Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Leonardo DiCaprio Presents The 11th Hour

I'm The King of the World

I guess we can attest that the local weather of late has gone bonkers. More often than note, we have incredibly hot and humid weather with bright sunshine one half of the day, before the skies turn grey and piss heavily on us. We've seen even more occurences of water spouts emerging just off our shore, and we've done the boogie when neighbouring countries suffer jolts in the earth, from which we will feel tremors enough for us to abandon our high rise buildings. While we're relatively buffered from direct adverse weather effects, not a day goes by without reading or knowing about strange weather phenomenon from around the world.

The Earth is dying, and nature is taking its revenge on us for plundering her lands and exploiting her resources in a wasteful manner. The signs are out there, but we'd rather be oblivious to them. And Al Gore, after his attempt to ascend the White House, has gone back to his pet subject, and evangelized about saving the earth through his very slick package, which was given a cinematic life by Davis Guggenheim with An Inconvenient Truth. A call to action, I don't deny that I've started to pay a little more attention to it, and though my effort can be considered minuscule, I suppose it's but a start.

Leonardo DiCaprio lends his star power to The 11th Hour, which he produced and narrates, but unlike Al Gore who can be considered a subject matter expert in his own right, given his years of devotion to this topic, DiCaprio realizes his deficiency in this area, and smartly takes a backseat by just narrating a very small portion of the movie, leaving most of the talk to true experts who can properly articulate and appeal to our common senses. In that respect, The 11th Hour provided a much more diverse perspective of the entire situation, from the micro to the much bigger picture of the entire ecosystem, and the various views, philosophies and schools of thought.

Arguments come fast and furious, with content ranging from discussions of fossil fuels, global warming, an interesting articulation of present and ancient power sources, and the astonishing rate of our population boom vis-a-vis the ability of the planet to sustain life, not just ours, but every other species on the planet which will depend on our (mis)management of common resource. The 11th hour contains a very compelling look, not just at the environment as a standalone, but turns the spotlight on us as its inhabitants as well. We get bombarded from all directions with opinions, and statements of an impending apocalypse of our own doing, and I assure you if you're not frightened by the Revelation, I don't know what will.

It's not just slick Keynote presentation which Gore's material is utilizing to bring the message across (and a very effective one I might add), and we also get the usual stock videos of hurricanes and well referenced clips of the melting polar caps. It's unfair to compare Inconvenient Truth to 11th Hour, as both have used different styles to bring across the same message - that the fate of the world, and of course, our survival as a species, is very much dependent on what we do now to effect a change. The Earth is renewable and can self-heal given an immense amount of time, but we have but one chance to make things right, for ourselves.

But before you think of this documentary as just being another harbinger of doom and gloom, The 11th Hour does end off on a very hopeful note, just like how An Inconvenient Truth did. Here, it focused on renewable and recyclable methodologies which we might have already come across, albeit in a small, niche way yet to convince mega corporations to adopt. Perhaps with time, when feasibility is demonstrated, they would, and that's when we need to wean ourselves off the reliance of oil, which are hitting record prices per barrel, and arguably the cause of unnecessary war. The new building designs look awesome, especialy with the incorporation of green technologies, adopted no less from the learning of how organisms operate. Think of it as adapting the best practices from species and the natural environment, and fusing it with our modern day technology and designs.

The 11th Hour is a must watch, not only for enlightenment purposes, but rather for a call to action once the lights come on. Again we need to be reminded on how much we can do, and to actually do it. Last year we listened to An Inconvenient Truth, and now, The 11th Hour brings forth that sense of urgency to do much more.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

[TV] Pink Paddlers

Finally I've managed to watch the TV premiere of Pink Paddlers, directed by Jasmine Ng (who co-directed Eating Air with Kelvin Tong), and I thought it was a wonderful documentary which highlighted the disease of breast cancer, the experience of those who have survived the disease, and their fight against it, in raising awareness through the participation of sports, in this case, dragon boat racing.

And you would wonder whether the participants, women of all ages, survivors and supporters, would go through this demanding sport unscathed. Stereotypical participant rowers are the usual beefy musclemen who can do an obscene number of pull ups, but no, here you have a group of determined ladies who have defied odds, and are defying them once more with their participation in this grueling sport, which in reality calls more on coordination and teamwork, rather than just on brute force alone.

Pink Paddlers chronicled their journey in getting together through the Breast Cancer Foundation, and their taking part in the Breast Cancer Survivors Dragonboat World Championships in Sep-Oct 2006 held at the Marina Bay area in Singapore. Interspersed with interview segments (the usual talking heads style) in black and white to provide individuals with a space to explain their earnest feelings about the disease, and how they coped with it. But it's not just about dragon boating in case you're wondering, it's about living life the best you can, with good friends you can count on when you're feeling down.

It also put some focus on family and the supporting husbands who bandied around when their wives go for training, and what emerged is a very strong group of people getting together because of a cause, to fight it, and to spread awareness of it. Like Remember Chek Jawa, this is a documentary which shows how much more a group can do when they pool resources and provide motivation and encouragement to one another, versus going at it alone.

If you're looking to understanding just a little bit more about the disease and how it impacts those who suffer from it, then this is the documentary for you. But it's not all doom and gloom because on one hand while it shows you the inconvenience of check ups and the struggle to get one's life back together after a battle, it reminds you that a positive attitude goes a long way to battling any disease. And the ending, watching groups from around the world coming together to bond and to compete, will undoubtedly leave you with feelings that these women ought to be saluted for their fighting spirit!

For those who have missed today's screening, you can still catch it on Channel News Asia on 3rd Nov Saturday 8am, 1pm and 1130pm. Duration is 60 minutes with ads.


Singapore Dreaming Wins Award in Tokyo!

Don't Look So Glum

Singapore Dreaming wins an award at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival for Best Asian-Middle Eastern Film!

Congratulations Colin and Yen Yen!

My first review of Singapore Dreaming, which was also #1 film in 2006 of yours truly.

My second review of the same film.

Click here to read an interview with the directors Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, or here to access the interview directly.



The Ferryman

Cat Fight

I have enjoyed limited movie offerings from New Zealand, with the likes of the romantic comedy Sione's Wedding and horror comedy Black Sheep, and for my horror double bill this weekend, I wouldn't have wanted to miss The Ferryman.

In western folklore, the Ferryman is the one responsible for transporting the dead to the nether realms, where souls would be judged (so you'd better start chalking up those brownie points). Ferrymen had been depicted in movies before, be they just a background character like in Woody Allen's Scoop, or becoming a point of contention in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with crew of The Flying Dutchman. Think of it as the equivalent to the Chinese folklore characters of "Cow Head" and "Horse Face", where they will visit the body at the point of deaths to escort the soul to the depths of Hell for judgement.

2 couples (two of whom are Craig Hall and Amber Sainsbury whom we will get to see again in 30 Days of Night, in which Ben Fransham who plays The Ferryman will also appear) signs up for an adventure sail from New Zealand to Fiji, where a luxurious spa awaits their tired bodies after their "homestay on the sea" stint. Before everyone, including the captain his wife and their pet dog, can get chummy with one another, their ship receives a distress signal, and the laws of the sea dictates they get themselves into unknown trouble by picking up a survivor from a non-working vessel. And like all hitchhiker styled movies, there's always something strange about the hitcher (played by John Rhys-Davis) you pick up, especially when the weather's all foggy and he starts to give everyone the creeps.

The Ferryman turned out to be a rather interesting concept movie rather than outright horror with shock and awe moments. It doesn't scare, nor does it follow the recent trends in gore and with torture porn. What it's more akin to is a good old fashioned thriller with supernatural elements thrown in for good measure. Some might complain that nothing much really happens, with the usual hack and slash, but I'd argue that it had a very novel take on the theme of longevity, especially when it starts to play out in full. While it certainly isn't something new, the way it was executed (pardon the pun) mattered, and its ending will undoubtedly leave a wicked smile on your face, at what had transpired, and the loads of potential should you possess such capability.

Not without loopholes though, but I thought it could be glossed over given its supernatural slant, unless you choose to harp on it, especially when it didn't get developed properly. In short, The Ferryman still qualifies for an entertaining afternoon matinee when ticket prices are cheaper.


Do You See What I See

This turned out to be a horror weekend, if I had opted to watch One Last Breath yesterday, a Japanese horror movie set in a hospital. Instead, I had chosen Unrest today, which also takes place in a hospital, not in the morgue but at a lab for anatomical lessons, where would be surgeons obtain their baptism of fire from those who had decided to donate their bodies for scientific causes. The gimmick (if I can call it that way) of this movie, is that it touts itself having to be the very first to include real dead bodies, aka cadavers, in film. That already gave you a natural queasy feeling that what's shown on screen, are actual bodies, and you wonder how the filmmakers got away with ethical issues and the likes.

The very first time I've come up close with cadavers, was during an exhibition called Body Worlds where you have them dissected at various angles and at various stages, each in poses that exhibited how the human body reacts, involving which muscle groups and nerves. It was extremely educational, and one which opened your eyes to the miracle that exist within you, like a well oiled, well plumbed system only capable of being assembled by someone or something far superior. I wondered in amazement how so much can be jammed pack within a reasonably slim frame, and while the exhibition wasn't creepy at the least, you'd still wondered a little about the background of these donors, and where they'd come from.

Dr Alison Blanchard (Corri English) is one of the new doctors chosen from amongst thousands to participate in anatomical lessons, but as you know with horror stories, things do go bump in the night, and having her stay in the dorm of the hospital doesn't help a lot. The cadaver her group gets issued start to give her the creeps, and while constantly reminded to treat their assigned cadavers with respect, there will definitely be the resident joker who will be the catalyst of things to come. Slowly she too starts to wonder about the background of the strange cadaver with self-inflicted wounds, and thus begins a race against time to uncover the truth and mystery behind a series of unexplainable deaths.

As a horror movie, the usual tricks in the bag get unleashed at full velocity, with creepy sounds and light and shadow play all rolled into one and cranked to the maximum. Somehow the Undead felt like it was toying with you, bringing things to a crescendo, yet censoring itself from the violence and gore that you'd come to expect. While it deals with the supernatural, it doesn't follow convention of late by showing you, in full detail, how each victim dies, opting rather to save themselves the trouble to, and providing (perhaps unintentionally) some mystery behind the deaths. However, hope not for Asian horror like atmospherics, mood and buildup, as this movie tried to take a stab at that, but more often than not, failed miserably.

While there are plot loopholes abound, and the cursory romantic tangle and several character motivations that were unclear and never answered, I thought what worked were its gimmick, and of course some very nicely done special effects, without which the movie will indeed fall flat. And those who have watched Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, will enjoy the back story Unrest weaved in greater detail, and reminisce that particular scene from Gibson's movie, where truly, it's more horrific to know that man had inflicted that kind of pain and suffering before.

There had been a few movies from After Dark Films that have been released locally (Skinwalkers, Captivity and An American Haunting), and while I don't have the figures of their box office foray, from what I've seen in the trailers on the official site, there could be a lot more potential to be tapped from there, knowing how popular this genre is with local audiences.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


My Lovely Supernova

I approached Stardust with apprehension, because of late, fairy tale movies like Pan's Labyrinth, MirrorMask and Brothers Grimm somehow didn't appeal to me, even though they are helmed by acclaimed directors, and critically praised by many. Moreover, the movie had premiered in the US for ages now, and the trailer has been played too often over here, while waiting for the movie to make its debut, that it actually looked quiet tired.

But I am extremely pleased to have stuck with my gut, and gone for the screening anyway, and boy, was I thoroughly surprised and entertained! Let me say this - the trailer did not do the movie justice, being overly long, and cut in a rather plain manner that seemed to harp on the big names, and made it look pretty ordinary. Doubt not Neil Gaiman's creativity in crafting an adult fantastical fairy tale filled with witches, pirates, sword and sorcery, and beautiful people too, in a fictional land area in England separated by a wall, where inhabitants from one side is forbidden to cross over.

For all the more recognizable names in this feature, Charlie Cox takes up the lead role of Tristan, a shopkeeper's assistant who is smitten with the lady in his life, Victoria (Sienna Miller), to whom he vowed to bring back a falling star they witnessed in order to ask for her hand in marriage, and in time for her birthday. Naturally the lady thinks he, being the olden day wimp, probably couldn't do it, so in jest strikes that deal with him. But little does Tristan know that in crossing the wall, and meeting up with the fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes), his life will forever be changed through a series of adventures, involving a sisterhood of witches led by Michelle Pfeiffer (on a revival after Hairspray) who are after the heart of the fallen star because of immortality, Septimus (Mark Strong) in his quest to become King by retrieving a ruby now worn by Yvaine, and with allies such as Robert De Niro's Captain Shakespeare and his merry pirates aboard a flying ship.

At its core, this is a whimsical love story, and I thought while predictable, was delivered most excellently. though your goosebumps won't have that much of a field day (various characters were actually rolling their eyes at different junctures and situations in the movie). It translated the notion that one usually glows when one is in love and/or in the presence of a loved one, and here, it does so quite literally as well. It has a beautiful coherent story that you would expect of a fairy tale, and plenty of magical artifacts introduced through the course of the story, like any respectable and enjoyable story amongst its peers, do serve their purpose at the right time - there is no wastage, and everything impeccably planned out.

The strength is indeed in the story, with unexpected twists to characters, though in its structure some might complain that it is predictable to a T, but yet it met expectations, and surpassed them. Visual effects were top notch and serve their purpose, and there's a fair bit of comedy courtesy of the princely ghouls. What made it a blast, were the actors, most of whom are big names in their own right. Ian McKellen lent his voice as the narrator, and Michelle Peiffer you just got salute for taking on a villainous role which doesn't stop poking fun at aging. Claire Danes was pretty as the wide eyed ingenue angel from above, and Charlie Cox opposite her do make a pretty couple. Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais and Rupert Everett had bit roles, but the one who stole the limelight was De Niro's pirate captain. Not that he does it in Jack Sparrow fashion, but here's a man whose first and foremost principle is impression, and you've just got to see him in action to believe! Aarrr!!

Nicely paced and never a dull moment, Stardust has bits of everything that made it a delight to watch - star power, story, magic, comedy, effects, intense buildups and moments, and the list goes on. If I may, then I must say I do enjoy the tried and tested moments that it tossed about on its notion of love - that sometimes you meet someone special quite oft by chance, and it'll take some time for you to realize that hey, the person standing in front of you is really that soul mate you're looking for. Call me a sucker for such predictable scenarios, but I like what I like, and I was impressed with how Stardust was packaged as a whole.

It has been far too long that I've emerged from a fairy tale movie feeling so very pleased, and Stardust wins that honour of having put the faith for such movies back in me. As such, it wins a well deserved slot in my contender list for top 10 movies of the year. Don't miss this one when it premieres on Thursday!

Friday, October 26, 2007

[DVD] To Be and To Have (Être Et Avoir) (2002)

We Are The World

The thing that caught my eye to picking up this documentary DVD from the library was a cute kid with dirty hands soiled by paint, and the plenty of high flying accolades bestowed on the film by reputable critics and publications. Naturally my interest was piqued, but after watching this Nicholas Philibert directed documentary, while it had its charming moments, it doesn't warrant, in my opinion, some of the praises that it had garnered.

George Lopez is a teacher in a small town, and has to handle the challenge of educating his students, ranging from 3 years of age, to 11. Being a small town, naturally resources are limited, and he has not only to cater his methods to teach his students of different capabilities, but also to tackle a myriad of subjects, ranging from art, to mathematics, to language too. Talk about multi-tasking, and extreme dedication to the job (most I guess would have bolted given the workload, and responsibility), he doesn't find the need to raise his voice at those who misbehave, choosing instead to reason with them like adults, using his soft voice to win the most hardened of hearts.

But the stars of the documentary are the children. Philibert had revealed in an interview (included in the DVD as an extra) that he had deliberately chosen this particular school, for its logistics in supporting a film crew on site, but more importantly, for the size of the class of students, nothing too large that each becomes a passing face, but something manageable so that they can come across vividly. And having chosen this particular class of 12, and their teacher with his more than positive approach and attitude, are what made this documentary tick.

The children are as adorable as they are in need of some serious education. Early in the documentary we see them struggling with mathematics (OK, so they are the 3-4 year olds), but in one truly memorable scene was when one of them brought back his homework, and had to unwittingly enlist the help of parents and relatives to help him solve the problem. But alas, to my dismay, I later found it to be fabricated, which sort of spoilt my overall feeling toward this documentary - thou shalt not meddle with thy subjects.

However, what I thought was unique in Philibert's approach to documentary making, was the conscious decision to minimize the number of talking heads. There isn't any, not until the one hour mark, where George Lopez had to give a short history of himself and his underlying motivation to teaching, but other than that, it's almost like a fictional narrative in the way the subject of education is being handled.

Not one with big sets nor wanting to incorporate controversial elements, To Be and To Have is stoically quiet, and touching in the moments where teacher and students connect, especially when one is trusted enough to be a confidante, and dispensing good advice and words of encouragement to children under his charge. For those scenes I credit George Lopez for his relentless work in providing a firm grounding and good work attitude to the students under him. But alas, any notions I had on the film's honesty were somehow tainted by Philibert's revelation. Still not a bad movie, despite it being slow (to mirror the long, arduous journey one goes through to receive a decent education), but one which could have been a lot more sincere in putting forth the material.

Code 1 DVD by New Yorker Video comes relatively bare, with just 2 trailers - one Theatrical, running 2:20, and the other French running 1:38. Scene selection is available over 20 chapters. The audio is in French, with English subtitles available as an option. Anamorphic widescreen transfer seems perfect.

The only extras here are a poetry recitation by some of the kids, in case you have not gotten over their antics, though this feature runs only a short 2:47 minutes, and an interview piece with director Nicholas Philibert (20:45), who explains his approach to the documentary, and recounts certain anecdotes pertaining to the making of the movie, in particular his handling of the children. What I found surprising was, as a documentarian, he chose at times to interfere with his subjects in order to create that perfect scene he wants, rather than to showcase more objectively the material without filmmaker's intervention. Hmm.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Your Name is Justine (Masz Na Imie Justine)

I'm No Barbie Doll

It's almost coincidental that two years ago I was tasked to review Lilya 4-ever, a film which touched on a similar subject of exploiting women for prostitution. Such movies are never pretty to look at, and you'll almost always feel the hurt and pain when women get abused and have violence inflicted on them, just because they were naively in love and duped into the point of no return.

While some movies like to romanticise the attitudes of those stuck in the oldest profession in the world, this one again highlights the systematic destruction of one's will into submission into the trade. Deserves a watch to find out just how those buggers operate, but do note to check that blood pressure. Minimal nudity here, which I thought was great since gratuitous display of flesh here seems to be counter-ideal, and definitely non-erotic.

To read my review of Your Name is Justine at, click on the logo below:


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This Facebook Poking is Addictive!

Think of it as an extreme form of detention without trial. Without commenting and taking a side on the US Foreign Policy, the process of Extraordinary Rendition involves taking persons suspected of terrorist activities to a foreign country, an opposite to an extradition if you wish, to a place where torture is not a crime but a means to illicit information. Instead of staining your soil with blood of potentially innocent parties, you do so on foreign land where such tactics are accepted interrogation techniques.

Naturally, given the severity of the tactics and attempts at breaking down a person, sometimes you would get what you want once you pass the resistance, or get nothing, or worst of all, get a confession just because the mind has been broken to the point that the subject will agree to whatever you say. It's an ugly process, and what better way to do it when you're the champion human rights, giving the nod to use whatever means necessary in the name of protecting more lives, in an age where information is key to the battle against terror, and doing so in a country where probably the rights record is questionable.

Rendition is this year's Syriana, though in the run up to the new year we do have a number of political thriller contenders to take that crown, with Rendition first of all, followed by the Robert Redford movie Lions for Lambs, starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep (again, though now on the other side of the fence), and The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, though this one would probably turn out to be more action driven. Directed by Gavin Hood, who did Tsotsi and will be helming the new Wolverine spin off, Rendition is a decent thriller with a top notch cast, in a narrative that has been proven quite popular these days - the split, which provides for some ample differential perspectives to be presented through an ensemble cast.

Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a chemical engineer, gets renditioned en route to going home under the orders of CIA top brass Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep). At a detention facility outside the US, Jake Gyllenhaal's CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (oh so prophetic) embarks on his very first interrogation session, no doubt being thrust into a position that he didn't sign up for. Back home, a very pregnant Reese Whitherspoon searches frantically for answers to her husband's disappearance, and sought after an ex-flame Alan Smith's (Peter Sarsgaard) assistance, since he's working for Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin). Throw in J.K. Sinmmons, a terrorist plot investigation and a budding forbidden love story between Fatima (Zineb Oukach) and Khalid (Moa Khouas), you have quite a bit going on in a busy picture.

Given a number of casts, locations, timelines and the likes, Rendition wasn't confusing at all, and it plays out with deft handling of the material, never quick to judge, presenting ideas and thoughts from both sides of the equation. Every character has their own agenda, and the unveiling of this agenda engages enough not to bore nor to confuse you. And the best part of it all is how, very truly, they bow down to self-preservation in different forms, and ultimately, in various lose-lose situations unfortunately. It kept you guessing as well - did he or didn't he, and constantly played with your mind as to whether Anwar deserved what he's getting. It utilized one extremely smart sleight of hand which I didn't see coming until it's too late (so there goes the credit), though it did succumb to the usual stereotyping of terrorist militants, and without spending much time in depth to explore their motivations.

Perhaps it didn't find a need to, given so many movies out there already touching base on this issue (Paradise Now, Day Night Day Night, and Syriana even). While it turned out to be rather one-dimensional (personal tragedy to strapping of bombs to become a suicide bomber), I felt Rendition did right in not providing any saccharine sweet ending, that this fight against negative, destructive ideology, isn't something that can be addressed in a two hour movie, and I'm glad it steered clear such fairy tale implausibilities.

What we have instead is a well crafted tale that sets its gun sights on the issue of Rendition, and probably capable enough to spark discussion once the lights come on, on which camp you belong to - do you support inflicting severe pain in interrogation? Yes or No? This is the quintessential question of our time. Yes or No? (OK, I'm already geared for Lions for Lambs)!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

Beautiful Agenda

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, no doubt being based on a children's book series, could have come up with a better sounding title than to reinforce the impression rightly that it's for the young ones, with nary any bit of sophistication. Telling the story as is in a straight forward manner, it's filled with tons of cliche thrown in from start to end, and while it does have its moments, on the whole it felt very familiar, with similar plot elements from various fantasy movies contributing to this emotional and action flatliner.

The cliches are obvious with the get go. You have a loner hero, Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), who's destined to be The One saviour of the world by virtue of him being the seventh son of the seventh son (you imagine how his mom managed to keep her figure after giving birth to 8 children). Saviours of mankind must always belong to the social outcast clique, unpopular and having a bad time winning over the girls. He has powers beyond his imagination, no thanks to Firestarter, The Force and Gamma-Rays, but the biggest mystery is why these weren't invoke to save the day, but rather to impress girls (OK, so he's only a fourteen year old). Oh, and he can travel through time too, but only as part of his mission to retrieve six items that can defeat The Dark (cue bad guy theme).

In certain sense, it's like National Treasure done in a schizophrenic premise, with the film undecided whether to be fantastical and medieval, or rooted in modernity. With Will's ancestors being the creative one in splitting formidable Light power into six components, you will begin to laugh at its version of prophetic self-fulfillment. Naturally there are obstacles, but these challenges nary tickle the mind, or strain the body. Then there's the usual beware-of-beautiful-girls reminder for a kid with raging hormones, but that's what the guardians' duties would include, to chaperon our young hero.

The supporting cast are indeed laughable. From being labelled literally The Old Ones, they do not possess any powers beyond very cheap weapons that can be bought off the shelf, and neither does the movie have any budget in utilizing the weapons, for fear of breaking the good looking props. They dispensed advice recycled from other movies, of believing in oneself, and with a scene directly lifted from Fellowship of the Ring, where Cate Blanchett tells Eiijah Wood that even the smallest of beings could achieve great things. And the part where I laughed the loudest, was Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) giving his best impression of a Marlon Brando speaking to Christopher Reeve in a booming voice, and what came after was a scene just dripping with cheese.

There are plot loopholes abound that you'd just want to laugh at, especially when the chief villain known as The Dark Rider played by Christopher Eccleston (hands up all who know where this one came from) never failed to remind everyone how best to destroy him, or just blatantly blind to the fact that he could achieve his objectives earlier on in the movie if he cut down on the needless theatrics. Then again, if we have a smart, realistic villain, we won't have much of a story now, have we? Even his schemes that are hatched, such as the planting of moles, reeks of failure (no thanks to the trailers of course for ruining who that person might be), and with absolutely no flair in character, this villain is truly unmemorable, and one of the worst.

However, to the children out there, this movie will still serve as a rather enjoyable trip to the cinemas. It's almost devoid of sex and hardcore violence that makes it suitable, with a feel good theme and ending, save for one or two creepy moments. Although belonging to the fantasy genre, this is one of the milder, childish ones that anyone weaned (and I hate to use this example but I should) on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy will find terribly wanting. This is this year's Eragon, which like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that preceeded it, are trying just too hard to fill the void left by Jackson's juggernaut. The bar was already raised by the adaptation of a classic, and unless more of these books-to-movies adaptation have something more original to tell, most of them will find themselves languishing in the Forgotten Realms soon enough.

Monday, October 22, 2007

[DVD] Alexander the Great (1956)

DVD Cover

I borrowed this movie with one intent, and that is to see how the subject material was handled in the 50s, compared to the most recent interpretation by Oliver Stone, who gave us an Alexander with Colin Farrell complete with his hair dyed blonde. And while I was lamenting the fact that there were only 2 war scenes on a massive scale included in that version, the hype that surrounded the story of a conqueror seemed to have made way for Stone's very queer depiction on the bisexuality of Alexander, especially with the camera adopting his POV and gazing ever so lovingly at the male species, countless of times until you want to throw up. I guess subtle is never in Stone's books.

Now this version written and directed by Robert Rossen (who also gave us the original Hustler) did away with all that sexuality issues, and neither did it find any need to have gratuitous nudity in watching Alexander make love (in Stone's version, Rosario Dawson went nude in her role as Roxane). Then again it was made about 50 years ago. Anyway, what I found to be a major disappointment, were the battle scenes. Yes, it might be terribly dated by now, and sadly didn't survive the test of time. At certain scenes and angles, it's akin to old martial arts movies, where enemies just circle around you, waiting for their choreographed moves to be executed, or worse, if you pay attention to characters in the background, they surely aren't moving like ferocious warriors, choosing instead to mull around!

Also, we only get one major battle sequence in Alexander the Great, which made the foray into India in Stone's Alexander look like bonus material. In fact, this version took some time to establish key characters, and began with Alexander's father King Philip's (Fredric March) conquests first, interrupted by the birth of his son, and the prophetic signs under which he was born. It took almost 30 minutes before you see any semblance to a fight, and almost one hour before Richard Burton finally takes over the mantle and seeks out his destiny as one of the greatest known world conquerors of all time. However, the film felt like it was in two arcs, the first which dwells on the internal bickering within Greece with its many factions, and the plotting between mother Olympias (Danielle Darrieux) and King Philip, each wanting to win over Alexander's loyalty for their own political purpose. In this version though, which harped on Darrieux's appearance in the credits, I thought she made Angelina Jolie look more formidable in the role. At least Jolie was dripping with evilness and cunning, compared to the more subdued Darrieux.

The latter half dealt with Alexander's conquests through Asia, though most of the facts were glossed over. It was too little too late as most of which are told using montage, intertitles and narration, which made it look like a rush job to end it. While Stone's movie had focused a fair bit over Alexander's obsession with being the Son of God and his increasing obsession over himself and his glories, this version again made those themes look superbly examined in Stone's version. However, one thing's for certain, Richard Burton, even with the horribly blond hair which looked like a wig, was indeed a lot more charismatic and believable than Coliln Farrell. And that also meant when Burton was wearing the horrendous full faced helmet so that the stunt guy can take over!

All in all, a pretty decent effort in telling the story of Alexander the Great, however as mentioned, it didn't really stood up to the test of time. At times, it made Stone's version look like a classic.

The Code 1 DVD by MGM Home Entertainment is the bare bones version, with only the theatrical trailer (2:50) included, and scene selection available in 16 chapters. The audio is in English Stereo Surround, or French and Spanish mono, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. Anamorphic widescreen transfer is crisp and pristine, with only a particular scene 3/4 of the way into the movie which looked a little soft and blurred.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

[Press Conference] Pleasure Factory

LtoR: Brian Gothong Tan (Director of Photography), Ekachai Uekrongtham (Director), Loo Zihan (Actor) and Ananda Everingham (Actor)

I was invited to the Pleasure Factory press conference held at the Mandarin Oriental this afternoon courtesy of Shaw, and it was quite a cosy set up in the small room, almost half of which is occupied by the stage. Before you proceed any further, please note that the following may contain spoilers, so please steer clear until you've watched the movie, or don't mind certain discussions into various scenes.

The host/moderator for the session was Peifen (of local Chinese radio 933FM) and the usual cursory introductions actually paved way for plenty of information shared by the attendees, starting with Ekachai Uekrontham the director, Brian Gothong Tan the director of photography, and lead actors Loo Zihan and Ananda Everingham.

Ekachai Uekrongtham had actually lived in Singapore more than in Thailand, and revealed that when younger, he was working with a trading firm which represented the beverage Red Bull, and his first foray to Geylang was to follow the sales people at night to the place because they thought their target audience who needed the energy boost were there! Initially he thought the place as seedy, but after a few visits, he started to look at it very differently.

Brian told Ekachai about the story of a young army boy who lost his virginity in Geylang, and visited the location for the very first time with Ekachai as part of research. There are 3 separate sections in the movie, which were The White Tower, which tells of innocence and its loss, The Wallet being the transactional basis, and The Song on the Other Side, where Ekachai was interested to examine what happens when the pleasure factory stops; where humans stop being pleasure seeking/giving machines. It was not supposed to be narrative driven but rather mood driven to capture Geylang honestly.

There was the inevitable question about the cuts that the movie received, in that the version screened here was different from the Cannes version. Ekachai revealed that they didn't censor themselves during the production of Pleasure Factory, and neither were they trying to be bold. The Cannes version can be considered as the Director's Cut though. Over here, Shaw and Innoform weren't interested in losing potential audience, and told him that if it has to be R21, then so be it. The censors however requested for some cuts to the version they submitted, and in total the duration was 2 minutes being shaved off from the movie. But Ekachai was quick to certify that there's nothing lost in terms of the story, but it was nonetheless painful to be removing every second of them. I thought he had a very realistic approach with regards to the current state of censorship here, in that he compares it to "Immigration", where different countries have different levels of tolerance, and Singapore can't be compared to Europe at this current point. He assured everyone that he did the adjustments to the movie himself (similar to Ang Lee for Lust, Caution I may add), and that the film still captures what they set out to achieve, though he was prepared for the worst in the event that it cannot be screened here. But luckily it will be, starting from this Thursday.

One of the key messages that Ekachai wanted to bring out was that pleasure is very transient, that red light districts were probably not the right place to find true pleasure, even though some characters manage to tough it fleetingly, or not at all.

Brian, who had made a number of short films, was on hand to share the more technical aspects of the shoot. Calling it a "small movie", it was shot in 2 weeks, and edited in his room, and little did he expect that it be screened at Cannes and other film festivals around the world. The style adopted was more indie with natural lighting, and to try to be as honest as possible without romanticizing or judging the subject.

Besides Ekachai, Loo Zihan had a lot to share as well, especially when his role had called for full frontal nudity. He confessed that he was a little apprehensive at first, but trusted the director and DOP as he knew it will be well and tastefully done. As some of us would know by now, Zihan is also a director, and has directed various short films and co-directed Solos with Kan Lume. He took on the role because he wanted to learn from Ekachai, who is an established theatre director, and wanted to know how an actor functions, as well as to learn from Brian and his unique style.

As for his much talked about scene with "Xu-Er", the scene was shot almost like real life mimicking the reel one, and there was plenty of apprehension and tension just like his character Jonathan experiences during his "first time". In fact, he only got acquainted with her only just before the shooting took place, so I bet you can imagine what he's going through! Zihan did recall quite candidly and with good humour that the room they shot their scenes in was pretty small and intimate, and the crew was sweating bucketloads, except him of course, since he didn't have any clothes on!

Ekachai interjected at this point, on the request of Zihan, to explain that the process of making Pleasure Factory was quite different from conventional filmmaking, that the 2 keywords best describing it were "Spontaneity" and "Organic". They wanted the camera to discover and experience what happens at about the same time as the characters, and hence you find that the camera sometimes are a moment slower in revealing scenes. There were some specific lines to be spoken, but the actors were not given scripts, and were told of their characters without knowing the story of the other character they're interacting with. Like in Yang Kuei-Mei's case, Ekachai explained her character's story, starting from a young age until now, when she was being made up for the role.

Finally, Ananda Everingham, who is no stranger to local audiences for his breakthrough role in Thai horror movie Shutter, and more recently in the romance comedy Me, Myself, shared that this wasn't the first time where he had made a film set in the red light district. At about the same time as the shoot for Pleasure Factory, he had also acted in "Bangkok Time" where he played a male prostitute in Thailand, hence crossing over to the other side in the Thai movie. His character in Pleasure Factory represents the view of the audience, of a foreigner who has lost his way and finds himself in Geylang. In the movie, he only had 3 lines, and felt the challenge of using body language and sounds to communicate. However he's quite comfortable with a role that doesn't require him to talk much as he's a bit reclusive himself, and through communicating using body language and emotions, the preconditions disappear. Speaking of his co-stars, he waxed lyrical about the aura that Yang Kuei-Mei exudes, and that Isabella Chan (local blogger whom you will know for blogs like Sarong Party Girl, and now blogs at, where you can some comments she has for the movie here) was totally different in terms of the personality of her character and her real self.

Zihan was asked how he prepared for the role, and what was his mother's reaction to it. He shared that his mom followed the Chinese newspaper articles about Pleasure Factory quite closely, and he's actually quite glad that his family is supportive of him. There was actually one test shoot before the actual one, and of course he had to prepare himself emotionally for the nude scene. Again Zihan reiterated why he wanted to take on such a role, was that 1. For himself to learn as an actor and director, 2. His belief in the vision and story of the movie, and 3. For the industry to mature, he felt that there was a need for a variety of movies, and hope that with more movies around, they can inspire more people to make better films. This I believe were similar sentiments shared by his co-director for Solos Kan Lume, where he explained to me about the need for a critical body of local movies.

Ekachai was also asked why he made the switch from theatre directing to become a movie director. He explained that while theatre was a way to express himself aesthetically, he cannot have made movies without the theatrical training in Emotional Honesty. Theatre tends to be text based, while a movie is visual based, and it was a dream come true when he was asked to make Beautiful Boxer. He joked that he was asked to make Pleasure Factory 2 in Thailand's Patpong, but why he chose Geylang was that it was like a labyrinth in a Singapore which is all about patterns and straight lines. He mentioned that you can tell a country not from where and what the tourism board wanted to show you, but from what they don't want you to see. Ananda thought that Ekachai had put a good spin on the film with it avoiding the usual sentimentality or presenting the obvious sordid side of things in a movie like this.

One for the album: Loo Zihan and Ananda Everingham

You too can decide if the movie avoided cliches with movies about or set in red light districts, as Pleasure Factory opens this Thursday at cinemas near you, and you can read my review of it here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Who's Afraid of Michael Myers?

I had not watched the original Halloween, so sadly I can't do a comparison of Rob Zombie's reimagination of the horror classic by John Carpenter, about a psychotic killer hell bent on a mindless rampage when he escapes from the mental institution, with his doctor hot on his heels. Michael Myers ranks up there with Freddy Krueger (of the Nightmare series on Elm Street), Jason (of Friday the 13th) and LeatherFace (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and of late, these characters have been on the recycling mill, with the latter having a prequel made, and the former two combining forces in a movie.

Wrestler Tyler Mane takes over the mantle of Myers, and Zombie's movie goes quite far back into the time when Myers was a kid, and how he got institutionalized. But it's more of an formality and an exercise in routine, as we've seen enough demonic kids (Omen, Joshua and also in Whisper, now showing in theatres) these days and nothing of similar nature would excite. But credit to Zombie, he goes for the jugular (pardon the pun) from the get go, and you get what you're looking for early in the movie (and there was one lady who deemed it too much, and walked out at this point).

However, the reimagination didn't steer clear of tried, tested and tired cliches, such as getting the same old blondes being targets (somehow, everyone here is spotting long hair, mostly blonde), plenty of gratuitous nudity where almost every actress here had their clothes shed, and you guessed it, everyone had sex on their minds, though we know what that means in the horror genre. But what was a tad interesting though, was that Zombie made you abhor the characters who die early in the film, thus providing you an avenue to cheer(!) Myers on as he dispenses his own brand of justice from a mean looking kitchen knife.

Classic characters from the original return, with Dr Samuel Loomis now played by Malcolm McDowell, and Brad Dourif having a bit role as Sheriff Lee Brackett. But the gem in the Halloween movie is who gets to play the role made memorable and propelled Jamie Lee Curtis as the Ultimate Scream Queen, and here, the part of Laurie Strode went to Scout Taylor-Compton, whom I thought didn't scream enough. Anyways, fans of the franchise would be pleased with Danielle Harris taking on a role in the movie, having appeared in two other movies in the franchise.

Some might say this is yet another mindless remake, giving opportunity for Rob Zombie to make yet another blood lust slasher movie. Definite must watch for fans though, as Zombie elevates Myers to almost god like invulnerability here, but almost(?) closes the door on possible sequels. Then again, no one can stop from being imaginative enough to yank Myers from Hell and back again, if the box office clamours for it. What is indeed a classic instead, is that unforgettable signature tune of the Halloween theme composed by John Carpenter himself, while not at all frightening, does give you a sense of impending doom.


There's a poignant scene in Evening where Patrick Wilson's Harris and Claire Danes' Ann look up in the sky, and identify a star to represent that moment in time they share together. I know how that feels, and each time you look up in the starry sky, you see the star (rather, mine was a constellation), and memories of that precious moment come flooding back instantly. These are moments that live with you through your life, and you can never shake it away, try as hard as you might. Oh, and I like how the trailer unfolded, to the tune of Dido's White Flag. I like the song, very meaningful, at least to me.

I'm in love, and always will be.


Best Friends

Based on a novel by Susan Minot, Evening is a story about complex relationships, love, and family. It's drizzled with deep regret, about letting the one walk away, of not having the courage to live out the life you want, constantly allowing societal notions and norms, or how you want others to perceive you, take the unfortunate precedence over what really matters.

It zooms in early on the deathbed of Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave), where her two children Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson, real life daughter of Redgrave) take turns to stay by her side, and in doing so, make ample room for their different viewpoints on each other's lives to come into clashing distance. At the same time, through their mother's subconscious murmurings, they discover a hidden life that their mother never discussed about, and wonder just what the juicy details are.

In this respect, Evening has two separate narratives in two different timelines, and constantly flips from one to the other, but deftly doing so without making the audience lost or confused. In the earlier timeline, we begin with Ann (now played by Claire Danes) and good friend Buddy Wittenborn (Hugh Dancty) en route to attend the wedding of his sister Lila (Mamie Gummer, and if you think she resembles Meryl Streep, then yes, because she's her real life daughter), who through body language confesses to them both that she's having second thoughts about her impending marriage, because of her still nursing an old flame affection for hunky doctor Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson), the son of their family's caretaker.

And as the story develops, we see how relationships turn, some for the better, though it may be fleeting, while others turn for the worse. It's always a bitter pill to swallow when you discover your affections are only on a one way street, and how uncertainty play a big role in making your life miserable. As the adage goes, you sometimes can't marry the one you love, but you surely can try to love the one you marry. The depth of a woman's heart knows no bounds, and truly, the many characters here have numerous compartments in their hearts for deep dark secrets and hidden desires, coupled with some regrets.

I enjoyed how the story unfolded when one is on the deathbed. Seriously, the way I look at it, I too would start to reminisce before I kick the bucket, about the life I've led, whether it was fulfilling and meaningful, and any regrets that I would have that still bugs me before I go meet my maker. If I were to have one gripe on this sad movie tinged with so many regrets, is how the story in between the timelines seem to be non-existent. The one that got away somehow wasn't fully materialized - it was suggested in part, and played on one rather disparate scene, but other than that, there was very little linkage, and you start to wonder if it's because of the guilt both parties felt, of choosing not to be around when tragedy strikes, that led to their coming together being an improbability.

Evening turns out to be a beautiful, but very tragic love story, as warm shades of orange turn slowly into cold hard gray. Like movies with predominantly female characters such as White Oleander and Little Women, Evening boasts a stellar cast with numerous award winning actresses in their own right, coming together as an ensemble for one picture, but pity they don't get to interact all together at once, given the split in timelines. Even powerhouses Meryl Streep (who plays the older Lila) and Glenn Close (as Mrs Wittenborn) were featured separately, which is a slight pity. But their sheer presence, even if they only have supporting roles, more than lifts and add gravitas to the overall picture, where everyone fed off the collective energy of one another, providing excellent performances.

It's not a date movie per se, but one that will surely initiate some long hard look at the state of your relationship, and ponder aloud with each other your take on the various issues presented, and provoke discussion into how the characters handle their situation.

Evening is now showing exclusively at Lido.

Time After Time
Time after time
I tell myself I'm so lucky
To be loving you
I'm so lucky to be
The one you run to see
In the evening
When the day is through

I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You kept my love so young
So new
And time after time
You'll hear me say that i'm
So lucky to be loving you

I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You kept my love so young
So new
And time after time
You'll hear me say that i'm
So lucky to be loving you

Friday, October 19, 2007

[World Cinema Series] A Touch of Zen (XIA NÜ)

Continuing the awesome slate of movies to date in the World Cinema Series, A Touch of Zen is possibly the greatest martial arts movie to be made, and this King Hu classic is to be appreciated on the big screen no less. And what more, it's not screened from a DVD, but from 35mm in the original, unabridged version!

As per the series, there will also be a discussion at the end of the movie, and I'm sure there are many who will be hard pressed for time, since it will end about 1040pm on the day of screening. Fret not, for those who are interested in reading up on the movie, and not minding spoilers (since it dissects and dwells in depth into key scenes), I highly recommend you to pick up Stephen Teo's King Hu's A Touch of Zen published by Hong Kong University Press. Yes, it's the very same Stephen who's been invited for the post-screening discussion.

In the book, Stephen brings you on a journey through the classic, with eloquent writing, plenty of well researched background and interesting analysis all rolled into one. I've read it in a record two working days, and am tempted to read it all again. You'll definitely appreciate why A Touch of Zen is a classic in its own right, and probably will respect the movie a lot more after gaining Stephen's enlightenment. For example, did you know the story has its origins from Liao Zhai?

Those who want to be prepared for the movie, can pick up a copy here. But of course if it's too pricey, you can always borrow it from your friendly neighbourhood library.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab the book and get your tickets today, and I'll see you at the movies!

Tuesday 13 November, 7.30pm
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore

Dir: King Hu
1971 / Taiwan / 187 min / 35 mm / PG
(in Mandarin with English subtitles)

A milestone in martial arts cinema, A Touch of Zen is King Hu’s most acclaimed and ambitious film.

Inspired by the aesthetics of Japanese samurai films, this poetic three-hour epic brought Chinese cinema to new technical and artistic heights, revolutionising the martial arts genre and influencing the works of directors like Tsui Hark (Swordsman II) , Ang Lee (Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China).

The film tells the story of a poor scholar, Ku Shen Chai whose path crosses with two fugitives, General Shih and an enigmatic lady, Yang Hui Ching. The two are hiding out in an abandoned estate from the corrupt court official, Eunuch Wei. Shen Chai’s interest in military strategy and Hui Ching’s quest to revenge the massacre of her family brings them together in a face–off with Eunuch Wei. They are finally joined by other pugilists and a group of mysterious and powerful Shaolin monks, headed by Abbot Hui (played by veteran actor Roy Chiao), as the film builds up to its seminal and breathtaking final battle scene.

A Touch of Zen has been named as one of Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Films. It also won a special technical award at the Cannes Film Festival and is one of the first Chinese films to gain recognition in the international film festival arena.

A discussion of the film will be led by Stephen Teo. Stephen is a research fellow in the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He is also the author of Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (1997), Wong Kar-wai (2005), King Hu's A Touch of Zen (2007), and Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film (2007).

Ticketing Information
$8 / $6.40 concession
Free admission for Singapore Film Society members

Counter Sales
Stamford Visitor Services Counter: 10am – 7.30pm
Canning Visitor Services Counter: 10am – 5pm

Online Booking
(click on Online Booking tab at the bottom of the webpage)

Ticketing Information: 6332 3659
General Enquiries: 6332 5642

Patrons are advised that valid identity pass is required for all screenings.

Pink Paddlers Screening

Pink Paddlers, a local documentary, finally gets screened, although it's on TV, but why not?

As far as I'm aware, there was a Charity Screening of the documentary in March this year, but I was away at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. And screenings were rare, perhaps opened to select focus groups here and there. So finally, it goes on Free to Air, and I'm glad to be able to watch it after all!

Catch it on Sunday 28th Oct 2007 at 7.30pm on Channel NewsAsia

A HD documentary made possible by the support of
the Khoo Teck Puat Foundation

Directed by Jasmine Ng Kin Kia
Produced by Suzette Cody / Green Mango Productions


To watch Desperate Housewives OR a documentary about housewives with cancer?
… Have you hit the remote control already?

Breast Cancer is the no.1 killer disease amongst women in Singapore.
Switching channels does not change this reality.

But watching this documentary, and learning and sharing the awareness message can make a difference.

So gather every woman you care about - your sister, your mother, your daughter, your best friend, your wife, your colleagues... and watch this film together.

Watch a kick-ass bunch of Singaporean housewives, biker chicks, senior managers, a bellydancer, air-stewardesses and a beauty pageant queen, all get in the same boat, stop asking themselves "why me, why did I get breast cancer" and start racing as sisters in a dragonboat team against this disease.

This October Breast Cancer Awareness Month, catch it
Sunday 28th Oct 2007 at 7.30pm on Channel NewsAsia


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

Happy Family

I'd bet almost everyone during their childhood years would have interacted with their toys somehow, be it outwardly verbal, or playing it all in the mind. Conversations with dolls, teddy bears, or even with G.I. Joe himself beating up Cobra Commander, these are stuff of what a rich imagination would be made of, breathing a form of consciousness onto inanimate objects.

Some kids don't grow up of course, retaining their childlike mannerisms within a grown up body. Ryan Gosling's Lars is a gentle, soft-spoken man, extremely shy but ever ready with a warm smile that can melt the sternest of hearts, and when nervous or anxious, blinks hard. Living in the garage (by choice) of a house occupied by brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer), we learn that Lars has a condition of being delusional, and his extreme introversion causes him to absolutely abhor signs of affection.

It's been a while since I remembered a movie having a central character spending much time interacting with an object, the most memorable of course would be Tom Hanks' Chuck Noland being castaway on an island and finding companionship with Wilson the volleyball. Here, Lars finds a new security blanket in his mail order sex doll he christens Bianca, which is highly customizable, anatomically correct, and quite attractive to boot. Furthermore, it's not just one character that gets all emotional with it, in fact, the entire small midwestern town does, where everybody indulges Lars and his new friend, at first to curious stares, but slowly warming up to even Bianca as well, as their tender reactions now turn into immense efforts bringing Lars out of the shell.

And would you believe that the director for Mr. Woodcock helmed this movie? I suppose one would have imagined that with a plot device like a sex doll, it will be extremely easy to traverse down the path of comedy. However, Lars and the Real Girl avoided that with a ten foot pole, being contemplative, and for the most parts, surprisingly quiet. It's a sublimely warmhearted movie about community, love, and relationships forged under trying circumstances. It's unconventional in its approach to conventional themes, and therein lies its wonderful charm with a pinch of quirkiness.

Those who have enjoyed Ryan Gosling's performance in Half Nelson will find that he's again in fine form, and personally I felt he did much better here. He brings out the innocence of Lars succinctly, and his performance will without a doubt touch many with his earnestness in being a Boo Radley without ill-intentions to people around him, and wanting to be left alone doing his own thing. It might seem like a one man show again, but the supporting casts are given ample opportunity to shine and complement Gosling, with Emily Mortimer being the ever supportive pillar of strength in the household, juggling all the weirdness with her pregnancy, and Paul Schneider the opposite, a skeptic who feels responsible and remorseful for Lars' condition. Patricia Clarkson and Kelli Garner play the other women in Lars' life, the former the psychologist treating his condition, and the latter a co-worker who's equally shy in expressing her true feelings for this man-child.

The power of the mind and imagination, to say that it's powerful would be a gross understatement, and to witness how honest emotions get to conquer mental conditions, is indeed a joy to behold. Lars and the Real Girl succeeds in being mature about the treatment, and having a great cast deliver the goods superbly, is already a major plus. Should you not want to sit through another teenage sex-romp comedy like Superbad, then let not the notion of having a sex-doll on screen turn you away, as you'll be pleasantly surprised by the end results. Recommended!

Lars and the Real Girl sneaks this weekend, and opens in theatres on 25th Oct 2007.

P.S. Like Knocked Up which featured a real site in Mr Skin, those smitten with Bianca will be happy to know the site featured in the movie is real too, though a standard real doll will set you back by about US$7K no less. As I know I have readers in their teens, I will not be adding actual links to the websites mentioned here.

Singapore Documentarians: Roundtable and Dialogue Session

as part of the Asian Film Archive Presents Southeast Asian Digital Cinema series.

Have a chat with Singapore ’s own documentary makers about their work and vision!

The Asian Film Archive together with its partners Asia Research Institute and the National Library Board are organizing a Round Table and In Conversation Series with Singapore ’s documentarians.

Singapore made documentaries have been bursting onto the local film circuit and making waves internationally recently. These documentaries provide insightful analyses of society – its people, heritage, environment, and even of events and situations of our neighbouring countries.

Bio of filmmakers
Films showcased

Round Table with Singapore Documentarians
(In attendance: Chan Kah Mei, Joycelyn Khoo, Lo Hwei Shan, Chew Tze Chuan, Martyn See , Eng Yee Peng )
by the Asian Film Archive and Asia Research Institute
Date: 19 October 2007 Fri
Time: 3pm
Venue: Asia Research Institute, 469A Tower Block, Bukit Timah Road, #10-01, Seminar Room
Free entry.

Directing Asia: In Conversation with Singapore Documentarians
(In attendance: Wang Eng Eng, Joycelyn Khoo, Lo Hwei Shan, Chew Tze Chuan, Martyn See , Eng Yee Peng )
by the Asian Film Archive and National Library Board
Date: 21 October 2007 Sun
Time: 2pm
Venue: library@esplanade, The Esplanade, #03-01 (Nearest MRT station: City Hall)
Free entry.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I'm McLovin It!

Superbad is Supergood!

Many have been lauding high accolades on this teen comedy to be the best thing since American Pie, and guess what, it's true! Before you roll your eyes at yet another teenage and/or sex comedy, with desperate nerds hatching diabolical plans to get laid, Superbad comes across as a breath of fresh air really, given that it has a cast of unknowns, thus free of any expectations to deliver, which thankfully it does.

What it doesn't have in raunchy sex scenes, it more than makes up for with its trash talking, especially from loud mouthed Seth (Jonah Hill), who has possibly the best lines in the movie, though coming close to a scene stealer is Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Foggell aka McLovin with his uber-nerdish demeanour. Together with Evan (Michael Cera), the trio play best friends who, being nerds, have only one another to hang out with, until they get themselves invited to a party only through providing the false hope that they can deliver the booze.

And the trio branches off into two story arcs before converging for the finale, when Seth and Evan left Fogell to fend for himself when the latter goes for the jugular at a booze shop. It's difficult to judge which of the two arcs was funnier, though I'd go for Fogell/McLovin's as it had the inclusion of two zany beat cops played by Bill Hader and Seth Rogen (from Knocked Up), and it has some of the most insane scenes with the antics that these two cops can conjure. Seth and Evan's storyline however centered more on the dramatic aspects of two friends facing the prospect of separation after graduation, and leaned extremely close to homo-eroticism at certain points. But I digress, it did have a definite hilarious scene in a party they gatecrash, which involves, what else, bodily fluids in the most unexpected of manners.

But it's not as vulgar as you think it is, save for gratuitous pictures of the penis in all shapes, sizes, forms, with a limit only the imagination can put a finger (heh) to. It's akin to oral sex - that is, the extremely rapid fire use of the F-word - with attempts at actual horizontal action constantly doused with cold water. The gems are in the dialogue and in both Jonah Hill's and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's fleshing of their characters. To top it off, it actually had quite a coherent story, and an ending which you can read either way, and it'll still work.

Fused with plenty of physical humour, crass dialogue and plenty of rude pictures (stay while the credits roll), Superbad will definitely bring out the guffaws, one way or another. I'm starting to put my faith on Judd Apatow and the entire crew from Apatow Productions to deliver the goods from now on, as their movies to date haven't stopped making me laugh. Oh, and watch out for that super-retro opening credits too!

Pleasure Factory (Kuai Le Gong Chang)

Welcome to Geylang!

If Amsterdam has her infamous fish tanks and Bangkok has her Patpong, I'm sure there must be something fascinating enough for Singapore's own red light district Geylang to be used as the backdrop, and its nighttime inhabitants becoming characters featured in a feature length film. After all, Bugis Street of old (not the sterile shopping mall it has now become) had been made in a 1996 Singapore movie entitled Bugis Street. But what came across as inspired from true stories that originates from within that area leaves much to be desired. After all, surely we know of some of these stories if we have friends who have visited the area (*ahem* if not yourself) and lived to tell of their conquests, or countless others that you can read of anonymously, courtesy of the Sammyboy forums, and those are somewhat more honest and to the point that what Pleasure Factory depicted.

For the uninitiated (as if I'm an expert), Geylang is situated just outside the boundary of the city center, to the east. It's split into even and odd Lorongs (akin to streets). The odd Lorongs are where the gourmet food are, some swearing by the fritters, bean curd and frog legs porridge (urban legend that it provides you "strength"), while the even Lorongs are where the pleasure factories are, though of course these days you have streetwalkers not confining themselves to the logical geographic boundaries anymore. And like any movie that's set in Singapore, you just can't resist having to cue in montage of life in the area set to an oldie music - here scenes of Geylang from both Lorongs, the fruit shops, coffee shop eateries, various hotels and the likes get set to Give Me A Kiss.

According to Pleasure Factory, Geylang was once an area where factories process coconuts, but now have given way to brothels providing pleasure, with pimps eager to hawk their latest acquisitions to anyone loitering a little while longer. Perhaps it's like Vegas, where what happens in Geylang stays in Geylang, that the characters here all have a propensity of not speaking. I would have no issues on this if the visuals, which paint a kaleidoscope of beautiful imagery showcasing the lure of the bright lights and the seedier side of what dwells amongst the shadows, can maintain a movie on its own before starting to look like Discovery Channel, but too often the narrative found itself caught up in the moment with its characters, in obvious short stories forced together through casual circumstances.

The three stories here were actually like snapshots, everything given on the surface, and without much depth. The first story is the perennial army boy seeking to pop his cherry, and what better way to do so than with someone of experience. Loo Zihan (who co-directed and was one of the leads in Solos) stars as the Jonathan the army boy who while at first seemed shy and unwilling, on the goading of a friend Kiat (Katashi Chen), managed to decide on the services of a bosomy girl from China, Xue Er. I thought this story was the best amongst the three, in that it had clear direction in what it wanted to get at, interjected with good humour. It also painted the motivations of all the characters clearly, highlighting the play acting and masks that people wear, whether we really know the deep dark secret desires that others have in mind, and dalliances on love, lust, and of course, the virgin experience.

Unfortnately, that cannot be said of the story involving the veterans Ananda Everingham and Yang Kuei-Mei, who's a regular in Tsai Ming-liang movies, that Pleasure Factory tries hard to emulate its minimalistic and reliance on visual language, with dismal results. People hardly talk here, and the visuals relied a fair bit on the unsteadicam as it weaves about and around the corridors of a budget hotel. While Yang's Linda and Isabella Chan's teenage girl has a mother-daughter love-hate relationship suggested, it was Ananda's Chris that proved to be the story arc's undoing, given that his character had no clear motivation at all. He just appears, hesitates, feels sorry, and that's it, finding it hard to communicate to the duo given that he speaks only English.

And it's not the characters alone that have unclear objectives and motivations. The movie too was disjointed in itself, having succumbed to schizophrenic moments where it inserted two documentary styled interview footage into the narrative structure, thus having those sticking out like a sore thumb. While much of the narrative is fictional in nature, I thought that it may have felt a need to have a mockumentary(?) mouthpiece to provide us some candid answers, albeit for a short while only.

The remaining story arc puts the spotlight on a pleasure giver, a hot girl in a red dress (played by Jeszlene Zhou), the regular plaything of a old, pudgy man driving a sports car, who while jaded with satisfying the lusty old man, as a person she too yearns the desire for love / lust being satisfied. I thought this was a more of a conventional treatment of Herman Yau's Whispers and Moans in its specific tit-for-tat moment, but it does open one's eyes to having to resort to innovative methods to solicit, and cements the term "Special" being used in the trade. Like Whispers and Moans too, Pleasure Factory does not cast a judgemental eye on the service providers, and while the former highlighted the plight the workers faced, this one provides a more general outlook in terms of themes covered.

Shot on location, I thought the DP did a good job in tackling the multitude of people who would have spoiled the movie by looking straight at the camera in curiosity. You can't really close Geylang for the shoot, can you, and watching how skillfully the camera was manipulated to show how bustling it is, and yet avoid common pitfalls, was a job well done. However, with it being set in one area in one single night, I felt that the stories it selected could have been more engaging, rather than having the prevailing sense of aloofness. Then again, perhaps that's what it's all about with its open ended narratives, in mirroring the artificial feelings between the inhabitants, between the server and those being served. You don't really, and there's no need, in getting too emotionally attached to one another.

Similar to Lust, Caution, Pleasure Factory also had its directed coming out with an abridged version, though here it was done so that it could still be released with an R21 rating. I believe a certain scene shortened definitely would be the homoerotic one, or the one with male genitalia shown, though I guess we'll wait for this weekend to clarify this when the press conference is held.

In circumstances where you tell the pimp your fantasies and get them fulfilled somewhat, Pleasure Factory did not manage to do just that. You have a basic idea what you want to get at. and while it's packaged very nicely on the outside, the skills for pleasuring the senses dispensed unfortunately didn't provide for a satisfying time. But this is Geylang after all. Fans will undoubtedly have no hesitation to see how their playground gets depicted in a feature length film, while those curious enough or have never stepped foot into its territory, would probably prefer to see it through a filmmaker's lens first.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

[Teaser] Lucky 7 Project

The Hong Kong movie Triangle had an interesting gimmick - 3 acclaimed filmmakers in Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnny To combine forces to each direct a portion of the film, and the director who takes over has to continue from there - Tsui will start, Lam will fill in the meat, while To will finish it off.

In similar terms, some of you would have heard about the Lucky 7 Project omibus, a collaborative local feature film where 7 directors - Sun Koh, Rajagopal, Boo Junfeng, Brian Gothong Tan, Chew Tze Chuan, Ho Tzu Nyen and Tania Sng - will each take on a portion about the chornicles of a character played by Sunny Pang (Perth, and more recently, still sporting that pony tail from Sun Koh's short Bedroom Dancing), or at least that's what I remember from articles from the mainstream media.

In any case, here are the first few images of scenes from the movie, but more so from the set, where it seemed like everyone's having a blast of a time! The teaser trailer here is cut by Boo Junfeng

It might seem that it's slated for the 2008 SIFF premiere, but not before going to Rotterdam first!

Can't wait to see this!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hunting and Gathering (Ensemble, C'est Tout)

Not Another Kitchen!

It's Audrey Tautou, and ever since Amelie, I am of the opinion that Singaporeans have an affinity for the pint sized actress, and her box office draw here is fairly strong. Count me in as one of the fans who will lap up her cinematic outings, good or bad, so long as our heroine gets the opportunity to shine on screen.

Hunting and Gathering is based on a novel by Anna Gavalda, and tells the story of four individuals whose lives converge in an apartment. In this movie directed by Claude Berri, I thought that it was split into 3 acts, with story arcs focused on the challenges faced by each of the characters. Tautou stars as Camille Fauque, a near anorexic surface engineer who smokes a lot, guzzles alcohol, but eats very little. Living alone in a small attic of an apartment block, she meets Philibert (Laurent Stocker), a fellow neighbour who suffers from bouts of anxiety. Philibert's housemate Franck (Guillaume Canet) is a chef who lives hard and fast, whose only worry is the welfare of his grandmother Paulette (Francoise Bertin), a senior citizen who fears being tossed aside by kin, and makes life quite difficult for her caretakers.

The narrative is quite plain actually, with every conceivable development being very predictable. That means no quirky twists and turns for the sake of it, and it actually allows you to shift to lower gears to enjoy this outing. It's a story about having dreams, fulfilling them, and helping others to fulfill theirs too, through encouragement and support rendered. Having all four characters together under one roof, though brief it might be, did seem like an episode of Friends gone all French and all whacked with the age grouping, and proving correct the adage that two's a company and three's a crowd.

It did try to cover a lot of ground given that there are a number of characters here, but it did so at the expense of depth. The romance entanglements between characters did seem rather superficial, bland, trivial and predictable, while Philibert's quest to stem out his stammering through stage acting unfortunately had to take the backseat, and thus having his character fade away somewhat for the last act of the movie. The most meaningful and beautiful arc here belongs to Francoise Bertin's Paulette, as her tale of fear of abandonment rings through very honestly, and somehow, you'll start to wonder when you're of old age, whether you will have companions whom you can get along with, or be forgotten and tossed to some old folks' home to spend your twilight years in. I felt that it was superiorly poignant, without which there would be no emotional anchor for this movie.

Somehow, movies that feature food and classy restaurants (Ratatouille, Mostly Martha and its remake No Reservations anyone?) of late that I've watched always have fallen into the cliched ending. I'm unsure if it's an unwritten rule to have it done so, or if it's a formula that has proven to work every time. But in all earnestness, I thought it ended quite nicely with that happily ever after feel. In summary, definitely worth a watch for the eye candy cast, but it plays like a generic romantic / friendship tale that possesses potential that was hardly scratched.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

[DVD] Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyû) (2001)

My Many Characters

Having watched Satoshi Kon's Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers, it's a no brainer that I would jump at the chance to watch Millennium Actress. And I wasn't disappointed, though if I would rate this movie amongst the others I've seen, then my preference will be in reverse chronological order, not that Millennium Actress is no good, but you do see the scaling of new heights in the newer works.

I'm quite amazed at how a single theme (at least to me) managed to weave itself into a compelling story, and one which paid homage to the history of Japan, and to Japanese films. The actress in the title refers to Chiyoko Fujiwara (voiced by three different actresses - Miyoko Shoji, Mami Koyama and Fumiko Orikasa), and chronicles the story of her career. As such, we get to see her in various characters and costumes, in different genres set in different eras, like the Samurai films, science fiction, romance dramas, and even monster movies. Now a senior citizen who has since retired from the limelight, she's being tracked down for an interview by Genya Tachibana (Shozo Izuka) and his cameraman Ida Kyoji (Masaya Onosaka), as she's the icon for a movie studio which is being torn down. But there's more to Genya's intentions of just speaking to her, and that secret in which he has will form the basic crux of the story.

To some, it might be groundhog day narrative style as events get repeated, although in different reel eras. It's about chasing after a loved one, one who has disappeared, and about your relentless pursuit, never to give up for that glimmer of hope, for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In many aspects, there's a lot of reel life imitating real, and the presentation style is definitely a notch in the direction of class, having interpolate Genya and Ida into the memories of Chiyoko as they learn first hand the events that she encounters, and relive those memories in the form of the movies she had starred in. In this manner of skillfully manipulating images and colour, the movie becomes layered in multiple fashion, and is quite innovative, rather than telling the story in a flat out chronological style.

The story nevertheless remains immensely touching, and bittersweet as well, particularly when a key secret is revealed, and you find yourself having to hold back that tear from coming out of your eye, especially when you have experienced a similar, relentless chase for something that you do not know what the outcome is. As always, the movie is richly animated with deep background details that you do not keep your eyes off the screen, and definitely deserves multiple re-watchings. Definitely highly recommended.

The Code 1 DV by Dreamworks Home Entertainment comes with a pristine anamorphic transfer, with audio only in Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, or 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround should you want to feel the many earthquakes in the movie. Subtitles come in English and French, and you have scene selection in 22 chapters.

The extras are quite basic, containing just the US Theatrical Trailer (1:05), and the Making of Millennium Actress: Interviews and Commentary with Satoshi Kon (40:40), which is a must to sit through as you learn about the movie from preparation stage, to its premiere in Japan. Through the interviews with Satoshi Kon and crew, you get to learn a lot of their thought process and how real life incidents provided inspiration for their reel development, and from the voice actors, their thrill in having been a part of a Satoshi Kon production. Not to worry if you don't understand Japanese, as the extras all come with subtitles.
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