first role as a slimeball.

John Cusack and James Spader (Sex, Lies and Videotape) play two friends, Peter Burton and Tim Gerrity, from Law School, and chronicles their friendship. They hit it off from a small automobile accident (pardon the pun), and progressed from minor adversaries, to best of friends. Until Peter's ambition gets the better of him, as he aims to become Congressman in 10 years.

From the start, we see a flip side to Peter's goody-two-shoes character. He always has something to hide, and has an ulterior motive to things that he does. He tells little white lies to get his way, and has a seige mentality that it's always him versus Them. He gets envious of Tim's seemingly good life, and coverts Tim's girlfriend Diana, who is the daughter of a Senator. And thus begins the Kane and Abel like story, of betrayals, and counter betrayals between the two men.

Peter gets involved with the mob in his bid to become elected, while Tim, working for the Justice Department, volunteers himself to get the dirt on Peter. It's always about the girl, or is it? And as Tim puts it aptly, only somebody close to you, can do the most damage. They know your secrets, and best of all, they have your trust. It's true though, if you think carefully about it, the best person to ruin you (reputation, etc), is none other than the person you trust the most. Again, looking at the two characters, there is no right or wrong, it all depends on the methods one uses to achieve one's goals.

It's also an interesting look at the shady dealings of politics, of allegiances made because of donations or help to campaign funding, of owing favours to those who voted in favour of you. Things are never that simple, and the mantra shared by both characters are, so long as you don't get caught. It's a 200 year old system that "works".

John Cusack has got this charismatic charm, and in this film, uses it well as he seeks to become a politician (you have to have charisma as you deliver those speeches). James Spader too holds his own, as the naive Tim, who slowly discovers betrayal, and decides to turn the tables against the hunter. Fans of John Cusack, you must catch this!

Code 1 DVD is the bare bones version, aside from the usual audio and scene selections.

[DVD] Angel Eyes (2001)

The only time I remember actually seriously watching a JLo movie, is The Wedding Planner, and that I had no choice since it was the only inflight entertainment movie. Here, she stars opposite the guy better known as playing Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, Jim Caviezel.

In Angel Eyes, Jennifer Lopez plays a Chicago cop Sharon Pogue, who has some anger management issues, as well as date issues (waitaminute, you gotta suspend your disbelief at JLo not managing to snag a date). She comes from a home in which she walked out on, from domestic violence. She doesn't get chummy with family, and her friends are only the work colleagues from the Chicago Police Department.

Jim Caviezel plays Catch, a mysterious man who at first, looks like a stalker as he follows Sharon, only to have him help her apprehend a crook and saving her life in the process. Sharon starts to fall for Catch, and vice versa, but both of them have a past in which they build a wall around, and try as they want to open up to each other, they can't.

However, from the minute go, you'd already have a rough idea of who Catch is, just that the director Luis Mandoki, prefers to stretch that mystery for a tad too long. You know what had happened from the circumstances, and that might irritate you as the movie plods along with the fairly obvious.

And that's what the whole premise is about - 2 people trying to love and find each other, but first, have to let go of their past. Sharon has to make peace with her family, while Catch has to reconcile his, and move on. It's so simple, it makes you want to cry. The acting's deliberate, and there are minor plot points thrown in to spice up the story, but fact is, it isn't working. Perhaps for the sake of finding out exactly what happened to Catch's past life, that you might want to sit through the entire movie.

Code 3 DVD with no frills attached, rent it at your own peril.

[DVD] Better Off Dead (1985)

This movie is so typical of the 1980s teenage comedy classics, like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or Fast Times from Ridgemonth High. It has your typical teenage protagonist, who can be either a complete loser geek, or on the flip side, the coolest dude in school. The plot would typically be about him getting his girl, or trying to win back his girl, against simple odds, in ridiculous madcap situations.

A very young John Cusack plays Lane Meyer, a boy who loses his girl Beth to the school's ski jock Roy, who is the only person alive to ski the K-12. Frustrated by Beth's throwing of their 6 months relationship, Lane tries to commit suicide, only that he becomes unsuccessful in his attempts.

Of course, you cannot keep our good man down, and he slowly rediscovers his self belief and confidence, courtesy of a new romance with French exchange student Monique Junot.

The cast is relatively huge, starting with the Meyer family - a father who can't get proper respect, a kid brother who is the family genius, and a mother who's cooking is of strange colours and can walk around on its own. You also have the loud mouthed neighbour with her overweight son, a nasty diner employer, a wicked and persistent newspaper delivery boy, two Asian brothers who like to race Lane, and of course, Beth and Roy.

The jokes come in hard and fast, and varies from slapstick, to wit. I particularly like the scene where Lane and Beth first met, with the totally insane touching of the nose and ears stemming from reading too much of the opposite sex's body language. You'll probably be able to identify with some of the situations too, the pains of growing up.

In all, Better Off Dead is one of Cusack's early movies, which seem to suggest that he's a master at playing non-conventional characters, as seen from his filmography. Definite must watch for his fans.

Really barebones version of a Code 1 DVD.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006 Singapore Movies

Feature Films

I Not Stupid Too - Jack Neo, Jan
Click here to read my review.

Zodiac: The Race Begins - Edward Fu, Jan
Click here to read my review.

Smell of Rain - Gloria Chee, Feb (Picturehouse Opening FilmFest), Aug (Arts House)

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read the Meet-the-Cast-and-Crew-Session.



Singapore Gaga - Tan Pin Pin, Mar-May

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read a Tan Pin Pin article in Criticine on the journey undertaken to get Singapore GaGa screened

The Art of Flirting - Kan Lume, Apr (19th SIFF)

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read my interview with director Kan Lume.
Click here to read my second review of The Art of Flirting.
Click here to read the proceedings of the screening.

Singapore Dreaming - Colin Goh, Woo Yen Yen, Apr (19th SIFF), Sep (General Release)
** Winner, Montblanc New Screenwriters Award, 54th San Sebastian Film Festival **
**Winner, Best Asian-Middle Eastern Film Award, 20th Tokyo International Film Festival**

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read my second review.
Click here to read an interview with the directors Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, or here to access the interview directly.



Love Story - Kelvin Tong, Apr (19th SIFF, Best Director Award Recipient), May (General Release)

Click here to read my review.


We are Family - Clifton Ko Chi Sum, Jun
Click here to read my review, courtesy of movieXclusive.

Unarmed Combat - Han Yew Kwang, Jun (General Release, Cine.SG Selection)

Click here to read my review.



4:30 - Royston Tan, Apr (19th SIFF), Jun (General Release)

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read an interview with Royston Tan.


S11 - Gilbert Chan & Joshua Chiang, Aug

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read the review co-written with Richard.
Click here to read an interview with the directors Gilbert Chan and Joshua Chiang, or here to access the interview directly.



The High Cost of Living - Leonard Lai, Aug

Click here to read my review.
Click here to read my review at movieXclusive.


Passabe - James Leong, Lynn Lee, Aug (Cine.SG Selection)
Click here to read my review.

A Hero's Journey - Grace Phan, Aug (Cine.SG Selection), Dec (Asian Festival of First Films)
Click here to read my review.

Becoming Royston - Nicholas Chee, Dec (Asian Festival of First Films)

Click here to read my review.


Straight to VCD/DVD

Dragon Eye Congee - Allen Chang
Click here to read my review.
House of Harmony - Marco Serafini
Sorry, Teacher - ?

Cine Singapore

The National Museum will be presenting a celebration of Made-in-Singapore feature films since 1985, screened weekly at its Gallery Theatre.

Tentative Dates are
June 5-18, 21, 28
July 5, 12, 19, 26
Aug 2, 9, 14-27, 30
Sep 6, 13, 20, 27

Good chance to revisit older films like Army Daze, Forever Fever, Medium Rare and the likes, even though I have seen them already.

Here are some of the movies I caught during Cine.SG

Akan Datang... or you can join me by checking out the schedule at Cine.SG!

3rd Singapore Short Cuts

Click here for the 2nd week's shorts and proceedings.
Click here for the 3rd week's shorts and proceedings.
Click here for the 4th week's shorts and proceedings.
No Day Off (40 min short) - Eric Khoo (4th Week Highlight)

Made in Singapore Shorts Found on YouTube - As compiled by dgital

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