Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Unseeable (Pen Choo Kab Pee เป็นชู้กับผี)


It's no secret that I'm a fan of writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng's movies - Tears of the Black Tiger, and Citizen Dog. What's excellent and probably the hallmarks of the director currently are the stunning visuals, wonderful colors, and storylines which are highly imaginative. With Tears, it was an amalgam of cultures for a distinctive and eclectic mix of what's Thai, and the Wild Wild West. In Citizen Dog, the fusion of fantastical elements, song, and comedy endears it and at the same time, warms your heart.

But when this project was announced, I admit I was a bit apprehensive. I have not fancied many Asian horror movies of late, because of the usual formulaic stories and the employment of cheap shock tactics which bore. At times, scenes become unintentionally comedic, coupled with bad makeup and cheesy special effects, which mar whatever potential the movies could have achieved. The horror genre is no doubt a money spinner, and many times, quality is compromised when everyone jumps on the same bandwagon, knowing audiences will still lap them up despite the inferior product.

The Unseeable, however, managed to evade the negative connotations as put forth. I guess my trust in Sasanatieng's vision remained unwavering. The story, when finally pieced together, remained coherent, even though at some points, it felt that the pacing could be picked up a little. Never rushed, it took a very measured method to introduce characters, their backgrounds, and the explanation of, well, what goes bump in the night.

The story tells of a pregnant village girl, Nualjan, who left her hometown in search of her lost husband. En route to Bangkok, she gets put up at a boarding house, with few inhabitants, and owned by a mysterious rich widow Ranjuan who lives in a separate house in the same compound. Making few friends, and slowly becoming the disdain of the housekeeper, Nualjan encounters inexplainable incidents and strange folks, helped in no way by stories about the spookiness of the premises. The usual motley crew of horror movie characters also make their token appearance - an old scrawny lady, a young child, and plenty of shadowy figures.

The narrative structure did seem to stick to the usual formula though, with the final twist ending (twist endings themselves are becoming so common, it's difficult for filmmakers to imagine something more breakthrough). At times, you will also feel that despite the red herrings, your gut feel about how things will turn out, will probably correct. While the revelation explained and tied up loose ends, it did however demonstrate that it doesn't seem to want to end.

Gone are the usual bright pastel color palette that we associate Sasanatieng's movies with, and in place for The Unseeable, are strained colors with a general greenish tinge, in line with the mood and atmosphere created for horror. I felt the filmmakers achieved their objective of creating a horror movie which doesn't capitalize on CGI and special effects, that if not done right, relegates it automatically together with those of dubious quality. Relying on tight angles and excellent sound editing, I admit that yes, watching The Unseeable did give me the chills, especially during its revelatory scenes.

I believed the movie's title in Thai was a little spoiler in itself, so please don't try to translate it until after you've seen the movie. My faith in Wisit Sasanatieng continues, and I for one am eagerly anticipating his take on the martial arts genre with Armful, currently in production.

Monday, January 29, 2007


The Truth is Out There

I'd have to admit that the draw of this movie is director Eduardo Sanchez, who helmed the wildly popular and successful Blair Witch Project. Besides, this is an alien movie of sorts, and sounded something like Stephen King's Dreamcatchers, one of those movies that the critics hated, but I enjoyed.

But nope, unfortunately I felt that for the most parts, Altered is a waste of time, so I shall keep this review short. Premises are always promising, and Altered's no different. It tells the story of a group of men who experienced strange encounters when they were younger, and as usual, others will take you as a nutcase imagining stuff. Stories about alien abduction always have to deal with probes into the orifices, so I shall not go into details, but you get the drift it's damn uncomfortable, and something you'd like to forget.

What if you're given a chance for revenge? That is, you manage to successfully hunt down, and capture one alive. What will you do? For this group, it's a gleeful payback time, or so they thought. And this is where the movie begins to develop into a snoozefest, with bad, uninspiring dialogue, and even worse acting. Even if it's low budgeted, there aren't many redeeming factors, be it strength of storyline, or any help from the cast in making their characters just a tad interesting. It's the standard cardboard fare from a vanilla plain script, coupled with some cheap scare tactics employed.

What's good though is the makeup. Much effort has been put into making some of the stuff which I shan't mention, because that'll spoil just the few elements of what makes this movie tolerable. Other than that, there are the usual cheap special effects, blood and gory moments which is nothing you've never seen before.

Watch this only as a last resort. Compared to the other monster movie in town - Feast, this one is less fun, and takes itself too seriously. Bogged down by an uninspiring direction, you've been warned.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

[FOCUS: First Cuts #6] My Mother is a Belly Dancer (Seelai Ng Yi Cho)

Let Me Dance the Belly Dance

My Mother is a Belly Dancer is the last in the series of the FOCUS: First Cuts project, and to my surprise, it's my favourite of the lot, beating Crazy Stone, one of my movies of the year 2006! It's no secret that I dig dance movies, but this one is not the usual flick filled with teen angst and such. It has a lot more gravitas to it, and contains characters that you actually care for, with universal themes which makes it easier to reach out to audiences.

Belly dancing is getting popular amongst the dance crowd in Singapore. It's sensual, with those shoulder shimmies and belly twists, and contains moves that will probably give those abs a fabulous workout. It's a traditional dance, and no doubt with its sensualness, it takes a little getting used to, especially for local Asian women who are generally shy to expose that midriff and shake that booty. (Clarification: I think younger women have no qualms, but the movie's focus is on the "auntie crowd")

Set in a residential estate, the film looks into the lives of 4 women, and how dance, in particular the belly dance, helped to develop them into stronger women, from the traditional demure roles into independent womanhood. We actually look at mums of different ages and backgrounds, such as a housewife who gains no respect from her husband nor her kid son, a single, young mother, a fruit seller whose husband she suspects is having an affair, and finally, a rubbish collector whose facing problems with feeding her large family of kids given her husband's inability to hold down a well paying job.

Before you scream in disgust that this is typical women-power stuff, I'd like to assure that it actually has a lot of heart, and that's what made this movie so enjoyable. It's about finding strength and the acceptance of reality. It's about assertion and moving on. Each woman face their own unique problems in their lives, and by coming together in the dance class, they form a strong bond with one another, especially when the dance class itself face discrimination from the more traditional, uptight older womenfolk who view it as immoral and slutty. Their problems and challenges in their personal lives run viz-a-viz the issues of keeping their class alive, and by saving their class and keeping their spirits alive, they too subconsciously experience a change in their character.

The lead actresses, though not frequently seen in movies these days, all put up commendable performances, even though some of their characters start off in a one-dimensional manner. They added believability with their earnest portrayals of women facing problems, and who turn out for the better when they discover new strength during their dance sessions, and through the forging of new bonds. Andy Lau returns to lend some star power in the movie, as with most of the other FOCUS: First Cuts project films. Here, he cameos as the owner of a middle eastern bar, where women congregate and share their love for belly dancing.

So just what exactly is happiness? That's what the movie seeks to explore, and presents at the same time, the common viewpoints of family live as seen through different eyes, in different forms, under different circumstances.

To round up the FOCUS: First Cuts movies in order of preference, mine will be
1. My Mother is a Belly Dancer
2. Crazy Stone
3. Rain Dogs
4. I'll Call You
5. The Shoe Fairy
6. Love Story

Miss Potter

I Want See

Possibly the JK Rowling of her time, Beatrix Potter is the author of the beloved children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, amongst other best selling classics which you might have read as a child. Not only does she dream up and write the stories, she does the illustrations as well, which are actually quite beautiful in its simplicity. Most of them, after all, are based on animals, and her painted illustrations augment her narrative text really well.

The titular role is played by Renee Zellweger, last seen in Cinderella Man, and the story picks up from the time where Miss Potter is trying to look for a publisher willing to take on the first-mover risk and give her stories a go. It's like a quick summarized biography of sorts, with constant flashbacks to her past, to the beginnings of the source of her inspiration, as well as her current challenges in publishing. Not until she meets up with a relative rookie to the business, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), who believes in her work, and is also looking at opportunities to prove that they know what they're doing, and that against popular opinion, they do have a winner in their hands.

Miss Potter is about her life and love, and naturally from their constant interactions at the business front, they inevitably fall in love. This is another collaborative effort between McGregor and Zellweger (the first being Down With Love in 2003), and they play lovebirds here in the early 20th century, where social conduct, prim and properness are in order, and they can't date openly without a chaperon in tow. Emily Watson completes the main cast as Norman's sister Millie, who cliques with Beatrix as she too cannot understand unfair social norms imposed, as well as the necessity of those times for women to get married, or be left on the shelf as an old maid.

Possibly this year's Finding Neverland, the movie does take opportunity to discuss these social norms, and of class and attitudes within classes. That women of high standing cannot marry down to "tradesmen", as that will serve to undermine their social status, or even to invite them to parties. Independent thought is frowned upon naturally, and it seems that almost everything negative about social norms of those days, are personified in Beatrix's mother.

But no worries that there is too much talk about the themes. Miss Potter is a rather fluffy and light movie, with picturesque scenes and sceneries, together with lovey dovey moments between the two lovers. There are also moments which allow for animation, and if you're well versed with Miss Potter's works, then you'll anticipate some illustrations coming to life, which adds a level of cuteness to the movie. And the theme song is just as beautiful, a song to slow dance to, called When You Taught Me How To Dance. This is definitely date movie material, though remember please to bring along some tissues.

For those interested to find out more about Beatrix Potter, you can check out this link at wikipedia. But be warned, it has just about everything that the movie will touch upon, so visit only if you absolutely want to know how things will turn out, otherwise you can visit it after you've watched the movie.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

[FOCUS: First Cuts #5] Rain Dogs (Tai Yang Yu)

Growing Pains

The FOCUS: First Cuts project seemed to have stalled into making the local screenings despite last year's fanfare during the project launch, and it's probably because of the lacklustre box office sales that seemed to add to the reluctance. Rain Dogs (and the other remaining movie My Mother is a Belly Dancer) were given new lease of life at the local halls in a one-off weekend screening, which allowed me to view this movie which have been making waves at major film festivals overseas.

Maybe I did not get the appeal of the movie, as I found it difficult to seek that iota of connection with Rain Dogs. Perhaps I haven't been the kampong boy nor experienced the type of life that the protagonist led. What I do see though, are two separate stories telling the life of Tung, in the first where he's in KL with his brother, and the story dwells on the excellent brotherly love between the two boys, while the second, his exodus from home into the solace of relatives, where he experiences puppy love and somehow finds strength in character, a departure from his relatively whimsical earlier self.

Directed by Ho Yuhang, Rain Dogs tells of Tung's development from boy to man, and maybe, just maybe, his innate search for a father figure in his life. We see that his brother served as the person he admires, and one who takes care of him, while in the later stages, it becomes his uncle, and even more interestingly, the suggestion of Tung being the big brother whom his nephew looks up to. And I thought while Tung develops his bravado, he still retained a certain gawky demeanour, which is actually true of anyone coming of age.

Given the two disparate settings of the movie before and after the opening credits, it allowed for some contrast between the city and the smaller town, with the city being portrayed as dangerous - gangsters, pimps and their broads stalking their next prey, snooker parlour gangsters, and even the blatant corruption amongst white collar workers. The small towns on the other hand, provides opportunity for growth, family bonding, and even a whiff of romance in the air.

There are plenty of picturesque scenes in the movie which allows for some quiet contemplation, and some touching moments too where and when characters connect. If you keep your eyes peeled at the minutest of details, you will probably break out into a smile or two. One of my favourite scenes involved a beer can, which I thought was very subtle, and I actually burst out laughing, much to the puzzlement of the rest. Also, I would like to highlight that the movie is almost devoid of songs save for one, which in my opinion, epitomizes my general feeling towards watching the movie.

Fans of Yasmin Ahmad will also relish seeing their favourite director in front of the camera rather than behind it. Playing the aunt of Tung, she speaks Cantonese quite flawlessly in her role, and yes, she can act too you know? In case you're not aware, Yuhang has also starred in Yasmin's movie - Rabun.

Rain Dogs may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this is just as diverse as the FOCUS: First Cuts project sets itself out to be.

The Last King of Scotland

I Want My Hands on Oscar Gold!

The first Forest Whitaker movie I watched was Blown Away, which starred Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones, one of two "bomb-maker" movies in 1994 (the other being the more successful Speed). And since then, he's been one of my favourite character actors, chalking up a diverse filmography, although some in largely supporting roles in the movies that made its way here (Panic Room, Phone Booth, etc). This year, he is widely touted to win that Oscar for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

You cannot deny Whitaker's sheer enigmatic presence on screen, even though his size makes him hard to miss. Despite playing a less than savoury character, Whitaker brings about certain charisma to his role, and makes it believable that the masses adore their new leader rising from a coup. Switching from the man who's contended with everything, and earnestly believing he can delivery the country from the doldrums, to one obsessed with power, and consumed by madness, inconsistencies, and suspicion, Whitaker does it all and showcases his spectrum of abilities convincingly.

However, this biopic of sorts comes from the point of view of Idi Amin's personal physician, Scotsman Dr Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy), recent graduate, and still finding the meaning to his existence, which led to his arrival in Uganda. McAvoy starred in last year's Chronicles of Narnia as the Faun, and I've seen him as Leto Atreides II in the made for television series Children of Dune. Here, his Garrigan is the confused young adult, suddenly thrust into position of envy, power and privilege as part of the small circle of trust Amin keeps, and is no goody two shoes with his inability to keep his lustful thoughts just thoughts alone.

Based on the novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland (find out why) has a fairly simple narrative from start to end, bringing Dr Garrigan into Uganda just as Idi Amin seizes power, and from a chance meeting, gains Amin's trust and gets appointed albeit reluctantly at first as his personal and family physician, given promises of running hospitals and drafting out health plans for the country. And slowly, as their relationship evolves, Garrigan finds out the truth about the volatility of the dictator, as he battles consequences of his lusty actions, and tries to find a way out of the madness.

It was interesting to note that it was the posse of western powers who installed Idi Amin as ruler, and also the same powers that be who tries to control a live wire to do their bidding, like a puppet master having total control of his puppet, only to have the puppet fight back. A similar relationship between Amin and Garrigan also exist. And when you get too powerful or influential, expect the masters to try and take some drastic measures, using whatever means to meet the end. Lies and deceit, cunningness and strategy to stay alive, all these are experienced by the two men.

Adding some balance to the level of testosterone, there are two supporting female cast in Kerry Washington as one of Amin's wives, and Gillian Anderson as the object of Garrigan's desire. Though both actress had much less to do in the movie, it was indeed a long time since I've seen Anderson in a movie, I believe the last was the X-Files movie. Basically flower vase roles here, with a standard performance which warrants nothing to shout about.

The real star of the movie is nonetheless Forest Whitaker, though is there any statistic saying a vivid performance of a "villain" will warrant less of a chance for an Oscar win? I recall Denzel Washington winning it for Training Day as the villain, but then again, that character is fictional, unlike this one which is based on a real person, whose activities are frowned upon by the west? One figures, but I'm still putting my bets on Whitaker.

Loft (Rofuto)

Chill Out

If Kairo (Pulse) got my interest piqued towards Kiyoshi Kurosawa's works of horror, a genuine atmospheric piece which truly spooked me, then Loft is that perennial two steps backwards, falling into the curse I find permeating into many Asian horror movies of late, of standard cliches and eliciting guffaws from moments which translate into unwanted comedy.

Loft had the ingredients for a potential spook fest, and it was setup rightly so. You have a writer Reiko, (which seems to be the occupation of choice for spirits to haunt) experiencing weird bodily phenomenon of spewing black, gooey mud, and facing a writer's block, requests her editor to help her relocate to a nice quiet place (read: huge house in the middle of nowhere, with opportunities for things to go bump). Throw in an anthropologist whose latest project involves preserving a recently found mummy - a taciturn man living next door, and you have something interesting set up, together with side show characters for red herring purposes.

Alas, despite the usual craftsmanship of Kurosawa in setting up the mood, Loft seemed to present itself like a one trick pony. It beats about the bush, exposing a lack of control with material and suggests cluelessness, and runs out of ideas in moving the story ahead. You'd come to expect certain plot twists, and characters with their ulterior motives, and is plagued by extremely bad editing, which I do not understand how it passed even the basics of quality control. It limps towards the end, and when it finally showed signs of redemption, it shoots itself in the foot with an extremely cheesy ending, bad dialogue which is amazingly spouted by the cast with gusto, and the sudden decision to make this a cheap hokey romance.

Plagued by inconsistencies and bad effects at one point in time (someone should outlaw superimposed backgrounds in those driving shots - go on location for heaven's sake), the movie looks and develops as if it was an amateur at the helm. I suppose I could come up with something of this quality, and for it to be in the filmography of Kurosawa, it is indeed a nasty shock.

All in all, a very dismal effort from the writer-director, one which seemed to be a very rushed effort on the themes of dreams and delusions, coupled with bad one-dimensional acting (either the I'm-so-scared or I'm-so-anal look). Loft is a bad nightmare indeed. Save your money, rent it at the most.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Happy Birthday (Sun Yat Fai Lok)

Happy Birthday To Mi

It's difficult to sit through this movie, at least for me. Identifying with certain elements brought back some memories that I try to keep at the back of my mind, and going into this movie with slight expectations of the storyline reminded me of what a friends once said, that I'm a sucker for punishment. And yes, this movie dragged a bit, and moves along in cruise control, until the final act where it sledgehammers emotions all the way to an expected cliche ending.

But it is the emotions and thoughts of modern day relationships that makes this movie quite depressing. Based on a short story written by actress Rene Liu herself, and adapted for the big screen by renowned actress/director Sylvia Chang, Happy Birthday, stripped bear of its emotions, is actually a vanilla plain love story which is done ad nauseam. It is the little nuances of the things people do, or do not, that rings the story home.

Rene plays Mi, a girl who wears a smile on her face, but deep inside hides this grave insecurity. Louis Koo, more famous last year for his Johnny To triad outings and possibly treading the same path in the upcoming Derek Yee movie Protege, stars as Rene's lover Nam, a boy who seems to be commitment phobic, the stud to whom the chicks flock to. Put them both together, and with their obvious personality differences, you'll come to expect a very rocky road ahead. But isn't love all about taking that initial leap of faith?

Watching the two get together, then not, and then some, makes it frustrating. But I felt herein lies probably some realism, at least for me in my limited experiences, of two people trying to get together, yet prevented from doing do because of self doubt, or the lack of courage to admit your feelings. Walls get built up, and both decided to be better than best friends, because then, nobody will get heartbroken if things do not work out. What gives? It's back to the games people play.

I find it easy to identify surprisingly with both characters. The fear I can feel, and the folly of deciding to wait I've done, or perhaps still doing? And in my defenses I've set out to tell myself never to experience the type of heart sinking moments Mi felt when she learnt of good tidings from Nam. There will always remain a sense of curiosity, of wanting to maintain contact with your ex, or wanting to find out a bit more, but it's my take (some may disagree) to cut off ties completely (ok, so sometimes I waver), lest we hurt or become hurt.

It's tempting to dispense with the advice of telling someone you love them in case it becomes too late, especially after watching the movie and agreeing that holding back is one of the worst ways of handling relationships, but it's always easier to say than to do. You might be tempted to go forth and say it, however it's real life, and reality doesn't last just 1 hour and 45 minutes. I'm probably two minds about it though, with the counter argument being if you don't, you might spend equal time reminiscing on regret.

Rene Liu and Louis Koo look like the model couple, and it's pretty hard to know that the former, with her pixie looking facial features, is actually already 37 years old. And both leads actually belt out some tunes for the movie, albeit some deliberately off key. The look of the film takes on an incredible soft focus feel from start to end, and that, while romantic and dreamy during certain scenes, will take a bit of time to get used to. Veteran Richard Ng also stars in the movie, as Mi's dad, and the supporting cast of Bowie Tsang, Lawrence Chou, and a host of others helped to lift the movie from its gloom.

Happy Birthday might not be everyone's cup of tea given the style of delivery of its standard-story-with-cliched-ending, but I guess if you open up your heart to it, you might find it a tad more enjoyable, and somehow, if you're that sentimental fool who's been there and done that, you'll feel that tinge of regret inside you.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Pretty Woman?

If you think Milla Juvovich's Ultraviolet was bad, .45 is pretty much in the same territory, although it is less flashy, devoid of effects as it's being set in the more realistic world of female battery. Milla's great to gawk at, but where's the all essential, crucial ingredient called story? It had potential, but decided to waste it all by going all sexy and in overdrive in the last 20 minutes. Pity.

To read my review of .45 at, click on the logo below:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Spot the Hobbit

The name Kennedy is probably as close to "royalty" in the US as it can get, and it is of no surprise that the tragic events of the Kennedy brothers inspired movies to be made in their names. John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963, and conspiracy theorists had a field day in suspecting there's more than meets the eye. I still remembered the day I watched Oliver Stone's JFK in the cinemas, and as a teen was captivated by the movie, which really went on and on and on with the stock archive footage of the shooting.

While some have dismissed the movie as propaganda, I thought Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days was intriguing enough, highlighting perhaps JFK's defining moment in office in tackling of the Bay of Pigs / Cuban Missile Crisis. Also starring Kevin Costner (not in any Kennedy role), this movie had JFK's brother Robert (Bobby) Kennedy featured as well, as he was the Attorney General of the time, and together, with others, have orchestrated a favourable outcome to the crisis.

But alas, when Bobby was in the run-up for the US Presidency, he was unceremoniously gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. Bobby the movie is set on that fateful day, so it must be cautioned that this is not a bio-pic, as it takes a broader look at the events of the day, and peeks into the dramatized lives of others around him who suffered collateral damage, in an era marred by steady violence and intolerance in society.

What will probably catch your eye in Bobby, is the huge ensemble cast. And I mean huge. Even at the half hour mark, there are prominent actors still popping up to be counted. Familiar names in the cast include big names, has-beens, recognizable faces from the 80s and 90s, and the starlets of today - Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, William H Macy, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Elijah Wood.

I would guess that Emilio Estevez might have had a difficult time in managing so many talents in this movie, written and directed by himself, and I was surprised at the end result - that it is a good movie, even though you'd know the outcome. Yes there are plenty of stars, and in effect each of them have their little individual story arcs to flesh their characters, although sometimes they do fall into their typecast, like Fishburne's character spouting philosophy ala his Matrix's Morpheus, or Heather Graham as the typical sexy blonde. Some story arcs are interesting, though nothing is too sophisticated, which takes off that certain shine of brilliance. Some arcs too are totally weird and probably there for the laugh factor, but on hindsight, it was a reflection of the sign of the times, of free love, drugs, rock and roll.

I thought it was neat that Estevez decided against casting Bobby, and instead chose to elevate his character through archive footage, and voiceovers using some of his speeches. You get to see the real Bobby, and get to hear his voice, as he delivers passionate thoughts about working together, peace and harmony, things and themes that still ring true even in today's context. I guess such is the universal appeal, and a small clue that you can use to imagine how wildly popular he was amongst the minority groups at the time.

The movie had an awesome soundtrack, and what took me by surprise was the inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence. It was used as the song in the opening credits of The Graduate (one of my favourite films as well), and I thought it was one of the best opening sequences, and to hear it again in the context of Bobby, was just wow. The song at the end credits, written by Bryan Adams and performed by Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige - Never Gonna Break My Faith, was pleasing as well, though it was nominated for the Golden Globes, but didn't cut it for the Academy. For movie buffs, you will also probably grin at the many movie related trivia and mentions in Bobby.

There are plenty of positive "what-ifs" in the movie, which seem to suggest that things would have been vastly different should the tragedy not happen, but that, sadly, will remain as questions of history. It's nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes, so that should suggest something on the pedigree of this movie. I'd recommend it for the star gazing as well, and do watch this soon as it's only playing at two GV cinemas.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Motel

Occasionally you get bored with the usual run off the mill flicks from Hollywood, and wonder what's out there in the indie scene. Especially in Singapore where we pretty much get our movie fix from the big studios screening their latest hits (or not) on the big screen. I guess I'll be featuring some indie movies at my site from time to time, and we shall start off with The Motel.

The Motel Trailer 2

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Synopsis from Palm Pictures
Puberty sucks, and nobody knows it better than 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau). As he watches guests come and go, Ernest finds himself forever stuck at his family's hourly-rate motel, where he divides his time between taking orders from his overbearing mom, cleaning up after whatever miscreants the motel may attract and longing for the girl of his dreams, 15-year-old Christine (Samantha Futerman, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). When charismatic Sam Kim (Sung Kang, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW) checks into the motel, fatherless Ernest is taken under his wing and hustled toward manhood, for better or worse. From the producers of ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW and THE GOOD GIRL, comes an honest portrait of adolescence as heartfelt and authentic as it is hilarious.

From the trailer above, the movie looked interesting enough to warrant a chance, and has already garnered a couple of awards in the film festival circuit, including The HUMANITAS Prize in the Sundance Feature Film Category. Oh, and yes, if you find one of the actors familiar, he's Sung Kang, who was in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, playing Han, the Korean dude who lent Lucas Black's Sean Boswell his Evo to wreck in the multi-storey carpark.

You can visit the official website of The Motel by clicking on this link, which includes 3 parts of a podcast series with the director Michael Kang speaking to the producer and the leads.

The DVD is available for pre-order, and you can get it from Palm Pictures.

For those of you on MySpace, you can visit the movie's MySpace page. There'll also be a YouTube "Worst Puberty Story" contest coming real soon, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Truth Be Told - Website and Trailer

The independent filmmaking scene in Singapore had an unprecedented number of movies making its cinematic debut last year, and this year there are a couple of projects in their final stages of production, which hopefully we'll be able to view in 2007. One of them is Truth Be Told.

Starring familiar faces from local television, first time feature film makers LIM Jee Nee (Producer/Writer) and TEO Eng Tiong (Producer/Director) seemed to have revisited the heartlands to base their story in, following local films like 12 Storeys (1997) and Singapore Dreaming (2006).

The trailers interestingly do not box the movie into any particular genre (until more clues are afforded), and can pass off as a mystery / horror / thriller all at the same time. I guess having in set in a relatively older housing estate like Tiong Bahru, has its advantages!


A new job as a television producer moves Renee Donovan (MediaCorp artiste Yvonne Lim) back to Singapore. Recently divorced, she is hoping to start a new life with her 6 year-old daughter and put the past behind her.

But on her first day of work, a current affairs assignment takes her back to a neighborhood she ran away from 10 years ago. There, an old neighbour, Old Teo (Liang Tian), recognizes her. At every turn, he threatens to reveal her secrets. As Renee struggles to cover her real identity to complete the assignment, she is forced to confront her past and the shameful secrets which surface as a result.

You can read the filmmakers' production blog, as they share their experiences and provide some insights into the dread faced by first time feature filmmakers locally.

Official Web Site

Truth Be Told Teaser (Embedded Quicktime)
Truth Be Told Teaser (Embedded Windows Media Player)

Truth Be Told Trailer (Embedded Quicktime)
Truth Be Told Trailer (Embedded Windows Media Player)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jackass Number Two

Let's Bhangra!

I haven't seen the Jackass television series from MTV, or the original movie when it was released in 2002. This sequel was originally planned for release here sometime last year in October, but has been shelved until now. Nonetheless I shall unabashedly say that I had a good time watching this, but I guess it will only appeal to those who have a thing for low browed humour.

Jackass Number Two consists of various episodes of skits, ranging from the vulgar to the dangerous, featuring a whole host of comedians cum stunt persons who are willing to risk life and limb to capture on film some ridiculous, nonsensical stunts, or craft deliberate candid camera-ish funny moments to either humiliate, or just have plain fun amongst the cast and crew. The gags range from the simple sucker punch types, to elaborate rouses like Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd. Even their own cast and crew are not spared moments where the joke's actually on them, without them knowing.

With Johnny Knoxville (Dukes of Hazzard) being one of the chief pranksters, be prepared for plenty of scenes with naked butts, balls, and hair from the pubic region. Be prepared for loads of camera focus on the body parts, and bodily fluids from animals are not spared either. If it's not your kind of thing and you dismiss toilet humour jokes easily, then steer clear of this comedy, as crassness just got its ante upped in this movie. There's no joke that cannot be made here, and there's a running one throughout the movie involving an old man, and another on an old lady. No holds barred, I tell you.

If you want to unwind after a hard day's work, in need of some mindless fun and comedy, and not bother about plot or characters, then Jackass Number Two is an automatic choice. Just do repeat what they do, in the real world.

And if you've watched this already, which is your favourite skit?

Sione's Wedding

Band of Wedding Day Brothers

It's early into 2007, and I've already got one contender for film of the year. Sione's Wedding from New Zealand has this impeccable charm to it, and it's been a delightful surprise watching this at only the one hall it is currently screening at.

I suppose most guys at one point or another have been "brothers" during wedding ceremonies, either to shield the groom from pranks, or to actually put him through one of your own. Sione (Pua Magasiva) is getting married, and the last thing he wants is his friends from his ex-brotherhood "Duckrockers" gang (check out that hand signal!) ruining his big day with their madcap antics, things like shagging the bridesmaid in the bridal car, or drinking until piss drunk.

The focus therefore is on the quartet of Albert the respectable office insurance worker (Oscar Kightley, who also co-wrote the script), Michael the courier guy (Sione's brother) blessed with good looks, a hot bod and routine womanizing ways (Robbie Magasiva, brother of Pua in real life as well, who will also star in an upcoming movie co-produced by Mediacorp Raintree Pictures called The Tattooist), Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi) who is infatuated with the voice of Latifah, a girl whom he only rarely communicated over phone-chats, but yet to meet up in real life, and Sefa the non-commital type of guy who frequently ditches his girlfriend to attend parties with the Duckrockers (played by Shimpal Lalisi).

Their dilemma comes in the form of the community pastor, who banned them from Sione's wedding, unless they can prove themselves to be responsible in their actions and not spoil the wedded couple's day. And with the counter-proposal by the guys, they want to prove that if they turn up with committed dates, they should curtail their nonsense, and be allowed entry. So a deal has been made, but the problem is, these guys actually are your usual slackers, and have immense difficulty in living up their end of the bargain.

I think that every guy could identify with one or more of the buddies here, never mind if they're Kiwis, as relationship issues are always universal. You have the shy type, the one who can snag one night stands at the snap of his fingers, the one who refuses to spend more time with his loved one and prefers time out with the boys, the one who's always fantasizing that his online counterpart is a hot blonde chick with a killer bod, and so on. You can slap them with caricature labels, but to do so will be unfair, as the actors take pains to ensure their characters are believable and realistic, and delivered on their performances.

But the mood's not always serious - this is actually one heck of a fine comedy! The dialogue lines are extremely witty and at times subtle, and there are many well timed humourous moments that will catch you off guard, balanced nicely with plenty of heart warming scenes. Rare are movies these days which offer a healthy balance of the two, and it makes Sione's Wedding very refreshing to watch, never boring at all. While you can see certain subplots developing in a certain way because of familiarity, rest assure that the delivery in this movie is excellent enough to offer its own take on these deja vu development, especially the one involving Princess (the beautiful Maryjane McKibbin-Schweke) or Tania (Madeline Sami).

Filmed in Auckland, and accompanied with an awesome, if seldom heard, soundtrack, Sione's Wedding is a must watch for those in love, relationships or attended that quirky wedding or two. The characters are lovable, the issues real, and you'll get a glimpse of how a Samoan wedding gets conducted. A much much mature version of The Wedding Crashers two years ago. Two thumbs up, a must watch!

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I Like Big Guns

Feast is your typical monster movie, and in watching this, you'll appreciate the richness of The Host, which itself also belongs to the genre, but smashes all stereotype of how a monster movie should be. But that doesn't mean Feast is not fun - it is, even though it's the usual formula, because it doesn't try to be anything more sophisticated than that.

The story and action starts immediately, and I mean immediately, at least after a no-frills super summarized introduction to all the players involved with the use of character titles. What will set the tone here, is that the introduction is highly comical, and gets the job done in a no-frills manner, so much so that most of the characters don't have names, but rather are named after caricatures, like Hero for obviously the Hero, and Honey Pot for a busty blonde chick (a staple in slasher-horror-thrillers).

It's reminiscent of movies like Dog Soldiers (the beasts), From Dusk Till Dawn (the stand off and the fight back) and Tremors, having a band of men and women finding themselves stranded in a bar in the middle of nowhere, fending off strange creatures who have a thirst for live human meat. And trust us humans to be bickering and infighting for self preservation, survival of the fittest first, with guns ablazing as guarantee. Expect plenty of gore and blood splattering across the screen, and credit must be given, that most of the time the attacks happen when you least expect them to. So if you're trying to guess who survives, the more challenging game will be to guess who' s next.

One gripe I have though, is that the monsters can't be seen in their full glory at any one point in time throughout the movie. The lighting conditions (it all happened in a single night you see) don't offer much visibility, and having speed as the creature's attribute also disallows them to be seen much. You will catch glimpses of it though, when they're humping (yes they have sex!) or during the quick finale, but I suppose you're better off with some picture stills out there on the net, if you want to see just how horrible they look. What also peeved me, is for all the advancement in special effects, this movie opted for the low budgeted stop motion creature movement for some of the long shots - which of course looked too cheap.

The movie doesn't bother to try and explain how or why the monsters come about, and frankly speaking, who cares? If you're up for some mindless gory movies with room for you to perform a body count, then Feast might be your banquet of choice. Only playing at GV Vivocity and Plaza. And yes, stay tuned after the initial end credits roll (less than 10 seconds) for an additional scene.


What Talk You?

If my memory serves me well, my knowledge of The Towel of Babel is from the Bible, where it was said that men at one time were speaking one common language, and aspired to build a tower so high that it would reach the Heavens. For some reason, God decided to pour cold water on the massive project, by dispersing everyone on Earth to far corners, and have us humans speak multiple languages, so that overnight, we couldn't understand one another, and therefore, the Tower project had to be abandoned.

Babel just triumphed at this year's Golden Globes by walking away with the Best Drama award, which The Departed was touted to win, but I guess having a movie which is a remake win the award, is akin to saying "Infernal Affairs, you guys can trounce our multi-million dollar epics anytime". Babel follows a similar formula to other acclaimed movies such as Crash and Syriana, which take on a multiple angle, multiple story, with multiple intertwined characters all running along in the fragmented narrative, with the story arcs all linked to a common theme. With Crash and Syriana, the themes were clear and simple. With Babel however, it lived up to its issue of communications.

In a bad way that is. Babel probably wanted to be bringing across the message of the importance of communication, and miscommunication, but it turned out to live the message of the latter instead. Perhaps it wanted to elevate itself more into a thinking man's movie, but really, it's much ado about nothing. For movies which relied on narrative gimmicks such as this, it belongs to the same category as my previous movie review for Haven. Entertaining wannabe, but not quite there yet.

Written and directed by the same team who did 21 Grams (director Alenjandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga, which probably explains why thanks went out to Naomi Watts and Sean Penn), it's not all that bad, but you rue at its missed opportunities to really become something great. There are four arcs here - the first being a Moroccan farmer and his children, the second an American couple in a life-and-death crisis, the third a Mexican housekeeper and the children of her employers, and lastly, a look into a Japanese deaf mute's relationships with people around her, which probably is the one with the least relations with the others, but had the most potential in bringing out the theme.

In all the stories, you see the attempts at communication, or lack thereof due to language, but you notice many a times, that language itself serves not as a barrier so long as the willingness to address another person is there. The American couple (possibly the big name stars in the movie - Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) with zero language barriers, yet faced with insurmountable difficulties in understanding each other, or in the deaf mute's case, the constant brushing away of parental concern, and of course, the inherent difficulty in not being able to speak or hear another person.

In fact, in all these stories, it's more about the cry for help, in various sense, with heartwrenching moments in each. The Moroccan farmer sensing futility in the heavy handedness of the law, the American couple literally begging for help in a land in which they do not speak the language, and in their ill attitudes of blaming everyone else, of the Mexican housekeeper getting her charges stuck in a nightmare situation, contradicting her many years of faithful service, and of course, the Japanese arc, the deaf mute undergoing peer pressure in getting laid, and we question the reasons for her sexual promiscuity. And I couldn't help it but laugh at the various televised news reports in the movie, that the media is always quick to jump to conclusions, and in doing so, helps nobody at all.

There are familiar actors in the movie, but don't go expecting any to pick up any awards anytime soon, as their roles do not offer them a chance to shine, especially not in a crowded ensemble like this with little room for much character development. Keen eyed viewers might recognized Gael Garcia Bernal from another movie now showing - The King, and Dakota Fanning fans will get a chance to see her sister Elle Fanning in action, albeit in a very small role, most of the time asleep. What could have set tongues wagging would be Rinko Kikuchi's role which required full frontal nudity and Sharon Stone-ish moments, but really, there's nothing much to it.

My verdict is that Babel is overrated, belonging to that cross narrative wannabe style of storytelling, with actually a very simple story to tell, let down by delivery, traded off for style instead. Don't expect too much from it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Breaking and Entering

I Can't Make Up My Mind

We like to judge others based on our own moral compass, and by the time you inch towards the end of this movie, written and directed by Anthony Minghella, you'll come to realise how fast we do so, and how wrong we can be at times.

To read my review of Breaking and Entering at, click on the logo below:



It all boiled down to one Friday the 13th night.

Haven takes place in the Cayman Islands, paradise on Earth, with beautiful beaches, friendly people, and of course, being the ideal place to stash cash, ill gotten or otherwise, free from taxation. In its seedier side, to paraphrase from another movie, weed is the currency, openly passed around in nacho chip bags. This movie ditches the idyllic moments, to peer beneath the veneer, of hell on Earth instead.

I like movies which have many characters, each with their own objectives, but being led by unseen forces as they relate to one another, and events bring them to within striking distance. They might belong to distinct story arcs, but given the geographical proximity, their lives, their decisions and the consequences all become intertwined.

There are three clear arcs in the movie, but the characters involved flit seamlessly from one arc to the next. You have the corrupt businessmen looking to escape the law at Miami, an affair, a daughter who hooks up with drugs and the wrong company, a sly thief of sorts, two star crossed lovers, a hot headed brother, good friends, and gangsters. On its own, they could be short stories. But when narrative style takes on the fragmented, non linear approach to spice and disguise an ordinary story, that's what you get in Frank E. Flowers' Haven.

Perhaps what will put bums in seats is the presence of Orlando Bloom, though the M18 rating would have restricted his girly groupie fans here from seeing their cinematic idol on screen in a role which is similar to what Tom Cruise did in Vanilla Sky, sort of. He plays the role of the Romeo in the star-crossed lovers arc, as Shy, son of a fisherman, still figuring out the meaning to his life, and having a lack of ambition which worries his girlfriend Andrea (Zoe Saldana). Parental disapproval gets into play, and the rest is a spiral downwards for both lovers and their relationship. Some say Bloom's role is intense, but there isn't enough room for his character to justify that.

And sadly, that was just about the better story amongst the three. In reality, all three could have been extremely short, as the scenes, though intercut with each other and had some overlapping moments, don't really contribute much to the characters or stories. You could have cut off half the fat, and still the story would hold water. One saving grace would be the score and soundtrack though, accentuating the illusion of paradise.

But this is not to say Haven's a really bad movie. It just had enough story elements to cruise along in auto-pilot, and in the process offer nothing groundbreaking stylistically, or earth shattering in having any twists and turns to the plot. Breaking up and juxtaposing a linear plot does not disguise the fact that it inherently needs a lot more oomph.

[Trailer] Mukhsin

Finally! Here's the trailer for Yasmin Ahmad's latest movie, Mukhsin!

I cannot wait to watch this on the big screen! Hope it makes it to Singapore real soon!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Kneel Before Me!

The passion of the predator braveheart blair witch fugitive gladiator who dances with wolves in the temple of doom.

That in essence, is the summarized version of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, written, produced and directed by the man himself (see if you can spot the references above during various points in the movie). Following relative successes with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, one of the first thing that strikes you is that Apocalypto brought over the violence and gore from those movies, and itself also a period piece, this time set in the Mayan civilization at its decline. It contains two different views, of the peaceful fun loving nature of simple villagers, versus the decadence of a race of people drunk on mindless religious fervour culminating in needless sacrifices, pitting one lifestyle against the other, turning a race against their own.

For those who might not enjoy the movie, my guess is they were expecting Mayan Culture 101. Sorry, wrong movie folks, even though the trailer might have suggested some deep profound thoughts and focus on a civilization now long gone. This is a movie about family and survival. Pure and simple. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is the William Wallace of the story, a man who finds himself against odds, struggling to survive in order to get back to the family he had to abandon, during the protection of the honour of his village against the Holcane Warriors, as we see how his life journeyed and paralleled that of an animal hunt featured in the very first scene.

While the movie takes its time to establish characters, and despite the audience only getting glimpses of their names in the subtitles, somehow you'll still be able to identify and identify with them, maybe because the key cast are memorable. As soon as the action starts, it doesn't take its foot off the pedal, moving along at fanatical pace, and most times leaving you at the edge of your seat, despite being able to predict the outcome and certain details how it would have played out. It's all in the execution, and familiarity aside, they delivered.

But it's not all just mindless action. Action with a powerful motif behind the violence, blood and gore, somewhat makes you root for Jaguar Paw as he claws his way out of the doldrums. One thing's for sure, never piss off a family man, as even the Heavens smile and provide much needed luck. The movie is also sprinkled with themes about fear, and the power that it wields, and a subtle environmental message, which I thought mirrored Frank Herbert's Dune.

James Horner's score added much mood to a movie which had little dialogue when the going gets rough, and relied on subtitles to translate the Mayan language on screen. But it goes to show that a movie doesn't require powerful dialogues in order to engage, so long as the score is able to evoke the right mood at the right moments, which Horner does wonderfully. The movie seldom betrays the fact that it's being shot in digital format, until those blair-witch up close facial expression shots hints at the crispness and lack of a distinct film look.

Most of the actors here are rookies, but the ensemble together worked wonders. They make you believe, the heroes make you cheer, and the villains will make you hiss and spit. Given his charisma, we might see Rudy Youngblood in more roles, and I thought that he would make an engaging action hero, which the Hollywood of today is in woefully need of.

I'd say Mel Gibson hasn't disappointed with the films he directed, and I don't see how Apocalypto wouldn't be enjoyed by the masses here. But I'd predict its chances at the Oscars would have been diminished by Gibson's drunken rant. A pity, for a film like this.

Monday, January 15, 2007

[Scoop/Making Of] Gone Shopping The Movie

Next time, remind me to bring a damn camera everywhere I go. Lokman is probably the only one who has been reminding me until he gave up.

This evening I chanced upon a film crew at the Marina Square indoor foyer going about their thing, but didn't stay too long because of a preview session I had to attend for Breaking and Entering (you gotta wait until March to watch this movie apparently). After dinner, had decided to mill around a little longer (an hour actually) to observe what was going on. It was quite an elaborate setup, with a camera rigged with pulleys for overhead shots. The entire area was cordoned off, with requests placed around for public like myself to maintain silence.

So too bad, no camera, otherwise there might be some picture stills up, but here's a brief description of a scene which was being filmed within that hour, for a movie called Gone Shopping, directed by Wee Li Lin, and starring Kym Ng and Adrian Pang. Kym was there, and so was another actor Aaron Kao, together with plenty of extras who were serving as curious onlookers.

For those who don't want to know anything about the movie, skip this post, otherwise, read on:

The setting is in a mall (where else?). Kym was wearing this blue dress and was lying flat out, probably comatose, on a bench (There was a small towel placed beneath her head to act as a cushion, and I think tissues were cushioning her ankles as well - no joke lying on the hard bench you know?). Aaron apparently had this empty scabbard on him (martial arts? swords? Yup, read his character bios to find out more) and was bending over her, and the extras were tasked to move in groups toward the bench. Actually I was paying attention to this group of extras, as they were a diverse bunch - those that caught my eye were a lady with a handphone pushing a pram, a kid, many ladies with many paper / shopping bags, and there was one extra who was extremely lively, probably with experience in cameo-ing in various other productions (and was sharing her thoughts with the inexperienced few, even things like claims).

Within that hour, there was plenty of testing of equipment, rehearsals just for that one scene, with different camera placements, different paths for the extras to take, adjustment of pace, etc. Yes, welcome to filmmaking, to get that perfect shot, you just have to try, and try again until it was right. I think the extras have it tough in this round, as they had to retrace their footsteps, and remember exactly where to stand, less there by any continuity errors.

Didn't stay too long, so if you're reading this now, I won't be surprised if the entire team is still there, working late into the night in a near empty mall. Will post up more stuff if I chance upon them again. Otherwise, keep a look out for the movie!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The King

In God We Trust

No, this movie is not a sequel to The Queen, and it's peculiar to have both The King and The Queen making their screenings at our theatres at the same time. If given a choice to make, I would recommend The King instead.

This movie reminded me of Woody Allen's Match Point. Different stories altogether, but with the general sense and feeling of incredible luck, and evilness amongst man. You can't help but wonder that each one of us have the propensity to do evil, and just what might exactly push our button to commit sin. Lust, revenge, and pride clearly on display in James Marsh's The King.

There are various Kings here, the first which is most obvious, the main protagonist's name Elvis Valderez, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. Recently discharged from the Navy, he's on a trip to Texas to look up the father he never knew, who turned out to be a pastor, clearly already having moved on from his mother. The other notable King here, is pertaining to religion, given that Jesus Christ is acknowledged by Christians to be the King of Kings. I thought William Hurt put up a credible performance as the strict Pastor David Sandow, who now serves a little community, with possibly a happy family befitting a good Christian family.

And perchance it is the ghost from the past, his illegitimate son Elvis, who's now the devil in his midst of them, slowly bringing down the facade and hypocrisy surrounding the Sandows, and exposing them for who they truly are. It's quite a dark movie, and made possible so as the devil has an innocent, possibly angelic face (thanks to Gael), and little do you know the kind of evil that lurks around. Which probably makes it all the more dangerous as the saying goes, you know the person, but not what is in his heart - the motives, if ulterior.

Having to say more will most likely spoil the entire movie. I liked the pacing that the story took, on having it all laid out methodically. At times, you question Elvis' intent, if he's truly aware of the repercussions of what he's doing. You might want to argue that love knows no bounds, but there certainly are some clear markers and blinkers to warn you to stay away, at all costs.

The great acting makes The King extremely watchable. William Hurt, as already mentioned, plays his pained pastor with plenty of skeletons in his closet, to a T. Pell James as his daughter Malerie, brings about a fresh faced ingenue to her role, with innocence written all over. For fans of Little Miss Sunshine, Paul Dano has more lines of dialogue here, and even exercises his vocal cords in singing two songs. His role as son Paul is contrasted against Elvis the illegitimate son - one devoted to God, the other the devil himself, one living his life with a cause, the other living his without any aim, except probably to groove along waiting for acceptance.

There are many releases this week (last count was nine), but The King ranks up there amongst the much watch.


Crush That Lizard!

I'm a sucker for superhero movies, and Malaysia just unleashed its own superhero on the cinematic screen, complete with snazzy special effects, called Cicak-Man (Lizard-Man). Topping the box office in Malaysia, I won't be surprised if the movie does reasonably well here if the sell out screenings I noticed so far is any indication, or the indication actually coming from fans crowding Causeway Point when the cast came visiting yesterday.

I probably am not the first to say this, but Cicak-Man borrows its material heavily from its comic book counterparts from the West, most notably from Spider-man. You have a shy (though loud mouthed) scientist Hairie (Saiful Apek) who's our hero Cicak-Man, gaining his powers through a erm, lab accident. He has a love interest the equivalent of a Mary-Jane Watson - Tania (Fasha Sanda), whom his best friend Danny (Yusry Kru) also has the hots for. Gaining the powers of the cicak (lizard) does have its difficulties as well, as Hairie initially finds it difficult to control his powers - which is not much, save for its long sticky tongue (Who needs webbing!). In fact, as with the cinematic version of Spidey, Cicak-Man too designs his own costumes, get its fair share of extremely bad press, and in a rip off sequence, saves his girl from a darkened alley (yeah, beautiful girls always walk alone in dark alleys, so you know).

Set in the fictional futuristic city known as Metrofulus, the movie takes on a light hearted approach at poking fun at the real world, like the incessant meaningless tolls and taxes, with conglomerates having plenty of power, as well as plenty of subtle jabs at piracy. The villains though, are extremely campy, and reminded you of characters from the old Adam West Batman serials. Chief villain is a Lex Luthor type infused with The Joker tendencies - Professor Klon (Aznil Nawawi), who nary avoids laughter in every sentence he makes, the CEO of Klon Technologies, with diabolical plans to rule Metrofulus. Aiding him are two clones/rip-offs from The Matrix Reloaded's Twins, substituting the classical white garb with brown ones, and calling themselves the Ginger Boys (AC Mizal and Adlin Aman Ramlie).

However, if you're rolling your eyes already, it's not all that bad. The computer generated sets are quite decently done, with plenty of money pumped into creating virtual backdrops which can rival some of the best of Hollywood. No effort is spared in creating the sets, though towards the end, the finale got set against a typical, low budgeted looking rooftop, atypical of any superhero showdown.

What I thought was strange, was that the movie can't decide whether it wanted to be funny, or serious, and ended up with a strange mix of the two, even within the same scenes. The hero too bordered on slapstick, regardless whether in costume or not. Ah, the costume, in one of the promotional pictures it actually looked real cool, but in the movie, it looked too much like a rubber suit with a rubber mask.

Expect the usual sub plots, like how the filmmakers worked in an in-built weakness for Cicak-Man (no, not the rubber band bit, the other one), and given our hero enough on his hands to keep him occupied, with challenges on both the personal love live as well as saving the known world (hey, that sounds like a typical Spider-man story). But be warned, you've got to wait almost an hour before the hero turns up in costume, in an almost two hour long movie which got dragged down by needless bits, be it the hokey romance, or the unnecessary monologues / dialogues by the villains which became more irritating than funny.

Cicak-Man is definitely one strictly for the kids who don't mind how their heroes look like or act, or unless you don't mind deja-vu superhero tale, complete with flimsy plot and forced funny antics.

On a side note, I wonder if Raintree Pictures would make a movie version of VRMan, after all, he's one of their earliest (if not the FIRST) local superhero. In fact I was brainstorming some ideas, and yes, VRMan can actually be damn compelling, if the cheesiness be toned down, and more serious themes thrown in. But no James Lye or Lisa Ang please haha!

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Superman Needs A Lay

Death under mysterious circumstances make good stories for the paper mills. And celebrity deaths all the more so, as they sell. The Curse of Superman is probably one of the well known controversies (coincidences?) of today, and one of its victims was George Reeves, who played Superman in the 50s, and apparently committed suicide in his home one late night. The mystery and conspiracy theories are plenty, given that it's Tinseltown after all.

Ben Affleck's second role as a costumed superhero, though this time it's indirectly as he's the screen version of George Reeves, who's better known, and typecasted as The Man of Steel. The Reeves portrayed here is a flamboyant has-been, looking for his next big break, but gotten romantically tangled with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Becoming a kept man, he's leashed to Toni Mannix's whims and fancies, and as the iconic hero of the immensely popular television series, becomes the reluctant role model for countless of young fans, who sometimes cannot tell the line between reality and fantasy.

The movie takes on double narratives, one which chronicles the life and death of George Reeves, while the second is set in current reel time with a focus on private detective Louis Simo's investigations into the Reeves' death. In part, Simo was serving his own self-interest, as this kind of investigations raises his profile, as well as bringing in the dough from Reeves' mother, who believes there was something more to her son's death. The editing here is done excellently, as you'll hardly feel anything forceful or contrived during scene transitions, or transitions in time.

Typical of a movie which doesn't present any new evidence, you're presented with various plausibilities, and not having the movie commit to any one version. It's up to you to determine which is which, but I thought the last one was perhaps the most probable of them all, sad as it is, because of one of the final scenes which I thought would be more compelling reason. A has-been looking for his next big break, but because of circumstances, unable to break from the chains of typecast, and knowing that he's no longer a spring chicken. Frustrated, unhappy, and desperate perhaps. Ben Affleck brought out the troubles facing Reeves rather admirably, and the kudos he obtained for his role her is justified.

Warner Brothers, who owns DC comics and in turn Superman, was reportedly unwilling to allow the filmmakers to use the original introduction of the Adventures of Superman television series, or to allow the trademarked insignia to be used in the movie. But when watching Hollywoodland, I didn't spot any marked departure from logos that we already all know, though it was a hoot that you'll see Superman with booze and cigarette. Perhaps it is this non-heroic image that DC/WB was concerned about?

On a side note, given the NC16 rating, there was one jarring edit, which pertained to the sex scene after the line "Maybe Superman does want to get laid". You'll get to hear something, but the visuals jump cuts to an interior shot from a car.

It's a tight drama with enough material for an adequate whodunnit, with good performances all round by the cast. I'd recommend it, if you're up for some dirt behind Tinseltown's glitz.

For those interested, you can read more about George Reeves from his IMDb profile, or from wikipedia.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Smell Me

Perfume is a queer movie. In fact, I'm tempted to say it almost falls into the same fantasy like genre as Mirrormask or Pan's Labyrinth, except that it's darker, has more black humour, and takes itself at times very seriously. Based on a novel by Patrick Suskind, Perfume at first looks like those biographical type movies where you trace the development of a perfumer, and if you've seen the trailers, it joins the gore movies with its totally warped plot development.

Director Tom Tykwer has piled on plenty of visual repulsiveness in this movie, in order to highlight the importance of scent. If there is one movie to be used as a platform for those next generation cinemas like the incorporation of smell-o-rama gimmicks, then Perfume will be the perfect candidate. You have both ends of the smell spectrum covered, from the foulest stench on the streets, to the beautiful scent of a woman.

And it is this unique, pretty scent that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) wants to capture. Born in a uniquely different manner (you have to see to believe) and brought up in the worst possible manner in early France, the man grows to be a perfumer wannabe blessed with a gift of superior scent, and you know that given the many close up shots of his nose. However, his IQ is a bit suspect, as he goes around with that heavy brooding look, and is obsessed with the singular goal of preserving wonderful smells, from women, for all eternity.

There's almost an entire hour dealing with his development as a perfumer, learning from one of the best in the business - Italian Giuseppe Baldini (played by Dustin Hoffman), as both mentor and protege develop a symbiotic relationship - the junior wishing to learn the craft, while the senior lacking in inspiration, seeks new ideas and concoctions from his latest pupil. Although Hoffman turns on his charismatic charm, much of this area turned out to drag the narrative flow.

Things picked up though, with the Jack The Ripper-ish moments, as Jean-Baptiste hones his instincts to gather his perfect tools for the trade - that of 12 vials of scents, from beautiful women. His ultimate prize catch is Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood), whom you'd think he had develop romantic feelings for. But this is a man, as mentioned, with questionable IQ and incredible career obsession, so what happens really, just boggles the minds, just as it did the villagers. The final act treads on the fantastical and the implausible, but that's what makes this movie queer. Of course I'm not complaining with what's on screen, but felt that the resolution for the character was somewhat akin to a Chinese martial arts character Du Gu Qiu Bai (Literally translated as "Lonely, Seeking Defeat") - what do you do when you've achieved your goals and attained what you wanted to attain, becoming untouchable in the process?

It's my first movie watching Ben Whishaw in action, and I thought this guy could express himself without the need of speaking too much. Rachel Hurd-Wood definitely looked like she's older than 18, and her chemistry with Ålan Rickman, who plays her father, actually resembled one of her movies last year - American Haunting. It doesn't help that both movies are period movies though.

Rated R21, there are gratuitous nudity and scenes with adequate gore. I thought the scenes with Jean-Baptiste as a newborn was excellent, and I suspect that a fake baby was used to film it - a scene which will definitely make you go "eewww" instead of "aawww". Final verdict - I'll say this one totes the middle ground.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Illusionist


Director Neil Burger is a relative unknown. To date he has only directed one other feature film, Interview With An Assassin, a fictional account of the real shooter of the JFK assassination, which I had the chance of watching it on DVD some time back. Comparing production values, it's a great leap forward for Burger, having now directed a movie starring heavyweight character actors Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti.

Adapted from a short story by writer Steven Millhauser called Eisenheim the Illusionist, this movie made its debut at last year's Sundance Film Festival, and was supposed to have premiered locally at around the same time as Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. However, I suspect that distributors might have thought the pairing of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, excellent actors in their own right, would find it tough against competition in Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, who in today's context, are instantly recognizable and appealing because of their successful comic book movie roles in Batman and X-Men respectively.

In reality, comparing The Illusionist to The Prestige is comparing apples to oranges. The only similarities they share are their occupation - practitioners of magic, and coupled with immense knowledge of science and technology. Although period movies, they share similar eras, but are based in separate locations - this one in Vienna, the other in London. At its core, The Prestige is one solid movie about obsession and revenge, but The Illusionist is surprisingly, for all its moodiness displayed in the trailer, it's all about love.

Edward Norton is Eisenheim, top illusionist whom some say he dabbles in the dark arts and sold his soul to the devil. Watching what he could do, you'll probably be more inclined to agree. After having lost his love due to a difference in class, he meets up with Sophie (Jessica Biel) again, although this time she's about to get engaged to Austrian Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Hence the dilemma, and now, an opportunity to try and get his girl.

It's a beautifully filmed movie, and I marvel at the cinematography and techniques to date this movie to the early silent movie era. The production values are top notch, with costumes, makeup and special effects which, though simple, deserve special mention as they just worked brilliantly to enhance the viewing experience. The magic here is "magic" in that sense of the word, and doesn't try to obsess itself with trying to explain the plausibility behind every trick. And yes, there are more magic here, if that's your cup of tea (though of course, aided by cinematic movie making tricks).

But what I thought really did the trick (pardon the pun), was Paul Giamatti's character Chief Inspector Uhl, as the man caught in the middle of a moral dilemma. Through his eyes, we see the corruption of those in power, and when put in a position where you are reliant on that power, how it could serve to confuse, whether to betray your values for material wealth and status, or to do what is right. Edward Norton is not as muted here as his other movie also now showing in Singapore - The Painted Veil, and although his Eisenheim is strictly focused on his goals, his intense fixation somehow diluted the complexity of his character somewhat. Jessica Biel unfortunately is the weak link here, as is Rufus Sewell as he struggles through his yet-another-villain role which doesn't offer much range besides snarling and being nasty.

Before you pass judgement during the movie's plot development as being too simplistic if compared to The Prestige's, I'd say to hold that thought, and to pay close attention. It's a mixture of drama, mystery and romance, and when all's revealed at the end, somehow it'll just bring a smile to your face, especially so if you're a romantic.

I like The Illusionist!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gridiron Gang

Your Punked Ass Belongs To Me!

OK, hands up all those who think they've seen one too many sports movies, or movies with troubled teens having inspirational teachers motivate them out of their dire straits. Movies like Dangerous Minds, Coach Carter, Hard Ball, and even recent dance movies like Take the Lead, and Step Up, all seem to have come from the same mould.

Based on a true story, and on the Emmy award winning documentary of the same name, Gridiron Gang follows the tried and tested formula for movies with juvenile delinquents. The misfits cannot work together, and it is through sports that they learn camaraderie, the value of friendship, and of not giving up hope. To do this, they have to first be instilled with discipline, and here's where the coach cum motivator come into play.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson joins the list of stars with stints as cinematic teachers/motivators, just as the likes of Antonio Banderas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Samuel L Jackson have preceded him. And for a movie like this, with attitude and a host of students with menacing street grit, he comes across as totally believable, and looked the role too as a teacher who can command and gain r-e-s-p-e-c-t from the troubled teens. Having starred in mostly action movies in his Hollywood career thus far, Gridiron Gang allowed The Rock some space in dramatic moments to prove his acting chops, so take this opportunity to see if you'll laugh and cry together with him. You can't deny that his charismatic presence (even sans The People's Eyebrow) helped a bit.

Despite its 2 hours length, the movie surprisingly never felt like it dragged nor that it needed a lift from its sports action scenes. It balances the dramatic moments and set action pieces well, and this is somehow quite rare for sports movies, which usually excel in one area over the other. The movie's strengths, because of familiarity in themes and structure, lied in its execution, as well as allowing you to feel for some of its key characters. Given that the sport in focus is American Football, there is absolutely no necessity for anyone to be familiar with the sport in order to enjoy the game. Which allowed the movie to potentially reach out to a greater audience not only on the basis of its universal themes, never mind that the sport is relatively unpopular here.

And given the enthusiastic response from the audience to its game sequences, I'd say you'll feel for the Mustangs as they grow and develop as a team, and champion through the odds and obstacles along the way. It's somewhat heartening to know that strength in unity holds true in the circumstances presented, and that every "loser" has a chance to make it good. Although many of the characters have committed crimes, some violent, these are almost always never dwelled upon by director Phil Joanou, who seem to want to walk the talk by putting emphasis on the more positive aspects of human character, especially those who are in need of help to get back to the right path in society. This is no yellow-ribbon programme, and gaining acceptance back in society is a constant uphill battle, starting with performance on the football field.

There are plenty of ra-ra moments in the movie, and the usual speeches on self-worth, respect, and constant reminders not to throw a young life full of potential away. Life's a journey of constant learning, and that's very true for the boys in the Mustang team, player and coach alike.

Stay tuned when the end credits roll to glimpse the documentary on which the movie is based upon, as well as to meet the real Sean Porter and the faces of the real people behind some of the characters in the movie.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Come Hither

"A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know" - Diane Arbus

Nicole Kidman isn't new to taking up roles based on real people, having been casted as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. Here, her role as Diane (pronounced Dee-ann) Arbus however, is highly fictionalized, based on the renowned American photographer for her portraits of people on the societal fringes. The keywords here are "highly fictionalized", and even the introduction bears that stark reminder, less someone actually interprets the events on screen as a biography of sorts.

At first glance, the story is an enigma of sorts. Nothing much gets revealed in the trailers, and so this review will not tread anything beyond what can be seen or inferred from those short clips. Basically, it fictionalizes the motivations, and probably inspiration, of Diane Arbus, whose portrait photographs of her subjects are quite different in nature. Working in a partnership with her husband, she's the stylist to his photography, or in local terms, the one who covers the mountains and the seas, in other words, does everything else except taking the picture.

It's a modern retelling of a fairy tale whereby disclosing it will spoil the mystery. It's a rather warped love story (some might even frown at it) too between Diane and Lionel (played by Robert Downey Jr), and despite the less than stellar reviews of the movie, I thought it was excellently paced to keep you guessing in the beginning until the revelation, and kept you engaged further with more questions, anticipation, and the perennial "will they or won't they". It reminded me a little of an old Batman story arc (don't ask why) called Faces, told over three issues in the Legends of the Dark Knight title (issues #27-29), and probably because that particular arc is one of my favourites, that I actually enjoyed the movie.

The movie looks at freeing oneself from prim, properness and prejudice. Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr put up good performances as characters shackled to unhappiness because of society's expectations and prejudices, and have that desired sexual tension built between them that actually sizzles without being too explicit about it. In fact, much of the movie hinged on their performance and delivery as the integral characters, despite Downey Jr being hidden from most publicity materials (for a reason of course).

Fur might not be everyone's cup of tea with its relatively slowness in revealing itself, but for fans of Nicole Kidman, this would probably be one movie you won't want to miss. Showing exclusively at Cathay Cineplexes, opening this week.

For more information about the real Diane Arbus, you can click on this link to her wikipedia site.

Monday, January 08, 2007

School for Scoundrels

Tips To Get Laid

So you're a pushover, lack guts to go after the one you love, and rely on stacks of self-help books to tide you over your pathetic life. Wake up! Genuine help is on the way! Be a lion! Get what you want! Welcome to the School for Scoundrels!

OK, I think I sounded a little too enthusiastic for this movie, but that's basically the premise of this remake. Yes, it's another remake from Hollywood, and it's no surprise that this one just coasts along on material that seem a little uninspiring and with a premise only all too familiar - the usual loser needs lessons to hook up with hot babe story, with a twist.

Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, The Benchwarmers) stars as Roger, who's a complete loser in a dead end job, relies on books to instruct him on life's lessons, and has the hots for his neighbour, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett, last seen in The Last Kiss). However, being innately shy, he lacked the guts to pursue her, until he signs up for an ultra secret course called the School for Scoundrels, led by Dr P (Billy Bob Thornton) and burly henchmen Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan).

Naturally, the crux of the jokes are from the lessons derived from Dr P's unorthodox teaching methods, for these shy students to graduate into slick operators, and there are a few genuine laugh out loud moments (like the reference on the babies). However, most of the jokes relied on sexual innuendoes and slapstick, which have been tried and tested before, coming across as familiar rather than ground breaking funny. If you have seen a lot of comedies of such nature, then you'll find it difficult to have your funny bone genuinely tickled.

Directed by Todd Phillips, who also helmed comedies like Road Trip and Starsky & Hutch, despite its shortcomings on the laughter front, I thought it was relatively well paced, with drama, comedy and enough tension rolled into one. You'll more or less guess the outcome of the story, but trust me, I did get fooled, well, almost. Jon Heder, as always, is effective as the Loser, while Billy Bob Thornton probably lived up to his real life notoriety in this role as the teacher up to no good.

School for Scoundrels worked by using a sprinkling of gems along the way, so pay attention to that little dig on Angelina Jolie, and that appearance by Ben Stiller. Yes, that's him! But no, even having probably Hollywood's #1 funny man of the moment, failed to lift this movie from mediocrity and familiarity.
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