Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

Similar to the first Ice Age, the promotional material for the sequel was out in the theatres way in advance, and courtesy of the Scrat character too, up to its usual antics of getting to that elusive acorn. Here, Scrat opens the movie, and emulating the style of the first, he provides most of the laughs, also as an intermission from the actual scenes from the main cast.

Our gang of prehistoric animals are back - Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the Sabre-tooth Tiger (Denis Leary). We learn that Sid has gone into the early childhood business, educating the young minds of pre-historic brats. However, I felt that this movie was somehow darker in tone than the original. While the original was one which dealt with hope, this one had its setting in extinction, disaster and death.

The valley which they live in is threatened by the melting ice, no thanks to global warming. So all the animals embark on a journey to salvation, to that rumoured ark which will save them from the massive floods to come. Along the way, our trio meets up with another trio of characters, who were added to expand the cast, featuring 2 Possums Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), and another, but female, mammoth (Queen Latifah).

Needless to say, Manny's still anti-social, and Diego can't get along with those rascal possums who get on his nerves, and Sid's the "philosopher" ever providing the laughs. Various themes like romance (hey, we got 2 mammoths here), friendship, trust, and believing in oneself to overcome one's phobia get covered. Pretty wide scope, but they manage to fit in place nicely.

The villains in this sequel are pretty nasty, besides the looming natural disaster, we have two sea creatures with nasty teeth and attitude, as well as manacing vultures ever ready to pounce on the flesh of animals who have fallen.

But it's not all that bleak. Keep a lookout too for that mad sloth song-and-dance sequence, which has potential to become the next ear worm ala Madagascar's zany "you-got-to-move-it" song. The animation is as usual, top notch, and I just can't get enough of the photo-realistic ice and water landscape.

This is one piece of animation that doesn't rely too much on sight gags, of spoofing current affairs, but one filled with more witty dialogue and kept on an even keel with its interesting storyline. Though at times it might feel cliched, somehow it excelled in its execution.

And that makes this sequel, as enjoyable as, if not better, than the original. Recommended stuff this week!


I hate to say this, but Ultraviolet is this year's Elektra. It's a bad hybrid of Aeon Flux, Underworld, Resident Evil and Elektra combined using the production style of Sky Captain, shot against digitally created scenes. Not that it is bad though, I actually sincerely believed, from the trailer, that it had potential to be a really good Milla Jovovich vehicle. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.

While Charlize Theron and Kate Beckinsale had ample opportunity to prove their action chops in skin tight lycra in Aeon Flux and Underworld respectively, I thought Milla already had proven hers, in Resident Evil, and The Fifth Element. Here, she plays Violet, a vampire-ish humanoid with the really strange technologically enhanced prowess.

Directed and written by Kurt Wimmer (who actually did the cult hit Equilibrium), Ultraviolet takes what's currently the talk of the down - epidemic disease (ala Resident Evil), which had mutated and infected humans, and after a number of hokey mumbo jumbo, some humans become a race of Hemophage, aka humans with vampire-like abilities of stealth and such. Anyway don't bother yourself with the "science" behind this film, as it's sci-fi fantasy anyway.

Just enough to know that Violet is on a quest against a dictator (ala Aeon Flux), but circumstances turn her own against her when she decides to intervene and save a boy called Six. Six is this movie's Leeloo, a being who can cure Hemophages, or kill them, or kill Humans, or, what the heck! Violet plays surrogate mom (because of her past) to Six, and the two form an pseudo-mother-son relationship, as she does battle against the authorities, and her kind.

Just as you thought, from the trailers, that the action will be uber-stylish. There are a number of cool things, like Violet's clothings changing colour like a chameleon to suit her environment, and her virtual-turn-real weapons with endless bullet rounds reloaded from the veins in her wrists, which you gotta see to believe. But here's where the problem is. She's indestructable, like a female Terminator who just keeps going. What put me off were the many fight scenes which just didn't happen. It's lazy, she's that good, but still? You see one woman up against countless villains, and the next minute, they all fall down dead. Without seeing her move a muscle. what gives? And there are dozens of "mega" fight scenes done in the same manner, which became laughable instead of cool, bordering on the absurd. What is unforgivable too is the finale fight scene, done 90% in the dark. Yes, to prove a plot point and for some out of the ordinary action, but grr...

Surprisingly, most of the effects were done by a China digital production team, which made me wonder why this was leaps and bounds ahead of The Promise in terms of effects. It's also a crew team mainly of Hong Kongers and Chinese, makes you wonder about the progress made in China though on film production. Slick effects, but let down by an ultra-weak plot, and cop-out action sequences. Just for those curious, this movie was shot using Sony's high-definition digicam, and coupled with the post-production, really made Milla's skin look absolutely fabulous and flawless in simulated soft focus.

I think it's already a staple to have a shot of the actress's butt in skin tight lycra, as did Aeon Flux, Underworld, and this movie too. But cool shots do not make a good movie, and an extremely bad plot makes it worse. Having bad action just makes it harder to swallow and digest. However, don't worry Milla, I still love you :-)

Cool Trailer + Hot Trailer Music = Awesome promotional material. And that's the only thing you should remember the movie by.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Smell of Rain - Meet The Cast and Crew Session

For the uninitiated, the Picturehouse at the Cathay has re-opened, and wow, you wonder where the additional 50 cents in ticket prices go to (yes, most of the time tickets will cost ten bucks), here it is:

Picturehouse Ticket FolderNice?

A chic black folder to store your tickets in!

Picturehouse HouserulesThe House Rules!

Anyway, this is my third trip to the Picturehouse since it opened its doors, and it's pretty cool to see the Picturehouse Lounge put to some use, in hosting Smell of Rain's Meet the Cast/Crew session. I shall attempt to summarize the session in points, as it'll be easier to read than a long narrative. There were two sessions held, one after each screening this afternoon, and I attended the first one.

Smell of Rain - Audience in Meet the Cast & Crew SessionThe audience

The audience were made up of a number of Anglican High School Chinese Drama members for some reason, and the session was conducted mostly in Mandarin, even though everyone was effectively bilingual, and there were non-Mandarin speakers in the audience. Wonder why - Chinese film so must speak in Chinese? Anyway there was someone standing by to offer free translation, so it ain't that bad.

In attendance were the main leads - Nathaniel Ho, Trey Ho and Leah Low, together with director Gloria Chee and Director of Photography Terris Chiang, amongst others

Smell of Rain - Gloria Chee, Trey Ho, Nathaniel Ho, Leah LowSecond from Left to Right - Gloria Chee, Trey Ho, Nathaniel Ho and Leah Low

The discussion points, plus some trivia about the movie

- 1st question was to gather responses as to whether Smell of Rain is arthouse, or commercial fare, whether you'll recommend a friend to watch this movie on a weekend (especially its late night screenings, see bottom of article)

- The significance of Xiao Qi's hearing aid, symbolizing isolation and the choice of selective hearing

- The film was shot on miniDV on a S$150K budget, funded by the director's day job, friends and family, and various donations-in-kind

- The script was written by the director in English, then translated to Mandarin. The decision to use Mandarin stemmed from the fact that it was a more poetic language and a phrase can be described in less words, with more impact.

- There were some "grammatical" errors in the language used by the characters. However, these "mistakes" were already known, was debatable, and end of the day, was stuck with as it highlighted certain language nuances of the character

- Rehearsals were done prior to the shoot. Rehearsals took 21 days.

Smell of Rain Main Leads - Trey Ho, Nathaniel Ho, Leah LowWhat're They Looking At?

- All three leads are first time actors, chosen through 3 or 4 auditions, from a group of 50. The decision to choose first time actors was to give it a sense of rawness the director's looking for; not looking for a polished experienced actors

- As she's a first time director, she's also looking for the cast to share the same amount of passion to give their all in the making of this movie

- They rehearse on set too, before actual shooting

- Shooting was done in twelve 16-18 hour days. 8 days with the actors, 4 days +++ for the various environmental scenes like waiting for the rain, sunset/rise etc

Before the session ended, we launched into a short survey on what kind of local movies Singaporeans will want to watch, and someone suggested to not do another love story, but to put the focus on friendship and family.

Smell of Rain Main Leads - Trey Ho, Nathaniel Ho, Leah LowSpooky!

And I had to ask the last question, if there is going to be a commercial release. The director certainly hopes so, and is working on it.

So, there will be 2 more screenings outside of the opening festival. If you're interested, you can go check out and book tickets for the shows on 1st April Sat, at 0210am (yes, meaning Friday after midnight that is), and 1150pm. This film is yet to be commercially released, so don't let this opportunity slip you by.

Smell of Rain

I have developed a new fetish for local movies, just to see how our sunny little island is captured on film. I smiled when I identified with the initial scenes - the view of my town from inside the MRT train. The view which I see every day, but with a romanticized quality to it. This year will probably be a bumper year of local movies making their debut, and I would consider this probably one of the rare arthouse chinese movies to be done here.

Don't be put off when I mention "Arthouse" (I felt that it leaned away from "commercial" through its style and narrative structure), though audiences will have to get accustomed to the way the story is told. Plenty of beautiful images, of the sky, rain, sun, river, bridges, basically the entire HDB heartland gets the romantic treatment, courtesy of DoP Terris Chiang. Images that will make you go "wow, this is Singapore, told through another camera angle". The characters speak relatively little, and most of narrative gets told through the voiceover of the protagonist, Xiao Qi (Nathaniel Ho), as he reflects upon his life, and his personal philosophy in living life.

Xiao Qi is an interesting character, though he gets developed really slowly through the course of the film. Partially deaf in one ear, he's an insomniac with a penchant for rummaging through discarded knick-knacks. He lives with his best buddy Kong Long (literally meaning Dinosaur, played by Trey Ho), who spends too much time in front of the television watching Korean dramas, or napping. They're quite opposites, but remain the best of friends.

But this movie is also about the budding relationship between two strangers who meet in the middle of the night. One an insomniac, the other, an attractive girl Li Er (Leah Low, check out her manga-comic eyes). Sparks should fly, but somehow each carries an emotional baggage, so you can be sure of the mega obstacles in place for them to overcome, especially since one of them starts off with an "attitude problem" of being zoned-out.

The pacing of the movie is slow, and deliberately kept so, because Xiao Qi is one who abhors the hustle and bustle of life. He takes things as they come, although you would want to strangle him for his indecisiveness, stemmed from early childhood experiences (though some might think that it might be a tad over-dramatic). Throughout the movie, you would come to question certain things and aspects of character (which I will not reveal here) as the story unfolds, leading you to the all important finale-twist-revealing-ending which should answer obvious questions. Sit through it, persevere (don't be like the two persons in my screening who walked out just before the "showhand"), and you'll be duly rewarded. "First bitter then sweet" - as the chinese saying goes.

Commendable effort is shown by the newbie actors - given little dialogue, they had to rely on developing and fleshing their characters through subtle nuances. But somehow, I thought that the overall cinematography overshadowed their performances, as your eyes will probably fall in love with the setting and environment, so that might take your attention away from the characters, at least for a short while.

It's a movie about finding oneself, letting go, and giving oneself a second chance, with the subtle message to find time to stop and smell the roses, and of course, to experience that smell of rain.

Having seen but three of the selection of six movies which are part of the opening of the Picturehouse, in my humble opinion, this local film should have been selected for the premiere. It's fairly experimental, raw, and why not let a local film fly the flag, instead of a regional dud.

There will be 2 more screenings outside of the Picturehouse opening festival. If you're interested, you can go check out and book tickets for the shows on 1st April Sat, at 0210am (yes, meaning Friday after midnight that is), and 1150pm. This film is yet to be commercially released, so don't let this opportunity slip you by.

Monday, March 27, 2006

[SIFF'06] The Art of Flirting - As Told in Four Chapters

There are four local movies premiering at this year's SIFF, and looking at the lineup, you have offerings from Royston Tan, Colin Goh, and Kelvin Tong. Folks whom you've already heard of from movies like 15, Talking Cock, and The Maid. How about Kan Lume? No? Neither did I, until recently when a friend highlighted to keep my eyes peeled for his works. You can view his "The Guest" here at this link, from last year's Canon DVFest

The Art of Flirting - As Told in Four Chapters, is the feature length film version of his award winning short I, Promise. I had the opportunity and privilege of watching this movie in a special screening, and I must say, if you have not watched any local movies at all, or have dismissed them as either being too commercial or too arthouse, then you must give this movie a shot. It's easily accessible and you'll find elements in it which you can identify with, or even learn from, given its drawing upon material that you can probably guess from its title.

Lynn is a magazine writer, beautiful, sassy. Leo is a sports celebrity turned businessman (think Leslie Kwok type), articulate, hunky. They meet because of work - Leo is her latest feature writeup, and they slowly hit it off. Observe the mind games, the sweet tongues, the games people play. But the beauty of the movie, is in its rich, deep dialogue. Sure you can pick up some subtle hints on wooing and playing coy, but you'll probably be drawn into the plot of what-happens-next, rather than looking out for the next tip.

It's a "talky" movie, no doubt. Before you start yawning, I assure you, listen carefully to the dialogue. It brings out the personalities of the characters, and it touches on many aspects of relationships throughout the entire spectrum, it's astonishing to witness so much scope being covered in a compact 80 minutes. From both a guy's and a girl's point of view about the whole flirting-relationship game.

But what truly works are the two leads, Marilyn Lee and Leonard Yeo. This movie genre of having a long conversational piece hinges so strongly on their delivery, that should they lack a certain chemistry, the entire movie would just fall flat into the land of mediocrity, and render it hokey and unbelievable. Thankfully, both of them seemed to have worked up a great pairing, with the appropriate chemistry, making them very believable characters in various stages in a relationship, so much so that they can easily be you or I, discussing the exact same things. It helps that they are eye-candy as well, but one thing's for sure, and it's somehow uncanny, having good voices helped to make it easier to tune in to what they have to say. And the language and banter between the two are so natural, you won't for one moment think that it's contrived.

It's not only your ears are teased, but the visuals too. Initially I thought the camera-jerking style might be alluded to the uneasiness of first encounters, but as the movie progresses, I wonder if it's the intention of the director to draw audiences into the world of Lynn and Leo, in a voyeuristic style. To listen in, to watch for ourselves, as a reflection in a mirror asking, have we done the same, have we said the same?

And it's highly likely, if you've been in relationships before, that you've encountered, or have actually done and said what the characters have. Your fears, your desires, your hopes and dreams. It is this aspect that makes the movie engaging, on one level to view the movie, and on the other, subconsciously questioning yourself on these issues.

With local films, it's always neat to spot locales where scenes are done, and I particularly liked the supermarket one, for its very "guerilla" style of having the supermarket's piped in music play various love songs while the characters go shopping. I thought it was an effective way of setting the scene which accompanied it - romance is in the air, literally.

This movie will provoke a reaction from you, whether or not you're a guy or a girl, whether or not you agree or disagree with what transpired on screen. And by that I mean while it plays out in a fairly straightforward manner from act to act, you'll be transfixed right up to the very final scene, by the time the end credits roll, there is so much to talk about that you absolutely will feel the urge to digest it with someone else. If it's someone close and significant, I would say it's even better.

Whether you're spoilt for choice, or want to watch a local film during SIFF, do not forget to add this to your watch list. And let me know what you think after you've watched it.

The Art of Flirting - As Told in Four Chapters, premieres at the 19th Singapore International Film Festival 2006, on 24th April 06 (Monday) at 1900hrs, National Museum (yes, you read that right).

The Art of Flirting synopsis from the SIFF website:

And here's the link to buy your tickets (before it sells out):

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Three Times

Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-Hsien's movie at The Picturehouse is a movie with three stories told very distinctly, one story after another. Take it as three short films rolled into one, with each actor playing different roles, each character having no distinct relation to their counterparts in different eras. Having them set in 1966, 1911 and 2005 provided vastly different material for each short film to stand out from one another.

The first, "A Time for Love", is set in the swinging 60s of 1966. Chang Chen plays an army enlistee who chances upon Shu Qi's working girl in a billiard parlour. He gets attracted to her, but she, not being a permanent staff, flits from one town to another. Undetered, he spends the weekend off to hunt for her, starting from KaoShiung where they last met, following a trail of different mailing addresses which takes him all over Taiwan. This short plays out like a bittersweet tale of budding love, where one will spare no effort in wanting to meet the girl of one's dreams.

The second, "A Time for Freedom", however, is a tough one to swallow. Set during 1911, there is colour, but alas, there's no audible dialogue save for opera lyrics sung and Chinese classical music to set the stage. It plays out as a silent movie of sorts, and the dialogue pieces are set in intertitles which you have to read off to understand what the heck they're saying. Very stylish way to portray the era, one which attracted some snickering from the audience, but soon after, you'll have to get very used to the way this section gets presented. The story however, is nothing to shout about, and perhaps the most boring of the lot. Very easy to doze off in the Oscar chair I tell you.

The last section, "A Time for Youth" is set in 2005. Chang Chen plays a photographer, and Shu Qi, a bisexual Goth chick who is on the road to becoming straight, I think. Her character here is the most interesting of the lot, and also because Chang Chen's male leads in all three parts were somewhat ordinary, without an edge. While the first part's environment was in Taiwan's rural areas, which is probably used as it's easier to simulate the retro environment of the past, and the second's highly likely in a soundstage, this one is familiar urban territory - capital Taipei. It probably is hip to feature lesbians in movies these days, as we see Shu Qi grapple with a clingy lesbian lover. But after having passionate throngs with Chang's character, I guess she must be having second thoughts, or really, is bothered by the clinginess.

Throughout the three sections, dialogue is quite scarce, except for perhaps the first one. Peppered most of the time in Hokkien, it was peculiar that the subtitles only had the Mandarin translation, totally neglecting English speaking folks. But for the Mandarin dialogue, there was English subtitles. So for those who don't read Mandarin or understand oral Taiwanese styled Hokkien, be prepared to be lost for a bit during the movie.

I didn't manage to tie down the inter-related themes of all 3 parts, except for the obvious one on love. The first, being in the 60s, was portrayed quite innocently, with shy smiles and little surprises and all. The second was more restrained in nature. Fact is, there's very little physical contact between the lovers. While the third opened with sex, which I suspect was snipped off here (didn't see what was in the trailers :P). All three had appropriate music to accentuate the era's mood. You have classics like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Rain and Tears (the one used in the trailer), up against Operatic music, before closing the film with alternative music, sung in heavily Chinese accented English, whose lyrics don't make much sense, being adapted by Shu Qi's character encounters. Communication techniques used in the three movies were as accurate as can be, with A4 sized pen-written love letters, in contrast with ink-brushed wordings in large thin paper, and today's prevalent electronic communication with email and SMS. Perhaps it also serves to highlight the idea of love in those eras. One very innocent, one very plain, and one, non-permanent and fleeting.

Maybe it's just me, but having watch three very arty representations by directors such as Malick, Ratanatuang and now Hou, made me a little jaded what with having movies where style takes precedence over substance. I think I need to chill out with something as mindless as Ice Age 2 or Ultraviolet soon. Need balance.

Invisible Waves

If this is going to be someone's maiden entry into Pen-Ek Ratanatuang's movies, then I dare say that he's not going to win any new fans with this piece of crap. Might even lose the old ones too. Not that I've watched all his films (missed the retrospective during the symposium last year), but Invisible Waves was a rude introduction.

It's basically an extremely weak piece of storytelling, with a non-existent, juvenile story. I equate it to a primary school kid's first composition, and the worst kid in class can come up with something more imaginative and interesting. The story does not engage at all, and the characters, you'd wish that they all die to save you the misery of trying to understand them.

So what if it's lensed by Christopher Doyle? Here, his images come up poorly. While the technique might work with Wong Kar Wai's movies (at least there's a decent, understandable story), someone should advise Doyle that one technique doesn't always necessary fit all. It makes you come across as a one trick pony. The sea, very interesting to look at? If you have meaning to it, fine, but there isn't. Oh, the characters walk out of the frame and you only hear voices. That's cool? No, what's with that dumb ship hull in the frame? It makes you wonder if it's done for the sake of doing it, rather than to go back to the old school method of properly tracking a scene.

And what of the weak story? For the first time, I'd say don't trust all the synopsis out there, even if it's It makes it sound more interesting, and could probably be filmed in a better way by an amateur filmmaker. Kyoji (Asano Tadanobu), a Japanese chef cum hitman living in Macau, is having an affair with his boss's wife. He's instructed to kill her, and like all obedient servant, performs the deed, and like all Hong Kong mafiaso movies, he has to take a hike to another country after the hit.

Which brings him to Phuket, Thailand, but not before actually having to spend an hour's worth of run time doing absolutely nothing on board a ship (which does not move by the way - tells you how good the production values are). It plays out like an unfunny, contrived episode of Mr Bean, where everything that could go wrong, would go wrong, with repetitive tired dialogue of having to deal with an unresponsive reception (makes you wonder if Asians are that dumb). He meets a single mother called Noi (Kang Hye-Jeong, I think pan-Asian collaboration getting hip these days, even if they speak horrendously in English), who is so weak a character, you could write her off the script as she does absoultely nothing, even at the ending (hello, we got a situation here and you're admiring your damn ring?). Don't bother too with wasting time and reading too much into many of the scenes, if there's any hidden message, it's pretentious, and as the title goes, invisible.

It doesn't matter anymore when Kyoji finally arrives at Phuket, gets into the same situation as while on the ship, gets robbed (oei, you hitman, but you're one heckuva lousy one), and gets help from Lizard, who turns out to be his hunter, tasked to silence Kyoki. But they sure beat around the bloody bush to get to this point. And from there, you would've wondered that in any reel or real world, the entire scenario as played out from that point all the way to the finale, is hokey. It's poor storytelling, it's bad script, it's utter crap. I also credit this film with having one of the weakest mob boss villain, with no credibility, and the actor playing him, zero expression. If I can give out the equivalent of the Razzies, this movie will win 11 of them - bad screenplay, bad acting (times 4), bad direction, bad cinematography, bad music, bad costumes, bad production design and bad picture.

The saving graces of the movie is actually the appearance of Hong Kong veterans Eric Tsang and Maria Cordero. Just the appearance, not their characters or what they do or say, just for that cheap laugh of "hey, I recognize them, what made them sign on the dotted line?"

I think it's high time that filmmakers realize that pieces of shit doesn't equate to works of art. This is pretentious art at its worst. This is a horribly reeking piece of shit, it's still early into the year, but already a contender for worst movie. Save your money, and save your time - don't even bother watching this, even if it's a pirated free copy. Find a better movie to sit on the Picturehouse's Oscar chair.

The New World

Yet another victim of incorrect marketing, for those unfamiliar with Terrence Malick's style, the trailers would have mislead you to think that The New World is one heck of a suspense filled action packed movie. It is not. What is evident is Mallick's style imprinted throughout, with characters expressing innermost thoughts through voiceover narratives, plenty of nothingness, and beautiful postcard visuals.

For the new generation bred on Disney's Pocahontas, The New World is a more adult take on the tale. There is no song and dance, there is no "magicalness" in this new world, and there are no characters perpetually on prozac. Think along this line: the Louis Cha martial arts classic series The Condor Heroes, and Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time. The former being Disney's Pocahontas in ease of understanding, the latter being Mallick's movie. Same characters, similar stories, in a grittier adult environment.

The New World begins with the merry men of England's colonials seeking new grounds to set up camp, and slowly develop their new found lands. Wait, make that a bunch of hungry desperadoes on the verge of insanity when their food supplies are threatened. And they come with prejudices as well - the native Americans are categorized as savages, but as we witness ourselves, it isn't difficult to understand who the actual savages are. Discovery and exploration cut both ways. The English, through John Smith, discovers the way of the natives (ala The Last Samurai, but without much dialogue here, but plenty visuals), and the natives, being introduced to the English way of life, through the Pocahontas character. But as with clash of the cultures, the native Americans know of what the colonists have in their plans. First to establish a beach head, then to expand inwards with the possibility of threatening their own existence. What to you do in times like these? You counter-plan for a pre-emptive strike. Beginning with kindness, and if it doesn't work, then it calls for more drastic violent measures.

While the big picture's that of politicking, the more focused aspect will be going behind the thoughts of the main characters - John Smith (Colin Farrell), Pocahontas (newbie Q'Orianka Kilcher) and John Rolfe (Christian Bale). While they do not dialogue much throughout the movie, they rely on sheer acting skills to bring their characters to life. Which somehow is a joy to watch. The innocence of Pocahontas shone through brilliantly, as did a very complex and layered John Smith. John Rolfe perhaps was the more straightforward, generous character that is the easiest to understand.

Weaved into the complex narrative style is that of longing. Smith longing for the life out of the new found land, Pocahontas to eventually much spend legitimate time with Smith, and Rolfe, perhaps the shortest screentime amongst all three, added into the fray in a triangle relationship (Seriously, I'm don't qualify as a Bale groupie, but it was a really long wait before he appeared and had something to do. So fans, please take note). Besides love and longing, I was actually laughing inside at the sheer corruption of the colonists - strongest man of the moment rules, and another else can challenge the authority of those in power just with the strength of a powerful gun. Quite civilized.

You have been warned. Not everyone will appreciate Mallick's works. It'll take a while to get used to during the course of the movie. You'll find many scenes with a familiar feel (didn't I see something similar a while back), especially the wheat fields, so sexy.

Anyway the following's a cheeky thought that struck me three-quarters of the way in the movie... ha!

Wah lau eh, this show hor, seriously is one heck of an SPG show leh. Ang mo tua kee you know? Local ger buay song all the near nude and muscular local hunks, but rather find the ang mos more happening, with their heavy armour and knick knacks like compasses, copper kettles and big ships. But you know lah, the ang mo only here for short while mah, when they have bigger lobangs back home, what love? They abandon local girl and balek kampung lah! Shiok already, where got bring the girl home? Many night stands can oready mah. The ger even got thrown out of the house leh. But the girl very humchee one... once bitten buay shy, still find ang mo happening. But this movie never steleotype lah, ang mo also got good guy what... like Batman! He take care of ger, give her home, food, wah, so nice. But you know lah, when the old ang mo lover come back, how she want to choose? Aiyoh, these type of BGR, very the compricated ah! Cannot anyhow play ah ger!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Russian Dolls (Les Poupées Russes)

Russian Dolls are those wooden toy dolls, which can be opened to reveal another doll, and opened again to reveal another, until you reach the final, tiny one. That in essence, is the movie's message on love and relationships. How do you know that the person you're with, is that final soulmate, the final tiny russian doll at the end of the chain? Or are you still stuck in the process of searching, and breaking up, and perpetually wondering and keeping a lookout for that someone else perceivably better?

A sequel to The Spanish Apartment, you don't really have to watch that in order to enjoy Russian Dolls, even though most of the characters come back in this one. The protagonist is Xavier (Romain Duris), a down-and-out writer who's looking for his next big break, no matter if it's a cheesy love story that he's tasked to work with, or ghostwriting memoirs of celebrities. We follow his journey as he seeks his dolls, most of whom were encounters in the Spanish Apartment.

First we have Martine (the lovely Audrey Tautou), his ex-girlfriend who's now a single parent, and who still holds a candle for him, but only when she's feeling lonely and needy. Don't you just feel that sometimes you're being made use of, but you're a nice guy and is accomodating to that ex? But no worries, there's always that buddy to rely on, and Xavier's buddy happens to be a lesbian Isabelle (Cecile De France, that tough as nails cookie in High Tension), a smart financial analyst. Friends like these must have ok? They'll even go all out to be out of character just to assist you in situations, providing you with accomodation, and dressing up so femininely (she's a butch by the way) to be your pretend-girlfriend.

In between, Xavier tries to get back to the dating game by hooking up with store assistant Kassia (Aissa Maiga), but as you know, the ex always gets in the way, somehow. So another potential relationship, ended up broken before it even had a chance to get started.

But the final two proved to be most challenging of the lot. Business brings Xavier and Wendy together (Kelly Reilly, in a lot of movies lately, like Mrs Henderson Presents, Pride and Prejudice), and love blossoms between the two, despite initially starting off as platonic, and Wendy still being stuck in a relationship that she doesn't have the strength to walk away from. But their relationship is put to the test when Xavier, through business, also gets the opportunity to hook up with up-and-coming model Celia (Lucy Gordon). Ah, a beautiful celebrity, that unattainable perfect being, the object of everyman's desire and lust, now within reach. Which would he choose? Which would you choose? The down to earth person, or the party girl surviving in that Barbie world that last only as long as their looks do?

The movie suggests many known thoughts and ideas on romance and relationships, such as loving someone meaning loving their flaws, that there's no such thing as the perfect person, just only being able to love someone because their flaws don't drive you up the wall. And the eternal question of when will you stop looking? Temptations abound, but at the end of the day, do you cross the line, or who do you return to? It might seem that the story's the usual of love, finding love, losing it, and all the cliches of a romance flick, but with an added punch.

It's also interesting to note the different apartments that Xavier encounters, from his ex's home, to Isabelle's bachelor pad, from an ordinary London home in Wendy's, to the luxurious French suite of Celia's. There're also plenty of country hopping, between England, France and Russia (Moscow, St Petersburg), where their friend in common William is getting married. And yes, Apple laptops sure looks sexy!

Probably I had it easier to identify with this movie, given I'm the targeted age group of those approaching the big-three-oh, wondering about stuff like these occassionally. Peppered with plenty of comedy to keep the going interesting, especially its techniques of juxtaposing reel-reality with reel-fantasy, Russian Dolls is a truly contemporary, chic, and sassy film standing on its soapbox with a mouthpiece touching on modern relationships.

Friday, March 24, 2006

[DVD] Moonlight In Tokyo

Leon Lai and Chapman To star in this Hong Kong movie set in the streets of Tokyo, where two strangers bond under trying circumstances. It's part madcap comedy, part melodrama, and those of you who are curious to see Lai act cute, should give this a watch.

Click on the movieXclusive logo below to read my review:

Thursday, March 23, 2006

District 13 (Banlieue 13)

It's errorneous to interpret "A Film By Luc Besson" that the marketing folks slap on the movie posters these days. Besson has of late been lending his name for that purpose on many movies, but nope, he's not the director. Usually involved in another capacity, like writer, or producer.

District 13 is one such movie. This is not a film by Luc Besson, although it is written by, and produced by him. This movie is directed by Pierre Morel, who was the cinematographer for another Besson-involved film, Jet Li's Unleashed. You'll see some familiar stylistic elements from Unleashed in this movie, although this one was made in 2004, and shown here earlier as the movie used to launch Cathay's new halls 10-12 at cineleisure.

Set in Paris 2010, troubled districts get walled in by the authorities. Literally. And District 13 is one of the most notorious amongst all. We get introduced to Leito first, a resident of District 13, but as it turns out, despite his mean tattoo covered demeanour, he has a heart of gold, and fantastic springs for legs, borrowed from the Yamakasi folks. Played by David Belle, he actually is a co-founder of a sport known as Parkour, which is demonstrated in the movie as a very free form of martial arts cross bred with the Yamakasi spirit. Leito is a character who's jaded by authority-like figures, as he gets betrayed by the police, and has his sister given up as collateral.

The other protagonist is Damien, an ace undercover cop, played by stuntman Cyril Raffaelli. Accomplishing his latest mission doesn't buy him rest, as he gets thrust unwillingly into a new assignment of having to locate a neutron bomb stolen and brought into District 13. Given only 24 hours before the bomb explodes and kills everyone in an eight kilometer radius, he has to enlist the help of Leito to serve as a guide inside the notorious district.

As you would already expect, it's reluctant hero meeting another reluctant hero, both with huge egos and their own agendas - one to save lives, the other to save his sister. Both share a common enemy, so that makes it easier somewhat to find common ground to cooperate. However, the movie's a tad short to explore these buddy themes, as you get into the action thick and fast.

It's adrenalin pumping action against an edgy hard hitting soundtrack. You'll initially be wowed at Leito's Parkour scenes, which brings back some memories of Jackie Chan movies with his acrobatic maneuvers into confined spaces, and of leaping from building to building, window ledge to window ledge, and rooftop to rooftop. However, after a while, you tend to get jaded because it's basically the same thing, repeated over and over again. The initial novelty wore out, and it didn't help that action scenes thereafter relied on the same techniques. Other than that, you're stuck with the usual fist-fights that have already been the hallmark of Hong Kong action movies.

Also, despite being billed as a non-stop action flick, the action actually pauses for long moments to force a discussion on the ridding of the downtrodden, of taking extreme measures to round up troubled districts by physically segregating them from the rest using high walls and barbed wires. and of extreme methods of getting rid of such folks deemed as troublemakers.

There're also more style-than-substance scenes, not that I'm complaining, but some shots were pretty to look at, at the expense of the story. As with most action movies, you'll also have to suspend belief that while bullets can make nasty holes in metal, they will never find a way to penetrate wood or human flesh, at least when the heroes are concerned.

While the ending's pretty neat, you can't help but wonder that this movie is yet another victim of the cool trailer syndrome - having almost all the best bits of the movie condensed into the trailer, leaving nothing much in the movie itself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes

Hot on the heels of slasher flicks like Wolf Creek and Cry_Wolf (so many wolves?) this year is The Hills Have Eyes, a remake of Wes Craven's 1977 movie of the same title. Directed by Alexandre Aja, who brought us High Tension (shown here uncut late last year), this remake is suprisingly quite good and bloody entertaining, and that's despite being behind the other releases as mentioned over the past 2 weeks. If you're already jaded by the wolves, grit your teeth and go for this one. Bloody satisfaction guaranteed.

A word of caution, this movie isn't just plainly blood and gore. There are bits that were chopped off (pardon the pun), either by the filmmakers to secure an R rating in the US, or done so by local censors. What works, is that somehow you actually give a damn for the characters / victims. Why? Because they're family. And it could be yours.

Unlike the teenage swingers in Creek, or rich frat kids in Cry_Wolf, The Hills Have Eyes sets focus on a typical family - mom, dad, 3 kids, one of whom is already married to a telco salesman, and have a newborn baby. They're on a road trip (very popular movie element hor?) and made a pit stop at a dinghy petrol kiosk (doesn't it always?), with a sly and suspicious looking pump attendant (stereotypical, I know). They're directed to a short cut (uh-oh, bad) in the middle of the New Mexico desert on the way to California, and naturally, their vehicle encounters an accident - yes, in the middle of nowhere, to set the scene.

So while the family bickers and decides upon their action plan, little do they know that the hills have eyes. They are being watched, and you're gleefully awaiting some action to happen. The prologue and opening credits will have prepared you for what's to come - grotesque humanoid creatures who are mutated by nuclear energy, with a thirst for violence and hunger to kill. However, don't ask too many whys or hows, just accept the fact that it is so.

Without spoiling much, it's wicked. While on one hand, you're anticipating something to happen, by the time it does and the movie progresses, you'll be sucked into actually wanting the worse possible to happen, as a means of eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, broken skulls and bullet wounds, the works. While the film might want to suggest something about the negativity of nuclear testing, it doesn't get bogged down by the suggestion and before you realise, it gets tossed out of the window in exchange for action.

The cast, while some having more screentime than others (you need the fodders to have the movie belong to the slasher genre), did a rather commendable job, despite the genre. You see genuine fear in their eyes, and the tone of their voice - they're really afraid. And you witness their progression from fear to the downright need for primal survival of the fittest. It's pretty neat to see the all too familiar setting up, the initial incident striking fear and confusion into their hearts, and the resolution to the final act, which is split into two different narratives. Somehow the strength is in how the situation develops, although it did take a little while to get there.

Despite the cuts and having other lesser slasher flicks shoved down our throats the past weeks, if you have to watch something bloody good, The Hills Have Eyes will be my recommendation.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

[DVD] Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

After watching the original One-Armed Swordsman, directed by Chang Cheh and starring Wang Yu in the title role, I knew I had to watch this direct sequel, as the others had David Chiang replacing Wang Yu as Fang Gang.

Continuing where the first movie left off, we see Fang Gang leading a life of a farmer, without a care of JiangHu politics. But as the saying goes, and in martial arts movie, so long as you're a reputable swordsman, trouble will always be looking for you. The emergence of the evil Eight Demon Swordsmen clan brought about chaos, with their issuing of forced challenges and a grand meeting amongst the swordsman clans. The senior members of various clans get annihilated or captured, and its down to the junior members to try and convince Fang Gang to come out of "retirement" to assist them in their quest of rescue, and getting rid of the Eight Demon Swordsmen.

It's also pretty cool to see the main villains being crafted with various deadly weapons and different personalities. Like the one with the deadly chain-attached sickle, or the mean looking knife-shield. How about a weapon which seemed to fire pellets of poison, and a sword with extensible blade? Perhaps the more interesting villain was the lady assassin, with her demure looks, and deadly hidden knives, giving a new meaning to back-stabbing!

However, being villains, our hero and his gang of merry men, while on the way to the villains' fortress, get to dispatch them one by one in deadly, bloody fashion. Although by today's standards the blood is pretty fake looking, it's still quite a bloody affair with slashings, stabbings - knives through body, and squirting blood. But I must add that it did give a sense of cheesy nostalgia to how blood was created for the screen in those days.

Classic martial arts movie scenes like the bamboo forest also get featured in this movie, though the forest did look a bit sparse, since it was filmed in a sound stage. Added to the fight scenes was a demonstration of superb "qing-gong" (light-skill, fleet-footedness) by Fang Gang, though the wire work used was extremely elementary, and came across quite laughably. Back in those days, this sequence would have been da bomb though.

The story's nothing to shout about - it has almost every thematic element that you'd expect from a martial arts movie, and classic scene settings like forests and inns. But it sure is one heck of a fun ride - bigger, bolder, badder than the original, with a lot more disposable characters for the body count.

Code 3 DVD extras contains a pretty weak lineup of only the trailer (and trailers for other movies), colour stills, the poster, selected cast and crew biography and filmography, and a one screen production notes. The DVD for the original seemed better and more thorough.

Mad Hot Ballroom

OK, so it took me 3 attempts before finally being able to watch this - the first was free, but aborted because of timing. The second attempt, only the first 3 rows were available for a weekday evening, and I'm not too keen on craning my neck. The third and successful attempt had me walk all the way from Orchard Cineleisure to Shaw Lido, in 10 minutes flat on a crowded weekend afternoon. But the mad rush was well worth it.

New York City elementary schools have a 10 week long co-curricular activity (CCA) for its students, where they learn ballroom dancing, and then compete in a city wide dance competition. How cool is that? Finally, a CCA from which you can actually learn something useful, a skill that stays with you for life. Imagine learning from young, the steps to the Tango, Foxtrot, Swing, Merengue, etc. Wow.

But there's a much higher cause in teaching ballroom dancing to the students. And that is to inculcate in them from young, a sense of hope, responsiblity - to themselves in mastering a skill, to their partners in performing well, and being a team player to the entire class/school, and a setting of an achievable goal if they were to work hard at it. Most students in the public schools come from the lower spectra of society, and as the movie goes, based on statistics, many may end up on the streets, probably living in the hood of crime or other vices like drugs. This programme allows the students to dream a little dream, work hard towards a common goal, build their self-confidence and esteem, and have them thinking about the kind of future they want to pursue.

So we follow different classes, and their trainings with the teachers, where we see them learning the basics of the different kinds of dances. It's pretty raw at first, but by the time the movie progresses, from the quarters to the finals, you'd see a marked improvement in the slickness of their paces. Their moves might still not be as polished, but bear in mind that these are only 11 year olds, not your already established dancers, or make believe actors.

The downside of competition is that for every winner, there'll be more losers, and the movie takes stock of this, and feature the losing teams as well, and how the lost affected the students, and the dread that the teachers have to go through to explain that it's part and parcel of competition, and life.

The movie is interspersed with various interviews and candid discussions amongst the students, and teachers, and it makes it compelling each time as you actually see that despite their little age, they demonstrate much innocent maturity, listening to them talk about boys, girls, relationships, dreams, etc. There's this pudgy looking boy whom I thought was pretty natural in getting himself into weird situations, and taking it all in his stride, and providing some of the laughs too. The teachers have their work cut out, having to teach their class, and then selecting only a handful to compete, and also to prep them up for the competition, and potential failure of not being emerging champions.

Before long, you'll find yourself tapping along to the various dances, making you want to get up there and move to the groove too - hey if 11 year olds can do it, and be good at it, why not give it a try? On the downside though, since the moves are done by students, they're taught really basic steps, and it does get repetitive, but hey, it's all in the name of fun.

Do catch Mad Hot Ballroom! If I have a recommendation to make for movies this week, watch this before it gets pulled out from the theatres! Stay throughtout the end credits as they'll be more discussion snippets from the tots.

Dorm (Dek Hor)

It was quite uncanny, a group of us were discussing making a movie about ghost stories told in schools. Sure, every school has its fair share of ghouls and goblins, and we'd thought it was interesting to have it done on film. Heck, we were actually in the premises of a school when we started to talk about it at night too. So imagine our surprise that Thailand actually made it first, and screened in local theatres no more than a month after we discussed.

Dorm refers to the dormitory of an all boys boarding school. Chatree (Charlie Trairattana) gets sent to the school by his parents, against his wishes. I believe almost everyone would be familiar with the feeling of being uprooted from one school to go to another (be it upon graduation or otherwise), where there's a sense of loss somewhat, especially with friends.

As with all new schools, the new kid on the block gets treated with suspicion, and he finds it extremely difficult to integrate into the school. It doesn't help that his initial gang of friends harbours thoughts of going all out to scare Chatree with many ghosts stories about the school (I could've sworn the toilet one was familiar territory, because I encountered something similar before), and making matters worst, the teacher (Jintara Sukphat) also becomes a key character in one of these stories, hence making Chatree wary.

Despite being the social outcast, and a recluse, Chatree befriends another pupil, Wichien (Sirarath Jianthaworn). They become fast friends, but Wichien has a deep dark secret come 6pm everyday, when he disappears. By now, you would've guessed what would happen.

Along the way, this movie somehow forgotten that it was supposed to be a horror movie. That, or the marketing folks have gotten it all wrong in promoting this flick. The horror genre is undoubtedly an extremely popular genre in Asia, one that will put folks into cinema seats, and riding on the wave of Shutter's success, it's easy to get caught up in what essential are the few and far between sense of fright that's packed into the trailer. Be warned, halfway through the movie, the horrifying moments get thrown out the window, and Dorm becomes more of a standard fare mystery. Quite a plain one actually, as the narrative gets stuck in cruise control throughout. You'll be able to guess the ending, and plot devices are thrown in only to help the movie proceed to the following scene.

But there's a fun element thrown in, which I thought was quite neat. Fans of Hong Kong horror cinema would clearly identify the "Mr Vampire" remake in Dorm, where the students congregate for one of their night movie screenings. It's a deliberate cheesy remake, but I felt this was one of the more powerful scenes that snuck up on you, incorporating the twist revelation so well, I give it the thumbs up. And yes, the twist is revealed midway through the movie in this scene, and thereafter, "horror" gets forgotten.

How's the horrifying content earlier in the movie you ask? It's not all that frightening, again relying on cheap tricks like musical crescendos to make you jump. You don't get to see much, except for shadows, sudden movements and closeups (hey, if I can survive this, so can you!). If I had a gripe, it would be with Chatree's hair continuity problem. Unless there's a barber in the school who cuts hair as good as he restores them, you'll probably get perturbed by the changes in Chatree's hair length. In the same scene. Talking to the same person. You get the drift. It's rather sloppy filmmaking, and the continuity person ought to get shot. The special effects department though, gets my thumbs up for its imaginary swimming pool effects. Really cool stuff there.

Horror aside, this film essentially similar to like M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, though it doesn't dwell as deep into the psyche of Chatree and the spirit. It works on another level, along the themes of friendship, sacrifice, forgiveness and closure. I'd recommend it, not as a horror movie, but a coming of age one.

P.S. the version shown here rated PG, is the censored version. Not because of anything frightening, but for a sex scene, which I thought was quite pivotal to identify who it was Chatree's father was humping. Edited away, it comes across as "so what's the big deal?"

[DVD] Ice Age (2002)

I've missed this animated movie when it was out in Singapore a few years back. Since the sequel is hitting our shores real soon, I thought I'd better get myself up to speed with the original movie, lest I miss out on some references used in the sequel. You see, must do homework mah?

It has been 4 years since this movie was released, but I am marvelled at the level of animation detail that was already incorporated - the ice never looked as white or as menacing, and the scenes of water in this movie, could have been the real thing. It really is that good. Which is quite surprising, considering that Ice Age was only Fox Animation Studios' attempt after their initial offering of Titan AE.

The beginning of Ice Age comprised of that extra long trailer featuring Scrat (the part squirrel part rat animal) trying to bury its acorn into the ice. Yes, it's the same one, which lead directly to a scene which looked straight out of A Land Before Time. The prehistoric animals are making their way down south, but somehow, Manny the Mammoth decides to leave the herd, and head up north instead. He meets Sid the Sloth, and they begin an uneasy alliance - you know, the usual bored character meets witty-but-irritating character routine.

At the same time, some sabre-tooth tigers have ambushed some early-humans (they don't speak), and their prized target, a human baby, escapes. Diego gets appointed by the pack to hunt the baby down and deliver it, so that they can exact revenge. But alas the baby gets saved rather reluctantly by Manny and Sid, and Diego has to use its cunning to infiltrate the group, and complete its mission.

It's a simple movie with mature themes, infused with madcap comedy. I especially enjoyed the crazy sequence with the dumb dodo birds - after watching this, you'd think that they deserve to be extinct! But anyhow, central to the themes is that of sacrifice and friendship. It got played out really well, since you have a double agent amongst the group of unlikely friends. And it is precisely this that the sequel can be born.

As with most animation flicks these days, look out for some spoofs, especially in the cave (with the UFO), and pay close attention to the dialogue - lots of gems to listen out for. It's an interesting caper, and the sequel, yes I'm awaiting.

This Code 1, two-discs special edition comes with features filled to the brim. The first disc contains an audio commentary, interactive games, both widescreen and fullscreen formats, and the usual audio selection and subtitles. The second discs comes with an animated short Scrat's Missing Adventure, an HBO behind the scenes special, a making-of documentary, 6 deleted scenes, 6 production featurettes, trailers, and a clip from Blue Sky Studio's Oscar winning film "Bunny". Whew!

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Typhoon is the latest Korean blockbuster hitting our shores real soon, by the end of the month. Unless you're living with your head buried in sand, you'll almost certainly not miss the slew of marketing tactics being used to promote the movie, especially with its assault on your senses onboard SMRT trains and station platforms.

You can check out my review of Typhoon at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below:

Friday, March 17, 2006

[FOCUS: First Cuts #1] The Shoe Fairy

FOCUS: First Cuts is a series of films showcasing some of the works from up and coming Asian directors. Supported by Andy Lau's Focus Films, we'll be seeing a slew of 6 movies, the first being the Taiwanese movie The Shoe Fairy, starring Vivian Hsu and Duncan Lai, directed by first timer Robin Lee.

The Shoe Fairy is a modern day fairy tale. One which isn't kind to its genre to begin with, highlighting the evil witch and wolf characters and their impending bloody demise in each tale. The Chinese title "Ren Yu Duo Duo" will already hint about the fairy tale from which this movie draws its inspiration from, with "Ren Yu" being mermaid (in this context). Like the Little Mermaid, Dodo (Hsu) looks normal, except that she cannot use her legs. A miraculous operation allowed her to walk again, and slowly she develops an obsession with shoes. Loads of them.

Girls would probably squeal at the variety of shoes on display in the movie, and I tell you it's a really wide range. Dodo felt that shoes are her first love, and wondered if shoes are indeed her happiness in life. Being weaned on fairy tales from young, it seemed that shoes are perfectly capable of providing her that happily ever after ending, until she meets Smiley, the dentist (Lai).

The movie becomes one of those saccharine sweet moments where boy woos girl, boy marries girl, then what? Perhaps it has a deeper message in its arty-farty feel, but somehow that feeling did not come to me. Give me conflicts, which the movie does, but sidesteps it somewhat. We see how much one treasures something when one has it, and how one emotional spirals downwards when one loses it. I must say I didn't expect it to turn in that direction though, before resuming itself in the theme of hope.

What didn't work for me was the usage of a narrator - Andy Lau. Sorry Andy, your narration's a bit difficult to follow, and I somewhat dislike movies with narration that explains the story - we can see the visuals you know? Also, the strangely huge English and Chinese subtitles were so badly done - not aesthetically pleasing, and full of typos. Someone never did their homework?

While the visuals were stunning (it did win a Golden Horse ward for Best Art Direction in 2005), I felt the special effects quite cheesy, and the plot being a little weak. While it showed promise in its slow start, the second half was a torture to sit through, where it tried to develop the characters in too short a time left. This movie will probably appeal to hard core fans of Vivian Hsu, who probably haven't seen their idol on celluloid in a long time.

Anyway, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled and will be following the rest of the offerings in the First Cuts series, which will have one new film making its appearance every month. Stay tuned then!

P.S. The movie stopped playing halfway (GV Plaza 4), which I thought was an end to the torture of sitting through the entire movie. Alas, after a 10 minute delay, it resumed. Bah! :P

Thursday, March 16, 2006

V for Vendetta

Remember, remember, the 5th of November. Well, at least that was the original premiere date for V for Vendetta. It would also make a cool (gimmicky) date to open the movie, given that the Wachowskis also premiered their previous movie, The Matrix Revolutions, worldwide simultaneously on 5th November back in 2003.

But fast forward to today, where the Revolutions imploded, and much bad blood spilt from Alan Moore, the writer of the graphic novel from which the Wachowskis adapted this movie from, and giving it a fresh perspective and spin (since the original was set in the late 90s). But gone are the high-tech Matrix-y look, and in place is something quite down to earth, a futuristic England, which is now ruled by a fascist regime.

The populace seem cowered living under curfews and corruption, and while they know about the crap the state controlled media is putting out, they do nothing, and of course are powerless, to effect a regime change. Until the emergence of a strange and mysterious freedom fighter, codenamed V (Hugo Weaving), takes to task the waging of a one-man crusade against oppression, and tosses ideas of civil disobedience to the general population.

Along the way, he rescues and gains an unlikely ally in the form of Evey (Natalie Portman), a teenage girl whom he eventually falls for. Which brings an interesting take into the man and his mission, whether he would abandon what he truly believes in, or forge ahead in his mission, everything else being secondary. While we learn of V's grand plans that will affect statehood, we also learn of his personal agenda in seeking revenge - could both purposes coexist, having effects in one, affecting the other?

One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. We look into the creation of V, and take a peek into V's history prior to becoming the warrior he is. It's amazing that the source material, written in the 80s, could be so applicable in today's security environment, that you reap what you sow. It's also chilling that the sentiments echoed in the movie, could be so vividly realistic, that it doesn't matter if a man is gone, so long as he has successfully spread his ideals, and that these ideals naturally have a longer lifespan.

Hugo Weaving, though we don't see his face at all, hidden behind a Guy Fawkes' mask, is fabulous as V. Having only body language and a commanding voice from which to emote, I would say he has created a V which would be placed amongst cinematic (anti)heroes, like Darth Vader, although Vader's made up of 2 persons - one the actor in the suit, the other being James Earl Jones' booming voice to flesh the machine.

Natalie Portman somehow disappointed in her role as Evey, as I found her "finding oneself" theme a little weak. Perhaps too much attention was given to her hair (or lack thereof), though she looked just as stunning without.

I have not completely read the graphic novel, and therefore could not provide you with a page-by-page comparison, suffice to say that what I've read thus far, does not indicate that V for Vendetta the movie is a direct translation from the pages of the graphic novel ala Sin City (which of course, got the writer's endorsement). However, this movie can and indeed does stand alone, so I might put in an addendum after completing my reading.

Be warned that this movie is not meant for teenagers, not that I'm undermining this group, but they seemed to have fallen for the marketing tactics of promoting V for Vendetta as an outright action movie, as seen in the trailers. Fact is, the themes are mature, and those looking for action will be sorely disappointed, not at the quality, but the quantity.

The action are concentrated in the beginning (which has taken a slight deviation with Evey's intent), and at the end, where the awesome knife-fight sequence, widely touted in the trailers, seem to have set a new bar for close quarter combat. It's poetic, bloody and visually stunning, period.

And because of wanting to put more butts on seats, the NC-16 rating here translated to irritating, jarring edits. There's one near the start, where both V and Evey were watching telly, and another after the midway point, which probably was venturing into some lesbian scenes. But what an eyesore those cuts were. No doubt that while the cuts might not have much effect (and I'm speculating here) on the overall storyline, but it sure did spoil the enjoyment.

I'm being a little cheeky here, but I wonder though, how the British might take to the cinematic blowing up of Parliarment. Comments anyone? :-)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Failure to Launch

The trailers looked more happening than the real thing. Really. Ah well, another one of those formulaic Hollywood romance comedies. And is it just me, or do you also find Sarah Jessica Parker a tad unappealing?

You can read my review of Failure to Launch at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

[DVD] Samurai Fiction (1998)

Style and Substance. That's what Samurai Fiction is about. I was surprised at the many MTV-ish stylistic shots incorporated into the movie, without a blatant disregard for the storyline, incorporating very modern rock into its soundtrack.

The Inukai clan had their family sword stolen by a renegade samurai Rannosuke Kazamatsuri. Swearing to get it back, Heishiro Inukai embarks on a journey to hunt down Kazamatsuri. However, his skills are no match for a seasoned warrior who has killed many, and almost had his life ended until he is saved by a hermit Hanbei Mizoguchi.

It's a tale of 3 very diverse samurais, each carrying a theme. The peaceful Hanbei Mizoguchi, highly skilled, but abhors the use of violence. The cool and violent killer without remorse Rannosuke Kazamatsuri, who becomes obsessed with challenging Hanbei to a duel. The inept Heishiro Inukai, who defies his father's wishes to embark on a solo quest to regain their family honour. Thrown into the fray are 2 ninjas on a quest to protect Heishiro and carry out his family's orders on his behalf, and Koharu Mizoguchi, the adopted daughter of Hanbei, with whom Heishiro falls in love with.

The storyline might be pretty ordinary, on one end, the revenge theme, the other, love and peace. But I suppose these are themes that are quite universal, especially in martial arts stories.

The fights are all done very simply. Stylish, but kept uncluttered. Shot in black and white, colours are used sparingly, except for the coating of entire frames in red when someone gets killed. You don't see blood, but you see plenty of varying shots and angles of the fight sequences, done mostly with the help of a crane.

What works for me are the comedic characters like Heishiro's friends, early in the beginning, in their run up (pardon the pun) to catching Kazamatsuri. Also, the soundtrack is totally awesome, unlike the use of traditional music to spice up the fights. You might also know that Ronnosuke Kazamatsuri is played by real life rocker Tomoyasu Hotei, who also did that excellent track Battle Without Honor or Humanity, used in the Kill Bill Vol 1 movie.

It's weird to notice that this movie is actually billed as Episode 1. It's been 8 years and I'm not aware of a sequel or continuation in place. But I guess Samurai Fiction has already told the story it wants to tell, and there shouldn't be a need for a follow up.

Code 1 DVD contains the movie and a making of documentary, and a separate disc containing bloopers, cast biographies, how two scenes actually looked in colour, the trailers, and an entire 1 hour feature on the making of the Samurai Fiction, which showed that a simple movie also has its fair share of difficulties, and Mother Nature did its best to stall production.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


And so the shepherd boy cried "Wolf!", but alas, because he had given one too many false alarms, this time round, there wasn't any help rendered at all.

It's a familiar fable that Cry_Wolf has based itself on loosely. A lone girl is found murdered in a woods, and a group of students take it upon themselves to spread some rumours about that incident over the internet through chain mail, and fictionally create a serial killer called The Wolf, and his modus operandus, linking that incident to a series of killings replicated from the past. Why do they do that? They're a bunch of bored frat kids, whose late night game of lies needed an innovative boost to prevent stagnation, hence the expansion set to include the entire student population's involvement.

But little do they know that the real killer had chanced upon their stories, and adapts them for his own sick pleasure, by executing what was told to the T.

Although most of the characters may seem fairly one dimensional, like the Scream Trilogy's, it's actually quite an interesting take into the facades one puts up in one's life, of masks and hidden intentions, of betrayals and telling of lies in order to survive, or convince. But what happens if your truth still gets misconstrued as an elaborate lie? The truth will set you free, but if it doesn't, then what?

The cast is varied with loads of unknowns, the familiar face being rocker Jon Bon Jovi who plays a teacher. But the leads in Owen (Julian MOrris) and Dodger (Lindy Booth) did relatively ok in their roles as the English boy with a dark past, and Ms Beautiful-Popular (oh yeah she is) with a touch of mystery. And probably with unknowns casted, your attention would be focused more on the events that transpire, along with the rocking soundtrack to boot.

This is no bloody gory slasher flick and it doesn't rely heavily on cheap thrills to excite. The camps will be divided into halves - those who love it for the cunning plot twists, or those who hate it for trying too hard and for being too contrived, with implausible situations played out. Me? I thought it was satisfying, a compact 80 odd minutes, without the sacrificing of pace.

Date Movie

My milk shake brings all the boys to the yard,
and they're like,
its better than yours,
damn right its better than yours,
I can teach you,
but I have to charge

I know you want it,
the thing that makes me,
what the guys go crazy for.
They lose their minds,
the way I wind,
I think its time

la la-la la la,
warm it up.
la la-la la la,
the boys are waiting

- Milkshake by Kelis

That my friends, was what actually put me on a theatre seat to sit through the crass comedy Date Movie, with an incredible fat (courtesy of a fat suit) Alyson Hannigan gyrating to Milkshake. Like Scary Movie (hey, written by 2 of the 6 writers you know?), it spoofs its own genre of movies, and here, it's the romance genre.

What's the plot? There is no plot to speak of. It's just stringing together a series of spoofs into an 80 minute movie, drawing its material, and this list is not exhaustive, from movies like Bridget Jones' Diary, Kill Bill, Meet the Parents, Dodgeball, Meet the Fockers (down to the kid and cat), Pretty Woman, When Harry Met Sally, King Kong, Hitch, etc. Some celebrities also get ribbed, like Mr and Mrs Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson.

But basically, it's about a fat girl, Julia Jones (Hannigan) working in a Greek Diner (familiar?), having extremely mixed parentage, who falls in love with a Jude Law lookalike - Grant Funkyerdoder. She enlists the help of guru Hitch, and gets herself trimmed down in a car workshop (don't ask). Struggling with constant insecurities, and extremely huge zits, of course don't help. And to make things worse, Grant's ex-fiancee Andy (an extremely curvy Sophie Monk, taking the usual sex-kitten turns in washing cars, munching burgers, and scantily clad, if not at all), turns up the heat and tries to wreck Julia's and Grant's upcoming marriage.

What else can I say about the acting - it's essentially non-existent. Some sequences, like the Mr and Mrs Smith one, are done pretty accurately, like right down to Brad Pitt's crew cut hairstyle. And if you're not a fan of toilet / crass humour, then you might want to give this movie a miss, especially since it plays up the scenes in the original movies, a way lot worse than intended (swallowing sweaty chest hair anyone?)

The only way to possible enjoy a movie like this, is like the old cliche goes, by leaving your brains at the door. There are many laugh-a-moments, but after the movie, they're mostly forgotten stuff. Good for de-stressing after a long hard day. And I think my friend Richard would probably enjoy the Kill Bill bits, and oh my, the burgers :-D

P.S. Stay a while during the end credits, there's another Mr and Mrs Smith spoof scene.

Nanny McPhee

It's been an awesome, unforgettable 2 weeks of Sepet/Gubra, and reluctantly, now it's back to the regular schedule of reviews, starting with Nanny McPhee.

Nanny McPhee, based on the Nurse Matilda books, tells the story of the Brown family. Mr Brown (Colin Firth) is a widower who has to single handedly bring up seven children. Make that seven mischievious children who has driven away a record 17 nannies. He needs to work to bring home the bacon, but cannot find a suitable nanny who could stand the children's antics. Until Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) turns up mysteriously one day (yes, she did knock), and weaves her brand of wit and magic into the Browns.

It's a simple fairy tale like story meant for kids, with lessons like listening to the adults, behaving, and love. Adding a tad complexity to the plot would be Mr Brown's desperate search for a wife to remarry, so that the family could continue to receive monetary support from their Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury, Murder She Wrote, anyone?) But the storyline gets predictable halfway into the movie, and unless you're a ten year old, you'll probably figure out the plot from then on.

Along similar production styles like recent children-focused tales such as A Series of Unfortunate Events, the production sets are a sight to behold, especially during parts where the CGI, though simple, actually managed to add a touch of grandeur to entire scenes. While Nanny McPhee is the title role, we don't get much of the backstory of this magical nanny, so you'll have to take it at face value on what she's capable of, or read the books.

If children's acting (or lack thereof) get on your nerves, you'll be surprised at the tots' performances, even the littlest one. I thought Thomas Sangster, who plays the eldest son Simon, looked a bit like Freddie Highmore. Possible challenger there. The pacing of the movie is kept even, with comedic situations thrown in aplenty to proabably make you forget about the average storyline.

So if you're in for a movie which is kept really simple, and suitable for a family with small children, then look no further, Nanny McPhee will be the movie of your choice this week.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Gubra for the Third Time

Yes boys and girls, it was my third time watching Gubra last night, although it turned out as a comedy of errors of sorts, as I used the opportunity to flex some negotiating muscles. I felt bad though, as I was really pushing the limits, trying my luck, know what I mean? But alas we managed to reach some form of compromise, so it ain't all that bad after all.

Anyway I was in the company of Sara and Shaiful - we had people who had watched Gubra twice before (me), once (Shaiful) and none (Sara), so it was again interesting to see how they would feel about the movie too, having watched it again, or not at all (like Peiyu, who enjoyed Gubra without watching Sepet). Thought that we can somehow make it for the drive-in screening at IMM, until Shaiful reminded me it's a by-invite or by-winning-contest thingy, and it has now closed. Would have been quite a setting to watch the movie - under the stars.

Sara and Shaiful Can't Wait to Watch Gubra!They Can't Wait to Watch Gubra!

I'm not goin to write another review, suffice to say that if you can spare the time, do watch it again, and again - if you like it, it ain't gonna be out on DVD anytime soon of course, so until it's out, you can't watch it between now and then! A little extreme I know, but hey, I got my reasons too!

1. You can listen more intently to the dialogue. It rocks by the way, since your eyes can miss some visuals and you can fully immerse yourself to listening how the lines are punctuated.

2. I found myself paying more attention to the non-Orked storyline.

3. The little easter egg styled nuggets - like the name of Alan/Jason's father :-P

4. I've always enjoyed that scene of conversation between Alan and Orked in the pickup.

Some friends have told me before that I'm a sucker for pain. It's like knowing how your emotions will be affected by such a heartfelt movie, that I just gotta watch it again to experience what I've experienced, even though it will trigger some memories of the past. The effect the movie has on me has not diminished, even after multiple viewings. It's that good, you know?


I wanted to watch the last scene again... so that I can confirm that Orked and Jason are indeed married in that scene - they each are sporting a wedding ring on their finger. But aiyoh, it was not intended to be :-(

End Spoiler

Oh, here is Sara's take on Gubra. Must read, ok?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

TCC Supper with Yasmin

You just couldn't believe our joy (Lokman, Peiyu and myself) when our schedules permitted us to have supper with Yasmin yesterday night. Richard, who had an anniversary to celebrate, managed to make it too, although he arrived just a ittle later than us. Shaiful, lucky guy, got invited to watch the play Army Daze with Yasmin some more :-P

To think that we were actually scratching our heads where to have supper, and in less than 5 minutes into meeting with Yasmin, we had decided to proceed nearby to TCC at the corner of Intercontinental Hotel, opposite the National Library where the Drama Centre is.

And I'm still in a daze - so far nobody managed to corroborate what I thought was Yasmin asking me if I could speak Chinese, cos she wanted to cast me in a small role in her next movie?! (I thought I answered I could... can't remember leh!) Shaiful then pointed out cheekily that Yasmin's cantonese was perhaps better than my Chinese (I won't be surprised if it was true). But Shaiful only recalled making that remark, not what Yasmin said before that.. arrrrrgghh.... need... corroboration.... haha!

Anyway we were discussing a wide range of subjects as usual, her upcoming projects, the movies Sepet and Gubra, the soundtrack and the lyrics of the Sam Hui songs in Sepet, the reaction of audiences in the theatres during double-bill, about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, above love, and all the while everyone was captivated by Yasmin's mobile phone ringtone - very ethereal sounds of a hauntingly beautiful female voice, like mythical sirens.

Beat this - while we know that Yasmin and Shaiful share the same date of birth (except the year of course), what are the chances that I share the same day-month combination as her husband... wah lao eh, what are the odds huh?

And Yasmin got a sneak peek into the memento we're giving her (and Sharifah and Alan as well), when Shaiful had to complete the quartet of autographs on the reverse side. Richard's proposition to Alan, and Lokman's proposal to Sharifah, they're all there :-D

Here's some SPOILER SPACE for a nugget of Gubra trivia:

Did you know that in Gubra, during the scene where Orked "came home" (to Jason's place lah), and Alan presented her the box... absolutely no one, not even Sharifah, was aware that Yasmin and her art director had secretly planted Jason's broken phone into the box. And when Orked cried, so did everyone else on the quiet set, during that emotionally charged scene.

I can imagine... you're not expecting something to be there, and then it was, a powerful plot device some more... wah, tear ducts surely opened I tell ya.

End Spoiler

Nothing beats listening to the director, even better than DVD commentary ok! And I think we'd really relish the opportunity of being on set, if it comes :-)

Sara did manage to make it as well and join us for supper, but she missed out most of the good bits of the conversations :-P And before you know it, we had to leave, cos TCC was closing, and Yasmin actually wasn't feeling well. Sara became Richard's "2 seconds friend" (ok, next time we'll have more time ya?) before we manage to bundle everyone else into her car to send Yasmin back to the hotel. And that's not until we launched into discussions into titles showing at Yangtze or Golden!

But alas, we had to bid Yasmin farewell. Hope you're feeling better already Kak Min! And that you'd like the memento too :-)

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Gubra Memento

The usual suspects (Richard, Lokman, Shaiful and myself) wanted to commemorate an awesome extended week we had, where we had the privilege of attending and covering the Gubra gala, as well as meeting up with director Yasmin Ahmad, and cast Sharifah Amani and Alan Yun. I tell you, those 2 days were so much fun!

So we decided to cap it off by presenting them a memento for their trip here, hope that they remember us mah. Flowers are a bit too cheesy - we considered that for the gala actually, tuber roses or orchids, but decided against it, for the fear that they have to lug them around, and also for Alan how? Flowers will wilt too, so we needed something that could last.

We found that item - a group autographed (wah, like we're the stars instead) photograph (lots of graphs here) for each of them, using the only picture that we took together. It was a crazy evening actually, Lokman and myself hunting for a photo shop that could print it out properly. It's always the case that when you need something, you'll never find it. Eventually, we remembered that Raffles City (where we hung out before the initial interview) had an outlet, and boy, were we pleased to have gotten it all done in a jiffy.

Except that Richard can't confirm if he could make it for supper with Yasmin and us on Tuesday, because it's his anniversary with his girl... so we decided to get him out for dinner tonight, and forced him to write his poetry.

Richard Penning His PoetryRichard's the first to write!

R: "Why aren't you all writing?"
Lokman and I: "Cos we only got one pen!"
R: "How do I spell 'Sharifah'?"
Lokman and I: "S-a-r-i-f-a-h"

Richard's Poetry UpclosePenning his thoughts!

It went on, haha, Richard had to endure our "hurry ups" and deliberately misspelt words (which he suspected was wrong anyway) as he wrote to the flower of his dream, chili of his life, and he was finally so pissed....

Richard's damn pissed with us disturbing his masterpieceYou all try to write lah!!

Hmm... it's not easy you know, as we found out, the hard way by actually doing it.

It's Really Tough To Write!Cham, how to write?

Loki's Attempt!Lokman tried

and I'm glad to say, eventually we all did, by digging deep into how we felt... our masterpieces, done hours before meeting Yasmin! :-D

Our ThoughtsShaiful's not included yet- he's watching play with Yasmin leh!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sepet & Gubra Double Bill

Sepet Gubra Double BillDouble Bill Posters

The past week has been superb! Never would I realize that it would be bookened with Yasmin Ahmad's wonderful movies, and having the opportunity to meet and talk to her as well (and Sharifah Amani and Alan Yun too of course!).

As you would have known earlier, I missed the chance to watch Sepet when it was shown in the cinema locally during its initial run (what a Sin!), but had bought the DVD and watched it in time for Gubra. So, watching them back to back, within a space of a day, was extremely helpful. But absolutely nothing, beats watching the movies back to back continuously, on the big screen. Thoughts are fresh in your mind, and events that transpired are crystal clear. You'll also feel and identify more with the characters, and the heartbreaking moments get magnified a whole lot more too. I'm in love with Sepet, and after rewatching Gubra, Gubra too you know?

Sepet Gubra Double Bill Ticket StubThis is My Ticket!

And watching movies in theatres is always different than watching it at home, even if you have a home theatre system. I'd rather watch movies in a theatre, where the draw actually is watching (and rewatching) with strangers amongst well behaved audience (not those talk a lot, handphone ringing, kicking seats kind), but journeying together with what's developing on screen. Every sigh, every tear, every laughter, every curse (yes, today's screening got people not happy with the "bad" characters), I enjoyed it tremendously, with the audience. Something that cannot be replicated at home. I thought the crowd tonight rocked!

I'm also an advocate of the thought that if you like a movie, you must watch it again in the theatres. Box-office means something you know? And as an audience, you vote with your wallet. Like it, watch it again, that's my mantra. So I'll state it here, if Sepet and Gubra get rescreenings, either in local film fests, Retrospects (like GV MD Kenneth Tan promised), I'll be there the same way I got choice seats today, but kiasu-early purchase, can?

But of course the best part is always to have the director and cast in attendance for the Q&A Session after the movies. Somehow some didn't realize this, they were going off once the credits rolled, walked up the aisle and were surprised to see Yasmin and Sharifah (with Thomas from Lighthouse Pictures) there. The credits rolled for Gubra, and THAT scene came on, and immediately someone commented that her mind had just been screwed... haha!


So that became the first question. Why the ending, to which Yasmin replied she wanted to see the two sharing a scene in bed and married. (Notice the ring on the fourth finger of Jason's left hand). Jason was killed off because it was either him, or Orked (to which Sharifah rolled her eyes haha!). Yasmin mentioned racism being one of the major challenges why they cannot be together, but felt that she would have succeeded if she could have any rascist in the audience, for that moment, wishing that the two would make it together at the end. I'm surprised that a question on whether Yasmin dislikes Singapore was asked (for the record, she doesn't!)

A lot of questions were directed at Yasmin, perhaps the audience was curious at her movies. Like whether she had help in writing the script (she had written and changed the script to suit the actors - which IMO she had most excellently done to bring out the chemistry), and if Gubra was intentional in its separate storylines, and about the last line in Gubra, that though the lamps are different, the light's still the same - that underneath the differences in race, language, religion, etc, it's the same hurt and joy in life.

Sharifah Amani and Yasmin AhmadSharifah Amani and Yasmin Ahmad addressing the audience

Yasmin also praised someone's comment (that it was the first she heard) that although the storylines are different, there was a subtle connection between the prostitute character and Orked's, in that the life that the prostitute dreamt about when on that swing chair with her friends, was actually Orked's life (the apartment, husband working in office, etc). That while that lifestyle would have appealed to the prostitute as ideal, Orked's was actually unhappy.

We also dwelled on the censorship issues that Sepet had (the 8 cuts), versus the recent news that Gubra will be uncut. That the journalists in Malaysia did help by playing it up on what had been done here with the film (Sepet and Gubra were both uncut). Which was Yasmin's favourite of her films? Being the latest baby, it's Gubra. Poetry has influenced the way the screenplay is written, and Yasmin likes Haiku. Yasmin also shared that she did not go to film school, but had advertising experience, although she did share that she's studied more Charlie Chaplin films.

Sharifah Amani and Yasmin AhmadSharifah got praised for her excellent performance too you know?

While Ng Choo Seong (Jason) wasn't here tonight (a pity leh, would have loved the chance to talk to him :-( ), Yasmin did explain how she found him and coaxed a very shy him into starring in Sepet (he was a Chinese medium, and actually learnt English in 6 months to impress a girl on a bus - I think some comments in other websites complained that his English is too polished. But hey, who says it cannot be done?)

There was a comparison too on her works, which are based on love, compassion, and are sentimental, versus the movies these days which seem to dwell on violence. I'd agree too, that I prefer movies of the former nature as well. Another tidbit, that Orked's parents were based on her own parents (who were here during the Gala premiere), and that they still have *to audience laughter* :-P

Speaking of her next movie, Yasmin will involve Sharifah, her sister and her mother, who are all accomplished actresses. Keep a lookout for that ya?


I unwittingly became a distraction when Yasmin was talking halfway, when she scanned the audienced and noticed me, to which I waved, and she waved back, but I had some folks in the theatre looking my direction wondering who the heck I was. Sorry! Hoped I made amends by becoming your photographer for the night yeah? (All those big group pictures taken today, chances are, they're taken by me... hope they turn out all right!)

Had to eventually turn down makan-makan with Yasmin and Sharifah (aiyoh!), cos I thought the dudes (Richard, Shaiful and Lokman) will probably kill me if I did :-P But let's hope our schedules permit, and we can do one soon ya? :-D

But not before I told Yasmin about my experiment, which caught her surprise too! I told her our friend Peiyu had only watched Gubra (with me just now at the Double Bill, hers was a single actually), but not Sepet yet (doing so tonight with Richard's DVD), and Yasmin was interested in knowing how a first-timer (she doesn't even know the premise of the movies) would have reacted to Gubra, without having watched Sepet first. Should be interesting, Peiyu, do let Yasmin know yah? :-D

So, I hope that whoever elsewhere is reading this and is screening Gubra somewhere out there, go on, make it a double bill screening. No regrets, no regrets at all! And I'm sure all those out there who enjoyed the past 3 nights of screenings, share the same sentiments.


Felicity Huffman is up and running for the Best Actress Oscar this year, and there's no profound reason to understand why. It's a challenging role, one in which she plays a transsexual. No, not a woman who wants to become a man, but the reverse. Meaning she has to have that constant subtle nuance that she's physically evolving into a woman through the assistance of drugs, while groping with the fact that others know she's a little queer.

It's surprisingly an enjoyable movie, one which meshes great music and visuals together to create a story focused on one man/woman's journey into fulfilling his/her desires. Bree Osbourne (Huffman) is at her final stages of transformation, having scheduled a final operation to remove her male organ. However, she received a call one day and realized that when she was still a he, he had unwittingly fathered a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers) and now that son is locked up in a New York jailhouse pending bail.

Posing as a church volunteer, Bree bails Toby out, but keeps the true nature of their relationship a secret. And since both of them need to reach Los Angeles, they embark on a reluctant road trip together. Yes, it's one of those road trip movies too, with its fair share of witty dialogue and comedic situations. However, this one had a little more heart involved, given the brilliant chemistry between father/mother and son. It becomes a journey of self discovery and self worth for the both of them, and at the same time, we look at the attitudes of general folks towards transsexuals and the prejudices they face.

In the film, it might be mentioned that it's a psychological disorder, but what you'd gather , if anything, is that they're human too, with similar hopes and aspirations, wanting to live their lives they want to, some having confidence, or the lack thereof therefore needing a physical change to be complete. And while this movie doesn't attempt to preach, it does make a point or two from its dialogue if you attempt to go at it from the angle of religion. In a scene with friends of the same nature, it was quite hard for Bree as you see her struggle to put down her friends in front of her son, as if to disapprove of their behaviour and what has become of them. It was as if she had put a mirror in front of herself and criticized oneself based on societal norms, in contrast to what we see each there where she psyches and assures herself each day in front of that same mirror.

Besides Bree, the other major character will be that of Toby, a teenage male streetwalker. Like Mysterious Skin, there's some exploration into gay and teen sex, as he sells his body to help get Bree and himself out of a fix. It might not settle well, but it's all there. I'm quite surprised to see Graham Greene in this movie too, though his role is quite minor, to show that transsexuals do have emotions and love too, and shouldn't be ostracized.

Perhaps the part where the plot really propelled forward was when the Bree and Toby meet up with the Osbournes. Part comedy, part serious, the family ties between the characters really took a life on its own, about how one's decision to change oneself will have an impact on parents, whether you'd like it or not. But it is precisely these issues that you'd think might crop up, actually do, and get addressed.

Its introduction to the premise might be a little Broken Flowers, and some aspects of it might have taken a leaf from Mysterious Skin, but Transamerica aptly surpasses those two in grappling with its mature themes. Recommended stuff.
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