Friday, November 30, 2012


Caught in the Act!

The ubiquitous Bollywood cop role. Salman Khan showed how to make a blockbuster playing one in Dabangg, which spearheaded his series of hit after hit from the year 2010, before others such as Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Ajay Devgn all jumped on the bandwagon playing no-nonsense cops in that khaki-brown uniform. Having been absent from the big screen for close to two years now since Mumbai Diaries, it's been years since he last played a cop, and Mr Perfectionist himself Aamir Khan now returns to playing a law enforcer sporting a handsomely thick mustache, and you can be just about sure the choice of his project has that uniqueness, that you're in for quite the spectacle.

Talaash boasts the involvement of Anurag Kashyap and Farhan Akhtar writing its dialogues, from a story written by sister Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, the latter taking up directing duties as well. It's a story that deals with pain and reconciliation, wrapped around a police investigations surrounding the mysterious car accident of a famed Bollywood actor, which opened up a Pandora's Box of blackmail, secret rendezvous, femme fatales and cheap prostitutes, and as Aamir himself puts it, is more of a suspense than a thriller.

The film opens to a jazzy opening credits tune Muskaanein Jhooti Hai, before we bear witness to the aforementioned car accident and death of a famous actor, which is mysterious in circumstances as we bear witness to the car's travelling late at night in the city's seedier side, before an inexplicable swerve, followed by an accelerated plunge into the sea. A high profile investigation begins, headed by Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan), with clues being set up very quickly for the audience, but yes, we know these little teases in principle characters are nothing more than to prep us for what lies beneath with more than meets the eye.

But the irony is that even this investigations is nothing more than a front for the more dramatic story that Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar want to tell. Surjan and his wife Roshhni are very much estranged, no thanks to the tragic death of their son in a boating accident that can very much be attributed to the negligence of both parents. Both of them take responsibility and deal with their loss in the most personal of terms, one in immersing himself in his job, while the other relies of psychiatric help and modern medicine, before turning to the spiritual in order to find inner peace, much to the chagrin of Surjan. It's been some time since we last saw Aamir pair up with Rani Mukherjee, and their scenes together evoke much of the emotions filling up Talaash, making it fabulously gloomy with an air of sadness all round as they grapple with their emotions. The Jee Le Zaraa by Vishal Dadlani perfectly encapsulates this, and unequivocally my favourite song from the film.

Then there's the other pairing with Aamir Khan and his 3 Idiots co-star Kareena Kapoor, who plays the prostitute Rosie, whom Surjan finds solace in, and their relationship bordering on the will-he-or-wouldn't-he, especially since they grow closer, and the cop starting to confide a lot more personal feelings with her. She's someone who can provide clues and leads in his investigations, but this professional relationship becomes quite compromised, and having Kapoor play the seductress who tempts, allows for temperatures to be raised especially since the visuals just seem to love capturing her at her best angles. While Kareena may have turned up the va-va-voom factor by many notches, my vote goes to Rani Mukherjee for her very daring plain jane getup, sans makeup for the most parts, in order to play a mother in mourning, and for that inability to reconnect with her husband.

Reema Kagti's film provided a balance with romanticized moments and hard hitting reality in its visuals, capturing the underbelly of society that Surjan has to delve into for leads, and introducing us to those who will seize opportunities to break out of their rut. There's a subplot involving a suspect's personal runner which highlights how desperation drives those who have not, to try and get the better of those who have, with great risks involved. And Talaash has that mesh of genres put together in pure Bollywood fashion, making it appeal at least in parts to a broad spectrum of audiences, with suspense, the supernatural, investigative drama and relationships taking turns to put their imprint on the narrative.

I've developed that trust and leap of faith with Aamir Khan and his choice of productions to work in, and Talaash is that perfect welcome to return in a leading role, ably supported by Kareena Kapoor and almost being upstaged by Rani Mukherjee in her stereotype-busting turn. A strong emotional core to the story also helped to lift this beyond the many mediocre productions of late, and goes to show that when Bollywood gets its act together, it's a force to be reckoned with, and a delight for any audience anywhere to experience. Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Alex Cross

Tough to be Bad

James Patterson's fictional creation, the forensic psychologist Alex Cross, is no stranger to the world of movies, after having graced the big screen in films like Kiss the Girls, and Along Came a Spider, both of which were productions more than a decade ago, with the leading character played by Morgan Freeman. In Alex Cross, Tyler Perry takes over the mantle to play a much younger Cross at the cusp of his joining the FBI, subject to gaining the approval of his wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo) to uproot the family to Washington D.C, but now having to face an assassin (Matthew Fox) who is running around town performing his assigned hits.

Like Sherlock Holmes, this cinematic interpretation of Alex Cross bears the same uncanny powers of deduction, but that's it, with few scenes to show off that prowess, then decided it's best that Cross also becomes as brawny as he is brainy. It's certain of an attempt to build a much larger universe for the character to operate in for future installments, but alas having key supporting characters laid to waste, which is a pity. Edward Burns, playing Tommy Kane, who should be the equivalent of Cross' best friend John Sampson in the books, gets largely isolated from the trailers and promotional materials, that for a role that's quite meaty here, it just spells trouble. And true enough, the many subplots introduced in this film, all get discarded when convenient, and you have that niggling feeling they're there to pad the film to make it feature length, because Tyler Perry versus Matthew Fox as hero against villain doesn't have too much ring to it, nor have too much material to get these two temporal adversaries going.

So in the end, this is quite unlike any of James Patterson's novel, other than in name and the featuring of few key characters. This is Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson's interpretation of the character, with making things up along the way, and in essence, turning Alex Cross into a generic hero who's lacking in personality and distinction to stand out from the crowded cop-action-thriller genres. And it'll be interesting to know if director Rob Cohen have had his wings clipped somewhat through the lack of a reasonably sized budget to deal with the action sequences he had in mind, because they were at best, rudimentary, with heavy use of poorly rendered CG to try and convince audiences that things really got blown up.

Drama isn't Cohen's forte, but Alex Cross is steeped in it, making the film seemed quite half-assed especially in pacing, with dramatic scenes inserted quite haphazardly that it makes the pace erratic. For instance, Cross and Kane get called into an investigation when a body turns up, and it took them quite a while in finally getting to the scene of the crime, which along the way we're treated to the two men's awkward banter about their relationships with their other half, and Cross' warning for Kane that business and pleasure don't mix well. By now you'll see the expected plot development coming, with the story trying to make audiences relate to and identify with these two working adults with their respective relationship woes. Their private issues become mixed up in their pursuit, and this provides for a more vested interest in closing the case with vendetta on their minds, which I thought was supposed to be a good move, should the scenes that follow contain a lot more emotional impact. What Tyler Perry and Edward Burns managed to do, is to only read their lines one at a time, totally blowing any acting awards out of the water.

Perhaps it was left to Matthew Fox to save the day. After all, his career in Tinseltown didn't really take off, and his radical role here may turn a lot more heads. As the tattooed, sociopath hitman with a penchant for pain, both inflicted onto his victims and onto himself, for a while he brings about a somewhat refreshing take with his chiseled body used as a weapon to take down opponents, then turned bland rather quickly. But his character is more of an enigma, appearing at the beginning to show off what three million dollars can buy, with hits being exercised with precision, accuracy and the sick need to tear his victims apart. Like Cross, once the novelty wore off, he degenerated into yet another routine, a villain whose status got elevated just because he's the character who inflicted the most pain on Alex Cross, although their tough-talking with each other lacked the intensity one would expect since their adversity has become personal.

Alex Cross had promise and potential, after all there was two films in the past. However if this was intended to kickstart yet another franchise, I suppose the house has got to be in order, and to get the right director to tell the kind of story that needs to be told from any of James Patterson's source material.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Project 11 - 1st Dec Release Online!

Project 11, India's first short collaborative film that was shot in 11 cities of the World, at 27 different locations, with combined crew strength of over a 100 people belonging to 13 different ethnicities, is all set to release online on Dec 1st.

True to its numbers theme, the 11 min 11 sec long film had premiered at 11:11 AM on 11.11.11 on It was then taken offline to travel the film festival circuit, where it won the Best Sound Award at Imphal International Short Film Festival 2012, premiered at Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2012, showcased in the Panorama section of Budapest Shorts Film Festival (Busho 2012), Hungary, and Gandhara Film Festival in Pakistan.

The filmmakers are also releasing a detailed making of the film, with regards to how a collaborative film can be made, with different talent across the world. This approximately 15 minute long making-of will clear a lot of myths surrounding the shooting of the film, and will be of a great help to film buffs and aspiring film-makers.

The film which premiered on last year and now will be available on youtube from Dec 1st.
You can find more trivia at & Project 11 Timeline -


Writer-Director Tony Kern is on a filmmaking roll here in Singapore, having chalked up two feature films on the horror genre (A Month of Hungry Ghosts, and Haunted Changi), and getting his next, yup, you guessed it, horror feature primed for production, scheduled for an August release next year, which as far as the Chinese Almanac goes for South East Asia, is smack right in the middle of the Hungry Ghosts Festival (and coincidentally also the lucrative National Day Week for locally produced films).

Titled Afterimages, it consists of five horror short films in an anthology, wrapped around a tale about a group of artists who burn effigies of cameras, and receive films in return. Which is going to be those five horror shorts. Filmmakers, are you listening?

I suppose having done extensive research for his debut feature film, the documentary A Month of Hungry Ghosts, brought about a certain Asian flavour to the horror tales Kern is inspired to produce, with the anthology shorts like Ghost Pool Leg, Rekindling and Xiao Bao Bao, from the synopses, seem rooted in Asian mythology and superstition about ghosts under water, photographs and suicides, and the lady's finger vegetable. The shorts Skin Deep, which at first glace may seem like Devil, and Burnt Offerings, round up the erm, offerings in this feature.

Afterimages is currently under production, and a teaser has been released for Ghost Pool Leg, featuring an extensive clip of a Beautiful Asian Woman Swimming Underwater In Pool at Night. Heh.

Teaser (Ghost Pool Leg):

Related Links
- Afterimages Facebook page
- Official Movie Website

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[Crowd Funding] Would You Like To Board The Fitzroy?

Crowd-funding. There are too many projects these days both local ones and from abroad that are screaming for attention, and for your kind dollars, to help the respective filmmakers bring their dream project to life. And I suppose I'll have some bandwidth to put up what catches my fancy from time to time.

Introducing, The Fitzroy, written and directed by Andrew Harmer, and produced by Liam Garvo & James Heath

The Fitzroy, is black-comedy live action feature film set in a post-apocalyptic 1950’s, on board The Fitzroy hotel, a leaky submarine beached just off Margate - the last refuge for a traditional summer holiday.

Written and Directed by Andrew Harmer and Produced by Liam Garvo & James Heath, the team behind Dresden Pictures.

Set in an alternative post-apocalyptic 1950’s, The Fitzroy hotel, a derelict submarine beached just off Margate, is the last place for a traditional summer holiday.

Bernard, the hotel’s bellboy, cook, maintenance man and general dogsbody faces a constant battle to keep the decaying hotel airtight and afloat.

But when he falls in love with Sonya, a murderous guest, he is thrown into a world of lies, backstabbing and chaos. As Bernard struggles to hide her murders from the other guests and suspicious authorities, the hotel literally begins to sink around him.

As his world implodes, Bernard must choose between the woman he thinks he loves and the hotel submarine that is keeping them all alive.
As at the time of writing, The Fitzroy will need at least £60,000 pledged on Kickstarter by Sunday 23 December, and it's now at £13,463 with 26 days to go.
And there are some neat giveaways the filmmakers have packaged together for their funding project, which I thought is a rare, extremely nice and cute touch. The film titles will be in an animated format used to explain how the world of The Fitzroy came to be. This will be populated by a cast of characters in which you can be one of them, by simply sending the filmmakers photos of yourself (or a loved one), and they'll turn you into a toon to be featured in the title sequence, PLUS a one-off illustrated print for you to frame and hang! That's not all, and you can find out more at Kickstarter.

While you're contemplating this opportunity, judge for yourselves how serious the Producers are in their Vlog here:

and why not subscribe to the YouTube Channel while you're at it as well?

Feel free to find out more by poking around the related links below. You know you want to.

Related Links
- The Fitzroy Official Movie Site
- The Fitzroy Kickstarter Page

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society 3D (Kōkaku Kidōtai: Sutando Arōn Konpurekkusu Soriddo Sutēto Sosaieti)

Guess Who's Back

My knowledge with Ghost in the Shell stopped with the Mamoru Oshii films, so I was honestly a little bit lost with all the background that the television series Stand Alone Complex had produced, that had spun off a television movie directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Solid State Society was released in 2006 as a television movie, but I suppose with 3D technology it was hard to pass up the chance to convert this into a 3D film meant for the commercial cinema. And to experience that (hey, it's Ghost in the Shell after all!) knowing the chances of getting lost in all references to its television series.

So to enjoy this fully, you can't back away from watching Stand Alone Complex, but that's my opinion anyway. Like me, I got away with sticking to known characters such as Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batou, and granted that they're in a new mission after someone, or something, known as the Puppeteer. We get reintroduced to the familiar Section 9 counter-terrorism task force, and begin with a suicide from a terrorist attempt at an airport, which follows more strange suicides, politics, kidnapping of thousands of children, and yes, a cybernetic network has got to be featured somewhere in a Ghost in the Shell story, this time involving elderly citizens and the systems used to monitor their needs.

As with all of the Ghost in the Shell movies, this one also had its own philosophical leanings, except that it failed somewhat in translating its discourse on screen, relying on plenty of talk, and more talk to bring ideas across. For the non-Japanese speaking like myself, this meant rows after rows of subtitles to read, and taking the eyes off the visuals for longer than comfortably necessary. What I thought was interesting was its square aim at aging population issues, and the state's interference in trying to control succession and wealth, which for anyone in this country would see the uncanny parallels between the reel world, and the real one indeed.

Animation wise there are no complaints, since it's work done by Production IG, which means meeting the bar set by earlier Ghost in the Shell films, and then some. For the 3D translation, it does take a while to get used to the depth of field presented, because this is frankly, animation done 2D style, so having that additional depth was jarring at first, before you'd soon disregard these changes once the story gets into the full swing of things, with characters investigating and getting down to the truth, which story-wise, was a bit of a challenge to overcome the constant drone of their discussions.

That, and probably it's way better to have started this off with background knowledge from the Stand Alone Complex series.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 IMAX


And so we finally bid farewell to one film franchise that managed to survive the odds at the box office, propped by die hard fans and the curious, or by those, like me, who are completist with high threshold of pain. Despite negative and scathing reviews, the Twilight films suffered no dent in its revenue stream, and having the audacity to split the final book, like what Harry Potter did, to bring more money for the studios. But unlike the boy wizard's final installment, Breaking Dawn actually didn't have much content to justify the split, other than to dangle in its trailer an all out slug-fest, turning it into an action film with what I thought was an extremely shrewd move to get detractors into seats, just to see their hated characters getting ripped to pieces.

Or not. There were a couple of inherently strange and twisted plots and subplots in the franchise that I wonder just what's brewing in writer Stephenie Meyer's mind, having to go against the established grain that vampires can survive under ultra-violet light, and sparkle at that, while also developing X-Men inspired mutant powers in addition to Superman like abilities. I suppose one has to buy into Twilight's logic in order to enjoy it, but if it keeps pushing the envelope of the ridiculous, one can only call it a day, with this movie churning out a finale that I'm not embarrassed to reveal would be something for comic book movie fans, if only it had the guts to stick to what it did, rather than to cop it out, exactly in the same way how Ong Bak 3 did it.

But what's more disturbing are, firstly, already revealed in Breaking Dawn Part 1, was that the already dead Edward (Robert Pattinson) can actually impregnate Bella (Kristen Stuart), which even the Volturi, headed by Aro (Michael Sheen) deem impossible to happen. But it did, which events from that film, culminating in the third party Jacob (Taylor Lautner) having to sexually groom a female infant, who will grow at breakneck speed in this installment. Let's not forget he's a wolf too, so you can do the math. Fantasy romance is one thing, and some lines of decency shouldn't be crossed, considering that the novels were targeted at a particular population demographic.

In many ways this followed the formula employed by the slew of many superhero origin movies, with Bella, now immortal and very powerful, showing off and discovering many other new found abilities. With every challenge thrown her way, be it trying to stave off her instinct for human blood, to dealing with slightly more mature issues in reconciliation with her dad, there's nothing to even make her break into a sweat, which kind of makes it very boring indeed. And that's not all, considering that the story had thrown a lot more cardboard X-Men characters on screen, from those who can deliver electric shocks to some who can control the elements, just to fill up some half hour worth of CG laden mano-a-mano, only for the rug to be fulled under one's feet. This overshadowed the main thread of having tell the Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) story, a human-vampire hybrid who is the great unknown, with powers unseen and an unbelievable growth rate, having a pet wolf sworn to be by her side in Jacob.

Director Bill Condon really had his work cut out for him in making the movie, having to put up with cringe-worthy lines that will induce one to roll one's eyeballs, many times over. The acting by all from Pattinson to Stewart to the many support acts all showed a certain eager tolerance to be over and done with this. Michael Sheen hams it up in really boring fashion as the all powerful judge, jury and executioner, while Dakota Fanning probably signed on the dotted line to pay the bills, having to utter absolutely nothing, but to turn up in the office, show her face and act nasty. In fact, everyone did just that, including the leads,

If looked at on the whole, it's suffice to say this film franchise started off quite brightly (heh), only to have stretched itself too thin based on really lightweight material by its author. One can only put lovelorn and infatuation on screen for so many films without the feeling of repetition and deja-vu, before finally reaching its goal of a certain idea that was realized in the final installment - the crave for power and immortality, as can be seen from Bella's smirk each time someone mentions she is powerful. I suspect the story's none other than a stroke of one's ego and fantasy.

For the target audience, perhaps this film franchise is gold. But to the rest, well, this is something destined for the books as one really strange film anomaly.

Black Gold / Day of the Falcon


I suppose this would have been a lot more interesting if there's some truth ringing in it, versus having to base it on fictious elements that are seductively compelling if based on a true story about the founding of a nation. It had ambitions to be as epic as Lawrence of Arabia, but this Doha Film Institute backed film set in the early 1900s is probably one of the first being sponsored by an Arab nation, to tell a story about Arabs in the Arabian land. And curious enough, it laid down some lessons learnt about the insatiable demand and corruption of morals that oil and its wealth bring, yet also provided a balanced view on how such wealth, if used judiciously, could benefit subjects of its kingdom.

And that view of being backward, and needing to propel themselves forward to be on par with the Western nations, is held keenly by Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas), whose kingdom gets ravaged by disease once too many times, and laments that he rules over nothing but endless sand. That is until the Texan Oil company reveals the abundance of oil underneath that will bring about riches to the tune of 100,000 barrels of crude per day at US$1 per barrel, per oil well. Do the math, and any kingdom will open its coffers to that kind of money. Except for Nesib's rival Sultan Amar (Mark Strong), the weaker of the two kingdoms who had agreed upon an uneasy truce with Amar giving up his two sons to Nesib, for the latter to raise, which will effectively guarantee no further attempts of an invasion or war.

The story soon shifts to more politicking many years later, with the realization of god provided riches buried underneath, that eyes are now turned toward milking a piece of No Man's Land. The next act deals with the many politicking and schemes from Nesib, who decides to negotiate a new contract, and cunningly uses Amar's sons Saleeh (Akin Gazi) and Auda (Tahar Rahim) as barter, in addition to Auda's marriage to Nesib's daughter Leyla (Freida Pinto) as leverage, effectively making the two houses relatives. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, before it ventures into action-adventure tradition, hinged with a certain amount of spirituality about being the chosen one and all that jazz, with the rise of a saviour that will unite all tribes and decide whether to consort with oil money from the West.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud's film has many ideas put together into one long narrative, which if given the time to develop, would have been an epic. Unfortunately, time is not provided, and the film had to be told at such a pace, things seem to happen in linear fashion without much reason, other than to try and squeeze as many elements as possible into a film. Things like the ideological battle between forward thinkers and traditionalists, and the battle between different schools of religious thoughts, make the film richer than it could be, adding a little contemporary slant where moderates have to battle extremists, and those who interpret texts selectively for their own advantage. The word "infidel" is used countless of times in various contexts, and it would have been nice if these subplots were developed further, rather than becoming just a footnote that was in the way, to be brushed aside soonest possible.

Those into action have adequately crafted battle sequences in the desert, where Auda becomes like Dune's Paul Atreides in seeing his knowledge gained from extensive book research translate to very effective battle strategies, complete with fights on horseback and camel-back, while extrapolating the modern versus traditional theme in having swords go up against mechanized weapons from tanks to airplanes. Production values in all aspects are kept exceptionally high and lush, from costumes to sets out there in desert land, with many scenes done the old school way rather than to chalk up numbers through CG.

One may also be attracted by the ensemble star cast assembled for the film, with the likes of Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong as rivals, though the latter had reduced screen time when compared to the former, which was a more interesting character for his moral ambiguity, never shying away to offer a bribe to have things done his way, versus Strong's Amar that was the contrast upright, though uptight, ruler who is almost resigned to his fate that he cannot change history. Both make way for the younger cast such as Tahar Rahim, who is excellent as the narrative shifts its focus to chart his character's meteoric rise utilizing traits earned and learned from both fathers, while Freida Pinto was sorely under-utilized.

The film may at certain junctures behave a little xenophobic given its characters' rather vocal opposition of Westerners and their presence, although nailing it in the head to comment on their unending thirst for oil, but the irony is that many characters were played by non-Arabs, most likely to sell the movie abroad.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

Caught in the Act!

I thought I was probably in a period of time where it would be difficult to sit back and enjoy what is an animated film aimed squarely at kids, but I was indeed surprised by how Rise of the Guardians, based upon The Guardians of Childhood series created by William Joyce, actually encapsulated all the good stuff, from quality of animation, voice casting and to characterization that was pretty basic but good fun. There are many in the same class of late that tried to be too intellectual, but by keeping things simpler, and never forgetting the fun element, Rise of the Guardians stand out from the pack, and dare I say one of the most enjoyable animated movies of the year.

This is the story of a new Guardian, Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who's about to join the ranks of other luminaries such as Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and very silent Mr Sandman, all of whom thrive in today's world being the beacon of hope, and everything good, to all the little children of the world. Chosen by The Man in the Moon, the Guardians and the children form a very symbiotic relationship, that the chosen few are there to safeguard the well being of the young, while the latter fuel the powers of the Guardians through sheer belief in their existence. Lose one, and you lose the other side quite quickly.

The narrative develops at breakneck pace, with introduction to the Guardians, their abilities, and the threat from arch enemy Pitch Black (Jude Law) being the boogeyman personified, thriving on fear and nightmares, and hell bent on snuffing out hope and joy amongst the children. There's a running theme of being alone, and forgotten, that pops up every now and then, being the common thread between antagonist, and the new kid on the block, who is confused as to who he is, and what his destiny lies ahead. It's somewhat of a zero to hero story, about finding one's purpose and calling in life, and the making of sacrifices to get there. Wholesome themes somewhat, for young ones to be able to sit through and enjoy.

We would already be very familiar with the many main characters such as Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Easter Bunny, but what Rise of the Guardians managed to do, is to introduce a little spin of fresh air into these characters, making them unique yet retaining many of their iconic traits that make them who they are. This is something I'd really liked, and had kept me engaged, eagerly waiting for yet another surprise to pop up now and then. Santa Claus complete with tattoos, swords and a thick Russian accent? The Tooth Fairy who is part hummingbird? The Easter Bunny as Australian and with something kept up the sleeve by the story tellers for the final act, and how about The Sandman who's a lot more powerful than he looks? And they offer a lot more in terms of abilities, cause and what they bring to the table, limited only by the powers of the filmmakers' imagination.

It's preaching fun, and never to lose sight of having a little fun in life, and the movie walked the talk by filling itself with plenty of side gags, contributed by the many supporting acts each established Guardian came with, such as Santa's tiny elves, and Tooth Fairy's lovelorn fairies who swoon at the presence of Jack Frost, for his perfect pearly whites of course. You'll never look at Santa's lodge and elves in the same way ever again, nor will you at the Tooth Fairy's and Easter Bunny's operations. These unique perspectives, seen and told through the eyes of the protagonist Jack Frost, makes it a journey that we're emotionally vested into from the start, right until the end, and to me they did not disappoint a bit.

While I hadn't watched this in 3D or IMAX versions, there are enough set action pieces that tried to exploit these formats, which I suppose either format would have enveloped the viewer and provided a more vivid experience, especially with characters being made to pursue and battle each other in the air, or the numerous extravaganza moments where the prowess of the characters will wow. The quality of animation is superb and is the score contributed by Alexandre Desplat, and again, the simple tale, its treatment and development, are refreshing in not biting off more than it can chew.

Director Peter Ramsey has now launched his feature film directing career with a very solid delivery of a film for children, and balanced this appeal for the adults as well. I'm already all for a sequel should one be created, but as a standalone, this one is definitely for keeps. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taxi! Taxi! / 德士当家 Trailer

Local funnymen Mark Lee and Gurmit Singh star as taxi drivers in Kelvin Sng's debut feature film Taxi! Taxi! / 德士当家, which will be in general release from 3 Jan 2013, making it the first local film off the blocks in the new year.

Then again, this could also possibly make a gala at this year's ScreenSingapore in early December, and expected to have some sneak preview screening during the year end holiday weekend.

Inspired by the slice of life of Cai Mingjie, who was at one time arguably Singapore's most educated taxi driver, it remains to be seen how much has been taken from his memoirs of sorts, based on his account on his taxi vocation in his blog, which has since been taken down (but is archived here) and compiled into a book.

And if you're really starved for more stories told from a taxi driver's perspective, you can do a little search online for others such as this one.

Meanwhile, here's the trailer from Kelvin Sng's upcoming film, which does, at first impressions, look a little bit Jack-Neo-ish:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Old Romances

The sequel to Old Places, directors Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng continue in their archival hunt to document more old places, and memories of the Singapore out there that still exists, if only we look a little bit harder.

December 15 and 16, National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre.


"Old places are like old lovers to me, you never forget them" -- Royston Tan

There is romance in every corner we turn. In this sequel to the documentary, Old Places, Old Romances takes us on a journey to experience Singapore through the collective voices of ordinary Singaporeans.

Through their voices, we hear personal stories from members of the public who share
their anecdotes on radio. Everyday spaces come alive with these special memories, which are bonded forever with these places.

Old Romances is a journal of love letters to places that we grew up with.

Featuring: Carnival Beauty Salon at East Coast Road; Sembawang Hill Estate Taxi Service; Pearl Bank Apartments at Chinatown; Kovan Coffeeshop at Simon Road; Thye Moh Chan Cake House at Geylang Road; and many more.

You can buy tickets for the screening through this link NOW!, or if you happen to miss out, the DVD will be available through Objectifs from 19 December.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where the Road Meets the Sun at The Arts House

There were two features that were screened during the Singapore Night at the inaugural ScreenSingapore event last year, and one of them, Yong Mun Chee's Where the Road Meets The Sun, finally gets a commercial release here in Singapore. As part of The Arts House's Frame X Frame film series, the screening will be preceded by 9:30, Mun Chee’s award-winning thesis short film.

Screenings will be held nightly from Nov 16-25 at 730pm, with additional screenings every Saturday and Sunday at 330pm.

Click here for more information on the screening and to buy tickets.

You can read my review of the film here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Listen Up, Class

It was just in today's newspaper where it was reported that teachers here would be given a code of conduct which they have to adhere to. I can only guess what these guidelines are and perhaps how strait-jacketed they will be in reducing the teacher to being a pure administrator and educator, without vested personal emotions to his or her class, something that only a robot or cyborg can deliver, lessons without emotion. And it's uncanny that this was also one of the themes being featured in this Canadian-French movie, a powerful tale revolving around a makeshift teacher and his students, moving from a period of confusion, blame and tragedy, toward reconciliation and healing for both parties.

I'm pretty sure all of us have a favourite teacher, or teachers, throughout our education in schools and institutions, and I bet it is likely that they all happen to be very personable and approachable, not to mention dedicated and committed to seeing that their students do well. They have their own style, and despite some little oddities, are never lacking in effort and desire to teach, and impart knowledge. They may not adhere to the school's culture, and at times may even do things to the contrary of established rules, but save for the few bad hats with ulterior motives, there's no short of innovation in their lessons, or in this instance, somewhat trying to instill some old school techniques into a class that is comfortable with new methods of learning.

Beginning in very grim terms, this Canadian nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards has an elementary school student in Montreal chance upon his teacher's body, being hung from a pipe in their classroom in an apparent suicide. Why she had to do this, which is quite deliberate and knowing jolly well who would find her, is left to be debated, as the screenplay moves to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy, where a psychologist got hired for regular counselling sessions with that teacher's class, and any other school person who needed someone to talk to. For the principal, priority remains in getting a replacement teacher, and he comes in the form of the titular Lazhar (Mohamed Fellaq), who walked in to offer his services, having an impressive educator's record.

But there's more to Monsieur Lazhar as we would soon find out, as one of the rare male figures in a school led predominantly by female educators. Tragedy seems to connect teacher and class together, and through their semester together, learn how to cope with their demons in their own ways. The relationship building between teacher and student is just about what's best about this moving drama, in addition to having to tackle some politics of the day, especially when Lazhar administers some vigilante styled discipline of his own, before being lectured to stick to the code of conduct and guidelines. Which mirrors how power has shifted these days from teachers, once feared in the classroom, to the students and protective parents who will have no qualms at taking on the teacher, principal and anyone else in the educational hierarchy.

Mohamed Fellaq puts in a superb performance as the titular character, and we share in his earnest efforts at doing his best despite not being what he truly is., and grieve with him during his most personal of times during the movie. writer-director Philippe Falardeau (who also did It's Not Me, I Swear!) adopts a somewhat documentary feel when dealing with scenes involving the classroom, sort of reminiscent of the Cannes Film Festival 2008 Palme d'Or winner The Class, with a myriad of student characters performed by very charismatic young actors and actresses boasting naturalness in their delivery, that it makes it seem like a real class rather than a rehearsed one. It is this interaction, as well as painful revelation, that makes Monsieur Lazhar a little heart-wrenching to sit through.

Mystery (浮城謎事 / Fu Cheng Mi Shi)

The Other Woman

The first few minutes will probably hit the raw nerve of anyone who got enraged by the irresponsible behaviour of fast car drivers here. We see two cars driven by rich kids who think of nothing except flooring the accelerators of their sports cars, even under inclement weather conditions, coupled with fooling around with the opposite sex, before tragedy hits when they get into an accident by hitting a passer-by. And as if not bad enough, one of them proceeds to finish the job. After all, it is said that punishment for a hit-and-run perpetrator is lighter if the victim succumbs to the injuries, rather than to survive the ordeal.

Just when you think that Mystery would circle around the story of each of those who were involved, the narrative shifts in broad strokes. Based on story found in internet forums, Lou Ye's film actually deals with hell having known no fury than that of a woman scorned. Or make that women. It aims squarely at issues of extra marital affairs, and the trouble that one's indiscretion would bring about across all families involved in one's insatiable lust. It also skirted around highlights involving the single child policy, and how a male heir played some importance especially to the older generation. Which I thought was rather interesting if you'd put yourself in the shoes of the male protagonist under a society as such, although his wild behavioural swings isn't something that can be condoned.

At first glance, it seemed that Qiao Yongzhao (Qin Hao) is leading the successful life, with a good career, nice apartment, wife Lu Jie (Hao Lei) and child. But who would have thought that these were insufficient, and slowly we learn more about what's actually behind his success due to family connections, and his frustrations that manifest through a series of affairs. Lu Jie befriends the mother of her daughter's classmate, and it's not before long that Sang Qi (Qi Xi) confides in her about her husband's affair. Connect the dots, and very soon the film becomes a tale of jealous vengeance, ever ready to see how far it could stretch.

But while everything will be settled in a closed loop especially with yet another police investigative subplot thrown in for good measure (I suppose with Chinese films, you cannot have the law ignore crimes that have been commited, and how these investigations must almost always turn out positively to an extent, which makes the narrative fairly predictable), what was interesting was the character of Yongzhao, being very two-faced in the way he conducts himself between the two families, in a way, knowing very well not to bite the hands that feed him. The narrative moves up a notch when there's a direct confrontation, since it becomes a lot more explosive rather than to dwell and contemplate on the next move on the chess board.

While the film tries to adopt this very detached, documentary like examination into the lives of the characters, it was especially jarring with the handheld, shaky camera treatment, and on many occasions I was silently begging the cinematographer to mount the camera on a tripod, or stabilizer. It detracts one from getting into the story, and was mildly irritating each time the camera moved for no apparent reason other than just because it was hand held. If there could be one aspect that would make this film more bearable, it would be this.

Otherwise perhaps Lou Ye wanted us to feel the same discomfort as the characters in this bleak and grim story, where everything was in a shade of grey, in the morals of the story as well as the way the film got lit and coloured, with plenty of rain to dampen any chirpy mood. If miserableness was what should be conveyed through the film to an audience, then this would be a great success.

Chasing Mavericks

Surfer Dudes

Chasing Mavericks is the biographical tale on the late surfer Jay Moriarity (played by Jonny Weston), charting his rise to prominence after caught on camera riding one of the most treacherous waves during the El Nino season in the late 90s when he was just 15 years of age. But this film is not so much of a celebration of the life of someone which was almost like a comet that burned too soon, but rather a celebration of the values the character stood for, in the willingness to invest time, energy and loads of hard work to pursue one's dreams, at whatever the cost.

Jay got introduced to surfing after being inspired by neighbour Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), who saved his life at sea when he was little. That left a very big impression, and not before long, Jay picked up the basics from best pal Blond (Devin Crittenden), before going further on his own to claim some local championships along the way. In following Frosty one night, he got even more impressed with Frosty and his buddies riding of "Mavericks", a mythical wave that stayed mythical because of the deliberate zipping of mouths by those who surfed it, in order to keep all the wannabes away to come soil in their sandbox of fun.

But Jay is adamant in breaking into the big boy's club, and a training pact got formed between Jay and Frosty, where the latter would become trainer, and the trainee would have to work on his terms, meaning the building of four essential pillars of physical, mental, emotional and the spiritual, before being allowed to partake in what Frosty described would be akin to a fifty foot drop onto a slap of concrete with tons of bricks that follow on, in the event something goes horrendously wrong. It's extreme sports with high risks, mitigated only through the best of training and meticulous research. 12 weeks become the deadline to do so, before one has to wait for another season.

What directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson didn't do, which would be usual for a lazy or mediocre director, was to montage the entire training sessions, cut to the chase and focus on the many other challenges that Jay, as a sportsmen, would have encountered in his professional career. The story by Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper is firmly rooted at the cusp of one's career, taking us through the school of hard knocks to pick up lessons applicable in life, put into the context of surfing. And it helped that the training involved getting the basics right, and pushing it a lot further. It would probably be at a 101 level, and probably the first time I'm seeing provisions being made for a water bottle to be placed on a training board used for endurance distances.

As subplots, there is the requisite romantic dalliances between Jay and the love of his life Kim (Leven Rambin), made a little more complicated not only due to their differences in age, but Kim's refusal to acknowledge their relationship, especially when in public. One can imagine how a difficult love life would affect any sportsperson. Then there's the adversary. The largest wave to occur cannot be an adversary that will torment our protagonist since it's expected only in the finale, so a bunch of peers, in addition to what I thought was a very weakly designed turncoat of a friend, became antagonists, if only to drag the story a little longer because Jay usually walked away from challenges, having no time for petty scuffles and preferring to turn pent up angst into more training time on the surfboard. Something to pick up there as well.

But what I felt was the best story arc that provided this film its emotional core, was that of Frosty and his family, with the dad firmly preferring to spend time on his passion, than to have time for his kid, although through his parenting/coaching of Jay, this something of a father-son bond formed would be the catalyst for change. And this worked out very well to flesh out both Jay and Frosty characters, as they each have to handle their personal demons as well as tragedy, having to lose some as they gained others in the circle of life. While one quite can't come to terms with Jonny Weston trying his very best to portray a 15 year old, if not for Jay's maturity in having to pursue his dream, his lady love, and to keep an extra eye out for his mom (Elizabeth Shue), there is Gerard Butler to counter that expectation and disbelief as the no nonsense expert who is hell bent on imparting his knowledge and skills the only way he knows how to.

By the time El Nino rolls along together with the climatic moments in the film, they become nothing more than a formality and a crowning piece to a tale told in effectively simple ways, and in no less emotionally engaging. Surfing sequences in the high seas were also stunningly choreographed and captured, in case you need to know. Recommended!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Prohibition Cowboy

In competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Lawless is a tale set against the 20s Prohibition era in the United States, telling the historical tale about the three Bondurant Brothers running their moonshine business, and seemingly, against all odds, came through a period of corruption, lawlessness, and just about having to watch over their shoulders almost all of the time while they eke out a living. Based on the book The Wettest County in the World written by one of their descendants Matt Bondurant, the film boasts a stellar A-list cast but didn't seem to lift the film under the direction of Australian director John Hillcoat.

Instead I was more enamoured by the many of the era's motor vehicles instead, which were featured in some detail, and making their appearances as a tool for transporting the brothers' illegal liquor, or to be used as a babe magnet on dates. And with most gangster films, shoot em ups are part and parcel, which Hillcoat shot with aplomb, especially when riddling the sheet metal with holes and shattering many of the cars' windows. Violence is part and parcel expected during the time amongst those who live their lives breaking the law, and Lawless does have its fair share of unflinching, violent set pieces that range from getting one's throat slit from ear to ear, to bloody castrations. It's survival of the fittest and the ruthless, especially when needing to exert influence and convince the naysayers.

Which, instead of something being done by the bad guys, turn out to be something adopted by the law instead. Special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) turns up seemingly being tasked to sweep Franklin County, Virginia, from its vice like grip on moonshining, being the infamous moonshine capital of the country, only to find that he's in it for some kickbacks, which if not agreed upon by the bootleggers, this will spell trouble. So for the Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), this meant being under Charlie's radar and being systematically dealt with to varying degrees of impact, sometimes Charlie having to rely on a proxy to do his dirty work.

We all know how tough Tom Hardy can be, but this role somewhat projected a more muted involvement from the strongman, being the leader of the brothers' operations, but having to contend with a romantic subplot with Chicago fleeing dancer turned waitress Maggie (Jessica Chastain) instead. Jason Clarke as second brother seemed to be the extra amongst the trio, while Gary Oldman made a cameo in a gangster role, appearing in a handful of scenes just to up the star ensemble. Guy Pearce on the other hand, really made his Charlie Rakes role his own, the cop who uses any extreme methods to get the job done, although very little is said of the sociopathic character outside of his job scope.

It's been some time since Shia LaBeouf made an appearance on the big screen (since the last Transfomers movie last year), since this one time rising star seemed to have had his wings clipped for slamming one of his earlier films. It's good to see him back not in a goofball role, but one that mirrored Michael Corleone's in The Godfather, having the baby of the family inevitably roped in to carry the family business with new perspectives and dare, and growing into the role that calls for pulling the trigger when required. In some ways Lawless also seemed to love centering around this character, charting his meteoric rise in their moonshine business, his courtship of a preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and his partnership with family friend Cricket (Dane DeHaan), who's their distillation expert.

The narrative develops at a meditative pace, slowing life down and then putting focus on a few pertinent issues that happened in recorded accounts. You will begin to realize just why these three brothers were once thought to be invincible, given the ordeal they have to go through, in order to operate something for so long, under the noses and the long arm of the law. The film explodes only toward the end when all hell broke loose, and in the meantime to endure the film, you can feast your eyes on the beautiful technical aspects that make up costumes, production sets, and yes, the vehicles.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cold War (寒战 / Han Zhan)

I Am The Law!

Touted as this year's Infernal Affairs, Cold War has sets its sights really high to try and emulate the success one of the definitive Hong Kong crime thrillers of the last decade, but this rookie effort by writers-directors Lok Man Leung and Sunny Luk, while it had all the ingredients of a taut cat and mouse game, somehow fell through when its supporting cast didn't get the opportunity to build around the universe created, relying very much on the star powers of Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka Fai to carry the film throughout, and the directors' efforts in closing the loop in the last act actually fell short of potential.

Cold War can be broken into three parts over the course of the period when the Hong Kong Commissioner of Police (Michael Wong) is out of the city in Copenhagen on a business trip, leaving the police force in the hands of his deputies, Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) and M.B. Lee (Tony Leung) and no clear succession plan in place. With the opening credits, you'd see the divisions and the rivalry drawn where loyalties amongst the force gets deeply divided, with Sean in charge of management, and Lee overseeing operations. Equal in rank but obviously differing in experience and skill sets, the events that come will pit each against the other, and provide that opportunity for them to show their rival just what they are made of, having to rely on their guile and street smarts to outmaneuver opponents, especially when there are whispers of a mole within the police.

And from the get go, we see Mongkok being bombed in a terrorist attack, before an EU squad mysteriously disappears from the police radar, together with five cops being held hostage for millions of dollars, threatening to blow this case wide open for the police, and become their PR nightmare. The safest city in the world is now under threat from forces and criminals unknown, and is now up to the highest echelons of the force to get their act together to crack the case, putting aside differences that have been festering for the longest time.

The first third of the film has an extremely political slant to it, where internal bickering, testing of loyalties, and the protection of fiefdoms in organizations rear their ugly head. Anyone working in any private or public sector organization will be able to see parallels that both Lok Man Leung and Sunny Luk had drawn upon to set their characters in, with supporting acts from Lam Ka-Tung, Chin Kar Lok, Andy On and even Charlie Yeung playing various department heads, being drawn into the deep divisions, where on one side, Lee takes over in brash fashion, only to come up against the more brooding, thinking Sean, the latter plotting a coup de tat to wrestle control and to instill some semblance of reason. After all, Lee has personal conflicts of interest and Sean is banging on that to relief the former of his position.

The second half becomes the Aaron Kwok show, with the police operations code named Cold War undergoing full swing, and the directors setting up plenty of action, with typical criminal-cop phone call conversations, and keeping things tight for the audience in wondering just who the perpetrators may be, in addition to rewarding everyone with a fairly realistic highway shootout scene. But the final act is where the prestige comes in, with the introduction of Aarif Lee as a fairly inexperienced ICAC officer who may have stumbled onto some secrets behind Cold War, and convinces his bosses to allow him to spearhead an investigations into the two deputy commissioners of police, turning the film into one investigative drama complete with red herrings and good old fashion police work.

If only that was expanded upon, instead of speeding it through, which was what some quarters were restless about that Mainland China may have influenced the outcome of the film in some way, given that the good guys have to come up on top as a requisite. It's most unfortunate that the final act turned out to be its weakest, since it's never about the destination, but the journey in getting there, and there's where the screenplay fell through with gaping lack of information, perhaps primed for expansion in a separate film altogether, and a flow that was rather choppy, as if glossing over details had severely knocked the wind out of what could have been a very strong finish.

But story aside, I felt that the perennial struggle between Scholar and Farmer was something that would be instantly identifiable with anyone in Singapore, where success with grades would guarantee being airdropped into a cushy job in any government organization. And clearly, Aaron Kwok's Sean Lau is one such scholar, promising and the youngest ever to be made deputy, and primed for the top job in what would be a railway ride to the top, barring any cock ups from this operation. This is clearly in contrast with one who rose through the ranks through sheer grit, determination and hard work in the case of M.B. Lee, being out there with operational experience with the men, versus someone brought into management and wielding presentation slides instead of risking his neck out there in the field. Debunking their respective stereotypes, is what made the characterization of both leading protagonists a joy to sit through and discover.

While we are largely aware of Tony Leung Ka Fai's versatility, and looking quite the bad ass with his bald and bearded look here, I felt Aaron Kwok has really matured and aged well like fine wine, and with it came loads of improvement in his acting chops as well, charismatic to a fault in his portrayal of Sean Lau as we get put through which side of the fence this chap is really sitting on. Despite big names like Lam Ka Tung, Chin Kar Lok, Andy On and Eddie Peng, all of them were severely underutilized, which is a pity given the ensemble, with the likes of Charlie Yeung to balance the testosterone level in what would be a stereotypical role of being the PR chief for the police. Look out for Andy Lau in his few minutes, where he really chewed up the scenery as the secretary of security, primed and ripe for an expanded role if a sequel does come true.

If only the ending wasn't so blatant as to leave it so open for a follow up film to be made, since it had left the door wide open to just how far the rot in the police force goes, despite being one of the safest cities in the world, that the organization tasked to keep the law and order gets bogged down by its own protocols, processes and power struggles. Still, as a first film effort, Cold War is still a very slick affair technical wise, with the leads propping the flimsy final act up on their shoulders with the promise of more. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Act For Your Life

Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now, Argo. Ben Affleck scores a hattrick with three acclaimed films that shows off his directing chops, and you'll probably find it tough to find anyone not convinced he makes a better director than in front of the camera as an actor. Producing the film with George Clooney and Grat Heslov, who did the award winning Good Night, and Good Luck, Argo is also based on history (with its fair share of dramatic licence of course) that uniquely combined Hollywood's role during the tumultuous times of the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70s to 80s.

With US-Iranian ties probably at one of its lowest points, the historical backdrop of this film provides a reminder of sorts to the escalation of conflict and how the US foreign policy of the time had set the agenda that sowed animosity for decades. It's also very much one sided, given that it's after all a Hollywood film, that provides perspective solely through the eyes of the CIA protagonist Tony Mendez (Affleck playing the role himself), an exfiltration expert, tasked to find the best amongst the worse solutions available in order to save the lives of six US diplomats who were temporarily holding up at the Canadian ambassador's house, with each passing day a day closer to them being found out, and possibly publicly executed.

There's the involvement of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) since their cover identities happen to be Canadian, revolving around a film crew who are in Iran to scout for locations for the titular science fiction space adventure, not to mention real fake passports obtained, and the provision of lodging for weeks of confinement and safe haven. And things aren't put in any positive light as well on the Iranian side, with the checkpoints along the way falling down like bowling pins without too much of a fuss or fight, and being none too smart in the way the treatment allowed for the inevitable outcome.

Like his previous film, Affleck crafts Argo with heist film tendencies, setting up the situation, the game play, followed by its execution, only for surprises to be kept to a minimum, but still having paced this with tension so high, you'll find yourself at the edge of your seat as the plan moved along at breakneck speed. Based on declassified material, some elements had literary liberty taken to spice up the plot, so it worked purely on the entertainment front, and not a substitute for a proper history lesson, which I suppose after this there should be a lot more interest in the Jimmy Carter administration's handling of the matters highlighted here. The inner workings, politicking and bureaucracy in various agencies from the CIA to the White House also gets its fair share of the spotlight

And let's not forget the more fun moments of the film where Tony Mendez had to act like a big shot in Hollywood, in setting up the bluff with special effects/costumer John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in making their pre-production efforts believable in order to lend credibility to Tony's cover when he moves into ground zero and provide the necessary training for his principals to memorize, with the usual spanner thrown in the works that come from within the group, and from external forces so that this is no walk in the park. Spy versus spy movies are always full of sexier moments, but this one pared these down to be closer to reality, where operations boil down to meticulous preparation, good old fashioned hard work, politics and to buckle down and be ready for any last minute emergencies that may come your way.

Technically, this film grabbed me right from the start when the old 70s version of the Warner logo came up, together with great attention to detail paid in recreating production sets, wardrobe and even had its film quality made to resemble something coming out of the era, relying also on archived footage to lend that documentary feel to the retelling of the Canadian Caper, as it is known. The purposeful casting and makeup also made the supporting cast look uncannily similar to the persons they're portraying, adding a degree of realism as well. Production values remain top notch throughout, with an unobtrusive score provided by Alexandre Desplat, that lent a hand in accentuating the many moments in the final third of the film when the action for this high risk mission kicked into high gear.

I guess everyone everywhere just can't resist the allure of Hollywood, so it makes it easy to pull wool over one's eye. The production of Saint Jack during its time to snook the authorities here is testament to it, though here it had a greater degree of danger attached, and through Ben Affleck's steady directorial hand, makes this one of the best films this year to sit through. A definite recommendation!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan


The Yash Raj Films brand has been synonymous with quality romances that are as melodramatic as they are tear-jerking, and Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no different, what more with the late legendary Yash Chopra at the helm to direct what would be his last film, meant to celebrate his 50th anniversary milestone in Bollywood. A posthumous release that was already intended for a Diwali release this year, this movie has all the elements that are hallmark of the director, reuniting with his leading man Shah Rukh Khan to whom he gave a breakthrough, and pairing him up for the first time with red hot Bollywood IT girl Katrina Kaif, and YRF's prodigy Anushka Sharma in her second feature with SRK after Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

And what a sprawling love epic this is, spanning two different decades with the promise of a romance that goes unrequited on either end, combined with plenty of lovelorn moments that would keep you guessing who will end up with whom if at all, in this romantic triangle that only Yash Chopra can weave, and yet enticing you to hang in there even if you've seen almost all of his works. Nicely crafted into a solid three act structure lasting close to three hours, this film takes its time to put its three main characters through the paces, allowing emotional investment into all of them, that reap benefits when you too get drawn into their plight, and wonder how the chess pieces would move for the best possible outcome.

We see Major Samar Anand (Shah Rukh Khan) being the shining star of the Indian Army's bomb disposal unit, clocking almost close to a hundred IED diffusion and doing so in daredevil fashion. Some call him the man without fear, while others coin the term the man who cannot die, because his job is high risk, but he doesn't take the necessary precautions. The routine involves going off for a little quiet time for himself after having stared death in the face, but this time round got rudely interrupted by the vivacious Akira Rai (Anushka Sharma), who is adamant to get a stint with Discovery Channel, and chanced upon Samar's diary of sorts which got left behind.

And this natural flashback provided a look into the Major's past before his army career, being a multiple job holder in London in order to make ends meet, from shoveling of snow to the waiting on tables, to being a fishmonger, and busking in the streets. Fate allows him to meet poor little rich girl Meera (Katrina Kaif), and before you know it, their constant interaction to exchange tips in the learning of languages form the basis of their relationship, even though Meera is engaged to a rich scion. I suppose no girl can resist the charms of a man who can serenade at multiple London landmarks, and dance the way SRK does.

But here's the catch which I thought was an extremely bold move. Religion comes into play, and this takes on proportions and depth of discussions about how some put religion as priority, having empowerment over their lives, that it could sometimes lead to paralysis of sorts. To save Samar's life, Meera makes a pact with her spiritual father, and I suppose only a bet as big as exchanging one's happiness with the life of another, can bring that prayerful wish to fruition. But this causes bitterness in Samar because how can one do battle with Jesus? It's almost impossible, but if this rivalry of one's heart, toward man and toward god, isn't colossus, then I don't know what is.

I suppose what Yash Chopra's story was trying to say, is that without love, or keeping the faith, one's life can get really inward and withdrawn, losing that fun element with all things going really serious, and at times, reckless. Samar goes back to India and fulfills his family lineage of military men, but chooses the riskiest of professions, if only to tempt the higher being at taking his life away, and in such fashion to put a dent in his ex lover's faith. Akira enters the picture, and finds this old fashion love of the previous decade a lot more meaningful than the present throwaway ones that centers around physical love. The second half after the intermission sees the relentless pursuit Akira has for Samar, only for her constant advances to be continuously rejected, because in essence, Samar's heart was locked in on another, and left for dead.

As if that wasn't enough - with how Samar has turned into a Meera even without his knowledge, in shutting people out - Yash Chopra has more up his sleeves when he has to put everyone together, forming tremendous tension especially when throwing in one of the oldest plot elements in the book for a romance, albeit too with one too many hospital stays. It's decision time, and you'll find yourself taking sides as to who Samar should eventually end up with, after having emotionally invested an hour with each heroine. Characterization here is top notch in making everyone of them rich and real, that you'll probably see shades of yourself, or people you may know, in one or more of the leading protagonists.

Shah Rukh Khan once again shows why he's one of the leading men in Bollywood, with his fine all round performance in being a younger man who is full of zeal, hope and life, with the world ahead of him given his hard work, and yet balancing that out with a more sullen, serious look as the hardened military man with a death wish, nursing a broken heart and resigned to the impossibility of challenging god. Between the two leading ladies, it is difficult to pick who actually had an edge over the other, but if it's a personal choice, I'd give my vote to Anushka Sharma if only for her assured portrayal of a bubbly personality who knows what she wants and is a go getter, being in for a challenge when encountered with emotions she has yet to handle, compared to the more indecisive character that Katrina perfectly portrayed, in what would be a classic Yash Chopra model of the unattainable femme fatale responsible for the total breaking of hearts.

Cinematography is great, as you would come to expect from a Yash Raj production, with lush costumes, glossy production and art design, sets and locales being nothing but the best to put you in the mood for love, and love lost or broken. Music by none other than A.R. Rahman also lifts the film into epic greatness, befitting a contemporary love story of our time. If anything, Yash Chopra's parting gift through his films, and this one in particular, is a reminder to keep the faith, that love will come in good time, and to remember to live life, not be afraid of it. A definite must watch backed by all the right reasons.

Son of Sardaar

Don't Angry Me Too

With national festivals come cinema that's geared toward mass entertainment, and Son of Sardaar cannot be more true of that, being that light hearted romantic comedy combined with action reliant on special effects and plenty of looney tunes inspiration to bring about laughter for an audience looking to being entertained. Nothing more than that. Based upon a Telugu film Maryada Ramanna which itself is based on the 1923 American silent movie Our Hospitality starring Buster Keaton, Son of Sardaar didn't hit the mark for the most parts, being just a plain comedy that's largely forgettable.

Starring Ajay Devgn, who also has a number of other production credits, in the lead role as Jassi, the opening number shows that he's quite the light hearted joker, but packs quite a severe punch when threatened, either personally, or needed to defend his Punjabi heritage. A letter gets sent from India for him to reclaim his family land and inheritance, in which he intends to sell so that he can continue his lifestyle in London, only for his trip back to Hindustan to be filled with unexpected romance, and finding himself embroiled in an aged old family feud with the Sandhus.

It's almost Romeo and Juliet like where his love had sprung from his only hate. He meets Sukh (Sonakshi Sinha) on board a train, only to realize much later that her family still bears the grudge since their earlier generation had clashed. Now led by Billu (Sanjay Dutt), they are adamant to avenge their defeat by killing Jassi, only to have unwittingly invited Jassi to their ancestral home earlier, and having to uphold their end of their tradition of treating guests like god. So it's hospitality at its best when Jassi remains in their home, with comedy ensuing as they try their best to get him out of the house, with Jassi doing the opposite, cooking up excuses to stay within.

One will expect the usual song and dance numbers that pepper the film, especially when it boils down to the romance between Jassi and Sukh, which is made a tad complicated when the latter is already betrothed to another. While great pains have been put in to provide some characterization for at least the two of the leading characters, there was a feeling of unnecessary repetition especially amongst some of the jokes, such as a child who keeps on harping or associating everything with the need to celebrate with a peg. Yes, caricatures rule, but it does wear the jokes down especially if extended beyond welcome.

Directed by Ashwni Dhir, Son of Sardaar is something one would expect from a Hong Kong Mo-Lei-Tau comedy perfected by Stephen Chow, especially when it comes down to the inevitable, final climatic battle between Jassi and Billu, which played out like a WWE wrestling match, with both sides going all out to clobber each other in sequence that you know is so staged. Battles are cartoony and defying the laws of physics, and while I understand this is the comedy genre, overdoing something just makes it too artificial. Inconsistency arises from Jassi as well, since it has been established that he can fight, but chooses not to do so in the first place, requisite to stretch the story out.

Even the resolution at the end was rushed, with everything addressed at a drop of a hat, leading one to think that there's really no storyline here, with the filmmakers eager to end everything rather than to be further caught with their lack of ideas. The clear message here is to love thy neighbour, granted that this is not being told through any form of a solid narrative, preferring the shortest cut possible to elicit laughter in desperation. If this is the only offering for that battle of the Diwali box office, it's clearly not quite up to the mark offered by the other Yash Raj film.

Look out though for Salman Khan, who lends a hand to bookend the film, reprising his role as the unmentioned Bodyguard.

Monday, November 12, 2012



Director Tim Burton returns to his visceral dark roots with Frankenweenie, a animated film that features all the dark, brooding themes he is famous for, in what would seem like an opportunity for the story teller to deal with all his favourite, classical horror elements all in one fall swoop. With Disney's backing, Burton crafts a somewhat charming little film inspired primarily by Frankenstein, dealing with the artificial creation of life and how this whacks nature out of balance, although one can almost feel that his direction probably got superceded in the final moments to toe the line, given that mass market merchandising, or the lack thereof, is probably the compromise reached.

Face it, the characters here aren't really plush toy material, even though they are grotesquely beautiful to look at, with physical flaws that seem perfect. As usual, like the animated films that feature his involvement, the characters here aren't designed to be anatomically correct with their longer than usual limbs. Being in black, white and grey, it provides that old school look and hopefully elevated this film to that nostalgic status of old, ringing with the air of familiarity for elements that you've probably experienced especially if you're a classic horror movie fan.

As the story would have already been suggested by its trailer, it centers around a boy, Vincent Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) whose dog Sparky had passed away, only for Vincent, a smart boy with scientist potential, emulating his namesake to resurrect his pet dog, and succeeding. He tries to keep this undead version of Sparky under wraps, only for the antics of the dog to be discovered, and from there, having his peers, who are all vying for best science project, trying to emulate what he had done, with vastly different results.

Here's when you can see what had inspired Burton, or had been his favourites, as the story took on homage paying moments especially when the story went on its own little spree to have loads of fun. Tributes got paid to the likes of a Godzilla-wannabe, critters, and characters that were amongst the same level of recognition as Frankenstein, in addition to a whole slew of name dropping. Even the science teacher Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), looked very much and unmistakably like Burton's tip of the hat to one of his heroes, Vincent Price, who is straight talking, and providing a stinging criticism against those who are closed minded, and superstitious, clinging on to values of the old without the guts for exploration and scientific adventure. Those who follow blindly, or copying without full understanding, are also put under the spotlight, and it's little wonder how the chief reverse engineer happens to be Asian.

But it's not all formula, facts and numbers. Frankenweenie, like most of Burton's films, no matter how dark they may look and feel, contains plenty of heart. While the hinted at love story between Vincent and Elsa (Winona Ryder) was almost non-existent, being but neighbours who communicate through a hole in the picket fence, it is the bond between boy and dog, and the extent one will go for the other, that moved, even if, like Frankenstein's tale, the whole world goes after them, being some bastardized by product of nature. But outside of these two characters, the support cast was woefully one-noted, and largely wallpaper.

While this film marks the umpteenth time that Burton has had Danny Elfman score his film, it is with a heavy heart, as a fan of their partnership, to listen to moments that seem lifted from their Batman score, and being repeated so obviously during the film's finale that you'd wonder if Elfman had finally run out of steam with the lack of inspiration in coming up with new tunes that dance around similar themes. I guess one can only recycle to a certain degree, before being dangerously left exposed.

I had enjoyed the quirky tales and characters that Tim Burton had the knack to conjure in his mind, but Frankenweenie, despite being nice to look at with moments that will touch your heart, as a whole still felt as an unfulfilled potential. One can only hope Burton's next effort will be as inspirational as his earlier ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hit and Run

Enjoying the Ride

The trailer was cut in a way that made this film look much better than it was, with action combined with offensive humour that relied on stereotypes for laughs. If you're old and if you're Filipino, I'm not sure what inspired writer Dax Shepard to craft such episodes, but they certainly were in quite bad taste, considering he's not Sacha Baron Cohen in one of his deliberate provocative roles, having to co-direct this film with David Palmer and star in it as its lead protagonist Charlie Bronson.

Or Yul Perrkins, since his identity had to be changed once he entered a witness protection programmed, ready to testify against one time his former group of bank robbers, consisting of Alex (Bradley Cooper in dreadlocks), ex-fiancee Neve (Joy Bryant) and Alan (Ryan Hansen). Maintaining a low profile in a small town under the watchful eye of Calamity James US Marshal Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold), the film opens as we see him already in a relationship with Annie Bean (Kristen Bell, Dax's real life girlfriend, also serving as producer), who is being offered a teaching position in LOs Angeles. Breaking his cover to send her there and to lead a new life, Hit and Run becomes a road trip movie, where the couple has a jealous ex-boyfriend Gil Rathbinn (Michael Rosenbaum), two cops (Jess Rowland and Carly Hatter) and Alex and gang all going after them to further pursue their respective selfish interests.

But this film is something of a mixed bag, with pacing quite all over the place, and episodes that made it look like a 101 guide to a happy relationship. Underneath all the usual noise that pepper the romantic-action-comedy, Hit and Run had moments where it played out like a long session with a relationship therapist, where the couple had to pour out their inner most demons and fears, and look for the best of advice that's being dished out in order to rescue their relations. As Charles had kept his real identity and reason under witness protection a secret, each revelation proved to be a natural surprise for Annie, and become a crossroads of sorts whether it's time to continue sticking together, or bail.

Perhaps one of the best advice dished out is the notion of minding one's past and having one's relationship paralyzed because of it, or to continue with the present knowing that all walls and masks have been pulled down, and look forward into the future, making the best out of situations. This becomes the running theme in the movie as the couple try to escape from elements of the past, and through this ordeal determine whether they are better off at the end of it, or otherwise. And there are occasions where the dialogue is a little bit stiff, and the two going through the motions and their lines, even as the characters banter their insecurities and stereotyping. This despite having to share a real life, current relationship, but we see no chemistry coming through.

It's the supporting characters that steal the show from the leads, so thank goodness for that to keep us distracted from the rather uninteresting plotting. Michael Rosenbaum was sure as creepy as can be playing the ex who cannot let go, and being the catalyst that sparked off the entire chase, while Jess Rowland who plays his sheriff brother was quite the hoot in a pursuit of his own for reasons best kept under wraps. Tom Arnold though was a little bit too trying in his role as a calamity james type of officer with constant firearms problems, and Bradley Cooper probably had a field day with his chief villain role that didn't seem all too threatening.

For those into cars (most of which here are owned by Dax Shepard), then Hit and Run would be your kind of movie with a number of chase sequences that didn't offer much other than for the vehicles on display, from BMWs to souped up Lincolns, to burn serious rubber along roads and dirt tracks. The trailer made this movie seem a little fascinating, and I guess kudos to whoever dangled the carrot, but it failed to make it count when relied upon to deliver on its promise. It's certainly hit and run indeed.

Apartment 143 (Emergo)

Here's Looking At You Kid

Found footage and first person perspective. I suppose it is just about the time now that unless you have a compelling story to tell, this gimmick has just about been worn out by countless of filmmakers out there making movies both big and small to tap upon this technique, and it is very unfortunate that the filmmakers of Apartment 143, also known as Emergo, decided to spruce up a simple tale into a half baked attempt in being too intelligent for its own good. The necessary ingredients for a horror film is there, but it tripped up multiple times and came across as hokey, even silly.

A group of scientists get called upon to investigate the Whites since they have been experiencing inexplicable activities in their house. So opportunity for found footage comes in the form of CCTV cameras, with audio I may add, being mounted at multiple strategic locations around the house, together with an arsenal of "high-tech" monitors in order to make it less like Paranormal Activity. You know, by upping the ante and trying to do too much.

So you can just about guess how many frightening things get picked up by sensors and the cameras, coupled with roving handheld digital videocams that go around each time the team of head scientist Dr Helzer (Michael O'Keefe), Paul Ortega (Rick Gonzalez) and technician Ellen (Fiona Glascott) follow the movement of Alan White (Kai Lennox), his daughter Caitlin (Gia Mantegna) and young son Benny (Damian Roman). They constantly hear loud sounds that happen without explanation, and encounter movement that should not occur. After a while you'd think they have the bad luck of living in a haunted house, only for Dr Helzer to explain it away in the most unconvincing of terms.

As the saying goes, if you can't convince them, confuse them, and Apartment 143 tried very hard to use mumbo jumbo science to try and explain away events that we see happening, with new definitions for poltergeist manifestations and the likes. After a while you'd soon believe that Dr Helzer is quite the quack, and even sillier series of events start to develop, which don't make much common sense or logic in the first place. Violent apparitions happen to members of the family, but guess what, everyone stays put just to try and experience it all over again. There are signs that say stay out, but no, everyone buckles down. Even an interrogation scene looks so stupid, because obviously it's time to call it in and fold up investigations, but I guess if they did then we'd have no movie.

There's nothing frightening presented here that you haven't already seen before, such as speaking in a different voice or tongue, or having to wear white contact lenses (or having one's pupils digitally removed), or to be able to levitate up in the air above the bed. Such is the originality of Apartment 143 that it's easy to guess why writer Rodrigo Cortes, who actually directed Buried and Red Lights, two films I enjoyed tremendously, didn't want to helm this himself, with director Carles Torrens having nothing new to offer, They looked as if they're just rehashing old ideas in order to just clock in a feature film, trying very hard to eventually make it to the 80th minute endpoint. There were opportunities in the story that try to suggest some hanky panky from within the White household, but this doesn't get explored with gusto and all that resulted from it, is an chance to play with practical effects in filmmaking.

With a parting shot that's cheap and again, generic and derivative, Apartment 143 should not have visitors, and people should stay away. You have been warned, unless you're one of those who don't mind being reminded how not to make a horror film that does not try to innovate, and to rely on cheap techniques to scare newcomers to the genre.
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