Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sketches of Frank Gehry

From Squiggles...

Frank Gehry is the world renowned architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. This documentary, directed by his friend Sydney Pollack, takes a quick look into the man himself, as well as to showcase some of the designs of the past 20 years or so, including the Guggenheim, which is given plenty of airtime.

Nearer to home, the Kerzner-CapitaLand's Sentosa Integrated Resort bid boasts of having its architecture designed by Gehry. Response has been mixed that it resembles one of his earlier pieces, but hey, it's Frank Gehry, and having one of his designs here, if it gets awarded, will be one heck of an attraction in itself.

... To This? The Sentosa IR Bid

Gehry mentioned during the interview that Pollack was given the nod to do the documentary was because of his lack of knowledge in the field. Perhaps it's because coming from the outside, he would be able to provide a fresh perspective into how architecture is viewed, from a layman. There's nothing much to shout about in this film, except to drool at the various eclectic designs and buildings Gehry built, and to go behind the scenes to try and pick his brain about the processes and idiosyncrasies he lives by.

And watching the master at work is amazing. From his squiggly sketches, they evolve into grand monuments, often undergoing countless of changes on the fly. There are plenty of hacks on models, and the amount of material spent making these models is simply staggering. It's no wonder he has a dedicated team of professionals working under him, and together they create art. I'm also impressed by Gehry's vast knowledge on materials, as they are equally important in bringing to life the designs from paper to the actual building.

Watch this documentary if you want to have a glimpse of how Frank Gehry goes about his work combining art with architectural design, and of the little nuggets of information he shares about his work and design philosophy, as well as a rare glimpse into this life from interviews and dialogues with colleagues and friends.

Now I'm rooting for the Kerzner-CapitaLand bid, just to have a Gehry designed building on our shores :-)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

One Moment in Time

I nodded in agreement when it was mentioned a single photo taken during combat has the power to make or break a war. At a time when the war chest is drained and the battle seemed to be drawn out longer than expected, you need public support to cough out funds and make donations to the manufacturing of arms. In the dying days of WWII, that photo you see above, gave reason to galvanize the American public into making donations for that final push. Now think Abu Ghraib. Nuff said, on its adverse impact to the war machinery.

For WWII movies, the Pacific theatre has arguably fewer number of films made by the West, especially those whose focus is on the ground troops, as compared to the European theatre, and possibly could be due to the availability of locales, as well as budget and (non) permission to film at the actual place. The Iwo Jima here is a substitute backdrop, not the real Iwo Jima with black beaches that you can see right after the end credits roll, as if in silent meditation of the soldiers on both sides who had given up their lives fighting for their cause.

And the Battle of Iwo Jima had its historical significance given it's the first landing of Allied troops on Japanese soil, and one of the bloodiest yet with high casualties on both sides. It also opened up the American eyes to the tenacity of the Japanese troops and their relentless defence of the homeland from invasion, in a Digital Domain CGI-created massive naval beach landing. Those looking for recreated battle scenes will probably not be disappointed with the level of detail shown in Flags, like the weapons, and the infamous use of flamethrowers to smoke out hidden troops in bunkers.

But this movie is not an all out action film. It's not a macro look at how the Allies secured their first foothold in Japanese soil. Rather, it takes a very personal look at the surviving men who hoisted the American flag over a prominent knoll in Iwo Jima. While there are countless of versions of the circumstances surrounding this lifting of a symbol, be it for morale boosting purpose, or politics, or for abstract ideals like hope, the definitive version as recounted in this story is actually quite ordinary, fueled by a mix of human desire for something monumental, as well as the listening to orders to a T.

Told in a non linear fashion with flashbacks and voiceovers, it is extremely difficult that you'll be bored by the movie, unless your expectations have been set the wrong way. There is plenty of material and themes that the movie touched upon, although it can be argued that each doesn't necessarily have enough focus, issues like racism and prejudice. What makes this film compelling is the story of the survivors, being whisked back to the States to be part of propaganda to raise funds. Accuracy and accountability take the backseat against the hail of heroism, and it evolves very quickly into a media circus.

Flags examines the lives of those in the photo who survived the battle, their reluctance to be called heroes, the demons that they faced while on the battlefield, the constant reminder to kill or be killed, the lies they have to tell to sell, and their sense of morality sacrificed for the lesser of two evils. Being soldiers, they have to do listen to orders, even if at the moment, it sounds absurd (I believe those who have been through service in the armed forces will agree on this). It is the conflict, and the need to lie through their teeth, which makes it all the more a sorrowful struggle, especially when you have to deny a fellow brother his moment of recognition, and denying his family the need for closure.

And of course, we all know how fickle the press can be. On one hand they can praise you, on the other, someone's always looking at ways to demean and cast doubts. Flavours of the moment, potshots of controversy like whether the picture was staged, ring to mind that icons can never escape from the cynical eye. Politicians, rich businessmen and the military brass too are cast in none too positive light, as they get portrayed as men who like association with power, fame, and glory.

There are times when you'll do a double take on the cast. Adam Beach, who plays Native American Ira Hayes, also played a private in another WWII movie, fighting against the Japanese army in the Pacific theatre of war, in John Woo's stylized WWII movie Windtalkers. Barry Pepper, as Mike Strank, also an alumni of war movies, starring in Spielberg's (who serves as producer here) all too familiar Saving Private Ryan set in WWII, and alongside Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers' Vietnam. In war movies, the sniper, commander and medic are roles which are easily made popular, and Ryan Phillippe had his role cut out for him, as the never-say-die combat medic John Bradley, whose son wrote the book this movie is based upon.

Clint Eastwood again never ceases to amaze me. Here's the star of spaghetti westerns, Dirty Harry himself, who has aged but still showing no signs of slowing down. Like fine wine, he has started to show his talents in the films he makes, and award winning critically acclaimed ones too. But what I'm really pleasantly and thoroughly enjoyed, is the score that he wrote for Flags. It's restrained, yet powerful, kept simple in instrument, yet never lacking in grandeur. Being a filmmaker is one thing, but having contribute to a highly effective score complimenting the movie, is another. Not many can do that.

Flags of Our Fathers is a must watch, and I'm already eagerly anticipating the companion movie, with viewpoints from the Japanese, fighting the same war, in Letters From Iwo Jima, and it should be equally powerful.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happiness Is...

... getting one of those out of print DVDs at a discounted price, with a freebie included as well, the Sam Hui King Sized Pictorial containing stills from the movie.

I'm a fan of the martial arts genre, and Swordsman has a special place in my heart because it actually renewed my faith in the genre, and broadly, in Hong Kong movies as well. Given it's length, I was surprised that I could be engaged for a good two hours, where usually the typical duration of a HK movie will be around 90 minutes.

Also, it's based loosely on a novel by Louis Cha, who wrote some of the most popular martial arts novels out there, and have characters whom most are familiar with. I was intrigued by the shenanigans of all the martial arts sect when they congregate and try to out scheme one another to obtain the secret martial arts manual, and enjoyed THAT song being played again, and again.

Already, being able to watch it in its original Cantonese language track is a big bonus, given that the first time I've watched this was in Mandarin, on a video tape recorded from television, so you know with each viewing, the picture quality will degrade.

So until I really find some time and get down to watching this in its full glory, here's a snapshot of my latest acquisition :-)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Deja Vu

OK, I'm a Denzel fan, so the review might be slanted. I'm OK with Tony Scott's quick cutting style, so I don't suffer from the induced headaches that people complain about when watching his films. I enjoyed their collaboration in Man on Fire and Crimson Tide, so hell I'll probably enjoy Deja Vu too, which I did.

One warning though, despite the cheesy trailer where the opening credits repeat themselves, this film has a bit of hokey physics used to sustain plausibility. So please suspend disbelief, and oh yes, don't go looking for the plot holes because like all time travel related movies, they always exist.

Adopt the singular viewpoint and perspective of the protagonist, and you're in for a weekend popcorn ride.

To read my review of Deja Vu at, click on the logo below:

To read my review of Deja Vu at, click on the logo below:

Saturday, November 25, 2006


The Master and Apprentice

Jigsaw's back! But this time the modus operandi is slightly different. In what was a game of pain, life and death, this time round it seems that there's an overconfidence that the unfortunate prey will not get out alive. Hence the death traps being literal.

But of course those who have not watched Saw II, will not know the suggestion at the change in MO. In order not to spoil it for you, I shall not mention a word, but hey, even without watching Saw II, there're ample flashback scenes, and newly created ones, to bring you up to speed. But trust me, watching the second film first before this, will help bucket loads, as it picks up directly where the previous film left off, with the return of characters played by Dina Meyer and Donnie Wahlberg.

Like the previous movies of the franchise, you have those elaborate devices for those sick games that Jigsaw likes to play with seemingly innocent men and women, chosen for not valuing their lives, and wasting it away. Through such games, Jigsaw's warped aim is, for those who survive, to learn to appreciate life itself. Then again, just how many do survive, since to do so calls for sacrifice, often pain inducing in a massive way in a race against time.

However, while the litres of blood continue to flow, the devices and plans here tended to be below par. Sure they're sick, but this time it really stretches it a little. Things happen to fall in place, and well, they just do. There seemed to be a bit of borrowing from Hannibal, with the use of boars (although dead ones here) and not since that film had I seen the power drill put to good use, with that unforgettable sound of the spinning drill. That skanky toilet makes a comeback too, and it probably ranks up there with toilets from Trainspotting and Crazy Stone.

You can guess the direction of the film's narrative, predicting where it will head, and how, but what you probably can't guess right, is the rationale behind what's happening, the Why, until the answers are revealed at the end. It'll also put to rest some of doubts and queries left hanging at the end of Saw II, and in a certain sense, Saw III wraps up the trilogy. Unless of course there is talk about making another film on the now cult figure Jigsaw, which will have the franchise follow the footsteps of the in-thing to do nowadays - the prequels.

While there are new characters introduced, it's kind strange that we do not care much about them, except to silently bet if they would be able to survive their ordeal. Perhaps gore movies are such, that an audience doesn't care what happens to them so long as blood is shed and bones are broken. Perhaps the influx of gore movies, each one trying to outdo the other, makes us just baying for blood to be shed by the characters, and nothing else.

So for those who have already watched the first two, this one will bring everything to full circle. And I can't get that all too familiar tune, which is played each time Jigsaw reveals his intentions, out of my head.

[Cine.SG] Medium Rare

I remembered watching this in the cinemas when it first came out. Actually it turned out to be one of those family cinema outings, and the decision to watch this was my Dad's. I tell you after this dud, he's just about sworn off watching any local productions, even up until today.

If anything good has resulted in this expensive S$2 million flop, then it is the lesson learnt in how not to make a movie. Looking at the cost, I'm not too sure where all the money went, given that local movies today, of better quality, don't cost that much. It has all the right ingredients inside that points to a flop, starting with the pandering to the caucasians in offering them lead roles. Back in those days, "foreign talent" meant so long as not asian, they're a shoo in as "stars", even though almost everyone here have not heard of them before.

First, the director Arthur Smith, whose directing skills are as generic as his name. With probably no film credits to his name, he's suddenly the man suited to helm the movie. The lead roles of Daniel Lee the Asian medium and Beverly Watson the photo-journalist, went to Dore Kraus and Jamie Marshall respective. Dore who? Precisely. His only claim to fame is the Australian remake of the Ultraman television series, where he's the human alter-ego of that legendary Japanese hero. I've watched that series when it aired here, and it was bad. Jamie Marshall probably was a nobody then, and probably is a nobody now, no thanks to this turkey.

Notable local input to the movie are actors who were unrecognizable those days, and relegated to support roles. Like Beatrice Chia as a mad woman possessed, Neo Swee Lin as a nurse receptionist, and even cameo king Lim Poh Huat is spotted in a non-speaking by-stander role. Margaret Chan, a food critic, employs her skills together with Rani Moorthy (who again?) to come up with a script that's based loosely on the notorious child serial killer Adrian Lim (I'll come to that later), and naturally, wrote in roles for themselves, and for Margaret Chan's daughter Clara. Real life mother and daughter get to play siblings here, and their chemistry onscreen is just so wrong.

The characters are so cardboard and hollow, and are made worse by wooden acting throughout. At some points the facial expressions seem to take a life of their own, with so much of exaggerated lip movements, stares and eyebrow twitches, it feels like a bad wayang. The lines of dialogue are horrible, and poor speech delivery made it all so cringeworthy. It's no wonder that none of the actors, or the scriptwriters, got offers again. Their amateurism shone right through.

Perhaps it's because of the lack of courage, that this film, about killings, steered clear of reasonable violence, leaving what you have a laughable effort. You have the drinking of blood out of vials, a seduction scene where a razor is used to cut a boob so that the medium can suck it, but the cameraman, so focused on the boob, failed to pan the camera upwards so that the fake action of cutting the breast would be unseen - this scene is so bad you just got to see it to believe. Wanting to infuse some sex into the plot, became actors embracing and falling down out of the camera view. Such is how bad the production is, and is indeed very mind boggling.

It also probably started the trend that if it's a Singapore film, you must have a shot of that Singapore riverfront skyline, and the mix of different ethnic costumes worn by characters. I do appreciate the former though, as it shows to a new generation of locals how the now famed skyline actually looked like in those days, with its sparseness, and the UOB skyscraper under construction. Shots done today of the same will be eclipsed once the Integrated Resort and Marina Bay city centre are up, and it serves as a good snapshot of a developing skyline.

And what of the plot you say? I think looking back in hindsight, saying that it's loosely based on Adrian Lim's cult killings of two children, is wrong. Besides the medium occupation, sex and his mistresses, there isn't any inkling of remote resemblance to actual incidents. And I'm not sure if anyone local would want to make a movie out of him anyway. The movie's also peppered with so much hokey spirituality that come alive, as audiences will probably groan in pain each time some fortune cookie inspired lines come spewing out.

Those involve in the editing too are plain lazy, as scenes feel disjointed, and looked more like individual short films spliced together with plenty of product placement and balls carrying. Someone ought to have said this is not a bloody advertisement for Pan Pacific Hotel, even though they are one of the sponsors. You have lingering shots of the building, given a full tour of the facilities from the suite to the gym to the pool to the restaurant to how friendly the reception staff are at their counter. God, give me a break! It's a movie, not some corporate in house video!

But truly, you have to admire the courage of those involved in the movie, as they try to entertain with many scenes so unintentionally funny. I'm not sure what ran through their minds, and some form of sanity check is required if they truly believe they're not making a comedy. Bad directing, script, acting, soundtrack, editing, the list goes on, and if the Razzies would be applicable here, this movie will own them all.

Only for serious film buffs wanting a piece of local cinematic history.

9:56 (APT)

Just About What's Beautiful In The Movie

This is a movie from Toilet Pictures. If the name of the production company is any indication how stinky a movie is, then this would be it. I think I'm not really a fan of horror movies, not that I'm chicken, but rather this year alone, I haven't been genuinely spooked by what's on offer so far, be it from the West, or from Asia. 9:56 is no different, great premise, but poor execution, relying on cliched techniques (I think these are the only tools of the trade available?) to try and elicit some heart thumping moments.

Se-jin (Ko So-young) is a lonely career woman, who one day notices that some apartments in the block of flats opposite hers, undergo blackouts simultaneously at precisely 9:56pm everyday. No, she's no voyeur, but a series of unexplained deaths in the neighbourhood, including one which she encounters herself on a subway, start to draw her deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding these deaths.

With horror movies, there's always a pseudo-logical explanation within the movie about how the spooks come about. That's just about the most interesting thing that happens in the film, the unravelling of the "Truth", although it won't take seasoned film lovers to guess the plot halfway through. Which of course makes it a very unsatisfying experience watching this movie.

There's a myriad of characters like the wheelchair bound girl, and the neighbours who take turns to care for her, as well as a schoolgirl, detective, a mentally challenged boy and a spooky train commuter. But following genre formula, these folks are there usually as fodder for deaths, or in this case, pointless red herring characters whose sole aim by the filmmakers is to mislead the audience, nevermind if they convolute, or add little to forward the plot.

And don't get me started on the techniques employed here. Quick cuts, sudden appearances, long hair ghouls (ahhhhhhh, so passe!) who can't move properly, copious amount of blood like it flows down a mountain for free, and the list goes on. But credit to the sound engineers for creating some ear piercing bone crunching sounds used each time the spooks move, though it seems like a one trick pony.

Don't waste time on this, even if you're a horror fan. It's a complete waste of a promising premise, and in the end, you feel like you've just be taken on a ride. A very long and painful one to endure. It's high time for some innovation in this genre, otherwise one film will easily look like another, with ugly long haired monsters moving funny but with the ability to make sudden appearances accompanied by loud sounds. Oh, and can someone oil those doors while they're at it as well.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Feet

I Believe I Can Fly

There was a documentary last year which made waves both critically and at the box office. It was a celebration of nature, of life, danger, and death as seen through the eyes of Emperor Penguins in the Antarctica. If you had seen that documentary, then the first 10 minutes of Happy Feet will be familiar territory, as it probably summarized a whole lot of the mating game, into the introductory act.

Happy Feet tells the story of an offspring Emperor Penguin of Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman). With that distinctive mole placement and swagger, it's actually Marilyn Monroe and Elvis done as animated feather friends, romanticizing each other and eventually have a son aptly named Mumble, born with a defect, save for those distinctively sky blue eyes of Elijah Wood. A heart song is what the Emperor Penguins use to attract their mates, but true to his namesake, Mumble can't sing for nuts and can only, surprise, tap dance, much to the chagrin of the conservative elders.

It's perhaps a given that those cute baby penguins which melted the hearts of many in March of the Penguins, get featured so prominently here in Happy Feet. Milking them for what they're worth, this movie pours in a lot more crowd favourites like dance. So you have yet another animated movie in this year's glut of offerings, in yet another movie about dance, a dash of comedy fused with familiar songs weaved together in a medley, and voila! Instant formula for success!

I must admit I was initially apprehensive that Happy Feet will be able to pull it off and had somewhat low expectations, given some mediocre Hollywood animated movies being produced. But true enough, I was sold after 10 minutes. The animation is photo-realistic, and probably is the next best thing of having being in the Antarctica, or watching the real one on screen. If the animals in the movie quit talking, you might just think that they're for real.

The characters too manage to endear themselves to you, with Robin Williams staging a coup with his voice performance of two penguin characters, one a smooth talking leader of a pack of Adelie penguins with Latino accents (their antics reminiscent of those in Madagascar, only a lot more laid back), and of a know-it-all Guru who answers any questions in exchange for pebbles. Brittany Murphy can sing too, as she lends her voice to Mumble's love interest, and THE babe of the colony, Gloria. Hugo Weaving too is in the movie, and so is the late Steve Irwin. It's no wonder that at the helm of this movie is director George Miller, also an Australian (say, there's quite a number of Australian's lending their voices here)

While it's generally a feel good movie, there's a good portion of the movie well hidden away from the trailers, in case you have the nagging misconception that there's nothing too interesting about watching a story of an underdog outcast working his way, cutting across discrimination to win the girl of his dreams. At one point, I thought the movie could have gone the way that Steven Spielberg's AI had gone, because it certainly felt that way. Also, there's a very rushed message on conservation, and in fact, the finale felt that it got truncated just to end the way it had.

Christmas season's coming, and a tale rooted in family ties, friendship, and the return of the prodigal son, makes it satisfyingly enjoyable. Parents would probably check out if the toy stores carry baby penguin plush toys. Should be a hit with the kids, after the movie.

Happy Family is a Sex Bomb, Cute Kid, and Elvis!

Just Follow Law - Website and Trailer

Jack Neo is one of Singapore's prolific filmmakers, and arguably the only one whose movies are consistently making decent box office returns. Starring familiar faces from television, Fann Wong (Shanghai Knights) and comedian Gurmit Singh, Jack is once again taking a satirical look at the civil service in Singapore with his new movie, set to make its debut on 15 Feb 2007.

Official Website and Trailer

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Battle of Wits (Muk Gong)

So You Think You're Damn Smart?

The warring states of Ancient China serve as a backdrop for this pan-asian war epic, starring the charismatic Andy Lau. Going by the literal translation of the Chinese title, it's "Ink War", alluding to the fact that much of the battles in this movie relies a lot more on superior strategy in order to overcome a mammoth battle against a Goliath, with a 4,000 population up against the might of a 100,000 strong well-trained army.

Based on a Japanese novel/manga Bokkou, Battle of Wits fictionalizes one of the episodes during 370BC, where China was still divided, and each nation seizing opportunities to usurp the other. Those familiar with history will know that eventually, the kingdom of Qin will ultimately unite the Middle Kingdom for the first time. However, the story sets its sights on the Kingdom of Zhao leading an attack on the smaller state of Liang. In its defence lies a mysterious man from the Mozhi tribe known as Ge Li (Andy Lau of course), who galvanizes Liang's population to stage a stand against what seemingly looks like impossible odds.

While war movies of long, long time ago have been flogged to death recently by Hollywood, with films like Alexander, Troy, and fantasy epics like the Lord of the Rings series, Asian movies have rarely scratched the surface until of late, with Battle of Wits leading the charge, and coming right up are at least two film adaptations of episodes from the Romance of the Three Kingdom novels. For those expecting fantastical and romanticized wu-xia martial arts moves, you will be disappointed, as this movie is rooted much in reality.

Given the epic scale of this production, it still rings a sense of familiarity in its war scenes, and I thought that shooting most of them in middle-close range, loses much of its grandeur. The big spectacles shown have nothing new that will take your breath away, especially after Hollywood has plundered such productions. Nonetheless it augurs well that Battle of Wits managed to pull off a production of this nature, and has, surprise, a competent storyline to carry it through.

There is a strong anti-war message that got worn on the sleeves Ge Li, as smart and cunning as he is, he's the reluctant hero, willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. He finds no pleasure in war, nor killings, but in order to save the masses, he must do what he has to thwart efforts of bloodthirsty kingdoms. He's is the message of "loving thy enemy", naturally not shared by the incompetent leadership in Liang.

And since time immemorial, you always have the incompetents possessing the heart of insolence, with characters of sloth and ill intentions, straddling from a high horse. Inept leaders silencing their opposition through calls of treason is a tactic all too familiar, which makes it all the more despondent as you ponder about that aged old chinese proverb about there being nothing wrong in looking after your personal interests first, instead of bothering with the affairs of others. Ge Li faces both the task of winning over the people's trust (since they're committing the state's defences to his organization), and the inevitable unappreciative, thankless task of having to do just that.

As I mentioned, do not expect to see "Qing Gong" or fancy swordplay. Rather I was in awe with the delivery of strategies and counter strategies in having two warring factions pitting their wits against each other. Sometimes they come rather unexpectedly, and will leave you with a smile, like when you're wondering just what everyone is up to when they close their eyes en masse.

Accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, the movie could be split down two halves, and while the first centered on the macro affairs, a more micro, personal affairs of the heart managed to creep in between Ge Li and Yi Yue (the gorgeous Fan Bingbing), a calvary officer, and though their romance sometimes stalled the pace of the movie, it added some gravitas to Ge Li the Man, questioning his strong beliefs on being unselfish, and made the finale all the more heart-wrenching to watch.

Featuring stars like Wu Ma and Nicky Wu (when was the last time I saw them in a movie) and Korean actor Ahn Sung-kee, this certainly is the movie to watch this week. Forget about them animated penguins, treat yourself to an epic worthy of your time, and well worth a weekend ticket.

Update - Check out this site for an excellent background on the premise of the movie.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny

Tenacious D Rocks Your Socks!

It might be an understatement to say that Jack Black is truly a jack of all trades. Of late his profile has been raised in the various high profile movies he's starring in, ranging from his own comedies like Nacho Libre, which I thought suffered from its own over-hype unfortunately, to blockbusters like King Kong for him to flex some dramatic muscles. I still remember the smaller supporting roles he played in movies like High Fidelity, and now he's probably in the bigger league, having the ability to open a movie with just his name on the marquee.

Tenacious D however, is not a one-man show. It's actually a Jack Black-Kyle Gass vehicle in which they play two absurd rockers conveniently called JB and KG. They're dreaming of the day of making it big in the rock scene, with cash and chicks in their sex, drugs, rock and roll lifestyle. But until then, they have to content with paying the bills, and performing in open mic sessions of smaller joints. And of course, not having sufficient talent to come up with a hit, works against them, though they manage to snag one die hard fan along the way.

Making its jump from TV (was an HBO series), Tenacious D doesn't need you to learn up its history in order to enjoy it, as it begins with a fair bit of background story of how these two friends, with a passion for rock, meet and develop their friendship and partnership in showbiz. In his movie, they're on a quest to seek the legendary Pick of Destiny, which almost every who's who in the annals of rock history is observed to be using, rumoured to be a part of Satan (ok, all you folks who associate loud music with the devil will probably rejoice at his point).

And to humour these folks, JB and KG are your expected foul mouthed characters who pepper their lyrics with bawdy sex lines and vulgarities, which, in my opinion, totally rocks, spoofing the genre of music to a T. To truly enjoy the movie, you'd have to pay close attention to the lyrics and the dialogues between the characters, though some might add that it's a bit of an overkill having almost every line punctuated with Fs or Cs. Laughs are also milked from physical action, with inane bits like the Power Hugs and the Power Slide, which is touted as THE arsenal in any bona fide rock star.

The other highlight of Tenacious D are the hilarious cameo appearances from folks like Tim Robbins, John C Reilly, Ben Stiller (woohoo!) and even Meat Loaf, for some rock cred. Their characters, some unrecognizable until you do a second take, add plenty of colour to this wacky fantastical film.

But Tenacious D blew hot and cold, and there will be points in time where you will just cringe at the delivery, or simply be unimpressed by the predictable ho-hum plot. It's almost as if Bill and Ted had put on loads of weight, and have recycled their excellent adventures into something with a rock element, and replacing Death with Satan himself. Satan here is done in awesome crimson red, much like Hellboy, horns and all, but with plenty more devilish attitude to boot. And yes, Jack Black can sing, really. A genuine performer if you ask me.

If you're someone with a holier than thou attitude, steer real clear from this movie. It's so offensive that those who cannot stand the slightest murmur of insanely vulgar dialogue or set action sequence, will probably suffer from a bad fit. Stay tuned until after the end credits for a scene between JB and KG, where they try to conjure yet another masterpiece in front of their tape recorder.

[Cine.SG] Song of the Stork (Vu Khuc Con Co)

I wasn't the least surprised to see so few people turn up for this screening. It isn't your regular made-in-Singapore movie, but one which is a first-ever Singapore-Vietnam co-production. It doesn't have recognizable local TV stars in any role, and arguably zero publicity about the movie's background in the regular media in the year that it was made. If I recall correctly, it didn't even have a commercial release here.

A movie about war is never easy to make, and one about the Vietnam war not made by the Americans or the French, but a Singaporean media company? Gee, could it be pulled off? Cine.SG listed this film as the first international production that has been allowed into Vietnam to shoot a film about the war. Not even Francis Ford Coppola's epic Apocalypse Now was granted permission mind you. So how did it fare?

Much to my surprise and pleasure, the production values are pretty good, though the storyline doesn't have much to rave about. It's pretty straightforward, and played out at times like a pseudo-documentary, with archived footages of the war put into scene fillers. It follows an introduction by a North Vietnamese war correspondent, Tran Van Thuy, and his journeys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail with his fellow comrades. Interspersed with dramatic retelling of the war and happenings in camp, are mini interviews with Tran himself, as well as an American Vietnam War veteran.

Yes you read that right. While it's about the Vietnam War, the focus here is on the North Vietnamese soldiers, not the usual glorification of the American / South Vietnam view points. While the South does get featured as well, together with its soldiers, they are largely portrayed as lazy and ineffective, often looking after their own personal interests, as opposed to their adversaries, who are committed to the cause, and willing to sacrifice for the good of their fellow men.

Attention to detail is not spared, and I can't help but chuckle on one hand, yet emphatise with soldiers fighting a war given the barest of essentials. Jungle warfare wearing sandals, is no joke. Accompanying the narrative is a hauntingly eerie soundtrack, which fit the movie well, though I won't be one who will listen to it during the dead of the night.

The movie can be easily split into two halves, the first which is about Tran and his journeys, and the second takes a more interesting and sympathetic look at the life of an infiltrator in the South, who sets up family and leads a normal life, until the time comes to rise above and aid his fellow men attacking Southwards. Its romantic theme punches through, and probably personified the suffering of families during times of war, when one is often forced to choose between loyalties for country and family.

It's an interesting film to watch, especially with the viewpoints scarcely seen in films about the Vietnam war. While the war scenes might be a bit amateurish for today's standards, its themes still ring through and true.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

[Animation Nation] Paprika

Ugly Poster, But Beautiful Movie

Adapted from a science fiction novel by Yatsutaka Tsutsui, Paprika is probably my favourite film from this year's Animation Nation. The closing film (technically, since it's the last film to be screened tomorrow), it is one heck of a thrill ride, and will definitely engage an audience at different levels.

In contrast to the dark doom and gloom hanging over Paris 2054 in Renaissance, Paprika at first glance is surprisingly light hearted and colourful, though it has its fare share of gloom and probably has darker themes which unfold as the story progresses. It's central plot revolves around a futuristic method of psychotherapy with the aid of a newly created invention known as the "DC Mini", which is a device that probes into the annals of your brainwaves, and allows the doctor to analyze and diagnose problems which surface in your subconscious.

Until the device is stolen that is, and it's up to our key project team members to try and contain the situation, prevent the device from falling into the wrong hands and get abused, and in essence, investigate the loss, with the help of fellow patient detective Kogawa Toshimi. In some ways, the movie's storyline resembles a bit like the Matrix movies (which of course, borrows from Japanese anime), in having the hero the champion of both worlds - the real one, and inside the artificially created one. surviving in both with the adoption of different personas. Here, our heroine is Dr Chiba Atsuko, who in her alter ego as Paprika, is able to traverse through the dreamworld with great ease.

There are plenty of stuff happening in almost every scene, and some might deem it a little "noisy" with so much to see, but so little time on screen. However, never for a moment does it feel very cluttered, and I am still pleasantly pleased at how so much story can be compacted into a nifty 90 minutes, without compromising on quality. Despite the dark themes in the movie, there are a number of light hearted moments which seem to punctuate the movie at the right places, no doubt most coming from the characters of Tokita the DC Mini creator, and Detective Kogawa in his (in)ability and slow enlightenment to the entire scheme of things, nevermind a dark subplot solely focused on his character alone.

At another level, it explores much about our dreams, and how within them, we can be who we want to be, but yet all comes to naught once we wake up from it. What if we're given the ability to merge both the real world and the dream world. Then what would become of life as we know? Will it be utter chaos when dreams and desire start to run amok?

Full of vibrant colours and energy, Paprika is just about everything that you would expect from an excellent piece of animation. A story that makes your brain work at figuring out what's happening on screen, yet doesn't allow such mysteries presented to stifle your concentration on what's going on next. A hauntingly mesmerizing soundtrack. Beautiful art pieces from background sets to character design so detailed. And with so much on screen at any one time, it definitely seeks a second viewing to truly appreciate and take in everything.

Director Satoshi Kon has made a fan out of me with this movie, and I think, if time and money permits, I'll be hunting down some of the earlier works, if this is any indication whether I'll enjoy them to bits.

Paprika will be shown tomorrow during the Animation Nation festival's closing, but I hear that tickets are already sold out (I bought mine on the first day when the tickets were out on sale). I do think there should be a general release, so keep your fingers crossed!

Oh yeah, Bill Plympton was in the house too!

Monday, November 20, 2006

[Animation Nation] Renaissance

I Have a License To Kill

Daniel Craig is making another impact on our screens, though a limited one, besides the latest grittier installment of the Bond Franchise. In this year's Animation Nation Festival opening film, Renaissance, he lends his voice as a lead detective character in perhaps THE animated movie of 2006.

Created using motion capture technology and done entirely in black and white, some reckon it to be similar to reading a Sin City comic book that moves. While Sin City itself was filmed by Rodriguez in live action mode, Renaissance is done in animation, and what beautiful animation it is. Without colour, the entire look and feel is hinged on the clever eye for lighting and shadows, to create the dark futuristic looking atmosphere of Paris 2054.

Hardcore fans of science fiction will probably find the story a yawn, as it rehashes tired plots of mighty futuristic conglomerates and the power that they exert on the commonfolk. Formula dictates that these successful companies are successful because they hide deep dark secrets, if once revealed, could bring about their downfall, and along with it, their grip on the future. Here in future Paris, the largest company Avalon makes its business in youth and beauty, where huge billboards with beautiful models tout the latest in Avalon products.

However, a promising young Avalon scientist gets kidnapped, and its up to maverick supercop Karas (voiced by Craig) to recover her. In the future, all cops have awesome tools to assist in their detective work, and Craig, like his Bond character, brings about a angst filled lone ranger character to his Karas, as tables are turned, the roles between hunter and prey get blurred, and with the usual expected twist at the end to add some flavour to a tired tale.

But hey, while the plot might be uninteresting, we're all here for the animation no less. And it's simply amazing to see how, with just splashes of black and white, and superb control in shadow play, what may look easy to produce actually passes off in a sophisticated manner. What's amazing is the creation of the look of Paris of the future, and the characters when they interact, seem like blotches of black ink merging into and separating from one another. It is easy to mash everything up in an incoherent manner, but here, there is clear distinction within the barrage of blur.

A joint French-UK-Luxembourg production, Renaissance boasts some excellent voice talents in "recognizable" names like Craig, Jonathan Pryce (also a Bond alumni), and Catherine McCormack in the English soundtrack. There's also a French soundtrack, but that's not the version put on screen today, though I am curious to see how it actually sounds like.

Given the sold out sessions of this movie in Animation Nation, it wouldn't be a surprise if it gets picked up for general release here. And what will be the icing on the cake, is Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly also hitting our shores. That'll be sweet!

[Animation Nation] Moongirl

Moonboy and Moongirl

This was shown before the screening of Renaissance.

The short animated film Moongirl, while beautifully CG created, rings hollow. I think nowadays beautifully rendered CGI graphics do not cut it anymore if it doesn't come with a compelling enough story to engage an audience.

Not that Moongirl's story doesn't work. but I feel that it's more for the kids, and it's an opportunity for the filmmakers to flex those artistic muscles in creating fairly complex visuals. I thought the little twist at the end was quite neat, but besides that, there's nothing much to move the narrative along.

Strictly as a showreel, and nothing more.

[Animation Nation] Bill Plympton's Dirty Shorts and Dogs

Today's series of shorts is da bomb! Rated R21 for adult oriented humour (and yes, some are in-your-face explicit), I've enjoyed much of today's series over the others, save for the technical glitch on the DVD it played off from, which resulted in painful jerky motions with skipped soundtracks for some of the shorts. I think Cathay gotta clean its DVD player, or someone should really check the condition of the DVD before popping it into the player.

Bill Plympton was around to introduce the shorts, and mentioned that these were those that were made in the last 8 years. You can tell that they're more polished than the early shorts days, and really outrageous with its many takes on, well, the aptly titled sex and violence. Here's my quick thoughts on some of the shorts:

Sex and Violence - if the first clip shows a mermaid sucking dick off a male diver on the diving platform, it more or less sets the tone of the rest in the series. Uncensored, and totally raw, fun. Some didn't work out, but most did.

Exciting Life of a Tree - this is one of my favourites from the collection. At first it doesn't suggest much, until you realize you're a silent observer on the life of a tree (and its neighbours), which turns out to be a very interesting angle to look at things, and the events too become somewhat as cyclic as the seasons. Oh yeah, the trees are privy to naughty deeds done in and around them too!

More Sex and Violence - More of what you'd come to expect from the first Sex and Violence, with a lot more hits than misses, if any. I am particularly fond of that short which unravels a sequence of events from inside a female's mouth, as she takes in lipstick, various food and beverage, and eventually.... !

Helter Skelter - what looked like a sitcom pilot about 2 guys and a girl living in the same apartment, turned out to be wicked violent fare. One character, about to receive his date for an evening dinner at home, accidentally gets his head lobbed off, and have to survive the date by having his head affixed to the body of a chicken. Bizzare stuff, and strangely funny.

Surprise Cinema - Candid camera, with Plympton's wit. It's like episodes of "sabotage" resulting in plenty of blood and gore, but was marred by the technical glitch on the DVD.

Eat- set in a diner with a variety of customers, like the lone male diner, a couple, a famly whose kids can't sit still, and ultimate pandemonium in the end, this short was also marred by the technical glitch.

Parking - This was inspired by a parking lot. It tells the tale of a carpark attendant's obsession with orderliness and neatness, and the irritant of a small blade of grass in the carpark, trying to force its way through cracks, which riles him. Obsession makes for over the top moments, and great entertainment.

There were also a series of Flash Animations which Bill had conceptualized the idea, and passed onto his assistant to transfer them onto Flash. Made up of many quick shorts that don't last more than 30 seconds each.

These shorts though, were the highlight of the evening:

The Fan and the Flower, narrated by Paul Giamatti, with animation done in black and white, based on a story not written by Bill himself. Bill recounted how he got Paul to perform the voiceover - as he was invited to the Oscar party, he noticed Paul from across the room. After a few drinks to build up courage, he approached Paul, and was surprised to learn that Paul's a fan of his animation. The rest, as you can say, is history.

Guard Dog - Winner of an Oscar in 2005 for Best Animated Short Film, Guard Dog tells of a story of a canine whose eager to please and protect his master. He barks at almost everything in its path, like insects and small creatures, and you probably wonder why. All these and more, explained, through the eyes of the dog. It's no doubt, after watching this short, why it deserved to win its award.

Guide Dog is the sequel of the eager canine, now taking on the task of providing guidance to blind folks. Again, its good intentions always leave much to be desired, unwittingly setting off a course towards unplanned destruction. I tell you, if there were to be a plush toy of this dog, it'll probably sell like Hot Cakes. Bill Plympton joked that the next sequel to the Dog series, would be Hot Dog, where our favourite canine gets involved with the fire department.

And guess what, everyone, and I mean everyone, brought home one of the Guide Dog cards, with Bill's own autograph and doodle of the dog done on the fly. Simply amazing, I think he took less than 10 seconds to doodle it, right in front of your eyes!

Totally awesome, and what a memento for the evening!

Bill Plympton's Official Website at

Sunday, November 19, 2006

[Animation Nation] Bill Plympton's The Tune

This is a story about a song writer called Del (voiced by Daniel Nieden), who's working on the latest hit for his boss, Mr Mega (Marty Nelson). However he's suffering from creator's block, and couldn't find the inspiration to finish the tune. At the same time, his relationship with Mr Mega's secretary, Didi (Maureen McElheron), may start to fall apart should he not be able to complete the tune, and this just adds to the pressure.

What follows is something like an adventure in Alice's Wonderland, as Del, en route to submitting his incomplete work to Mr Mega, finds himself on the wrong end of a highway, and gets transported to the extremely weird world of Flooby Nooby, where it seems like everyone is able to hold their own tune. The secret of course is to write from the heart, and he embarks on this quest within Flooby Nooby to learn just how to do that.

There are more than 10 songs featured in the movie, which just gets better and better with each song being played, ranging from pop to folk and even the blues. The songs are naturally the highlight of an animated film hinging on them, and Maureen McElheron certainly created the tunes that combined perfectly with Bill Plympton's visuals.

Del encounters different folks with different strokes, and I'm still in awe at the immense creativity that Bill Plympton has featured in the characters of this movie. Infusing great humour, there are plenty of mini episodes which could stand alone as comedic animated shorts, like the two violent men, the sad story of a taxi driver, and of course my personal favourite, probably the precursor to The Matrix Reloaded's Architect in the Wiseone (Chris Hoffman).

What's amazing too is the different animation styles adopted by Plympton within the film, and truly, this is great stuff. You have animators who, after discovering a style they're comfortable with, sticks to it and you can see the style replicated in their drawings. Plympton's so diverse, you can hardly classify his works as they are extremely wide-ranged. The shorts who have provided this hint, but I didn't expect him to combine the styles into one coherent feature length movie so seamlessly.

Before the screening began, Bill Plympton shared with the audience that The Tune cost around US$150-175K in those days, and it took him about two and a half years to make the film. You see, rarely does the creator animate his own stuff, but Bill probably is the first who did it, for a feature length animation. Though he prefers to admit that he's not too diligent and likes to spend time travelling, which of course, adds to the production schedule.

He's been able to recoup the cost of production only recently, thanks to the advent of technology like the Internet and DVD sales. He also shared that his stuff is wildly popular in Korea, that it is a huge market for him. And for budding animators, his advice would be to own their own creations. When asked a question about opportunity cost between working independently, and for a studio / production house, he highlighted his preference for having the creative freedom to do what he wants, instead of having someone else provide the directions and nagging if something is too politically incorrect or too violent.

Bill Plympton's Official Website at


Night Life

Glastonbury is seriously for fans only. One of Britain's best known music festival, if you don't dig the type of music played, or if you don't enjoy unleashing the party animal inside of you, then steer clear of this movie. Otherwise, you're in for one hell of a ride, presented in a very different way. The screening I was in obviously didn't have many fans. I think I'm the only one head bobbing and leg tapping throughout the movie, and I couldn't do more because of the restrictive overrated Picturehouse seats.

The usual documentary will embark you on a journey from beginning to end, through the eyes of a regular festival goer. Alternatively, it might take on the theme from a festival organizer's point of view, giving you the low downs on the happenings to bring the festival to life. The other strategy will be to showcase the incredible performers lined up for the festival year in year out, and speak of their experiences in igniting the crowd to a dance fervour.

But under the hands of director Julien Temple, Glastonbury becomes a mixed bag, a rojak of sorts combining the different narrative presentations possible, and it takes a while to get used to. You see plenty of festival goers, but the focus is on none. There are interviews galore, but in a rather haphazard manner. It's sex, drugs and rock and roll, and the movie neither glamourizes, nor condones vice. You have stoned people talking to the camera, and you have tired revellers sleeping and dancing naked. You don't get bombarded with facts and figures about the festival, but talks with the organizers become rather topical instead, especially the later part about the erection of a security fence.

However, it's more than just the people, it's also about the music. While the visuals are beautifully combined with the aural, you don't get to hear much of the pieces performed as a whole. What you get instead is like a sampling of tracks, teasing you with classics like David Bowie (Heroes) to contemporaries like Brett Anderson (Common People), from alternative punk group Prodigy (Firestarter), to electronica kings Chemical Brothers (Hey Boy Hey Girl). Hey, if it features Massive Attack (Karmacoma), I'm already sold!

It's a little less than conventional in its presentation by combining a series of clips from various festival years, in non chronological order. You can make out certain eras like the free loving 60s and the early years with the grainy quality of the picture, and distinguish the present day slicker shows in its trademarked pyramid stage. Just like the festival, you'll never know what you're gonna get at each turn, be it heavy downpour or mud baths, and that's how the narrative structure of Glastonbury takes.

With ZoukOut around the corner, watching Glastonbury has triggered the party animal inside me, and I'm seriously considering going for this year's beach party at Siloso Beach Sentosa. Any fellow party goers game to join me?

James Bond Week

I had plans to do a mega-007 writeup, but travel plans meant I had to put whatever preview/review/feature article plans on hold. Until I chanced upon Cinematical's awesome articles on the run up to Casino Royale.

Here's a list of what's featured, so click away!

  • History of Bond Films Part One and Part Two are awesome reads to bring you up to speed on the Bond movies.

  • And if you want a quick gist of all the movies, you can check out each and every Bond movie trailer there is out there.

  • The Gun Barrel Sequence, every one of them from the wearing of the hat in the early years, and the little hop and jump, to George Lazenby's dropping on bended knee. Daniel Craig's you say? It's in a toilet (!) and the quickest sequence of them all!

  • Each Bond movie has its own theme song, and here's the list of Cinematical's 7 best Bond theme songs. Mine differs though, I never really dug Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die. Mine would include Duran Duran's A View to a Kill, Aha's The Living Daylights, Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger, Tina Turner's Goldeneye, Sheryl Crow's Tomorrow Never Dies, and Garbage's The World is Not Enough.

  • According to formula, when the theme song plays, it plays to a slew of gyrating femlae silhouettes. So you mustn't miss the entire slate of every single Bond credit sequence!

  • And every Bond film has its own Bond Girls! Do you agree with Cinematical's choice of the 7 hottest? Coming to my mind will be Rosamund Pike and Eva Green :P

  • With the beauties come the beasts. Bond movies are never short of evil megalomaniac villains and their henchmen. Here's Cinematical's list of 7 most weirdest Bond henchmen out there. Jaws would be #1 in my books

  • And to cap it all off, here's a writeup on How to spoof Bond, as if Austin Powers hadn't done a great job already! :D

Saturday, November 18, 2006

[Animation Nation] Nagasaki 1945 - The Angelus Bell

Never Again

Japan remains the only country to have suffered the massive destructive powers of the atomic bomb. Not once, but twice within the span of days in August 1945 during World War II, the first being the city of Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki. Each year while we celebrate our National Day on the 9th of August, Nagasaki commemorates the anniversary of that tragic dark day in its history.

Much has been writen about, and probably everyone would have an idea of how destructive the bomb was. Beneath that mushroom cloud, if you're at the epicenter of impact, you evaporate. Buildings get flattened, and the radioactive fallout is just as deadly, if not, deadlier as victims undergo a painful, and slow death through immense burns, and most survivors are inflicted with cancer.

Nagasaki 1945 - The Angelus Bell recounts the days prior to, and immediately after the dropping of the bomb over Nagasaki. It follows a local doctor, Tatsuichiro Akizuki, who got dispatched to a theological seminary, which doubles as a makeshift hospital, Urakami First Hospital, and we witness the tragedy unfold through his eyes. An extremely dedicated chap, he galvanizes his team to saving his patients in the hospital, as well as the many citizens of the city with whatever medicine and equipment they can salvage.

The animation is deliberately kept very simple and unsophisticated (done by Mushi Productions, famous for AstroBoy), and that's perhaps not to distract from the main message of the movie, being anti-nuclear arms, and to serve as a reminder to a newer generation, through animation, of the negative effects of such weapons of mass destruction, and the humanitarian woes that come after. With the proliferation of such arms and the increased number of countries getting all ra-ra about it, this 2005 movie directed by Arihara Seiji, comes rather timely.

The movie doesn't flinch from trying to depict things as accurately as possible, with the charred bodies littering the grounds, and despite it being animation, the harrowing effects of the bomb are shown but never in a glorified manner. You will most likely be in awe of that massive mushroom cloud, though perhaps with the 20/20 hindsight that such a phenomenon brings about an extremely destructive nature beneath it. Buildings get swept aside, and you see people disappear at the blink of an eye. The entire explosion sequence, while short in duration, is perhaps one which blows you away yet resonates inside you as you inevitably think through the effects of the bomb on people.

Both the director and managing director of Mushi Productions graced the screening today, and had a short Q&A session with the audience. They provided some background to the making of the movie, and revealed certain nuggets of information about Nagasaki, like how its population is predominantly Christian, as well as production information that it took two years to make this film.

For those interested, there will be seminar tomorrow at Orchard Cineleisure Theatre Hall 8 at 1pm. Registraion is required and I think it's closed already, but you can always try at the door in case those who registered, do not turn up. If this movie gets a regular distribution locally, then I'll recommend everyone to go watch it.

[Animation Nation] BIll Plympton's Retrospective: Bill Plympton Shorts

Bill Plympton was in town as part of this year's Animation Nation film festival to present his slew of works to local audiences. This evening's retrospective takes a look at his earlier works, containing mostly shorts ranging from as little as 15 seconds, to slightly longer fare of 7 minutes.

It's a mixed bag, as some are commercial clips too short to warrant a review proper (duh), like that bit commissioned and used by MTV, about acid rain, with that globe intro. Most of the clips are early raw works, like At The Zoo and American Upper and Lower Case, which were extremely crude, but hey, those were done during school days.

It's nice to see, in about an hour plus, how natural progression and development takes place within an artist, and the improvement in artistic skill and talented wit in churning out animated shorts that tell a story. It never is easy to be succinct, but I suppose given the genre, you have to be, especially so if you're the sole and primary animator. I shall highlight some of those covered this evening:

Lucas, the Ear of Corn tells the story of a young corn out there in the fields, from his idling under the sun with his mother, and his incessant questions. He realizes that his path of life is already set out for him, and we take a look at how he goes from field to dinner table. The humour's quite dark towards the end, and though it's an incomplete piece, it's more or less summed up in what's existing, and I won't be surprised the final act would be how he got passed out!

Boomtown plays out something like a propaganda music video on the virtues of a strong military and economy, with two ditzy girls singing the chorus on the virtues of being mighty.

Drawing Lesson #2 traces the life of an animated line, with a little wee bit of life action thrown in. We take a look at the romantic demeanour of the line and his love life, before his decision to end it all by drowning in white out. It's filled with plenty of humour, both in narrative and in drawing.

Your Face actually won some awards, but I was rather indifferent as to how it managed to do so. I must admit though, the animation looked fairly complex, even though a single craggy looking face was the central piece of the entire animation.

Love in the Fast Lane is supposed to be a pitch for an animated sitcom, but was incomplete and therefore canned. A man goes in search of a love potion for his wife, and applies it with hilarious consequence when his boss and his wife comes avisiting! A pity that it got cut off halfway though.

One of Those Days is totally insane, and one of my favourites from the screening. It takes a first person's look at a man going about his daily chores, with somewhat violent consequences. And who could forget the dog who seemingly couldn't let his bite go from the man's right leg.

How to Kiss was superbly entertaining, and much of the humour was from the animation taking things too literally and playing it up ten fold. Probably highly suitable for kissing newbies.

25 Ways To Quit Smoking is also another entertaining piece, though the presentation could have been improved, with its straight laced numbering off of the steps via a voiceover. There are some misses though in the steps, as they were too implausible, but hey, it's precisely the over the top advice and taking them in a literal sense that makes this highly amusing.

Bill Plympton also had a couple of animated commercials included in this showcase (played from a DVD), for the board game Trivial Pursuit, as well as the sugar substitute product called Sugar Delight. He also had a couple of shorts done for MTV included as well, and MTV junkies will find them quite familiar.

Perhaps one of the best of the lot is a series of short clips in Plymptoons, totally random, and taking many things literally. I like the animation here, probably polished with a Plympton styled look, though watching the slew of shorts today, it's hard to pin down the look and feel exactly.

I think I'll continue watching the rest of the retrospect, just to experience how things developed for this gifted animator, and yes, I like his wit!

Bill Plympton's Official Website at

Colic (Dek Hen Pee)

Colic is the latest Thai horror movie to hit our shores, and given the gimmicky promotion in local theatres, where a cradle with that nasty picture of the baby inside, you'd start to wonder if this movie will actually give you the creeps, without resorting to the usual cheap gimmicks which plagued the slew of horror movies of late.

By the look of that powerful palm imprint on the baby's body, you'd think that there are devilish (pugilistic) forces to be reckoned with in Colic. However, sorry to disappoint, things that start to go bump in the night, are as tame as a pussy cat exhibiting a hissy fit. While the movie scores in its dealing with the atmospherics, it had forgotten that an engaging story is king, nevermind how implausible (ghost stories what) the premises is. Colic actually has potential, in taking something that couldn't be very much explained in scientific terms, and adding a dash of the spiritual to it. But it turned out to be wasted potential instead.

Newlyweds Pong (Vittaya Wasukraipaisan) and Phrae (Pympan Chalayanacupt) have an infant son who suffers from cholic - that incessant crying for reasons attributed to various factors unexplained in the movie, until the end, more or less. Should there be a hidden message in the movie, it'll probably be not to smoke when you're expecting, or that karma will work against you if you have pre-marital sex and have to undergo a shotgun wedding if not adequately protected.

Anyway I digress. The happy family move to the suburbs, and there's where unexplained happenings start to occur to them. I must warn you that it takes a long time for the family to move, and for the first of such bumps in the night. In between bumps are uneventful stuff that seem to be put in as fillers, which made the entire narrative storyline very episodic, and extremely dragged out between scenes. The horror here has a familiar look and feel to it, kinda like old Hong Kong horror flicks.

What the movie couldn't decide, and it shows in the film, is what to do with the inexplicable stuff. Do we want to deal with spirits, or ghouls, maybe poltergeists, or gore like Saw or Hostel. There are some truly intense moments though which will leave you at the edge of your seat, but when looking back at hindsight, they're pretty much a mixed bag and seem all over the place. It takes a long time for things to build, and during this time, it's pretty boring, as you literally observe an infant grow up, in quarterly stages.

So long as you don't expect too much, and not expect the cholic phenomenon to be explained in detail (from both the scientific and occult standpoint), you could actually enjoy this movie. Like I mentioned, the atmospherics is top notch, though the finale looked more like an action movie instead. And when the filmmakers do explain something important in the end, the reaction I'd reckon will be "Huh? That's it?" in a much ado about nothing manner.

Time (Shi Gan)

So Who's A Pretty Face?

The most widely read review of mine is The Intimate (Aien), starring Sung Hyun-Ah. So I think fans of her from the show will not want to miss this movie by Kim Ki-Duk, also starring the same actress. While The Intimate was more, erm, intimate (I labelled it as Serendipity with loads of sex), fans of hers shouldn't be put off by this Kim Ki-Duk movie. I must admit I haven't hunted down the other movies that he's done - this marks his 13th feature film, and my other exposure to his works were 3-Iron and The Bow. While I enjoyed the two I mentioned, this one takes the cake.

Korea is perhaps also famously known for its number of female population going under the knife to look good. I've been to a number of Korean cities, and yes, they are gorgeous. But there's always that skeptical doubt hanging over their heads, whether they had undergone plastic surgery to enhance their various assets. That, is the subject of which Time touches upon.

Seh Hee (Park Ji-Yeon) and Ji Woo (Ha Jung-Woo) are a couple, and coupledom is always disastrous when one party is paranoid with suspicion over the other being unfaithful. A longer than usual glance at another pretty face, or a kind gesture to help a gorgeous person, will bring on alarm bells, violent exchange of words, and an inexplicable bad attitude and demeanour towards others. That's how Seh Hee behaves, and I suppose those who suffer from low self-esteem and confidence, would probably exhibit one or many of the traits put forth.


And it is indeed these triats that will put any relationship under strain, with unreasonableness being the number one reaction felt by the other party. Unconfident about her looks, Suh Hee goes under the plastic surgeon's knife and in certain aspects, starts to tease her ex boyfriend Ji Woo, whom she left abruptly 6 months back in a huff and without explanation, with her new physical self (in the form of Sung Hyun-Ah).

While Ji Woo is being confronted with the shock of being left all alone, and his inability to forget Seh Hee, what do you expect from a man who loves someone so deeply, yet she suddenly disappears from your life with nary a word? And how will you react when faced with the "truth"?



Perhaps the message in the movie is about the importance of looks, or the perceived emphasis placed on physical attractiveness. It isn't enough to just look good (when different), and the psychological change, that you now have the opportunity to be someone different, is just as, if not more important and this aspect of well being has to be looked after as well. Watching this movie brings about some comparison of storylines and the differing techniques used to carve out a new life, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In Eternal, one becomes somebody new by undergoing a science fictional transformation with the wiping of memories from the mind. It's psychological, and the technology not here yet. With Time, it involves the transformation of the physical, with technology already ready and very sophisticated in
technique. And that's what makes it quite scary, barring the gory introductory scene.

I could literaly transform my face into something else, and thereafter, with the severing of current ties with friends and family, lead a completely different life. The objective of Seh Hee in the movie, can indeed drive someone nuts, and even drive yourself nuts as you discover you're living a lie, and you can do nothing about it to reverse the process. But if your life is in a rut, would you be tempted to do it? For the reasons of Suh Hee, of being someone else to test the fidelity of your other half, is just plain crazy and you'll easily come to see why it's a lose-lose situation from the start - he loves you now, so that says a lot about his affection for you in the past; He doesn't love the present you as he still can't forget and is still holding onto hopes of seeking the old you out, which will leave the current you miserable because you've already physically transformed. Ooh, it's one heck of a mind exercise.


I would deem this movie very accessible, paced very well, and has enough moments to keep you riveted and guessing the outcome at each step of the way. But it's not plain sailing and he does keep you guessing time and again, deliberately leaving some questions unanswered, providing you with plenty of room for discussion. For those who liked to be teased and dislike being spoonfed with the movie's narrative.

Just Friends

Jocks Rule High School

I was half expecting this to be one of those lightly fluffed flicks which you go and laugh at, then forget almost everything about it thereafter. In some ways it is, but little did I realise that it actually had me thinking about one of the predicaments I was in previously, and it brought back some memories, both good and bad.

Ryan Reynolds plays Chris Brander, a successful yuppie in the music industry, a swinging player in his own right, the self professed expert when it comes to relationships. He teams up with Anna Faris (they starred together in an earlier movie Waiting), who in this movie plays a bimbotic pop rocker, Samantha James, moulded in your spears-simpson fashion, totally hot, and with bad attitude to boot. While they might have been a cute couple (or so she thinks), Chris just cannot forget his childhood sweetheart, his first love Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart, hitting the local screens for the second time this month, after her vase like role in Crank).

10 years ago, Chris was publicly humiliated while discovering that his sweetheart had placed him under the "friends" category, when he wanted something more. Yeah, every dating guy's worst nightmare, is to discover that the feeling's not mutual, and you're relegated to the "Just Friends" status (hence the title). A fluke chance is presented when the successful Chris finds himself back in his hometown, and buys ample time in trying to rediscover and restrategize his gameplan to finally tell Jamie just how he feels about her, though tempted is he as well with the idea of a "revenge bang".

And you'd think the training in LA and the smoothness in his methods with hot models might work here. They don't, and they bring about the usual tired laughs of plans backfiring, and a potential rival from the past vying for the same affections. With the big time singer throwing tantrums in the small town, Samantha becoming a potential roadblock with her demanding ways, Chris' deliberate and elaborate plans to deceive, his kid brother's idolization of Chris' "girlfriend" the pop star, and a more than concerned mom, the ensemble is something that seemed quite familiar, though they come together really well.

Eddie Murphy has done it, and so have Adam Sandler and Robin Williams. Probably any self respecting comedian would have to don a fat suit once in a while, and this time, it's Ryan Reynolds' turn. Here he pulls off a number of personas - the confident swinger, the shy unsure low confidence fat teenager, blowing a hot temper when things don't go his way, and finally, the sensitive guy underneath it all. Anna Faris brings back her ditzy Scary Movies persona in a horny role that requires her to sing badly, while Amy Smart plays the complete opposite in the girl next door you just want to bring home to mom. And Chris Klein continues in yet another his jerk role after The Long Weekend, his first appearance as a rock star wannabe is totally hilarious, though somehow I think every pretty face has to appear once in a while behind an ugly mug.

Throughout the movie, my mind was incessantly remembering stuff about my own past, on the relationships I had. It's quite uncanny that it could fall broadly into those two female characters - the one whom you adore so much, but always being unattainable, and the other whom, credit to her, doesn't give up on you, but yet faces your constant rejection. My heart sank as I realize, that this is a movie after all, that I won't have my own happy ending, try as I may. I must confess I've grown cynical, and gave up on trying at all. I'm stuck in the "Just Friends" category, and will probably stay there for the forseeable future.

While the movie has its expected Hollywood styled formula ending, you'd probably find something more in it if you've experience some elements yourself. Otherwise, it's another run off the mill forgettable movie. If the song Forgiveness sung by Anna Faris floats your boat, stay tuned during the end credits for the entire song. Simply hilarious with inane lyrics. Oh, and Ryan Reynolds completes his lip synching to All-4-One's I Swear, only for those who bother to stay behind.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale

I'm Back and So Is Bond! But Some Things Never Change...

So I'm back from Beijing, and the city too has no lack of beauties. Too bad I don't have Bond's debonair flair, otherwise...

Anyway it's been a good trip, and Star Movies was showing a whole slew of Bond movies of old. Managed to catch a few to jog my memory, and gee, I realised that some of the Connery ones are severely dated, nevermind them being classic Bond films in their own right. So the question on everyone's mind is, does Daniel Craig measure up in taking over the Bond mantle?

In short, the answer is a resounding yes, and more. Daniel Craig brings to the table a sense of that everyday man, rather than the polished slickness of a seasoned spy with that double-oh license to kill. And understandably so, as Casino Royale is the first Ian Fleming book written about Bond, James Bond.

So it's back to the basics, back to the very first time of almost everything. There is no fancy futuristic gadget to assist Bond out of tight situations - he has to rely on his fists and bulging muscles and the ever reliable Walter PPK handgun. Although we have the beautiful Aston Martin as his wheels of choice, there is an incredible amount of running around on foot. M without Moneypenny, no gadgets and no Q (nor R), the dry vodka martini created on the fly, that's how basic Craig's Bond is. The trademarked opening, with the cliffhanger styled big stunts, the tracking gun barrel panning across the screen (now replaced with one quick shot set in a toilet!) are inconceivably missing. Even the theme song cum stylized opening credits is done without a gyrating female silhouette, something quite unthinkable for a formulaic Bond film!

But it's one heck of a refreshing change and feel to the franchise given the break from convention, after the successful stint by Pierce Brosnan built too much implausibility in the gadget department, and virtual indestructibility together with Q's lab hinging on a product placement overload. What you've read so far about Craig's Bond being a more physical and violent one, yes, you've read them right. He gets tortured, he gets injured, he even makes a lot of mistakes. But don't forget, like Batman Begins, this story tells of the time of how Bond became the renowned spy we all know, set just after he got promoted to double-oh status and earned his license to kill. He's wet behind the ears, a rookie in the business, and has a huge lesson to learn on trust and letting his guard down.

Which is where the Bond girls come in. While decorative, Casino Royale boasts Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), as THE femme fatale from the British Treasury sent to be Bond's bankroll as he tries to bring down chief villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) on the high stakes poker table of Casino Royale. You'll probably chuckle at the first time seeing Bond flirt with a trademarked decorative Bond chick, and it has this really awkward feel to it all. But with Vesper, you'll see how he bares his heart and soul for her, without trading too many sexual innuendos or impatiently trying to get inside her. It's probably something like first love, and after this episode, you'll probably begin to understand how his love-them-leave-them attitude towards beautiful woman developed. It's a cruel twist of fate in the love department that leaves you with some questions to ponder.

What about the story? It's nothing to shout about. Basically it's Bond up against Le Chiffre on the poker table, one which proves to be quite interesting to watch, but got dragged by too many meandering interruptions. The relationship and love scenes between Bond and Vesper feels extended in the longest Bond film to date (clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes), and does get mushy at times. But this I feel is the focus of Casino Royale, the microscope put onto Bond to see how he learns and develops his skills and persona. Though the main villain Le Chiffre looks sinister enough, there is a severe lack of world-dominating ambition, and doesn't reach the highs of Bond villains of the past. The lack of memorable villainous sidekicks too relegates the baddies to cardboard characters.

In short, Casino Royale builds its strength in providing a good way to bring about a change of actors into the Bond role by adapting Fleming's beginning, but really, while I think Craig will have a field day with this stint as Bond, I'll pity the next actor who has to take over him, without the safety net of going back to basics.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Away The Next Week

So dear readers, by the time you read this, I'll probably have left on a jet plane for a business trip. Won't be back until next week, so don't hold your breaths waiting for updates of movies shown this weekend.

But of course, if the inflight entertainment proves to be good, and the cable television in the hotel room rocking, then do expect (if I can get a net connection) some updates now and then.

Until next week!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Almost Weekly Wednesday Midnight Bulletin #6

Well, given the, *ahem*, devotion to covering the Japanese Film Fest, I couldn't have possible reviewed some of the movies released last week on time. Nonetheless they're included here, in a combined recommendation of flicks making its way to the theatres this week.

Flicks of the Week
I think I'm starting to develop a bias for dance movies, be it in documentary form, or the usual stuff that flashes "FORMULA" on the marquee. So Step Up gets my biased thumbs up for flick of the week. Highly suitable as a Date Movie too, you won't go wrong with this one.

The other you shouldn't miss, is the animated movie Flushed Away, made by the team who did Wallace and Gromit. Voiced by current IT boy Hugh Jackman, this is something, while simple in story, will still rake in some laughs. The animation's gorgeous too.

OK, while this movie might not generally be classified as a blockbuster per se, I'm categorizing A Good Year as such, based on the box office draw of a Ridley-Scott-Russell-Crowe partnership. While not exactly like Sideways for its fusion of wine into the storyline, A Good Year still makes it palatable viewing.

For The Boys I
It's a heck of a week for the guys, with two movies that'll probably appeal to you. John Statham fans take note, the best in the business is back in Crank, where he plays a man who has to keep his heart rate pumping loads to stay alive. Sex, drugs and rock and roll are the order of the day! Flick's chick is Amy Smart!

For The Boys II
It's R21 for uncut gore and violence. Leatherface returns in the prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with The Beginning. Not for the squemish, with its copious amount of fresh blood. Chainsaws grinding into flesh and bone, my my my....

For The Girls and Boys I
I'd recommend The Covenant only if you've nothing better to do, and are in some serious need to have eye candy presented to you on screen. It's fairly unbalanced, as girls have a wider choice in this movie, while guys rue for the day some hot chick fling herself at them.

For The Girls and Boys II
On the other hand, the tables are turned with DOA: Dead or Alive. While this movie's in the same vein as Charlie's Angels with girls kicking some serious rear, the guys have it all cut out for them. The beach volleyball scene, is to die for. Oh, and Holly Valance's more gorgeous than Devon Aoki :P

Acquired Tastes
If you're in the mood for some Italian romance by Roberto Benigni, then The Tiger and the Snow will be your choice this week. However, those expecting Life is Beautiful, might find this tiger missing the mark.

And another foreign movie, this time closer to home, is Malaysian director Bernard Chauly's Goodbye Boys, a tale of teenage angst, issues, romance, think of it as something like a trip down the memory lane of secondary school days. Poignant stuff.

See you at the movies! I'll be back in time for the return of Bond, James Bond, with his newly acquired license to kill.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

You Won't Smile When Leatherface Gets To You!

It takes a lot to make me wince, given the numerous gore movies that hit our shores like Hostel, Severance and the likes, and surprisingly, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, surpassed the rest in actually making my hair stand on ends.

Perhaps it's because I wasn't immersed into the mythos of the chainsaw wielding psychopath and his family of cannibals. Supposedly based on one of the most notorious criminal families in Texan history, these folks operate like the characters from Tsui Hark's New Dragon Gate Inn, exploiting the innocent who happen to cross their paths, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Already this cliche has been used to death (pardon the pun) in movies of the same genre, but this was one of the first (The original was released in 1974), ,with a number of sequels (one even starring Viggo Mortensen), and remakes (one starring Jessical Biel recently, produced by Michael Bay).

So what is it that makes Thomas Leatherface Hewitt a hit? It's the weapon baby. The chainsaw is music to the ears, and it is raw power. In the right hands, it's a lumberjack's weapon of choice in sawing down some trees. In the hands of a psycho, plunging it into someone brings about a sickening squishy sound of metal grinding against flesh and bone.

And that, is the sick pleasure one gets when watching the movie. There is nothing too brainy about the storyline, given that it's a prequel trying to explain how things came about, and because it's something that chronologically had happened before, there's no prize in guessing who survives, or not, which makes the finale a bit of a bore. I think I am, and the audience too, are sick in wanting to watch our eye candy cast, whom we don't really give a damn about, become target practice for one of the cult killers of cinema.

There are supporting characters who join in the fray, but ultimately, it's still focused on one of the first two couples who have their opportunity to make or break with our killers on the loose. It's a mixture of capability - some utterly useless and cowardly, while others, like Chrissie (Jordana Brewster, she's hawt!) had more to do than just looking good, or scared, or shitting in their pants.

To watch this uncut, uncensored in R21 glory, and anticipating those moments when Leatherface discovers the joy and pleasure of using the chainsaw, makes this movie the largest guilt trip I have undertaken this week. And to think I watched this before my week long hiatus too :P

Welcome to the slaughterhouse!

Dump That Chopper For A Self-Respecting Chainsaw!

Goodbye Boys Preview Screening Event

Director Bernard Chauly were invited for the pre-screening event of Bernard Chauly's new movie Goodbye Boys, and I was the photographer/reviewer designate. There were plenty of industry friends invited for the event, and event the folks whom the characters were based loosely on, were present to grace the occassion, and guffaw at the film during specific moments, probably in a recall of something a tad too familiar about it.

To read more about the proceedings of that night, you can click on the, logo below:

and of course, the review of the movie here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Goodbye Boys

Boy scouts. Teenage angst. Infatuation. Love. Lazy Bums. Scheming bastards.

Malaysian director Bernard Chauly, who in his first feature film, featured an almost all girls cast in a tale about love and football - Gol and Gincu. In his second feature, he digs into his school day experience with the boy scouts, and here's a film with an almost all boys cast.

Surely a blast for everyone, a remembrance of a time where a pimple outbreak is like the end of the world.

To read my review of Goodbye Boys at, click on the logo below:
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