Monday, December 31, 2007

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

You Look Like My Bro!

My very first encounter with Aliens Versus Predator, was actually a coin operated arcade game some more than 10 years back. For 20c for 3-5 chances (depending on how the owner configured the machine), you can choose between 2 Predator Warriors, or 2 humans, to go up against an Alien infested land, where you score points with multiple Alien kills, and get to use some of the cool weapons (always like those killer discs) and combo moves to finish off opponents. Needless to say, who would want to use the human characters, when you can play Predator?

The PC game then emerged, this time sticking closer to the "Versus" format, where you can pick to play either character from a first person perspective, and have at your disposal the multitude of weapons and moves, making it truly a gaming experience, if not for my crappy PC of the time not being able to support the gameplay in full.

These games actually came off the heels of the relatively successful movies, which are not works of art, but fairly decent action movies. In Predator, we have Arnold Schwarzeneggar and later Danny Glover in the sequel pitting their know how in rural and urban landscapes respectively, while in the Alien Quadrilogy, it made Sigourney Weaver arguably one of the pioneers and most well known female action hero with her Ripley, under the masterful direction of Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also introduced Winona Ryder to the franchise.

And with the successful creation of these cult characters, they found longevity in the games mentioned, as well as various books and graphic novels, challenging other established heroes to duels, until someone thought it would be a great idea to pit these two foreign creatures against each other in a movie, already having their respective fan bases to support it. Hence the first Aliens Versus Predator movie was born some three years ago, which for a strange reason, I did and have not yet watched.

The sequel begins almost immediately where the first one left off, with an Alien ship having in its hold a dead Predator, who is suddenly found to be a carrier of the Alien larvae. Naturally this dude becomes the chief baddie with developing a hybrid Alien-Predator look, but sad to say, with none of their powers combined. Everyone on board gets pawned by the hybrid and the ship crash lands on Earth, thus beginning the second round. A new Predator watches the proceedings via Cable TV at his comfy sofa at home, and decides that he should preserve the honour and purity of his species, by going to Earth and killing off the bastard incarnation and its offspring, hence the hunter and the prey are set, whichever way you look at it.

So the trailers seem to suggest the human involvement this time round, but seriously, they are caricatures that need to make up the death toll. While the respective franchise movies have a very strong human element in them, this one only has humans as fuel for gore. Which brings to mind that Transformers had a strong human aspect to it, which was panned by purists who want more of the robots. Here, we get a lot of Alien and Predator action, so let's not start by clamouring for more human soul and character development. Heck, this movie doesn't even need a storyline, but requires just an excuse to have the two species share the same screen and whack the living daylights out of each other, with humans as collateral to spill red blood, rather than gooey muck, or green plasma.

It's basically one Predator pulling all the tricks in its book using weapons we're already so familiar with, it's like second nature guessing what this lone wolf will utilize next. The Aliens here pose little threat really, and look more like rehashing the mood it likes in cold, dark and dank sewers, before breaking out to the city and unleashing hell on earth. And in this movie, everyone is fair game because it's not Titanic as one character puts it, so women and children enjoy no sanctity. One complaint I have though of the blood bath, is that almost all the action take place at night, which of course makes it perfectly easy for the CG folks to cut corners if necessary, and marred by the many close-up shots that make you see nothing perfectly too.

As mentioned, don't go about looking for any semblance of a plot, which involves very clumsily, a mom returning from a theatre of war, some adolescent hormonal flings, an ex jailbird, and a town sheriff. Naturally they have watched either The Mist or 30 Days of Night, and with the ambiguous and strange serial killings in town, decide to hole up in a supermarket (again!) to stock supplies before venturing to safety. I vote the Supermarket as Cinematic Refuge for the Year 2007.

With the usual sarcastic take on the Government (not lying to its citizens, and the final army decision taken which looked like a cop out), Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem, which was supposed to be shown on Christmas day, is just another pop corn movie with two men in rubber suits ushering in 2008. Forget the story and characters, as we want to celebrate mindlessly and herald the new year with violence. Auld Lang Syne!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top 5 Duds of 2007

5: Pleasure Factory
Arthouse wannabe. Couldn't tell it like it is, and relied too much on faux pas silence is golden mantra on what essentially are weak short stories strung together. Box office numbers probably due to ah pek wondering what the R21 fuss is, only to realize that most of the nudity comes from local actor-director Loo Zihan.

4: Next
The powers get too powerful all of a sudden, and the whole movie looks like it opted to rewind and start from scratch again. Someone should ban these damn rewinding and "balek start" tendencies. Next!

3: Anna & Anna
Two Karena Lams for the price of one? Pity the story is a yawnfest.

2: Rise: Blood Hunter
Lucy Liu was supposedly nude in this, but it turned out to either be a body double, or that the lighting helped to create shadows to preserve her modesty. I am not sure what Michael Chiklis is doing in this movie, which cannot decide what it wants to be - a poor Blade clone, or a woeful Kate Beckinsale in tights wannabe.

1: Legend of the Sea
How this got made after the dismal Zodiac: The Legend Begins, is a mystery. Probably saved by VCD/DVD sales, this movie still did not present any breakthrough material both in story and quality of animation, and remains quite an embarrassment to Singapore's limited filmography. Lessons not learnt, and I hope the third movie (yes there is one) coming out of the studio, goes through some serious quality control before hitting the theatres.

Top 10 of 2007

So it's come to the year end where every self respecting movie critic/reviewer/movie site will put out their top ranked movies of the year. Naturally, mine will consist of those that have been screened theatrically here this year, so the gems I've watched in one-off festivals and DVDs won't make it to the list, and a number of those recently released masterpieces touted so loudly in foreign sites will unfortunately have to muscle in their way to next year's instead.

So without further ado, here we go, bottoms up format:

10: The Bridge to Terabithia
Last One to Terabithia's a Rotten Egg!

What the, a children's movie? Yes, because this one sent me bawling, almost. It's a simple fantasy movie centered on the friendship of two lonely children, but not necessarily fit for children only. It packs an emotional punch that I didn't see coming, and I was left with my jaw wide open and fighting back tears. If you want to know what "Effective" means with showing so little but filled with immense strength, then pick up the DVD today. Oh, and Zooey Deschanel is in it, so that's a bonus.

9: Hula Girls
Don't Worry, We've Applied Deodorant!

I'm a sucker for movies with ensemble female casts, not because I'm a pervert, but because these stories just work for me. Song and dance, colours and costume, I'm so there already. In the veins of Hula Girls and Linda Linda Linda, nothing beats watching a group get hit repeatedly by setbacks, and triumph over adversaries through teamwork and resilience. Yu Aoi shines too!

8: Stardust
My Lovely Supernova

Written by Neil Gaiman, the trailer was playing at the cinema halls so often, that it was in danger of being stale, and could have gone straight to DVD given such a long wait. Alas, this fantasy movie surpassed my expectations with wit, action and adventure, paced right, and the ensemble cast, though some get only limited screen time, are wonderfully put together. A comeback by Michelle Pfieffer piqued my interest here more than Hairspray, though in both she played villains. Claire Danes wins the most radiant role award here.

7: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
I Believe I Can Fly

I have two animated movies make it to my top ten list, and it's no surprise since we're looking at a slew of animation making it to the local screens, even though they should be going straight to video. With the quality of Japanese anime screened to date this year, it's a tough fight but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time surpassed the rest easily with the strength of its story. The animation isn't as detailed as you would come to expect, but herein the beauty lies in its simplicity, and to let the story shine instead of the art. Time travel has never been so complicated or daunting to the emotions.

6: Ratatouille
You Got a Friend in Me!

Move over Mickey Mouse, there's a new rat in town! The Pixar express continues to steamroll its competition in the CG animation realm, and their latest offering teased audiences tastebuds through the multitude of food and great cuisine put on screen. And its jab on critics is just so priceless. Wonderful feel-good message too in a movie about trust, cooperation and friendship, coupled with a reminder that you don't have to be a big guy to do big things.

5: The Fountain
Our Love Is Forever

I love this movie, for the fact that it sets out to frustrate those who are impatient and are expecting the same old science fiction story delivered in a cliche style. It's a love story through and through, and the excellent pairing of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz makes this Darren Aronofsky film one of those extremely moving tales about love and love loss. Feel the longing and the battling against the stars, never giving up against the odds, even with Death looming. The story just breaks one's heart and make you want to cry. Clint Mansell provides an awesome musical score that already is making its rounds as trailer music (I Am Legend's, and The Mist, to name but two).

4: Mukhsin
My Name Is Mukhsin

Yasmin Ahmad remains one of my favourite writer-directors, and Mukhsin completes her Orked Trilogy (if I may call it that), although most of the familiar cast members in Sepet and Gubra don't return for this as its chronologically set as the earliest. She infuses plenty of humanity into her movies, making it look so natural and so easy, and with Mukhsin this is no different, as she brings us on her journey of first love. Winner of multiple awards at the international film festival circuit, one cannot deny the quality of works that she has been putting out, and I can't wait to watch her new movie Muallaf, scheduled to hit the shores here sometime early next year.

3: 881
Puay Puay Yo Ah Yo Ah Yo!

You can't deny the impact this movie had at the local box office. Royston Tan and team went all out to make sure that this movie got heard, and set out to storm the heartlands and real getais with the cast in full regalia to belt out hits from the movie. Again, I'm won over by the song and dance, comedy and drama, though some felt it did border on the bore with its overly dramatic ending. The song, "One Person One Half" got repeated airplay that I feared it would descent into negative exposure. Nonetheless this is probably how a commercial movie should be made, but some local critics like to say that he had sold out. Eh?

1: Cashback and Hot Fuzz
I'm Bringing Sexy Back

Stop in the Name of the Fuzz!

Yes folks, I copped out. I cannot decide which of the two is the better film at the top, so would have to rank both as my Number Ones for year 2007! Both British movies, I felt that they were extremely well done, and I can't help but fall in love with both. Looking at my list, I'm still a sucker for the romance flick, and Cashback takes the cake for its unconventional love story told in an unconventional, dreamy fantastical style, with cool editing and beautiful music. As a contrast, Hot Fuzz is wonderfuly layered, with so many references on religion and action movies, it'll just make a fanboy beam with glee. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost rattled off each other to perfection, and Hot Fuzz is expected to remain one of my favourite all time buddy-cop movies, EVER!

Naturally with almost 300 theatrical releases to pick from, there were some strong contenders for the creame de la cream. So listed below, in alphabetical order, are those which would have had a shot at the top, including Lust, Caution, which I had deliberately left out due to the release and rerelease scheme the distributor had here. Boo.

Eastern Promises

Who's Buying Coffee?

David Cronenberg's previous offering, A History of Violence, was hailed by many as a work of genius and made it to the mainstream paper's top movie of 2005. But I thought the original story in the graphic novel form was far superior, as he injected his own take for the second half of the film, which earned William Hurt an Academy Award nomination for his role as a gangland boss. Those in tuned with Cronenberg's works will know that his movies are usually warped in certain ways, but with A History of Violence, and now Eastern Promises, it seemed that they have become easier to grasp, and perhaps even more mainstream in its appeal.

In some ways, Eastern Promises is like a watered down version of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece The Godfather. Set in London and involving the Russian mob, an organized crime family headed by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) runs a restaurant front, while engaging in illicit activities from drugs to prostitution. Like Don Corleone, Semyon too has a hotheaded, impulsive yet inept son in the vein of Kirill, played by Vincent Cassel, in a role with suspect sexual orientation with his chumminess with Viggo Mortensen's Nikolai, who provides protection of sorts as their trusted underling, an enforcer type character for every crime family, serving as the multi-purpose driver.

Embroiled unwittingly into the crime underworld is Naomi Watts' Anna, a midwife who delivers a baby from a dead teen, whose diary she finds and becomes incriminating evidence on Semyon's activities, as her amateurish sleuthing brings her straight into the lion's den. Thereafter the movie takes two arcs, one involving the retrieval of the diary, which provided some background story to the mysterious girl and her plight, reminiscent of movies like Lilya 4-ever and Your Name is Justine, while on the other arc, the crime syndicate stuff proper, with deadly betrayals, revenge and deceit. Who says there should be honour amongst thieves, especially when it involves blood?

While Watts' arc and character get reduced to supporting status, what makes a winner here is Mortensen's portrayal as the mysterious man of few words. Mortensen reunites with Cronenberg from their earlier collaboration, and his character's cool, calm and measured in his responses, a stark contrast to Kirill, and is no wonder the favourite "son" of Semyon as he knows is the man with the plan. Of interest here is how tattoos also play an important role with rituals in the initiation rites into the Family, and it's not just the Yakuza who boast these body art. As one character puts it, the tattoos on your body tell your whole story, so they command a great deal of respect.

Cronenberg continues the tradition of showing unflinching bloody violence, so in your face that you'll probably be numb to it all by the time the much talked about public baths scene comes rolling along. While Mortensen and Maria Bello performed bedroom gymnastics that required her to bear all in the earlier Cronenberg film, it's Mortensen's turn here to be in the buff as he engages in a no holds barred fisticuffs. A relatively short sequence, but one which proved pivotal in turning the story over its head. Some might hate this turn of events as it reeks like a copycat of the multitude of Hong Kong crime movies, and might even be seen as a cop out, but I thought it still made decent plot development, and well worth it for the final shot in the movie, which seemed so ironic.

Eastern Promises is still a highly watchable movie despite, as I mentioned earlier, Cronenberg's films having more mainstream appeal now, so don't go looking out for major shock and awe. While about half the dialogue is in Russian, I can't help but to close my eyes and imagine that Mortensen is speaking Elvish, while the rest of the cast have marbles in their mouths. Fans of Mortensen will probably not want to miss this (well, besides watching him perform in the buff), with him as a character sharing the same amount of intensity as his earlier role in A History of Violence.

Mission Sex Control (Jal Sarabose)

This is Not a Balloon

First of all, let's get our minds out of the gutter. The title already provided you a clue with the keyword here being "Control", meaning this is no free-wheeling "mission sex" comedy with expectations of copulation being put in the spotlight. Rather, this turns out to be educational (for a while) and comedic in playing on misconceptions, before turning the wheel to become an all out melodramatic movie.

Set in 1970s Korea, the government finds it worrying that the country will not be able to sustain itself should a population explosion not be brought under control (the keyword again). Similar to our 70s-80s concept of stopping at 2, the Korean government embarks on a nationwide drive to promote the use of contraception and birth control policies to keep its population growth in check, and finds that with most of the folks being rural ones without access to the mass media, they have to send their civil servants to the ground in an all out educational bid to win over hearts and minds.

Enter Ms Park (played by Kim Jeong-eun), who is assigned a village of her own to educate. Not being warmly received, she soon struggles to realize that it takes a lot more than just condoms and brochures. In rural areas, the villagers have traditional mindsets, what with ancestor piety, the necessity of boys to carry on the lineage (and therefore to try until you have a male heir, and why stop at one anyway), and of course, having more than enough hands to till the land. She wins few followers, but soon with the help of hardworking Suk-Gu (Lee Beom-soo, last seen in My Wife is a Gangster 3), she uses her powers to promote him to village chief, and hence, getting a boost to pushing the policy in place.

The comedy comes as expected, with education sessions gone awry with the hands on (literally) teaching on the usage of condoms, as well as birth control pills. Sometimes the movie comes across as a mouthpiece for complains, as we get to hear more grumblings from the villagers about their plight and challenges faced to conform to instructions. And before you know it, it goes on track for some terribly melodramatic moments, involving a suspect extra-marital affair, vasectomy for cash, love for family versus the get rich quick schemes of subscribing to family policies, and the likes. With an ensemble cast made up of the numerous villagers, there are ample opportunity for antics by the simple folks, and the villain (of sorts) to provide very vocal opposition, lies in the deposed village chief and his son, who is under pressure with his wife to produce a male heir.

Those who have seen Lee Beom-soo in action before, will know that this guy can do comedy with his comic timing, and his average looks (at least on screen) help to connect us with him. While stoic on the outside, he is one big softie with a big heart, ever looking for ways to enrich himself, not to spend on his own, but to provide for his family. Kim Jeong-eun on the other hand, looks very much the helpless civil servant who at first gets cowered by the difficulties in engaging the villagers, but grow from strength to strength as the story progressed. One thing I find it amazing though, is how her eyes can become deep wells to hold the massive amount of tears within, like a manga doll.

Mission Sex Control is not about sex, but the importance of birth control and contraception. It does get overly long in its delivery with plenty of subplots presented, so thank goodness it does have some comedy thrown in at least for the first half, even if it's not genuinely funny, to remind us that it shouldn't be taken so seriously, despite the message it got to preach.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


You Shall Not Pass!

This year had perhaps seen a bumper crop of anime movies making it to the theatres, with the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Paprika, Brave Story, Doraemon, and now, a science fiction mecha genre anime by the producer of Appleseed, Fumihiko Sori.

Set in the middle of the 21st century, the world has become like that in Isaac Asimov novels, with robots having the intelligence finally to assist mankind in various tasks, which doesn't discount the fact that they'll be used in warfare too, with creations resembling those seen in Clone Wars. Coming from the largest factory in the world, Japan, for their technological genius, the world soon frowns upon their quest to fuse robots and humans (much like the brouhaha on potential abuse of stem cell technology), and Japan, being pissed, decides to shut itself off from the rest of the world.

Naturally, US foreign policy dictates that they are curious as to what's going on behind the iron curtain, so they send their crack paramilitary unit called SWORD to infiltrate Japan. They are afraid of the potential threat the robots give to humankind, and more so are suspicious of the largest conglomerate and robot producer Daiwa Heavy Industries, who are dabbling into questionable robotic research. Led by Leon (voiced by Shosuke Tanihara), it goes without saying that titular character Vexille (Meisa Kuroki) will get to save the day (hey, it's her name on the billboard). Interestingly enough though, this movie has its weight put on the strength of its female characters, Vexille, and rebel fighter Maria (Yasuko Matsuyuki)

There are many familiar elements in Vexille both character and plot wise, but that doesn't detract from the fact that there still are a number of plus points leading to the enjoyment of this movie. The designs of the mecha used by SWORD units, which is like an exoskeleton suit designed for middleweight, individual battles, are crafted to look like they just walked out of any generic Hollywood science fiction movie, as do the enemy's guard droids which look like they were heavily influenced by Robocop's ED209.

And with the many ships and transporters, can someone say Star Wars too? But the one that takes the cake, is the post-apocalyptic look at Japan, making it seem like the planet of Arakis from Frank Herbert's Dune, complete with their version of the Fremen with their tinkering prowess, and those monstrous, lethal sandworms too, which take on a mechanical facade over here, known as Jags. Even the inevitable finale seemed to have taken a leaf from Herbert's literary masterpiece.

As with any mecha-related stories, there's always a tussle between what it means to be a human and android (erm, Blade Runner?), and the hopes and dreams to preserve their way of life against a megalomaniac industrialist, who shares six degrees of separation with everyone involved. But we're not really here for rehashed cyberpunk stories involving the first 2 installments of the Animatrix, are we?

We're here for the action pieces, and boy, they don't disappoint. From the get go we're treated to a full scale assault and brought to see what SWORD can do, and it played out to John Woo-ish distinction with plenty of violence set to slow motion, with numerous guns blazing that would even make the master proud. Credit goes to designing the well crafted action sequences so they are vastly different from one another, and the best has got to be the massive chase/race sequence in the later half of the movie. And a bonus here is the music, contributed no doubt by the genius of Paul Oakenfold. This one delivered perfectly, adding a huge dash of pulsating zing to complement the action, though I thought I heard a few bars off his Ready Steady Go!

The animation is in no doubt stunning with its photo-realism, and for a predominantly 2D movie, I thought it even beat Beowulf in the graphics, and intensity of the storyline. Vexille comes across as a recommended movie to catch before the dawn of the new year. Go see!

Michael Clayton

World's Classiest Janitor

I can't recall the last time I watched a satisfying lawyer related movie, and it brings me back to the time in the 90s where the John Grisham novels were being rushed to be made into films, starting with The Firm, and somehow stopping abruptly after the release of The Runaway Jury. While the Grisham novels always have a top lawyer with just morals, this one has almost everyone being a shady lawyer battling against one another's wits and wills.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer movie, of the different kind. There's no courtroom debate with your objections, your sustains and a triggerhappy-with-a-hammer judge, but here we see more of the workings behind the scenes, set in a fictional top law firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, which has lawyers for hire to take on cases for clients who are willing to dish out top money for top brains. George Clooney plays the titular character, whom many bill as the Miracle Worker. That's the fanciful title for the job, which like others whom one will describe as picking up the pieces, mopping the shit, in short, the janitor role in doing some of the dirty work to give the clients a leg up in litigation.

And that in itself is the draw of the movie. It doesn't shy away from making all lawyers look like greedy money grabbing scoundrels, though it does have a sense of honour amongst thieves as exuded by the Michael Clayton character. In fact, here's possibly one of the most interesting anti-heroes (if I may call him that) who uses his connections and through the pulling of the right strings, get things done, at whatever the cost, with whatever the measures and options available. You mess up, he comes in to clean it up, and being the enigma he is in the circle, a client can't help but to feel confident that his troubles are well taken care of, and well worth the dollars paid for.

What makes the entire plot compelling, are the extremely well crafted characters. It's a good welcome to see Tilda Swinton back on the big screen after her outing some 2 years ago with The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and here she plays the legal counsel of a corporation U-North, who just got promoted into the hottest seat, and is desperate in using all means necessary to hold onto her position of power, which means settling a million dollar class action suit that impacts her bonus and standing. As with large firms, her U-North outsources the dirty work, for the guarantee of a scapegoat should something go wrong, to their vendor Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, and the long drawn case being led by the law firm's top gun Arthur Edens, played by the wonderful Tom Wilkinson, who goes berserk one day.

Tom Wilkinson has now gone into my books as one of my favourite character actors. His voice resonates, and his appearance lends certain gravitas to the picture. Here, he plays a scumbag lawyer (ok, so I associate every lawyer here as a scumbag) who has woken up to his senses (or succumbed to madness?), and now is holding onto dangerously incriminating smoking gun type evidence. I always thought how one could survive in a profession that requires you to constantly lie, to turn black into white and vice versa, basically to demean, probably character assassinate opponents and destroy their moral credibility. Takes a lot, doesn't it? And I wonder too how they sleep at night, knowing that they have perverted justice through their cunningness. Guess it's just a job. *shrug*

But an interesting "character" here, is the Corporation, represented by the law firm. As with all corporate entities, it's transfixed on its bottomline, market share, revenue and profits, so naturally it becomes beholden to its rich clients. If the client wants black to be called white, sure, that's what they'll do to maintain the big fish account, afraid that the client might take their business elsewhere. So morally bankrupt lawyers, do they exist?

Michael Clayton is excellent, for the gripping plot that leaves you guessing what next, for its pace, and best of all, the awesome rapid fire dialogue. It's a talkie movie through and through, without subtitles too, and that probably explained why some audience walked out of the movie midway, as they might have thought that Clooney was either wearing a costume, or performing quick wardrobe changes ala his Danny Ocean, but here, it's sombre shirt, tie and overcoat almost all the way. And it's not just a one-track movie, with minor subplots involving Clayton's personal life of a broken family, debt and a business that went the wrong way, that get tied in perfectly into the main track.

That said, this movie remains highly recommended, for those patience enough to experience all the curve balls being thrown at you every step of the way, through the narrative's four days leading to a satisfying wrap. Heavy reliance on Clooney's charisma to carry the movie through, and peppered with excellent supporting acts all around. Don't miss this!

Dan in Real Life

This Cannot Support My Jewels

Comedian Steve Carell burst into mainstream prominence as the world's best known 40 Year Old Virgin, and popularity grew with his The Office US series. But a quick blip on the radar with Evan Almighty made us wonder if he will be able to sustain a series of successes given what I think is a dearth of funny comedians to hit the big screen of late - output seemed to have slowed a bit from the likes of Mike Myers, Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid was not exactly really funny), Will Farell and even Jim Carrey, with whom Carell will be collaborating with in an animated feature in next year's Dr Horton Hears a Who.

I thought Dan in Real Life followed the Adam Sandler route with having to star in this year's equivalent of the latter's Spanglish, and does show that Carell the funnyman has some dramatic acting chops in him to commandeer this movie on his shoulders. Like Sandler, he has this everyday man appeal without the need for any hint of exaggeration, and this chummy buddy persona that makes him quite likable.

Steve Carell plays Dan the columnist who dispenses parenting advice in his newspaper column Dan in Real Life, where a routine day of the widower involves providing email counselling to his readers, and being the overprotective father to his three young daughters Jane (Alison Pill), Cara (brittany Robertson) and Lilly (Marlene Lawston). Clearly while his love for them shows, his daddy nature goes overboard with not being convinced that one of them is old enough to drive under supervision, and another whose boyfriend and teenage puppy love infatuation stage he frowns upon. From the onset, his relationship with his daughters look set to improve given time out for an extended family get together in an out of town retreat, but as all romantic comedy dictates, he will meet a special somebody which will prove to be his undoing.

Well, not in a bad way of course. Sometimes when you think about it, the concept of the perfect soulmate does reside in timing. You might think that you've met that special someone, but the timing somehow just isn't right, and naturally things do not work out, even though you think that it might (who plans for a breakup from the start anyway?) Watching how smooth Dan is, his mark Ann Marie (Juliette Binoche, whom we last saw on screen opposite Jude Law in Breaking and Entering) spends an afternoon with Dan chatting (with the camera lingering at all angles imagined possible), and find that they click. Just like that. However, herein lies the complication, as it turns out, Marie is the girlfriend of Dan's brother Mitch (Good Luck Chuck himself), whom he brought along to introduce to all and sundry.

So now the question is, do you pretend that that spark of chemistry never existed, or like Mitch himself put it, so long as there's no rock on the finger, it's fair game? Here's where the fun in the movie comes in, with both parties trying to decide whether to tell, or play pretend amongst family members? And does each party think whether it's love, or just a passing stage of infatuation? The movie poses a number of questions, some of which the answers are fairly clear, depending on the values you subscribe to. But in pondering and reacting in a relatively childish manner, Dan does himself no favours, as he slowly slips into a mode of hypocrasy, becoming what he tells his daughters not to, and breaking almost all the rules he lays down for them.

Dan in Real Life serves up more dramatic moments with a focus on romance, rather than being an outright comedy. So for Carell fans who think that it's gonna be laugh a minute, think again. The ensemble cast playing the supporting roles of the extended family members are fun, but truth is there's so many of them that each get very little screen time. However, this is still a very charming movie about love, parental-child unconditional love, and an exhibition of the axiom that blood is indeed thicker than water. Farell and Binoche share top notch chemistry as a couple with secrets hidden between themselves, and their constant playing of games is a delight to watch. One of my favourite scenes involve a 4-way interaction at a diner that hit all the right notes, and another an insane and totally politically incorrect song involving pigs.

It's ultimately a feel good movie, so don't expect proceedings to go in too heavy and deep, as it skirts around the subplots it creates decently, with little surprises, playing out just like one will almost expect it to be. Given it's runtime, there are obvious scenes from the trailer that is left unused, which would probably appear in the DVD release. For Carell fans, and fans of family dramas with a dash of romance, this one comes recommended. Movie opens proper on 10 Jan 08.

And here's THE song in the movie, as performed by Carell and Dane Cook. Will surely open the floodgates for sentimental folks when you hear their rendition!

Let My Love Open The Door

When people keep repeating
That you'll never fall in love
When everybody keeps retreating
But you can't seem to get enough
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When everything feels all over
When everybody seems unkind
I'll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all the worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you falling apart
Try today, you'll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It's all I'm living for
Release yourself from misery
Only one thing's gonna set you free
That's my love
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When tragedy befalls you
Don't let them bring you down
Love can cure your problem
You're so lucky I'm around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart

Friday, December 28, 2007

Body #19

I am Afraid of CG!

Decent but meandering story with cliches that you would already come to expect, given that all returning ghouls and goblins need a justification to haunt those who had done them wrong. What takes the cake here is the excellent sound design, and the intricate details poured into the makeup and special effects to bring the horrifying spirit to life (pardon the pun!) Nothing much else to wow you, but it does provide some truly chilling Boo moments to jolt you at your seat.

To read my review of Body #19 at, click on the logo below:


[DVD] Funny Games (1997)

We're Cool Like That

The only Michael Haneke movie I watched so far on the big screen is the fairly recent Cache (Hidden), which I somewhat disliked, more so for the sense that I was peeved with the opening with that really still camera, coupled with the fact that the subject matter contained issues with regards to voyeurism. I was totally put off. At times I joke with friends that movies where nothing really happens, somehow spurs you on to make your own (since they can get away with it, why can’t you?), but after watching Funny Games, I have to give credit where it is due, and say Michael Haneke has surprised me with the quality that is this film.

Part of the official selection in the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, what intrigued me to pick this DVD up for viewing is that Haneke himself has launched into a shot by shot remake of his masterpiece. I understand that with Hollywood’s dearth of original ideas that it just had to send its feelers out to suck on innovation found in cinemas around the world, and going by the countless of remakes in recent years, what happens are usually mediocre results, save for the rare few which were decent, like Martin Scorsese’s remake of Hong Kong cinema’s Infernal Affairs. But while remakes often throw in a director for hire, Funny Games U.S. (that’s what it’s called to differentiate itself from the original) has Haneke himself at the helm, and I still don’t understand the need for replicating exactly the same movie, down to the dimensions of the set, and of course replacing the leads with more recognizable stars like Naomi Watts. The auteur revisits his material, and the only refreshing thing about it is how the new cast will be able to engage the audience in the same manner that the original Austrian movie did.

Funny Games opens with an aerial shot of a car driving through the idyllic countryside, to the tune of classical music. Inside the car are middle/upper-class folks Anna and Georg (Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Muhe), and their son Georg Jr. It’s a scenic drive to their holiday home as they look forward to some sailing and BBQ, before the opening credits suddenly plunge us into some really heavy metal music, interrupting our senses with forewarning that this isn’t going to be some happy holiday movie.

They stop by the neighbours, but realize that they have guests and seem unnaturally aloof, so off they go about with their own holiday plans, only to be interrupted by two youths, Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), who visit them on the pretext of borrowing some eggs. Here’s where things start becoming uncomfortable – for some strange reason they’re wearing white gloves. And their behaviour is a bit unsettling as they don’t conform to the usual societal norms and courtesy accorded to hosts and guests, and not before long, a simple slap in the face inflicted on Paul by Georg, start to bring the whole family into a descent to hell.

Between the two psychopaths, Paul seemed the more menacing one, despite his cool exterior. Apparently the mastermind, we, like the family, just cannot grasp what his intents and motivations are, as we try and probe and make sense of the hostage situation. His sidekick Peter is the loyal servant, carrying out orders to a T, despite his burly exterior giving you some hope that he can be manipulated by talking some sense into him.

Manipulation seemed to be the aim of the game, besides the point that this movie contained loads of violence, most of which is seen off screen. Haneke admits that this is one movie that he deliberately manipulates the audience as he addresses on the issue of senseless violence in today’s society, and for the most parts, I find myself being led hook line and sinker by his wicked script and plot development. I too was baying for blood, an eye for an eye, as a “violence begets violence” solution, and this makes me no different from the crazed duo who wants to see blood spilled, for the sole probable reason that they can. However, Haneke directs this piece masterfully, and doesn’t see the need to show things explicitly. Perhaps if the remake was made by someone else, we’ll be watching blood spilled at every available instance. But that’s what made this movie bone chilling, as you ponder about what you would do when faced with a similarly hopeless situation centered on yourself, and your family. And really, some of the more shocking scenes are shown off-screen, before coming back to show you what the result was. There’s a key scene that led to a 10 minute single take, which left me speechless for once at the outcome.

If Cronenberg’s A History of Violence has an anti-violence message, then this one too takes the cake in that it directly engages you the viewer. It might seem strange at some points that Peter talks and interacts with the audience direct as if we’re at his side watching the proceedings, and the sick games they play. He does that at least on 3 occasions in the movie, and in a sleight of hand moment, had a similar plot device which made me hopping mad about the movie Bewitched. But here Haneke has a point, and sends a message directly through to you – “you want that don’t you, but I have the power within me to deny you that pleasure”. Damn it! It provoked a response, directly into the director’s hands in making a point. It was a weird development that brought you out of the film, but somehow it worked wonders.

So does watching the original negate the need to watch the remake? Not necessarily. For starters, it’ll be interesting to see, with all things being equal, how the new cast will be able to flesh out their respective characters. It’ll be something like a play – take the same Shakespearean material, and see how the new cast and crew present it, the difference being with everything else, including sets, left unchanged. The other draw is of course Naomi Watts, if she can surpass Susanne Lothar’s Anna in being the very complex mother and wife who has to juggle between being obedient to the demands of the psychopaths, and finding windows of opportunity to escape their ordeal.

Code 1 DVD by Kino Video comes in anamorphic widescreen transfer which is somewhat soft in its presentation, and didn’t score well when the scene is set in the dark. Audio comes in the original German track with subtitles available only in English. Scene selection is available over 20 chapters.

The DVD is rather barebones, with the Theatrical Trailer (1:11) included, and writer-director Michael Haneke’s filmography, but what is of value here is the Interview with the director himself (18:27), which touches upon the inspiration for the movie, discussion on the characters Peter and Paul, and his intent of engaging the audience into self reflection on violence in today’s society. Needless to say, almost every key scene got shown here and the discussion launches into spoiler territory, so do yourself a favour and watch the movie first.

The Story of Stuff

There are countless number of movies and documentaries made about the state of our environment, with the higher profile ones like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, or Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour making it to the cinemas. But here's my little recommendation of the subject being taken on a refreshing spin, making it easy for the layman to understand as it's part of our daily consumerism psyche, the need to satisfy some crazy keeping up with the joneses, or the succumbing to the temptations of slick advertisement that make us feel inadequate.

Our wanting for stuff and our buy-buy-buy attitudes actually fuel this crazy linear assembly line and production plants that provide us with things we may or may not need, and Annie Leonard puts them all together very succinctly in a 20 minute short, with comedy and animation all thrown in. This goes to my highly recommended list, as we ponder over the crazy sale and bargains we pick up prior to the X-mas season (which has evolved into a consumer spending spree of gifts and presents), and as we approach the new year, it's something to think about.

You can click on the link below to go to the official website, where there's a host of viewing options, either on the page itself where you have navigational controls over the chapters, or you can download a 50mb .mov file for viewing at your own leisure.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boogeyman 2

Run! It's the Boogeyman!!!

OK, truth be told, I wasn't expecting a movie like this to scare the shit out of me, but in all honesty it had one or two moments which got me. Despite having a "2" in its title, this is no more a sequel to the Boogeyman movie in 2005, without any recurring characters, and could have been titled as a standalone movie if it wanted to. Having Tobin Bell in its cast seemed to be a coup, but one cannot help but to laugh at its very Saw-like moment, and its unfortunate descent into torture porn territory as the movie progressed. I guess the horror industry in Hollywood has given way to this sub-genre, and gone are those days where horror doesn't necessarily mean blood and gore spilled so explicitly, being the outcome of some elaborate death trap design.

To read my review of Boogeyman 2 at, click on the logo below:


[DVD] Time Masters (Les Maîtres du Temps) (1982)

We Can Read Emotions!

The prime reason why I picked up this animated movie was because I've seen the DVD cover in a documentary on French artist Moebius entitled Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures, which was screened in this year's Animation National festival. Directed by René Laloux, Time Masters is a science fiction piece with designs by the master artist

Despite having the English title as Time Masters, there isn't any time component in its core story, though it gets shoved quite haphazardly into the revelation, which seemed to have come from the blind side, and took me by surprise for a bit. Didn't see it coming, but on hindsight, it came woefully too late though, leaving things wrapped up fairly quickly in the last act, that made it a little unsatisfactory, and treading very close to a cop out of sorts.

A 1980s animated movie, it does present a time travel of sorts for the viewer. After having being so used to 3D or computer graphics being the tool of choice to churn out feature length animated movies, this did seem like a blast from the past, but still standing the test of time after 25 years. I guess with the science fiction genre, it does provide it an additional age in terms of longevity (like Tron). Here, the movie opens with a chase sequence over an eclectic synthesized soundtrack, where the boy Piel and his father is on a flight from some hornet creatures. Before his dad met his demise, he gives Piel an egg like communicator, and had radioed his good friend Jaffar for assistance to rescue his son.

Here on the movie takes on two parts. First, PIel and his surviving amongst various encounters and creatures from within a strange forested area within the desert planet of Perdide, while waiting for Jaffar to arrive. And on the other track, Jaffar and his crew of token love interest Belle, technical wizard Silbad, two psychic stowaway gnomes in Jad and Yula, and fugitive Prince Matton. engage in a series of adventures, dealing with internal bickering, as well as external threats such as on the Gamma 10 planet with its faceless winged creatures.

While the animation is rudimentarily simple in today's terms, the story does take on an interesting, mature dimension, especially with characterization. I particularly liked the gnomes as they provide clue-ins of sorts as they prepare you for what's possibly coming up, as well as to add some comedic elements into the storyline like a Laurel and Hardy. Piel too as the child shines through with real child-like qualities, which I thought was something different as he doesn't suddenly becomes a hero, which is so common in a typical story in today's setting, and what I thought was quite refreshing - let the kid stay a kid! And the designs by Moebius is just plain wicked, making the movie truly a sight to behold. Is there any more that you can ask for in a science fiction space adventure?

This Region Free DVD by Image Entertainment comes in full screen presentation, and the visuals look like they have been transferred from a VHS source, with soft edges and some blur in characters in a scene. Some pops and cackles are noticeable, but won't mar any enjoyment from the movie. Audio is in French mono, with subtitles only available in English. There are no extras in this bare bones DVD, not even a menu, except that it allows for scene selection over 10 chapters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

[DVD] We Are Marshall (2006)

We Are Marshall!

It's easy to see why We Are Marshall went straight to DVD here. American Football has probably one of the lowest following here given we're more of soccer/football mad country, or follow sports which have a more international appeal like Tennis, Golf, Basketball, and those which have been made curriculum in school. Even then, sports movies rarely make it to the screens here too, or are on screen for an extremely limited time only. So it's an extremely niche market to appeal to.

We Are Marshall is a sports movie with a difference, or at least amongst those in the same genre and on the same sports that I've seen. First and foremost, the story stemmed from a tragedy, similar to the Munich air disaster which inflicted a blow to Manchester United in 1958, or the Superga air disaster which took out Italian football team Torino FC in 1949. Marshall University's Thundering Herd football squad was dealt a similar blow in an air disaster in 1970 where they lost almost all their players, and their backroom staff including coaches and trainers, amongst other prominent members of their small town society in a single swoop.

It's not your usual movie where the hero/team are put together from a bunch of misfits, and learn about camaraderie and teamwork, before charting their successes from the first game to the championship, which they will inevitably take. That's formula, and easily what you'd come to expect. But here, while there are moments of cliche that are inevitable for movies of such nature, like the dealing with tragedy, and the sports elements, what makes this stand out, is how the events are portrayed with some degree of honoring those who had passed on.

McG is not one of the most prolific directors of our time, and I know those who actually cringe at his more recognizable work like the Charlie Angels remake movies. But here, he surprises with very muted direction, without all the unnecessary flashes of flamboyance, and puts together a very effective movie that tells the tale, to the point, and without hints of exaggeration. Come to think of it, there's more exasperating moments here than whoops of jubilance, which seemed more like winning the battle, but not the war.

With the tragedy, the board has to decide whether to drop the sport altogether from its sporting calendar, or soldier on. Even with the latter, the question is how to build such a team from scratch, and also to deal with the psychological blows the tragedy had inflicted on surviving members of the squad, which without a doubt, is a big demon to fight, given massive guilt which befall on some of them. Enter head coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), who volunteers for this impossible task. Racing against time, he teams with Red Dawson (Lost's Matthew Fox) to recruit for a football team, fighting a recruiting war with other more prominent teams, and to entice those who are engaged in other sports to join them, based on specific qualities for vacant positions.

Although we have a number of powerful character actors like David Strathairn and Ian McShane in the movie, McConaughey proved that he's not just another pretty face that should be boxed into romantic movies. His Jack Lengyel is physically crafted with that slightly hunched forward physique as if he's always on the go, and comes through as an effective never-say-die-until-the-final-whistle coach, who refuses to give up in the face of adversity, or to throw in the towel midway. Without pedigree credentials, he goes on to prove that he's the right man for the job, convincing everyone that it's not always about winning, which is blasphemy to any sports team out there.

And if you take a step back and ponder, this movie junks that formulaic plot development, just like how Lengyel throws out conventional thought and wisdom out of the window. There's a first time for everything, and he's there to try and change the mindset and philosophy of the game and the townsfolk. I thought he nailed it right of what I thought sports is - which first and foremost is about sportsmanship, participation, and giving your best, no matter what the end result is. That seemed to be the spirit missing amongst those looking for instant success, and his fight is to instill this back again. Success will come to those who work hard and are hungry for it, but for a rookie team with makeshift tactics, the point is to show that they will not buckle, and to rise from the ash like a phoenix, finding strength and to pick up the pieces, providing hope and some measure of cheer to its supporters. His coach is to become counsellor as well, but not to a person or a team, but to an entire university town.

We Are Marshall makes recommended viewing, and more so for the qualities it exudes.

Code 3 DVD from Warner Video comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation with excellent visual transfer. Audio is available only in English and Thai, with subtitles in English, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin and Korean. Scene selection is available over 31 chapters for this 131 minute movie.

There's only one special feature here worth mentioning. The others are the Theatrical Trailer (2:29) and a one minute Marshall Now featurette which features alumni members of Marshall University speaking about their time in school and how things have changed, for the better of course. The main extra is a documentary on Legendary Coaches (37:00), introduced by director McG, which showcases very US-centric sports coaches from games like basketball and American football, and talking heads styled interviews interspersed with video and photos from actual training and games. Those featured include Jack Lengyel (of this movie), Bobby Bowden, Pat Summit, Lute Olsen, George Horton and John Wooden.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Everyone!

OK, so it's taking ages just to organize ourselves to make a short film, so since Lokman had already posted a Christmas wishing to all the folks out there, I thought I'd use the same engine to put together a wacky short. OK, not quite, since it's one of the available templates.

Too bad I had a crazy assed pic to contribute as the psychotic cop. Linus' role is self explanatory, Richard the reporter, Shaiful and Lokman unfortunately share a blink-and-you-miss roles, and I had casted a hot starlet in the show too!

Happy Holidays everyone! We're probably lepak-ing at some chalet as you read this. Cheers!

Don't send a lame Starring You! eCard. Try JibJab Sendables!

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Am Legend

Bad Boy, Watchu Gonna Do When They Come For You!

Out of curiosity I went to look up Will Smith's filmography, and realized that since Michael Bay's Bad Boys in 1995, he had averaged just one movie a year, most of them being box office successes save for blips like Wild Wild West, and in films spanning a wide genre from biopics to romantic comedy to action and drama. Today his name alone on the marquee can open a movie, and I Am Legend is probably a true test of that drawing power, because for the most parts, his Robert Neville is the last man on Earth.

This film is the third to have been produced for the big screen, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. I haven't watched The Omega Man which starred Charlton Heston, but from what I've read, it's a somewhat wide departure from the source material. The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, was entertaining (available at the Internet Archive) and given that we're looking at it in retrospect, was told in a rather straightforward and simple manner. Will Smith's vehicle, will no doubt be updated with plenty of special effects, and getting those road closures for down town Manhattan is by no means an easy feat in itself.

I've no idea why the tagline had to say "the last man on earth is not alone", and in the poster had Smith slinging a mean rifle over a shoulder, with a german shepherd at his heel. With man's best friend as company, how can any man be alone? Technically yes, but then his pet dog provides an avenue to keep one's sanity - any interaction that provides feedback of sorts, doesn't put you in isolation ala Tom Hanks in Castaway. And being stuck in a big city in Manhattan does have its perks, in terms of food, shelter and of course, entertainment.

Of late, monster movies with the likes of the recent 28 Days/Weeks series, and in 30 Days of Night, point to an interesting observation - that we like our monsters smart, vicious and fast. In The Last Man on Earth, Vincent Price had to do battle with plodding creatures of low IQ, which formed the basis of George A Romero's walking undead. Here, the creatures bring forth a few same-old concepts, from being created by a virus (Resident Evil series, 28 Days/Weeks probably taken a leaf from I Am Legend the book), filled them with crazed rage, move fast and are incredibly smart - they adapt and learn. However they fail to interest in creature designs, having look like leftovers from The Mummy franchise.

Action sequences are few and far between, which ringed back to an earlier Smith movie I, Robot, but credit has got to go to I Am Legend for deftly crafting moments of intense fear and dreadful anticipation, like the sequence in the warehouse. But everything else was a chip off something else, like The Hulk's raging doggies, and with Robert Neville (Smith) taking a leaf out of Sylvester Stallone's The Specialist in tactical defending, which I liked to believe his character had learned from one of his routine DVD rentals. There's even one more reference that I will choose not to quote, as it's too close to revealing how the ending turned out to be, which I felt was a little of a cop out, as the filmmakers probably had a problem in deciding how best to end this, in an honourable way befitting an A-List Hollywood star.

The backstory to Neville's predicament, as an update to the original movie's explanation on the situation, brings forth a warning to those wanting to play god. Sometimes the intentions are good, but like all potential miracle cures, these have to be tested thoroughly rather than be excited over them, or worse, having those with side effects covered up. Don't expect too much of those flashbacks, like The Last Man on Earth's, they're kept short and succinct, and most of it is unfortunately in the trailer. An added plus into this version, is the lack of a dreadful need to repeat its stuff to remind audiences of Neville's routine of eat-play-send signals-find cure-find food etc, and juxtaposed time quite nicely so that it's not simply just a dawn-to-dusk day-in-the-life-of account.

Directed by Francis Lawrence who brought us the big screen adaptation of Constantine, I Am Legend continues to serve as a staple for that year end big budgeted blockbuster, and in most counts, I Am Legend works, plainly because of Will Smith's charisma, and that german shepherd's company.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

[DVD] 15 Minutes (2001)

Who's More Famous?

I had borrowed this DVD countless of times, but somehow it didn't manage to make it to the player, until tonight that is. Starring Robert De Niro and Edward Burns, 15 Minutes take on an extreme look at reality media, where rival stations would chance upon to scoop one another at short notice, for ratings, fame and what have yous, even at the expense of morality. There's an upcoming movie called Untraceable which deals on the voyeuristic nature of modern audiences, but since this is a 2001 movie, exploitative media haven't got from bad to worse, yet, or so I believe.

De Niro stars as a top celebrity cop Detective Eddie Flemming, who knows how to milk the media to the force's advantage. Being in the limelight also helps in investigations and cracking cases, because everyone wants an autograph, or to shake hands with someone famous. So it definitely helps in opening doors and breaking down hostilities. And his unofficial partner in this caper is Fire Marshal Jordy Warsaw, played by Edward Burns, whose character is an intriguing one, in that his profession is under the fire department, but has powers belonging to cops as his role is mainly an investigative piece into how fires are started, and if arson is suspected.

Together, they form a somewhat mentor-rookie relationship, as Eddie teaches Jordy the 101 on homicide, as they sieve through clues of an incident where a couple is found dead in an apartment, but signs point to murder rather than accidental death by fire. And for the first half of the movie, this partnership actually starts to take their roots into tried and test buddy cop (well, technically not quite) movies, where differences are played to strengths, culminating in an exciting (I realize I seldom use this word nowadays) chase down the streets of New York, ala Heat, but minus the major firepower.

But the movie takes a drastic turn in the second half, as gone are the action or potential action set up, and in comes the dwelling upon issues on everyone's 15 minutes of fame, as mentioned by Andy Warhol. Sometimes you do wonder, through reports, news, basically the media, how criminals can find it so easy to become a celebrity, making those obscene amount of cash through the writing of books or the selling of movie rights. And basically, it boils down to how we as consumers, fuel this kind of supply with demand from our curiosity.

And it sure isn't alien too, where the crookedness of lawyers also assist in heaps on the perversion of law, for a cut of the profits, with their tools of the trade such as defense on the plea of insanity, and the double jeopardy clause. But why stop at lawyers when we can also target studio executives and talk show producers, whose exploitative shows feed on the sensational to sell their programme and to generate high ratings. Kelsey Grammer of Frasier fame, plays one such host, whom you'll just love to hate. Look out too for Charlize Theron in a cameo scene, with a brunette bob hairdo.

Interesting concepts explored and examined, with relatively interesting villains as well (one of them an aspiring filmmaker!) make 15 Minutes a little more than an ordinary cop thriller. There's a key scene which I can't describe without spoiling it, but suffice to say it does bring out every ounce on tension there is to it, and such moments though were marred slightly by the ending which had a somewhat unnecessary cheesy moment. Still, this will go into my list of recommended movies, especially one that dwells on media issues.

Code 3 DVD by New Line Home Entertainment comes in anamorphic widescreen format, with decent visual transfer without the pops, hiss and cackles. Audio is only available in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with English and Chinese subtitles. A 21 chapter scene selection is available, otherwise it's a barebones edition.

Across The Universe

A Nerd's Dream Come True

Viva la Beatles! We're familiar with the many musicals that have come out of late, either being remade from stage to screen, or updated for today's era, the latest being Hairspray. And a musical made up entirely of songs by the Beatles, but not sung by the Beatles themselves? While it is easy to make a movie based on songs by the "it" group of the time (Spice World anyone?) and starring the singers themselves so that there won't be a nightmare in casting actors who can sing, or worse, start to mutilate the lyrics, how about throwing that mantra out of the window?

Across the Universe does exactly that. Who would've thought that the discography of the Beatles, diverse as they may be, could have a multitude of songs chosen, and strung together so nicely that it makes for a coherent musical all through 130 odd minutes of the story? I thought it worked, and worked perfectly, and what came out of it are pretty kooky song and dance sequences that had everything thrown in from slick editing to psychedelic animation. Best of all, the cast members themselves lend their vocals, albeit having the music tweaked a little so that it doesn't sound exactly the same as having a collection of the Beatles' greatest hits being popped into a CD and played ad nauseam.

Set during the era of the Beatles themselves, Across the Universe is set mainly across the Atlantic in 60s USA, where the Vietnam War is abound. We're introduced to Jude (convenient name to make you wait up for the inevitable song, as with the other names), played by Jim Sturgess, a Liverpool (heh) dock worker who gets himself to the USA in search of his long lost dad. He meets Max Carrigan (Joe Anderson) with whom he becomes fast friends with, and falls in love with his sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a schoolgirl who had just lost her first boyfriend to the war.

The movie is a simple tale of romance between two lovebirds, and you'd come to expect the usual boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-gets-girl-back routine, but what works is of course, the music by the Beatles. Adding texture and layer to the movie were the various subplots which had another relationship running parallel to that of Jude and Lucy's - their landlady Sadie (Dana Fuchs), who is a rock musician, and her guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy), as they call Come Together under one big roof, settling in a Bohemien lifestyle, which suits Jude's artistic talents just so nicely. It had plenty of loving, but conspicuously absent, and for the better, is drugs, except for a surreal underwater scene, and some really insane moments inside a big top, complete with wacky animation.

What I thought the movie had taken a leaf out of Citizen Dog's was how love progressed and reached the doldrums, against the backdrop of the opposition to the War. While films like Born on the Fourth of July had very powerful statements to make, Across the Universe sort of adopted the stance that Forrest Gump had, with the love of Jude's life joining the opposition cause, much to his displeasure and becomes a barrier, but can't do anything much about it anyway, allowing unnecessary jealousy to come in between them, which became "I told you so".

Director Julie Taymor had an excellent cast to work with, not only do they sing well, but they brought out their characters perfectly. Evan Rachel Wood excelled as the teenage wide-eyed schoolgirl to whom we were introduced, who slowly turns to one with steely resolve, Jim Sturgess as the likeable English bloke who stands witness to the tumultuous era that the US goes through, and microscopically, turns from a bastardly Dong Juan back home to monogamous Romeo in the US, but the one who takes the cake, is Joe Anderson's Max, who lives life with an immortal, youthful idealism, who goes where the wind takes him, until his dropping out of an ivy league college meant receiving the Draft, in one really hilarious sequence with Uncle Sam.

All in, I can't vouch that the story will set to wow, but the songs, thank goodness for the Beatles, more than makes up for the cliche which goes straight through to the end. True Beatles fans will find tons of references not only from the songs, but from the various easter eggs scattered everywhere in the movie. They are really going to have a field day with this one. Viva la Beatles!

Breath (Soom)

Take My Breath Away

Of the limited number of Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk's movies, I have only seen a handful of them, and mostly they are the relatively contemporary movies, like The Bow, 3-Iron and Time. The feeling I got from them all is consistent - that it's not your usual storytelling, as he seemed more often than not to obscure any intended message, or meaning in his tales, much like searching for an Easter Egg, or worse, that needle in the haystack to get something out of it. If I can summarize his movies in a statement, then it'll be to expect something that's totally unexpected, though not necessary always in a good way.

The main draw here for his 14th film, Breath, is Taiwanese actor Chang Chen. I was curious how Kim would be directing him in one of his movies, and as it turned out, because of the obvious language barrier, it's a convenient cop out to have his death row inmate Jang Jin (even his character's name bears semblance to his own) made a suicide manic, choosing to maim his voicebox so that there isn't a necessity to speak at all. Why he's in jail we're not sure, and in true Kim Ki-duk style, his inmate buddies who share the same cell, are not your ordinary gangster looking characters with big tattoos. While two of them are quite bland, there's an effeminate inmate who has a liking for Jang Jin, but gets time and again brushed aside when he demonstrates and emotes jealousy.

Housewife Yeon (played by Park Ji-ah) discovers that her husband is cheating on her, and given the media attention on Jang Jin and his suicide attempts incessantly hitting the news, she decides to get back at her husband by striking a relationship with him, posing as an ex-girlfriend, and finding therapy in Uncle Jang. But before you say "boring", what made her character a little bit impossible to believe is the lengths she'll go to just to spice up the visitor's session according to seasons, and of course, add some colour, life and song to a meandering dull movie. She does impossible feats of wallpapering, which I thought would be more credible it they weren't so well done.

For half the movie, we see a one way street between Yeon and Jang Jin, she finding an outlet to vent her frustrations, while he finding it amusing to have a total stranger bring forth some fresh air, though artificial, injected into his imprisoned four walls. While there are of course issues of morality here that could be made for points of discussion, by the time the ending rolls around, these are indeed tossed out the window in double quick time. I suspect that 90% of the 10 members of the audience were here because of the tantalizing poster of Chang Chen's mouth on boob (the film has an M18 rating by the way), and it's not rocket science that the ah-peks were probably here for only one thing.

But alas, that, it doesn't deliver, but what it does cement very surely, is that you'll never know what to expect from a Kim Ki-duk film, who becomes his own voyuer as he spies on the duo from the CCTV Cameras fed back to the confines of his security office. Unfortunately, Breath turns out to be a time waster, and you'll find yourself cheering at any moment that could have possibly breathed life into a dull movie. Perhaps art movie lovers out there could find some meaning if they look hard enough, but here, I'm calling out that the Emperor is naked.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

I Will Always Love My Queen

Cate Blanchett reprises her role as 16th Century Virgin Queen Elizabeth I in director Shekhar Kapur's sequel of sorts to Elizabeth (1998), which I can't recall if it made it to the local screens. However the DVD of Elizabeth was recently released here, but you need not have watched that movie because the events that transpire here are after the fact of her ascension to the Throne of England, and you need not be a history buff in order to get up to speed on the events that led up to the opening of the movie. Of course it does help a bit, so if you're choosing not to approach this blind, then you can pop over to Wikipedia for a quick synopsis.

The movie begins with the threat of war with Spain looming on the horizon. Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla), a devout Catholic, wants to wage holy war against England, of course to expand his empire, but under the guise of Religion, since Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is a Protestant. And to do so requires a reason to send his Armada across the English Channel, which involves making calculated political steps, counting upon those who are Catholics, and to throw his weight behind the supposed Queen in exile / imprisonment Mary of Scots (played by Samantha Morton) - here's where you'll probably need some background information to understand the intricacies of the English Mornarchy, in no part made even more complicated since Henry VIII was ruler before his, giving the family tree a healthy boost in the number of branches.

The focus however, is still set on Elizabeth, as she goes about trying to deflect questions about her fertility, virginity, and singlehood (there's actually a good reason to why she stays single, not that she's unattractive, or have a lack of suitors). It's like a tale of two halves, where the beginning involves dalliances with her lack of love life, setting the stage for a triangle between herself, her favourite hand maiden Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish, whom the gossip mags credited for coming in between Ryan Phillipe and Resse Witherspoon), and suave pirate Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who charms them with his tales of the high seas and the finding of the new world. Later to be Sir Walter Raleigh, his initial audience with the Queen was for funding his exploits, but later with Cupid's arrow, it becomes pretty much muddled with affairs of the heart, as we learn of the social impossibility between the Queen and the pirate, and the countless protocols that come with privileged women.

Those who were expecting spectacular battle scenes, especially when the trailers have Elizabeth in full armour, rousing her troops, will be sorely disappointed, because history had already decided the outcome of the battle. Moreover, as far as naval warfare go involving ships with sails, Pirates of the Caribbean had already laid down the gauntlet as far as spectacular is concerned, and that unfortunately, had elements of the supernatural and the fantastical in its aid.

But for a period piece, with foundation laid in history, coupled with a dash of artistic and dramatic licensing, Elizabeth: The Golden Age does serve up copious amounts of excellent acting, courtesy of Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush reprising her role as trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham and Owen, that it still makes it compelling to witness historical events put up on screen (of course with accuracy never being 100% anyway). Historical biographies more often than not have dramatic moments included to spice up proceedings, but this one had enough political intrigue and scheming draped with beautiful costumes to keep you engaged. Time to pick up the prequel!

My Blueberry Nights

Kiss #2046

Although I cannot proclaim to have watched all of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's works, I can say that of those I have seen, they rung some emotional bell within me, and I count 2046 and especially In The Mood For Love as amongst one of my favourite movies of all time. The themes of love, forbidden love and melancholic longing I can identify with, and that makes those films close to heart.

My Blueberry Nights marks his first English language movie, and made its mark in competition in the 60e Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year. Reviews were mixed, and I was not convinced that it was marginally in the negative territory, but as much as I would like to love this movie, it fell short on most counts. While I know it is unfair to judge this with an eye looking over Wong's past filmography, I can't help it because he, for some reason, stuffed the blueberry pie with so many references from his previous movies, that you can't help but notice as they come so blatantly. And this makes it pay a homage to your own films, but why do you have to do so? Take for instance, we have another lovelorn policeman from Memphis not Chungking and we have cheating couples whose faces we don't really get to see. But it goes beyond the characters and into the technical, with time lapse shots, and the one that takes the cake, was a horrible harmonica rendition of Yumeiji's theme, which to the uninformed, might seem to have just been bad background music to the scene it played in, but to those in the know, it makes for just plain laziness unfortunately, in not necessitating to show what the characters see, go through and understand. Dangerous, dangerous venture into grounds fertile for being labelled a one-trick pony.

Somehow, the English language just didn't cut it. Nothing beats listening to WKW-isms in its natural Chinese or Cantonese tongue, as it just sounds so lyrical. But in English, it sounds pretty much contrived and hokey, and losing that sense of romanticism that makes us fall in love, pity, identify with and just want to hug the characters. Probably the lack of confidence here in pulling it off in a foreign tongue had made the movie turn to recognizable stars for compensation, with the likes of Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and singing sensation Norah Jones, in her first big screen debut. Or trying to recreate the magic of what is Lee Pin Bing and Christopher Doyle's cinematography which somehow stuck out like a sore thumb (shots made behind glass seem to be a must-do here), and the intertitles seemed very out of place too.

My Blueberry Nights is made up of 3 distinct stories put together by having a character, Norah Jones' Elizabeth, journey through them all. Somehow, the strength is in its parts and not as a whole, and possibly references to Wong's earlier works were put in to mask the weak storyline. I have to give credit when it's due, and I thought the shorts go from strength to strength, bookended by Elizabeth's encounter with Law's Jeremy. It began with Elizabeth reeling from a bad case of having her boyfriend cheat on her, and in the ensuing break up, finds herself a regular at a diner operated by Jeremy. The first part might serve to be confusing as it trascends time, much like the need for taking visual cues from Maggie Cheung's cheongsam in ITMFL, and before you know it, a relatively intimate encounter makes Elizabeth journey off in a road trip.

Norah Jones adds a certain vulnerability to her Elizabeth, and I admire her character for taking time off to find herself and just to be sure, instead of plunging head long to another potential relationship (c'mon, it's Jude Law, you know?). And the part where she worked 2 jobs as a distraction so that her mind had less time to wander and wonder, is something I can totally agree with. To that, her character I do like and can identify, but the second short, while I thought narratively was OK, just had to have her interact with Strathairn's cop character Arnie, who himself is suffering from the pain of separation from his wife played by Rachel Weisz. Her Sue Lynne just had to ring a very close bell to Su(e) Li(nne) Zhen, in namesake and character wise, but how the short transpired and wrapped up, with a mention of love being stifling, earned my respect for it.

But at this point, you'll probably be looking at your watch, wondering just how long more the flashbacks to Wong's earlier movies will take. However, the coup de grace was Natalie Portman's Leslie, a card shark with trust issues. And it's a refreshing departure from boy-girl relationships, by having parental love put into play here. Of all the characters, I like her carefree, smooth/trash-talking one the best, and with her character keeping her cards close to her chest, I thought the confession to Elizabeth somewhat takes the cake too.

The cast all did a great job in fleshing out the WKW characters, but none I felt could touch the emotional richness that the Asian stars in WKW movies manage to bring out. As I mentioned earlier, this could be in a big part because of language. I would like though to commend on Jones. Not an actress by profession, she had done pretty well and Blueberry Nights, while she journeys with the characters through life and love issues, turns out to be more of an exercise for her in learning from the various thespians in the movie. Her Elizabeth can be cruel and heartless though, by leaving in a huff, and keeping in touch through one way channels in the writing of postcards, without way of a return address. While the movie might be running on an emotional tank testing the limits as the needle approaches E, I just love that million-takes lip lock between Law and Jones, and I thought that pretty much was worth the price of a ticket, really.

My Blueberry Nights is still delectable, except that when compared to the greatness of WKW's filmography, this seemed like pandering himself to Western audiences (there's no need to actually!) by (re)introducing them to his works done thus far, and in doing so, becomes a blip in the radar. With due respect to WKW, My Blueberry Nights should be treated like the Blueberry pie in the movie - made just in case, but most likely headed for the bin, unless you have a newbie come over, and you can find reason to serve it as an introduction to other soulful WKW epics.
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