Wednesday, August 30, 2006

[DVD] Narco - The Secret Adventures of Gustave Klopp

I wonder how I would live my life if I had narcolepsy, probably I'll fall asleep just about

Anyway this is a fairly interesting movie about a man called Gustave Klopp who suffers from this condition, wrecking havoc into his social life and condemns him to unemployment. Until he conjured up a bright idea to translate his dreams onto paper given his artistic talent. However it's not all bright and sunny, as it explores darker themes as well.

You can click at the movieXclusive logo below to read my review:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

[DVD] City Sharks (2003)

Look Who's Driving Ma!

When the movie premiered in 2003, I wasn't interested in the film because it starred Nicholas Lee, whose character I abhorred in Under One Roof. It's nothing personal, but somehow felt that the movie won't be worth my time. How wrong was I, now watching the DVD and looking back. The production's pretty slick and professional looking, with an interesting story to tell - not anything sophisticated, but decently entertaining for a commercial film, which should have done better at the box office if not for audiences like me who didn't lend support back then.

The movie tells the story of 3 orphans, and coincidentally of different races (to highlight our multi-cultural society?) - Mike (Nicholas Lee), Jeff (Sheikh Haikel) and Chief (Hans Isaac). They're losers in life, until Mike chances upon a loanshark's little electronic black book of contacts, and launches into a mini-project with the others to pretend to be the debt collectors, going across the Causeway to reclaim (illegally of course) 1 Million Riggit to save the orphanage they grew up in.

So it's essentially a road trip for this city boys to the kampungs of Malaysia, pretending to be loan sharks (hence City Sharks), and while they go about their collection, they are chased by, check this - the original sharks from Singapore, gangsters in Malaysia for stepping into their turf, and a girlfriend who was dumped.

It's an entertaining movie with a feel good factor, never mind the mild but frequent cursings and swearings. Built on a common theme of adversaries finding brotherhood amongst themselves, it's a simple setup which doesn't try to take itself too seriously, or try to be too sophisticated. There are enough quiet moments to complement set action pieces, and even then, they're usually played for laughs.

While there were a number of female characters, the romance portions were found lacking. Between Sherry (Corinne Adrienne) and Mike, there was little chemistry, and between Samuel and Betty it was too artificial. But anyway the romance entanglement was never the main focus of the story, though I dug Michelle Saram's sado-masochist character called Deanna (incidentally, in Sheikh Haikel's other movie Army Daze, his object of obsession was Deanna Yusoff) who gets turned on with pain.

I thought Nicholas Lee was pretty decent as one of the leading men, with his overacting which suited the movie and story just fine. Haikel was essentially playing a larger than life version of himself as an Afro-Rapper wannabe, while Hans Isaac completes the trio with his brooding angry demeanour. While there is chemistry amongst them, at times it was just a wee bit contrived, but watch the DVD extras where they really ham it up for the camera.

The supporting casts were mainly drawn from familiar TV faces from both sides of the Causeway, with Koh Chieng Mun, Moses Lim, Marcus Chin, Eileen Wee, Keagan Kang (a hoot with his faux pas Aussie accent), Lim Kay Tong, Afdlin Shauki and Zaibo lending their weight to complete the ensemble. While some were bit cameo roles, I thought that it provided some fun in watching them bring their characters to life with limited screen time. If you had watched S11, you might recognize Kevin Murphy too in one of the scenes.

But what really made the movie, is its array of songs, arranged by the talented Don Richmond, and with other contributions from local bands like The Observertory. To me, music enhances the emotions of certain scenes, and here, be it madcap montages, comedy or serious moments, the music is just top notch. You don't have many local films having their own published soundtrack, so this is one gem to look out for at music shops, if you can find it.

Highly recommended, and my opinion was if it's done today, it would probably get a decent audience it deserves, probably even making a box office killing I reckon.

The Code 3 DVD surprisingly contains a whole lot of extras, which makes it worthwhile to own, and makes it one of the better local DVDs out there. There are 3 theatrical trailers, a music video for the theme song Stellarblowout by Skrooloose and various deleted/extended scenes, coming from a first cut duration of about 2.5 hours. It also has a feature commentary by director Esan and film editor Bing Li, together with Sheik Haikel and Nicholas Lee, which is entertaining enough as they recount the set experiences and shared information on the making of.

Deleted scenes - Mike and Jeff in the kitchen talking about collecting debts (extended scene) 3mins, Sherry and Fisherman (Zaibo) in truck (extended scene) 1.5mins, Sharks pick up Al (extended scene) 1.5mins, Sharks in seat covers (deleted scene) 1min, Sharks in trouble (extended scene) 1.5mins, and an alternate ending, which thank goodness wasn't used, because it's kinda choppy and draggy, and quite unbelievable too.

There's also a "Behind the Scenes" segment (13mins 15s) - showing the cast monkeying around the film set, of being "tupperware", having the focus put on the cast in between shoots, and it sure looked hell lotta fun. While the characters in the movie might seem artificial in their interactions at times, you can't deny the chemistry on set, with their incessant crapping.

Also included is a City Sharks Documentary "Heart of Darkness - the Making of a Comedy" (15mins 30s). A mockumentary done in a Survivor reality tv style with plenty of individual bitching sessions by cast and crew alike, as they recount (fictional) experiences like having insufficient film stock, and the cast going on a strike on the set. It plays like a mini short film in itself, and while it's a semi-hilarious documentation of actual events between the cast/crew from both sides of the causeway in this Malaysian-Singaporean joint production, it sure looked convincingly real.

Little Man

The trailer made the movie look kinda fun, but hell no, those were already the best bits in a highly predictable comedy that short on quality laughs.

You can click at the movieXclusive logo below to read my review:

But I'd say unless you're a huge Wayans fan, you'll probably be quite bored from the jokes that you can see coming from a mile away. And that's not quite funny too.

Monday, August 28, 2006

[DVD] Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) (2004)

Band of Brothers

Based on a true story in the late 90s, this movie tells the story of a group of Kekexili (an isolated region in the northwestern part of the Tibetan plateau. China's least, and the world's third-least populated region) mountain patrolmen, their bitter long standing feud with Tibetan antelope poachers, who are threatening the animal with extinction because their skin can be sold for a tidy sum.

Told in a semi-documentary style in less than three reel weeks, the story follows a Beijing photo-journalist, Ga Yu (Zhang Lei), in his quest to learn more about the tribal traditions, and to document the work of these brave men in their thankless tasks. Brave because they are toiling in a career out of sheer passion, despite being paid meagre sums by the authorities, or not being paid at all. They're exposed to real life dangers like enemy fire, as well as challenges from nature in terms of the weather, and unfavourable terrain conditions.

Watching this movie can be frustrating, as you see and learn what the patrol goes through, and with what the poachers do to line their pockets. However, what was more frustrating for me, were the various weak decisions made by the patrol leader Ri Tai (Duo Bujie). As a leader, he's effectively charismatic, but does that alone make a good one? His various calls on the treatment of POWs, of simple logistics in vehicles usage, fuel, food, etc, are weak at best, and probably needs constant reminders of the 36th rule of Sun Tze's Art of War, that sometimes retreating is the best strategy.

Story aside, the cinematography is gorgeous, capturing rarely seen (at least for a city dweller) scenes of the wilderness landscape in Tibet - it gives you a sense of feeling extremely small amongst the giants of mountains and vast plains. And you get a lesson or two in their funeral rites (still can't imagine the vultures and belief of releasing the soul from the body) and various folk songs sung in the local language, which I think the subtitles don't do justice to.

It's a ruthless battle between poachers and protectors, of people who play by no rules, and those with limited power to stamp their authority. It makes good character study too on leadership, or the lack thereof.

Code 3 DVD contains no extras, besides the usual scene, audio and subtitle selection, and some unrelated movie trailers.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Living The Dream - Interviewing Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh

I'd bet almost every netizen in Singapore must know of the TalkingCock website, and directors Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, who did the movie version of their premier satirical humour website.

What you may not know, and I'm telling you now, is that they have a second feature film out soon at local theatres, called Singapore Dreaming, and it's a brilliant film! Not only did I give a thumbs up, so did many other reviewers too. If I could say so, this is arguably the most accessible local movie to date this year, still in contention for my movie of the year, and please, do watch it, and share what you think!

Overider and I had the opportunity to interview both directors over breakfast last week, and you can click on the movieXclusive logo below to read the interviewing session we had with Yen Yen and Colin

Singapore Dreaming opens at theatres everywhere starting 7th Sep! Make a date, mark it down on your calendars! Also, stay tuned for a potential announcement soon on how you can watch it with the rest of the movieXclusive folks at a special price!

You can click here to read my review of Singapore Dreaming -it's "Just Plain Brilliant!" :-)

[DVD] Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Something Interesting on the Internet?

I've chanced upon this DVD at the Esplanade Library, and thought that it would be essential viewing before the Hollywood remake descends upon us in September. While the remake's trailer seemed scary enough with its freaky ghouls, I was apprehensive how spooked I will get when watching the original from writer director Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

And surprise, I found it to be palatable. and it confirms one thing though about the limited J-Horror movies that I've seen. There is minimal in-your-face shock-and-awe tactics. In Kairo, the mood and atmosphere is extremely measured with its superb controlled use of light and shadow. Expect things to go bump in the dark, but not too often though.

I believe what makes J-Horror movies a spookfest, is its ability to weave freaky stories from seemingly everyday events and objects. The Ring has its VCR tape and television set, while here, it's the Internet, a website which asks if you would like to meet a ghost, and a computer's ability to dial up on its own. From the start you're presented with a mysterious suicide, before the movie progresses with people in the city disappearing for no apparent reason, and vague happenings with shadows and black stains at spots where people die.

The ideas presented here, on loneliness and that human connection, seem interesting enough to ponder upon, as it questions if the use of technological tools like the computer brings people together, or further isolates us from one another. It also tried to ask a hypothetical what-if question, of what would happen if the other dimension which ghosts belong to, would be finitely occupied by the spirits, and their numbers start to spill over to our realm.

Most of the time, nothing really happens in the movie, which might seem a bore to those weaned on jump scares, quick cuts and actual ghouls and goblins making an appearance to scare the wits out of the leads. I liked the shot where the car roams around an empty streets of Japan, kinda reminds me of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, or even cheesy fests such as Resident Evil.

While I thought it was not scary, my friend warned me about the after effects, which I've yet to experience, not until the sun sets at least. And heck, I'm using the internet right now to write this too. Hope the screen doesn't go freaky on me...

Code 1 DVD comes with the theatrical trailer, which seems scary enough on its own, and a 41 minute long making-of documentary.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Monster House

There's Something Strange In Your Neighbourhood!

In almost any neighbourhood, there is always that one house, or that unit of apartment, which has spiritual connotations attached to it. It could be because of tragedy, or rumours, or just for the simple reason that it's unoccupied, or has some elderly, probably unkindly, strange looking old folk living in it, that gives the creeps to anyone under the age of 10.

In Monster House, it uses a familiar urban legend, and plays up the nastiness associated with such a location. DJ (Mitchel Musso) stays opposite a creepy looking house, and bears witness, through his telescope, of the things that go bump in the night, and the horrible things that it does. Natually, because he's a kid, nobody believes him, save for good friend cum resident fat-kid loser Chowder (Sam Lerner).

The story's kept tight by having set a day before Halloween, and despite the children being stereotyped, Chowder actually stole the show from DJ with his at time innocent, at time crafty and sly antics, and there's a nice tango for attention between the two boys and their crush of the moment - Jenny (Spenser Locke). So while the three of them get set to unravel the mystery of the Monster House, it doesn't disappoint, with the bickering, laughs and budding romance, chemistry like that between Potter, Ron and Hermione. Hmm.. now that I mentioned, it looked more like a Harry Potter clone.

The graphics require some getting used to, given that it's deliberately not done in a cutesy manner, thereby coming across at times as quite stiff. Come to think of it, there isn't an artificially created "cute" character in the movie, as it adapts "real life" as best as it could, in an animated form. And for a horror movie, it put its real life counterparts to shame, especially in its anticipatory build up in mood and atmosphere.

Anyway, the trailer doesn't give much away except to whet your appetites, so I'll keep it at that rather than to inadvertently reveal any surprises. And if you're undecided between the two animated flicks on offering this week at the local cinemas, then my advice would be to pick Monster House over Barnyard. Here, the story is clearer superior. And that's what matters, really.

Stay tuned during the end credits for some scenes which add closure!


The Goofy Animal Farm

Talking animals. Only in animation do you get away with having animals exhibit identifiable human traits, and speak like we do. Of late, with the success of many Disney and Pixar movies, this year alone we'll see a bumper crop of talking animals in animated flicks from successful ones like Over the Hedge, to complete flops like The Wild, and have in the wings, an Open Season Flushed Away with Happy Feet.

And we have here, a George Orwell Animal Farm gone totally wrong. While the animals here exhibit similar traits as suggested in the literary classic - they hold regular town hall meetings, have a system of governance and work ethics, these animals prefer to walk on twos, and have cows leading the pack rather than pigs (and the widely held belief that they are lazy). Best of all, they are the perennial party animals, in both sense of the description. They party all night long in the barnyard, transforming it to their discotheque, and strut around the farm on their hind legs when the farmer goes away.

However, this movie is a lost sheep, meaning baaaad. The story doesn't have a clue to its direction, and because the plot is running around like a headless chicken, the movie, at best, is made up of disparate scenes jointed together rather haphazardly. It lacks a good story to tell, seemingly borrowing familiar elements from The Lion King, and even the weak idea from Chicken Little about the relationship between father and son - here between the Cows son Otis (Kevin James from Hitch) and Ben (Sam Elliot), who heads the farm.

Writer-Director Steve Oedekerk, who wrote the screenplay for comedies like Bruce Almighty and The Nutty Professor, seem to fall short of providing the laughs for the animals. The best bits are sadly all provided for in the movie's trailer with the animals' gags on the human characters, and what's left in the movie are the less than powerful dramatic bits. Every sub theme or sub plot seem to be a quick hack job just to extend the run time, and doesn't add any depth to character or story.

The only saving grace to the Barnyard is the perfect animation, which is pristine, crystal clear, and too polished for its own good, and somehow lacked heart and soul. It is one thing to have excellent art, but it seemed more of a cover for the lack of a sustainable engaging story.

Watch it only if your kids bug you to bring them to the movie, especially since cutesy chick characters are used as bait. And oh, somehow watching cows strutting around on two legs and exposing their udders, seem kinda sick, and especially so when these cows are supposed to be bulls, and are mistaken by kids as "mother cows". Great start for the young ones on gender bending.

Akeelah and the Bee

Stop Trying to Spell It, and Spell It!

There are many competitive sports movies out there, and most of them run common storylines either being pro-underdogs, or running along racial (dis)harmony themes, believing in yourself, mentor-mentee relationships, you get the drift.

Akeelah and the Bee is no different, but like all feel good movies, chances are you'll like this one and would be touched by it too, because it leaves you all warm and fuzzy inside, never mind a repeat of the commonly used themes. It's formula, but with its predictability, brings you just the right amount of ra-ra moments where you root for what's right, and depends a lot on the charisma of the leads to take it to the finishing line.

The U.S National Spelling Bee competition is a cerebral one. Unless your favourite book is the dictionary and you spew Latin and Greek like a first language, you'll be in awe by the vocabulary that these children have to know, in order to regurgitate the right one in front of a national audience. It's the ultimate English Language challenge, and only the best of the best, through a gruelling selection process, get to make the mark to compete.

Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) comes from your suburb school, and has a penchant for skipping class, hence her less than fantastic grades. Her gift and talent is what else, spelling, and it's quite typical of the school to want to milk that talent to bring glory to themselves. While initially resisting that thought, it doesn't take too long before Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), himself an ex-competitor in the game, identifies her talent, and takes her under his wing to train her for the Nationals.

I kinda smiled that Fishburne fanboy smile - it seems that Fishburne's characters can't seem to get enough of mentoring Andersons :-) Anyway his Dr Larabee plays off a bit like his Matrix's Morpheus, with that stern exterior, and that soft interior. He plays surrogate father to Akeelah, and through their relationship, help build the girl's confidence through essays written by literary giants. It's great chemistry which starts off in a rather chilly manner, but you'd know before long that these two will break the ice and come up between themselves, special techniques to train, and through that, build communication.

The movie does fall into the occasional lapse into stereotypes, like the Asian's uber-competitive streak and that strict father you love to hate, the divide between the haves and the have-nots with the rich white kids, and the black ghetto boys. However, these are glossed over too quickly, as we head onto themes like the galvanizing of a community, and the spirit of competition even though it led to an all too predictable ending. Important reminders like relations between family and friends are stressed, and in a way, it made this first Starbucks Coffee (yes, that coffee company) production appeal to a wide spectrum.

The message in the movie is clear, and it reminded me of an old soldier who once told our platoon, and I paraphrase, that one should not let others look down upon you, but more importantly, you should not look down on yourself. Clearly, that's the message here. Go the distance without fear.

Friday, August 25, 2006


The Blue Lagoon Just Got Crowded

My friend CK asked me to go along for this movie, as he's a huge Amanda Bynes fan, having followed her television series What I Like About You, and both of us agreed upon her comic potential in She's The Man, which was a pretty fun gender bender movie.

With a title like that, there's nothing too cerebral about Lovewrecked. No, it's not a doomed spoof of the Love Boat, but the teenage romance here is quite as cheesy and predictable. Bynes stars as Jenny Riley, and we're quickly introduced to her character's idol worshipping of screen pop singing sensation Jason Masters (Chris Carmack), going totally bonkers during his concert, much to the detriment of best buddy Ryan (Jonathan Bennett).

During their summer job at a Caribbean resort, she finds herself caught in a man-overboard situation with Jason, and the two of them thus began a Robinson Crusoe life - until of course Jenny discovers that they aren't really shipwrecked on some remote island at all, and keeps this as a secret from Jason. When her love rival participates in her little charade, it becomes like the reality TV series Survivor, where each have to outplay, outwit and outlast the other in order to get the affections of the lone pop star.

Directed by Randal Kleiser of Grease and The Blue Lagoon fame, this movie too had Bynes strut around mostly in bikinis, the apparel of choice for any girl working at a resort / stuck in a desert island. Bynes still haven't lost her comic timing, however here she's let down by an extremely weak story, and an even more disappointing lack of laughs from the stilted comedy. There are comedic situations which either make you laugh, or make you laugh from how bad it is. Sadly Lovewrecked had more of the latter, and for one scene, had to rely on the toilet humour favourite of the fart sequence.

As for the other characters, they're basically all one dimensional. The catty love rival, the handsome scheming nice-on-outside-unethical-on-inside pop star, the pining buddy, the mean resort manager, the horny colleague, the arrogant star assistants and minders, the list goes on. The Riley parents were such throwaway characters that you wonder if their inclusion was for the sake of extending the run time, which clocks in at a short 86 minutes.

So unless you're a true blue Bynes fan, or have that penchant for teenage romance movies, do steer clear or you'll find yourself getting pretty bored at predictability.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

And No, It Doesn't Say Bad M*erF*er

For the record, I hate snakes, and have this phobia of snakes. I can even freeze in my tracks at a bloody picture. And it goes without saying that the Snake House is never a place I'll visit in any zoo. What's my fear about? I don't know, just that I attach this sense of evilness and danger to these slimy (yes I know they're not) slithery creatures that should be condemned to the depths of hell.

Anyway I digress. What compelled me to watch this picture, besides the fact that I'm a sucker for punishment, is Samuel L Jackson. He's THE man! With Sam, you'll always know he'll lift that scene or two, oozing street charisma and attitude like none other. If you think you're in a shithouse, with Sam in the house, you ain't see no shit yet bro, know wha I'm sayin? And when he kicks into mo-fo attitude gear, you know you're in for some serious slaying!

This is a cheesy movie done in a cheesy way but with A list production values, tons of special effects, animal trainers, and yes, plenty of snakes of all shapes and sizes. From pythons to the cobras to the rattlers, I tell you these creatures will chill you at your seats. Thank goodness this ain't on no IMAX or 3D effect, otherwise I suspect many will be reeling their heads backwards, and backwards some more.

The plot's none too cerebral to begin with, so don't bother but accept, go on board, and enjoy the fright, I mean flight. It isn't going all out to scare you, though watching characterless caricatures suffer and die under the most sickening conditions involving all conceivable snake-accessible orifices and sexual appendages, provides some sort of sick pleasure. The usual cliches of thrillers/horrors are milked here as well, like the well used one that those who have sex are usually the first to go.

And there are plenty of victims from where that came from, given the movie's set on a red eye flight in a Boeing jet, offering a variety of passengers like the rap star and his posse, kids travelling alone for the first time, dumb blondes, the asian Kung Fu master, and even the cabin crew, who are put in a better light as compared to another set-on-a-plane movie Flightplan.

If there should be a gripe, then it's the length of the action sequences, most of which are just too short, or unexplained, especially those involving Jackson. I mean, the audience should see how he goes around killing those SOBs, but as mentioned, we don't get to see much. I suspect some scenes will probably end up in an extended DVD version, deleted scenes, or perhaps make their way into video games, fighting his way through with makeshift weapons.

That aside, and if you're ok with the censored bit in this NC-16 movie where a couple joins the mile high club (too bad it's forcibly shortened), Snakes on a Plane is a movie to catch on the big screen for the fun factor, and no, you'll definitely not get to watch this on any inflight entertainment system anytime soon.

The Cobra Starship music video for the movie plays through the end credits. Not too bad a song, think it's becoming a ear worm for me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

This is a chick flick. I enjoyed it tremendously without shame. There's always something about the fashion industry portrayed in the movies, and I had a good time with the zany Zoolander. Here, Anne Hathaway shines as the impressionable new hire to Meryl Streep's steely cool industry veteran, and while sparks fly in a different sense, the visuals and the branded clothes, shoes, bags, belts, etc are just to die for, for the women of course.

You can click at the movieXclusive logo below to read my review:

Anne Hathaway looks good, either in frumpy grandmother garb or high chic fashion. Severe eye candy alert!

The Break-Up

The Cold War

The real life relationship between Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston probably casted a cynical shadow over this movie, given its ominously sounding title about the end of relationships. Not that it's played out in an unbelievable manner, but this is a classic case of real life causing an unwanted effect on reel life.

In a courtship that spanned up until the end of the opening credits, that's familiar grounds to the real/reel couple as we see them so utterly in love with each other. And it's not before long that the lack of nine lemons became the spark of a heated, long drawn argument. It's the littliest things that always matter and provide the catalyst for unwanted trouble, and the lack of appreciation somehow almost always provide ample ammunition to the start of a cold war.

This movie had the effect of trotting the fine line between the two parties, though I must say that I stand on the side of Aniston's Brooke, rather than Vaughn's Gary. Perhaps that's because I've weaned myself off video games. Anyway, from a spectator's point of view without taking sides because of sexes, her requests (if you call them that) seem reasonable enough, in any relationship which is about give and take. So if you were to ask me who's right or wrong, I've already made my stand.

But while the movie dwells on the confusion of the situation made worse by a common living space and mortgage (money has to do with everything, no doubt), it's some same old grounds that many romance movies had already tread upon, exploring the pain of breaking up and losing someone you had taken for granted, except that because of the premise of this movie, it had to be played out in a more extensive manner. It takes a long look at the games people play to get back at each other, and the saying of things that you don't really mean in the heat of the moment, the skewing of meanings, and the explosion after keeping what you abhor about someone inside you for so long (that's for keeping things under the carpet during good times). There's also quite a realistic take on the running to friends and family for emotional support, and the difficulty of being caught in the middle of things especially when you're friends of both.

Between the two leads, the pain of the break can be most visibly seen in Jennifer Aniston, and there are no doubts as to where she could have drawn the strength from to play her emotional wrecking scenes. Vince Vaughn again looked like he sleepwalked through a role (not that it mattered, given the character), but I thought that his portrayal didn't really bring out that tinge of regret or believable sadness at the whole event.

Can you become friends with the person you broke up with? Probably. How deep that friendship can be will depend on the circumstances behind the breakup, and of course how willing each party is to bury the past and carry on as friends. It could be in an extreme superficial manner, which I would think now, why bother at all?

The city of Chicago provided the backdrop of another recent movie - The Lake House, in a story about love and hope. Here, it turned the other way and became the city where love and hope had faded, and those who have undergone a break up of sorts can experience the bittersweet aftertaste. Did I mention the almost unrecognizable Justin Long's awfully fugly take as an effeminate co-worker? Ewww....

Monday, August 21, 2006


Do You See What I See?

The lemming has this reputation as a mindless creature which commits suicide by jumping off cliffs, and this has developed its connotation to various popular culture, and I do recall a computer game called Lemmings which features exactly that.

This movie, which opened the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, has a plot point related to this Lemming reference, but I shan't go into the details for obvious reasons. Directed by Dominik Moll, Lemming tells the story of the young Getty couple Alain (Laurent Lucas) and Benedicte (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who seem to be living the model life - a relatively successful husband, a beautiful wife, a large house in trendy suburbia. What more could they ask for?

Things start to go all wrong when Alain's boss and wife, Richard and Alice Pollock (played by Andre Dussollier and Charlotte Rampling), arrive one night late for a scheduled get together dinner, during which Alice's behaviour as a guest was utterly deplorable and downright rude. They end the night on quite a sour note, with Richard's philandering ways made public, and thus set in motion a series of unexplainable sequence of events that plague the Getty couple.

For moments this film couldn't decide how it wanted to play out, and this will leave you engaged throughout its painfully slow revelation. Yes you'll feel the length of the slowness in pace, but strangely would be forgiving and willingly allow to be hooked. From hints of a psychological thriller, to supernatural horror, or can even be boiled down to a demented imaginative mind, you will inadvertently try and decipher the plot, as well as attempt to classified its genre, which the filmmakers ensured that you possibly cannot, until the very last few scenes.

So perhaps it's best to mention something which the movie proposed, a thought about why a married man will choose to refuse getting entangled into an affair. Is it purely because of the love for the spouse, or simply because the chances of being caught one day is high, and not worth the risk? Each of us has an internal moral compass, which guides us on the general dos and don'ts, rights and wrongs. However, if there is a strong belief that you could do something incorrect, and get away with it, would you go ahead and do it? It makes for intriguing discussion.

The soundtrack was creepy though, with that lone piano plonking away in eliciting the necessary mood from the audience. And it does so quite perfectly as it raises your heartbeats, and while you're waiting for the final crescendo, it just holds it right there, and continued to hold that note till... well, nothing!

And I'd probably still recommend this movie if you're looking for different fare amongst offerings of the week, though you'd have to agree to be led from start to end. The revelation might make you wonder why the trouble to go through all the fuss, and given its simplicity in playing it out the way it had chosen to, it would give that unfulfilled feeling, that it could have lived up to its initial potential.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

[Sawadee Film Fest] Ghost Variety (Variety Phii Chalui)

Who You Gonna Call?

Directed veteran Thai director Adirek "Uncle" Watleela, Ghost Variety is a crazy horror comedy, well actually, more comedy than filled with horrific moments. It starts off quite aptly, in a remote village where a horror movie is being screened, and introduces the audience to a few of the usual ghosts and goblins, until we realize it's all a figment of the imagination.

And there's plenty from where that came from, with scenes cutting in and out from screen reality and fantasy. Basically, it's about the story of a down and out filmmaker called Tom, played by familiar face Petchtai Wongkamiao, who starred in Tony Jaa vehicles Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong for comedic effect, and recently seen in Chai Lai Angels. Here, his character Tom is developing a script, but keeps getting turned away as he's told only horror movies make money.

It's a subtle jab at the film industry in general, with the constant reminder that what matters is something that can churn out bread and butter, and not for quality's sake. Surprisingly, this movie had a lot of Thai filmmakers and industry players making cameo appearances in spoofs of themselves, and I suppose to fans of Thai cinema, it'll be a hoot just to identify all of them (kinda lost with me and the audience during my screening).

So Tom had no choice but to bury his artistic tendency and with the need for funds for his next film, he had to succumb and stoop to making a variety show for television, based on what else, ghosts. Bringing together a motley crew of relative cowards - in his two lead presenters Tik The Star (of his short films), played by Charnnarong Khanteethao, an upcoming singing supersensation The SuperNext (Boriboon Janruang), and a beautiful production assistant Paew (Pitchanart Sakakorn, who starred in two other movies I watched earlier this year, in one of the segments in the awfully bad movie Black Night, and Promise Me Not during this year's SIFF), they scour Thailand to seek out the truths behind some urban legends.

Basically there are a few cheap scares in what seemed to be only 2 extended scenes - a haunted house sequence which brings more laughter than scares, and a haunted village sequence which seemed more Sci-Fi than horror. Other than that, the movie turned out to be quite directionless as it flits from scene to scene, and towards the end, it leaves the audience quite bewildered because there are just too many schizophrenic endings, which might just leave one frustrated if you're looking for a clean-cut storyline and resolution.

However, the strength in this movie is on the comedy, and in merging horror into it, it plays along with the general consensus that yes, horror films do sell. And what more by having a little fun while at it?

[Sawadee Film Fest] The Letter (Jod Mai Rak)

Korean movies have become so popular that they are high on the export list to the film industries abroad to be remade for local audiences. Leading the pack is Hollywood, and we've recently seen The Lake House. The Thai film industry too took a Korean movie - 1997's #1 Korean film, The Letter (Pyeon Ji), and gave it their own treatment in Jod Mai Rak.

I haven't watched the original, but looking at the result of this Thai effort, they aren't too far behind in the ability to make a melodramatic weepie too. Jod Mai Rak tells the story of two lonely people, a country boy called Ton (Attaporn Teemakorn), and a city girl Dew (Anne Thongprasom), who meet and found each other by chance at a Chiang Mai bus terminal, and as Fate would have it, they would come together after a semi-long distance courtship over the telephone.

There are plenty of sweet moments interjected throughout the narrative, like the lingering shots of a bald plum tree which belongs to Ton, and the tender moments during their stay together in Chiang Mai, after personal tragedy made Dew ditch her shared apartment in Bangkok, and opt for the more rustic lifestyle in the countryside. From here, country boy teaches city girl how to live it up with the basic necessities (well, she still brought over some city artifacts like the PC), and naturally lent itself to many moments that will melt your heart.

But watching a movie like that isn't interesting, and you always know that there's something extra just waiting to come. Melodramas always have you paint the perfect blissful picture, before coming down with the all too familiar terminal illness plot device. The two star crossed lovers aren't spared this either, and the latter half of the movie see them battle their fears of not having be with each other for long.

It's a story of remembrance, and not forgetting the good things in life, of moving on and cherishing the good times. It's impossible for someone not to feel at least a tear in the eye as the dramatics take their full effect, especially towards the end, though there is some redeeming bittersweet feel at the end of the movie.

I found the use of the letters in the movie vaguely familiar, and possibly could have been used in other movies I've seen. It's nothing supernatural, and something which is simple, yet I know is highly effective in serving its purpose. Not that I think anyone would be crazy to do something like that in real life, probably will just either freak the other person out, or really prevent someone from truly moving on.

The leads Anne Thongprasorn and Attaporn Teermakorn are believable as the lovers. Girls will probably swoon at Attaporn's portrayal of Ton, the real sensitive new age dude who can cook, has green thumbs, and has so much heart and positivity in life. Anne's Dew initially started out quite unlikable, at least to me, with her tendency to be spoilt and taking things much for granted and in a minor way, mistreating Ton perhaps? But thankfully there is a character change as the movie progresses.

Directed by Pa-oon Chantornsiri, Jod Mai Rak is a perfect date movie which centers much on the lives of the two lovers, at the expense of having some throwaway supporting characters. Then again, two's a company, and anything more is always unwelcome. Chiang Mai also makes for an awesome romantic place.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

[Sawadee Film Fest] Born to Fight (Kerd Ma Lui)

Trademarked Reverse Scissor Kick!

This Thai movie is directed by Panna Rittikrai, the man behind the stunts for Tony Jaa vehicles like Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, and is a remake of his own 1978 first movie of the same title. It's a pure unadulterated action movie, without too deep of a storyline, except to set up some excuses to have fights, explosions and gun play.

Looking very much like 80s action movies from Hong Kong, this film has an opening action sequence that took a leaf from action superstar Jackie Chan's Police Story's car rolling down the hill of slums stunt. Only that it's done on a way larger scale here. Daew (Dan Chupong), is a Bangkok cop who lost his sarge on that particular mission, and feels guilty for not being able to do more.

Kessarin Ektawatkul was also in the movie - she's one of the Chai Lai angels Poy-sian (the one doing the dance inside that transparent ball). Here she plays Daew's sister Nui, a skilled Tae-Kwon-Do exponent, and both brother and sister joined the sport's school excursion to a Thai village to bring gifts to the villagers, as part of their goodwill visit. However, you need the villains to make their grand entrance, and here they come in with guns ablazing in their massacre of the village.

The survivors are rounded up, and an ultimatum given to the Thai government to release chief villain General Yang, or watch the remaining villagers get killed and televised (nowadays terrorists are media savvy). So it's vaguely Die Harder familiar grounds, as it's up to one man - Daew, to save the day, in a villain for hostages exchange, not if he could help stop it.

Or so I thought. One man is not enough to battle an army, so the Thai national anthem made the survivors rise up to their oppressors. Kinda Seven-Samurai/Magnificent Seven-ish, the sports schools representatives like a sepak takraw player, a rugby player, several gymnasts etc make use of their sporting skills in various action set pieces. While it is fun to watch the first time, sometimes it did get repetitive, or even unbelievable as footballs, rattan balls, poles and even a kettle of boiling water get put to good use.

While there are the usual shoot-and-miss gunplay with guns ranging from machine guns to the occasional bazooka, the highlight of this movie are the hard tackling, full body contact fighting stunts that never cease to amaze. They look really dangerous, and you wonder if there were actually any broken bones, teeth, burns and other serious internal injuries sustained by the actors and the stunt crew. Done to perfection too are the various slow motion techniques and the multiple camera shots to accentuate the action.

Born to Fight also boasts some nifty special effects like a nuke explosion in the same vein as Terminator 2, but what's probably the hallmark here is the Daew's reverse scissor kick combo that shadows the weak story. Bottom line is, in such an action movie, the plot's secondary to the stunts anyway. Enjoy!

[Sawadee Film Fest] Chai Lai Angels (Chai Lai)

Lara Croft, Eat Your Heart Out!

Chai-Lai Angels, as the name implies, is Thailand's version of Charlie's Angels, no doubt about that. They work as undercover secret agents, they have various disguises, they fight criminal organizations, they look good while delivering those high kicks, report to a "Bosley", the list just goes on.

Opening this year's Sawadee Film Festival, this is one action comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously. Filled with plenty of camp, jokes, implausible situations and crazy antics, you'd half expect the Angels to be slick, efficient, and the likes. Not! I actually found it quite amusing that they turned out more bumbling than effective!

In a 3 beauties and 2 erm, more mature looking ladies fronting the team (no guesses who came over to Singapore for the press conference), Chai-Lai Angels doesn't have too deep a storyline to boast, suffice to know that there's a Japanese household who holds the secret to the location of the Queen of Andaman pearl, which could fetch the bad guys billions of dollars in some black market auction. So it's up to the Angels to thwart this dastardly attempt so that the oceans, nature and the entire ecological system of the world will not be thrown into disarray (don't ask).

While they are not too busy fighting criminals, plenty of whom are generic foot soldiers commandeered by a gender-bender working for a characteristically bland villainous chief, they too have time to ponder on love, or the lack thereof. Taking a chip off Charlie's Angels and even Kill Bill (!), we see familiar wedding scenes, and that gyrating hips sequence ala Cameron Diaz in the former movie mentioned. But bottom line is, it's never easy being in this line, and keeping love interests (move away guys, we're here to see the girls in action!)

Some of the set action pieces are quite weakly done, so cheesy that it's laughable, but you'll probably never dismiss them as the girls get to do battle in various garbs0 like wet towels, bikinis and even wet nightgowns. The feminists might go up in arms with this, but hey, this movie's not for them anyway.

The pacing of the movie leaves much to be desired, and it's particularly violent for a PG rating, not that I'm complaining though, as almost everyone, ranging from a young girl to a cock-eyed villain, take turns to execute kicks, punches, stabs with plenty of gushing blood, and those bullets in the heads. As mentioned, don't take this movie too seriously, as it almost always threads on fantasy. The male one that is.

I'm Still Smitten With Supakson Chaimongkol!

Sophie Scholl - The Final Days

Viva La Resistance!

If recent memory serves me correct, the number of German movies making their way here seem to be set only during WWII. With Napola and Downfall, we see plenty of youths either aspiring to be part of the elite, or are fervent members of the Nazi Youth.

Sophie Scholl tells a different story of a minority of German youths who actually were part of a resistance group called the White Rose, against the Nazi Regime. The Scholl siblings Sophie and Hans were part of this group, and this story tells of their (well, actually the focus is on her) final days during which they were caught in their zealous attempt at distributing their anti-war propaganda bulletins in school.

As with all resistance fighters, they choose to take up arms, but here with their mightier pens, writing incriminating and treasonous (during those times) points about the downfall of the regime and Hitler's mistake in marching towards Russia. And a litmus test of ideals is always surviving (or not) the interrogation and imprisonment as you get drilled and questioned to give up more names of fellow conspirators.

Winner of the Silver Bear in the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival for Best Director and Best Actress, it's no surprise to see why. Julia Jentsch, as Sophie, puts up a brilliant performance as you can feel her steely resolve in her beliefs, while inside she's crumbling and is actually afraid (who wouldn't?). You feel her small triumphs during her battle of wills and ideals with her interrogator Robert Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held), her hopes and dreams while in her prison cell, and her fears for the safety of her parents. She brings all that through with remarkable believability.

There's actually a nice soundtrack which accompanies certain scenes, and puts you right in the mood of things with the building of anxiety, but much of the movie seemed to be devoid of all things musical, so that you won't be distracted from the heated words exchanged during the standoff between two extreme ideologies. And especially an eye-opener would be how the People's Court is conducted, with open trials meaning audiences made up of members of the Nazi war machinery, and the judge being the loud mouthed crusader who insults you using the perfected hairdryer effect.

So for those keen at having another point of view of what happened within Nazi Germany, about a group of staunch resistance fighters personified by Sophie Scholl, then look no further, this movie is for you.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Saint Jack

Saint Jack Poster

Today marked a special day, that it's the first time the banned 1979 movie Saint Jack, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring Ben Gazzara, finally makes an official public screening after the ban was lifted earlier this year. It's the second time that it's screened though, given the first time was a special one off screening at the 10th Singapore International Film Festival. Moderated by Ben Slater, we also had a few of the local cast and crew grace the occasion, and even watched the original theatrical trailer in 35mm, with director Peter Bogdanovich introducing key scenes and taking that famed walk through "Boogie Street".

Based on the book written by Paul Theroux, Saint Jack remains the only Hollywood movie to be shot entirely on location in Singapore, not in any studio backlots here, but actually out there on the streets. Much has been said about the banning of the movie because either the authorities didn't enjoy being hoodwinked on the production, or it's really because the focus on the seedier side of life during those times was found inappropriate in the late 70s period of purge. Whatever the case is, it's finally unbanned, and you might wonder, after viewing it, what the fuss had been all about.

Sure there were boobs, there were transsexuals, there are Chinese gangsters, prostitutes and other undesirable elements, and then there's Jack Flowers (Ben Gazzara), the ang moh pimp who works the grounds as easy as can be, a smooth operator who can get you what you want, how you want, and harbours ambitious thoughts of operating his own House against good advice.

It's a story of one man's survival in a city that's evolving, of the challenges he faces having to stick out in shady environments like a sore thumb, of tussling with the triads for turf, and having the CIA on his back as well. It's about the usual friendship, love, loyalties

Watching a movie in retrospect allowed me to marvel at the 70s Singapore that I was born in, an era where things were not so polished and efficient, where gangsters roamed the streets, where Boogie (Bugis) Street was not yet known for its air conditioned sterile shopping malls, where the airport was still at Paya Lebar, where the all too familiar city skyline is not yet defined, where taxi cabs still have a metallic hood spanning the length of the windscreen, where the Fullerton Hotel was once the General Post Office, where dilapitated godowns still lined the banks of Boat Quay, where bumboats the nostalgic list goes on.

One thing's for sure, while the storyline might sound sleazy with its semi-focus on the world's oldest profession, the production values certainly weren't. Everything's utterly top notch for a production of that era, and I'd dare say even comparable to standards of today. It's Hollywood after all, and no effort was scrimped in bringing the novel to life. It's everything admirable from art direction, to sets, to cinematography, editing, sound, the whole works. And Gazzara was too owned Jack Flowers - he made it so believable that this ang moh can integrate himself into society of the times, with his back-slapping, first-name calling amongst the locals.

If you do watch Saint Jack, I'd recommend reading Ben Slater's book on the making of the movie - Kinda Hot prior to viewing it. While there might be spoilers as certain scenes and plot lines are discussed, it makes for a more compelling film viewing as you inadvertently would feel that you've gone through the entire production process from start to end, and then identify with elements on screen. You'll marvel at how what was discussed on paper turned up on screen, and silently smile at others when you know the background of how that particular scene or shot came about. Even if you don't have plans to watch the movie, the book is well researched into the challenges of filmmaking, and shares some key observations about a society that has been long gone and lost in time.

Oh yes, did I mention that I was seated next to Mr Teo Bee Hui who played Jimmy Khoo during the screening? Awesome!

Anyway here are some badly taken pics - I need to do something about my camera's (in)ability under low lighting conditions...

LtoR: Tan Yan Meng (Little Hing), Teo Bee Hui (Jimmy Khoo), Noel Joseph (Gopi) and Ben Slater

The Q&A was relatively short though, as there were few questions fielded from the floor. The cast and crew present went through brief introductions, like Yan Meng still being in television productions, and Noel recalled being plucked out from his job to star in the film. Some excerpts:

LtoR: Tony Yeow (Unit Manager), Agnes Chia (Casting), Tan Yan Meng (Little Hing), Teo Bee Hui (Jimmy Khoo), and Noel Joseph (Gopi)

Cleopatra Wong herself was also present during the screening, and asked how Tony felt about having being involved in two movies that were banned - the other was his production called Ring of Fury. Tony shared that he should have been more aware of the censorship requirements during the period of the late 70s, where "yellow culture" was being frowned upon.

Agnes and Tony also disclosed that Peter Bogdanovich had a peculiar way of casting - he sees what he likes, and then you're in, something like a selection based on face value, literally. Also, Agnes recalled that working with Bogdanovich was quite difficult, like the last minute decision to want to cast a midget - she had to look for one who wanted to act in the film in less than a day.

Anyway you can click onto Ben Slater's blog post on his thoughts, and he has a better picture posted :-)

Saint Jack plays at The Arts House for one more time on Sunday 27th Aug 06. Grab your tickets today, if you haven't (Oops, heard it's already sold out!). Watching it on the big screen definitely beats viewing it a TV screen anytime, and what more with inside info courtesy of the well researched Ben Slater book Kinda Hot, and having the actual cast in attendance as well.

The Angel's Presence

Maybe I'm dreaming, but sometimes things happen and you very much wish to kick yourself in the ass. Two seemingly separate items that will converge and deliver that knock out on your face.

Of late, my friends and I have been in discussions about a short film set on the MRT. Also, the webmaster also assigned an attendance/coverage of the Chai Lai Angels gala (opening film of the Sawadee Film Festival), to which I declined because I opted for Cine.SG's Passable instead. Moreover, I've already bought my tickets for Angels this Saturday as well.

Anyway, earlier this evening I was on board the MRT train coming from the east, and there was this girl who caught my eye. Actually, I'd bet she caught everyone's eye, because she was relatively tall, and had one of the most strikingly huge eyes and a smile that could melt the sternest of hearts. It was also peculiar that she was holding a bouquet of flowers, and a paper bag with another huge sunflower inside. She didn't look local, in an evening dress, and was alone. Strange if you ask me, cos surely I'd thought you would probably go in a cab if you're going for some cocktail party.

But I'm not complaining, though we had to part ways when I alighted at City Hall. And I thought nothing of it, until I saw this pic at as part of the coverage done by Richard.

I was in the presence of a Chai Lai Angel - Supaksorn Chaimongkol.
The one on the left, dressed in white.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

[Cine.SG] Passabe

Already we've seen a bumber crop of local movies hit the screens this year, and it's rare to have a documentary or two as part of the offerings. To start off Cine.SG's 2nd slate of local movies, Passabe, the James Leong and Lynn Lee documentary about Timor Leste in its run up to independence, gets its extended run at The National Museum's Gallery Theatre.

You've probably read about the struggles of Timor Leste during its referendum for independence from Indonesia, and the massacres that accompanied during the period of time where militants belonging to the anti-independence camp went on a rampage on pro-independence folks.

Like I mentioned in one of the earlier reviews, one thing about movies is its ability to transport you to places you hear about, but haven't seen. Here, we get the opportunity to visit Passabe, and its neighbouring villages, and hear from the victims, their families, and even the perpetrators, as they seeked towards a session of healing.

Like all gangs, the mob mentality is especially strong when the group is together, spurred by acts of violence and a sense of invulnerability. However, when singled out one by one, each individual might turn out to be an ordinary sane person, without much of the bravado. And when the time comes to admit to the atrocities, as part of the condition for forgiveness and moving on, these individual still claim ignorance and innocence to their ill-contribution. Save one man, Alexio Elu, who stepped forth and proclaimed that he, and the others, were guilty of their misdeeds, and he made his confession even in the face of criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity.

While it is easy to condemn him for such crimes, you can't help by admire his bravery in admittance, his realization that what he did was very wrong, and his willingness to be punished for such crimes. But this documentary is not all about Alexio, as we take both a micro and macro look at the entire issue, and the culture and traditions rarely seen on film.

Banned in Indonesia (2 hours before screening it a film festival in Jakarta), Passabe was made with a support from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant. It is an interesting documentary about a difficult time for a fledging nation. Clocking in at almost 2 hours, it is probably a must-see for those interested in regional affairs, or even for those who are curious at the ability of how local filmmakers are capable in making a world class riveting documentary.

After the screening, James Leong and Lynn Lee were present for a Q&A session. They had just flew in from Hong Kong, where they are shooting another documentary. Here's an excerpt of some of the discussion (again, any inaccuracies are my fault alone in transcribing):

Q: How did you get to make this movie?
A: We were invited by the UN in 2004, which was 5 years after the violence. It was interesting to observe a westerned styled hearing coupled by eastern rituals, until we found the story of Alexio, who actually admitted to the atrocities, and we were fascinated. We went to Passabe to meet him, which was a remote village strong in traditions.

Q: What happened since the making of the movie?
A: We had actually wanted to go back in Jan 06 to show the movie in Passabe, but didn't make it there. We don't know if the villages have made peace, but we know that the violence had stopped.

Q: What were the challenges in making the movie, and how large is the crew?
A: It's 2 crew (James + Lynn) + a translator. Passabe is hard to get to, first a ferry ride from Dili, then you've got to hitch a ride, before crossing a river. There's no electricity and running water, and we've got to truck out supplies. We survived on rice and tinned tuna for weeks, and perfected the "one bottle mineral water shower".

The people spoke a dialect, and we've got to get our translator schooled for 6 months to learn it. Even then, the dialect spoken by the priests are different, but luckily our translator's father spoke that dialect.

There were also ethical issues in the making of this film, as we had confessions of a murderer, so there was a battling of dilemmas - how much did you allow a man to incriminate himself?

Q: How long did you take to make the movie?
A: We took 8 months to a year filming, and then one year to edit it.

Q: Was the film meant for mass distribution?
A: We didn't think much about distribution when we first started, otherwise it might not have been made if we waited for funding. We did ask a few TV documentary channels though.

Q: What were the reactions in film festivals?
A: In Germany they can identify with the reconciliation and forgiveness, as they too had a violent past. The French were a big, tough crowd, but overall in general the response was good.

Passabe is screened as part of Cine.SG, and runs from Aug 17-20, 24-27 1930hrs at The National Museum Gallery Theatre, and from Aug 19-20, 26-27 1515hrs at Cathay Cineplex Orchard.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The High Cost of Living - Director's Interview

Me Interviewing Director Leonard Lai

dgital and I were attending the press screening of the upcoming local movie The High Cost of Living, and had the opportunity to speak to the director, Leonard Lai, on his new film.

Some of the cast and crew were present at the screening as well, but it seemed like everyone was in a rush as they "disappeared" soon after the show was screened. But we did manage to spend some time with Leonard after his conversation with a Straits Times movie reviewer.

You can click at the movieXclusive logo below to read the interview:


The High Cost of Living plays exclusively at The Picturehouse starting this Thursday!

Lucky Number SLevin

Tell Me I Look Better Than Josh

Slevin: They call him the Rabbi.
Lindsey: Why do they call him the Rabbi?
Slevin: Because he's a Rabbi.

The Boss: They call him "the Fairy"...
Slevin: Why do they call him "the Fairy"?
The Boss: Because he's a fairy.

YES! For most parts in the first half of the movie, that's just how the dialogue is gonna get, in some of the banter between characters. However, fret not, the movie is extremely engaging, but only if you hang in there and keep the faith. There are plenty of moments where scenes are just seemingly disparate, but knowing that this is Hollywood, by the time the movie ends, it'll just about explain everything to you as it lays the cards on the table.

Josh Hartnett plays Slevin Kelevra, a man who thought his day could get no better when he lost his job, and got home finding his girlfriend tripping over and another man bending over her, doggy styled. He takes flight and is supposed to meet a friend, but ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Soon enough, he gets unwittingly embroiled in a deadly game of hired guns, between two of the largest crime bosses in town, known as The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), in gangs formed between racial lines. He's caught in Catch-22, Hobson's Choice and Murphy's Law situations all rolled into one, as engineered by a professional killer called Goodkat (Bruce Willis), and his only consolation in all this madness, is a chirpy neighbour Lindsey (Lucy Liu).

It's a snappy, snazzy movie with a very slick plot, and I'll not discuss any more of the movie, the premise, nor the themes, otherwise it'll be a dead giveaway. Suffice to say that I'm quite impressed by the way the movie unfolded, and how the editing kept certain key scenes under wraps. However, it is difficult to stop eagle-eyed viewers whose brains are working in overdrive, to figure out the entire plot before the midway mark.

The cast provided this movie with the additional power of attraction. Josh Hartnett is sure to draw in his female admirers, and both Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley bring some regality into the picture even though they're playing veteran rival crime bosses. Bruce Willis seemed to be taking on more supporting characters, but still stereotyped back into the usual cop, or killer roles, though his Goodkat character here is uber-cool.

One of the must watch movies of next week, full of genuine fun! Be sure to catch it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The High Cost of Living

Got Gun Got Action OK?

Just to share some quick thoughts on this new local movie. As you would've known by now, I've taken a keen interest in Singapore films, past and present. I got to admit this one was flying under my radar, and I didn't notice it until The Picturehouse publicized it in one of its recent email newsletters. The poster caught my eye, because it had a handgun on it. Sure you can laugh, but seriously, when was the last time you heard of a local action movie (and those co-produced by Mediacorp Raintree don't count)?

And this is a very different local movie altogether. Without the coffeeshop talk, sans slapstick humour, or social commentary. It reminds you of some of the older Hong Kong action movies, the cops and robbers ones, which were popular in the 1980s. Finally someone had taken up the challenge to do something in a familiar genre with a touch of fantasy put in, especially when one sets it in Singapore.

Directed by first time director Leonard Lai, he has presented a movie which is dead serious, telling a story in a very mature, adult manner. It doesn't take a mickey out of things, nor introduce unnecessarily funny characters. The High Cost of Living is about two professional killers on opposite sides of the law, and it dwells on the theme of Choice, on the decisions we make, and the consequences of such decisions, good or bad.

If there would be drawbacks, it would probably be the lack of a powerful soundtrack to accompany the interesting visuals, which used different hues to accentuate the different settings and characters. At times though, some actors look particularly wooden, but I'd like to attribute that to the nature of their characters, as they get drawn into a complex cat and mouse game which they have no idea who's on the right, or wrong side of the law.

There are many characters in the movie, and while it may be a bit confusing at first, they each serve a purpose in the plot, as they contribute in their own way to an adequately tension-filled finale scene, where everything comes together for that all important revelation, and final opportunity for everyone to try and do something right.

In any case, you can read my alternate review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

The High Cost of Living opens exclusively at The Picturehouse from August 17. It's really a totally different flavour of a local film altogether, and you just got to see to believe!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gubra - Best Film, 19th Festival Filem Malaysia

Yasmin Ahmad's Gubra won 4 awards at the 19th Festival Filem Malaysia, for Best Film, Best Actress (Sharifah Amani), Best Screenplay and Best Poster.

You can read more from The Star, The Malay Mail and New Straits Times.

And of course, if you haven't watched Gubra yet, it's available in VCD and DVD at all good stores!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

[ASEAN Film Festival] Jackfruit Thorn Kiss (1735KM) (Vietnam)

One of the beauties of movies is the ability for a viewer to catch glimpses and snapshots of a country one has yet to visit, especially if there are loads of outdoor on-location shoots. I haven't been to Vietnam, and Jackfruit Thorn Kiss provided me an opportunity to see what I probably could not, unless I visit the countryside.

Titled 1735KM, this is the distance between Hanoi and Saigon, the distance in which our protagonists, Kien (Ho Khanh Trinh) and Tram Anh (Duong Yan Ngoc), fall in love under. This movie essentially tells of a love story that could happen to almost anyone, highlighting the odds in real world population terms of meeting that one person out of six billion whom you are fated to meet and fall for.

I thought it started off in in similar terms like Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, with the two would-be lovers meeting in a train carriage, albeit under unfriendly circumstances. Tram Anh, the opinionated woman, laments her bad luck about having broken her mobile phone and puts the blame on fellow passenger Kien, a happy go lucky artist. Ever accomodating with that smile on his face, it's a classic case of opposites attract, as they miss their train during a station stop, and have to rough it out together in the smaller towns of Vietnam, without much money and having to rely on ingenuity.

During their three days together, it's a case of Planes, Trains and Automobiles of sorts, as they journey from (touristy) location to location, town to town, either on foot, bicycle or a BMW motorcycle, and exchange banter and barbs on life in general, with opposite views presented from someone commitment-centric versus the carefree attitude. There are lots of philosophy of love discussed, and we see through these exchanges, how they slowly, subconsciously and inevitably, fall for each other.

Critical to the movie is how the main leads carry off their character's development, as they discover their individual changes. Duong Yan Ngoc and Ho Khanh Trinh exude chemistry and charm, and they are convincing as the lovebirds who undergo changes from within. It's almost always ironic that sometimes in a relationship, we are gravitating towards some form of change, for the better or for the worse, and these changes at times do conflict with what was attractive to the other person in the first place.

The movie's peppered with Vietnamese songs and while I don't understand the meaning of the lyrics due to the lack of subtitles here, it is by no means less enjoyable. There are also some touches of special effects like A Scanner Darkly, in almost animating everything on screen in a few scenes, and I thought they were beautifully done.

It's a bittersweet tale (though I disliked the very last scene as it was almost implausible) of love, and the changes that love will bring to the persons in a relationship. And I'm really glad to have watched Jackfruit Thorn Kiss (1735KM) during this film festival.

[ASEAN Film Festival] Citizen Dog (Thailand)

Meet Pod and Jin

Oh my, I love this movie so much, and I'm wondering where should my gushing start from. Director Wisit Sasanatieng has weaved yet another beautiful film in terms of visuals in this romance-fantasy story, and it's not difficult to see the progression and retention of the plus points made from his earlier feature Tears of the Black Tiger.

Perhaps first the storyline. It's quirky and bizarre, fit for a fairy tale like structure in terms of narrative style. Yet at the same time it's uplifting, inspirational and provides plenty of hope. Key to the plot is the aged old saying that when you're always looking for something, you'll never find it, but once you stopped searching, it'll appear right in front of you. This will be the central theme throughout the movie, at times made up of seemingly separate segments touching on the different lives that our hero Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk) encounters. Many of the bizarreness of the city are seen through the innocent eyes of Pod, a country bumpkin who left his country home to journey to Bangkok in search for a better life.

And it's a pretty pastel coloured world, adding a surreal sense to all the happenings in Pod's life, throughout his work as a packer in a sardine factory, a security guard, and a taxi driver. In a number of decisions that he makes, he does it for his love, Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong), who works as a maid in the same company. Jin, an obsessive compulsive with cleanliness, however, is the pragmatist, and doesn't think that their current financial status would allow them to lead a comfortable life together. Hence it's a constant pursuit for Pod, as Jin gets very sidetracked with her aims in life - as an environmental activist as well as to find out the true meaning of her mysterious white book.

Narrated by fellow Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, the opening credits played to an addictive song, signals that it's one heck of a ride. There are plenty of endearing, funny, and kooky characters that populate the city. from a young girl who smokes and swears, a licker, a taxi-motorcyclist, and even Pod's Grandmother all make this dream-like Bangkok, something worth highlighting. There are loads of wonderful songs included to help move the narrative along, since dialogue by the leads, especially in the beginning, is kept to a minimum.

There are plenty of special effects and techniques used to complement the beautiful, colourful cinematography, and even animation and stop motion puppetry were used to bring some characters to life. The art direction too is top notch, and the sets are always a sight to behold. The jokes come fast and furious, and mostly through the playing out of the innocence and dreams of Pod, literal as well as figural, as he tries to make sense of this new world he lives in.

This is a highly recommended movie, and I think I'll try to look for its DVD. Wisit Sasanatieng is currently at the helm of a (locally funded?) production called Armful, and going by his track record, I sure would be interested to see his spin on a martial arts movie.

[ASEAN Film Festival] Brownies (Indonesia)


Perhaps finding and nurturing love is similar to the making of the brownie, through plenty of patience and care to ensure it turns out right. I've a personal anecdote on the brownie based on past experience, in a tale of my own relationship with a past significant other, but that will probably be another entry in itself, not fit for this blog.

The opening sequence for Brownies is interesting enough, with the recipe and credits intertwined as we see how they are being done, from the beating of the eggs, until they come out perfect from the oven. The story centers on Mel (Marcella Zalianty), a beautiful career woman who is about to get married to Joe, an equally successful executive. However she discovers first hand that Joe is having an affair behind her back, and calls off the engagement promptly.

What follows is a romance drama between Mel, a woman who, despite knee jerk determination to move on, still holds a candle for the cad, Joe, the suave cunning smooth talking bastard who wants to have the cake and eat it, and Are, a bohemian styled operator of a book cafe and an aspiring novelist.

At times you just want to strangle Mel, for being the wishy washy person that she is when it pertains to the affairs of the heart. And it struck a chord with me as well, because in her indecisiveness, she had inadvertently caused pain to someone else, and it never is a nice thing to do. There is a fear of loss that permeates within each of the lead characters, and somehow makes this exploration interesting to observe, especially with the varying degrees the characters felt.

Despite the good things about the movie, what marred it was that the print that was used for the screening, was significantly noisy - full of pops and cackles throughout, which I thought was a shame. And with any foreign language film, non-natives will have to rely heavily on the subtitles, but as subtitles go, sometimes they cannot fully capture the essence of the dialogue. What made this one suspect were the gender-bender mixup, which provided accidental laughter, especially when dealing with relationships of the opposite sex (now when did that someone decide a preference change?) :P

While the movie at times unveiled like some Mediacorp drama, I liked the way the Brownie made its way into many scenes, and gotten itself weaved into the storyline, in a fashion that wasn't indulging. Marcella Zalianty carries the film with her excellent acting as the tough on the outside, soft on the inside Mel, and her vague resemblance to Kelly Hu at certain angles, helped too.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

[3rd Singapore Short Cuts] 4th Week

It was an almost full house today at the 4th and final week of the 3rd Singapore Short Cuts, and 3 additional rows of seats were added to the front of the hall to accomodate the expected spike in attendance, given that the highly rated, and much talked about (in the mainstream press the past few days, I counted 2 articles) about Eric Khoo's latest short film, No Day Off.

Aik Khoon - Chen Bang Jun
I was half suspecting it would be supernatural, given that I've never seen or heard a cab driver bringing a friend along during his shift, and having the front seat occupied. Aik Khoon tells the story of a cab driver and his good friend, and key to the movie is the bantering amongst the two.

Yet another "taxi driver" short (there was another one called The Passenger two weeks ago), this one didn't mind to be politically incorrect, and there was one moment where the cab driver lashed out, vocally and punctuated with a quick job of the middle finger, at women drivers :P

Untitled - Loo Zi Han, Kan Lume
If I'm smart then I'll run away
But I'm not so I guess I'll stay
Heaven forbid
I'll take my chance on a beautiful stranger
- Beautiful Stranger, Madonna

There was no dialogue in this short, save for a music number played inside a car from Madonna's Beautiful Stranger. A take on regret after the lead had a quick tryst with a stranger of the same gender. The only short in this year's selection to be rated R21, this was made during the Singapore History Museum's Take 5! Soul to Soul, Guerilla Filmmaking Challenge in 2005.

Pontianak - Raihan Harun

Probably the only one with a poster-on-a-postcard, it's quite surprising to discover that Pontianak is a student-led effort. It had this all round creepy feel to it, and I had actually expected more shock-and-awe tactics to be used. However, it was more restrained rather than presenting an in-your-face all out horror movie with the usual cliches, though there is this use of a demonic kid, ever so popular these days.

Beginning with a funeral, the elements of Pontianak is adequately included here, like the nails, the banana tree, though what was I would have dug into was the actual appearance of the lady-in-white-with-fangs herself :P

No Day Off - Eric Khoo
The best of the selection today, and save that I didn't manage to watch the selections from the first week, I'd dare say this probably might triumph over the those as well. Obviously the highlight and the attraction which accounted for the large crowd turnout, No Day Off is actually produced as part of the Jeonju Intenational Film Festival's Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers project, in which Eric Khoo is one of the three mentioned.

Co-written with his Be With Me collaborator Wong Kim Hoh, No Day Off heralds Eric's return to the short film genre after a series of acclaimed feature films, and probably stamped his class above the rest with this short, also the longest amongst the selection during this festival, but it never bores nor make you feel conscious about its duration (of almost 40 minutes).

Telling the fictionalized story of an Indonesian maid, Siti from Sulawesi, Indonesia, we learn of her reasons to want to become a domestic helper in Singapore, and chart her progress starting with the painful goodbyes, her training in Batam, and finally her assignments here. It recounts the harsh conditions of their work environment, from the poor wages, the language barrier, the high expectations, to the emotional and verbal abuses they have to quietly suffer.

When watching this short, I'm sure those in the audience who have domestic help, will look hard into themselves, and I hope they start to question if they are almost, as equally or heaven forbid, nastier than Siti's employers. There were 3 households presented, and I'd guess it would be easy for someone to identify which one closely resembled theirs.

There was someone in the audience sitting behind me quietly sobbing away during key, touching scenes, and later on I discovered that she is a real domestic worker. Guess while the movie have hit an emotional chord within us, it sure did resonate inside her even more.

This time round I didn't manage to capture any pictures of the Q&A Session, given I was seated near the front and had this huge head right in front of me :P Nonetheless, this is transcribed as best as I could (I think my worst effort so far, since there were a number of gaps as you'll see), any inaccuracies are my fault alone. And I guess it's bloody high time I get myself a digital voice recorder.

Seated LtoR (not that it matters): Wong Kim Hoh, Eric Khoo, Wenjie, Chen Bang Jun, Loo Zi Han, Raihan Harun, Kristine

First, the introduction of their shorts
A (Pontianak): The catalyst was my childhood experience on the occult. Someone close was very ill, and he had travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia to look for medicine men / bomohs, and had seen many strange stuff.
A (Untitled): This was done as part of Singapore History Museum's Guerilla Filmmaking Challenge, and was made in 36 hours.
A (No Day Off, EK): This was part of the Jeonju Intenational Film Festival's Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers project, and I haven't done a short film for many years. It was based on articles in the news about maid abuse. Maids have become part of our lives, and it's an examination into why we can't treat them right.
A (No Day Off, WKH): It's a lot of sacrifice from the maids to come to Singapore to work, and there are many things which Singaporeans take for granted given our new found affluence.

Then there was this question which beat around the bush... something along the lines of the shorts being rooted to reality or just plain fictional
A (No Day Off, WKH): Movies are a reflection of real life. We are a small country, and when we make movies, we do so with minimal resources. The way to go for us is to make films or tell stories which resonate, and to see humanity up there on the screen.
A (Aik Khoon): There are no boundaries in film making, so it doesn't matter if it's based on reality or pure imagination. It doesn't have to be real, but it must have real heart.
A (Untitled): We have to come to an emotional place from within, we have to be true to the film, and true to yourself.
A (Pontianak): It depends on the themes you are trying to explore.
And there was a branch off into Mulholland Drive, and Eric Khoo mentioned something about his challenge to Royston Tan, to do something personal, yet commercial.

Q: What is the panel's perception of change in the last few years - whether it's easier to create, fund, and find places where their works can be screened?
A (Untitled): I haven't been around in the last 2 years, and this is my first narrative film.
A (Wenjie): From a film programmer's point of view, there are more venues around now to show films. While the number of venues have increased, it is now up to filmmakers to make more films to be screened.
A (No Day Off, WKH): Everyone's curating films, which can be good as we get exposed to variety. As for funding, people are reluctant to fund Singapore films, but there are grants which makes it a little bit easier. Singaporeans are a bit strange, in that we seem to need foreign endorsement (from overseas festivals etc) before we readily accept a local film, or think it is any good, and there is a need to change this mindset.
A (Pontianak): There have been some progress, but it is not enough. I recall a conversation that went
"So what do you work as" - "A filmmaker" - "No, really".
It's not really a viable thing to be a filmmaker in a society that we have now. It's still a romantic notion to work with DV, but the challenge is to make something to show it to the world.

Then there was a question about the support given by Mediacorp - Bang Jun mentioned that there was the Arts Central Channel at Mediacorp, and Raihan highlighted about television's unhealthy fascination with reality programmes. Zi Han added that we cannot rely solely on statutory boards of the government for funds, and Eric Khoo quipped that he doesn't understand what's on television these days, though he had seen Ezann Lee (who was in his film Be With Me) jumping around like an idiot in one of the local sitcoms (to plenty of laughter in the audience).

Q (No Day Off): How conscious were you in portraying Siti as a victim?
A (EK): It was pretty intentional, though we didn't' want to go into brutalities like burning with an iron. There are three different environments, and the last one was the most compassionate. It was also deliberate not to show the people she works for, so that the audience can ask "Shit, am I that bastard?"
A (WKH): We were quite mindful, and tried to make things as realistic as possible. The first family, very rich, but not exactly that bad, though they talk to her and about her like she's an invisible entity. You don't really see the abuse, but there are plenty of insensitivities like you're talking about a person who is without feelings. And we want to examine why is this attitude peculiar in a country like Singapore.

And Braema Mathi, president of Transcient Workers Count 2, made a comment that she was glad that there was no focus on physical abuse, but rather the focus was on the maid's quiet indignities, as this issue was harder to grapple with. She felt Siti was empowered, to have made the decision to leave her family and make that journey to be trained as a maid, in having the adaptibility to work in different homes she's put in, while at the same time, finding her own space.

A Panel Discussion on Short Filmmaking in Singapore - Evolution or Involution, started at 4pm right after the Q&A session, and lasted 2 hours. On the panel were producer Juan Foo, filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, Yuni Hadi from Objectifs, and moderated by Ben Slater. A whole range of issues were discussed, including inputs from filmmakers Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, who were in the 40 (approximate) strong audience.

Friday, August 11, 2006

[FOCUS: First Cuts #4] Crazy Stone

Now Where Should I Hide It?

So far, the FOCUS: First Cuts series of movies have been rather mediocre. Taiwan's The Shoe Fairy was rather plain, Hong Kong's I'll Call You was concentrated too much on its effects, and Singapore's Love Story was just awful. The three aforementioned movies lacked a compelling story to tell, and I was holding my breath on how a movie titled Crazy Stone will present itself.

I bought into it, hook line and sinker, within the first ten minutes. The opening scenes were a class act in editing, presentation, with a mixture of humour, and wastes no time in introducing the ensemble characters of the movie - an ex-cop turned Chief Security Officer, his Toto-fanatical sidekick, the arrogant crony of an unscrupulous real estate developer, a skirt-chasing photographer, a trio of bumbling crooks, and a professional thief who just has no luck.

Directed by China's Ning Hao, Crazy Stone is one heck of a heist movie with deft touches in presentation. Never too flashy with its special effects, or repeating its non-linear narrative technique too often, it just about presents itself almost perfectly, keeping the audience constantly engaged throughout the movie. I can't finger a dull moment in any scene actually, and the real reward is when you pay attention to the little details, as these will be used at some point to deliver that awaited punctuation to the story. There're plenty of irony infused, which somewhat brings about certain pleasure in recognizing them. The sets are beautifully urban, and at times just plain ugly - the toilets just have to be seen.

The casts are a joy to watch, and although relative unknowns, they bring out just about the best in the story, which is something like a Spy Vs Spy, cat and mouse, cloak and dagger game between the protectors of a piece of valuable jade, and the crooks who want to steal it for the various motivations they have. The story's akin to the guessing game of correctly selecting which cup amongst three, is a coin hidden under, once the cups are shuffled randomly with sleigh of hand, and to the characters, presents itself like a huge maze, set to an eclectic soundtrack.

I don't get the opportunity to watch that many Chinese films (and here I mean those made in China), and I'd say that if this is how a heist movie can beat, in my opinion, some of the fare that Hollywood churns out in the same genre (not that they were fantastic, but I enjoyed them nonetheless), then I would be eagerly waiting for another Chinese movie from another genre proving itself to be amongst the best. This movie doesn't look expensive, and it's an apt reminder that it almost always boils down to the quality of the story, to make it a hit with a viewer.

As with the other First Cut movies, a touch of Andy Lau is included, and though he did not star in a cameo here, his song "Wang Qing Shui" was featured in part (I believe twice) in the movie, though only in passing, but enough to ID it.

Looks like his venture with these 6 films has uncovered a gem, and I'm secretly hoping the remaining films in this series - Malaysia's Rain Dogs (Yasmin Ahmad in a role you know?) and Hong Kong's Parental Guidance, will also prove to be as entertaining, and refreshing. Crazy Stone will go into my list as a contender for one of my favourite movies of this year. It's a pity it's only screening at ONE theatre in Singapore, so make every effort to watch it, soon!
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