Sunday, April 30, 2006

[SIFF'06] Noriko's Dinner Table

This Japanese film is my closing film for this year's SIFF. It tells of a compelling family story, where "safe" is boring, and a child is off looking for that spark in life to spice things up. Turning her back to her family, Noriko makes her way to Tokyo to look up her internet friends, friends she came to know through an online forum. At first everything seems puzzling, until she realize that they are all "actors", folks providing "rental family" services to lonely people out there, yearning to belong.

It's ironic that Noriko had turned her back on her real family, only to join a surrogate one, pretending to be close knit to a lot of other strangers. She takes on her online persona, and forgets about "Noriko", the life she left behind. Which makes it really strange - why would anyone want to abandon their own family, and comfort zone, to make believe with others? It's a social exploration of alienation, and on a separate note, tries to look at the trend of suicide clubs in Japan.

One harrowing scene that was replayed, was that of 54 female students jumping off a train platform in unison. Taking on pseudo-security camera views, and plenty of blood with the smashing of heads on track (in full glory), it'll make you wince, yet wonder in astonishment, the question of Why.ß

Running parallel to Noriko's narrative, are a few others, like her dad's, her sister Yuka's (who also joined Noriko in her new role), and a forum founder Komiko. Taking on parallel and different points of view, it is no wonder that this film clocks in at slightly more than 2 1/2 hours. The father seeks Noriko and Yuka and wants to start afresh by welcoming them home, but find that the siblings have already disowned their lives thus far, preferring to pretend to be someone else, someone they have total control over, someone that they have created for themselves.

The movie started off strongly, but the pace sagged around the half way mark, before picking up again for the grand finale. It also helped that almost all the female cast in this movie are eye-candy, contrasting the seriousness of the issues presented, with their outward cuteness and pretty faces.

It's a pretty weird story, with strange characters, those who don't bat an eyelid over suicide, taking it as a form of higher calling. However you'll still be stuck at the Why question, as the movie doesn't offer any concrete answers, and somehow teased with an ending hinting of a possible sequel, that probably wouldn't be made.

The Alibi

A dream service for those adulterous men and women out there. A service which takes your calls, handles all potentially tense situations of private eyes and that suspecting spouse, essentially taking care of you on the side while you bang. Sounds good? I think so too, at least in a business sense.

Ray Elliot (Steve Coogan) runs such a service. It's a money spinner, based on statistics that one in 4 men stray, and one in 10 women cheat. He advertises his risk management career through word of mouth, and takes pride in his job in bailing clients out of seemingly explosive marital situations. The pre-requisites? A calm cool mind that can spin out stories and tell them with a straight face.

Lola Davis (the hot Rebecca Romijn) is his new management recruit, and without much orientation, plunges into the job head on. Initially you might think the movie will develop on the above company politics scenario, and have the two leads get involved with each other romantically. But no, before you can get to see the next fling, the movie heads on to classic crime noir territory.

On his last field job, Ray's client accidentally kills his mistress in a bout of S&M, and it's up to Ray to clear the mess up, violating one of his principles that his company doesn't provide alibis for crime. However his reputation and integrity is on the line, and he has no choice but to cover it all up.

And you'll probably wince at the amount of challenges Ray goes through in having this done, and having a price put out on his head. It's essentially one heck of a caper, as we witness how Ray Elliot schemes and plot to get his rear out of situations that's seemingly impossible, and incredibly lucky to get out of. It's full of crossings and double-crossings, and while you might be lost at certain plot points, just hang in there as all will converge for the finale, leaving you with a smirk, quite satisfied with the outcome.

What's fun in this movie is the huge ensemble cast that play the many characters on screen. Another X-Men franchise regular, James Marsden (Cyclops) is here as the inept himbo Wendell Hatch, Ray Elliot's last client, and we have a myriad of characters like hitmen, gangsters, cops, an unsatisfied wife, etc from a cast of Selma Blair, James Brolin, Sam Elliot, Jaime King, John Leguizamo, Deborah Kara Unger, and the likes.

One thing's for sure, having a huge network of those whom you have deposited emotional or material help with, certainly will help bucket-loads when the time comes. If you're up for a caper, then I'd recommend The Alibi, for its fun.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Election 2

Given local election fever, it's somewhat apt that this movie gets its release during this period. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek tie in with the local political environment. I was filled with a whole lot of skepticism when other local reviewers from the mainstream media started to laud this movie with fantastic ratings. While the original movie had won plenty of awards, the bastardized politically correct version that was shown here, did not do it any honours, and my review highlighted the version's weak ending(s).

However, I was still game to see how this movie panned out, and to my surprise, it met my expectation of a good triad movie. You can actually forget that you've watched the politically correct version, and enjoy this movie as it's meant to be. But for those who have not watched the first movie, fret not, you'll be up to speed within 10 minutes, though you might grapple with certain scenes and characters.

Suffice to know that the Wo Shing Society undergoes leadership changes every 2 years in a democratic manner, and current leader Lok (Simon Yam) will have its term completed soon. However, he becomes, as we learn towards the end of the first movie, power hungry, and demonstrates the character change which was missed in the original bastardized version.

Lok has to select a potential candidate amongst his 5 godsons, and Jimmy (Louis Koo) presented the best option as the one who has the smarts for raking in new business for the Society. However, his interest is only in making money, initially that is, until he's seduced by the fact that with power, the mainland Chinese will give him more respect, and with that, the potential for more business.

The movie becomes similar to the original's scheming and plotting to gain the upper hand, in the run up to the election for the next leader. The focus here is on Jimmy, and his grand scheme to push himself to the forefront of the elections. It's classic "black eats black" plotting for power, title and money.

The much touted violence, can rival some of those that Hollywood churns out. Rarely panning away, the camera captures and at times teases with the blood splatters, spurts and stains, what with equipment like sledge hammers, hammers (somehow the weapon of choice), and, get this, a meat grinder. Many in the audience squirmed, and it's a tad uncomfortable watching the dismemberment of a full human body.

It may seem a little ordinary given the recycled storyline of triad power struggles, but what lifts this movie is the last 15 minutes, where the revelation sets in. You'll see who's actually playing who, and rings home the thought of being careful what you wish for. Squabbling over scraps and neglecting the bigger picture and threat, will always prove to be fatal, as there are always vultures waiting in the wings. It's ironic that for all the election is worth, it degenerates, not within choice, to the installation of a puppet like figure. To the authorities, corrupt or sly, whichever way you look at it, it's always advantageous to have a known evil, rather than an unknown one.

I really recommend this movie, at long last, a decent triad movie with a finale that will really distinguish this amongst others in the genre. One more thing too, I also dig the very powerful theme song with the guitars and drum beats. Really brings out the tension and the mood.

Jasmine Women

When a star becomes big, his/her older movies which never see the light of day locally, will get its moment. Jasmine Women is Zhang Ziyi's showreel, in my opinion, and it finally will make its way to our shores in May.

For the fans, you're in for a treat. For her detractors, give this one a watch, and let me know what you think? It's beautifully filmed, and stars veteran Joan Chen too, who was last seen on the local screens in Saving Face.

Three chapters, two main leads, different eras of China spanning 50 years, it's quite entertaining. You can read my review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Have You Watched Singapore GaGa?

Singapore Gaga Extended Run

I suppose the poster above says it all. Don't go through what I did, being denied 3 times to view this masterpiece because each screening I wanted to go to, was sold out. Get your tickets ya? And don't miss this! Thank your lucky stars the run got extended due to popular demand.

The details once again:
Singapore GaGa at The Arts House, 4-14 May
Weekdays 7.30pm & 9pm
Sat & Sun 3pm & 4.30pm

Q&A with Director Tan Pin Pin on 6 & 7 May

You can read my review here

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

[SIFF'06] Portrait of a Lady Faraway

This movie marks my first Iranian film viewing, thanks for this year's SIFF focus on arabian cinema. You might be curious as to why I chose this film amongst the selection on offer. Remember Fly By Night 2005? Before we came up with The Undecided, we actually considered a short film which resembled the synopsis of this movie. My interest was piqued, and so I bought a ticket.

What did I think of it? Honestly, I thought our short film, if we had done it, would have turned out to be more interesting. No, I'm not being shameless, This movie started off very strongly, given the setting of the premise, but then it degenerated into what I always deem as a cop out - the open ended, was-it-a-dream cliche.

A lonely elderly man, Ahmed, finds that a woman had left her intentions for suicide on his answering machine, together with instructions and an address, and approximate time during which she will end her life. He decides on a whim, and out of curiousity, to seek out this woman. His intentions would be to save her, then again, it was never told. At the address, he doesn't find the woman, but instead found a friend of the woman, and they embark on a journey together to look for the suicide victim.

You can get a good glimpse of Iran in their travels, before the movie starts to slow and get bogged down by wondering how to weave all the subplots and end them in a coherent fashion. I'm never a fan of movies which try to take arthouse twists and suggest dreams or leaving it too open ended without a hint of a reason.

However, the complex visuals make this interesting to watch, and the edgy soundtrack was good enough to hold my attention, despite it being extremely loud so as to vibrate the entire cinema hall.

Monday, April 24, 2006

[SIFF'06] The Art of Flirting

There was a heavy downpour just prior to the screening, and my friends and I were stuck at the SMU TCC opposite the National Museum. Good thing the skies cleared about 10 minutes before screening, allowing us to jaywalk our way to the spanking new premises of the Museum, and into the Gallery Theatre.

It's a pretty cool theatre, with that "new" fresh paint smell, as we gathered to watch The Art of Flirting. Like I always say, although I have previewed this movie already, if I liked a movie enough, I will buy a ticket to watch it again. And nothing beats watching a movie together with a sell out crowd, to listen in and soak up the atmosphere of community watching, especially for a movie like this one. Wanted to gauge responses from people around me too.

So you can read my review by clicking on this link.

And of course, instead of reinventing the wheel, I share the same thoughts about the event with my friend Shaiful. Kan Lume was in attendance as well (I think for SIFF, all local directors must be in attendance to promote the movie, as well as field questions from the audience?) and you can read a short brief of the proceedings by clicking on to his blog.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

[SIFF'06] Little Fish

I was drawn into the movie because of the cast, a powerhouse trio in Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill. Other than that, the story took a while before it became interesting, and the pace was somewhat too slow for me.

Telling the story of an ex-dug addict Tracy Heart (Blanchett), it brings to mind the Yellow Ribbon project. It hammers home the reality that despite talk of the giving of second chances, in the world of today, just how many would offer that helping hand? Seeking a bank loan itself to finance a business proposition, is an Everest to climb.

The story dwells on the conflicts within her family, the present situation that looks so bleak without opportunities, the disgraceful past, and how the characters have to live with the skeletons in the closet. It was a little dry in presentation, and dragged with a number of scenes. What made it interesting was the ending itself, somewhat tense and not knowing which way it will result in.

Since the movie dealt somewhat with the drug issue in Australia, I wondered during the screening (yes, if the story's a bit of a bore, my mind will wander) if the capital punishment like the death penalty for traffickers, would help in clearing the scourge, though I remembered that there was great protest by some Australians as reported in the media, when we hung a drug trafficker (viet-aussie?) who was caught enroute back home at our airport. In my opinion, tough measures are sometimes required to deal with society's menace like drugs.

And that locking of lips between Weaving and Neill? Didn't expect that at all. But on the whole, this movie didn't work for me and was somewhat disappointing, save for the delivery of the excellent cast.

You are My Sunshine

Touted as the biggest love story in Korea in 2005, it is no surprise why the hype. Based/Inspired by a true story (there had been a handful of such movies in the recent weeks), You are My Sunshine is your typical melodramatic romance, with leads so cute and pretty, you can't help but be captivated as you embark on their journey of love.

It brings to mind a frequently asked question, whether it is better to love, or be loved. Seok-joong (Hwang Jeong-min) is a affable, simple minded hillbilly farmer, who dreams of getting married to the woman of his dreams, and settling down in a cattle ranch. Luckless in love, he contemplates going abroad to look for a Filipino wife, just as one of his buddies did. But anyhow soon after, he meets Eun-ha (Jeon Do-yeon), a "coffee" girl who also moonlights as a karaoke hostess, and falls head over heels with her.

Eun-ha is a complex woman with a shady past, but although we were not told exactly what, from Do-yeon's portrayal, it doesn't take a genius to warrant an accurate guess. She's extremely guarded and frosty, having lost hope in men, but eventually gets touched by Seok-joong's sincerity. Who says your average joe couldn't snag that hot babe, if he tries doggedly hard, and is thick skinned about it?

And thick skinned he sure is, as he forges ahead in marriage despite objections from his aged mother. The movie then moves onto a different plane, looking at societal prejudices against people of certain trades, as well as misinformation about the disease AIDS. Eun-ha's past catches up with her (shades of Banderas-Jolie's Original Sin here), and Seok-joong learns of her being inflicted with the disease. Eun-ha disappears, and the village folk gets flustered in having to undergo HIV testing, putting the blame of the introduction of the disease on Seok-joong.

It's always difficult when you want to shake off the past, but yet get haunted by its ghost. You're seeking a new and ideal life, and it's always blissful to be with a loved one. You know the romance bit pauses and the melodrama sets in after the introduction of the ex-boyfriend, and the pacing of the movie suffered with the discovery of the illness thereafter.

I was waiting for scenes which will turn on the tearducts. There were ample potential ones like the uneventful searches, the longing, the loss, but they were all building up the emotions to that one scene near the end, where you really feel the love lost, of being so close yet so far, the longing feeling to hold your loved one in your arms, to embrace them in warmth, to keep them safe from harm and to shower them with your love. Damn power, and really heartwrenching, although it sort of looked comedic at the start.

As the alternative to another Korean romance Daisy, this one tended to be a little more intimate mature, and being less flashy. If you're up for some good old fashioned weepy, then You are My Sunshine is your choice between the two.

[SIFF'06] Love Story (International Premiere)

It took about 30 minutes before the opening credits rolled, and debunked everything you have just witnessed on screen. By then you're already aware that this is serious arthouse, and perhaps one of the worst techniques of telling the audience that the line between screen reality and fantasy has been blurred. It's akin to a character waking up from sleep, and declaring that what had transpired, was all a bad dream.

And I wish Love Story was a bad dream. It's "atas" and arty-farty, filled with characters that you don't care about, not that you don't want to, but because they're so fake, you just cannot. Take the protagonist Jiang Qin. He is a writer who gets into relationships, just to milk them and write about his experiences with the ladies. His relationships with the different girls in reel life becomes translated into his books, with each given a horrific literary end when the relationship comes to a crashing halt. He's the cad you love to hate, using cliche lines that seemed like a poor copycat cousin straight out of the protagonists of Wong Kar Wai movies.

I hated the ninja-cladded female usher who whispers nonsense continuously. I felt like bitch-slapping her to shut the hell up. But no, she's supposedly spouting lines from a banned book, or directions to a persons heart. I don't care. I just want her to shut up. Pseudo-intelligence don't turn me on.

I hated Evelyn Tan's mousy librarian role. It's too short, too fake, and it's a typical flower vase role, if she can still be considered a flower vase that is. Don't get me started on Ericia Lee's dumb but horny police constable role too. Falling in love with Jiang Qin, and therefore sleeping with the enemy, she makes love with her clothes on. Weird fetish, which probably served the purpose of having someone hot appear in uniform.

Everything and every character felt so contrived, you just wanna scream your head off. It's trying to be intelligent, trying to be a lot more hip and cool, with a blinking marquee touting "hey, I'm a mandarin art film", NOT! I thought it was a complete waste of time. Try reading into it for subtexts? Afraid not, and don't bother too. And yes, I barf at the synopsis' final line that this movie "will touch everyone with its insightful charm". "Everyone" is a dangerous word to use. Got charm meh?

But were there redeeming points? Sure. I liked Amanda Ling's portrayal of the punk rock chick, as well as Benjamin Heng's multi-character roles in this movie. It's all weird, but they somewhat appealed to me, especially their weak laughable parts as terrorists, trying to torture the hell out of and punishing the protagonist with cheap Saw/Hostel inspired substitutes.

The storyline has it zipping seamlessly between fantasy and screen reality, perhaps thinking that it's cool to do so. Perhaps I'm not as intelligent to decipher what it all wanted to mean, what with finding of true love, and being in love with the idea of love itself, etcetera. When the opening credits come on, you just don't care anymore. I shudder at the thought that money was thrown at this movie to begin with.

As part of the FOCUS: First Cuts project, and having watched 2 in the series already, I was surprised that Andy Lau didn't make a more direct contribution to the film, as compared to The Shoe Fairy (the Narrator) and the cameo appearance in I'll Call You.

Director Kelvin Tong was in attendance during the screening, and shared with us some of his thoughts in making the film, such as it being shot in less than 2 weeks, and of his expectations that given it's an art house film, he is expecting a poorer audience response to this as compared to his previous outing in the more commercially appealing The Maid. He also revealed that reviews don't really bother him too much, and with this shot in HD, he basically has the ability to shoot what he wanted.

However, during the Q&A Session, some spokesperson from GV had the audacity to shamelessly plug the film for its commercial release sometime early May. Aiyoh, leave the Q&A alone, don't hijack it for your own personal/professional interest. Not as if those who have watched it, will want to watch it again, and I don't think many will promote this movie in positive light via word of mouth too.



If it's one thing you'll take away from this movie, it's gonna be the flowers. They feature so prominently and are used as plot devices, you'll become an expert in identifying with daisies and black tulips by the time the movie ends.

Set in Amsterdam, Daisy tells the frustrating love triangle story between 1 girl and the 2 men in her life. One a professional hitman eking out a living, the other an Interpol agent. Featuring a Pan-Asian cast (Korean, Hong Kong) and crew (director Andrew Lau from Hong Kong, writer from Korea, and a Thai post production team), I could imagine the headaches in coordination.

Park Yi (Jung Woo-sung) is a hitman who found a soft spot for painter Hye-young (played by the pretty Jeon Ji-hyun). It's love at first sight in the meadows of daisies, where her clumsiness caught his attention. However, being shy and ever mindful of the dangers of his professional career, he can only admire her from afar, do little (or perhaps big) things for her in an anonymous fashion, but the one that takes the cake is sending her potted daisies everyday without fail at 4:15pm. He becomes her guardian angel from afar, shielding her and keeping her safe from harm.

Hye-young is in love with this mysterious stranger. She is constantly waiting for him to appear, but I really wonder how difficult could that be given the almost punctual daisy delivery. Nonetheless, she's terribly moved, and touched by this sole act. However, as the stars would have it, interpol detective Jeong Woo (Lee Sung-jae) chances upon Hye-young at a town square during one of his undercover missions, and he too is captivated by her. In a similar fashion, because of his profession, he is doubtful if he should make the first move.

Which is where the audience would find it frustrating. The lady obviously would fall for the wrong guy (then again, it's the "good" guy), Park Yi being infuriated by Jeong Woo's pursuit, but yet still refuses to step out and identify himself, and Jeong Woo being the opportunist in grabbing the free anonymous identity unwittingly. It's almost as if you wanna give everyone a slap to wake them all up.

That aside, it is precisely this tension that keeps you intrigued. And it is wickedly fun to watch the two male leads finding it tough to fall in love without jeopardizing their careers, or their loved one. But fret not action fans, there are enough cat-and-mouse revelations and unsaid camaraderie in the mould of Infernal Affairs, as well as ample gunfights, although I felt the ending could have been scripted tighter.

What rocks is the clever editing. Telling the story in a non-linear timeline (no worries, it ain't that bad, you'll still be able to follow the narrative) from the points of view of all the leads, keeping you in suspense, and culminating in a three way split screen showcasing all their emotions in a single converging event, which I thought was extremely well-done.

It's a beautiful film in terms of landscapes of lush meadows and busy city squares, with plenty of classical music to sooth the soul. As with romance movies, all the leads are eye candy - the girls will have a field day with the two handsome male leads, while the guys have to make do with a somewhat pudgy-faced (argh! ok lah, at certain angles) Jeon Ji-hyun.

If you're into a romance movie with an equal balance in the action/tension department, then Daisy would be your choice. If you prefer a more conventional weepy, then the other Korean movie making its debut here at the same time, You are My Sunshine, would be your alternative. And yes, I totally dig the ending scene, which I thought only the Koreans do it best? Kinda reminded me of the JSA one.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

[SIFF'06] It's Only Talk

This is a thoroughly depressing film, and I mean it in a good way, though weird that it might sound. Tackling the serious issue on manic depression, It's Only Talk manages to ring home the theme and resonate it within you. On the other hand, I didn't like the movie for its effect it had on me, as I certainly did not like the negativity feeling that permeated.

The protagonist is a manic depressive 30-something female named Yuko (Shinobu Terajima), who is an active participant of a manic depression online group, and milked it to come into contact with others suffering from the same illness. Strange people like the cinema sex-pervert and a Yakuza gangster. We also take a look at the relationships she established with her school friend who's suffering from erectile dysfunction, as well as her cousin, who has separated from his wife.

And it is her relationship with the cousin Shoichi (Etushi Toyokawa) that takes up the bulk of the screen time. As Yuko's condition degenerates into severe mood swings with the lack of drugs to control her condition and suppress her emotions, we see the care that Shoichi takes upon himself, to nurse her back to health. During this period, we witness both characters growing in their love for each other, and the realization of brief happiness together. The film moves from the very lows of depressive feelings, to the ecstasy that their company brings.

But what is true happiness? And with depression comes the issue of the will to live. I appreciate the story for showing a different, subtle side of mental(?) illness. That it doesn't take for it to surface explicitly, to show the world that you're suffering. You can be deeply unhappy inside, but on the surface, demonstrate that you're ok, and can actually be a pillar of strength to someone else.

Different people have got different problems and issues to grapple with, but each must find their own solutions, just as we see the guys in Yuko's life having their difficulties, yet trudging on to actually come face to face with those issues, even though at times I felt there were using Yuko for their selfish time-filler reasons.

Filmed in the Kamada neighbourhood (it seemed that the native Japanese folks amongst the audience didn't realize that it existed too) of Tokyo, it has some of the most interesting visuals like the "green elephant" facade of a home, and a made-of-rubber-tyres Godzilla statue. Yuko, being unemployed, spends time exploring the road less travelled, taking pictures with her Sony DSC-W1 (I'm speculating on the exact model, but I have the exact same camera, so...)

Based on the novel by Akiko Itoyama, It's Only Talk highlights the illness of manic depression, but also suggests ways to care for the sufferer through tender loving care, that they too will be able to lead a normal life. Actually everyone does thrive upon TLC given by loved ones. It's positivity that is required, though the narrative ended quite negatively.

I was surprised that the director Ryuichi Hiroki was in attendance, and conducted a brief Q&A session after the movie through a translator. And I shamelessly got an autograph too :-)

The Sentinel

At first glance, this film looks like the Keifer Sutherland series 24 for the big screen. With the focus on a plot to assassinate the President of the United States, a race against time, and plenty of Secret Service agents, the agency under the spotlight in The Sentinel.

But wait, the protagonist turns out to be Michael Douglas' character Pete Garrison instead, a veteran Secret Service agent famed for taking the bullet for Reagan in 1981. The SS agents are specially trained to "take the bullet", which is what makes them special - who in the right mind will put themselves in the line of a bullet and a target? But Garrison gets implicated in the assassination plot, and has to run for his life while at the same time doing his bit of investigations into the plot. All this because of his failure in a polygraph test, due to his adulterous banging of the First Lady (Kim Basinger). Tsk.

There are shades of Clint Eastwood's In the Line of Fire. Both featured aging actors, and aging veteran has-been heroes with a bit of a historical reference, who took the bullet in their respective tours of duty. While Eastwood's movie has a more enigmatic villain in John Malkovich, The Sentinel suffered from its lack of a central strong villain, preferring to share the assassination responsiblity amongst many forgettable ex-KGB villains, and the mole within the Presidential Detail. With Douglas on the run from the law, he becomes similar to Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive, hunting the proverbial one-armed man while at the same time, relying on his smarts to outwit fellow agents, which turned out to be quite interesting to watch - despite slick processes, it still boils down to the performance and gullibility of individual agents.

Keifer Sutherland and Eva Longoria, top TV stars of today from 24 and Desperate Housewives, get relegated into support roles as the Secret Service investigators who are looking into Garrison's probable involvement in the assassination plot, and at times seem to have leapt off the pages of CSI with their forensics skills. The beautiful couple had chemistry that could have resembled X-Files' Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, but alas these two had very little to do here. We know the reason why they're in the movie, and that is to get their fans into the theatres. Also, Longoria's role seemed unable to shake off her sexy-mama Gabrielle, and here, has her in fairly low cut blouses (Sutherland actually tells her to cover up) and tight pants (ogle-fest for fellow agents).

Nonetheless, it's still a pretty interesting look into the lives of probably the most highly charged and tense protection detail in the world, and the typical threats that they face daily, including the following up on every nutcase's threat on the life of the most powerful man in the world. It's a decent suspense and investigative thriller, with enough subplots to keep you entertained. But one thing though, like most ending action sequences, this one has a big enough loophole for you to fly a jumbo jet through.

Eight Below

I'm a long time admirer of the beautiful huskies, their steely blue eyes, and their ability to survive the harshest of winter while pulling along a heavy sled as a team. They're the equivalent of the camel in the desert and the equal of Lassie. It's tough to keep one in Singapore, not that you can't (I've seen a couple in dog shows), but I suppose our weather here is too brutal.

Eight Below, inspired (loosely in my opinion) by true events, tells the story of a team of 8 huskies, who belong to a science foundation supporting antarctic expeditions. The first 30 minutes introduce the team of Buck, Dewey, Max, Maya, Old Jack, Shadow, Shorty and Truman, who are the "babies" of Paul walker's antarctic guide Jerry Shepard. We also get to see plenty of action by this team of dogs, from the two formation strategies used to pull a sled, to a rescue mission. Pretty amazing stuff.

What's more amazing is their tale of survival, for a period of almost 6 months, on their own. When a severe storm approaches, the humans gather to evacuate out of their base camp, leaving the dogs behind with a promise to come back and get them, which they never did. It's one of those survival of the fittest, and downright betrayal of man's best friend. Shepard tries hard to gather resources and persuade the right people to sponsor a 3-day trip for him to get his dogs back, but is always denied the request outright.

The next hour shuttles between the remorse that Shepard experiences, and that of what happened to the dogs, their deviously cunning way of hunting for food, of facing up to natural disasters, of fighting off powerful enemies like the leopard-seals, of basic survival. We see that they're a highly disciplined bunch that follows the leader, and have unsaid rituals too. You'll feel for the canines, and they will tug at your heartstrings.

And given the spotlight on the dogs, the humans are all overshadowed. It's just to provide a human element of emotional attachment that Shepard has for the dogs, and of some comedy (Jason Biggs of American Pie). Sorry people, the focus is on the extraordinary dogs. At the end of the day, this is a Disney picture, which accounts for its bittersweet feel good factor towards the end, a fictionalized take of an event, sort of like this year's March of the Penguins, sans documentary material.

My favourites in the show will have to be the dogs (there are 2 dogs casted per role) that played Max and Maya. Simply beautiful. Watch this movie, and you'll be a fan of the huskies too. Now to save up for a trip!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

[SIFF'06] Manderlay

Manderlay is the second of a trilogy series called "USA - Land of Opportunities" by director Lars von Trier. If you're already familiar with Dogville, then the techniques used in the sequel Manderlay will not surprise you. It's similar, using bare sets, chalk markings on the floor to denote rooms, imaginary doors with sound effects, and the jarring camera cuts, with a narration provided by John Hurt, and intertitles as the prelude to the various chapters (we have 8 here).

To me, the movie hit at two different levels. The more obvious one being the story of slavery in the US plantation town of Manderlay. Grace discovers Manderlay being oblivious to the abolishment of slavery, and proceeds to free the slaves with the assistance of her father's hired guns. In one swoop, she introduced massive changes to the way of life of the slaves and their former masters, with or without their consensus to change the status quo.

We examine racism, the usual perceptions and misconceptions of negros, and how perceived segregation and classification are used as control, like stereotyping them into categories of pride, chatty, and those who simply cannot be trusted.

On the other level, one which I found to be more interesting, is the supposedly allegation about the US policy on Iraq. Grace is the screen Bush, who overcomes the dictator of Manderlay with the use of heavy firepower, and frees the population probably against their wishes. Sweeping changes are made, like the introduction of democracy and its tools like ballots, votes and referendums, without the deeper study if the people are ready for such a change. But like it or not, change is imposed on them.

With the use of weapons as a medium of change, Grace is stuck with the responsiblity of ensuring that Manderlay thrives given the disposition of its dictator, and the question of what will happen when the threat of the gun is removed, and your guard let down. There's a little romance / lust and nudity included which warranted its R21 rating here, though it's nothing erotic about it.

The most notable change in the sequel is the absence of Nicole Kidman, who played protagonist Grace Margaret Mulligan in Dogville. Scheduling conflicts prevented her from reprising her role, and it went to ingenue Bryce Dallas Howard, who in my opinion, stepped into the Grace role comfortably. Not to mention too is that Bryce is simply absolutely stunning with her red hair and chic haircut, and at certain angles, do resemble a younger version of Kidman.

Its ending with David Bowie's song Young Americans, with plenty of pictures of the KKK accompanying it, served as a grim reminder of how racism can rear its ugly head. Now I've got to find time and watch my Doville double DVDs (which includes the Dogville Confessions), though Manderlay can stand on its own without the need for any prior knowledge of what transpired in Dogville in order to appreciate it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

[SIFF'06] The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

When I walked out of the theatre, someone commented to his friend if there was any deeper meaning to the film which he might have failed to realize. Sorry, I think it's safe to say that Glamorous Life is pure soft porn, disguised as an art house movie. There are plenty of movies like these (think Immortel), which somehow managed to come through unscathed by the censors and given the R21 rating for its release during SIFF here.

C'mon, I mean (and I'm not complaining - I enjoy the occassional sexy-sexy shows ok?) right from the beginning you're teased by Sachiko's butt and boobs. She's a call girl for hire, playing to her client's fantasies, like role playing a school teacher. One fine day, she got caught up in a restaurant shootout, and escaped alive with a bullet lodged in the head. She undergoes an unexplainable transformation, in terms of intelligence, gaining an insatiable desire for knowledge, as well as having a supercharged sex drive.

Bunking in with the family of a professor she seeked, more sex is assured with the professor and his introverted son. But the weirdness factor got upped through the introduction of George Bush's cloned finger (comes with the Stars-and-Stripes painted on the nail), which has telepathy, and a life of its own. Since it's a finger, there's no prizes guessing correctly what a finger gotta do. The movie becomes a cheap satire on Bush and his pro-war policies, and I'm not too sure if it's for pure cheesiness or a low production budget which led to wire-work not being cleaned up, and cheapo GI-Joe toy figurines substituting the real Joes, and a really tacky looking Bush who creatively uses his fingers over the airwaves.

As another subplot, the North Korean gunman who's looking for the finger, and was responsible for the bullet in Sachiko's head, ended up trying to hunt Sachiko down, through tracing her contact via her mobile phone, staking out inside her home (cleaning the home, keeping her red panties, and fantasizing), and through an incredible stroke of luck, got to the home of the professor to get to Sachiko. He provided much of the laughs (though I don't think most was intentional), as the gunfights he had (some which made not much sense) turned out to be rather comical instead.

I think I can count up till about at least seven sex scenes, and another equivalent number of masturbation scenes, for the reason that Sachiko doesn't feel a thing why having sex, and only feels the (pleasurable) effects some time after. Sexploitation? You tell me. Works out to be about one sex scene every 7 minutes.

It's one of those movies which almost every male character has sex with the female lead, and the female characters having the urge to remove (or forcefully so) their clothing. It's campy, it doesn't make much sense, and most of what you see on screen, is probably just for the sake of being there. You know not to take this movie seriously when the American national anthem accompanies the end credits, sung badly in Japanese, with an after-the-end-credits scene that simply just implodes.

If you're feeling horny, then this movie might just be your cup of tea.


Neil Gaiman was in town last July, and MirrorMask was one of the yet-to-be-released film projects that he had scribed. It was supposed to be scheduled for release here late last year, but somehow the plans got shelved. Good news though, it will make its theatrical release in the local GV theatres next week.

It's pretty abstract at times, and I admit there were portions which I completely zoned out. Directed by illustrator Dave McKean, you'd come to expect the stunning visuals which MirrorMask offered, right from the opening credit sequence in 3D. MirrorMask tells the story of protagonist Helena, a young girl belonging to a family of circus performers. She often dreams of life outside performances, that of what she deems as "real life", as opposed to her own fantasy world of make believe inside the Big Top.

Blaming herself for her mother's ill health after a heated argument, she begins to dream and fantasize herself in being in a world ruled by two queens, a world filled with strange and bizarre beings, where everyone is masked. In parallel to her life, the white queen is also ill, and she's tasked with the quest of finding the fabled MirrorMask to save her. Think of it as sort of a darker, Gaiman-ish take to Alice in Wonderland, with plot devices and scenarios which leap from wild imagination, accompanied by beautiful surreal environments.

MirrorMask suffered from a pretty draggy beginning, and it took a while before the plot began to pick up, with Helena's quest and wondering if what was happening was truly real, of really nothing more than just a dream, which of course offered ample avenue to flex those creative juices. It's filled with special effects that boggles the mind, and offbeat characters made so beautifully by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

However, this movie is strictly for fans of Neil Gaiman only, as those not accustomed to his style of story telling, might be overwhelmed by the visuals and get lost in the plot. But for those who persevere, if you strip away the eye candy fluff, at its core, it's a fairly simple, straight-forward storyline of an adult fantasy.


I was quite surprised that Massive Attack's Angel was chosen to accompany the opening credits, which consisted for mostly CCTV / voyeuristic shots of a team conducting surveillance on the movements of Harrison Ford's Jack Stanfield and his family. I know it's a cool track, but Angel is perhaps becoming one of the more overused tracks in Hollywood pictures already.

But it hints well at what Firewall is going to become. Cliche and overused sequences which will probably make you scream "haven't I seen this somewhere before"? Firewall offered nothing very new in terms of plot outline, as it contains modified scenes from even Ford's own works like Air Force One (the family's survival being threatened, and it's up to one man to save the day) and The Fugitive (the frame up and one man's run from the law). Ford has already become comfortable in the role of an all-American one man hero, that this role offered no surprises at all.

It's basically standard fare with the usual chases and action fight sequences. Stansfield is a VP of (network) security of a bank, and has designed the bank's software, with other operational duties like making sure the bank can respond to external online threats. However, as the saying goes, almost 80% of intrusion are committed knowingly or unknowingly from the inside, and with a head honcho part of the act, you can be sure that he has the know-how to siphon out cash if he wants to.

In comes Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), scheming con man, who with his team of merry men, take Stanfield's family hostage and lapses into the usual psycho-mumbo-jumbo routine. With the family's antics at escaping, you really wonder if Cox, as a villain, has what it takes to call the shots in a hostage situation. While he might have the upper hand, it's his weakness in being ruthless to the hostages that proved his downfall, and make him a very weak cinematic villain. Here's someone who would rather shoot at his own men than to teach them hostages a lesson. Probably he has this noble subscription to "women and children first". And it doesn't help when there's the usual good guy amongst his merry men who offers the family sympathy points.

Word of caution though, for those who might think that this film offers some cool technology on screen. Leave the techno-babble at the door, there's no "firewall" to hack into in the first place, and the "hacking" is actually a no-brainer. And unless the USA offers wireless internet access like everywhere, it's pretty incredible with what a laptop can do in the movie.

It has your expected twists and seemingly smart moments, but nothing that will truly make you go "wow". The fist fight choreography can get pretty intense, however, there's no need to reach the end of the road before you know who's gonna emerge tops. It isn't exactly a bad movie, but one which doesn't even have a single sequence that can redeem this picture from really bad mediocrity.

Singapore Dreaming

I wanted to watch this as part of the SIFF Charity Gala, but in-camp training prevented me from getting tickets, or to volunteer as an usher for the Gala. Which meant I had to wait for the commercial release slated some time in August this year. By some stroke of luck, my friend Richard managed to win tickets to a mystery/test screening by UIP, and it turned out to be Singapore Dreaming (yay!)

I think this local film directed by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen is just plain brilliant, and the most accessible one to date, one that has potential to appeal to almost every spectrum of local society, and cinema-goers. It's adult storytelling laced with well placed humour, tackling mature themes and providing a snapshot of your atypical heartland family of four, their goals, dreams, desires and challenges.

Richard Low plays the patriarch of the Loh family, an elderly "lao beng" man whose family is getting together to celebrate the return of his son from overseas study. Like any typical housewife, mum Siew Luan (Alice Lim) holds and takes care of the family but is usually taken for granted. Being the only graduate, Seng (Dick Su) carries the family's hopes of making it big, although he in turn carries with him the albatross of having to live up to expectations, and to repay debts of his father and of his live-in girlfriend Irene (Serene Chen), who had used their savings to send him overseas. Then there is Mei Loh (Yeo Yann Yann), the capable secretary but overlooked-by-family who's expecting their first child with husband CK (Lim Yu Beng), an ex-army regular turned insurance agent (what else?)

But when we start to scratch and chip away at the family's surface, we see plenty of dirt beneath the seemingly happy exterior. We revisit the usual 5Cs preoccupation that most Singaporeans possess, in a refreshing look at the haves and the have nots. Those with power, and those that do not. It's not told in the satirical way that Talking Cock the movie did, but not to worry, humour still sneaked its way into this family drama.

There are topical issues covered in the movie, things like expectations and managing your bosses, of the value of the overseas degree, of striking lottery and the headaches that come with it, of family relations, of domestic maids and misconceptions and prejudices, and even China girls who work as beer maids. Most of the striking conversations were held over tables - the dinner table with family, the mahjong table during funerals, but perhaps the one that stood out was the one at the coffeeshop, where we were generally ribbed with being whiners who complain a lot, but do nothing to attempt to escape our predicament. Fuel for thought, in contrast to those who have no choice, but looking on the brighter side of their lack of choice as still a form of means to achieving their goals.

At the end of the day, just like the characters, you'll probably ask, just what is the Singapore dream? And more importantly, what's yours? Do you dare go down the road less travelled, or would you prefer to give up your aspirations for the well trodden path, or blindly follow the sole collection of material wealth to keep up with the Joneses?

The performances by the casts were convincingly enjoyable, and the characters are layered with much character development, those whom you would actually care about. Especially Richard Low's, who seemed to have cornered the performance of your hokkien speaking elderly ah-beng man with little education. The cinematography is beautiful too, capturing in essence many daily aspects of a heartlander's life. If Singapore GaGa showcases the aural, then Singapore Dreaming showcases the visual.

There are some minor bloopers though, but thankfully only spotted in the beginning of the movie with some continuity errors (like Yu Beng's coffee stained shirt). Not sure if the later scenes did contain any more, because I was completely absorbed by the plot to notice the little nitty gritties. The dialogue's mainly in Hokkien and Singlish, but there are both (proper) English and Mandarin subtitles for non-Singlish/Hokkien speakers to follow. I think this is a good strategy to adopt to make the dialogue believable - most Singaporeans don't speak proper English, at least not in casual conversation, and somehow polished English spoken by locals on screen nearly always gave you that contrived feeling. Here, the dialogue and conversation score.

I'd highly recommend this drama when it begins its commercial theatrical run, scheduled sometime in August this year. Two thumbs up from me, and is in contention for my movie of the year! If you still have not forayed into watching local films in the theatres, don't you dare miss this good opportunity to do so!

Friday, April 14, 2006

[SIFF'06] Next Door (Asian Premiere)

So you've just broken up with your girlfriend and she has moved out of your flat. Your life is miserable, and you're now all alone. But wait, suddenly you realize that your neighbours are a pair of hot chicks, you're strangely attracted to them, and they're giving you the come-hithers. What do you do?

John's in such a predicament. His girlfriend Ingrid has left him for another guy, Ake. Depressed, he chances upon his beautiful neighbours Anne and Kim, neighbours he never knew existed, but neighbours who know exactly what has transpired between him and Ingrid, through wafer thin walls. John feels uneasy at the sudden discovery of his lack of privacy, exposing himself to strangers who know about his private life in detail. The questions now are, who are they, and what do they want?

A seemingly innocent request to help look after Kim, turned out to be one mind-game after another. The statements and stories Anne and Kim tell seem to cancel out each other, and leaves our protagonist totally lost and suspicious. But before you know it, the much touted S&M scene starts, and I pretty much guess that most would have felt that it was a little too brutal, with the bare-knuckle punches and bitch slaps smack right into the face of both love makers. Painful I tell ya.

It's a psychological thriller, made appealing by a well-cut trailer. However, the movie was rather slow to develop, but picked up the pace much later and never let up right until the end. Then, your reaction will most likely be, "WTF!" It's a pretty simple storyline packed into 75 minutes involving all the characters, in one totally whacked out plot.

Don't buy into the hype.

[SIFF'06] The President's Last Bang

I've always enjoyed films which are based on historical/political events, even though they have a fictional element thrown in to spice things up. Films like Oliver Stone's controversial JFK, or Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days (hmm.. both starred Kevin Costner), are always in my list as definite must watch. Not that they are accurate, but at least they provide some kind of ground work from which you can build your research upon (and therefore being able to verify its accuracy somewhat).

The first shot of this movie suggested a bang of a different kind. For a short while anyway, with its topless scenes. Anyway it was used to suggest the philandering, womanizing ways of ex-South Korean President Park Chun-hee, where agents of South Korea's CIA equivalent (KCIA) get the unglamorous job of seeking out starlets for the President's company.

The movie paints the dictator Park in an unfavourable light. with his corrupt ways and highlights the last day of his life, leading to his assassination by KCIA director Kim during a routine dinner. I liked the dinner scene, where the table of top government officials - President Park, his fat slob of an arrogant chief bodyguard Cha (who refuses to carry a weapon), scheming Chief Secretary Yang, all having opposing views with Kim. They drink and make merry, insulting foreign politicians like the Philippines' and the US' (heh, surely I'd like to listen in on what their opinions of other countries' political leaders are really like).

You can read Kim's frustrations with the regime, and takes it upon himself to do something before the night is up. Roping in a few good man, like Chief Agent Ju, and Agent Colonel Min, they plot to take severe action that will change the course of their history, whether or not they succeed. And that's where the tension and pace starts to pick up, with men making split-second decisions to make choices and follow their loyalties, and where the movie unfolds as a stylish, violent, and extremely bloody actioner set to cool beats of music.

There are a number of scenes which put a smile on my face, especially when you realize the similarities amongst various issues. Like when the top brass of the military comes driving into Army HQ in civvies and in a civilian car, the lowly guard at the guard house fail to recognize him and start to make things really difficult during identity verification (respecting the rank and not the person), and for all the "wayang" in camps, there is absolutely insufficient ammo (or none at all) to load weapons to stage a military arrest. And there are the clueless "chao keng" small fry agents who are caught up in the entire situation without knowing the big picture as well - isn't this quite typical?

Red tape and bureaucracy, and the incompetence of most MPs in deciding the next course of action, also goes to show how ill prepared the cabinet is when faced with emergencies of such nature. The reliance on one man, and the over-confidence that no matter of this nature could happen, helped to provide Kim and his men with buying of some time to decide on their own next steps. The sad part being while they know who they must kill, they too are ill-prepared as they have not crystallized plans for the aftermath.

The ending's pretty abrupt with narration giving you the lowdowns on what happened to the men involved in the assassination. However, the execution (pardon the pun) and delivery of the movie, makes this one heck of a suspensful, tightly paced movie, with some comedy sprinkled in to lighten up the gloom. Recommended stuff.

[SIFF'06] Promise Me Not (International Premiere)

I orginally wanted to watch this Thai movie, then changed my mind for some commercial flick, then reversed my decision yet again. Thankfully, I did not regret watching this movie at all. It's a pretty interesting tale, though not one that is necessarily original in presentation, but still enjoyable nonetheless.

Be careful when you make promises, especially to the other half that you'll love each other forever, and that for your next lives you'll want to be man and wife again. Forever is a very long time, and in a cruel twist of Fate, you could end up endless lifetimes searching for the other half, even though you think you're meant for each other.

The introductory shot suggested a horror film (you know, of the pontianak variety), before the story behind the lovers Pong and Fah unveils for the very first time. Being a dancer/servant girl, Fah chances a meeting with Pong, a rich aristocrat's son, who's being betrothed to another (quite pretty leh) girl. Seeking to end their lives and begin a new one in which they can hopefully meet again, Fah's suicide was successful, but Pong survived the ordeal, and Fah begins to haunt their family, thinking Pong did not keep his end of the bargain. As it turned out, Pong suffered from amnesia during the botched suicide attempt. It ended on a bittersweet note, though most of this segment was entrenched in comedy with fake mediums and unscary scares played primarily for laughs.

The second story is a bit of a "broke-back" (sorry, had to use the term). I guess audiences are expecting to see the same actors take on their roles in a different timeline, but as we discover, it turns out that most of the characters in the different timelines are played by different actors, just to keep you guessing who's actually who. And for a while, it's pretty entertaining as you try your hand figuring out who's who with a blind guy, and a slightly deaf guy. I bet you'll be lost, especially at the beginning, but the subplot of a lottery would keep you entertained until the main plot finds its way again.

The last story is perhaps the most beautifully shot, set in a familiar V-for-Vendetta like environment where a fascist government rules. It plays on man's desire for beautiful women (and I say this chick here's a pretty lady), as Pong seeks out his true love Fah according to spells casted by an astrologist. But things go awry when the wrong spell is given, thereby violating what is written in the stars. This segment is perhaps the most predictable of the lot, but for its eye-candy, it's probably the most enjoyable.

If you count the current storyline where Pong is recounting his weird dreams of his past lives to his psychologist, then yes, there could be a fourth storyline, though its screentime is a lot less, more to serve as a filler between segments. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that what transpires on screen towards the end, is one heck of a surprise, in terms of the premise.

Running through all the threads is a constant - that of the psychologist, whose ancestors were all fortune tellers / psychics. Inevitably, his and his ancestors lives get intertwined with the lovers' as he/they try and assist the two of them to be together, but inevitably provided much comic relief.

It's a bit of everything in the movie. Love, life, vows, horror, comedy, all rolled into one. The execution might be a bit raw, the pacing sometimes uneven, and some effects suffered from a relatively low budget. But it's still provided for madcap, campy fun, which at certain portions of the film, lapses into the usual predictability.

[SIFF'06] We Feed the World

So I begin my selection of this year's SIFF with a documentary. Directed by Erwin Wagenhofer, We Feed the World begins by highlighting a very fundamental wastage. That of overnight bread, tons of it being offloaded, meant for the incinerated, when there are thousands left hungry.

The documentary focuses on various aspects on the supply side of the food chain, giving some insight to the various industries which produce food, like fishing, vegetables and poultry. It also provides a glimpse into the political side of supplying food, that of the profit maximization strategy of any public company (here, it's Nestle), of the genetically modified seeds which supposedly produces superior crop as opposed to better tasting, natural ones, and various EU plans and initiatives which seem to go down the wrong path instead of fulfilling its supposedly planned objectives.

While it covers a lot of ground, some segments proved to be a little draggy and preachy. I particularly enjoyed the segment on the fishing industry, where there are plans to wrest knowledge from the small timers operating smaller fishing operations, and to eventually merge/close them down when the bigger boys come into the picture. As demonstrated in the movie, there are reasons why big trawlers doesn't equate to fresher and better catches.

The other segment which moved was on the Brazilian's poor north-eastern parts, where on one hand, you have very poor people going hungry all the time, yet Brazil's one of the major exporters of maize to Europe. Maize which are used for burning for fuel generation. It just boggles the mind, and makes you feel sad at the way things work, illogical as it may seem, in the name of profit - watching the kids drink untreated murky water, and the adults resorting to unnatural means of keeping their children alive, will gloom your day.

And I could have swore off chicken come the final segment. Nowadays lifestock are treated as an 8-week cycle of a production line, from incubating, hatching, fattening, until the final days of slaughtering, where they're hung upside down by the legs in conveyor belts, before passing through a circular bladed discs where their throats are slit, and left bleeding till death. For those which are missed by the blades, there is a butcher on standby with a knife to do the deed.

But while the movie tried to made its points, what I found lacking are the many ways in which to link the message to the issues. Many times it felt a little sporadic, or the linking done quite weakly through intertitles. That aside, perhaps I'm already attuned to the more in-your-face style of Michael Moore, nevermind if there are echoes that his style is manipulative. For a topic like this, perhaps it could gain from that bit of controversy to hammer its opinions through.

Monday, April 10, 2006

In Camp Training 10th April - 24th April

No, that's not the name of a made-in-singapore war movie. As with the rest of able-bodied, non skiver, non quitter Singaporean male, I have to fulfill my National Service obligations with yet another 2 week long stint back in camp.

Which will mean I'll miss a number of opportunities like attending the charity gala of Singapore Dreaming, rue the missed chance of flying off to Rome for M:I:III world premiere, and the likes. It calls for sacrifice, and yeah, so there.

However, don't be surprised if I manage to sneak in a movie review or two, given that the SIFF will be ongoing soon.

Meantime, here are the links to some movies I have reviewed, which will make their commercial release during the next 2 weeks in Singapore. Enjoy! (And if you don't see another movie review in 3 weeks time, it'll mean I probably have gotten my ass into some training accident shit. Choy!)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Art of Seduction

Truth be told, if I were to come across Son Ye-jin's Han Ji-wan character, with those bambi eyes and pretty face, I would go jelly too. But that'a about it. I guess I pretty much ruled myself out of the dating scene, for the time being at least, to fall for her manipulative charms. Perhaps it's true that a pretty face can turn a monster into a mouse, and boy, does Son Ye-jin turn heads.

She plays a "player/swinger" Han Ji-wan, a private banker who uses her good looks to win customer confidence, or uses it to seduce any man she fancies, for whatever multiple reasons. If anything, players/swingers are quite insecure folks, despite the confidence they project on the exterior. Audiences might have noticed her playing opposite Korean heartthrob Bae Yong-jun in April Snow, where her character was mostly calm, composed, demure, quiet. Here, she goes to the opposite end of the spectrum, with her gregarious, scheming nature in full contrast with the former character's. She also seemed to have slimmed down a bit from her chubbier April Snow outing, but yeah, nobody's complaining ;-P

Playing the alpha-male seducer, her counterpart/rival/mark, is actor Song Il-guk. As a good looking architect, Seo Min-jun is a chip off his father's playboy ways. Like Ji-wan, he too is able to turn on his charms to snag the woman he desires, and when he's tired of it all, after reaching his goal, he brings them to a setup fortune teller, using Fate as an excuse that things will not work out.

So The Art of Seduction presents to you, the tricks both sexes use on their prey. And it turns up the heat, when the two players meet. Here's where the usual tricks don't seem to work, especially when used on experienced, first-rate players who have worked the ground using similar tactics, and counter-tactics. The narrative was played out rather ordinarily, with one side being presented a scenario created by the other, and how they wriggle out from, then the tables are turned using a different scenario, and it goes on. And unfortunately, for far too long.

It does get to you after a while, as you'll start to feel the length of this 100 minute movie. Some of the tactics used were recycled, like Ji-wan's expensive car accident trick, and Min-jun's cost of cigarette statement. For non-Korean speaking folks, you might get lost during the early sight gags where MCQs in Korean flashed onscreen. Thankfully this technique isn't used for the entire movie.

Many situations presented in the movie also pushes the envelope of believability - how much would a man go to satisfy the unreasonable/weird demands of a girl? It's the games people play, and how much do you want to get involved? And it does seem weird that the men Ji-wan snags (with her skills) always turn out to be the ah-peks (older men have all the fun?) while Min-jun does well with better choices (by better I mean more pleasing to the eye).

On the whole, the movie is pretty campy fun, despite some scenarios not being reasonably plausible. You get to laugh at the jokes (some being quite weak though, and can be seen a mile away), toilet humour even, but more importantly, depending which way you swing, the eye candy on screen would be satisfying enough to forgive the flaws.

Tristan + Isolde

My only love sprung from my only hate, too early seen unknown, and known too late! - Juliet Capulet

As touted, before Romeo and Juliet of Verona, there was Tristan and Isolde of England-Ireland. Director Kevin Reynolds' projects have included before, retellings of folk legends, like his Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Count of MOnte Cristo. And as with all Hollywood-ized retelling, there's always the bastardization of the storyline, whether you like it or not. Then again, them being legends, it will depend on who's telling the story. So if you'd like a different take on the series of events in this love story, you might want to click here.

Set during the time when the Romans withdrew from England, and when Ireland was ravaging the English because of the power vacuum, we see a young Tristan (Thomas Sangster, the same kid from Nanny McPhee) owing a life debt to Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), who saved Tristan from impending death at a sacrifice of his right hand. Orphaned, Tristan serves Lord Marke dutifully, and becomes more favoured than Marke's nephew Melot (Henry Cavill), with his fighting skills and fierce loyalty.

In one of their revenge missions, Tristan (now James Franco) secures victory at the expense of being poisoned, and thought to have died. As Fate would have it, his body in a flaming boat survives the vast seas to get himself onto the beachhead of Ireland (which I thought was a bloody ridiculous plot loophole, oh well), where he's found by Isolde (Sophia Myles) and her maid. Nursing him back to health and at the same time giving her *ahem* honour to Tristan (I believe also that if Tristan was some burly soul, this would not happen. Very shallow, I know), it doesn't take a genius to realize that owing 2 life-debts with only 1 life to live, is a problem which will manifest itself later.

So when Tristan later discovers he won a competition on behalf of Lord Marke, and the prize being Isolde's hand, our lovers are stuck in a rut, despite having opportunities earlier to leave their respective kingdoms and live a life of their own. For Tristan, he's torn between duty and love. Like I said, two different life-debts to repay, how do you choose? He chose to be the lover on the side, for their nightly secret trysts in darkened fields.

You'll see shades of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet here, with our star crossed lovers, Juliet's Nurse, the feuding families, deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio, and of course, the inevitable ending. HOwever, Romeo and Juliet were married, as opposed to the adulterous couple of Tristan + Isolde, which seemed more like Troy, in having Isolde as a Helen-like character sowing the seeds to the downfall of the fragile kingdom alliance.

Fans of James Franco must have been swooning in their seats as they get to see their idol undressed and getting it on (yes, I swear in today's screening, everyone heard a girl gasping for air). Franco did quite a spectacular job brooding, with his love lorn looks, and plenty of angst stemmed from Tristan's losing his parents at an early age. Sophia Myles was pleasing to the eyes, but I thought she looked a bit pudgy - people in the past must have loved their females with plenty love handles, otherwise it must be the unfashionable layers of clothes.

It's a pretty decent love story with some nifty action sequences thrown in, though the contest for Isolde's hand looked like it took place in a poor man's version of Gladiator, and the final battle felt like a cheaper ripoff of The Two Towers' assault of Helm's Deep. And not to forget, there's also enough of the usual medieval-politics (betrayals, power struggles, corruption, etc) to provide enough buoy to keep the movie afloat.

Strictly for die hard fans of love stories set in the medieval past, for those who have never heard this story and would make do with a Hollywood version, or for groupies of James Franco. May I hear a squeal now please?

Singapore GaGa

Singapore GaGa

I should have done this review ages ago, but other commitments denied me the time to watch this last year, and this year in missing out an early exclusive screening. I'm not afraid to describe GaGa in a little bit more detail, as try as I might, this movie still has to be viewed, and more importantly, listened to, in order to appreciate it in its entirety.

Singapore GaGa is a film that had you and I. We're featured in it. No? Well, see that guy walking past so briskly? Or that lady with that skeptical look on her face? Yes? You and I. Unless you're an extremely homey person, you're bound to have bumped into one or more of the colourful characters in GaGa. In the hustle and bustle of our urban life, how often do we stop and smell the roses, as the cliche goes?

I did not know the name Melvyn Cedello, until now. He's been performing under the walkway near the Bedok hawker centre for months. Do I stop to listen? Frankly speaking, not really, even though I use that same walkway to get me home almost everyday. It's like he (and his performance) has become intrinsically part of the landscape, one that has blended in the background as I go about with my life. But I do hear the music. Sometimes folk, sometimes rock, an occassional Elvis or Beatles, sometimes even silence as he takes a smoke break or chat with some passers-by.

You and I are the background people. Have you heard the tissue song? I bet you did before. From the auntie on a wheelchair selling tissue paper for one dollar. Have you bought any from her? Probably, probably not. Why? I don't know. We've become the background people. Those who watch, sometimes stare, most of the time just walking by.

GaGa offers a brief but brilliant 55 minute snapshot of Singapore, from national events like the 9th of August parade, to documenting personalities like homegrown ventriloquist Victor Khoo (with his Charlie puppet. I thought I always saw Khoo moving his lips too obviously when Charlie speaks, in real life performances too), and renowned pianist Margaret Leng Tan. It fills you with so much sights, but in particular, the sounds which we get so comfortably familiar with, so much so that little attention is paid to them, from musical instruments to street buskers, from even radio news bulletins to MRT train announcements (yes, it's a real person, not a synthesized voice, making station stops and various announcements).

Opening and closing with Cedello belting out Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights", we are welcomed to Singapore, as do most visitors, through Changi Airport. That's one of the first Singapore icons that visitors come in touch with. Slowly, we're introduced to the little seen and heard elements, like the self-proclaimed National Treasure at Raffles Place MRT station, and even savoured a flavour of some Chinese patriotic songs being sung with gusto.

GaGa might play out as a bit of a rojak, but that essentially what makes Singapore unique - its many facets of everyday life, and its multiracial society. We see the numerous foreign workers thronging the streets of Serangoon, witness a sports day event amongst pupils from a madrasah performing some cheerleading to egg their sportspeople on, and various conversational and discussion pieces like the growing demise of dialects used locally (and you do get a satisfying sample of them as well).

There is a segment in Singapore GaGa famously known as the 4"33' (4 minutes and 33 seconds), a segment in real time which showed Margarat Leng Tan kneeling next to her toy piano at an HDB void deck, preparing to play, but didn't. There is little movement, but it's not completely silent. Singapore GaGa plays like an extrapolated version of 4"33', offering the background people like us, to observe and hear the things that we seldom, or never do.

We are the background people, and for once, we're given ample opportunity to listen to and realize the background music in our lives. Stay until after the end credits roll.

P.S. I urge everyone of you to watch this movie. It's a must-see, must-hear local documentary. And you'd better book early too. I was thrice denied as I thought I could purchase tickets from the Arts House box office just before showtime. And I was so wrong, as it has been selling out since Day 1. Do yourself a favour, be kiasu, get your ticket early, and enjoy the ride.

P.P.S. The screening was preceded by an extremely short local animated flick called the Crocodile Journals. Nothing too fancy, but it tells a quirky tale about a buaya which wants to integrate into human society.

P.P.P.S. Don't be late for the screening, as it starts on time. Can't believe someone actually walked into the hall 30mins into the movie.

Singapore GaGa will still be showing at The Arts House in April. Click here for detailed showtimes and ticketing information.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Where The Truth Lies

I've always known that sex sells, but to see it for myself is another thing altogether. We had back to back preview screenings for Black Night and Where The Truth Lies. The theatre was only less than 50% full for the former movie (a crappish one by the way), while the latter, was jam packed with people willing to sit on the isles just to watch it. What gives?

Anyway, Where The Truth Lies is a pretty decent mystery movie, even if you remove the sex. But that's not the point. You can read my review at movieXclusive as usual, by clicking on the logo below:

Black Night

When I can sit through a horror genre film and actually poke fun at its stupidity, then you know that there really is nothing to be afraid of. While the attempt is good, the delivery is pretty bad. The acting's mediocre at best, and the ghouls look extremely cheap.

A Pan-Asian production, we see three different stories, each done with a different director helming the production. What I disliked about the movie is it's passing off 3 distinct horror shorts as a feature length production. They tried to have a unifying theme / element throughout, and it turned out to be the rehash of Ju-On/Dark Water. It's time horror filmmakers know to move on. Not everything must be from puddles of water and little boys you know?

"Next Door" is the Hong Kong portion, directed by Patrick Leung. We see a love triangle being formed between 2 girls and a guy. Well, make that 1 girl, 1 guy and 1 vengeful female spirit, who probably deserved to die in the first place for engaging in kinky sex games involving handcuffs. The ending's pretty ridiculous, and drew laughter rather than terror. What's worse, the characters can't seem to decide what language to speak in. From Cantonese to Mandarin, then to a mixture of both in the same sentence, it suggested that the filmmakers are suffering from lingua-schizophrenia (ooh, did I just create a new term?). The twist in the end is plain blah, and the little marble boy served no purpose other than to create cheap scares.

"Black Hole" is the Japanese section, directed by Takahiko Akiyama. This one provided better scares with its horrific eyes-hollowed-out ghosts and special effects, but the storyline's a plain bore, about an aquarium usher having her past memory wiped out due to some early childhood trauma. It's psycho-analytical blabber which should have shut up and let the scares do the talking. Again there's a little boy involved, and again, a body of water plays an important element. But we don't really care much about it now, do we?

"The Lost Memory" is perhaps the best amongst all three. Directed by Thai Thanit Jitnukul, at least it had a relatively stronger storyline, one which tried to tug at your heartstrings as it dealt with family - an estranged husband and wife, and their child. It talks about promises, and the seeking of closure and forgiveness. But it reeks of Ju-On all over again, and the little boy looked like a Hulk reject with his green skin. Perhaps the only scary factor was the loud fall onto the toilet bowl. Really made you feel the pain.

From Reincarnation to Black Night, this week's dark offerings are a joke, a meek attempt to make some moolah. Don't get conned - either watch something else which is worth your time, or wait for the right horror movie to come by. The little boy in Omen666 looks scary enough though - hold onto your hell money for 6/6/06.

Friday, April 07, 2006

16 Blocks

Yippee-ki-yay! No wait, that's John McClaine. Bruce Willis again plays a cop in what could have been an interesting thriller. Actually had high hopes of this one making it good, given it's extremely tight spatial premise.

Alas the delivery was a bit of a letdown. Think Spielberg's War of the Worlds with the Tim Robbins bit, and extend that scene to envelope the whole movie. It's that kind of feeling.

Anyway, to check out my review at movieXclusive, just click on the logo below:

Thursday, April 06, 2006


This is the first movie review that I guest-contributed to Funkygrad, one which I watched during a preview session on a Funkygrad ticket.

Reincarnation is part of a series of 6 horror films by Japanese filmmakers, with it being the second in the series.

The plot and premise were promising, but the movie itself was badly executed (pardon the pun). It lacked elements which could have truly made it a cult classic.

You can click here to read my review at FunkyGrad. Let me know what you think (of the movie lah, not the review :P)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Take The Lead

Oh dear! Not another dance movie, or a teacher-student one for that matter, I hear you lament...

Fret not ok? This movie combined the two elements just as nicely as it did in the movie for the amalgamation of two distinct cultures and attitudes. It's pure entertainment and full of dance energy, you're in for a bit of a surprise!

You can read my review of this Antonio Banderas vehicle at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

An Interview with Kan Lume

Shaiful and I managed to meet up with local director Kan Lume late last week, and the interview session we had was one which was most intense. Kan Lume shared with us plenty insights, and the article is now up at the movieXclusive website.

Click on the logo below to read about the interview, and share the insights of this trailblazing visionary!

You can also read my original review, or read my second review which I've contributed to movieXclusive

Got so much to say meh? Hell yes! Kan Lume's feature film debut is one which will leave you plenty of room and material to discuss once the credits roll and the lights come on. Go watch it yeah? SIFF 06 24th April 1900hrs National Museum

Monday, April 03, 2006


Nudity, sex, drugs, gore and violence. If you're looking for a movie that has all those elements, then look no further than Hostel, which has got them all. Written and directed by Eli Roth, and given the stamp of approval from Quentin Tarantino, this film doesn't shy away from being seen as promoting a decadent lifestyle, and making fun of stereotypical Euros and Yankees, the horny and the stoned, getting their just desserts.

The movie tells the story of three backpackers going around Europe, living from hostel to hostel, indulging in sex and drugs. We meet them in Amsterdam, and accompany them to coffee shops for that high from weed, as well as visiting its famed fish tanks. Didn't know what the interior looked like, until today, from the movie (yeah, what did you think?). And yes, those fish tanks which you see from the movie, are what you get (though you can try whipping out your camera and see what will happen to you :P)

Anyway, our trio are getting bored with the *ahem* taste of Europe, and are seeking something different. They meet up with a pimp who recommends them a Slovakian city to indulge in, where the chicks will do anything, for the right amount of money. Tempted, the trio really made their way there (surely you've learnt enough not to trust strangers, but I guessed they thought with their other head instead), and checked into the Hostel, where it simply is gratuitous nudity galore, with beautiful easy chicks.

So while the first half of the movie focused on them getting their rocks off, the gore and violence didn't arrive until the second half, where one by one, our friends disappear under mysterious circumstances. They get locked up in some strange cell, and get tortured. You begin to wonder exactly what is happening behind closed doors, but I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say that while it might initially seem like Saw, with its enigmatic psychopath calling the shots, this film offered a more stripped down version to the madness. No elaborate games, just brutal simplicity, picking from available weapons of choice like the scissors, knives, hammers, pliers, scalpel, chainsaw, pistol, you get the drift.

Most of the violence happen off screen - your imagination is left to work what exactly is happening, given cues from the helpless screams, and the mechanics of the tools of death. The gore department isn't stinged upon, and there are enough blood spewing, dripping, flowing to keep the blood lust factor up. But there is one detectable cut in the movie, which I thought didn't really mar the sadistic enjoyment (if I can say this) of the movie.

However, there is a reasonable logical explanation to all these happenings though, and you'll share with the pain of the victims, and wonder in reality, if such an underground thingy perhaps could exist? I mean, why not?

And there's a satisfying ending to this movie too. There are no losers or winners, but the last 15 minutes are filled with so much gore, the squemish will find it hard to tolerate. And without spoiling it for you, I particularly liked two scenes then which involves vehicles. The first one is one that is seldom seen in a movie, while the second one is perhaps as close to the real thing as possible, without me being a witness to the event.

I sound sick, I know. But then, that's what this movie is, Satisfyingly, sick.

[FOCUS: First Cuts #2] I'll Call You

FOCUS: First Cuts is a series of films showcasing some of the works from up and coming Asian directors. Supported by Andy Lau's Focus Films, we'll be seeing a slew of 6 movies, the second being the Hong Kong movie I'll Call You, starring Alex Fong Lik Sun and Viann Liang, directed by Lam Tze Chung.

I'll Call You is a modern day romance story, taking a look into what a girl wants, what a guy wants, expectations and the games people play. Manny is your average guy who has been luckless in love. Karen is your attractive television anchor, the quintessential party girl who doesn't know what she wants in a partner. They meet by chance at a pub, and Manny falls for her, hard, after a series of dates. However, Karen only thinks of him as a friend (don't they always?) and soon enough, the couple breaks up.

This movie does share some insights into the psyches of males and females in relationships, and the usual tips and tricks used to woo. It's takes on a very quirky feel especially in the first half of the movie, with interesting concept visuals such as likening the chase to a computer game, and have scenes which seemed to have leapt out of Ally McBeal's imaginary situations.

The middle act sees us witness Manny withdraw into his own world to wallow in self-pity and sadness. Here lies a guy who has given and sacrificed a lot (of course, in an exaggerated manner) to woo the girl of his dreams, only to be told off that the feeling is not mutual. Represented by being held in a lockup of emotions, with the cameo appearance of Andy Lau (he lent his voice to the first movie, and now this. Wonder if the subsequent movies will have his involvement of sorts) as a muscular crooner, and the prison warden.

As time heals all wounds, so did Manny in crawling out of the gut, and getting back to his usual support group of buddy colleagues, football games, and drinking sessions. But he initiated contact with Karen, and the two hit it off again strictly as platonic friends, and we learn more of both their lives during the time that they were apart. You'll have this suspicion that they might get back together, or you might want them to do so. But do you also subscribe to the view that a couple, once gone apart, can never get back together again?

The ending's very bittersweet, and thus the outcome kept as realistic as possible given the scenario played out. But storyline aside, what made this movie enjoyable, were the performaces of the leads, and somehow, Andy Lau's cameos, which were funny and slightly thought-provoking.

Makes you wonder, do you sometimes make the wrong decisions in relationships, let the right one get away, and have to live the rest of your life to regret it?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Producers

Before I start the review proper, since there might be some who just like a peek at what the movie offered and missed out on my all important tip, so I shall mention it first. Stay until the end of the credits roll. Not only will you be entertained by the song sung by Will Ferrell during the roll, and some ad-lib at the end about buying 'Mein Kampf' from Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, you'll be treated to one last short song-dance sequence sung by almost all the cast in turn, telling you to get lost, get out because the movie's over. Only A Nutshell Review consistently tells you if there's anything worth waiting for at the end of the credits, cos I stay behind 98% of the time, to bring it to you. Enjoy! (Oh, the remaining 2% are times when I definitely know there's nothing, or I need to rush to the loo).

Anyway I enjoyed The Producers more than I enjoyed Rent. Perhaps I'm not as deep and prefer my musicals to be fluffy entertainment, at least for those which made the transition from stage to screen. This Tony Award winning musical by Mel Brooks tells the story of down-on-his-luck Broadway musical producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), and his accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick). Max is an unscrupulous, unethical producer who obtains financing by making the wishes of horny rich old ladies come true, by being their elderly boy toy, while Leo is an aspiring producer wannabe suffering from a case of severe insecurity, who hatches a plan for both of them to strike it rich to the tune of a million dollars each by making a dud musical.

They go all out to find the worst script - Springtime for Hitler, written by Neo-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell, in a better outing than the boring Bewitched), hire the worst director Roger DeBris (Gary Beach)- a gay man with a gay crew (lead by Roger Bart) decked in Village People outfits who all unanimously agree to make a gay musical, get the worst actors, and stumble upon one hot Swedish chick - Ulla (Uma Thurman).

There are plenty of madcap humour and sexual innuendo incorporated throughout the musical, which doesn't bore and kept things fresh somewhat. The cast obviously seem to be having a riot of the time, with their one-dimensional characters hamming it up. A few scenes stand out given its extended length in song and dance, especially those that involve Max and Leo getting their cast and crew to sign on the dotted line.

In particular, I enjoyed the sequence where they had to convince Franz to give them the rights to his Hitler musical, and it's a hoot to see the "well-trained" animatronic pigeons trained in Nazism. And who can forget the scene with Roger DeBris as they had to suffer the eccentricities of a director who swings the same way. Uma's scenes were all crazy and funny, as she had to speak in this accent that provided plenty opportunity for puns. And ooh-lala, can she shake that bootie :P

We do get to see a bit of Springtime for Hitler though, but that signalled a decline in pace for the entire musical. It was as if the job has been done, and the plot was forcefully extended for that bit of soul searching and closure by the characters Max and Leo.

It's pretty enjoyable, with some nice songs, and some very nicely choreographed scenes (I dig the one where Leo had gone back to the drudgery of his accounting firm, with robotic co-workers singing about being unhappy). If you're barred from Rent because you're underaged, then probably The Producers could make it up to you with its brand of song and dance.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Inside Man

Before I start the review proper, I must say, Thank You Spike Lee, for opening and closing Inside Man with Hindi Song Chaiyya Chaiyya, which was used in the Shah Rukh Khan movie Dil Se.

For some reason, I'm so into the song right now, and it was featured in the movie oh-so-perfectly. Love it!

To view and listen to the original, you can click the player below


How do you plan and execute the perfect robbery? Is there even such a thing as perfection in a heist? There are many unknowns, and with hostages, you never know what kind of complications they'll give you. And what more, when the police are all over you in a matter of minutes?

Clive Owen plays Dalton Russell, who tells the audience right in the beginning of the usual questions of the whos and the hows. You know, that bit in the trailer where he almost brags about being able to perform the perfect robbery. He and his band of merry men, dressed as painters, storm into a Manhattan bank one day in broad daylight, to rob it. EXcept that this isn't no plain old by-the-book robbery. The methods used are pretty innovative, and we are left to question the motives of what they are doing.

Denzel Washington plays hostage negotiator Detective Keith Frazier, brining him back to a good cop role after his award winning stint in Training Day. He's been on the side of hostage taker once in JOhnny Q, and here, he plays a good cop with an edgy suspect past, which despite his plea of innocence, still continues to haunt him. Despite putting on a paunch and looking almost unrecognizable here (is it in to be fat for a role?), Washington too provides a charismatic presence in great counterbalance to Owen's enigmatic screen presence, even though he had to do an almost Hugo-Weaving tribute by acting behind a mask.

Completing the heavyweights of casting, is Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe. Plummer plays Arthur Case, the Chairman of the bank that Russell is holding up, and it seemed that he has a dark secret hidden inside the bank which he doesn't want revealed. Jodie Foster, as Madeline White the mysterious power-broker, gets employed to muscle her way into the situation between felon and cop, while Dafoe lends his muscle as a police captain, in a good person role for a change.

Although the film consists of great performers as mentioned, there are limited scenes in which they share the screen together. But it really didn't matter that much, as the material given was riveting enough, and therefore making each moment they share, more treasured. You are left guessing most of the way as the cat and mouse game got underway, and when the finale is revealed, you can't help but share a smile, that it was yes, executed to plan, the way confident Russell wanted it to be.

There is a gripe though, that in the local version, swear words were all being silenced over. Which was irritating as there were gaps in conversation which you have to fill in the blanks by reading lips. Even milder swear words like a-hole were censored blank. What gives? There are PG films out there which has characters swearing, you know? And there was one scene which involved a Sikh, that I felt was a tad insensitive. There are times when the movie lapses into prejudices, but maybe that made this movie a little grittier, and in tune with more realistic sentiments and environments. Watch out for that electronic game too, which I thought was a very subtle jab at the kind of games that are selling well in the market, with no regard to the effect on its targeted audience.

The highlight of the movie, at least to me, was the opening credits scene, which contained pretty ordinary visuals, mundane even, but when somehow played out to the Hindi Song Chaiyya Chaiyya (which was the opening song in the Shah Rukh Khan movie Dil Se), it added a raw energy factor to Inside Man, with visuals and music blending so perfectly. And it was played to its entirety in the opening, and ending credit sequence - where the characters and the performers name are given a final encore.

It's a slick heist thriller, which doesn't conform to the notions of how a heist movie should be. It's the feel good factor at the end of the movie that makes this movie satisfying. This is perhaps the most accessible, and commercial of all Spike Lee Joint films. I'd watch it again, for its engaging politicking story, and for that opening credit sequence.

I so love that track, I'm gonna plug it again:

Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint.
Written by A.R. Rahman, Gulzar, Panjabi MC
Performed by Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi featuring Panjabi MC

Awesome earworm, even though I don't understand most of what they're singing :P
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