Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hula Girls (Hula Gâru)

Don't Worry, We've Applied Deodorant!

This is a story about change. Hula Girls, based on true events, takes place in a small Japanese coal mining town in the late 60s, where its town folks find that with the shifting reliance on oil from coal, the survival of their town is at stake when a major company decides to retrench and cut its headcount.

In attempts to makeover their economy (ain't that familiar), the sleepy town has decided to come up with a "Hawaii Center", a resort like facility where the warm atmosphere of Hawaii will be recreated in their cold/coal environment. It's a drastic change from blue collar to the service industry, and with the young girls being roped in to be dance performers, the traditionalists are up in arms, against the entire project. Skimpy outfits and gyrating moves don't make it easy, and neither does an outsider being roped in to teach the girls a new skill, turn out popular too.

Hula Girls, winner of many awards in the 2006 Japanese equivalent of the Oscars, and also the Japanese submission to the 2007 Oscar's Best Foreign Language film, actually seemed a little too familiar in its narrative style, bringing to mind movies such as Waterboys, Swing Girls, Linda Linda Linda, and the more obvious reference and similarity, will be that of My Mother is a Belly Dancer, well, for most of the first half anyway. But perhaps with this familiarity, it took less time for the audience to identify with it, and it set on its focus to endear the key characters to the audience.

As mentioned, it's about change, set against the backdrop of changing industries, attitudes, and skills. It's a heartwarming story no less, about the strength of sisterhood, where unity sees them battling challenges ahead, much against all odds, especially when adversity comes from within. It's not all serious as it sounds, as there are ample comedy infused, especially with its outcast characters such as the nerdy mom and the plus sized tomboy, and their initial attempts at performance during road trips advertising their new attraction.

Like movies in the similar genre, it doesn't take long to identify the leader of the pack, in Kimiko (Yu Aoi), as she becomes the protege of the teacher Mrs Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki), given the thankless task of whipping the girls into shape. Yu Aoi is no doubt the star of the movie, with her good looks and time dedicated for her to show what it takes. And expect a number of sniffles as the filmmakers weaved in classical dramatic moments primarily aimed at activating those tear ducts.

At its heart, it's a movie on the triumph of the human spirit against adversity, and of friendship. It's not without its flaws, like when certain transitions seemed to suffer from lack of time devoted to provide more depth, but when the formula comes to the end, with its rousing, highly anticipated finale showed in its entirety and in full regalia, you'll no doubt be giving full of applause for its showmanship.

Definitely going into my books as a contender for the best movies of the year. Highly recommended, despite its slow start.


He's Still Out There!

Serial killers make good villainous subjects for movies, especially notorious ones who never get caught, like Jack the Ripper, spinning off countless of movie adaptations, each with its own theories on who might be the real perpetrator, and responsible for the creation of a subculture devoted to their study and conspiracy theories as natural by products.

While England had her own uncaught cult slasher, America's San Francisco Bay Area had its own serial killer to contend with, someone who calls himself the Zodiac, responsible for taking the lives of plenty in the late 60s. The hallmark of this killer is his terrorist tactics of fear and threats, and the constant taunts and demands made to both the press and the police, belittling and challenging them to come out one step ahead. His killings seem almost random, and employed various weapons from guns to knives, and those cryptic coded messages sent to the press that could have its root keys from anywhere.

With a runtime of 158 minutes, you hardly notice the time whittle by as you become transfixed throughout the entire movie. David Fincher helmed this as a tight ship, firmly knowing its destination, while riding out the complexity of it all, spanning almost a timeline of a decade. Based on the books by Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicles portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, this film doesn't end with a cop out, as it firmly hypothesizes, and supports its theories with whatever evidence it can get its hands on, circumstantial or otherwise. It doesn't flinch from pointing that accusatory finger.

I thought it combined many of the best elements found in Fincher's earlier works, from the obvious stylistic feel of Se7en, also itself a serial killer movie, the effects of Fight Club and the mindgames that its characters play, and of course, the general feel of doom and gloom of Panic Room. Light and Shadows become so integral that we take their contribution to heighten senses of tension for granted, and the rain brought back the memories of that classic confrontational scene from Se7en, though here, it cleanses and erases plausible leads, as if to start all over again to untangle from the messy investigations that trailed off over time.

Those expecting a lot of action in the recreation of the Zodiac killings might be disappointed, and I thought Fincher had steered clear of the obvious, where lesser directors might have played up on those gruesome murders, or photographs from the actual crime scene. Here, it's more of a presentation on what could have happened based on eyewitness and police reports, and it doesn't glorify. With the real life folks who were involved in the cases onboard as consultants, you know that this is as authentic as it can get.

What makes Zodiac engaging is that the movie engages you right from the start, as you take on this investigative journey with the main leads in Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), Paul Avery the Chronicle's senior crime report, played by Robert Downey Jr, and Inspector Dave Toshi of the San Francisco Police Department, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. We see how the case develops into an obsession for each of these men, as we encounter countless of confusion, red tape, turf protection, dedication to due process, and hindrance. The various departments involved can't work together, and attempts at cooperation are mountains to climb. So it's no wonder that cases like these that span different boundaries, often come up to naught, or take ages to get cracked on.

Zodiac is told in two seamless halves, with the first devoted to the killings and methodology of the killer, and the second giving Graysmith more screen time as he goes for a second helping at trying to piece the puzzles together right from the very beginning. After all, that's one way to do it when stuff turn out all over the place, and the trail gets cold. It's classic investigative journalism, and builds to a resounding crescendo, while you too get frustrated at what can, and cannot be done, what can be presented as evidence, and how circumstantial evidence, strong as they may seem, will always remain circumstantial despite it being possibly damning. There are genuine creepy moments that will get to you, even though there's nothing horrific, or ghoulish about those scenes. That's classic Fincher for you, making your hair stand with achieved subtlety.

Despite its huge cast list and extras, the key leads all delivered strong performances, bringing the movie onto another level, more so with the film's excellent music from the era, and its art direction and sets recreating the 70s SF. And for film buffs, well, Dirty Harry was after all based on the killings and taunting tactics of Zodiac too.

Possibly the best movie to hit our screens this week, surpassing those lacklustre trilogy blockbusters. A definite must watch, so it's well worth that effort to journey to those few screens with warped timings.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shrek the Third

Sisters of the World Unite!

It has just been the start of the summer season, and the sequels are raking in the millions, despite lacklustre reviews no doubt stemming from familiarity and expectations built from successes of the predecessor films. Still, they are raking in the millions, and possibly the largest franchises in recent years converge onto 2007 as they feature their third movies, and leaving the door open for possibly more to come. Spidey 3 had too many characters, as did Pirates 3, as they both seek to expand the fantasy world they belong to, which to some worked against their favour as it meant less screen time for some beloved characters.

And we welcome back our favourite giant green ogre Shrek, who in its third installment, expands its mythology as well with the introduction of various characters from the Camelot tale, most notably those of Lancelot, Genevieve, Merlin and of course, Arthur himself. As we last left out heroes, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are back to living with royalty in the kingdom of Far Far Away, now with pals Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and family.

Now if that's a handful, wait till the story moves forward with Shrek and the faithful buddies going on a mission to seek out an heir to the throne, Artie/Arthur (Justin Timberlake), who certainly doesn't bring the sexy back to the crown, and you must watch this as once again the filmmakers turn on their creativity and cunningness to develop a character (and other characters) in ways you'd never expect them to behave. Which is what most audiences would have enjoyed with the previous films, though this time round, there seemed to be a line drawn on the ground not to overdo the references to pop culture, sight gags and rounds of puns.

And the villainous Prince Charming is back, with ambitions to be King Charming, and here's where the story fell a bit short, as it adapted from the other animated movie Happily N'ever After, where the bad guys who always seem to have their luck run out, group together and forcefully take over the kingdom. It's a pity the majority aren't memorable, given that we're already so familiar with the good guys, and they just fail to add more colour, instead it became repetitive with Charming's narcissistic behaviour. Boring.

But there are good moments in the movie though, and I can't get enough of those princess types in Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Despite its expanded cast, the story still managed to put focus on our main trio of Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots, at the expense of Fiona who becomes more of a side with her anxious maternal instincts kicking in. The story did feel at times to drag along, especially with Shrek playing surrogate father of sorts, and its trying real hard in attempts to weave in some feel good, moral messages, slowing down the pace, and at one point, tried to go back to its zany ways with some inane happenings, as if a sudden jolt of a reminder not to bore with preachy stuff.

They Ain't So Bad, Really

Perhaps Shrek 3 might have lost some of its charm, but it definitely is miles ahead of the poorly animated Legend of the Sea. It's a no brainer which animated movie to watch this school holidays.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Legend of the Sea

You Mean That's It?

A poor, poor effort of an animated movie, especially in the light of advancement in this genre in the international scene. You can't go about burying your head in the sand and kid yourself that this is a decent piece of work. It is not, sad to say, and it seemed that lessons were not learnt from an earlier dismal effort, Zodiac: The Race Begins.

To read my review of Legend of the Sea at, click on the logo below:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Amazing Grace

Grace Comes From Here

Summer season means the latest blockbuster in town will take up 90% of the screens in any multiplex, leaving little room for movies other than the highlight of the week, or be scheduled for screening in a dinghy theatre with bad screens and sound systems.

Nonetheless some movies might have that one hall screening, and Michael Apted's Amazing Grace managed to squeeze past the Pirates of the Caribbean off a small hall. I was curious about the film as it offered a look behind a familiar song, which has now become a hymn naturally because of the message contained in the lyrics, written by John Newton (Albert Finney). But the movie doesn't tell you that story about the writing of the song per se, much as I thought it would, but instead told of a certain William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), who embarks on a political journey in 19th Century England to abolish the slave trade in Britain and her territories.

As such, much time is spent in Parliament, and the wheelings and shady dealings in Pirates' are familiar themes again in a similar timeline. William is an idealist, who's at the crossroads of his life contemplating whether to become a man of the church, or to dabble in politics, and it didn't take too long before good friend Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), who aspires to be Prime Minister, to convince him that his quick witted brain and charismatic speeches are much needed arsenal in his campaign. And to do so, he provides William a cause to fight against, and that's slavery.

For William, he's a man torn between paying lip service to God, or doing God's work to aid mankind in general. We see for the most parts in his banter with his chum Pitt, that politics and friendship do mix, on the sly of course, as they navigate through the murky waters of the House of Commons, which is somewhat an experience of sorts watching the politicians argue their points, and either supporting or bringing down bills they are opposed to. The film centers around William, his motivations, energies, illness, love life, almost the whole works, while John Newton as a character managed just a few interactive scenes.

The song does get featured a few times in the movie, but I thought the better rendition was when Gruffudd sings it solo and with great gusto (he has an amazing singing voice). You can understand it better as to how it's used in the context of slavery abolishment, and the narrative's told rather as a matter of fact. The introductory act does get a little confusing, especially with its shifting timelines which are spliced together quite haphazardly, with only Gruffudd's hairstyle as a guide when the titles disappear. Used to tell the backstory of his romance with future wife Barbara (Romola Garai), don't expect a great love story weaved into the movie, as it actually acted as a subplot instead in its vanilla plain account.

Given it's inspired by true incidents (of course with certain liberties taken), Amazing Grace does seem to indulge in itself in its last act toward the inevitable end. But as a choice of sorts to break away from too much summer blockbuster hype, this movie does provide some valuable lessons to take away, especially that of never giving up when the tough gets going. Oh, and Youssou N'Dour has a bit role here, see if you can spot him!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Pirates 3

First things first, you must stay until the end of credits for a scene which truly ends the movie proper, in a bittersweet manner, full of love and fulfilled promises, especially after you've experienced the double, triple, quadruple crossings in Pirates 2 which carried over onto this final chapter. If you want to know this ending because you were impatient in leaving the theatres after 168 minutes, scroll down to the last spoiler-marked paragraph.

I can't help but compare this trilogy to that of the Wachowski Brother's Matrix movies, only in the way the two sequels are presented in structure. Like Reloaded, Pirates Dead Man's Chest introduced new depth into the established mythos of the standalone original, which made some folks wonder why as they got confused with new characters, new motivations, and plenty of mumbo jumbo. Making things worse, it ended with a cliffhanger of supposed death (you don't really think they'd kill him off do you?) leading directly into the events of the concluding part three.

Like Revolutions, Pirates At World's End wastes no time and dives right into the rescue mission to save the (audience's) beloved Jack Sparrow (come to think of it, the original Star Wars trilogy is like that too, but I digress), who is stuck in a similar limbo where nothing works. And there are plenty of scenes in this movie which played on Depp's character popularity, which made you wonder just what the point is, if not just to elicit some cheap laughs which sometimes don't work.

And with the much touted, expensive sets of Singapore, you wonder what's the point too. During Pirates Dead Man's Chest, there was a teaser of sorts about Singapore being a locale in the Pirates mythos, after being mentioned a number of times in the franchise thus far. And the hype continued with news about the sets, and the casting coup of Chow Yun-Fat as a pirate from Singapore. OK, some historical liberties were taken, but when presented, it really was much ado about nothing. You get to see sets (artificially done of course), not locales, and much of it is at night, so "Singapore" was relegated to what can be deemed like a bad backlot set with poor lighting. Lasting 20 minutes, and given you can't see much, made you yearn for the pirates to hit the high seas, pronto!

As much as Singapore the locale was wasted, Chow was wasted too, having being the last minute merovingian-like character added to the concluding trilogy whose value is only a map, some men, and a junk. But the lucky bastard got to snog Keira Knightley and I'm jealous. Anyway the shady wheelings and dealings continue, between characters, and with the switching of allegiances which you'll come close to losing, almost. It's like a movie version of Survivor, and the best way to survive this is to think through and focus, while you're watching, the individual character motivation and their objective, which brings on some working of the noodle fun.

Where we last left our jolly crew, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is gone, and the relationship between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is on the rocks because the latter was caught snogging Sparrow by the former, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is brought back to life, while Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is collaborating with the East India Company, much against his wishes, assisting them in making all pirates see the end of days. Holding the key to save Jack is Chow's Captain Sao Feng of Singapore, as new alliances, betrayals and businesses are formed.

Fans of either Bloom or Depp will find their idols absent for significant portions during the movie's first half especially, while the spotlight is set on Knightley, and the introduction of new elements in the Pirate's lore, law and the theme of love. In particular, this movie contrasts quite clearly the love between Turner and Swann, and that of Davy Jones and his, though there are cringeworthy moments in the former's, especially during the climatic battle hinted at in the trailers. Fatherly love too was touched upon briefly for all our 3 main characters, with the highlight on Keith Richard's short appearance as Sparrow senior, which clearly felt like it's added and created just for him.

The action bits were great, and though there are adequate fight scenes in between the calm scheming of the high seas, nothing beats the climatic fight at the end where everything comes together and issues get resolved with violence. There are times though that you wonder just how much damage the ships like the Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman can sustain, with so much splinters and chunks of wood flying, before they sink. And like all climatic fights in ending trilogy chapters, At World's End fell back to formulaic rousing of the troops scene with cheesy dialogue, but perhaps for the better, forgotten about all the others in spite of the scale prepared. The CGI was undeniably effective in making the battle work, with fights on a number of fronts properly done to keep the adrenaline high.

Pirates 3 is an intertwined sequel which I think you'll either love or hate depending on how you reacted to Pirates 2. For me, I'm swashbuckling towards liking it. It's not without flaws, but definitely one of the better two-part movies around - I guess the scriptwriters must had racked their brains with so much going on in so little time, and pulling it off actually. A satisfying conclusion.

After the credits roll, we fast forward to 10 years later. Elizabeth Swann and a boy (Turner Jr most probably) of about 10 years old (yes they actually shagged you know? Not just wear boots LOL) journey to the edge of a cliff, and look out into the horizon. The sun is peeking out, and in a magical flash, a ship appears.... it's The Flying Dutchman, and on its mast, is Will Turner the Captain, looking on.

I liked this scene, as mentioned, because it's one of love and hope, and the fulfillment of promises. Being the cursed captain of The Flying Dutchman, Turner is condemned to coming ashore only once in 10 years, and it is only during this time, that he can meet up with his love, and now a new addition to the family. And she was found waiting for him, unlike that which Davy Jones and Calypso experienced, where the latter strayed. Hip Hooray.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

[DVD] Final Destination 2 (2003)

We See Death

The saga continues with Final Destination 2, where Ali Larter returns as Clear Rivers (how can you take anyone seriously with a name like that?), in a sequel which rehashes the same premise of premonition and therefore death avoidance, and the survivors this time round getting picked off one by one in similar violent fashion fit only for the screens.

The one with the powers this time is Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook), who along with her buddies are going on a road trip. However, she sees a violent accident along the highway they were supposed to travel on, and prevents herself, her mates and a whole host of drivers in other vehicles from going on that ill fated strip, so before you know it, they defeat death's design for them.

But Final Destination says death will return to get the souls already earmarked, and here, the same drill applies. Despite the filmmakers here being a totally different team from the original, there are bouts of acknowledgements all around that ties the second movie to the first. Like the setting of the film exactly a year after the first, the return of Ali Larter, and a realization that all the characters here have indirect ties to those in the original. It might sound like a bad case of coincidence, but this is movieland after all.

The highway pileup is interesting enough, though the jarring censored bits in this locally pressed DVD made the best bloody bits unavailable. And there were new rules and conditions shared in this sequel, which is probably a good thing to prevent it from being just an extension of the first. What made it a little more riveting was that the characters here experience that feeling that nothing is worse than having to know you have to die, and then waiting for it to happen. The first had most of them pretty much clueless, or much against the ridiculous idea, but here, the group had that set aside pretty quickly, and nothing is more fearful than waiting for your time to expire.

The finale suffered though from needing to meet its self-fulfilling prophecy, but made up for it with its totally wicked ending. It doesn't lead to the third movie (each can work as a stand alone), but for those who did not watch FD1, this one pretty much summarizes it all for you.

The Code 3 DVD by Alliance Entertainment comes with the widescreen edition with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. However, remind me not to get a locally pressed DVD when there's expected blood and gore. With movies like these, sadly the gory scenes get censored away, and all you get are frustrating cut scenes and jarring edits. Subtitles are available in English and Chinese, and scene selection is available over 15 chapters.

The bonus features are quite scanty, with the teaser trailer (1:33), 2 music videos - The Blank Theory's Middle of Nowhere (4:16) and The Sounds' Seven Days a Week (3:20), and a series of deleted scenes.

The deleted scenes were non-selectable, and instead of having split up the scenes, you can only view them all together. A total of 5 scenes are lumped into one 9:52 feature, featuring the initial interview at the police station, an extended scene with the mortician, looking for Isabella Hudson, a short scene where Nora was handed a cellphone at the elevator, and additional scenes in the truck en route to the hospital with an extended hospital scene.

Decent efforts in visual and audio transfers, but short on the extras. Gone are the audio commentaries from the filmmakers, would sure like to listen to how they did the highway scene.

[DVD] Final Destination (2000)

Look Up in the Sky!

I watched Final Destination 3 without watching the first two, so thanks to DVDs, I'm going to make amends. The most I know about the first Final Destination was that explosion onboard an aircraft was one of the most realistic ever, and probably had this movie banned from inflight entertainment systems.

Alex Chance Browning (Devon Sawa) has a fear of flights, and in his class outing to Paris, he had a premonition about the flight going boom, and created enough a ruckus to have him thrown out of the plane, together with a few of his friends and teacher. Naturally he becomes guilt ridden, and prime suspect when the plane explodes mid-air without a clue as to why (following the actual TWA flight 800). Together with Clear Rivers (what a name, played by Ali Larter), they discover that if they were destined to die in that flight, then Death will soon be on his way to complete his mission, in the order that they were supposed to go.

It brings to mind that our deaths are probably pre-ordained the moment we are born, and death has designed the way we have to go too. The premise is that should you beat that design, then you get a second chance. But are we up to that? Nope, because we want to see how the cardboard characters get sent on their way. However, the deaths presented here aren't really horrific or designed with grandeur, probably because they don't age so well over time. They do seem rather gimmicky in today's context.

Not expecting an adrenaline rush each time the characters die or beat death, the plot does get slowed down because of the romance bit between Alex and Clear (and most ended up on the cutting room floor), so they do come across pretty jarringly. And the group size for death is relatively small, so you don't go beyond that number, including survivors. It's a pretty decent thriller, but a reminder that the nature of these thrillers is that they age quite badly over time.

The Code 1 DVD by New Line Home Video comes with animated menus, and presents the movie in widescreen version, with audio in either in 5.1 Dolby Surround, or 2.0 Stereo Surround. Visual transfer and audio quality are what you come to expect from a decent product, although subtitles are available in English only. Scene selections are available over 19 chapters

There are plenty of extras given that it's only 1 disc, though most of them are in the commentaries. 3 are provided, 1 by the filmmakers James Wong (director/co-writer), Glen Morgan (co-writer), James Coblentz (editor) and Jeffrey Reddick (co-writer), 1 by the team of cast Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke and Chad E. Donnella, and 1 by the film composer Shirley Walker with the 5.1 Dolby Surround audio score.

The cast and crew biography just lists down their filmography, and the theatrical trailer is also included. There are 3 deleted scenes packed into the DVD, but these all belong to the subplot of new life, which didn't make the final cut after test audience screenings. The Alternate Love Scene runs 2:53, Pregnancy Test runs 0:20 and the Alternate Ending clocks in at 5:05.

To find out why the decision to change, you'll have to watch the first documentary which tells of the test screenings conducted prior to the movie's release. Don't watch this before you watch the movie, as there are tons of spoilers. Containing interviews with the filmmakers and marketing folks, you'll come to wonder about the dumbing down of the (target) audience, so subtlety for the finale makes way for stuff in more in your face. Clocks in at 13:20.

The second documentary seemed a little misplaced, though you'd come to understand why it was included. About Premonitions, it tells of the life and experiences of psychic Pam Coronado, an intuitive investigator who explains her abilities as well as the cases she had worked on, together with those of her children (which would make more sense if the movie kept the original ending). Clocks in at 19:38.

To cap it, 2 games are provided, one is a death clock which predicts the exact date and time of your death based on a series of questions to find out your profile (mine's in 2028!), while the other is a test of your psychic abilities. Not to be taken seriously of course.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Harper Lee and Truman Capote

Coming up with many movies on the flavour of the day is nothing new. Robin Hood had one by Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman going head to head with Kevin Costner's, we have the clash of the space asteroids with Deep Impact and Armageddon, and volcanic eruptions with Volcano and Dante's Peak. One inevitably is more memorable than the other, partly because of the timing of the release, as well as the stars attached to the project. The biopics of Truman Capote had seen Capote make its way here in 2006, while Infamous was being held back in its local release, until now.

It's inevitable to compare the two movies. Just to get it out of the way, Capote has a better Truman Capote performance in Philip Seymour Hoffman, but in my opinion Infamous triumphs over everything else because it kept itself tight. While essentially the same story, with regards to Capote's intricate research into a Kansas family killing for his book In Cold Blood, and befriending the murderers inside the prison cell, there are many moments in Infamous where you do think that you're revisiting key scenes again, and suspect that such scenes probably stem from translating from the same script.

But Infamous had crafted a more intimate look into Capote's life during this time, as well as examine his interactions with the people around him, in particular, that with Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock). The wining, dining, mingling with the who's who of society and the stars of yesteryear are featured here as well, as is a Truman Capote who is more shrewd, calculative and at times manipulative, subconsciously or otherwise, talking behind other's backs, and using them as tests subjects on the sly. What I also liked was that it devoted some time to the friendship between Capote and Harper Lee, which was glossed over in the other film (here it was alleged that Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird's Dill character, was based on Capote. Hmm).

Infamous has more star power, even though the stars appear in short scenes throughout. There's Gwyneth Paltrow showcasing her vocals and performing a song (which interpret it anyhow you want, I thought she could have been singing about her love loss with Brad Pitt), Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rosellini, Daniel Craig as one of the murderers Perry Smith, and director Peter Bogdanovich who did Saint Jack. Perhaps what I thought was against the grain in terms of presentation, was the characters sans Capote, who were speaking to the camera at times in mock interviews, as they share their deepest thoughts on the enigmatic man.

Toby Jones put up a commendable performance as the effeminate man (the entire gay-feminine demeanour amplified in Infamous), but should you compare his Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman's, then it'll just fall slightly short of the benchmark. And I was surprised that Toby Jones' filmography included Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

If you've watched Capote, then you might consider giving Infamous one a skip because of the premise and storyline covered. However, if you felt that Hoffman's performance was the only saving grace in Capote, then you might want to watch this to see how much better that could have been, should this story based on the George Plimpton book be used instead.

Bridge to Terabithia

Last One to Terabithia's a Rotten Egg!

Based on a children's fantasy story written by Katherine Paterson, and produced by the same company that did the latest Chronicles of Narnia, I thought that the movie would probably be mediocre given my lukewarm response to films of similar genre like Pan's Labyrinth and The Last Mimzy. And how wrong was I. Bridge of Terabithia trumps over all the movies mentioned, basically because it had a good story to tell, and stuck to telling that story instead of being distracted by the bells and whistles of special effects.

It tells the story of a budding friendship struck between two kids, both lonely souls who found each other by virtue of being in the same class, and neighbours. Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, last seen in RV) is the lone boy in a family of girls, and finds that his simply living in a world of his own, getting no attention from his parents or siblings. He finds solace in his drawings, while being target practice for the bullies in school. Newcomer to the neighbourhood Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb, last seen in The Reaping) shares the same loneliness, being new to town, and neglected by her parents when they go into their creative writing zone.

Tarabithia becomes the fantasy world the friends find themselves in, a forested area off their residence. There, they become who they want to be, and through their imaginative world, become fast playmates, and firm friends. And with new found confidence and strength, they become more nimble in navigating through the school's playground politics. Needless to say, despite their age, you'll be wondering if like Mukhsin, the friendship between the two will develop into something deeper, with all the feel good moments around.

What I liked about it is its positivity in the themes explored, despite a dark moment. It's about hope, love, the power of imagination when you open your mind and make believe. It has adult themes, and somewhat gives a feel like Pan's Labyrinth, minus the dark moody overtones. I can't help but guffaw at the discussion of religion too. For the most parts it has a breezy pace, until it sledgehammers certain emotions that will definitely bring on a tear or two from those who are soft hearted.

The leads too do a commendable job, and their chemistry just perfect. They fed off each other's enthusiasm well, and made Terabithia believable. The special effects didn't go over the top, or turned on unnecessarily, as they are quite small scale compared to the arsenal employed for other fantasy movies, therefore not stealing the thunder, or distract the audience from the story. Reigned in properly, the effects are just effects, and not the main deal.

The last act indeed takes the cake, and you'll more often than not feel for the characters, and wonder about selfishness. Unless you don't have a heart, you'll definitely feel sorry, and understand the blame inflicted. With supporting casts like Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) who also lent her voice as the singing schoolteacher, don't miss Bridge to Terabithia! Oh, and bring a date along too!

Friday, May 18, 2007



Don't watch Udon on an empty stomach, or you'll be tempted to gorge on those Japanese noodles right after the screening. Despite its simple presentation, watching bowls after bowls of noodles in your face, and the characters slurping them down with gusto, somehow leaves you with an imagined flavour in your mouth as they smack their lips, while you smack at nothing.

The film is as simple as a bowl of udon noodles, with prime ingredients being the fat noodles, the broth, a sprinkle of spring onions, and an egg. Of course there are the fancy combinations of added condiments and ingredients to spice things up, but unfortunately for the film, it became a story of two distinct halves, with little character development between each half, and contained a little too many subplots that were necessary, bringing the runtime to a whopping 2 hours 15 minutes.

I thought the more interesting of the lot was in the first half, where the movie takes a look on fads. Similarly to Bubble Tea or the Luohan Fish fads, what turned out to be essentially fairly good products, boomed in popularity because it managed to latch on the novelty factor, and yet suffered when its 15 minutes of fame was up. Scores of bubble tea stores collapse from the oversupply and people generally being sick of the drink, and the Luohan fish went back to the longkangs. Good intentions sometimes bring about uncontrollable negative costs.

But Udon as "soul food", and the highlight of a magazine column, sparked off the rage of the noodle in all of Japan, as everyone descends to the small town of Sanuki where there are plenty of Udon eateries around tucked in obscure corners. The movie follows two protagonists - Kosuke Matsui (Yusuke Santamaria), a failed comedian who tried his luck at New York stand up comedy clubs, and returns to his hometown where his father runs a mean udon shop, and Kyoko Miyagawa (Manami Konishi), a blur like sotong girl who has zero sense of direction. Kosuke, in wanting to clear his debts, and not in good terms with Dad, turns out to work as a salesman of a local magazine, and becomes colleagues with Kyoko, before the entire editorial crew jumped upon the opportunity of scouting and reviewing various Udon shops, positioning themselves in time for the craze.

My eyes were on the bowls of noodle, as well as the cute looking Manami Konishi, who had a bit part in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Retribution, where she had pretty little to do. As the heroine in Udon, don't expect much too, but at least she plays the supportive friend, while being comic fodder in the first half. For those who prefer drama, the second half of Udon will be your cup of tea, as the movie shifts into lower gear to examine the love-hate ties between Kosuke and his dad, and would be chefs out there would want to pay attention here to pick up some secrets into preparing that perfect bowl of udon.

Coupled with a bit of comedy and a snazzy CGI-ed sequence played totally for its cheese, director Katsuyuki Motohiro and writer Masashi Todayama seemed to have piled on too much for Udon, unlike their earlier work on the Bayside Shakedown movies, which had a lot going, but managed to pull it off because it still boiled down to cops solving crime, in a rather daily operational look at the police force from different perspectives of those on the beat, and those on the ivory tower.

But similar to being spoilt for choice with udon being served and prepared in either hot in cold, hot in hot or just cold, Udon the movie couldn't decide what it wants to be - pseudo-documentary, comedy, family drama, romance, that while each serves its purpose, these ingredients don't manage to gel together to become a formidable dish. Watchable, but nothing too memorable. Oh, and stay tuned until after the end credits.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

[EU Film Fest] Hot Fuzz

Stop in the Name of the Fuzz!

I will say it out clear and upfront - I love this movie, and without a doubt, a definite contender for my movie of the year. By the filmmakers of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz has everything that makes great entertainment, laced with wry Brit wit, and while it contains plenty of references from their earlier movie, it never bores, and for cinephiles, you're in for one heck of a time identifying the countless of movie references within. If anything, I can't wait to get my hands on their earlier efforts in order not to shortchange myself in missing out on the gems by director Edgar Wright and collaborating writer Simon Pegg.

Hot Fuzz follows a typical buddy-cop genre, except that these two are so much more diverse from each other than the conventional cop movies of late milking the obvious race and cultural differences, beaten to death by the Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour films. Here we have the city versus country policeman officers buddying up, each with work ethics belonging to opposite ends. Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is your no-nonsense, straight laced, focused, top supercop who aces everything in his field of work, apprehending felons who fail to follow the law. And with being the top police officer on the beat, the powers that be deem him to be a threat (in making them look inept), and got him posted from Metropolitan London to the countryside of Sandford.

And Sandford is your typical small lazy town, where nothing much happens, and everyone knows everyone else. If a missing swan is a great deal, then you'll know there's pretty nothing much to sustain our supercop's interest, especially so when the station he's assigned to have officers which are extremely laid back, which makes him get off on the wrong footing with partner PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny's the anti-thesis of Nicholas, and spends much of his days daydreaming what a top city cop would be like, and lives out his dreams through his collection of DVD movies like Bad Boys II and Point Break. But the idyllic life of the country gets interrupted with a series of murders (frequently brushed aside as accidents) just as our friends are about to get chummy, and here's where the fun kicks in at top gear.

There are so many things to like about the movie. The violence is one, though I'm unsure if the commercial release here will keep scenes unscathed by the editing scissors. Featuring some of the most gruesome ways to die, it's a blood splattering fest worthy of any serial killer movie. The movie too rewards the attentive viewer, because while the filmmakers load the movie with plenty of easter eggs, minute details, red herrings and the likes, everything will count for something as they come together on the way to the finale, so keep your eyes wide open and your ears peeled. The dialogue is full of wit, with loads of movie references, direct and indirect, and its run up to the end is one of the most adrenaline pumping in recent times, you can't help but to cheer as you lap up the high octane action. Action fans will not be disappointed.

Some may not like its editing style, which is quick, sudden, loud, and at times repititive, but that's just a minor blip. There are enough positives here to satisfy almost everyone, and one that will definitely bring on a smile by the time the end credits roll. A definite must watch! Don't miss this when it screens commercially!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Open Up

If anyone thinks Singapore is a straight-laced country with a budding film scene afraid to push the envelope, perhaps you might want to revisit that thought again.

About one year ago, I chatted with director Kan Lume around the time when his debut feature film The Art of Flirting was being screened at the 19th Singapore International Film Festival, and learnt of his subsequent plans for the celluloid. One's an action movie, and the other an independent film made with European festivals in mind, with the subject matter dealing with the exploration of human sexuality.

The movies of late coming out from our local directors have usually been either comedies or horror meant at capturing a chunk of box office receipts, with Royston Tan's 4:30 being the blip of hope that we too can make "artistic" movies that resonate with audiences. I saw a rough cut of Solos sometime in July last year, without proper sound, and no doubt in my mind that the movie will ruffle some feathers here. It wasn't done for the sake of shock value or upsetting the local censorship board, and while it wasn't banned, which Kan Lume feared it would, the local censors passed Solos with an R21 (no admittance to those aged below 21) rating and 3 cuts, meaning its planned world premiere at this year's 20th Singapore International Film Festival was to be withdrawn from the organizer's programme, given the festival doesn't screen movies which are cut.

Having watched the final, theatrical version of Solos, I thought it was a worthy addition to our small but growing number of movies. It was an achievement in itself in getting the film made, and having seen what in my opinion was an improvement over the rough cut - being quicker in establishing the characters and premise, and being paced much faster. Solos tells of a story of love between 3 characters, a boy, his mum, and his lover the man, (yup, you read that right) and the internal tussle of emotions that each feel in their lives as they try to reach out from their pain and confusion.

It's interesting to note that Kan Lume's movies to date have rarely been mainstream, which is set to diversify and add to our repertoire of films aside from comedies, or films about the mundaneness of local society. His features have both been based on short films done (The Art of Flirting based on his award winning short "I,Promise", and the precursor of sorts to Solos was a short called Untitled), and are totally different in genre and presentation. With The Art of Flirting, it's extremely dialogue driven, and a voyeuristic approach used to capture scenes up close. In Solos, Kan and co-director Loo Zihan employed the minimalist approach with the still camera technique so often used in the works of auteurs like Tsai Ming-liang, and totally devoid of dialogue, instead relying on the visuals to tell the story and move the narrative along. It's not an easy film to follow given that an audience will probably have to work at while viewing it, yet simple enough to avoid alienation.

Perhaps having it devoid of dialogue helped to convey the mood of the characters, where everyone's on almost non-speaking terms. It's an abstract tale of insecurity and despair, with a young boy unsure and struggling with his being in love with an older man, an older man afraid that his young love will leave him, and a mother frustrated with herself for her son being different from societal norms. With strained colors contrasted strongly with surrealistic, colorful scenes conveying innermost thoughts, I thought the one for the boy, played by co-director and writer Loo Zihan himself, was the best amongst the three. The mother's played by newcomer Goh Guat Kian, who had to go through most of her scenes in a bandaged eye-patch, hinting that she refuses to see and accept what is, while the Man is played by local veteran stage and TV actor Lim Yu-beng, in possibly his most daring role to date, a character like ice, fearful of a definite change in state while hoping for a thawing of relations.

And what of the scenes which were requested to be cut? Singapore has shown gay-themed movies in local theatres with the R21 rating, and usually it's the sexually explicit scenes that are snipped. Should Solos be eventually screened commercially here, no doubt such scenes in Solos will be shortened, or at worse, eliminated, which will probably and unfortunately diminish the anguished feelings of the characters involved.

There's certainly a ready niched market here, deny it all if anyone would like, and like the tagline reminds, "open up".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

[Local Movies Radar] Interesting Months Ahead

A summary post about the movies that are awaiting release over the next few months in our sunny little island - Men in White, Jack Neo's Untitled Movie Production Blog, 881, Gone Shopping the Movie and Solos.

Two movie genres tend to have box office success in Singapore - comedy, and horror. As far as the recent resurgence of local movie making goes, we've already had the money spinners from comedic movies thanks to writer-director-actor Jack Neo (who last did Just Follow Law), and a box office smash with Kelvin Tong's horror movie, The Maid. Now, Tong has upped the ante by combining both genres, making a horror-comedy called Men In White. Todd had beaten me to it by putting up the teaser trailers and full trailer for this movie, but here's the official website. It's still under construction, but given its premiere in June, expect to see more from the site soon. If I would count my chickens before they hatch, I'd say this movie should do well at the local box office, given that it's already running its teaser trailers in the theatres (those reminders to switch off your mobile phones) to relatively positive feedback.

Speaking of Jack Neo, he's recently started a production blog of sorts for his next movie, currently untitled, about a loan shark wanting to turn over a new leaf. It will be filmed in Malaysia, and you can follow his filmmaking exploits here. Some posts are in Mandarin, and "Singapore English" (don't worry, it's still readable)!

Previously I had been involved in the interview of both Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong, and with Kelvin's new film coming up, Royston's not too far behind as well. With Kelvin's The Maid released over the Lunar Hungry Ghosts Festival, Royston's new movie 881 had recently wrapped, and it's also set, and expected to be released over the same period. It captures one of the cultural phenomenon of this part of the world come Hungry Ghosts Month, and that's the "Getai" (literally translated as "Song Stage"), performances to entertain audiences from both worlds (the other being from the nether realms of course). Compared to his 15 and 4:30, 881 (yet another numerically titled movie) breaks out of the melancholic mood, and into the colorful world of stage performances.

While the veterans have movies to showcase, the relative newcomers too have been keeping busy. Besides food, shopping is also our local obsession, and short filmmaker Wee Li Lin is making her debut feature film with Gone Shopping the Movie. Heading the cast list is one of the top local comperes/host Kym Ng, as well as Adrian Pang, current host of the local television franchise gameshow Deal or No Deal. Pang is no stranger to film, having starred in one of Singapore's early film efforts almost 10 years ago with Forever Fever (released in North America by Miramax Films, retitled That's The Way I Like It), and Jack Neo's I Do, I Do in 2005.

Last but not least, Kan Lume teams with co-director/writer Loo Zihan for Solos, a gay-themed movie which received an R21 rating with 3 cuts from the local censors in the recent 20th Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). With SIFF's track record of not screening films that are cut, Solos was withdrawn from public screening during the festival, but was screened to the jury of the Silver Screen Awards. While awaiting word on its local release, the film will nonetheless be represented at this year's Cannes Film Market at the Singapore Film Office (Riveria F9), Esplanade Georges Pompidou. Those lucky few heading to Cannes (hey Todd!) could check the movie out.

Men in White Teaser One (YouTube)
Men in White Teaser Two (YouTube)
Men in White Full Trailer (YouTube)
Men in White Official Website

Jack Neo's Blog

881 Trailer (YouTube, with English subs)

Gone Shopping the Movie Teaser One (YouTube)
Gone Shopping the Movie Teaser Two (YouTube)
Gone Shopping the Movie Teaser Three (YouTube)
Gone Shopping the Movie Official Website

Solos Official Website (with Embedded Flash Trailer)

Cross posted at Twitch.

Monday, May 14, 2007

[DVD] Waterboys (2001)

The Perks

I had enjoyed Japanese writer-director Shinobu Yaguchi's Swing Girls back in 2004, in a story of how a group of schoolgirls mobilized to form a big band jazz group, trained and finally perform in competition. It had a simple story made great by the excellent cast in endearing characters, as well as awesome jazz music to go along. In my attempt to revisit some of his earlier works, it had led me back to the Waterboys.

Waterboys almost follows the same formula, where a group of misfits get together, and against all odds and everyone's pessimism, manage to pull through and put up one heck of a performance. Along the way, they encounter seemingly implausible obstacles which stand to derail their plans and hopes, and sometimes watching them come through in comedic ways just puts a smile on you. It's one of those feel good movies without any real villains to snarl at, just being there to cheer them on as they try to give one of the best performances of their mundane lives.

A youthful looking Satoshi Tsumabuki (starred in this year's Nada Sou Sou) plays Suzuki, the only member of his school's swim team, who gets more members than he bargained for when a beautiful teacher, Mrs Sakuma (Kaori Manabe) becomes the swim coach of the all-boys school. But after a comedy of errors, we're left with 5 nerdy boys who must rough it out to be synchronized swimmers instead, bringing guffaws from their schoolmates and folks in their neighbourhood.

Not wanting to give up, they enlist the reluctant help of a dolphin trainer (Naoto Takenaka, who was also in Swing Girls at Sea World, who trains them through unorthodox methods, which brings on the laughter and allows space for the boys to exude charm during their weird routines. It's basically an underdog's story and their struggles to fulfill a promise, whether or not they look stupid or effeminate while doing it. And thrown into the mix is a budding romance between Suzuki, and Shizuko Kiuchi (Aya Hirayama), a female karate exponent from a neighbouring all-girls school.

And when they finally get their act going, you'll be left wanting more. That's how a bubblegum movie should be, in order to cover its breezy, simple plot. Thoroughly entertaining, and suitable for all ages.

The Code 3 DVD from Alliance Entertainment (as with most locally pressed DVDs) comes without any special features. Visuals are letterboxed, and the quality of transfer is decent. The audio comes in Dolby Digital Stereo, and subtitles are available in English or Chinese. Scene selection is available in 8 chapters.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

[DVD] Zameen (2003)

Band of Brothers

Zameen doesn't restraint itself in its exploration of transnational terrorism, and doesn't mince its words in the inclusion of Pakistan in state sponsored terrorism by radical army elements, in their support of the mujahedeens battling in Pakistan Owned Kashmir. Being a fictional piece of work, the movie works on two fronts, that by the army in its fight to capture a wanted terrorist Baba Zaheer (Mukesh Tiwari), and on the home front, where 4 operatives enter India to do their dastardly deed.

Ajay Devgan stars as Colonel Ranvir Singh Ranawat, a soldier of vast experience in counter-terrorism operations, and his latest capture is of Baba of the Al Tahir terrorist group. The movie begins with a ra-ra patriotic song, before launching into full scale war. But the plot thickens when Baba's men plot to rescue Baba, and in the process bring disgrace to India. Not if supercop ACP Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) can help it, in his no-nonsense style of high octane action. Adding to the mix is Bipasha Basu's Nandini, wife of Jai, serving as an air stewardess, and as the complimentary love token who provides the cause for some songs, you'll more or less figure out what the terrorist plot will involve.

The action might look a little cartoony and staged, but it still brings about some element of fun for action fans. Having the two male leads from different uniformed groups also serve to highlight the difference in tactics employed, and eyebrows will surely be raised if you're an advocate of human rights. Torturing during interrogation is nothing new, and to see the way they do it, you'll be pretty surprised, though my personal opinion is that sometimes these tactics would have to work - no point fighting with one hand tied behind your back, and these guys are hiding behind civilians and going after innocent soft targets anyway.

And besides pointing fingers at Pakistan on state sponsored terrorism, the movie also points its fingers and pokes fun at the inept Indian politicians who have a total lack of integrity, and are the worst kind of humans around - selfish, full of hot airs and empty promises, and dumb. Also, it points out on the terrorists' hijacking of religion to further their cause in the name of "jihad", and such scenes are usually dramatic for effect, and at times infused with an action scene, like the fist battle between Ranvir and Baba, representing a country and the subversive elements it faces.

All in all, it plays for entertainment, while pounding its fist in the air with patriotism swelling. And hey, Abhishek Bachchan did attempt to sing a few lines from that Krabhi Krabhi song I last heard in Yasmin Ahmad's Gubra.

Code 9 DVD by Rainbow Films comes in anamorphic widescreen, but the visual transfer is mediocre, seemed to have been done from an old VHS-quality like source. The audio though is clear, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. There are only English subtitles available, and scene selection comes in 19 chapters. There are no other extras except for a section where you can zoom into each of the 4 songs in the movie - Title Song, Tere Sang, O Mitwa and Pyar Tera Dilli Ki.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Blades of Glory

What's That Smell?

I'm fast converting to a Will Ferrell Fan, given that I've laughed out loud at his silly antics, in particular, the recent effort in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. And now, joining forces with yet another up-coming comedian in Jon Heder (School of Scoundrels, The Benchwarmers), I had high hopes of watching Blades of Glory to chase the week's blues away.

However, expectation can be quite a bitch, and while Blades of Glory was funny, it wasn't laugh out loud funny from start to end. It had its moments, but only certain scenes to bring out those tears of nonsensical joy. For the most parts, it was pretty plain sailing - you know it's funny, just nothing to get that extra tickle out of you. And worse yet, the best moments were in the trailer, leaving you wondering if there were any more scenes left in the story to top those.

The story tells of two rival ice skaters who belong to opposite sides of the sport. The introduction plays out like Zoolander, where the profiles of each character are put through funny montages. Jim MacElroy (Heder) is your typical bred-for-excellence sportsman, with impeccable manners, demeanour and discipline, executing his moves by the book. Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) on the other hand, is your bad boy of the sport, a sex-addict who fuses sex into his moves, the master of improvisation whipping female fans everywhere into a frenzy each time he skates. They're like fire and ice, and in one of their typical bickering, bring disgrace to the sport and are banned from the men's competition for life.

Until a loophole is discovered, and they combine forces, unwillingly, to return to the sport under the pairs competition, irking reigning champions, Van Waldenberg siblings of Stranz (Will Arnett) and Fairchild (Amy Poehler). Threatened by the ludicrous return of Michael Michaels and MacElroy, with their pedigree pairing and stealing of limelight, the movie spends for the most last third of the movie on their unscrupulous tactics, and the cause-effect. Thrown into the fray is Jenna Fischer as Katie Van Waldenberg, who provides some uninspired romantic moments with Heder's Jim, and a faux pas sibling rivalry/woe in some emotional blackmail moments.

As I've mentioned, the movie is a mixed bag. I would have expected Farrell's alpha-comedic role and Heder's for-fodder-role to combine seamlessly and bring on great laughs, but the pairing seem to be diluted instead. The best bits naturally are when each of them start to skate, and then skating together during competition, with plenty of moments for physical jokes - the usual groin and gay no holds barred punches. If you'd ask me to choose who's the funnier of the two, my vote will go to Farrell, and he gets more screentime too. Boom! As compared to the whinier Heder who plays the usual roles quite repeatedly.

Fans of Bo Bice will want to sit through the end credits as he sings the theme Blades of Glory, and stay tuned during the credit roll for an additional (though not so funny) extra involving a deranged obsessive fan.


I See Peaks

I was wondering the strange selection of Nicolas Cage movies to hit the big screens here. There was no love for his Weather Man or Lord of War, which seem on the surface to be probable successes, and I thought World Trade Center was a mediocre effort, no doubt hitting the big screens because of the subject matter, and helmed by Oliver Stone, who seem to be quite muted and didn't turn on the controversy tap. His latest, recent effort in Ghost Rider was fun, but unmemorable.

Philip K. Dick's science fiction stories too have their fair share of hits and misses when translated to the silver screen. There's the cult classic Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, the box-office success of Total Recall by Paul Verhoeven, the new-age photo-realistic animation A Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report credited with Colin Farrell's noticeable appearance, and John Woo's Paycheck which made Uma Thurman look ugly without the use of prosthetics. Big stars too get attached to these pictures, from Harrison Ford to Tom Cruise to Arnold Schwarzenegger, each featured in diverse stories that the author has on offer, and most from short stories too. But what about the combination of Lee Tamahori and Nicolas Cage?

Disaster. I've not read the short on which Next is based, but this movie failed Basic Storytelling 101. It sets up pre-determined rules, and goes ahead to break them all, while trying to be too smart about it, and they say pride comes before a fall - didn't any crew notice those huge warning signs? And it's not about the illogicality of time travel nor its associated paradoxes either. It's pure laziness in development, an obsessed focus in its mediocre action sequences, and without a clue in knowing how to end a story.

Nicolas Cage plays Cris Johnson with Tom Hank's haircut from The Da Vinci Code. Johnson is a Las Vegas illusionist who's successful in his job because of his curse in being able to see things before they happen. Well, just anything two minutes ahead, and only if it directly involves himself. The only time that this rule doesn't seem to hold, is that he frequently daydreams about Liz (Jessica Biel), with whom he thinks he shares a mysterious connection with. The FBI is unto some terrorists who have placed a nuclear device in California, and one of its agents Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is after Johnson to seek his abilities to help them, while the baddies are after everyone else, in one of lamest reasons ever - since the FBI wants Johnson, let's waste time finishing him off.

While there were tons of promise in the movie with a premise like that, you get frequently pissed when Tamahori playbacks scenes on repeat, pulling that sleight of hand that says, ok, that's what's happening in Johnson's mind, you'll following his 2-min peek into the future, and we go back again. But the 2 minutes seem to go onto 3, 4, 5 minutes, until the ultimate sleight of hand pulled and played too far back, it's plain ludicrous. It's fine and dandy for a while, until its self fulfilling prophecy. No doubt it tries to redeem itself by playing on a paradox - that things change when you look ahead (and alter a particular course of action), but as I've already mentioned, it's lazy.

And the special effects were lazy too, with nothing done that an audience have never seen before, and to make things worse, some looked horribly fake. There's also an action routine going to make its staple this year (the other one noted was in the Die Hard 4.0 trailer), and that's the "ducking from a mid-air flying car" routine. The rest looked like the Matrix's "bullet time / dodge while the bullets are flying at you / look mom I can split myself" effects, which wears on after a while.

Cage sleepwalks through the role, no doubt assisted by a world weary character, while Jessica Biel is totally wasted in a role that could have been played by any Playboy Playmate of the Year, and that's just to put her twin peaks forward onscreen. Julianne Moore seemed to have reminisce her time playing FBI agent Clarice Starling from Hannibal, and you would have expect Hannibal Lecter himself to make an appearance and start eating everyone else - now that would make a better movie.

Next has my vote as one of the worst movie of the year for pulling that kinda rug from underneath your feet. It's title says it all, don't waste your time on this. Next!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Priceless (Hors De Prix)

Don't Tempt Me, I'm Gay

Transportation S$3.00
Movie Ticket S$9.00
Fried Chicken S$3.80
A Good Movie That Entertains? Priceless.

Directed by Pierre Salvadori, Pricess is one heck of a delightful gem. It is playful, cheeky, touching yet breezy, and boasts excellent chemistry between its leads, which is crucial to pull off a romantic comedy so dependent on their banter and interaction.

Audrey Tautou plays Irene, a high maintenance gold digging prostitute who flits from one elderly man to another, in the hopes of seducing and convincing them into marriage, while in the meantime milking all she could from their company. It's haute couture fashion label name dropping, living the high life in expensive hotel suites, for free. In an uncontrollable one night stand, she hooks up with waiter Jean (Gad Elmaleh), who while is totally out of her league, falls hard for her, and becomes a constant thorn in her side as she goes about her mission in life.

Not your usual romance movie where the bickering couple are expected to kiss, make up, and bicker some more, Priceless does two things in its narrative. One, in its reminder to the male suckers out there to be wary of high maintenance women - if you don't have what it takes (and that simply means a really fat bankroll), forget about it, as she'll drain your finances as simply as it takes to gulp down a glass of water. Two, perhaps it really does pay for those who are kept men and women, if they don't mind trading their bodies for material pleasures that a rich life can offer.

And from adversaries to partners in crime, Priceless sprinkles its narrative with scenes like from The Guru, where tips and tricks of the trade are shared, and played for laughs. And this is especially so with Jean's natural charms mixed with Mr Bean like demeanour. Kudos actually to actor Gad Elmaleh, who throws this constant innocent blank look, when he's hamming it up pretending to be loaded, or practising turning on his charms (consciously or otherwise). He brings to Jean a sense of helplessness in falling for the woman of his dreams much against his finances, and gives Jean that chivalrous character that will surely win many over.

Fans of Audrey Tautou will reminisce her portrayal as Irene to be similar to the quirky Amelie, only that this time round, she's the complete slut whom you pity for having such a materialistic nature. Her plunging necklines all the way down to the navel will no doubt raise temperatures, and while noticeably older, has brought about a sense of maturity from giggling girl to all woman.

Peppered with an excellent soundtrack, the best songs were kept for a party scene, and for as many party scenes featured in various movies, I'd rate this one as one of the most interesting, thanks to the key music, characters, and the scene that plays out just right. With so many elements working in its favour, I'd rate this as a contender for the top movies of this year. Don't let this movie slip pass you in this crowded blockbuster summer!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

28 Weeks Later...


Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo takes over from Englishman Danny Boyle in the followup movie to the latter's excellent 28 Days Later, and has come up with something worthy. Should a third movie be made and doesn't screw up the good work already done, it should make a pretty neat trilogy. I enjoy the legendary George A Romero's zombies in his movies, though I have to confess I prefer those in the 28-later series, as their constant running pace provides a shot of adrenaline when our helpless victims try in futile to escape, and somehow in that reckless speed, make them truly terrifying (ok, cos I can't run, and if caught in that kind of situation, I'll be dead meat).

But the movie doesn't hit the ground running. In fact, it plays like the memorable soundtrack composed by John Murphy who also did the predecessor movie, and allows for the calm to ring through, before the madness of a storm begins. The horrific opening scene would have to be one of the best in the movie, before we're fast forwarded to 28 weeks later, where Robert Carlyle's Don awaits his children Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imoen Poots, a dead ringer for Cate Blanchett!). We revisit the quiet streets of London again, like in 28 Days Later, with recognizable landmarks void of people, and the city having been ravaged, now undergoes repopulation by those who managed to leave the initial onslaught of the Rage virus.

Before you scream "Resident Evil!" because of the similarities, be rest assured that this movie beats those in the Milla Juvovich vehicle anytime. What I thought if I read too deep into it, is the showcase of the US military being yet the armed forces occupying a land that is not theirs, imposing a safe, and highly secured "green zone" for the incoming residents to reside in, while everything outside that zone is deemed the wild west, reeked with rotting bodies and the potential of a deadly virus rearing its ugly head, ready to spark a pandemic. Probably cuts a little close to the real world, but what the heck, leave those thoughts aside and enjoy the movie.

It's no surprise too that while it's nice to see a crisis plan kick in when things go awry, there are enough moments which make you think twice about collateral damage in the name of greater good, and how one thing leads to another, and finally to extermination. And self-sacrifice is often a common element in zombie movies, and I thought this was handled extremely well, especially in the Carlyle's character. It's one thing to pay lip service, and another when there's a call to action.

I've said it before, the running zombies are a sight to behold. They're stealthy and waste no time, with the tenacity of mad rabid dogs pouncing on you with their thick bloody drool. And what makes it horrific is if you were to put yourself running away from these folks, you'll wonder exactly how long you can outlast them before they finally get to you, from all directions. Making it more difficult this time round, is the escape from the weapons of mass destruction (sorry, couldn't resist that one) that the US forces unleash, and with the snazzy CG effects, these scenes become a sight to behold, without going over the top with the effects.

I like many scenes in the movie, which I will not describe lest to spoil them for you. But indeed, there is great potential towards developing a cult following. For those in need of geography lessons, yes, those are the white cliffs of Dover. If there's a gripe, it'll again be the local distributor's decision to release this movie censored for its gory scenes. I noted at least 2 jarring cuts during scenes of blood lust. But let not those minor irritations get to your enjoyment.

Monday, May 07, 2007

[DVD] I Do, I Do (爱 都 爱 都) (2005)


I first saw Adrian Pang on the big screen when I was still in the army, during one of our nights off where we managed to catch a Singapore movie (back then, Singapore movies were rare, and not to mention suffers from low attendances because of the misconception that locally made movies are bad), and I was tickled by his portrayal as the Ah Beng who aspires to be the king of disco in Forever Fever.

Fast forward to today, Adrian is based back in Singapore, and has been a regular on local television, from acting to hosting, and gaining a reputation as a funnyman in addition to Gurmit Singh. In between he has also managed cameos in movies like Spy Game, and it's no surprise that he was picked to star in another movie, this time by Jack Neo in I Do, I Do, opposite top compere and host at that time, Sharon Au.

I Do, I Do is a typical Jack Neo movie, tackling topical issues of the day, this time with the worrying trend of single Singaporeans taking too long to get hitched, and to repopulate our numbers. Falling into this category, I recall plenty of noise with regards to this, from the newspapers, to television, to even nagging parents, and it is no doubt that Jack, the commercial film director that he is, would have picked up the buzz and made a romantic comedy out of it. And in typical Jack Neo fashion, you'd come to expect the predictability of recycled criticisms of the government (which had a scene with Jack as an MP, good for only one thing) and social commentaries worked into the plot, which is more or less what you hear from coffeeshops.

Starting with a one-sided breakup of an infatuation, Liu Wenhui (Sharon Au) made it clear to Lee Ah Peng (Adrian Pang) that she sees no future in their relationship, given their difference in status and having no "Feelings" for him. The story then tracks Ah Peng's tactics into wooing his lady love back, and along the way, the main obstacle comes in the form of a new ABC colleague Chen Jianfeng (Allan Wu, current host of the Amazing Race Asia Edition). It's predictable stuff, clearly fluffly with implausible plot development, totally losing the plot towards the end, as it plays out as short comedic skits being glued together, some not being funny at all.

Typical in a Jack Neo film, you can count on a series of songs being composed for the movie, and used as montages for plot summarization. As always there are scenes set in coffee shops and hawker centers, and dialogue and cameo appearances played just for laughs, like the appearances of "Brother Hui" and Mark Lee, regulars in Neo's troupe, and the Lao Zar Bo also seen from Neo's latest 2007 movie Just Follow Law.

But for a lacklustre movie with its key message focused on not giving up the forest for a flower, it's compensated for its revelatory scene at the end, after you have to course through cliche after cliche in its storyline. The nifty special effects were a treat too, though it does also get cheesy at times when coupled with song and dance.

The Code 3 DVD from Scorpio East contains decent audio and visual transfers, which does not offer you any choice of formants or languages. You only have a scene selection from 8 chapters, as well as subtitles available in either English or Chinese. It's relatively bare bones, and I'm not sure why to date locally pressed DVDs still call standard fares like the inclusion of theatrical trailers and useless photo stills "Special Features". Just so you know, the trailer runs 2mins 10s, and the photo gallery contains 20 stills. Hardly what I call special.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

[DVD] The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Listen Up!

I won't repeat myself with another review of The Last King of Scotland movie, which you can find here. Hence I will go straight into the DVD review proper.

Forest Whitaker's acclaimed performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin would have no doubt piqued your curiosity about the real man, and included in the Code 1 DVD from Fox are documentaries highlighting both the man himself as well as the actor who plays him. Presented in widescreen in 2.35:1 aspect ration, the visual transfer is crisp and clear. The English track comes in 5.1 Dolby Surround, which might be under-utilized given that it's not an out and out action kind of movie that will test your speakers, but seriously nobody's complaining. The other track is in Spanish, and comes with only 2.0 Dolby Surround. You can turn the director's commentary on during the movie, and Kevin MacDonald shares some interesting insights despite being without the other cast and crew members. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, and for those who would like to jump directly into certain scenes, scene selection is available in 28 chapters.

Included in the special features section is the theatrical trailer running at 2mins 20s, which is quite standard fare.

You have a total of 7 deleted scenes which included the original opening of the movie set in 1948, where we see Idi meting out solid blows as a boxer during his days with the British Army. The clips run a total of 11mins 43s, and you can activate the director's commentary to find out why these scenes were left on the cutting room floor. The longest scene was that of the press conference, which in the movie was truncated and cross-cut with a separate scene of James McAvoy looking for Kerry Washington. Here you can watch it as a whole.

Next is an exclusive documentary called Capturing Idi Amin, which runs the longest of the special features at 29 minutes. Included in this feature are extensive interviews with the actors, Ugandan citizens who lived through Amin's regime, friends in the British Army as well as his ex-ministers, and through these talking heads, you gain peculiar insights into a man who seemed so schizophrenic. Of particular note here are the archived footage of the real Amin, which includes selected interviews with him. Not to be missed.

Forest Whitaker himself has a featurette called Forest Whitaker Idi Amin, which has interviews with Forest obviously, as well as his co-star James McAvoy. This runs 6 minutes.

And if one featurette on the Oscar winner isn't enough, there's the other feature from the Fox Movie Channel called Casting Session - The Last King of Scotland, where the filmmakers highlighted how important it was to find the right actor for the enigmatic role, as the whole movie will naturally be borne on his shoulders. In 8 mins 30s through interviews, we learn exactly how Forest auditioned, won convincingly the role offered by the filmmakers, and as they say, the rest is history.

All in all, a very decent package. There could have been more extras packed in, but this package already is more than the bare minimum. Recommended for fans of the movie, as well as fans of Forest Whitaker in his multi-award winning role.

For thos interested, you can make a purchase of the DVD directly from by clicking on the picture below:

[DVD] Dhoom (2004)

Dhoom Machale

Said to be loosely based on Taxi and Point Break, I thought Dhoom (Blast) seemed to be a whole lot more like the original Fast and the Furious, with a gang of robbers pulling of heists and escaping in their high octane machines charged with nitrous oxide gases, only this time, the sports cars are replaced with sports bikes. But unlike FnF which had its cop infiltrate the gang, we have a supercop hot on the heels of the gang with the help of the fastest rider in Mumbai, with shades from Taxi in a way.

Abhishek Bachchan plays ACP Jai Dixit the supercop, a proud man dead sure of his abilities to apprehend the crooks, though himself has no qualms about meting out violence to deal with violence. John Abraham's Kabir looks like Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt in M:I2 with his wavy hair flowing while riding a bike at top speed, and with his merry men from the Pizza Place, throws down the gauntlet at Jai. Rounding up the testosterone picture is Uday Chopra as the top biker and mechanic Ali Akbar Fateh Khan, who reluctantly joins forces with Jai Dixit, and gets embroiled against his wishes in this cops-and-robbers chase. He prefers to chase skirts, given his lack of appeal in the ladies department, and provides the complimentary comedic moments.

The female characters here, with Rimi Sen as Mrs Dixit and Esha Deol the singer, somehow become bit players, with not much room for their characters, given that it's understandably an action movie after all. And the action doesn't disappoint even if it's not exactly A-list jaw-dropping material. There's always that tinge of familiarity, but the stars pull them off with aplomb. If you were to think they're copying their counterparts in Hollywood with vehicle stunts, and that fight atop a moving trailer which looks suspiciously like Matrix Reloaded's, well, if imitation is a form of flattery, at least Dhoom managed to come off rather convincingly.

For a Bollywood movie, it clocks in at a surprisingly reasonable 129 minutes, and given its fast pace, there's rarely a moment where you'll get bored. I totally enjoyed Dhoom's soundtrack, and the song and dance numbers are fast ones which is an additional plus. I never cease to be amazed by the dance choreography, and my favourite one was where Dhoom Machale song being performed on stage, complete with pyrotechnics.

Dhoom lives up to its name, and it's easy to have a blast of a time on a lazy Sunday afternoon with his, even though the story's pretty straightforward and rehashed from elements seen frequently from Hollywood. For someone who enjoys song and dance routines, I think I'll be looking towards covering more Bollywood movies real soon.


The multi-region DVD Yash Raj Films comes with adequate features to make this a well presented package. Visuals come in a 16:9 presentation and 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound, which allows for the bikes and action sequences to ring sense-surround. The menus and navigation are lavishly designed, though some icons used can be confusing at first (like the switching on and off of the subtitles). Scene selection comes in 28 chapters of which the songs are marked to stand out, and English subtitles are available.

There is a separate section on Songs, where you'll get to zoom into the moments where the musical numbers begin. There are 5 in total, with subtitles so you'll understand what the lyrics mean - Shikdum, Dilbara, Dhoom Machale, Salaame, and Dhoom Dhoom (End Credits) which is performed by Thai singer Tata Young in English, and can also be found in the separate Special Features Section.

The Special Features contain an alternate ending, which actually serves as an epilogue, with the focus on the Ali character, lasting about a minute. Unfortunately this comes without English subtitles. Then there's the Tata Young Dhoom Dhoom OST Video in English (3 mins 27s), which you'll probably can't get enough of, with her sizzling the screen with her sultry moves with each of the male cast members Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra and John Abraham.

The largest feature is Dhoom: The Making, lasting 23mins 10s. It's in English, with cast and crew interviews, clips of the production process peeking into how they did those action scenes, the consideration taken into the styling of the characters, the songs featured and the dance steps that the cast have to learn, and of course the beautiful bikes, stunts, and the recounting of the dangerous moments when performing those stunts.

The Theatrical Trailor (sic) (1min 20s) doesn't seem to have gotten enough of the Dhoom Machale song, and included are also 4 TV promos presented in 4:3 aspect ratio containing the songs and clips for the movie, running a total of 2mins 50s.

Perhaps the weirdest feature included would be a trailer for a Forthcoming Attraction called Veer Zaara (2min 30s) starring Shah Rukh Khan, which seems to play automatically when the DVD is inserted into the player.

All in all, a quality DVD package which I'm surprised with, and I should be actively seeking out other blockbuster titles from the shelves of the Esplanade library soon.
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