Saturday, September 30, 2006


Hi I'm Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive

Scoop marks Woody Allen's second movie shown locally this year (the other being Match Point), both set in England and both starring his new muse Scarlett Johansson. In what is probably reel influenced by the real, Johansson was recently crowned sexiest woman alive by Esquire magazine, and you wouldn't have expected her to take on the nerdy look of Allen with those glasses and neurotic behaviour. But she did.

Transformed from Match Point's seductive femme fatale to Scoop's love struck teenager, Johansson shines as campus journalist Sondra Pransky, who actually finds herself bedding her interview subjects rather than snagging any exclusive scoops. In a twist of fate, while attending a performance by small time magician Sid "Splendini" Waterman (Woody Allen), she meets a spirit of the recently departed world renowned journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), who provides her with a lead to the recent Jack-The-Ripper wannabe Tarot Card murders.

Reluctantly teaming up with Splendini as pseudo father-daughter, they try their very best to infiltrate the life of prime suspect Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), son of an aristocrat. Hereon, it ups the mystery factor as both Pransky and Waterman search for clues to a whodunnit, with Pransky inevitably finding herself falling in love for real with the charming, gentlemanly Lyman.

Scoop has plenty of classical comedic moments, filled with tons of witty liners, so keep your ears closely peeled to the dialogue - they come hard and fast! Woody Allen probably at his element here with his poking fun at himself. The movie is as accessible, and paced might tighter than Match Point, and it feels a lot more lighter in mood too. Even its perceived darker moments here in certain scenes don't drag, and Death in itself is made fun of too. The best scene, in my opinion, has got to be the introduction of Splendini, with Allen, Johansson and McShane all rolled into the same scene. Hugh Jackman though had a little to do as the aristocrat, probably reprising a similar role he had before in Kate and Leopold.

For some reason I've avoided Woody Allen movies in the past. But with Match Point and Scoop convincingly providing me a jolly good time, I'll likely be revisiting his older works in due course. And with that, I thank you for reading this, from the bottom of my heart, with all sincerity and all due respect, you're a credit to your race...

In one word: Fun!

Lower City (Cidade Baixa)

Menage A Trois?

Two childhood friends, Deco (Lazaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura) meet Karinna (Alice Braga), a stripper looking for a cheap ride to the city of Salvador, in exchange for sexual favours with the boys. Who could pass up a blonde like that, and in record time, we see the friends getting it on with her inside their steamship.

It's actually an extremely simple story, with lacklustre sex, some flesh, and again, a short story premise being extrapolated painfully into a feature length movie. The central theme here is the disintegration of a deep brotherly friendship because of man's innate selfish nature when it comes to affairs of the heart, and how lust takes over to blind the dudes that it just isn't worth fighting over a slut.

If I may paraphrase a popular saying, why forgo your sights on the various bikes available in the store for the village bicycle, which everyone has ridden? If there should be any plus points for the film, then it would be the handling of this character exploration of the breaking down of a friendship. However, that alone isn't sufficient to garner your attention through the movie.

Alice Braga, the Brazilian actress who starred in City of God, looks good in the role, but seriously it's nothing to fantastic about it. Her Karinna is one seriously indecisive about the matters of the heart, though totally passionate about losing her clothes without batting an eyelid. While she realizes that her indecisive ways is causing havoc to the friendship of both men she likes, making some preliminary plans to escape the situation but not execute it doesn't help much too. What made it all worse, and this is directly linked to the story, is the frustration of leaving things just hanging in the air. The movie ends in similar fashion to Karinna's character - the inability to decide.

Oh, and the overrated scenes of the city, it's seediness, gloominess, etc, it's really all done in quick montages, or on location sets that doesn't offer you anything more than a sneak peek. Like its characters, the movie's delivery just doesn't make you care for any of them, or their self-inflicted plight.

All said, this movie will probably not get any thumbs up by the ah pek community. What they're primarily looking for, gets glossed over too quickly, bogged down by the characters trying to emote too much. I'm not sure how some can tout the supposedly steamy scenes as hot, unless of course they haven't got it in a long time.

Friday, September 29, 2006

World Trade Center

Completely lacking in frills, gimmicks and controversies, Oliver Stone's latest movie about September 11 2001 brings Nicholas Cage back to the local screens.

Don't expect a Titianic styled movie with minute-by-minute recreation boosted by special effects. It's very muted in terms of the showing of the tragedy, and puts its focus instead on two men as they struggle to stay alive in the rubble, and how their families cope during their absence.

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

[Nokia Starlight Cinema] Just Like Heaven

So Who's Loving Who?

The line which cracked me up was "... alcohol as a social lubricant. To make men brave, and to make women loose".

This romance movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo actually premiered here last year, but I didn't feel compelled to watch it. So winning a pair of tickets to Nokia Starlight Cinema, which enabled me to choose any movie I wanted to watch, presented an opportunity, given that my friend and I had watched all of the other movies on offering. More on the Starlight Cinema in a while.

Resse Witherspoon stars as Elizabeth Masterson, a workaholic doctor with zero life outside the hospital, having devoted her life to her career. Mark Ruffalo is David Abbott, down and out and nursing a broken heart from a previous relationship. These two issues I can grapple with, given my own experiences, past and present. So perhaps the characters appeal to me in a different and more personal manner, never mind the material.

They meet by accident, well actually, more like him meeting her spirit in her house which he has just leased, and tries his very best to try and evict her out with help from priests and the "joy luck club", and a little hoodoo-connection stuff from Darryl (Jon Heder), but to no avail. As all romance movies go, the two leads will inevitably fall in love, never mind the implausibility of one falling in love with the ghost of another. However as the story progresses, it adds a little mystery to it all through the characters wondering how that could have happened, and why David is the only person who can see and feel her.

It's all bittersweet and fluffy, and the story made engaging through the chemistry between Witherspoon and Ruffalo as their characters try to decipher Elizabeth's largely forgotten past - it didn't help that she was a sort of recluse. Some parts were genuinely funny, but these were few and far between. What also worked was the movie didn't try to make itself sound too intelligent, playing to just milk its worth from the couples out there, so now I know how it topped the charts during its run here.

However, certain plot elements did get a little bit tiring, especially with the usual one making talking to the spirit stunt - yes we know to the outside world David might look crazy, but he's actually talking to Elizabeth. The ending too looked too rushed and as if it's a result of some changes made after feedback from test audiences (I'm not saying that it did. Probably? But it sure felt that way).

So did the movie work? Sure, it's a definite crowd pleaser, in true blue Hollywood fashion. Highly suitable as a date movie this one is.

No Starlight But There's Moonlight

Today's Starlight Cinema event was one of the Ladies Night theme, i.e. the lady (or her partner) gets to go in for free. And I swear that Richard and I are the ONLY two guy erm partners to have gone and watched this movie. Kinda weird as the sea of people around you were either couples or groups of people on a date, evenly paired up of course, or groups of females for obvious reasons that this movie is a chick flick.


Anyway that didn't deter us (we're true blue cinephiles lol) from trying to enjoy this movie while sitting on a mat in the Padang. There's a huge groundsheet laid by the organizers, so mats are optional. We were seated close to the projector, and here's a pic

The Twin Projectors

and I guess we were thrilled while waiting for the 1st reel to end and witness the transition being done, very flawlessly.

The Goodies - One Fan, One Sample Cream, Survey/Lucky Draw Form, Some Stickers

If there is one gripe, then it's the sound system. Not that it wasn't audible, but while the advertisements played ok, the sound during the movie made us, and probably everyone, cringe, with its echoing off the Cricket/Recreation Club building, so you actually hear doubles, echos, and when the characters raise their voices, it made things all the more worse.

More Couples

Just so you know, the movie didn't start on time as touted at 8pm. More like 815pm by the time every sponsor had their commercial aired, with Nokia having multiple advertisements given that they're the chief sponsors.

All in all, the event's pretty enjoyable, but if you'd ask me to fork out S$15 for a ticket, it's a bit too steep. Now am just crossing my fingers on that Nokia lucky draw to upgrade my phone LOL.

Thanks for the Memories

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Almost Weekly Wednesday Midnight Bulletin #1

I've been mulling around to create some kind of summary post for those who can't seem to wade through the number of reviews I put up here, at times quite haphazardly because some movies are watched way earlier than the rest. So to help in navigation, here's the shortlist of notable movies making their debuts this week at a cinema near you!

You can click on the movie title to read the review proper. Some of them do not have reviews yet as I've not gotten down to watching the movie, but do check back in case I do. By the way, this list might not contain all the releases, so it's not a definitive indication of the number of movies opening this week.

Now that we got the nitty-gritties out of the way...

Flick of the Week
Sometimes amongst the bigger releases, there is this gem amongst the clutter that stands out quite brightly. This week, the Flick of the Week turns its spotlight on Little Miss Sunshine. It's worth the price of a weekend ticket, and after watching it you'll understand why it was such a darling at Sundance this year. If the audience you're with doesn't react with applause and laughter, you'll probably with the wrong crowd to begin with.

Jackie Chan seems to have shifted his yearly offerings to audiences worldwide from Lunar New Year to China's National Day. So while western audiences are holding their breaths to his next Rush Hour outing, Rob-B-Hood's probably gonna plunder the box office this week in Asia. With rarely seen stars like Michael Hui and Yuen Biao making appearances, and that cute baby probably stealing everyone's thunder, this movie also qualifies as The Date Movie for this week.

Acquired Tastes
For fans of Robin William and his dark characters, you might not want to miss The Night LIstener, which also stars Toni Collette and who actually steals the show with her stellar performance. But nothing too fantastic on the storyline though, as you'll see any plot twist coming from a mile away.

Football fans, check out The Game of their Lives. This is probably your father's and probably your grandfather's World Cup, during an era where the ball is still made of brown leather. Nothing fancy about the footwork ala Goal! in a drama based on historical statistics

Happy Ah Peks
Lower City stars the chick from City of God, but do we really care now? With a stripper, a love triangle and jealousy, it sounds like a niche crowd favourite already.

The VCD Pile
Stay Alive had its release postponed, until now. I think that's probably suffice to say something's wrong with the movie, but heck, it sure has quite a bit of muscle in the marketing department. Unless you're a fan of thrillers, horror and extremely bad acting, give this the skip.

The Almost Weekly Wednesday Midnight Bulletin (C) 2006
Published at A Nutshell Review


So The Baby's With...

Jackie Chan is undoubtedly one of the few Asian stars whose name alone can open a movie, probably worldwide now. With his latest offering for the Chinese National Day holiday in Rob-B-Hood, he has again done back to basics, together with one of his collaborators of late Benny Chan (New Police Story, Who Am I), with his mantra of "no sex no violence", but just pure action.

In his recent movies, while staying true to his brand of action together with his band of merry men from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, there is no denial of his attempt to infuse a little more drama into his role so as to showcase his acting chops. While his acting in slow moments might not appeal to fans of his action, it looks like dramatic moments are here to stay. However, if you'd notice there's a progression in his willingness to move away from one-man-army type of roles, to sharing the limelight with his fellow co-stars.

Here, his screen time is almost equally shared with co-lead Louis Koo, with the both of them playing unsavoury characters - thieves with vices, with Chan as Thongs, a hardcore gambler with family issues, and Koo as Octopus, a married womanizer and fast car lover. They turn to their current profession of thievery to sustain their lifestyle, and the brains behind the duo's brawn is Landlord, played by veteran Michael Hui, a man whose wife is devastated by the loss of their only child.

See the plenty of moments for some serious drama yet? It is perhaps these moments where an exploration into the character's background slowed down the pace of what could've been a rip-roaring ride from start to end. Clocking in at 135 minutes, the movie felt that it could've been shortened as certain scenes were just too trying. The action scenes too were few and far between, though each scene is still carefully choreographed and felt that it lasted longer than the usual.

The comedic element came in full swing with the introduction of the baby, which probably is the movie's trump card in luring the crowds (my friend and I didn't think he was that adorable actually). It's nothing new as the antics of soiled diapers, refusal to stop crying, and various moments of what baby would do, have already been touched upon in movies like 3 Men and a Baby, or even Raising Arizona. However, having one actor play daddy, and the other play mommy, does call for some genuine laughs sometimes.

Louis Koo has been playing the bad guy role to aplomb with his Election movies, and here, it's a nice change to see him tackle both comedy and action. I truly welcomed Michael Hui's return to the big screen, as one of my favourite comedies as a kid, was his Chicken and Duck Talk. Here though, there aren't many moments where he exhibited his classic bossy demeanour full of wit and sarcasm, probably hampered by the script.

The supporting casts consists of actors past and present in roles that either brought back some good memories, or are milked just for laughs. Yuen Biao was the other supporting role that compelled me to watch this movie, as he seemed to have faded from starring in movies for some time now. He doesn't have much to do here, save for some limited screen action. Actresses like Charlene Choi, Teresa Carpio and Gao Yuanyuan add balance to the testosterone on screen, but probably the best cameo appearance belongs to the duo of Nicholas Tse and Daniel Wu (totally different from what you see now in The Banquet)!

As always, stay at your seats while the end credits roll, for the usual out-takes included. My only gripe would still be to have this shown in Cantonese, somehow the dubbing of the out-takes sounded really too artificial.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Rabun - That Elusive Find, Found!

I'm sure many of us have tried to look for something, but always not find it until you no longer need to, and then it magically appears in front of your eyes. I'm now truly a firm believer of not consciously looking for something, so that it will look for you instead.

Ever since watching Sepet and Gubra, I've been hunting high and low for Rabun, writer-director Yasmin Ahmad's first feature film. She mentioned that only the VCD is available, and I did remember Shaiful say that none of the stores locally actually sold it, cos he tried.

Unfazed, I tried to look for it, at the megashops, and the dinghy ones. Every DVD/VCD shop that I come across, I will pop in and take a look, but always ended up disappointed. Most sold the usual Hollywood blockbusters, or the latest K-dramas, or if they carried Asian fare, usually it's the HK, Hindi, Thai, Jap, etc and the horror genre movies which are immensely popular here.

Today though, I walked past the 2 last places I will look, 2 shops near my home. Fact is, I actually walked past shop A, and entered shop B. Just browsing around with nothing in mind to buy, something compelled me to return to shop A. Even then, it was as if an imaginary force guided me through the shelves, past the discount rack, past the Hollywood rack, and towards a small corner which had ASEAN fare, a selection of VCDs from Thailand and Indonesia... and further on, right up against the wall, I saw the VCD of Sepet.

And then, I couldn't believe my eyes. Perched up there are four copies of Rabun!

I was apprehensive, as I didn't know if it contained English subtitles, but what the heck, even if it came without subtitles, I could still admire the visuals and pretend to understand the story given my limited vocabulary (read: less than 30 words) of Bahasa, or get myself a translator-friend. So it was a done deal, and a purchase was made.

And now I am a proud owner of a VCD copy of Rabun! Best of all, from the initial popping into the CD Drive, it contains English subtitles!!!

I'm so bloody happy I'm just admiring it, not watching it yet until the euphoria of the find dies down.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

[DVD] Dragon Eye Congee: A Dream of Love (2005)

Taiwan Teenage Textbook

This film actually had a one-off screening at GV cinemas last year. I was raring to go watch it, until I found out that it was sold out real fast because fans of Fann Wong were flocking in droves to see their idol in action on the big screen. Nonetheless I had to settle for the DVD, courtesy of

Perhaps the only good thing about this movie, is how the dragon eye congee looked so appetizing. I felt hunger pangs as I watched Fann Wong serve bowl after bowl for her screen beloved, and observing with those longing eyes as he slurps it all down.

Dragon Eye Congee: A Dream of Love, looks and feels like a telemovie. And being a predominantly Taiwanese production, expect the usual television melodrama and weepie moments coming on to try and manipulate your emotions. Sadly (no pun intended), the movie while beautiful to look at and filled with wonderful cinematic shots, lacked the very soul that it wants to preach about - love. There's nothing too deep in exploring that emotion, and what transpires is a romance that's too good to be true, and exists only in children's fairy tales.

Written by Yang Bo, I felt that the short story on which the movie is based upon, would have been more interesting than its cinematic vision, directed by Allen Chang. In fact, you could totally forgo the first hour of the movie, as it has little to do with the remaining 30 minutes, except to take a very long time to set the stage. The casts, probably hampered by the weak script, never really had a chance to lift the movie from the doldrums, although their acting were passable at best. The leads Fann Wong and Shaun Tam rarely looked believable as the inseparable Romeo and Juliet, totally lacking in chemistry to convince that they are a match made in heaven.

There is perhaps just too many characters for a simple story like this, which can't decide if it wanted to be flashback based, introducing new supporting characters who are in the movie for just that few minutes of screen time, and never important enough to further the plot. While the idea of a role is hinted at, most of the time it's just a simple gloss over and never going deep enough to make them memorable.

However, the music used here, if you dig the chinese orchestra, might serve as a plus point to you. Though I can't fault the lovely melody, it being used repeatedly does get on your nerves, as too much of a good thing just reduced the utility gained from it.

If you would like to give this movie a try, then go ahead and tell me what you think. For fans of Fann, her performance here is nothing spectacular, but you might want to check it out if you're being a completist.

Code 3 DVD comes with no extras, besides the usual English and Chinese subtitle selection. Audio and visual transfer seems ordinary, and nothing to shout about.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Night Listener

Are You Trying to Seduce Me?

I've mentioned in an earlier review this year that my memories of my first encounter with the works of Robin Williams is the Mork and Mindy television series. Williams is probably known for his madcap ad-libbing and comedies, but when called upon for some serious drama, he's shown that he's no pushover too. From his inspirational Dead Poets Society to roles in Insomnia, One Hour Photo and The Final Cut, I'm currently awaiting his return to comedy in Man of the Year, after the so-so RV.

The Night Listener sees Williams taking on the more serious deadpan role again as gay night time radio show host Gabriel Noone, who's just about reeling from his latest relationship woes. As an outlet for his issues on both the personal and business fronts, he gets introduced to a fan of his talk show, Pete, a childhood-abused teenage boy suffering from terminal illness, now living with a foster parent. Over time, Gabriel has established a close relationship with the boy, and now wants to meet him. Problem is, given conspiracy theories, is Pete who he claims to be?

The movie actually toys with the idea behind anonymous or unverified identities, and how we go about validating them, and gaining trust. For example, how do we know from an email, if the person who sent it is who he/she claims to be? In this modern communication age, and with the proliferation of identity theft, anyone can be anyone else, with no one the wiser. While the practicality of the theory shown in the movie might be a little far fetched and difficult to pull off, it generally gives you a flavour of what could possibly happen.

Inspired by true events, The Night Listener is genuinely creepy. It doesn't shock and awe, but by its measured moments in silence and anticipation, build up eerie and sinister revelatory scenes without drowning it in repeated crescendos. But freaky feelings aside, the movie also explores as a subplot, the human condition of lapsing into exaggeration to spice up one's life.

While Robin Williams shows incredible restraint in not even mouthing a single funny line, but moves through the show carrying a pained look beneath his bearded exterior, the show belongs to Toni Collette. She's currently a rising star, and you would have remembered her from movies like The Sixth Sense, and more recently, In Her Shoes and the upcoming Little Miss Sunshine. Here, she showed both vulnerability and moments of psychosis, and is just simply scary in some of her scenes. Rounding off the notables are Sandra Oh, who's again as underused as her stint in Hard Candy, and the youngest of the Culkin siblings Rory.

It's a decent psychological thriller without much bells and whistles, made enjoyable through the casts' delivery.

[Objectifs Screening] The Tin Mine (Maha'lai Muang Rae)

The Tin Mine Poster

Set in 1950s after WWII, The Tin Mine is set in Southern Thailand, and chronicles the lives of tin miners as seen through the eyes of Arjin Panjapan (Pijaya Vachajitpan), whose autobiographical short stories form the basis of this movie. It's no wonder, after watching this movie, that it's Thailand's official entry in the Best Foreign Language film category for this year's Academy Awards.

Our protagonist, Arjin Panjapan, dropped out of the university and found himself looking for a job, any job, for survival. Leaving Bangkok, he makes it down south and hooks up with a group of tin miners, and because of his attitude of willing to do just about anything, he's hired on the spot, and there on learns that life is much more than just a piece of paper telling you about your educational qualification, but it's the ups and downs that one experiences, which will shape your life forever.

What I particularly liked about this coming of age story, is actually how it's evenly mapped out into the 4 years of his life spent on the dredger and small mining town. From rookie to senior, the movie chronicles Arjin's life in short episodes, sometimes dwelling on certain memorable scenes, while others looked more into the characters he deals with everyday. In the tin mining town where everyone knows everyone else, and there are few gathering and entertainment spots, it's the characters that helped to bring out the flavours in the movie.

Watching how life, no matter how hard and difficult it is, unfold on the dredger, makes you wonder if your own work environment has it that difficult. But it's always the camaraderie and team spirit, that helps make any environment, worth working in. Working hard and playing as hard should be the mantra, as we see how this is practiced throughout the ranks, never mind if one is the CEO, or the lowly servant.

Infused with plenty of comedy and touching moments as well, the characters make this movie work. Like the scrooge like shopkeeper (Jumpol Thongtan), the cock-sure supervisor who speaks a smattering mix of Thai and Behasa Melayu John (Niran Sattar), and the burly yet child like assistant Kai (Sonthaya Chitmanee).

It's a pity that this movie only had a limited run in the theatres this year, and sadly I've actually missed it then. It's something worth watching in the cinemas, even though its narrative style sticks to the formula of coming of age films, this one had a certain heart and soul to it all. Watch it if you have any opportunity!

[Objectifs Screening] One Night Husband (Kuen Rai Ngao)

One Night Husband Poster

Richard managed to persuade me to join him for the free screening at Objectifs today. Actually I had wanted to watch the two movies presented, because I'm starting to develop a liking for Thai movies, but another friend told me that the screening venue might not be comfortable, so initially I had decided to opt out.

Anyway the two movies presented were a hit and a miss, and One Night Husband turned out to be a bad miss. If many in the audience had their eyes closed at one point or another, or become fidgety in their seats, my opinion is that whatever is transpiring on screen, doesn't have enough of what it takes to hold an audience's attention. While the production value is good, it adopted the look and feel of an art movie about contemplation, isolation, and whatever that you would reckon the need for long silent moments.

It begins with enough mystery to sustain anyone's attention - a newly wed couple consummating their marriage, except that after doing the deed, the groom walks out of the home after receiving an anonymous phone call. This leaves the bride Sipang (Nicole Theriault, a Thai pop star) perplexed, and she becomes anxious in finding out where her husband disappeared to after days of absence.

However the movie seemed to junk this plot aside for a preference to dwell into her seeking of help from her brother in law Chat (Pongpat Wachirabunjong) and his wife Bussaba (Siriyakorn Pukkavesh), and from hereon, the focus is on the friendship developed between the two women, and probably if it fell into directors who are seduced by the GLBT themes of late, the relationship will dwell deeper than the platonic level.

While the loose ends do get tied, the journey is trying. Unless you're a serious art movie lover, you might find many scenes in the movie pretty contrived and probably trying too hard. Essentially, the entire story is short film material, bloated only to include beautifully filmed moments of the mundane.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Miami Vice

We Wage War, Not Make Love

Again we got the short end of the stick, having the movie released under NC-16 with snips, when an M-18 rating would have left the movie intact. And what was cut to satisfy the lower rating, were the sex scenes, as if to say we're all ok with the violence, but too prissy to make love.

Written and directed by Michael Mann, who served as one of the executive producers of the original 80s television series starring Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Rico Tubbs, this is one of the rare recent Hollywood remakes that had someone from the series helm the project. However, the movie version is a mixed bag, and it's not hard to understand why.

Mann has built a reputation for solid, intense movies like Heat, The Insider and Collateral, and is deftly able to balance quiet moments with loud action. Miami Vice turned out to be flitting from one end of the spectrum to the other, with the quiet moments being absolutely horrendous, only to be saved by the roar of noisy toys, ranging from the Ferrari F430 Spider on land, the Adam Aircraft A500 in the air (flown only by Foxx cos he got experience from Stealth), and the Donzi speedboats on water, peppered with the authentic symphony of various weapons like the Heckler & Koch G36C and the Benelli M4 Super 90 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun (this one is a beauty I tell you).

While I like to think of it as a sophisticated cops and robbers movie, at times its execution is less than slick, and the storyline just pretty ordinary. It didn't help with its plot loopholes, or credibility issues with its police operations looking very much like what you can find in many Hong Kong movies of the same genre - the calvary only arrives after the heroes have taken out the baddies. The finale was climatic, but it suffered from the usual calvary problem, much akin to the monologues of villains when they have the heroes at their gunsights. What irked me more was perhaps key team members taking five, and unaccounted for during gun battles. It just didn't make much sense.

In fact, the entire story arguably didn't make much sense, especially with the villains being so well informed and having access to intel, nor having the story compelling enough to engage the audience the full 135 minutes. Having trust issues is a given for any crime lord, but it probably means one thing - go do the damn job yourselves and build their own distribution channels. The cat and mouse here really went around and around, and capitalizing on an Asian-Cuban in Isabella (Gong Li) having a thing for white meat, is already a dangerous strategic play.

The romance bit between Isabella and Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) is totally unbelievable (yeah right, cos they making moves on each other, y'all), and really slowed down the entire movie. Speaking in bad English just made matters worse for Gong Li (you can't fault her for effort) too, and having them exhibiting their touchy-feely luurve in the den of the lion, is stupid.

Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx (as partner Rico Tubbs) lacked the chemistry two undercover buddy partners should possess. Most times they seem like two individuals outdoing each other, though there are moments where one gives up the limelight to the other. The trust between their characters is rarely shown, and amongst themselves, they seem to be challenging each other to outgrowl one liners in gruff tones while oozing machismo behind shades. They got attitude, but they got no soul. Despite being primarily a two-man team, they do have a backup squad straight out of Mission:Impossible, who steals some thunder during times of action.

What worked with excellence, is the cool gritty cinematography from the HD cameras, giving this Miami Vice the look of danger and urgency from its jerky motions. Its action is no frills, most of the time being over before you get to see much, and everyone's plain trigger happy, which works - show no mercy, one shot one kill, go for the head style. Gun battles are few and far between, but nonetheless vividly realistic and the complete opposite to the poetic styles of John Woo (fast vs slow motion, matter-of-fact vs deliberate style).

Like many scenes in the movie where the weather always threatened to rain with its incessant thunder and lightning over the horizon, the movie had a roaring potential in delivering what the television series could not in terms of spectacle and the ability to punctuate the series' spirit. However, it turned out only to be a slight drizzle, and ended up just Miami without much Vice.

P.S. for our print at Grand Cathay, what's up with telling us that the print is copyrighted and certified for exhibition? Is it a UK thing? And no, we can't be bothered with taping the movie from handheld cameras.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Game of Their Lives

Soccer movie fans take note! If waiting for the arrival of Goal2 is making you go nuts, then you might want to check out this movie. It's a historical drama on one of the legendary games of the World Cup tournament, and a classic case of David triumphing over Goliath, making it a must watch if you're a fan of such sporting movies.

And you wonder why England only won the World Cup once...

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

[Cine.SG] The Teenage Textbook Movie

Hi I'm the School Buaya

I was in secondary school when there was this local book that was the rage of the moment. Kinda akin to Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole Diaries and having word about it spread as fast as The Da Vinci Code (eh, you got read or not?) , The Teenage Textbook, written by then NUS law student and (excellent) debater Adrian Tan (now hotshot lawyer you know?) told a story about the lives and loves of a group of junior college students, all under fictional settings of course, like Paya Lebar Junior College (despite the increase in the number of JCs, there still isn't a Pee Jay Cee).

In fact the book was so popular, it spawned a sequel called The Teenage Workbook. I've read both books when I was a pimply teenager, probably buying the idea that JC life is damn happening. And true, life in JC had some of those moments described, but of course in far less dramatic and comedic fashion. Given the books success, it didn't take long for someone to decide to make a movie out of it, during the mini revival of sorts in the 90s filmmaking in Singapore.

Although the characters were caricatures, you can probably identify and classify some of your friends into the many stereotypes like the goody girl-next-door Mui Yee (Melody Chen), her best friend and school flower Sissy Song (Lim Hwee Sze), the nerd Chung Kai (Caleb Goh), his obnoxious only friend Kok Sean (Chong Chee Kin, who actually stole the show, in my opinion), the school hunk Daniel Boon (Steven Lim), his teacher sister Miss Boon (Vivian Wang) and her air force pilot fiance played by Darryl David, who actually never got out of his Alpha Romeo at all. Rounding up the cast included Neo Swee Lin as Mui Yee's conservative mother, and a cameo by local filmmaker Royston Tan.

It's a teeny bopper puppy love romance movie which incorporated plenty of experimental ways of translating the novel into a film (always a challenge), like the voiceovers and intertitles, and ended up having it look more like a series of short episodes glued together to form one long 100 minute narrative. Think of it as the local version of any American high school movie, with the usual teenage love issues, triangles and misunderstandings. The acting's really nothing much to shout about, but I guess it's secondary considering the cast looked their part, and for a commercial movie, having eye candy stars is important in order to draw the crowds - the movie did well by local standards.

If there is any gripe, it will be the incessantly long road scenes, from Orchard Road, to Simei, to Holland Village, and even one at Marina Bay. Used as fillers, the scenes did look like a cheap trick, and having some road travelled repeated, also made it look like a desperate attempt to apologize for the lack of resource and ingenuity.

There were many easter eggs and cameo appearances in the movie as well which more than made up for it, like the director Philip Lim's photograph a For Dummies book, author Adrian Tan appearing in Borders under the "Famous Authors" banner (and lending his voice too in late night radio shows), the little blue bin (don't ask, this one you must see for yourself), and Mui Yee reading the Teenage Textbook, amongst others. All these little touches added to the general fun factor when watching the film. For folks in my generation, who could forget local shock jock Glenn Ong's Ego Trip in the wee hours of the morning on Perfect10 98.7FM, the Q&As taken on his showed, together with the faked boo boys and canned laughter. Adds nostalgia, now that he's moved on to Class95FM.

Locations too were a hoot to spot, since the fictional Pee Jay Cee did not exist. It's pretty surreal watching some school's facade being used, and within walking distance is an HDB estate and the port (!). Doesn't look anything like the Tanjong Pagar Estate too :-)

It's a bubblegum movie, so don't rack your brains trying to come up with something cerebral about it. However in my opinion, if both the book and the movie were to be compared, the book remains superior. Read it, if you can get your hands on a copy!


The Cine.SG screening today had in attendance the director Philip Lim and the author of the book Adrian Tan, and their trading of barbs with each other, and with the audience, was totally out of this world! Probably the best and liveliest Q&A session! I've gotten it down and might stream a podcast of it, if time permits of course, otherwise we'll just have to settle for the plain old transcript. Stay tuned!

You can check it out here

Click here to get your own player.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Go Go Go!!!

This is today's GV Surprise Screening.

For their debut feature length film, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris probably couldn't ask for a better script - Little Miss Sunshine is a comedic drama which has plenty of heart, even though the characters are misfits put together in a dysfunctional family.

But wait, before you roll your eyes at yet another story with quirky characters, this one probably proved itself to be relatively superior given its easy going delivery, never taking itself too seriously with the messages it tried to put across, and the cast is a joy to behold. Telling the story of the Hoover family's journey cross-country to bring their young daughter to the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant (an unlikely contestant too I might add, with her huge spectacles and round potbelly), it's an insane road trip movie as well in their yellow family mini-van.

Abigail Breslin first made her debut in M Night Shyamalan's Signs as Mel Gibson's daughter, and here she's the wide-eyed adorable child who will just tug at your heartstrings - you'll probably be sympathizing with her character's (mis)fortune with a family like hers. But there's where the fun is, no? The more recognizable actors here will be Steve Carrell (The 40 Year Old Virgin), as her gay scholarly uncle, and Toni Collette (In Her Shoes) as her mom. Rounding up the cast are Greg Kinnear as motivational-inspirational speaker Dad, Paul Dano as her brother who had taken a vow of silence, and Alan Arkin as coke-sniffing, foul-mouthed grandfather who dotes on her.

While the opening might take its time to set the scene, once the family gets together there's no holding back. The dialogues and interactions between characters are fast and snappy, and each character's given enough screen time to showcase their tribulations and respective resolution. Which I found to be deftly done both in script and direction. There was one major loophole spotted, but nothing to mar your enjoyment of the movie.

What I totally liked about the movie, is by the end of it, there's this warm fuzzy feeling that you'll feel about the message brought across, that the strength of family lies in sticking together, and through that, any adversary can be defeated, any troubles overcome. Anything else doesn't matter so long as there's unity, and the movie shows this pretty nicely - the gem of self-discovery together, and the getting out of the rut with support from one another.

The crowd favourite is definitely the finale, which will more than likely to blow you away as it comes rather unexpectedly, and raises a few eyebrows too. At the screening, almost everyone was clapping and cheering, and the last time I experienced that kind of joy, was in the finale of Kinky Boots, which on hindsight, is similar in the kind of feeling it evokes from you. Though I must add that it was kind of unnerving somewhat watching the young performers prance around with their fake plastic smiles, stiff hair and loads of makeup.

In life there are winners and there are losers. Little Miss Sunshine, is definitely a winner. Go watch!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


The Poster

At first glance the premise of the movie seemed a little like Nicole Kidman's Birth, where someone who's already dead gets reincarnated into a boy who seemed to know all her/their dirty little secrets. Anyway that was my first thought when I heard about the plot outline for P.S., but that said, this story couldn't be anywhere near Birth.

It's a story about second chances, and how you would choose to seize this chance to make up for what you didn't do the first time around. On a more personal note, it reminded me of what I did once, doing something which I didn't do initially, but here opportunity was presented with someone else, not as a substitute though, but it served as a catalyst to not allow things to not happen, but to take that leap of faith and give it a shot. Didn't turn out the way I wanted, but I guess I should be satisfied that I tried.

Louise Harrington (Laura Linney) is head of admissions for an art faculty, and in an admission letter, noticed someone who shared a similar name as a deceased old flame. Breaking protocol, she arranges for him to meet, and soon enough, more protocol gets broken as she initiates a sexual relationship with F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace). Which of course should set tongues wagging given the power of her status, about keeping persona and business separate, about that lack of professionalism and danger of mixing business with pleasure.

But there are no lack of stories about a younger man falling for an older woman, and earlier this year, we've seen Uma Thuman in Prime in the same boat as well. Here though there is a distinct lack of humour and frills in storytelling, as the dry delivery befits the theme and character of Louise as she constantly, and perhaps unconsciously, pities herself and warrants the same pity from others. And it is the breaking out of this mould and mindset that keeps the narrative together in an exploration of how, despite Louise learning about how her marriage to her ex husband, Peter Harrington (Gabriel Byrne) broke down. Making matters worse is her best friend Missy's (Marcia Gay Harden) meddling into her personal business, with a revelation making you wonder why she hasn't turned into a fiend instead.

I've actually watched this movie not because of Laura Linney, even though she carries this movie on her shoulders, and that her Louise character is the central figure where things revolve, and characters interact around. Rather, it's more for Topher Grace, whose performance I enjoyed in In Good Company (his character there I could relate to), and keeping in mind that he did this movie first. Next up would probably be his biggest commercial challenge yet, as he takes on the role of Eddie Brock / Venom in Spiderman 3.

P.S. is actually a postscript, and here, the characters are afforded that little extra to add on to their past history, to be accorded that moment in the present, to make amends and salvage a past they are ashamed of. The pacing might be trying for some, but it still makes for satisfying viewing if you're in the same boat looking for your own P.S..

Imagine Me & You

Are You Gay?

Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together

I can't see me lovin' nobody but you
For all my life
When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
For all my life

- Happy Together, The Turtles

I'm not sure if that bubblegum tune can belong amongst the gay anthems, given that Wong Kar Wai's had a gay themed movie titled Happy Together and used the same song too. Yes well, as you would already know, GLBT movies from UK are emerging, from Kinky Boots earlier (one of my faves for the year), and now Imagine Me & You hitting our shores next week.

Rachel (Piper Perabo, a dead ringer for Rachel McAdams) and Hector (Matthew Goode, from Match Point) are about to get married after years of courtship. On their wedding day, Rachel notices Luce (Lena Headey) from the corner of her eye, and from brief introductions turned into family gatherings, turned into something more. Rachel experiences strange feelings for Luce and the feelings turned out to be mutual, but what about Hector? It's a classic case of everyone's worst nightmare come true, finding out that the person you're about to marry, or have married, actually loves somebody else, and that someone else being the same sex just compounds the effect.

One character said in passing that anybody can swing to the other camp, before a slight hesitation, correcting that only probably he wouldn't. And that made an interesting caveat which the movie explores - how do you know if your sexual orientation is rock solid (that might seem a "d'uh" statement until you watch the movie), or do you have the tendency to swing (think Kinsey had a theory on this). What if you find yourself experiencing this inexplicable force of feelings you never knew for someone else, when you're already married or with a life partner?

And speaking of life partners, how do you know the one you're with, is the one for you? And life partners being partners, must it always be in matrimony or strictly about the opposite sex? At the end of the day, what matters is the chemistry and the ability to click, right? The movie asks a lot of these questions beneath its cheerful yet melancholic veneer, although it never provides a straight answer.

As always, you can replace the lesbian relationship here in the story with a heterosexual one, but it probably won't impact an audience as much (just as Brokeback Mountain would work with a heterosexual couple, but will bore the heck out of audiences and not win any award at all). While the movie offers to suggest certain ideas like love at first sight, it doesn't really demonstrate that effectively (more like lust at first sight) nor seemed to have a valid reason to do so, though it toyed with the fleeting thought about reincarnation.

You might feel that writer-director Ol Parker had filled the movie with plenty of romantic cliches and notions about setting someone free if you really love them, or the thought about being with someone you can live without rather than someone you can live with. In fact, the entire premise might be a bit contrived, but hey, if you think about it, the world is full of quirky events and people, so maybe something like this could happen too.

This movie should do reasonable well amongst the GLBT crowd with its theme, and given the eye candy cast, probably will do well as a whole. It's nothing spectacular, just that as a movie, it should work the crowd like clockwork with its many one liners and universal romantic theme.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

[6th Asian Film Symposium] The Year of Living Vicariously + Village Radio

What strikes you when watching the documentary, is the split screen technique used. Amir Muhammad had taken a rare opportunity to follow an Indonesian film crew on their set of the movie Gie, a story set in the tumultuous transition of power between Presidents Sukarno and Suharto. What more, the movie was made in times of political uncertainty in Indonesia in the new millennium too.

The split screen used wasn't a strict 50-50 split, but the sizes changed quite frequently from scene to scene. At times you see certain events with time juxtaposed between the screens, or events totally off tangent from one another. There are plenty of things to see and it served to be quite difficult to absorb fully the sights and sounds in just one sitting. Amir revealed that it was the first time he visited Indonesia, and so through the shoot and editing, he wanted to reflect that sensory overload in a country totally new to him. Also, they had a record number of tapes shot for this documentary, hence through the technique, enabled him to squeeze as much as he could within the run time constraint.

The Year of Living Vicariously contained numerous interviews with cast and crew of Gie, be they the main leads, director, or even the cameo casts. The topics covered practically everything under the sun, but predominantly focussed on current affairs and politics, in the earlier days of Sukarno/Suharto, and in the current political climate. There are quite a number of candid opinionated remarks which make you go hmm, or laugh out loud, or just poignant.

And you could see shades of the style which will evolve into The Last Communist, with the song singing bits in overdrive in TLC. Probably one of the best parts about Vicariously, is the frequent interjections of folks telling Indonesian folk tales. I'm sure almost everyone in the audience love to hear stories of old, and stories spun from our neighbours' rich history.

All in all, an enjoyable movie, and after watching this and The Last Communist, I couldn't wait for...

Village Radio

We also had the rare opportunity to take a look at some of the production pictures from Amir's upcoming movie, a sequel of sorts to The Last Communist, tentatively titled in English as Village Radio.

- there are plenty of chickens in the village, hence the poster might feature chickens.
- we were shown a real life "sepet" couple
- many of the villages dressed in their best when it's time for their interview with the crew
- in response to a query if Village Radio would be banned, Amir explained the real reason why The Last Communist was banned was because it (the communist portrayed) wasn't violent enough. Given that only the last 20% of The Last Communist touched on communism, Village Raddio is 100% given its setting in the kampong from ex-10th Battalion of the Malay Regiment of the Communist Party. So go figure?
- in the evenings there were mass aerobics performed by the women to the looped tune of Aqua's Barbie Girl
- there was a huge age disparity in the village, you'll see the elderly and the youngsters/children, but very rarely, people in between. The reason was that during the war, it wasn't convenient for the communists to be raising children in the jungles, hence their children, if any, were given away to relatives / friends to be raised. The youngsters in the village now were likely to be their grandchildren.
- the current rough cut is about 3 hours, which will be pared down to 72 minutes for release
- there was zero handphone signals in the village (side: I think it would be the best place to take cover if Kairo/Pulse becomes true)

The Absent (Ausentes)

Let Me Out!

This is the latest in a slew of Euro movies to make it to our shores here, promoted as a mystery thriller because of the faux-pas sense of sophistication from everything European.

To its credit, it does keep you guessing. As the premise goes, a serene family of four moves into the suburbs, only for Julia (Ariadna Gil) the mom experiencing things that go bump, even in the day. Loving husband Samuel (Jordi Molla) and kids Felix (Nacho Perez) and Luis (Omar Munoz) do not experience these strange phenomenon, and therefore this leads to tension within the family.

What works is the atmosphere built up, that there are many scenes filled with plenty of emptiness Julia experiences in the neighbourhood, and the bewilderment she felt when she slowly discovers that there is no one else to turn to, not even her husband and children. Feeling extremely isolated, she begins to wonder what happened to have brought about the changes to her surroundings, as well as her family.

On one hand, you want to sympathize with Julia and her increasing exasperation, and Ariadna Gil's performance enables you to do so. However, it's really a case of more than meets the eye, and you might be increasing as frustrated as the character when you attempt to figure out what is happening as well - is it a psycho babble mystery, or something involving the supernatural, or a conspiracy of sorts? You can warrant a guess, and you'll probably be right, but the way the film progresses and develops, doubts will be cast on your assumptions, right until the very last scenes.

If compared to earlier fare like Lemming (happy family in suburbs) and Cache/Hidden (something remotely similar with its CCTV cameras and discovery that you can watch them on TV), The Absent probably is the weakest in terms of storyline, and the least entertaining of the lot. If you're thinking you're up for something quite cerebral, you might end up disappointed.

John Tucker Must Die

I Agree with the Totally Wearing of Underwear to School Bit...

John Tucker Must Die has one of the most interesting trailers for a commercial cheesy girly flick, and it works to a certain extent, with the similarity in playing along the same lines as the Kill Bill title. I remember vividly each time after the trailer was aired, that some girls seated around me will almost always squeal with delight, so it's really no wonder if this flick proves to do well at the box office.

The good looking girls in school always capitalize on their assets to snag that one hot alpha male guy, and who else than John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe, the famous gardener from Desperate Housewives), captain of the school basketball team wearing that number 23 jersey, and with deep pockets lined with cash too? John's a serial player, and his conquests of the sexy one Beth (Sophia Bush), the brainy one Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) and the lead cheerleader with attitude Heather (Ashanti) left them with bad aftertaste after they found out about him dating them simultaneously. His technique? They belong to different cliques (guys take note), and his sweet nothings were easily bought into. I thought they made good tips too, ha!

Anyway they find out his rouse, and get all riled up in seeking revenge, enlisting the help of protagonist Kate Spencer (Brittany Snow), an unknown in school, now having the opportunity to become a legend by helping the girls turn the tables on John. While the girls are all sugar and spice and all things nice, they sure live up to the saying that hell knows no fury like a woman, or here, 3 women, scorned. They have their antics, but the power of the alpha male is to turn each bad situation around through their aura of incredible luck. At times though the movie seemed to lack focus and want to cover too much ground in too little time, having Kate jump right out of the pages of Never Been Kissed (1999), and subplots involving budding romances, and romances for real.

Despite being a popcorn flick, it did try to insert a moral message within its eye candy scenes, and that is a reminder to all in relationships, that we're dealing with real feelings and emotions with real people here, and it always hurts. Honesty goes a long way, and as a word of caution, those who go after a John Tucker, should already know what they're in for. On a side note, it also looks at how one should always be aware if you're not staying true to yourself, of being the creation of someone else and the leveraging on others to gain popularity.

That aside, the way to approach this teen movie is to sit back, relax, and put your brains to idle mode. In typical fashion, it's full of pop songs to entice teenagers, and stay tune through the end credits for a small scene inserted in between.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Banquet (Ye Yan)

To Be Or Not To Be...

It's an oriental kung fu Hamlet.

Everyone's been saying it's loosely based on Shakespeare's tragedy, and to some, the movie's indeed a tragedy with its slowness in pace and lack of action, but I'd like to see it as because of its heavy reference to Hamlet (the poisoned quill, and many other plot points and scenes), it sort of created a crutch on which to lean the movie upon, hence the sense of familiarity to some, therefore having the source serving as a double edged sword - the movie beholden to it and eventually ending it on a weak note.

Having inherited the creative team of Yuen Wo Ping (action choreography), Tan Dun (Music), Tim Yip (Art Direction), and the starlet in Ziyi Zhang (wonder why the westernized juxtaposition of her name) does not automatically replicate the success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon that easily. It's the X-factor and the blending of elements of novelty in CTHD that made it a huge success, and blindly following the predetermined formula is akin to hammering a square peg into a round hole.

While the art direction is lush and everything looking adequately regal, somehow Tan Dun's music seemed to be muted throughout the movie, only exhibiting sporadic brilliance to drum up scenes with the soundtrack, or the hauntingly beautiful theme song. The major disappointment however, will be in the fighting scenes. Here, martial arts both function as a contrast to the much muted artsy style of the Hamlet here, Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), highlighting the difference in power between the pen and the sword, as well as functioning as foreplay. I thought with the gratuitous fake blood spewing across the screen, it was kind of a homage to 70s Shaw Bros martial arts classics, and a nod to director Chang Cheh, the king of ketchup blood. The initial big sequenced battle scene might have whet appetites, but sadly subsequent battles do not match up, with its repetitive running up walls or in mid air, as if Yuen had run out of tricks in the wire-work manual, having at one point seemed to copy Tsui Hark's Dao (1995). There's one moment of innovation though in a scene of punishment not seen (at least to me) before.

But not that I'm complaining. If this martial arts in this movie is viewed without comparisons to other more recent fantasy martial arts movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, it is still enjoyable and beautifully choreographed, and surpasses The Promise by a huge mile. Just that it lacked a fresh look in battles, and the unimaginative costuming of the Imperial Guards didn't help, looking too close like distant cousins of Lord of the Ring's Nazguls / Ringwraiths / Black Riders.

Desire as a theme runs through the movie very strongly, the desire for love, endless power and pure, unadulterated revenge. Very briefly, the story by now will be fairly obvious with Emperor Li (Ge You) usurping the throne from his brother, and coverts his wife Empress Wan as his own, who at one point in time was Prince Wu Luan's old flame. The Prince here is a fellow in love with the arts and bent on avenging his father, and who is the subject of unrequited love by the daughter of a minister - Qing Nu (Zhou Xun).

It's all about the wearing of masks and the building of facades, of hiding true intentions to achieve personal objectives. The contrast between the two men in the Emperor and the Prince is looked into, their love lives examined - one who uses power to obtain love, while the other's fortune to be loved brought him unimaginable influence.

Despite its references to Hamlet, the focus of the movie here seemed to be Ziyi Zhang's Empress Wan, as she plots and schemes, leaving you perplexed as to whether to sympathize and pity her, or applaud her attempts at exacting her own brand of justice. Acting all round is nothing to rave about, and though Ge You's performance seemed the better of the lot, his measured, subtle ways as the Emperor comes off rather weakly as a man capable of scheming to get to where he is. Somehow, I thought that Hamlet allowed the acting to take a foot off the pedal as audiences would already put in place perceptions and direct translations of character for character.

All said, The Banquet is still a reasonably competent foray into the martial arts genre for director Feng Xiaogang, and if he were to put another movie from the genre out, I'll sure be there to watch it. Now to anticipate Zhang Yimou's next contribution to the genre.

... No Need To Question!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

[DVD] Youth of the Beast (Yaju No Seishun) (1963)

Criterion Collection Cover

Youth of the Beast is pretty much acclaimed, but I just can't appreciate it very much, partly because it's quite a dated film - the 60s, and the execution reminded me of the old 60s Batman and the Green Hornet series (the soundtrack here sounded similar too), in its noir crime storyline as well as the use of the ol' fisticuffs to settle scores. Not that I didn't enjoy it though, but my smile stemmed more from the cheesiness.

Of course when watching a film from the past, you got to approach it in the context when it was shown in. And it pretty much gave you a glimpse at old Japan, with its production sets, costumes, and acting style - which is exaggerated. Special effects and stunts were quite low key (probably groundbreaking for the era), with some shots suffering from sudden jump cuts, and looking raw. Certain stunts were found to be wanting, but again, for that era, it's adequately executed, though by today's standards, audiences would be more unforgiving.

The violence too didn't let up, and for a Yakuza movie, violence is part and parcel to their lifestyle. There are a number of innovative techniques used, such as the flame from an aerosol can, and the insertion of a blade underneath the fingernail as a torture method to inflict pain. I was surprised too at the raw scratching off upholstery from a sofa set, which seemed quite realistically painful for the actress to perform.

Director Seijun Suzuki actually helmed the movie Yumeji (1991), from which the theme song is used in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love. Here, he crafts the movie from a novel by Haruhiko Oyabu, which could have served as inspiration for Lucky Number Slevin in its playing off mob bosses. Here, Jo Mizuno (Joe Shishido) infiltrates and joins a gang by forcing his way through to the top, beating up everyone and anyone who dare stands in his way.

Impressed, he's given a stint with the gang, and slowly, a mystery begins to unravel as to his motivations and objectives to doing what he does. It plays out rather straightforward, and you would have guessed his intentions pretty earlier on in the movie, but what stood out is how simple it is to style a movie in this manner back in the 60s. Taking seemingly simple everyday locations like nightclubs and cinemas and having shady dealings taking place under a legitimate business front, does seem rather suggestive of how gangsters operate at the time.

I'd pretty much recommend this to those who have high cheese tolerance, or fans of the swinging 60s era movies. Nothing much really to shout about.

The Criterion DVD comes with an essay insert, the theatrical trailer (60s trailers all have those sensational big words covering 90% of the screen, very nostalgic), a 4"48' interview with director Seijun Suzuki, and a 7"56' interview with actor Joe Shishido. For a Criteriod DVD, it's pretty much barebones by standards.

Little Red Flowers

If you want to watch a movie about a little rascal wrecking havoc in school and giving teachers a hard time, you might want to check out Little Red Flowers, a movie set in 50s China, making its way to The Picturehouse soon. Who knows you might inadvertently visit some past memories of kindergarten times when life was much simplier and perhaps more innocent, or not :-)

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

[Cine.SG] Avatar

It Takes More Than A Water Pistol To Scare Me...

Earlier this year, the 3D animated movie Zodiac billed itself as the first local movie of its kind. The end result was one disgraceful disappointment, lacking a proper storyline and filled with childish voice acting coupled with amateurish animation. Lesson learnt though, it never is wise to rush a product out just to be the First to hit the market.

Along similar grain, Avatar holds the distinguished title of being the first locally made Science Fiction movie. It never got a mass commercial screening at the cinemas here, which of course didn't auger well for the movie and inevitably set tongues wagging. It got a one-off screening though, if memory serves me well, sometime last year, supposedly at Marina before moving to a larger hall at Prince/Jade. I didn't manage to secure a ticket for that screening though. But as soon as the screening was over, word of mouth was that the movie was extremely bad.

I was willing to give Avatar a shot now that Cine.SG had another one off screening - but the damage was already done, as I had unsuccessfully convinced any of my friends to fork out money to watch it. I would like to consider myself to have approached the film rather objectively, to see what it had to offer, and am somewhat a Sci-Fi fan too (insane enough to do this). Alas my verdict is - the general consensus was right. Avatar is a bad film, though with a few redeeming elements which I will elaborate, from my point of view.

It was once remarked by B-movie producer Roger Corman, that Singapore would make a great place for a science fiction movie (Corman had co-produced Saint Jack, the only Hollywood movie to date filmed entirely here). And it's true, as we do have a number of locales that look futuristic enough for on location shoots, and more so if given the special effects treatment to spruce things up. The opening shot of the city skyline is something familiar, yet on the other hand, something rather artifical about it - It's not Singapore, it's a fictional city state called Sintawan.

Avatar probably and unwittingly set itself a high benchmark to meet right from the start, by having that text crawl (cliche) explaining the setting of the world upon which the story is based, talking about Simplants and the police - pitting itself against cult classic Blade Runner. Director Kuo Jian Hong (daughter of the late Kuo Pao Kun, this movie is dedicated in his memory) might have high hopes of Avatar emulating and meeting those standards, or to achieve an indie following, however the fundamentals of having a proper storyline was already flubbed.

It tried too hard to be intelligent, rather than sticking to the "keep it simple stupid" rule, especially if one is thinking of cramping plenty of techno-babble into less than two hours. Unlike The Matrix which seamlessly gelled simplified philosophy into its narrative, and more so as an afterthought rather than assaulting your senses while the story is being told. Speaking of The Matrix, there were also some reference to the giant network storage of persons' identities, a Cyberlink (probably an advanced form of the Net), as well as a subplot involving the police up against a group of rebels, amongst others. Avatar suffered from trying to explain too much in too little time, and will make you switch off when listening to "important" mumbo jumbo you dont' care about, regarding some teleportation technology and identity doppelganging using biological science early in the movie, before shifting gears into presenting some huge conspiracy theory about playing God in the Game (oooh).

Briefly, we follow the exploits of the best (Singapore, oops, Sintawan everything also must #1) bounty hunter in the business of Simplant capture - Dash MacKenzie (Genevieve O'Reilly), an ang moh, as locals don't have street cred to be leads in the movie. Actually, most of the local actors, prominent ones I must add, were relegated to playing supporting or cameo roles in this production, folks like Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin, Kumar, Gerald Chew, Richard Low and Kevin Murphy (from S11, didn't know he was that active in previous local productions, the other one being City Sharks, but bit role as well), The other main lead was an Asian actor Wang Luoyong (huh?) who played cop Victor Huang, in pursuit of Dash, and under circumstances beneficial to both, begin an uneasy partnership which blossomed into some hokey romance.

I think by now any self respecting (I say this in jest) local movie would somehow have a scene set in coffeeshops / hawker centers to get that seal of authenticity that it's made in Singapore. Diners should have no qualms that in Avatar's future, our favourite makan style of choice is still around, with shady covert dealings taking place right underneath hungry bellies. Other locations easily identified included the Expo MRT station (no more EZ-Link cards, your palm is scanned instead), inside MRT trains, Bugis Junction, the area around Empress Place, Little Guilin at Bukit Gombak and even Hotel 81 (yes!) which seemed to retain its perceived sleazy purpose in the movie.

The acting's all very stiff, probably from the cast's lack of belief in what they're actually doing, and the unbelievable lines they have to say. For a production of the time, it's probably still stuck in a mindset that it is better to engage B/C-graded calibre ang-moh actors than to choose jolly good ones from our local scene. Not that I'm against foreign talent, but in my opinion it's quite a pain to see them going through the motions here, spewing lines of dialogue which are and sound so artificial, made worse by their accents.

Avatar looked like a million dollars, alas it felt like a cheap telemovie. The effects were decent though, but for scenes with extended CG or CG created backgrounds, it ended up a bit raw and looked unpolished. The costumes looked lush, especially Joan Chen's figure hugging and cleavage enhancing outfits. Some shots were done creatively, obviously so to cover up the lack of a bigger budget to get more gizmos mentioned, implied or are actually used in the film, like vehicles - you never actually see them zoom around the city.

So is Avatar worth watching? Yes, for that lesson on how not to make a science fiction film. One wonders if The Gene Generation will work out successfully, which also casted another Hollywood B-movie specialist Bai Ling in a lead role, and Faye Dunaway too.

That Feels So Good... NOT!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Singapore Dreaming - The Second Viewing

The Family Portrait

I've said it before, if I like a movie, I'll watch it more than once on the big screen. It's taken me a bit of time to watch this as Richard and I were pooling our resources (time and money) together to get this group screening going (see earlier post), but watching it with 20 friends and countless other strangers (the hall was about 80% full), and experiencing the laughter and sadness together, made it all worthwhile.

I'm not going to recap what I've mentioned in my earlier review, but would like to focus on the bits that I really liked. So just as a warning, mild spoilers ahead, i.e. sublimal meaning is to go watch it first then come back here lah!

I love the acting, because the cast did a fantastic job with their respective characters. You'll feel sorry for them, some pity, you'll laugh with them, share in their joys and sorrows, and despise some of the damning things they do and say. On the surface and from the onset, you might think they're a bunch of happy people, but as we move along, the facade gets chipped away, and we see through their characters. However, their characters are so complex, you can't help but feel how real they are, and not just caricatures created to milk laughs or sympathy.

If one day we had a local movie award, I'd like to see Yeo Yann Yann take away one for best actress - seriously you'll feel for her character, the one always being overlooked, sidelined, mocked at, and in true human fashion, takes it out on someone else when she's feeling frustrated. For actor, supporting or otherwise, Richard Low's extremely charismatic screen presence and endearing father figure, deserves the kudos. As mentioned, the characters have their flaws, but these flaws are what is easily identifiable within ourselves, or easily seen in someone we know. Which makes this movie uniquely Singaporean, not because dialects or Singlish is used, not because of the showing of HDB flats or coffeeshops, or the myriad of scenes related to food, but rather, it shows us a mirror at which we see ourselves, looking and examining deep into our psyche as we relentlessly pursue our "dreams" - of the material kind.

And watching it again allowed me to revisit some of my favourite scenes, like the one in the toilet (yes) with the conversation between Father and Son, the family reunion dinner table, and I felt the traditions observed during the rituals could probably be one of the rare detailed few documented on local film too. The dialogues too worked wonders for me, as they were sharp and don't sound rehearsed, but really, really something that's pretty real in a local context.

Oh, and I liked the references to TalkingCock The Movie too - watch out for the movie shown in a television set, and the Auntie Auntie branded beer bottles! I'm sure there's more :-)

I've been quoted (first time too), but I'll say it again, Singapore Dreaming is just plain brilliant. Go watch it now if you have not, probably the most accessible local movie this year - if you're only gonna watch just one local movie, make it Singapore Dreaming! It's still in contention for my movie of the year. Bring on the DVD (but first go watch in cinema ok?)!

MovieXclusive Showtime - Singapore Dreaming!

That's right. As the date and time of this post suggest, movieXclusive will be organizing an en-bloc screening of Singapore Dreaming. The details are as follows

Date: 12 Sep 06
Time: 1900hrs
Venue: GV Plaza

If you haven't watched it yet, I'd tell you to join us for the screening. Why? Because nowhere can you watch a movie anywhere for only S$6, and also stand a chance to win a poster if you get a pair of tickets.

Rarely do many columnists at movieXclusive come to a common consensus, but we all agree that this movie is da bomb ok? You can read my review here.

Click here for details on reservation and confirmation!

Critically Acclaimed OK?

So Says A Nutshell Review Too!

Need a sneak peek? Check these out!



Monday, September 11, 2006

[DVD] Green Tea (Lü Cha) (2003)

So Who's The Nerd Now?

The first movie I watched starring enigmatic Chinese actor Jiang Wen was during a business trip to KL, catching a show at KLCC before my late afternoon flight. In Warriors of Heaven and Earth, he donned a moustache and beard as the charismatic leader Lieutenant Li, in a movie which had great premise but a lousy story to tell. As for Zhao Wei, unless your head was buried in sand, you wouldn't have missed the era in the late 90s where she was bombarding television sets everywhere in her role as Little Sparrow in My Fair Princess Huan Zhu Ge Ge.

So I guess putting them together in a movie made it almost irresistible to not want to pick up this DVD. This was actually a precursor to their Warriors movie where they collaborated again, but in this modern setting, based upon a short story "Adiliya by the River" (what the heck is Adiliya?) by Jin Renshun, they star as a pair of wannabe lovers looking into exploring if they could be together.

Sweeping aside the age gap, this movie is one heck of a mindgame. It's frustrating at times as nothing actually happens, and the lead characters just sit around and talk about stuff absolutely not related to anything at all. Well, at least not directly related to what's happening on hand, but telling stories - we're sitting through a story with characters telling stories, fictional ones which doesn't really add depth to plot, or characterization. It's pretty strange stuff.

And strange are their characters too, with the only realistic moment is the beginning - if you're looking for a stranger in a cafe, and there are two ladies, who would you approach first, the hot one, or the plain looking one? Chen Mingliang (Jiang Wen) went for the jugular, but it was actually Wu Fang (Zhao Wei) who was his blind date. They don't start off well, and continued to bicker. One's become obsessive with her conservatism, while the latter is a serial blind-dater.

But there is more than meets the eye to Wu Fang, and herein lies the guesswork to decipher who she actually was, and the motivations behind what she is doing. You can boil it down to PMS, or to the wall being built around her heart, or to just plain old psychosis. Whatever the case is, it's about persistence and the relentless pursuit of who you like, and on the other side, to spice things up with playing coy, hard to get, and being more of a mysterious enigma.

Nothing much to take away in less than 90 minutes, except to admire the two lead's ability to act and play off each other, and Christopher Doyle's cinematography (he makes tea leaves in hot water so sexy), which is a bit of a waste in a movie lacking in strength of story. I hate to say this, but the repetitive score is a bit irritating.

Code 9 DVD contains zero extras. The sound was quite bad, with plenty of echo, like speaking in a vast enclosed space. The transfer was bearably decent, but the subtitles seemed to look as if it has its bottom thinly shaved off.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

[DVD] Proof of Life (2000)

Do I Have Mail?

What happens in real life will inevitably have an effect on the reel one. Tom Cruise learnt that with his strange antics in real life - his screen one suffered with a less than expected stellar box office for M:I:3 despite positive critical reviews. Way back in 2000, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan learnt that too, with their rumoured romance while shooting this movie, one of the many reasons resulting in this becoming a box office bomb.

I felt that it was not a bad movie actually, given the story which I found interesting in the first place, for its extremely distant relation to what I'm doing, and being an action adventure movie, it works with its fair share of big action sequences.

Russell Crowe plays Terry Thorne, a consultant in the Security and Crisis Response Unit of Luthan Risk International. His job is to negotiate the safe return of Kidnap and Ransom (K&R) victims around the world, and of course, this brings him frequently to where the action is, during the payment of ransoms and the extraction of hostages. He yearns for a management role, but as always, if you're an excellent field operative, you're played to your strengths out there.

Which brings him to his latest client, Meg Ryan's Alice Bowman, whose husband Peter Bowman (David Morse), an employee with the biggest international oil firmed, gets kidnapped by chance during a raid in Ecuador. There are numerous scenes in the movie to perk your interest in this much behind-the-scenes industry of K&R, the terrorist(?) groups' motivation, and how the entire business is conducted, with the engagement of peers as well as the involvement of shady government personnel.

There are many fine touches that might go unnoticed, like how network of contacts and peers are milked, cooperation extended, the wheelings and dealings of large multinational corporations, and politics in general. But the focus moves quickly towards a micro one, that between Thorne and Alice Bowman, as he accomplishes to build her trust in him that he's the best in the business and knows what he's doing.

Perhaps this is one of the rare movies that allowed Crowe to be an Australian (and keep the accent) in a Hollywood production. His Thorne is oozes enough machismo to carry the action through and is credible enough to be believed as a veteran in the business. Meg Ryan this time round has a more serious character to play, albeit at times a weepie one, steering well clear of the pretty ditzy blonde comedic roles she has become accustomed to. They had probably shot some love scenes for this movie, but I suppose the bad press resulted in those scenes ending up on the cutting room floor. The romance between the character was also almost squashed out, save for the out of place suggestion of a strong physical attraction which rears its ugly head in the second half of the movie, slowing the pace down a little without much mature development. I thought that should it had been removed entirely, it'll probably end up a stronger movie, with Thorne more in character as a mission driven individual.

The first David, David Caruso, is finding a new lease of life back in television with CSI, since branching off to movies after NYPD Blue didn't augur too well for him. I thought his performance here was nothing much to shout about though. However David Morse, who usually plays supporting roles, put up an adequately engaging Peter Bowman as an executive caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and examines the fear and desperation of a man kidnapped and constantly at the wrong end of a gun barrel.

The theme song by Danny Elfman is addictive (time to hunt it down), and the end credits was played over a helicopter view of the entire Ecuadorian landscape, just beautiful to look at. Clocking at just over 2 hours, it provided some good entertainment for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Code 3 DVD contains the behind the scenes making-of documentary (13" 40'), the theatrical trailer, and the feature length audio commentary by director Taylor Hackford.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Speak Up! I Can't Hear You!

I've watched the original movie Kairo which Pulse is based upon. As is the current trend, Asian horror movies are being adapted or remade by their western counterparts at a rapid pace in an attempt to offer something different in style of the genre to its own audiences. If you haven't watched Kairo, you might think that Pulse is genius. If you had watched Kairo however, and didn't like it, this remake will make you appreciate the original a whole lot more. If you liked Kairo, then Pulse is a blasphemy, whether or not you're a purist.

While the original is measured in its delivery, keeping its cards close to its chest while the story developed, Pulse suffers from the dumbing down of plot to cater to the masses - any theme and everything is explained like an instruction manual, and this goes right down to offering some kind of a decent explanation of what exactly is happening, and creates a weak origin to go along too. From the onset, within the first ten minutes, it smacks the ideas of communication and modern day isolation so in your face, you wonder what else are they gonna cover as the movie progressed.

Luckily it lasts a little less than 90 minutes, and somehow sustained interest with its nicely done special effects, which you cannot deny is much superior to Kairo, made 5 years ago. However, nifty special effects isn't sufficient to gloss over a serious lack of effort in delivery to make this be at least as creepy as the original. Contrasted with the simple effects of shadowy figures, and the atmospheric chilling mood in Kairo, which you do not get to feel at all when watching Pulse, it degenerates this movie into a level of generics.

As with all remakes, some liberties are taken to create new characters, or recreate some from an amalgamation of others. From the trailers you do see iconic scenes taken from Kairo lock stock and barrel, but somehow didn't make the final cut, or was modified. There were some nice touches though, in their recreation of the dank apartment where the first signs of trouble surfaced.

Are there any good points at all? Compared to Kairo, this one is paced faster, because of its action sequences with the showing of the ghouls. So for those with attention disorder, its lack of lingering scenes will make Pulse more palatable to you. But one thing that really stuck out like a sore thumb, is its use of pop music, wiping away any sense or attempts at creating a horror movie truly dependent on mood, which is what made Asian horror stand out against the usual western horror movies in the first place.

All in all, I think it's about time remakes cool off the factory floor. If anything, Pulse should generate some interest on Kairo, and allow those who backtrack, discover the genius of the original Kiyoshi Kurosawa masterpiece.

Click here to read a genius review comparing the original masterpiece with the current popcorn flick - I've read it twice in succession, and it made me wanna reborrow Kairo to check out the bits that I've missed!

Forbidden Siren (Sairen)

Forbidden Siren is based upon the Siren 2 Playstation 2 (so many 2s) game. Like most video game turned movies, I would say the majority don't translate into a different medium really well. And that goes for this one too, painfully.

There's a pretty long prologue which explains and sets the premise for the story, and the mysterious island on which a writer (Leo Morimoto) and his children, daughter Yuki (Yui Ichikawa) and son Hideo (Jun Nishiyama) come to move into. The villagers don't look all too friendly, and soon enough, sound advice is given about the siren on the island, to stay indoors once the siren starts wailing.

Naturally and slowly, things start to go bump, and our siblings go on a mission beating around the bush to discover exactly what is happening on this unfriendly island with its strange inhabitants. But in truth, you will not bother with what's going on, as folklore and fairytales get thrown in to convolute the plot even more. What was really pushing it into the realm of bad comedy are its unwittingly ill-placed-out-of-the-norm moments which just drew pitiful giggles at its sheer stupidity, until it's explained much later. It's one thing trying to come up and present something smart, but another thing doing it convincingly and with loopholes covered.

Despite it clocking in under 90 minutes - I think it's a horror movie phenomenon to have that as a runtime benchmark - it gives that almost two hour feel with its slow buildup to tell what it wants to. Things begin to pick up toward the last 20 minutes, but it's a classic case of too little too late.

What saves the movie is how it changes tack and its revelation at the end. Again this is a common device used to try and elevate a seemingly simple horror movie into something a little bit extra in the hope of wowing an audience. It turned out rather satisfactorily, but leaves a bad aftertaste as you'll feel cheated somewhat. There are two ways a twist will make you feel - it either elevates the movie to a memorable level, or provides you with that hokey feeling. Unfortunately Forbidden Siren belonged more to the latter.

The saving grace will be its cinematography with its use of light, shadows and mirrors, but I will be that explicit - it's still not worth the time, so better to avoid this.
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