Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Magic Website, Reviews and Trailer

Thanks to resourceful friends like Ben Slater and Wisekwai, those curious about Eric Khoo's latest movie My Magic, can take a look at the trailer here

However, reviews from the trade mags whose critics have seen the movie in Cannes, gave less than stellar reviews. You can click on these links to read them: Dan Fainaru from Screen Daily, Maggie Lee from Hollywood Reporter and Derek Elley Variety. Local Filmmaker Nicholas Chee who was at Cannes, submits this report from Cannes at Sinema.

The official website can be found here and the synopsis reads
Francis (Bosco Francis) is a man at the end of his tether. The former magician often takes solace in the bottle and barely ekes a living as a cleaner in a nightclub. He has a 10-year-old son he desperately loves, but sorrow, guilt and constant inebriation have made him an ineffectual father. The son (Jathishweran) is a stoic old soul who has learned to bury his affection for his old man and to cope with his chaotic life.

A broken spirit and a single parent, Francis hopes to redeem himself and win his son's love and respect. He makes a painful - and bizarre - return to magic. An unexpected incident one night sets father and son on the road. In a dilapidated building, these two wounded souls come to terms with their love which is as deep and acute as their grief.

Hope it does reach the local shores soon so that we can take a look at it ourselves. Oh, and Mr Guo of The Storyboard pointed me to this Hollywood Reporter interview with director Eric Khoo.

Sex and the City

Girls, I Can't Believe We Got Chopped in Singapore

I've got to admit that I've never seen an episode of Sex and the City prior to this movie, so I'm probably a good gauge whether someone going in blind will still be able to enjoy the movie. In short, yes I did, primarily because it's so cliche of a romance movie and I'm in the mood for some formula after frying my brain for the last work week. But like in true Singapore fashion, the same reason why the television series never made it to our free-to-air channels, is precisely because we cannot stand sex. I've said it before and I'll say it again, stop complaining about dwindling birthrates when we can't even watch some harmless humping on the screen. In true capitalist fashion, the distributors decided on the M18 rating, with the censors exercising their scissors to trim it for that. An R21 rating will enable this to go uncut, but no. So while we can see a dog hump everything in sight, human copulation is a strict no-no.

So yes, the version screened here is the censored one. NO sex please, we're Singaporeans. Welcome home, I thought. Anyway even without the sex on screen (which I'm sure we can all imagine in our erm, heads), the first impressions I have on the characters, especially Sarah Jessica Parker's New York #1 Single Girl (read: worried woman at 40 afraid of being left on the shelf and miss the train) Carrie Bradshaw, was that she's so whiny and shallow. It's all about the materialistic labels, as if not having a brand plastered on herself would mean the end of the world as we know it.

And succinctly put, that was the impression I got, which irked me at the beginning, until slow, and surprisingly, it started to grow on me. Stop the press, a chick flick which disses men at first opportunity, being appealing? Yes, you heard me right. While I had disdain for the Label part, what with the gushing over Vogue spreads, and having being sponsored gowns that rattled off like a who's who in the fashion industry (although I do admit that the Vivienne Westwood wedding gown was stunning) that made it look like wanting to go one up on The Devil Wears Prada, the Love part was what made it a tad more interesting.

As the series alluded to, the Big Apple is where the everyone goes to in an attempt to get their dreams come true and their love life sorted out, or so Jennifer Hudson's very minor supporting role as Carrie Bradshaw's personal assistant. I thought I was watching Desperate Housewives in their 40s, with the return of the principle cast of Cynthia Nixon as Miranda Hobbes, who's having problems dealing with infidelity and the grappling with the notion of forgiveness, Kristin Davis' Charlotte York, the ditzy one (yup, there's always one) amongst the group, and Kim Cattrall's Samantha Jones, the one who put the Sex in the city, but now living on the West Coast, and having to fight temptations with staying next door to a hunk (oh yeah M18 allows a cock shot too), resisting her internal urges to play the horizontal tango. For those who are virgins to the series, you'll thank the filmmakers for summarizing everything for you in the series when the opening credits roll.

But we all know that this movie is all about Carrie Bradshaw, don't we, as the trailer already suggests, the central story revolves around Bradshaw's impending marriage to her Mr Right, Mr Big (Chris Noth, and to the clueless like me, I thought it refers to an appendage, does it?). And in formulaic fashion, you know what would happen, and what would happen next. It runs fairly predictably, but the only thing that keeps us glued onto the screen, is because it appealed to our internal curiosity to observe how surprisingly these characters are brought to life by their charismatic actresses. That's also one major contributor to the fun factor, as you also laugh at some subtle remarks and actions - the iPhone bit just cracked me up, and so does the growing of the national forest part, despite being prominently featured in the trailers.

And it throws down a few life lessons too for everyone thinking about marriage, the severity of it (if you still subscribe to the notion), and that's to be dead sure before you even moot the point. Forever's a very long time, and you've got to be dead serious when making such commitments. In any case, whatever you do, never ever leave the bride at the alter. To me I think that's quite irresponsible, ungentlemanly and really very wrong. If you have cold feet and want to call it off, do it early, not at the very last minute. Though I think it really makes a good catalyst for a movie, like Run Fatboy Run.

So will Sex and the City make a lot of money, and wise enough to play during summer? Going by the crowd reaction, the fans have turned out in full force to support the movie and reminisce about the television series they loved, with the return of characters they spent a part of their lives with. To the uninitiated like me, they definitely have piqued my interest to try and watch the series. Uncensored of course, somehow, somewhere, where there's a will, there's gotta be a way. And later in summer we'll see the return of yet another television series to the big screen, and I can't wait for Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to dig up another case of the X-Files.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Temporary Hiatus - 25 to 30 May 08

No, I'm not going up north to start Probably Malaysia's #1 Movie Review Blog. That honour will probably belong to this site.

By the time you read this, I'll be asleep already, to wake up early in the morning to drop by my friend's place for his big day, and lending support (encumbrance, eating/drinking weird stuff, probably sing a song or two, dance naked on the streets, etc) on his big day, all the way until the banquet dinner where I'll have the chance to shoo people offstage by cutting in their dialogue with music (ala Oscars awards shows).

That'll end late night, before I hit the sack only to wake up some 4-5 hours later in time for the first flight out of the country, for work of course, hitting the ground running. Which reminds me, I'd better lay off the booze during the banquet, lest I become a slurring idiot in front of management. Busy all the way until Friday, where I'll depart on the last flight out for home.

In between I hope to meet up with friends over a meal or two. All work and no play, will make me dull you know?

See you all soon! You know I'm back when you see a review posted up here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pink Paddlers Now on DVD!

In 2007 there was a little seen documentary called Pink Paddlers, which I wrote
was a wonderful documentary which highlighted the disease of breast cancer, the experience of those who have survived the disease, and their fight against it, in raising awareness through the participation of sports, in this case, dragon boat racing.

It had limited screenings apart from its gala premiere and TV debut over ChannelNewsAsia, so for those interested, you'll be glad to know the DVD has been released! You can click on this link for more details on how to get your hand on a copy, retailing for S$20.


and you can read my review of the documentary here.

Link to the Official Movie Site

My Magic at Cannes?

So it's easy to read what the critics have to say about the various movies in official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, but so far, there is none written to date after its Gala Screening on 23 May 08, or if my online search skills have dwindled, and got zero results about the low-down on Eric Khoo's My Magic, Singapore's first movie to be selected to compete for the coveted Palme d'Or.

At best, I got the picture above from M&C showing our flag being flown high by director Eric Khoo, and his actors Jathisweran and magician Francis Bosco as they make their way on the renowned carpet.

So it's still a sad state where a local film doesn't get an iota of report/review from overseas press even at possibly the largest film festival stage, though I wonder why the local press who got sent there, rave and cover so much about the other movies like Indiana Yawn and fawn over Jack Black's antics for Kung Fu Panda, both of which are screened out of competition.

Priorities, people... local film, world premiere, still see no up ah? Sigh.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Pale Shadow of His Former Self

So it took 19 long years since the last installment, to finally decide to nail a decent story befitting of the trilogy that went before it. I would have thought it's because Spielberg, Lucas and Ford were racing against time to add some good money to their coffers before the latter got too old to don the fedora again, so they just greenlit this poor, poor imitation and parody of an "Indiana Jones" (deliberate quotes, mind you) movie, and slapped a Kingdom of Fictitious Skulls on it to make it sound like the worse title ever since Attack of the Clones or The Phantom Menace. If I had my way, this would be Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Mediocre Action Sequels with Weak Multi-Genre Plots.

Let's face it, Hollywood is running out of ideas for it to constantly raid old stories to remake of late, or to raid its has been heroes of the 80s to try and relive their glory days. Sylvester Stallone did it with Rocky and Rambo with some success, as did Bruce Willis with Die Hard, so everyone's jumping onto the bandwagon, but thank goodness Clint Eastwood stated categorically there'll be no more Dirty Make-My-Day Harrys. While the fans might have clamoured for more Indy adventures, is this exactly the stain they're asking for on their beloved franchise? Hardly. Like the recent action movie franchise additions, what we got here was a transplanting of an old school hero into an environment much different from what we're familiar with seeing the hero in (OK, so it's just about 10 years after WWII) but unfortunately fused with plot elements so generic, they've been used in just about every Indy-styled clone, from Sahara to the National Treasure movies, to sea based treasure hunters like Fool's Gold and Into the Blue. If the original franchise served as a template for others to follow or model themselves after, this installment too didn't become a trendsetter, but woefully dragged its tail behind the movies it inspired.

If you've rolled your eyes at the titles I've mentioned, you'll probably roll them some more by the time you're through with this Indy installment. Indiana Jones has lost all the charm which had endeared it to fans, and looked more like Indy learning a tip or two from Nic Cage's Ben Gates in solving puzzle after puzzle, each so obviously fabricated, that it leads from one action sequence to another. And these action sequences were lazily designed, each without putting our hero in grave danger enough to hang you on the edge of your seat. You'll know exactly when and how he's going to make his great escape, and many action set pieces here will make you scream silently, "what's the point?", with every animal and insect from the animal kingdom making an appearance. Not to mention too that the sequences were haphazardly delivered no thanks to poor editing, teleporting our hero from one scene to the next, surviving even the motherload of all weapons - an atomic bomb.

Indy's no Superman, but he's made out to be indestructible here, in childish terms, right from the start when he stood to admire the mushroom cloud or was able to dodge bullets fired by professional soldiers using automatic weapons from all directions at the same time. Spielberg and Lucas sprinkled so much fairy dust on him, that even his fedora has magical powers to appear and disappear at will or when it's inconvenient, and I'd buy me one of those bunker refrigerators too. Both filmmakers also can't resist putting their past glories into the movie like a kind of one-upmanship, with Lucas wanting to remind everyone about the forest chase sequence he did in Return of the Jedi complete with lightsabre battles if he could get away with it, and Spielberg reminiscing his good old days with ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which ultimately destroyed everything Indy about Indiana Jones. He's now Fox "Ben Gates" Mulder, who wants to believe because the truth is out there unravelled by a friend.

If I can describe this movie in one word, it's Lazy. Laziness at all angles. Harrison Ford might be too old to do all the stunts required in the movie, but it's lazy when you can distinguish every shot that he was replaced by a stunt double. The special effects were poured down left right and center, and were unimpressive to begin with, serving no purpose other than trying its best to wow a modern audience so jaded with such attempts at beautifying generic backdrops, or to try and disguise scenes so obviously shot in a soundstage. Lazy in having a score that was lacklustre and playing ad-nausem. Lazy in coming up with half-baked jokes uttered by almost everyone. And laziness in trying to connect everyone together in dotted line relationships, some drawing to unseen pasts and conveniently linked together through a line of dialogue.

Laziness in coming up with bland, uninteresting supporting characters. Harrison Ford returns as a reinvented Indiana Jones Version II, and there's more than one Harry here. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood just to bicker some more, and Shia LaBeouf just played what he has been playing all this while in Transformers and Disturbia (I'm smelling dangerous typecasting, and what's with that comb anyway?). Spielberg even toyed the idea of passing on the franchise baton to LaBeouf's Mutt Williams (yep, get the doggie name joke yet?), whatever for, I do not know, and I reckon the franchise will go down the Highlander way if it continues in that direction. Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent were pedestrian, and Cate Blanchett obviously has to realize a Chigurh haircut doesn't suit her, and neither does her villainous character, who can waltz into anyone's list of badly constructed movie villains, doing nothing but bark orders in Russian.

And it's an Indy trait too that it has some of the dumbest villains ever, since they all succumb to their own undoing as they personify the basic evils of man's greed for power, money and monkey skulls, but villains dispatched here takes the cake. The ultimate laziness in the movie, is the design of the titular bone structure. I could've sworn the Alien Mother Queen could have made an appearance, and still won't look out of place. Worst of all, and I'd give the Worst Prop of the Year award to it, was that the skull was made of cheap see-through plastic, and stuffed with even more cheap, transparent plastic bags inside it to make it look like brain matter, although all the actors would try to make you believe they're made of Swarovski.

I went to this movie wanting to love it, but what I got was a sense of betrayal, like watching a loved one selling herself for cash. Indiana Jones may be back and it started off quite promisingly with winks at the earlier movies, but it's a yawnfest with a storyline that goes nowhere, and generic action sequences poorly designed in a rush for time. I have no doubt it'll make its gazillions at the box office, but just give me the original trilogy in a box set, and I'd try to forget this nightmare ever existed. It should have stopped at the Last Crusade, and not get tempted by the lure of more greenback.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What's On The Asian Menu Jun-Dec 2008?

While we're going to sit through a barrage of Hollywood blockbusters in the next few months, where every week has its own marquee movie to bump everything off the cinema schedules, what about films from Asia brewing on the horizon you may ask?

Time to check out some crystal ball gazing by's webmaster Linus as he brings to you some interest highlights set to light up our screens, ranging from local fare to the big budgeted Pan-Asian films that are set for some serious box office battles. Hmm, I'm already licking my lips at the prospect of She Ain’t Mean!

See if that movie piques your interest too, or if the others are more up your alley by clicking on the logo below


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ayat-Ayat Cinta


Playing to full houses since the day it premiered in Singapore, Ayat-Ayat Cinta piqued my interest not only because it's a movie from the region, but also because it tackles the theme of polygamy and wears religion on its sleeve. Based on a novel by Habiburrahman El Shirazy, and it being obvious that I haven't read the book, Ayat-Ayat Cinta had a lot going for it, with its attempts at tackling various issues, but it always seemed that while it goes for the jugular, it holds back, therefore not being able to deliver its punches to the full, and strangely enough, had a scene which looked like a nationalist cry for victory.

In essence, the film splits its slightly more than 2 hours runtime into 3 acts. The first which establishes all the players, and while it seemed to dive right into the action without giving much explanation, hold your horses for their backgrounds because these will come by the time the end credits roll. The middle section might seem out of place, with its centering on a court case where you the audience is put into the shoes of knowing who's the accuser and the lies being told, but again the minutes that tick by has its importance especially when tied to religion - that God always puts forth certain trials for the faithful to overcome, in some kind of make or break scenario, to see how one stands firm and forthright in one's beliefs. And finally, the part where everyone is likely to have an interest in, but one which comes too late too soon, and the story having a cop out, is the dealing of the polygamy issue.

Fahri (Fedi Nuril) is an Indonesian religious student who's studying in a prestigious religious university in Egypt. He's the all round nice guy, who's pious as he is moderate in his values, as well as being the resident stud with whom every female he has the fortune to meet, falls head over heels with. To some of us, this seems like heaven, but seriously, it's more trouble that Fahri can ever imagine. Through him, we learn a little bit more about Islam, and his little fights against extremism, and correcting those who conveniently hide behind being deliberately out of context. Naturally this charm of sincerity and standing up for the underdog brings him admirers.

First there's fellow student Nurul (Melanie Putria), whom Fahri and his friends go to for academic assistance, because of her ties with their professor. She takes a liking of Fahri because he's probably a genius to her eyes, and being the best looking amongst the cohort of course. Then there's Noura (Zaskia Adya Mecca), a poor soul who's constanly abused in public by her father, whom Fahri takes pity and rescues. For Noura, it is obvious she's in love with her knight in shining armour, while Fahri, in his heart, sincerely just took pity on her. There's Maria (Carissa Putri) of the Christian faith, one of the first Fahri meets in his student days, and as his neighbour, they share a lot of time together in studies and play, and both find good virtues with one another, coming close to ending their search for soulmates. That is, until Fahri meets Aisyah (Rianti Rhiannon Cartwright), a German muslim with whom I think most guys would go for without a doubt - someone who shares the same religion and has deep affinity for it, a loaded family so cares for material wealth takes a backseat, and probably best of all, which I think the director Hanung Bramantyo teased on purpose, is a stunner behind that veil that she wears (you can hear gasps of exasperation when trick camera angles were used to hide her facial features).

If you were Fahri, who would you choose? In keeping to the spirit of not spoiling it for you, I shan't tell too. Of course he chooses one, based on certain criteria of his own, which doesn't surprise (hey, we're guys ok?), but the manner in which it was presented, made it seem rather shallow and superficial, whence it should be something more of a deeper connection that he should feel for his wife to be. Anyway things are never rosy with a marriage, and soon enough, melodrama dictates that his marriage will be on the rocks since husband and wife hardly know each other - with a matchmade like ritual being the bridge between two hearts - and a more severe trial being put in their way, which calls for the courts to be involved.

As mentioned, Ayat-Ayat Cinta never fail in finding opportunity to talk about religion, and in fact I enjoyed such moments as its principles can be applied regardless of your own personal beliefs, as they are universal and would be in agreement with any reasonable person. And it brings to mind certain things we do too, such as the doubts that creep into the minds of even the most pious, when it seemed that the almighty had somewhat forsaken us when we are stuck in a rut that we believe couldn't happen to us since we should be in God's good books constantly for putting his sayings into practice. But I guess the old man above has his own sense of humour and share of wanting to shake things up a little to separate those who pay lip service only, from those who are truly sincere.

Given that the story's central theme is on love, you don't really get much of that until the last act which lasts not more than 20 minutes on screen. Touching on love and sacrifice, you'd wonder how those who have polygamous relationships handle the requirements of it all, and the superb time management which they supposedly possess. Juggling multiple girlfriends or dates is a piece of cake, although sometimes there's always that very few close shaves. Juggling more than one wife under the same roof, calls for some serious soul searching, and the obvious courting of trouble with a capital T. While there are those with virtues like patience, tolerance and the likes, I doubt many women out there would willingly (and this is the keyword) share their husbands with another woman. Here, it's out of circumstance to save his own rear, at least how it was played out, despite obvious clues that it wasn't, and it again serves as a reminder to think through this vowed devotion very thoroughly, before taking the plunge. It boils down to being fair, being honest and being sincere, versus what you think might be pleasing in the eyes of a deity. Again without spoiling it, you do feel for the character who has to make this call and sacrifice. Love hurts, doesn't it from time to time?

Ayat-Ayat Cinta in its separate acts, have moments which stand out and fulfill their purpose, but when strung together, you'd feel that there are plenty more it could have addressed without relegating some issues to the backseat, and of course some minor elements which could've been dropped. I guess like the relationships in the movie, it had to pick and choose its battles, and what was delivered was still engaging enough to sit through.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We're Back

The first movie I watched in a theatre in the States happened to be in Las Vegas, and was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Billed as the year end blockbuster, it never did really live up to its hype, and I did not really enjoy the movie. Perhaps being the most familiar of the Narnia stories that expectations of its treatment tend to be higher, and nonetheless coming off the sucessful Lord of the Rings franchise, it certainly had to scale a higher benchmark.

It's been a long wait for the follow up Prince Caspian to hit the screens, after a widely publicised postponement from the tail end of last year, which kept me wondering if it needed more time to be tweaked, or if it wanted to hit the summer holiday season to rake in more cash from the box office. Then perhaps after viewing it today, I realize that it's way much darker in tone for a Christmas season movie, and also to distance itself even further with a huge runway from the glut of mediocre fantasy fare like Eragon, the Dark is Rising and The Golden Compass, all based on contemporary stories, which I suppose if the literary classic of Narnia Chronicles could stand the test of time, surely its movie counterpart couldn't fare all that bad, right?

So Disney and Walden Media stuck to their guns with the follow up, and I dare say I enjoyed this a lot more than the first installment. In fact, I like it so much, I'd consider buying the DVD too. As a movie, it had plenty of thrilling and intense moments which left me at the edge of my seat. It joins the ranks of sequels being better than their first installment, and the action here trounces its predecessor hands down. There are some really nicely crafted set action pieces like the night raid, the one on one battle and finale as well with a twist you'd never seen coming (except perhaps when you've read the book? I'm speculating here of course, since I haven't read it) to spice things up from the usual bore, though there are still some elements which seem repeated, like the countless of horse rides for flight from enemies, and can someone mention Ents? But don't let these minor issues detract and distract you, because you can't scream "plagiarism" if it's already there in the book.

For those unfamiliar, the religious/Christian allegories are strong in Prince Caspian, and more so than in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I felt. Here, it's the second coming of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve at a time when the evils of mankind seem to be going out of hand, represented by the Telmarines. Also the notion that the Lord (Aslan) is always there for the asking. Though he's omni-present and consciously knows of atrocities, he will not step in unless he's genuinely ask to. The perennial seek and you shall find / be given unto you doesn't ring any clearer than the story here, with him showing himself only to the believers.

Taking place just a year after they left Narnia (which in Narnia time is about 1300 years since they've left), the Pevensie siblings - Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) get summoned back to Narnia and realize that things have drastically change since the last time they remembered it. The animals seemed edgier and have more angst, and their new guide for Narnia, the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) replaces the James McAvoy's fawn, filling in some quick history lessons for our quartet who return to Narnia in an age almost similar to the first time they set foot there. Summoning them is Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who's a ruler-in-waiting having to flee from his land because of an assassination plot, and teams up with summoned Kings and Queens to retake his homeland as well as to bring peace toward all.

Noble thoughts indeed, but not without its problems of course. A land cannot have too many kings (as we learn from Lord of the Rings), and while Edward knows of his place in the hierarchy of things, Peter the Magnificent surely felt Prince Caspian a threat, and both do not hit off really well, especially when their strategies of war appear to be in conflict. Nonetheless through their trials in the story, they will learn and realize lessons in humility, especially when they know they are subject to similar temptations of short cuts to absolute power and victory they crave. While this is more of a Peter story than an Edward one (Who had his fair share in the previous installment), William Moseley's performance as Peter do allow you to both hate and cheer for him as the story develops, while Skandar Keynes taking a backseat meant that he gets all the coolest moves as an action fighter.

Ben Barnes came across as a speaker with a Spanish accent, quite arrogant in the first place, at least until his benefactors arrive, whom he got acquainted with only through folk tales he learnt from his teacher. Although the titular character, it does seem that Caspian himself plays a supporting role to the quartet, given that we're more interested in their return and the change that they'll bring. However, if the Narnia movies were to proceed with another, then expect Barnes to play a larger role then. Anna Popplewell's Susan continues her role as the female archer, and doesn't really add much to the mythos, except perhaps for the fleeting romance and affection she develops for the good looking Caspian, while Georgie Henley's Lucy is a little bit grown up now, but still retaining that bit of innocence in her as the sole believer and seeker of Azlan, bearing all of Narnia's hopes on her lithe shoulders.

The special effects also took a great leap forward, improving upon the lacklustre hack job done in the earlier movie, and the talking animals, for once, I thought they didn't irritate (yes, talking animals get on my nerves, after so many movies exploiting this cheap trick to infuse into their plots). Shrek lovers will undoubtedly fall in love with a new character in the movie styled as a mouseketeer, erm, musketeer, and if I were a shrewd toy businessman, I'd stock up on this particular plush toy (seems like rats these days get lots of love!). To top it all off, there are some nicely put cameos which links back to the first movie, and having their share in some intense sequences, no less.

There are a lot of good things about Prince Caspian, and I'm happy to report that it builds on the original which served as a foundation on which better things are built upon, and thankfully, this sequel focused on its strengths instead of getting bogged by its weaknesses, and provided all round entertainment with what I would deem as a guilty pleasure. Highly recommended, especially to detractors of the first movie, this one is set to put the franchise on an even keel!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

[DVD] Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (1974)

After watching this documentary on Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, you'd come to think that Forest Whitaker's award winning portrayal in The Last King of Scotland had given the military general more intellect, more cunning and definitely a more clear cut look at the nature of the man's evils. But in fact, from what you can glean from this documentary, he seemed to be more fuddy duddy, with surprising charisma whether or not due to his public demeanour, and his semi-illiterateness in the English Language (again, Whitaker made him sound grammatical).

Movies about political leaders are not new, and lately there's one that's also sanctioned by a leader himself, a made by a Singaporean documentary called A Hero's Journey, which presents a snapshot of the life of President Xanana Gusmao of Timor Leste. In this Idi Amin documentary, he has final word on what gets presented, and what not, and it's quite surprising that he's OK with making himself look like a buffoon, whether deliberate or not, leaves much to interpretation of his intent. You might say he wanted to show off what he can do, and what power he wields over his cronies, but on the other, there certainly are plenty of material which could easily have dented his popularity and aura.

Watching him go through his motions just brought about a thought, that evil men need not wear their evilness or ruthlessness on their sleeves. Here, Idi Amin might be the real life personification of The Joker, smiling on the outside, but inside his heart harbours thoughts similar to the mentioned villain. He's like a charismatic comedian, and makes it difficult not to laugh at his atrocities because he really does have a lot of funny ideas. His mastery of the English language is woeful, but that doesn't stop him from speaking it, and the filmmakers subtitling every grammatical error he's made too, instead of correcting it for an audience.

He's a self-professed soothsayer and an interpreter of dreams, and sends strange telegrams to various heads of state which reads like a script for a sitcom. He's often delusional as well, and some of the highlights of this documentary, which has to be seen to be believed, include his imaginary war games to take the Golan Heights from the Israelis given his very puny army, laughable air force and armour, and best of all, training his paratroopers on a children's slide. What cannot be missed as well, are his briefings to the country's doctors and to witness him holding court as one of his cabinet meetings, which was so full of contradictions and hare-brained ideas, you can't help but laugh at the farce of it all.

You can just imagine how any country could be run with jokers like these in power. He can't speak, can't communicate, and basically doesn't even know an iota about running a military (besides the rudimentary appreciation of semi-automatic weapons), let alone a country. He's full of personal prejudice and practices discrimination, but one thing's for sure, he's quite a musician, having contributed to the soundtrack of the film.

If you think you want to go beyond the fictional The Last King of Scotland to look at this dictator up close and personal, then this documentary should be your first step in trying to understand the contradiction which is His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular (yes, that's his official title!)

The Criterion Collection Region Free DVD is presented in a new digital transfer as supervised by director Barbet Schroeder (as explained during his interview included). There's an 18 chapter scene selection, and extras come in the form of the aforementioned video interview with the director (running at 26:44 minutes) where he recounts the experience in shooting the documentary, and a text based timeline of Ugandan History from 1870s to 1996.

[DVD] Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

Bhuvan's Eleven

Having won multiple awards and gotten itself nominated in the 2002 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category, my interest in Lagaan was actually in wanting to discover more of writer-director Ashutosh Gowariker's works, having seen his latest movie Jodha Akbar, and having bought Swades: We, the People starring Shah Rukh Khan, still unwatched.

I've never been a fan of cricket and have never understood the rules, but I suppose after the time you're through with Lagaan, you'll learn at least the basics enough to enjoy the game. No doubt my interest in this sport has been piqued, and non-fans shouldn't steer away from the movie, because knowledge of the sport is not a pre-requisite for you to enjoy this wonderful gem of a sports movie running close to a whopping 3.5 hours (and I heard in the collector's edition, it runs to 4?)

Set in British India, we learn that Lagaan is a form of taxation that the villagers have to pay to their Rajas, who in turn pay the British for protection against, erm, invading forces and rivals from other Rajas. In fact, the British were double crossing everyone during their occupation of the country, and bad weather makes the lives of the villagers even more hard pressed since they have zero crops to sell. Every village needs a folk hero, and herein lies Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) who decides to step into the shoes of one, not because of bravado, but because of the atrocities dished out by the British against his fellow countrymen, especially when taxes for the year have been doubled.

So the stakes are raised in a game of cricket. Defeat the British, led by Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) and have a tax waver of 3 years for the entire province, or if they lose, then their Lagaan will be tripled. And you don't need a rocket scientist to tell you that when the impoverished have their backs against the corner, they have little choice but to fight back. However, after years of being oppressed and cowering in the face of hardship, you'll need that bright spark or two to shake things up and bring everyone to their senses that Hope is something they have which they can turn into reality if they work at it.

The storyline might seem cliche as per the usual sports movies, where our hero Bhuvan has to assemble a team of good men each with their own special farming background which can be incorporated into the game, and recruitment always is a challenge when nobody believes you, and thinks you're the troublemaker who started it all. There are leaders, and there are followers, and some good time is invested to develop this challenge, as well as to explore the plight of the villagers in more detail. The villains of the movie, those pompous Brits personified by Captain Russell with his nose perpetually in the air all the time, are put in very bad light with their looking down of the natives as slaves.

But even amongst themselves, the Indians too have their infamous caste system, and this was touched upon when Bhuvan chooses to adopt the more meritocratic route in player selection, and this message undoubtedly stands out. I can't comment much on these themes that Gowariker touch upon in his films, such as that of religious tolerance in Jodha Akbar, but it seems likely that he had incorporated these knowing that his films do appeal to the masses, and therefore serve as a reminder to everyone.

While the last 1.5 hours get devoted to the game, where two proud man go head to head against each other with their team, and team members having their own personal vendettas worked out during the matches, it never for a minute played out in a boring manner. In fact, it was entertaining to watch them go through the paces of the game in 101 terms, and from there, those unfamiliar with cricket will likely be able to pick up the basics. Even if the sport is not your cup of tea, its delivery will still appeal to you, as do the usual Bollywood staple of dance and song, as composed by renowned A.R. Rahman - I particularly liked the segment where any self-respective sports movie will have - the training montage, and with a love triangle of sorts fused between Bhuvan, his childhood sweetheart Gauri (Gracy Singh) and Englishwoman Elizabeth Russell (Rachel Shelley), sister of the villagers' enemy but one who decides to teach them the game so that they can get on equal terms with her countrymen.

Despite its cliches, Lagaan is wonderful entertainment, and you will not realize the movie's running length, as you'll be engrossed in what transpires, and will find yourself rooting for the clear underdogs as they go about trying to battle oppression in unfamiliar terms. Colourful songs and charismatic folk characters, Lagaan unquestionably reinforces my love for Bollywood!

Code 1 DVD from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation, however the visuals are not pristine as they seem to be transferred from a rather noisy print with some pops and cackles. Audio is in English/Hindi Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1. Subtitles come in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Portuguese, and scene selection is spread over 52 chapters.

The extras are quite scant, with text based filmographies of director Ashutosh Gowariker, Aamir Khan, Paul Blackthorne, Gracy Singh and Rachel Shelley. The only other extra is a deleted scene which runs 17:45, which fills up the gap why it was weird when Mai seemed to be acquainted with Elizabeth, and a whole subplot of the farmers being arrested for possession of new cricket gear which were a gift from Elizabeth, the discovery of a mole and the bringing forward of the match.

Anyway if I can, I'll hunt down the beautiful limited edition box set, where only 10,000 copies have been produced. Bound to be a lot more extras in that DVD collector's edition.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

[DVD] The Uninvited (4 Inyong Shiktak) (2003)

I See Dead People Too

The marketeers bill this as a modern horror masterpiece and ranks up there with recent horror stories like Ringu. I'd say phooey, it doesn't even come close, not by a huge mile. Starring probably Korea's most recognizable face Jun Ji-hyun, I'd admit I was curious enough to see how she would take on a horror story after a series of romances and comedies like Daisy, Il Mare, and possible her most popular film to date, My Sassy Girl.

In fact, The Uninvited has little horrific moments in the traditional sense, and its attempts at being a psychological thriller falls flat too with its meek attempts to weave and associate itself with the unknown power of the mind. Its fault lay in not being able to provide its characters with much to do, often having them wallow in self-pity because of their scant abilities to see dead children, and in coming up with too many supporting characters whose purpose serve only one scene, and not the story. Case in point, those 2 kids often used to spook potential audiences, have absolutely nothing to do with the story at all.

Except perhaps to introduce its male lead Mr Kang Jung-won (Park Shin-yang), an interior designer who chanced upon them during a late night train ride, only to know of their deaths in the news the next day. Soon after he sees them sitting around his dining room of his new would-be matrimonial home, and spooks the heck out of him, enough to move back to his father's home. Again by chance he meets up with willowy Yun-jung (Jun Ji-hyun) at his customer's place, a mental clinic, and learns that she attends his father's church too. Yun-jung could have been an interesting character, given her mysterious background, innate shaman like powers and her narcolepsy illness which makes her faint when she least expects to.

Just when Jung-won thinks he's mad to be seeing the dead children, Yun-jung seeing the same thing makes him curious enough to want to know her, and tap her shaman like powers to explain his forgotten childhood. But to get to this point was a drag which takes 90 minutes to have things move onto a higher plateau. There's plenty of unnecessary back and forth of scenes with rather plain characters populating the story, like Jung-won's fiancee, Yun-jung's estranged husband and his mother-in-law, Jung-won's father and sister, Yun-jung's best friend who's there just to provide a tragic element, and the list goes on.

What's peculiar in this movie, is how it prefers to try and shock with its plenty of leaps off buildings, balconies and parapets as its preferred method of death. Even supporting characters are dispatched cleanly through this method, as if they're introduced precisely for this purpose. And it's shown by an unflinching camera too, which doesn't cut away to dampen its desired effect. I had to admit that I was in awe at how it showed head on, the crushing of a toddler by a lorry tyre. Just like that. And of course it's done by special effects, I can't help but to pause the DVD, rewind, and look at it again, thrice.

You have to give credit to its technical strengths, which doesn't rely on cheap tricks like how a typical genre flick would try. But back to basics, what is required is a strong storyline, which The Uninvited doesn't have and squanders its potential. It played out like a hydra with too many things happening at the same time, or brewing in the background, with neither sub plot being developed adequately, and often left hanging and forgotten. It had a theme which could have been made primary - that of the concept of how Truth becomes, only from acceptance, and like that immortalized line from A Few Good Man, can you handle it?

But alas it's too little too late, and with its boring and unnecessary meandering, The Uninvited sinks, and seriously, it's an uninviting movie to sit through for all its blandness.


The Region Free DVD by Panik House Entertainment is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with Audio available in Korean Dolby 2.0, Dolby Surround 5.1 or DTS. There's a Spanish commentary which obviously I've no inkling what was being said, and an English audio essay by Art Black narrated by Korean Film Licensor Ed Lee, which discusses Korean films in general with no tie-in with the movie itself, and ends at the 26th minute mark. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish, with scene selection over 27 chapters.

The Special Features include a series of Behind The Scenes featurettes which is presented in Full Frame with English subtitles available, consisting of Shattered Glass (3:40 of Park Shin-yang smashing those light bulbs), Ceiling Collapses (1:58), Truck (2:01), Afternoon Tea (3:52 of Jun Ji-hyun being splashed with water), Don't Drop the Baby (3:31 of Jun Ji-hyun screaming), Rain (2:13) and Cat Scan (1:19) which has plenty of Jun Ji-hyun perfecting her fainting spells, Hysteria (2;04 with Jun Ji-hyun having music to zone herself into the correct mood) and The Couch (1:52). There's not much insights here on how scenes where constructed, especially the more technically challenging ones.

Reminiscence: An Interview with Ji-hyun Jun and Shin-yang Park is just that, running at 8:34 with both actors describing their characters and experience working on the movie. The green outfits worn by both are striking though. Abridged: The Uninvited Condensed tells the entire story in 15 minutes, and does so successfully. Tells you a lot, doesn't it? And the final feature is From Sketch to Screen: Story Board Comparison with illustrations by director-writer Lee Soo-youn herself, which features more of the interior designs of the various houses used, and showcases spatial storyboards running at 16:55, with spoilers, so remember to watch this last.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


In this part of the world, there's no dearth of male action heroes, you know, those with real martial arts background. Think Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, and closer to home, Tony Jaa. How about a female counterpart? You're likely to struggle hard to name a credible one, Michelle Yeoh notwithstanding. So Thai director Prachya Pinkaew is probably shrewd enough to identify this golden opportunity, and so introduces us to Yanin Vismistananda in her debut feature Chocolate.

Those familiar with Pinkaew's martial arts extravaganzas with Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, will know roughly what to expect from Chocolate. Since the rumoured falling out with his main star of those movies, there's definitely some big shoes to fill, and Yanin fills them quite nicely, martial arts wise, though there were certain scenes which were quite clear that she's still a diamond in the rough with many edges left to polish. But that's not to put down her effort, except that I thought as a lady, her final delivery of those choreographed punches and kicks lacked some really hard hitting edge to them, and the curious observation that some required some speeding up, was left to be desired. What could also be improved, is the transitions between fights, because each seemed pretty much stand alone, even though you know that she's supposedly to be battling enemies continuously, but with each combatant, there seemed to be a "reset" to on-guard mode.

But what was learned from the earlier two Thai action movies, was that it was no longer necessary to repeat the action from different camera angles. This would stem from confidence in showing off the stunts from a single viewpoint, and not feel sore from not being able to cover it from multiple angles. And Chocolate had some really nice buildup in the complexity of these set action pieces. It teases with what's over the horizon starting from a few thugs at a street performance, and sets up carefully crafted action sequences for our heroine to flit from one to another, each being an excuse to dispatch goon after goon coming at her.

Influences from Hong Kong action movies are without doubt, as you can recount similar settings in various HK movies being incorporated here, such as Fong Sai-Yuk's half-crouching styled fights under a stage. What was internalized in Chocolate, was probably from the Jackie Chan styled school of action, which fuses some bit comedy, with the utilizing of everyday objects in one's surroundings to throw off opponents, or worked into the action piece as a prop for acrobatic stunts to be performed. I'd bet there are numerous sequences here that Jackie Chan himself would approve and be proud of.

And in true Jackie Chan culture, besides the end credits featuring some of the NG shots and injuries to the stars and stunt folk, you'll be glad to know that Yanin did most of her own stunts, and it's indeed no mean feat fighting in a skirt of that length, without it getting in the way. While the finale battle involves countless of Crazy88 types ala Kill Bill in wave after wave of attacks, culminating in battling it out on the facade of a multi-storey shophouse building complete with smashing windows, ledges and neon signboards, my personal favourite had to be at the abattoir. In reddish hues, the villains are sans shirts, meaning risks of personal injury are higher without padding that can be hidden underneath the clothes. And with menacing looking meat hooks hanging, and using cleavers as projectiles, just make your job drop at how these fights were choreographed and filmed, especially the slamming of bodies against concrete stalls.

Action aside, the first 30 minutes or so was devoted to developing Yanin's Zen (heh) character, a young autistic girl born of gangster parents - Dad Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) is a non-self-respecting Yakuza member who doesn't have a body full of tattoos, and Mom Zin (Ammara Siripong) belongs to the Thai triads, and ex-moll of its head honcho. In a Romeo-Juliet styled love springing from only hate, only in Singapore do you have the sex scene severely edited, which I thought was important as that's how Zen was conceived. Violence is OK, but sex is zero here. Anyway Dad had to exile himself back to Japan to avoid an all out gang war, and Zin now becomes an outcast single parent, who has to struggle with cancer, as well as raising an autistic child.

Children of such nature are usually referred to as special, and the specialness of Zen is her ability to pick up martial arts by observation. Hence thanks to DVDs of Pinkaew's earlier movies, and having to reside beside a Muay Thai school, Zen picks up the skills necessary, and get to use them when she goes hunting for her mother's debtors in order to pay for chemotherapy sessions. Money's everyone's problem, so Zen gets to use her fists, knees and elbows on her opponent's face, body and shin. I'd always love watching knees and elbows connect to deliver blows on opponents and inflicting excruciating pain, and in her lithe form, Zen delivers them with balletic grace.

Anyway I'd guess no one's really interested in how the story gets developed, which is not without its fair share of loopholes, but we're all here to watch Yanin Vismitananda kick some serious butt. And she does so convincingly enough to warrant a fan following onto her next movie, and make it an action one please!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Italian Film Festival 2008 - 4 to 15 June

Into its 8th year, the Italian Film Festival 2008 is presented by the Italian Cultural Institute and will run from 4 to 15 June at The Cathay Cineplex's Picturehouse, and at The Arts House at Old Parliament Lane. Public screenings will run from 5th to 15th June (the 4th is the Opening Night).

You can click on the following links to check out the screening schedule at The Picturehouse and The Arts House.

Tickets at S$10 (except "Don Camillo and Peppone" at S$6) on sale from May 19th at The Picturehouse Box Office, Level 5 or online at and at The Arts House Box Office or online at

Jack Neo's Movie Director & Scriptwriter Search 2008

So you want to be a movie director or scriptwriter? Jack Neo can help! Or rather, here's a competition for you to try and snag an apprenticeship program with one of Singapore's most successful movie directors.

Taken from the competition site,

Jack Neo's Movie Director & Scriptwriter Search 2008 is a competition that aims to discover passionate individuals in preparation to enter promising talent/s into the 'Apprenticeship Programme' under the mentorship of Jack Neo. Candidates who excel from the 'Apprenticeship Programme' will be offered a contract to Write, Make or Produce a movie with Jack Neo.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to find out more!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

[5th NZ Film Festival] Perfect Creature

Nobody's Perfect

Written and directed by Glenn Standring, Perfect Creature falls into one of those fantasy, alternate universe timelines where because of genetic engineering and the likes, humans now are living side by side with the more powerful vampires with whom have forged a truce, that is, to never feed on the blood of humans, but instead, get their dosage of plasma through religious rites of sorts.

Which serves as an intriguing premises to begin with, except that it had so much going for it, that it failed to capitalize on the wealth of its potential, instead choosing to coast through the expected until a finale made up of standard fare, with too many plot elements than it could handle, with mistrust between the two species of homo sapiens, an influenza virus, and a murderous vampire hell bent on creating havoc by unleashing his own brand of justice to the world.

With movies like Underworld and various other genre incarnations that dwell on super-beings, Perfect Creature at best was on par in terms of the visuals, where the filmmakers have created a stunningly looking dark city, which seemed like a cross between Victorian England, except for the vehicles such as zeppelins which crowd the sky. Special effects was rudimentary, and you can feel the lack of slickness in the movements of the vampires, not so much as they couldn't fly, but their essence of speed wasn't properly brought across, and looked quite clunky.

The story, bared down to the basics, is about how human detective Lilly (Saffron Burrows) has to team up with a high ranking vampire / priest (yes, you read that right) called Brother Silus (Dougray Scott, who walks really stiff here and nary breaks into a smile), despite her and her team's discrimination against the vampire race. And their common adversary Edgar (Leo Gregory) happens to be a researcher of sorts gone renegade, and with blood relations to Silus, puts a dampener on so called conflict of interest.

As an action-fantasy piece, don't expect any award winning acting here, because what thrills are the set action pieces in claustrophobic spaces within dark and dank apartment blocks. However, unlike its contemporary peers, there aren't any fancy gadgets, weapons or moves to wow you, well, maybe perhaps the cool stunt gun that Silus carries which fires off projectile rounds to immobilize his kind. And of course something tells you it's not quite right when the mid-point action sequence trounces the finale which had a distinct lack of excitement.

But on the whole, for its mood, settings, and imaginative spin on the vampire genre, Perfect Creature does deserve a watch.

[5th NZ Film Festival] Tongan Ninja

Watching Tongan Ninja is like watching a movie so deliberately bad, it's good! Which is not surprising, given that the creative brains of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie behind Flight of the Conchords, had a hand in crafting the zany scenes, crazy dialogue and mind-boggling tongue in cheek action sequences. It's like watching a kid's cartoon come alive, though it comes with a tinge of unexpected violence as well to make it more adult.

The basic structure follows that of Bruce Lee's Way/Return of the Dragon, where a martial arts practitioner get sent to protect a restaurant from thugs who come asking for protection money. Sam Manu plays Sione Finau aka Tongan Ninja the titular character, whose tragic background of his father being killed by a fish haunts him into adulthood. Growing up in a Pacific island where he learns his ninja skills, he gets sent by his master to New Zealand to help a friend in need, represented by Miss Lee (Linda Tseng) whom he falls in love with.

You know it's gonna be mindless fun with slapstick humour when the villains are caricatures such as Knife Man, Gun Man and his arch-nemesis Action Man (played by Jemaine Clement himself) with whom is under the same ninja tutelage. The fights don't take themselves seriously, as it really hammed up every cliche you can find in bad action movies. From funny character names to funny action moves coupled with cheesily bad special effects, everyone's acting is really over the top, and therein lies the fun factor when watching the movie, complete with spaghetti western styled dialogue and dubbed voices that are never in sync.

What also worked here are the zany song and dance sequences, which acted as a precursor of the later collaboration between Clement and McKenzie. In fact, if you pay attention to the lyrics that are sung during these sequences, that's half the fun already as you're likely to have been chuckling along.

So don't expect quality production values with polished acting. You can tell these folks had a lot of fun spoofing the genre and probably had a great time on set, and this shows up in the product in all honesty. It doesn't bite off more than it can chew, and provides for some really enjoyable entertainment.

Death Defying Acts


What had drawn me to watch Death Defying Acts, is that it's a story with Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest illusionist and escape artist of our time. A few days ago I was browsing through a book which revealed the secrets behind his brand of death defying acts, and really he's a man of science, engineering and most of all, a performer to bring to life the act of fooling an audience into believing his stunts. Sure there's an element of danger, but with proper risk assessment and safeguards, they strip away all the mystique that serves to confound.

But contrary to the title, there's nothing really death defying about the movie, as it treaded on safe ground and doesn't dwell any more on the illusions that it has to. In fact, you can count the number of stunts which involve Harry Houdini, and the filmmakers left that for another biographical movie that someone else should pick up on. What we have instead are glimpses into the man's personal life, and Guy Pearce provided quite an intense and charismatic Houdini with personal demons of his own to do battle with, though the story seemed to rein him in from dwelling too much on that aspect, and preferred to have a more romantic tale weaved in.

The romanticism of the movie is not with his illusions, but with a single parent who's a psychic of sorts, relying on her street smarts to get her own act going. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Mary McGarvie, who has to rely on her wits to build credibility for her stage character. Together with daughter and sidekick Benji (played by Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame), the mother and daughter team tries hard to make a living from their acts, but realize that they're by no means close to Houdini's widespread fame and fortune.

However, Houdini himself throws a gauntlet to all psychics far and wide, that whosoever can accurately reveal what his late mother had last said to him, will inherit US$10,000. His purpose it seems is to reveal that the majority of these soothsayers are tricksters in disguise, until of course he meets the luminous Mary, and affairs of the heart throws him off course. Naturally, Mary and Benji find themselves up against the best in the business, but when your back is against the wall, there's nothing much to lose it seems.

As mentioned earlier, this movie's more of a character study of the master magician, and explores things like his guilt because of dedication to his craft and performance, as well as his questionable motives in being attracted to the fictional Mary McGarvie. Narrated by the character of Benji, we see things through a child's eyes, and perhaps therein lies the loss of some pathos in the romantic angle of it. On one hand, it isn't your classic romantic story, while on the other, it doesn't seem to want to preach the method, rationale and mindset of Houdini himself.

So what emerged is a mixed bag. Beautifully shot, but again falling on the emptiness of its effort in trying to allow the audience to feel for the characters. At least Timothy Spall, who plays Mr Sugarman, Houdini's manager, allowed for some light moments as the guarded and wary person that he is. And credit goes to keeping the ending quite right too.

Made of Honor

Whaddaya Think?

Made of Honor spells chick flick all over it, the perennial formulaic romantic comedy that tells its entire story in the trailer, but that's not going to stop couples from hitting the cinemas for their date movie flick, does it? What I thought was peculiar was that the original US rating for this was R, meaning a lot more sexual material thrown in, versus the now released PG-13 version which was re-edited, and over here, the rating of PG that allows for everyone to make a beeline if they want to escape from the week's blockbuster.

The plot's nothing new as well, with movies like My Best Friend's Wedding, Just Friends and even from as far back as Three Men and a Little Lady where the best friend tries his/her very best to convince the bride/groom that their choice for eternal companionship, is of the wrong one, and of course, to make away with their respective selves to live happily ever after. And if you think the premise is a ludicrous one, where a man will take up the duties of a maid of honor, then Singapore perhaps just legitimized it with a wedding in a cinema last Tuesday, where indeed a male did grace the occasion of his best friend's wedding as her MOH.

For a man who doesn't seem to have a job and have a huge trust fund behind him, Patrick Dempsey shed his uptight role as a dad from his debut big screen outing with Enchanted, for a playboy called Tom who lives by certain rules in his dating game, and amongst them, no back to back sex with the same girl, no dates with the same girl unless it's a week apart, and never to call someone new in the next 24 hours, never bring them to weddings and family events, and the likes. Women find him irresistable (either for his looks or for that bank account), and he spares no time in getting to know them inside out. The ideal bachelor lifestyle I'd bet, with a constant flow of money, women, and good pals to shoot hoops with, none of them seemingly poor enough to hold down regular jobs.

However, he has his best friend and confidante in Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) with whom he spends his weekends with, and just when he discovers that he truly loves the girl, she drops the bombshell that she's going to marry a Scot whom she met during her business trip, and talking about whirlwind romances, will be getting married in 14 days. So the clock starts to tick in order for Tom to prove himself to be better than the groom-to-be Colin McMurray (Kevin McKidd), which is an uphill task as riches-for-riches they could be on par, but you just can't inject blue blood into you. While at the same time juggle his role as the maid of honor and going through the many girlie things that they're supposed to do for the bride.

While it is a formulaic story, what works, and so long as it does, this type of movies will forever be made, is the chemistry between the leads. You just can't deny that both Dempsey and Monaghan look good together on screen as a couple, and you can't help but find yourself rooting for them past their characters' stupidity to realize that they're made for each other, after 10 years of being together, with little clues left unanswered with questions such as "why do you like him" going unanswered. If only of course it were that easy in real life, that a romance can be wrapped up with Eureka-like moments of enlightenment within two hours.

Of course I must admit though with formula, it doesn't require anything cerebral from you as you sit through and (try to) enjoy the story in fantasy land. The eclectic soundtrack helped as well, with contemporary tunes taking centerstage and played at the right moments, from Smash Mouth's opening, to Oasis' Stop Crying Your Heart Out, when last I heard of it in a movie was in The Butterfly Effect. Supporting characters like Kathleen Quinlan and Sydney Pollack go wasted of course.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

[5th NZ Film Festival] Once Were Warriors

When the opening credits screamed huge titles in your face, I thought that this was going to be one of those Grindhouse styled pictures with cheesy hilarious dialogues with over the top acting and swear words flying all over. In fact, the first few minutes established all that coupled with a very edgy score, but Grindhouse this is not, instead, it has all the trappings of a solid drama, and deals with very mature adult themes and of family.

This is a very different New Zealand that someone from the outside will take to. Gone are the picturesque postcard scenes, and in are the gritty, grimy neighbourhoods where families at the poverty line struggle to make a living. The story, based upon a novel by Alan Duff, centers on the Heke family, who are of Maori descent. And things are rosy at home as Mom Beth (Rena Owen) has 5 kids to take care of, in which Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) is going to be sentenced in juvenile court, and eldest Nig (Julian Arahanga) seeking a home away from home with gangs. The only and possibly sensible one is with Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell), who assists her mom in shepherding her youngest siblings from the explosive behavior of father Jake (Temuera Morrison) who has a penchant for violence when he has too much to drink.

Sounds like a typical family melodrama all set up, and it is, except that this was delivered with such realism that you'll cringe at the sight of unflinching violence. It's hard to sit through it, leaving you seething with rage as the victims find it difficult to leave and make changes to their lives. Once Were Warriors chronicles this struggle, and your emotions go on a roller coaster as you root for various characters to break out of their zone of discomfort, and to challenge the norms in order to stand up for themselves. The first time Jake rages in the movie undoubtedly sets the tone for the rest of the story, because slivers of hope get evaporated by the time you see how the make up artists work on Beth to bring to you the sheer madness.

The character of Jake is peculiarly intriguing, as for someone who got laid off and without a job, he's satisfied to just be on welfare, and what more, to spend those money on drink and gambling, though drawing the line on women. After hours late night parties at his home with his "pals" also seem the norm to sooth his ego as being the all round nice guy. And when things don't go his way, the only way he knows how to deal with it, is by his fists, where he takes pride in dispatching trouble makers in bars, unknowing that he too is trouble for his own family. Quite a tragic character really, for his clueless behaviour in not knowing how to take care of his family properly, being constantly disengaged from his wife and children, which naturally awaited for some tragedy to happen. On the other hand, one can only imagine the amount of abuse that wife Beth can put up with, if not only for the sake of the children.

It's interesting to see where the leads have gone off to after this 1994 movie. Temuera Morrison looked familiar, and a quick check on IMDb showed that he had portrayed Jango Fett and Commander Cody in the fairly recent Star Wars prequels. In fact, co-lead Rena Owen too had starred in the prequels as well. Director Lee Tamahori doesn't lag behind too, having helmed the James Bond installment Die Another Day, and xXx2.

Once Were Warriors had a sequel as well called What Becomes of The Broken Hearted? which was also made into a movie, though was less well received. Personally, this is rated by me as a highly recommended movie, and watching a Haka being performed here, definitely deserved its brownie points. For those interested, this film will be screened one more time this Monday evening, so check it out.

Accuracy of Death / Sweet Rain (死神の精度 / Suwîto Rein: Shinigami No Seido)


The first thing that comes screaming to your mind when you come to know of this movie, is MEET JOE BLACK, yes in caps, and a nagging feeling that it's a rip off / copycat coming some 10 years after that Hollywood movie. Although this is based on the Japanese novel by Kotaro Isaka, you can't help but to ponder upon the similarities between the two movies.

And it seems that Death / Grim Reaper, besides having a liking for black suits (for obvious reasons), also have a liking for putting on pretty-boy faces. From Brad Pitt to Takeshi Kaneshiro here, the full house today was likely to be attributed to the many fan girls who were squealing their way through the movie each time Kaneshiro appeared on screen. I suspect if Death really looked like that, these girls would gladly spend 7 days with the good looking stranger, only to have him decide if they should fulfill their destiny and die, or be passed-over because of unfinished business. And there'll be a queue that will scream "Take Me, Please!"

So the Grim Reaper acts like a judge, taking his limited time in between getting to know the mark, with listening to music in record stores, one of his, and the pastime too of many peer Reapers. Kaneshiro calls himself Mr Chiba, and walks the mortal realm when he's given a mission of assessment, accessed through a door from the nether realms which opens up to the specific location where the mark is. And it really contains no surprise, even right from the start, where you'll know just whose door has Death come knocking upon.

Armed with a deathly, though temporal, touch, he has to cover his hands in gloves lest he accidentally puts someone into comatose, which becomes his weapon of choice in self-protection, and the protection of others. And to think that he has roamed our world enough to know the intricacies and antics of us human beings, Sweet Rain still contains enough juvenile jokes when he has to tussle with phrases unfamiliar to him, especially when they have double meanings, or make figurative references, and of course, the fan girls just love it when Kaneshiro provides his puppy dog look when he becomes confused and seeks clarification.

As a feature length movie, it's really made up of three distinct acts, and the middle one suffered through a whole emotional and narrative disconnect from the other two, with slow pacing and uninteresting yakuza characters to fill time. The main mark of this movie is Manami Konishi's Kazue Fujiki, a girl who works at the complaints department who is a classic down and out loner with few friends, no objective and goals in life, and keeps getting harassed by this middle aged man over the phone who persists in getting her to answer his queries, and strange requests.

I thought the strength of the movie was in the lengths it took to establish Chiba's relationship with Manami, though credit to the story that it wasn't a rehash of Meet Joe Black by the time the ending rolled over. Manami Konishi's portrayal was also a departure from her sprightly turn in Udon, but ventured close to her role in Retribution/Sakebi, but hey, Chiba hit the mark when he said she looked prettier when she smiled, given that she's brooding in the movie most of the time.

So I shan't spoil the story by recounting what happened in each act, but suffice to say that this movie is beautifully shot against a backdrop of rainy days which Chiba seemed cursed to work under each time he visits our world, but he's not lonely in his mission with the black pet mongrel who shadows him, and thankfully, doesn't speak out like what Hollywood would do, but communicate telepathically with Chiba, and through subtitles with us mortal folks.


No Love

Based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor, this Francois Ozon directed movie was the closing film of the Berlin Film Festival last year, and while it played out like a biography of a fictional character, you can't help but to imagine how close it seemed to the flamboyance of the other Liz Taylor being infused into the titular character.

Movies based on biographies, such as Miss Potter with Rene Zellweger, Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway and La Vie En Rose with Marion Cotillard, seem to follow a formula of rags to riches, and basically living the dream that no one had imagined was possible. Naturally, being blessed with a talent and a gift helps too, and with Angel Deverell (Romola Garai), hers was a steely resolve of wanting to break out of her poverty cycle through her writing, an aspiring novelist with limited life experience, relying solely on her vivid imagination to paint literary marvels with her firm grasp of language, constructing sentences like a wordsmith many times her age.

What made her character compelling to watch and follow, is her living in a fantasy world she constructs for herself, which suits her perfectly as it provides for and fuels her imagination with romantic stories to enchant and endear herself to her readers. It shields her from her insecurities, but in doing so, she slowly isolates herself into her view of Paradise, and becomes a chronic liar, which I felt she's constantly aware of, but is ashamed to admit any stain in the perfect world.

Delivered in two distinct acts, things start to change when she meets the Howe-Nevisons. Nora (Lucy Russell), probably her #1 fan who simply worships the ground she treads on, and offers to be her personal assistant, and her brother Esme (Michael Fassbender from 300 who said they'll fight in the shade!), with whom Angel falls head over heels for. And this stifling relationship takes a toil on all parties involved, with shades of possible lesbianism played down in the film (though I'm unsure what became of it in the novel). While Angel had her break from Theo (Sam Neill) the publisher who believed in her, Esme the aspiring painter has none, besides Angel who would probably say Yes to anything he says. And his portrait of her probably was the highlight for me in the movie. If a portrait painter needs to, and can peer directly into your innermost soul and bring whatever qualities he sees in you onto the canvas, then Esme would have succeeded with his god-ugly picture of Angel, reinforces meaning of being beautiful on the outside. but ugly on the inside.

The special effects were quite badly done, and perhaps deliberately too, as it's made up of very obviously superimposed shots of backgrounds that no longer exist because of modernization. Other than that, the rest of the production values are high, and the costumes too which Angel decked herself in, are quite a sight to behold, especially when there's a call for a change in colours to reflect the mood of the story as it wore on.

But what made this movie very palatable, is how Romola Garai (you'd remember her from Atonement) carried the role through the story. You can just about believe the very naiveness and devil may care attitude that her Angel brings, however always seemingly able to hide and bury her true feelings deep within herself, and being a master manipulator also helped loads. Like how Charlotte Rampling's character of the publisher's wife reflected, you just can't help but to pity Angel, despite her pomp, flamboyance and hypocrisy.

So if you're interesting in a movie that provides avenue for an intriguing study of a person putting on a very fake mask, then Angel, despite its title, will be the movie for you to examine human traits which are anything but angelic.

The Days - Singapore's Young and Dangerous?

I suppose with Singaporean films like Royston Tan’s 15 and Kelvin Tong’s Eating Air, you’d probably know by now we’re not all that squeaky clean. Of course at this point in time I’m speculating that it’s Young and Dangerous-ish, but from the key poster art, stills and the likes, this is one upcoming Singapore movie on my radar that I can’t wait to watch when it makes its screening here in the later half of this year.

Here’s the synopsis:

Based on a true story – “THE DAYS” tells a cautionary tale between two brothers, set between 1989 and 1990. In a misguided effort to teach BABY (IVAN LIM) independence, and to make him feel protected, ZI LONG (JUSTIN CHAN) brings him into his own gang of delinquents. Unknowingly, his decision has thrown them both into a tumultuous and violent world that will, in different ways, imprison them both.

The Days will be at this year’s Marché du Film, Festival de Cannes, so to lucky folks heading there, let us know what you think. The rest of us mortals can hit those links below to learn more about the film!

Related Links
Official Movie Website
The Days' Ning Social Network Site - With Stills!
The Days Production Blog

Thursday, May 08, 2008

[5th NZ Film Festival] Opening Night - Flight of the Conchords, Take 3 and Crossing The Line

Tonight marks the opening of the 5th New Zealand Film Festival here in Singapore, where the festival proper will run starting from tomorrow until Monday. The line up of the films can be found here, which includes details like the synopsis, schedule and duration of each film, coupled with direct links to book tickets online.

Given that tonight's opening screening are short films, I'll just do a capsule review of each so as not to spoil the fun. Good news here, tonight's screening of 2 episodes of Flight of the Conchords, and Take 3, will be screened for FREE on Saturday 10th May at 9pm, GV VIvocity. Tickets are available at the Vivocity box office, so grab them while you can!

Flight of the Conchords

Made into an HBO Original Series, Flight of the Conchords is a comedy series that follow New Zealanders Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement who form a two-man digi-folk band as in the title, trying to make it in New York. It's an uphill struggle as they have an ineffective part-time manager, and a fan base of, erm, one obsessive married female.

The first 2 episodes were screened for the gala, entitled "Sally" and "Bret Gives up the Dream", from Season 1 which consists of 12 episodes in total. In Singapore, we can look forward to it on the HBO come 9 June, and from the looks of it, it's really a crowd pleaser, where jokes come fast and furious, stemming from the lightning wit of the characters, dialogue, and natural charisma of the two leads.

But what really, really took the cake, were their songs! For those who thought that Tenacious D's music and lyrics were insanely funny, wait till you hear those from Flight of the Conchords, as well as their cheesy, low budget music videos, which is a throwback to Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind "Sweded" videos.

I'd had wished I had the opportunity to watch a lot more than the 2 episodes screened tonight, but I guess we'll have to wait until June! Click on this link to access the series' official home page, where it's filled with tons of trivia, as well as episode guides where you can get your fill of videos, blogs, discussion forums as well as to download and laugh all over again at the zany lyrics of their songs!

Take 3

Also another comedy, what will strike you first and foremost in this Roseanne Liang short, is the editing. Opening in 3 split panels, each the domain of three of its main female characters who are all actress wannabes, this is a classic united-we-stand-divided-we-fall tale where we see how each stumble through their individual auditions for roles, before they feed off each other's strengths to really ham it up unwittingly in their joint roles and attempt to cut across Asian female stereotypes.

This short had received a special mention in the Generation 14plus Competition of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival, and it's not difficult to see why. Nicely shot, wonderful casting, a simple, effective and funny story, coupled with technical brilliance, I can't see how this movie will not bring a satisfied smile to your face.

Crossing The Line

Now tonight's gala opening of the 5th NZ Film Festival, was made even more special and memorable, when the organizers got permission from Peter Jackson himself to screen this approx. 10 minute short film Crossing The Line, written and directed by Jackson using the alpha prototypes of the RED-ONE camcorder "Boris" and "Natasha".

It is indeed a rare opportunity and privilege to watch this on the big screen in all its cinematic quality, given that it's been a while since we last experienced a Peter Jackson movie after his King Kong way back in 2005. Crossing the Line is set in WWI, and tells the story of a pilot, and an infantry soldier getting ready for his final charge. Like the usual cliches you can find in almost any WWI movie, the pilot has a sentimental teddy bear possession which he brings onboard his open cockpit, while the soldier, like many others, keeps close to his heart a black and white photograph of his one lady love.

And when the orders are given, one takes to the skies in death-defying dogfights with enemy warplanes, while the other has to charge across badly charred fields to engage the enemy, who's gleefully mowing them down with machine-gun and sniper fire. Naturally, you'd expect the two separate story arcs to converge, but not before each having their own challenges to deal with - the pilot with his teddy bear dangerously dislodging from its haphazardly stuffed position, getting in the way of the pilot's controls, and the soldier having to locate his lost photograph somewhere in the field.

But the brilliance here are the technical aspects of the film, where Jackson fully exploits the camera to bring about an exhilarating aerial dogfight, which I thought had triumphed over the more "Saving Private Ryan" styled ground battles, though he managed to transcend cliches through the effectively told stories of both arcs. You'd not notice how fast those precious 10 minutes will pass you by, before you clamour to want to see it all over again.

You can view a 30 sec Trailer of Crossing The Line here

or download the video clip from here.

I'm already looking forward to having a great time savouring all the movies in this year's festival lineup, and have gotten my tickets. If you haven't, then you just might want to do so as soon as you can, as I spy that tickets are flying off the box office counter fast!
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