Thursday, January 31, 2008


It's Coming!!!

It's been an extremely long time since I watched something funky, and Juno made me laugh and cry at the same time. It's a delightful comedy with mature themes, and one whose dialogue makes this a gem that is worth rewatching repeatedly, until you can get all the inside jokes, as well as the tons of references from music, movies and various other pop culture. Ellen Page rocks!

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


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

You, Me and My Razors

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was slated to have been released end of next month. Then came the relatively strong opening in the West late last year, followed by nominations and wins in the Golden Globes, that it has now been bumped up for release this week, prior to the 3-way fight that the Asian movies will put up in the upcoming Lunar New Year week. I thought it was a no-brainer having to release this early as Johnny Depp is already a household name here thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and here he dons eye shadow and retains the bad teeth to play the titular character.

One can imagine the troubles that a beautiful wife may bring, especially when people in positions of power find it easy to abuse that authority in order to covert her. Benjamin Barker (Depp), as he was originally known, was a naive young barber with a beautiful wife and kid, but corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) felt some strong stirring in his loins, enough to banish Parker for years, and taking a leaf out of Mask of Zorro's villain Don Rafael Montero, adopts Parker's child Johanna, only with plans to make the beautiful girl his wife when she comes of age (shades of Kim Ki-duk's The Bow too).

So Parker returns with bad attitude and probably bad breath as well, to sing his way (you do know it's a musical, don't you?) into implementing his scheme of revenge on those who had trespassed him, and does so with the help of a lousy pie baker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). He slices and dices with his collection of silver blades, while she bakes and she cooks using ingredients on the cheap, and regular on supply, with a unique taste to boot.

Based on the West End musical by Stephen Sondheim, this film adaptation by director Tim Burton have re-teamed his virtual cast from Corpse Bride with Depp and Carter in the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, complete with pale skin and a gothic wardrobe. They are no strangers to Burton, with Depp having collaborated with Burton since the days of Edward Scissorhands, which puts him in good steed as he now wields the barber blades, and 5 more films thereafter. Helena Bonham Carter, well, is his fiancee, so nuff said about that too. Together they share familiar chemistry already established, and chew up scenes especially when they sing their duets, and you'll feel somewhat sad for Mrs Lovett as she pines for Todd's love, which isn't forthcoming as he's so obsessed with trying to find opportunity to get close to Judge Turpin and exact his revenge.

Tim Burton seemed to have been influenced a bit by the Asian ketchup director Chang Cheh, as blood get spilled by the bucketloads in similar style, and this time, done in very tongue-in-cheek manner with the spurts shooting quite exaggeratedly sky high and the drips emulating volumes from a waterfall. But there's no denying that it is wonderfully photographed, and is something you'd come to expect each time you watch a Burton film, complete with dark humour, and plenty of dark elements and themes. Being a musical, the songs are top notch, and the lyrics really classy, bringing out the emotions felt by the characters without unnecessary pomp, getting straight to the point.

In fact, everyone in the movie, right down to the supporting cast like Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall had lines to sing, and I'm quite surprised to see (and hear) Alan Rickman's piece, together with Depp's, which was, though short, quite wonderful. Alas, and I think I'm getting quite anal here and hopefully I arrest this problem soon, the romance between Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Johanna (Jayne Wisener) seemed a little too contrived and emotionally empty, and I rather disliked the way their love developed, or left hanging - even though we could've guessed the likely outcome, Burton decided to end the movie in the best possible way it could without dwelling too much on the obvious. Which means the final act zooms past a tad too fast after a deliberate, measured build up.

Oh, and watch out too for Sacha "Borat" Baron Cohen in a small supporting role as Italian tout Pirrelli who sells magical hair elixirs, which was well worth its moments. But if there's one thing I'd take away from the movie, is that to beware the barber's blade. Somehow Eastern Promises had started it, and now Sweeny Todd highlights the dangers. Hope it stays in movieland, and not inspire anyone out there who'd think they're the fastest, cleanest shave in town! Recommended for the songs, which lifted the ho-hum story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Old Garden (Orae-doen Jeongwon)

Will You Stay?

I think I'm turning into one insensitive punk in need of some loving to reconnect with some romance movies. You know that song You've Lost That Loving Feeling? Guess that's what I'm undergoing right now. Anyway, The Old Garden is one reminiscent stroll down memory lane for Hyun-woo (Ji Jin-hee), who for the love of his ideals, spurned the woman he made out with, Yoon-hee (Yum Jung-ah). Written and directed by Im Sang-soo (The President's Last Bang), this is your romance drama set against a historical backdrop to provide some added oomph, and here, it's the 1980s turbulent period where the Gwangju Massacre happened.

To read my review of The Old Garden at, click on the logo below:


Monday, January 28, 2008

[DVD] White Noise (2005)

Now Where Did Alfred Hide My Batsuit

I skipped this in the cinemas for the sole reason that the trailer spooked me out (*hears chants of "chicken"*) but I grabbed this DVD when I saw it at the library, because partly I'm curious about the phenomenon, and partly because it's a long time since I last saw Michael Keaton on screen, given that not all his works, scarce they may be, make it here to Singapore (the last perhaps could be either this, or the new Herbie movie starring Lindsay Lohan, which I also passed over).

And I was pleasantly surprised at the way this movie turned out to be. EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon, may be poo-pooed by skeptics, but the believers actually in all earnestness think they are assisting grieved folks in seeking the closure they are looking for. And their craft, though not perfect, does seem to take up enormous amounts of time in recording, playback and various digital manipulation (hence throwing the doors open that it's subject to meddling). But if for one second, you were to believe it to be true, what then, as you'll probably be spooked out by that possible whisper not within natural audibility, as and when the hair on your back stands.

It might seem like a dabbling with the occult, akin to the Ouija board where you communicate with spirits deliberately to seek answers, and get a response through the movement of a pointer on a board. You'll never escape from either skepticism, or warnings not to participate in games like these, because while there are benign spirits (if you were to believe) in the mold of Casper, then there would be those which are nasty and send you not too sublime, threatening messages to put you at your place.

Michael Keaton plays an established architect Jonathan Rivers, who lost his beloved writer wife Anna Rivers (Chandra West). Looking for closure, he takes up a chance offering by a stranger Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), who exposes him to the world of EVP, and assists him in trying to open the doors of communication to the other/nether side. We follow in Jonathan's quest to get out of his grief, and dive into his obsession to reach out. But alas while the messages start to come through, they seem to be messages of instructions, and this makes him a little bewildered as to what's happening, as well as getting interference from some shadowy figures who seem to want to stop him.

It's easy to understand why this movie wasn't well received, because of the subject matter, and how it all played out to the end. I thought it presented a thriller-mystery relatively well, combined with some elements of the supernatural, without much unnecessary jinks to try and throw you off the track. It's simple in delivery, and effective as well, though it didn't really take a stand on EVP. Also, some might find fault as to say that it really isn't a movie about EVP to begin with, as it skews a little on the phenomenon, but to that I say, whatever it takes to make an entertaining movie.

Much of the movie hinged on Michael Keaton's performance, and it was nice to see him in a lead role again. When you talk about dark obsession, then he's the man, ever since he convinced fanboys that he's the right choice for the Dark Knight. Sharing screen time with him is Deborah Kara Unger as the bookstore owner Sarah, who's also a recent convert to EVP, and who finds herself intricately linked to Jonathan's quest and EVP findings.

It might not deliver enough to spook you out, but in my opinion, it deserved to be rated far better than it was.

The Code 3 DVD From Alliance Entertainment is presented in anamorphic widescreen with no blemishes in its visual transfer, and audio is available in dolby stereo. Subtitles are available in English and Chinese, and scene selection is over 16 chapters.

There are 3 special features in the DVD, each all dealing with Electronic Voice Phenomenon. E.V.P Explored (8:39) contains interviews with various paranormal investigators and EVP practitioners, and it did seem a little spooky when real voice samples recorded were played. Hearing is Believing (14:30) follows Tom and Lisa Butler, EVP practitioners, into a haunted castle and nightclub to explore EVP and to open a door of communication. You get to see how practitioners get to do what they do. Quite informative actually. And lastly, How to Record E.V.P (4:24) tells you that anyone can do it, so long as you have either a cassette recorder with microphone and a counter for reference, or an IC recorder with built in microphone that is voice activated, which brings some immediate advantages such as cutting time on playback, and without the need of supplying some background white noise.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

[Online] 10 MPH

How many of us out there dread our jobs, but lack the balls to say "that's it, adios!" and quit the corporate rat race? Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell did just that to follow their dream, and the little piece of animation in the prologue, was pitch perfect in my opinion.

And I thought if you were to abandon ship and decide to do something radical, to make sure that it's time worthwhile. So what did the duo do? They did a road trip, not any road trip mind you, but one on a Segway with a top speed of 10mph, across USA from Seattle to Boston, in 100 days. It's a crazy idea, but some times are meant to be wacky, and done once in your life so that when you look back at it, you can automatically reflect on the good (or bad) times that the unique experience had given you.

This documentary was a direct result of the trip - where Josh would be the one riding the Segway from beginning to end, while Hunter would be filming the experience. Help came too in the form of Alon Waisman the intern, and Week's sister Gannon who assisted in the logistics. And with all road trip movies, the gem here is really the interaction with a cross section of American society, where the team had to really rely on people's charity in order for their shoestring budget to last. This form of interaction captured on film, is an eye opener indeed, but something I suppose any road trip movie ought to be able to capture. And strange karma enabled these budding documentarians to meet up and participate in a Michael Moore convention too.

As with any project, there are the usual bickerings and problems encountered, though I felt that they had restrained themselves in telling more, in order to maintain the privacy and probably goodwill with one of the stakeholders who backed out. However, they had more than enough goodwill generated from their exploits during the journey, and you can tell from the response that people were thrilled that there are still some crazy youngsters out there actively pursuing their dreams no matter how crazy they sound like, and looks of admiration towards the team too, for getting out there, out of their comfort zones. It's a steady effort for a first film, providing some insights into little seen parts of America.

I mentioned that I had watched this documentary for free, and you can too! You can refer to my earlier posting on how to do just that, and best of all, each time you register for an account to download the movie, US$1 (I know it's not a lot, but still) goes towards the filmmakers, who are in the midst of finishing up their new movie, also a documentary, which takes a look at the fantasy football culture. Should be interesting!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I Wanna Be You

The long title of 10 words strike you initially, and besides having a mouthful of a title, the duration too is at a whopping 160 minutes, of which I can humbly suggest to trim it down to a more manageable 120 minutes.

Based on the novel by Ron Hansen, the narrated parts which provided much of the needed background on Jesse Jame coupled with key timelines, were somehow more enjoyable than the rest of the movie itself. For some reason, the voiceover, repetitive (like a one-trick pony, though beautifully haunting) score and soft visual focus provided it with some form of documentary styled legitimacy, only to be hampered by the more clunky delivery on some of the more dramatic aspects. This is not to say that the actors were below par in their fleshing of the characters, but you can sense a deep attempt in trying to emulate styles like Terence Mallick's, in crafting a movie which lingered with still visuals, silence, with unquestionably wonderful cinematography.

Our notion of Jesse James is probably one of an outlaw of the wild west who's quick on the draw as well as being a notorious robber/killer molded into the Robin Hood reputation. There are plenty of different interpretations of Jesse James, but none comes so interesting or as intense as Brad Pitt's. Through his confident swagger and suspicious demeanour, here's a man who precedes his reputation, who is clear as crystal in knowing what's he doing, and what the risks are, but nonetheless human prone to err after all.

However, the film's focus was presumably put more on Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), the wide eyed recruit who joins Jesse's gang, and that became a dream come true as it presents an opportunity to work with his idol. And his idolization becomes a strange obsession, as he draws physical parallels between Jesse and himself, that makes even Jesse himself edgy and uncomfortable, even questioning at one point if Robert just wants to be like him, or be him. Hence sparks the crazed suspicion and like the adage says, it's better to keep friends close, and your enemies closer.

I thought Sam Rockwell stole the show from both Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt in his portrayal of Charley Ford, which reminds me of a Chinese adage of pretending to be a pig to eat the tiger. His Charley is clearly no simpleton, but his depiction of being one probably led to his being able to survive for a long while, when Jesse slowly dispatches the others. But what took the cake, was his spot on impersonation of not only Brad Pitt, but of Pitt's portrayal of Jesse James as well, in a scene so short, but nonetheless quite pivotal leading to the final moments of the movie.

There are a few points you must note about the movie. I felt that the full house audience didn't really know what to expect, thinking that it's Pitt on screen, and his presence actually drew in the crowds. And while everyone's waiting for the title incident to happen, they discovered that they're waiting too long. Bear in mind the film runs more than 2.5 hours, and you have to be incredibly patient to get there. I felt a little sorry for the masses who walked out, especially those who did so just before the turn of events, and thereon the pace actually quickened, though covering nothing more than what you can read from encyclopedias under 5 minutes.

Those expecting big shoot-em-outs and action sequences like 3:10 to Yuma will also be disappointed, as the action here is never stylized, just presented as a matter of fact for cowboys in that era. Gun fights, if you can call them that, are so extremely ordinary, you'll find yourself more amazed by the intricate weapon design, and the plenty of gunpowder used which explains the plumes of smoke, coupled with the primitive, unsophisticated basic revolver that affects accuracy.

Instead, what this movie is, is a well crafted and very measured piece of drama that tells the tale of a legendary outlaw, and his heinous betrayal.

Gone Baby Gone

So Where Do You Want To Go Today Babe?

While Ben Affleck has gotten a number of flak for his acting ability or lack thereof, there is no denying that his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone deserves the accolades bestowed upon this work, as he directs younger brother Casey in a tale about the seedier side of private investigation, but stripped of noir elements and immersed totally in the wheeling and dealings with plenty of grey.

Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play the couple Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro who owns a private investigations agency dealing with missing people. Theirs is a small outfit, but they're the go-to persons when you need a second opinion aside from the official investigations by the authorities, the ones who can speak to those in the underbelly of society, whose denizens for obvious reasons refuse to speak to cops. They get called upon one day when the relatives of missing child Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien) sought their help to augment police investigations, and as far as statistics go, entering the investigations at this point in time is like entering a fight with one hand tied behind your back, and reluctantly, they decide to first explore their options and study the background, before taking the case on.

It's a fantastic interplay between Patrick and Angie starting off with the latter's fears that results may come in the form of finding the body violated, or in some dumpster. You can't deny that try as you might to emotionally distance yourself from the crime, the fact that it involves innocent children will still somehow grow on you. Worse, the single mom Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) is a drug junkie, which of course presented an additional angle with regards to parental responsibility, and more often than not, you'll find yourself disgusted with her white trash antics.

While the movie coasts along quite ordinarily in presenting both case facts and narrative development as the investigations wore on, what cemented Gone Baby Gone into greatness, is its final 20 minutes. Adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard based on the Dennis Lehane novel, it's filled with incredible melancholy, and ends on a somewhat emotionally sad note with great personal sacrifice. I can't recall a crime thriller of late that gripped you with the finale, especially when many pretenders tried hard, but failed miserably. There's an excellent debate between doing what's right, and what's necessary by the book, although the yardstick of measure definitely differs from person to person. Sometimes, you're stuck in similar catch-22 situations, that it be damned if you do or don't. Depending on your values and principles, you might be called upon to undergo deep questioning of oneself about turning the blind eye and walking away, but unfairly given the constraint of time working against you.

I haven't seen much of Casey Affleck's work except for his short appearances sharing the screen with the bigger names in the Ocean's 11 franchise. I thought that Gone Baby Gone allowed him to shine through and convince that he can be a leading man, though not necessary single name marquee yet. Michelle Monaghan however continues with her supporting female roles playing love interests and such, and I guess it might take a while before she's able to break out of the stereotype. Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris lend gravitas to Affleck's movie, and show that they can still chew scenes despite their limited screen time.

Gone Baby Gone has surpassed expectations, and comes highly recommended from me. You might be surprised at the developments at the halfway mark, and might think there's an error in the runtime, but trust me, that's just where the fun begins and the movie picking up from strength to strength.

Lucky 7 Website Goes Live!

Last year, Hong Kong had its exquisite corpse feature in Triangle, with collaboration amongst Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To. This year, Singapore has its own such feature with Lucky 7, the brainchild of Sun Koh, who with 6 other local filmmakers - in order of occupying the director's chair - K Rajagopal, Boo Junfeng, Brian Gothong Tan, Chew Tze Chuan, Ho Tzu Nyen, Tania Sng - bring us a movie which has genres ranging from a family musical drama to surrealism to transgender drama to psycho-sexual-mock-thriller-gone-bonkers to an indescribable genre to documentary to feel-good movie.

Sounds like a mouthful there, but I guess that's what appeals! Starring lead actor Sunny Pang (Perth), the movie will make its world debut at this year's Rotterdam International Film Festival, before returning to home soil to compete in this year's Singapore International Film Festival in April.

Click to the Official Website for more details, with the usual cast and crew biographies, stills and a production blog.


Behind a Scene

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rambo / Rambo 4 (Singapore Title)

The Force for Freedom

This is yet another Sylvester Stallone comeback movie, which in fact was conceived before the return of Rocky Balboa. On one hand, I find it kind of sorry that Sly had to dust off old cobwebs and revive his iconic heroes from the past, reliving his glory days. On the other, it made for an interesting situation to see if the characters of his can withstand the test of time. With Rocky Balboa, he went back to basics and was in part quite reminiscent of the original Rocky. And Rambo 4 no doubt had been drastically updated for today's audience.

In the original First Blood movie, John Rambo did what he did for himself. The prey to some sadistic law enforcers, he turned the tables and became the hunter. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, he single-handedly erased the horrors of the Vietnam war, and became a flag waving hero who sneaked back to the arena to stamp US supremacy. With Rambo III, he carries on some dubious US Cold War foreign policy in engaging the Russians head on, fighting alongside the mujahedeens to save his long time colonel friend. Well, we know what happened thereafter, don't we? And so, out of guilt (of course I'm speculating big time here) John Rambo becomes a hermit at the border between Thailand and Myanmar/Burma, catching snakes for snake shows. A waste of talent you say?

Yes, and given today's hotspot and international attention on Myanmar/Burma, that's where the theatre of war is set. In fact, the very first scene was footage from the very recent crackdown by the military junta, which tells you that the movie is very in tune with what's happening around the world, just like what Rambo III did. This time, Christian missionaries demand and convinced our tragic hero to bring them to the troubled country in order to assist the displaced. And with missionaries who decide not to heed warnings and place their trust in God, it's not before long that they run into trouble.

And it's a no holds barred caricature-like depiction of the represented military junta as blood lusting, cock-sucking pedophiles, whom nobody knows what the heck they're talking about, and whose pastime is the game Padi-field Race, laden with mines for additional kick of course. THey're faceless, mindless, with a single agenda to rape, plunder and pillage villages to sustain their decadent lifestyle. And when they pick on the Americans, you know they're in for some retribution, eye for an eye style, becoming simple fodder for our hero to mow down without remorse.

This is Rambo Generation 2. It's nothing like the earlier movies in its depiction of violence. Here, the full house audience I was with were shocked and awed into silence with the stark depiction of decapitated bodies, flying limbs, exploding heads and the likes, depending on what the weapon of choice is. It's very in your face, and if you watch this in a theatre hall with a proper sound system set up, you're in for some major vibes as the bass blows you many times over.

There isn't really a powerful story behind the violence (or subtly, the abhorring of it), as events get played out in quite ordinary fashion akin to many movies with (para)military search and extraction missions. Characters have little depth, but that's not what any audience is in for. It's the action, and for his age, Stallone plays it smart by not making Rambo a one-may army no longer, but assisted by bickering soldiers of fortune, and mujahedeen-styled rebels again. The set action pieces are only a handful, and those who relish watching Rambo in action will have to savour the few moments that he has in dispatching the opposition. I thought Rambo totally short changed everyone by standing behind an armour-plated machine gun. Like I mentioned, we're only provided glimpses of the gung-ho guerrilla tactics employed (more of that mean looking bow-and-arrow of choice from First Blood II), and a lot more of the generic firing off rounds incessantly. But there are still some cartoony elements retained, such as the Claymore having the destructive powers of a mini-nuke.

In short, Rambo 4 should work for fans, new found fans or the just-curious alike, and especially those who miss the nostalgic 80s where action heroes were a dime a dozen, but none quite as iconic as the man with the red headband who's a one-man war machine, whether he likes it or not.


Watch Your Hands!

So now we know why the young must be protected from vulgarities and from sexual scenes, because with vivid imagination, they could probably be quick to jump to conclusions, being unable to grasp and fully understand the situation at hand, nor the gravity of their actions, especially when they're shooting from the hip.

Initially, I thought I would be able to watch Atonement if I had managed to make my way to Tokyo for its International Film Festival last October. But I didn't, and I waited, and waited, and when I finally managed to watch it this evening, I felt that it didn't work for me, no matter how much I can identify with the longing to be with someone, and being unable to. It contained themes I very much like, but perhaps I'm beginning to get tired of it, since they are somewhat negative emotions that do take their toil over a period of time.

Set in the 30s England just before the outbreak of WWII, we get introduced to the rather aristocratic Tallis family, where we witness the budding start of a romance between Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robbie (James McAvoy), with the help of flimsy, wet lingerie to bridge the divide separating their swearing of true feelings for each other. However, to sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, who clinched an Oscar Nomination), she starts to see a different side of it, made worse by a misunderstanding and in actuality, a mistake Robbie made when he handed over a letter written with tongue in cheek and brain in the gutter (yep, you can say men think about sex most of the time).

And that one single day had everything a loving couple could have wished for - the discovery and declaration of love, the passionate love making, but only for everything to come crashing to a halt when Robbie gets accused for a crime he did not commit. And you can feel the disappointment and anger of course, at the accusation because it was somewhat steeped in presumptions of class or the lack thereof, and the hypocrisy, coupled with seething rage as we the audience, with knowledge of hindsight (and the benefit of just knowing), can tell that it's so utterly wrong, with obvious clues of course to who the perpetrator might be.

While we love to see the lovebirds coming together, the movie's more about the time they spend apart. And that unfortunately somehow sagged the movie to low depths, as we see them spend their screen time independently, with McAvoy brooding over his life now in disarray as he volunteers for war to escape from the confines of a prison cell, and Knightley unfortunately becoming relegated to a support role, which you can hardly feel her character, her pain, and her love for the man now so far away. It is hardly any wonder why both actors missed out on Oscar nominations (not that it mattered), because their roles hardly challenged what these 2 actors could have delivered. The scene stealer turned out to be child actress Saoirse Ronan, who is the cause of the turn of events, though the mantle of her character get passed to Ramola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave.

What made Atonement work though was the technical side of it. The score was excellent and director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, also starring Keira Knightley) made sure it gelled so well with the visuals, that it becomes an extension to what's on screen. You can't deny that art direction and cinematography were superb. Editing was non-conventional, but never confusing, offering you both what is perceived truth, and hindsight knowledge, just as how Briony would have experienced it. But what's missing, for a romance at least, and the danger of having every technical aspect delivered so clinically, was the absence of an emotional resonance, because without it, a romance movie can be pretty empty, and soulless, going through the motions without attempting to allow you to crawl under their skins to empathize with them and their sorry plight.

I had looked forward to Atonement with so much anticipation, that I guess when I've finally seen it, my expectation got deflated so bad that it turned out to be anti-climatic for me, even with an ending that should have wowed and kept one thinking and discussing about the unfortunate futility of one's actions, set in stone, setting the wheel in motion, and being unable ever to be turning it back.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Butterfly on a Wheel / Shattered

Oei, This is PG!

King Leonidas having a go with Edie Stall? The perfect married couple living with all the trappings of a successful corporate job, their lives turn topsy turvy as they get threatened and blackmailed into becoming puppets for a rogue James Bond. As they play Simon Says, the hidden agenda behind each character get slowly peeled away and this more than meets the eye twist and turn managed to elevate this from a mediocre thriller to something decent. I felt the ending was somewhat let down though, as you would have probably seen it coming, and hoped that it had not.

Again, yet another victim of not knowing where to stop, thinking that multiple endings are hip. Nonetheless, still a decent film that keeps you guessing and identifying all the red herrings as soon as they show up. Nothing really fancy, but it serves as a wake up call not to mess around with people, especially when they have jealous spouses who have no qualms in exacting calculated revenge that seeks to destroy everything you stand for.

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


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)


I can't imagine myself being stuck and trapped in my own body, where it becomes a prison cell. Unable to move about freely having lost all my psycho-motor skills, with muscles refusing to obey my mental will, and being robbed of all ability to communicate, save for the movement of an eye and an eyelid. You want to scream and tell everyone of the pain you're suffering from, and you yearn to respond normally to questions and interact plainly with people. You try, but you just can't.

That was the world of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Based on a true story of a man inflicted with such a rare cerebrovascular disease, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is his book, dictated alphabet by alphabet, about his life and his monumental ordeal, burdened on a man at the top of his career, being the editor of fashion magazine Elle, and seemed to be living up the good life. In a stroke, the life he was knew is no more, and all that's left is his left eye, his imagination to bring him out of his imprisonment, and memories, good and bad, from which to reflect upon. The easy way out is of course giving up hope and professing his wish to die, but with the help of a committed team of hospital staff, he managed to find some meaning and soldier on in this strange, second half of a life.

In some ways, the encouragement of subject matter experts do help, in trying to reach out from within oneself, and pull one out of depression, despair and hopelessness. And he's lucky too with the team of Henrietta (Marie-Josee Croze), his speech therapist who devised an innovative though tedious way for him to communicate his thoughts, Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner) his physiotherapist in helping to get him move, no matter how minute such movements were, and the patience of Claude (Anne Consigny) who is probably given the most monotonous of all responsibilities, tasked to patiently take dictation, alphabetically, to help Jean-Dominique Bauby complete his autobiography. Through such interactions, even though he feels akin to being in a diving bell (hence the title) bringing him deeper into the depths of the ocean in solitude, each individual find their niche area in which to connect with Jean-Dominique, and in doing so, find new friendship, and companionship even.

What strikes you at first is the cinematography adopted for the movie. It opens quite blurry, in an out of focus fashion, with a couple of fades to black. Then you slowly realize that you're watching events unfold through a pair of eyes, as your view is restricted to what's straight ahead, and the angle as provided by a rotating eyeball. I would say it's very well done, as it goes for as realistic a look as possible, even deliberately blurring things in the field of vision that the brain is not focusing on, which reminds me of what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did for the replaying of memories. This eye for detail (pardon the pun) serves the movie very well as it puts us in the driving seat of being in the character, coupled with hearing his thoughts, which at times are witty and comedic, in order to keep oneself sane (as with the leering of and lingering on the female chest area).

But before you cry foul at yet another shaky-cam movie, director Julian Schnabel doesn't fall into the temptation of presenting the entire movie in this fashion. There are periodic third person and the more conventional storytelling methods adopted as well to bring you out of Jean-Dominque's mind and consciousness, which could be quite depressing I suspect for an audience if dwelled upon for too long. Emotionally, it's a deeply moving film, as the story inevitably allows you to feel some empathy for Jean-Dominique, and more so when we witness the helplessness of friends and family in trying to come to grips with what had happened. I guess one of the hardest fact to accept is that while you know he's listening to you, communication comes with a barrier in the form of a proxy, and such indirect methods on one hand is unsatisfying, but on the other, you just have no choice at all.

Actor Mathieu Amalric has to be applauded for the wonderfully restraint acting. He can't move most of his muscle groups even if he wanted to, not when the camera is on him. If there's an award for actors who can act through one eye, then this performance must be it. You feel his pain, sorry, happiness, fear, entire human emotions all coming through being an inevitable cyclops, as he struggles and finds untold inner strength. The frankness of his monologues, employed to tell us about his thoughts and desires, make for an all rounded character, not wanting to artificially present just the good parts, or bad. The rest of the supporting cast helped made this movie pretty engaging, no doubt the key female characters in Jean-Dominique's life being quite the eye candy themselves.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly well deserves the accolades bestowed upon it, and it is likely to do well in the upcoming Oscars too. This is one highly recommended that you cannot afford to miss as it makes its premiere on the local screens. A must watch, most definitely, put this amongst the top of your list in this crowded January week!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ah Long Pte Ltd Website Goes Live!

First Singapore movie to go off the blocks in 2008 is Jack Neo’s Ah Long Pte Ltd, though the film seems to have taken a major leaf out of Korea’s My Wife is a Gangster series, of course done with local flavour. Starring Fann Wong and Mark Lee, the official website is now online, and contains the usual works - the synopsis, cast and crew bios, plenty of movie stills and an embedded trailer.

A 3-way box office war is looming, with this movie up against Stephen Chow’s CJ7 and the Jay Chou vehicle Kungfu Dunk, all vying for top spot in the Lunar New Year holiday weekend starting 7 Feb 08. So will it be gangsters, aliens or basketballers?

Click here to check it out!

The House (Baan Phii Sing)

Shaky Cam

I smell crap from afar, coming from The House.

110 minutes is a relatively long time for a movie, so it better contains a good story. Sadly, The House decides to dwell 10 minutes along a corridor, or 5 minutes inside a car, or 3 minutes in a toilet... you get the drift. Unnecessarily bloated with too much blandness in the overall product, it still relied on cheap cliches to scare audiences. While the makeup and effects are fairly decent, the loopholes and less than mediocre storyline really made this movie a stinker you should avoid with a 10 mile pole.

To read my review of The House at, click on the logo below:


Monday, January 21, 2008

Mr. Average (Comme Tout Le Monde)

Average Booster

Mr Average is quite unlike The Truman Show. In the latter, Jim Carrey's titular character is bred and born for the role as the reality television star who lives a lie, and that product placement is but part and parcel to insert advertisements for the long running show. In Mr Average, it has quite a lot to say about polls and opinions, and boiled down into becoming a predictable romantic tale.

And the way the romantic tale gets played out seemed quite like that in Knocked Up, where a femme fetale type falls in love with the unlikeliest of guys. Too good to be true of course, and most of the time happening in movieland. Jalil (Khalid Maadour) is the latest sensation in a television game show "Your Choice is Right", and having attracted incredible ratings, he becomes the "It" boy, and finds himself in a new apartment bought on the cheap, just in time to furnish it with his winnings from the game. And as lady luck would have it, along comes va-va-voom Claire (a very beautiful Caroline Dhavernas, who reminds me of Claire Forlani) whom he meets on the set of the show, and before you can say "rigged", he falls hard for the one girl who's the planted mole by the marketing agency, subtly (to us in the audience at least) pushing products for his one liner opinions.

The film explores the power of opinions, how dominant ones tend to influence those on the fringes to swing votes in their favour. Martketeers would probably pay obscene amounts of money in order to harness opinions the way it does in the movie, especially when one man's sentiment echoes the choice of the masses. Why waste time conducting surveys of thousands to get the average consensus, when you can monitor and put on surveillance one man, and work on the choices he makes, without him knowing of course, lest the outcome is influenced and becomes skewed.

And the possibilities and combination of data that can be mined are incredible. You can have choices made for products ranging from the style to colour, and more importantly, what works and what doesn't, what could be hot and what could be lacklustre. Naturally the scenario here, a man who's consistently correct and represents the opinions of the masses, is too good to be true and highly unlikely given probability, but one can just imagine the potential that can be harnessed from such an individual.

But a movie that deals with the science and fiction of such coincidence doesn't make it quite interesting does it, and may jolly well run out of steam. So there's where the romantic angle comes into play, providing food for thought about relationships in general, that one has to be based on the foundations of trust, without which the negativeness of suspicion will come in and ruin everything. I thought this aspect of it was solely on the shoulders of the Claire character, where we see how she struggles with being undercover, and yet experiencing the difficulty of distancing herself emotionally from a man she starts to slowly fall in love with. Mr Average, in being average, certainly does have his share of moments, and the last act clearly demonstrates his harnessing of his abilities to milk his potential for his own personal gain.

Mr Average doesn't start off strongly in establishing its characters and premise. In fact, it begins quite poorly and sets out to almost confuse unknowingly with its myriad of movement and wacky game show antics, coupled with some snazzy special effect that doesn't really cue you in, until some time into the movie where you can piece things together, or you'd have to rely on The Truman Show to provide some possible background knowledge on what could currently develop from that point on.

If I had to sum it up succinctly, Mr Average tried hard enough to transcend its title, but ultimately what came across is like it's title indeed. An average romantic comedy movie.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Death is the Road to Awe

The Fountain had made it amongst my top movies of year 2007, and while there are many elements of the movie which appealed, like the story and the leads of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, what brought the movie to an entirely different and untouchable dimension, is the out of this world (pardon the pun) musical score by Clint Mansell, who also worked with writer-director Darren Arofnosky on his Requiem for a Dream.

If trailers start cannibalizing bits and pieces of a score, then you'll probably know that it has something that appeals. So far, I've counted 2 which had used a few bars off this track, and that's The Mist and I Am Legend. I'd bet there would be more to come, soon enough.

The clip above is fan-made, splicing together visuals from the movie and laid out against "Death is the Road to Awe" from the soundtrack. You can go ahead and watch some of the stunning visuals, unless you do not want to be spoilt in any way, but bear in mind you'll probably won't be able to figure out much of the narrative since it's re-edited for this almost 9 minute track.

What works too, is if you close your eyes and listen to the score itself. I'd like to think that the movie will not be as powerful if it wasn't for Clint Mansell's score. Portions I dig - 3:10-4:44 (including those bits of the dialogue that fit so nicely), 5:02-6:28, 6:40-7:30. Wah, want to tear already.

I would have gotten the DVD of the movie if it included a lot more extras, but currently for those who have bought it, head on down to Darren Aronofsky's site to download the commentary piece he did, which of course for some corporate reason, was not included in the DVD itself. I'm holding back for a more proper release, probably by then, in the next generation DVD format. You can read my review of the movie here.

[DVD] Dhoom:2 (2006)

Lethal Weapons

When I first watched Dhoom on DVD last year, while it seemed to have borrowed a number of pointers from various contemporary Hollywood action movies, I still thought that it was a lot of fun, specially with the incredible song and dance sequences that come de facto with any Bollywood production. I had missed Dhoom:2 when it was released in the cinemas here because I had not watched the original, so had to settle for the DVD now.

While we know what had happened to John Abraham's character at the end of Dhoom:2, Hrithik Roshan takes over the villainous responsibility as Mr A, a mysterious robber who targets high valued items around the world, and his next caper will bring him back to Mumbai. He's like Val Kilmer's The Saint, a master of disguise, with nobody having seen his mug, let alone come close to capturing him, and at one point he dons a mask that brought back memories of his time behind something similar in Krrish. And being a technological wizard helps loads too in executing some of his heists.

Abhishek Bachchan returns as the incredible sulk ACP Jai Dixit, who has junked his specs for contacts. He's still married to his wife Sweety (Rimi Sen) who's now expecting, and therefore reduced to an even smaller role than the first Dhoom. Uday Chopra's Ali the mechanic is now Ali the cop, sidekick of Jai and still the clown providing much of the comedy in this action movie, especially with his fantasy sequences with transferred cop ACP Sonali Bose played by Bipasha Basu, who plays two roles here with the other being the bimbotic twin Monali Bose in Rio De Janeiro, which in fact seemed to have been a wasted role given her introduction as the touch cop in the first half. Besides Bipasha, Aishwarya Rai rounds up the cast as Sunehri the cat burglar who only turns up from the hour mark, and seeks to convince Mr A to take her on as his protege. And if you're watched her in Bride and Prejudice, you'll be amazed at how she toned herself into this slinky character.

As an action movie, Dhoom:2 boasts some outrageous and incredible stunts with bigger sets and larger ambition, though some of the less choreographed high-tech sequences looked terribly done, like the fisticuffs between Jai and Mr A, bordering on it being too staged and unbelievable. Other than that, the heists scenes were pretty well done, and those who have a thing for heights will realize that there are a number of death-defying leaps which I believe when seen on the big screen, will bring a lump to your throat.

Being big stars, you can't but help forgive that how Dhoom:2 played out was one huge cop out. It's a classic cops and robbers chase story as the primary tale, with subplots thrown in containing themes of betrayal and trust. There was also suggestion of a love triangle (or a dare of sorts turning incredibly close to being come true) between Jai and Sonali, as well as romance budding between Mr A and Sunehri. In fact, when the movie was released, there was much talk about the kiss between Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. As you know, lip locking is akin to cardinal sin in Bollywood movies, and they did the deed, although I am not too aware of the rationale behind their pushing of the envelope. Nonetheless the backlash came, which resulted in the scene being snipped from the theatrical release, but of course, left intact on the DVD.

Dhoom:2 plays out like your typical big budgeted blockbuster that Hollywood often churns out, so don't watch this expecting something very cerebral, but if you're up for some light hearted entertainment with some great song and dance sequences, then this is one movie you probably won't go wrong with on a lazy weekend afternoon.

The region free 2 DVD discs by Yash Raj Films Home Entertainment contains the feature film on disc 1 and the special features on disc 2. The movie is presented in widescreen anamorphic format and the transfer is pristine. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Hindi, or Dolby Stereo 2.0 in Hindi, Tamil or Telugu. However, the audio seemed a bit erratic, at certain points it tends to dip in audibility before being restored again. For those who don't speak Hindi, subtitles are available in English, Arabic, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Kannada and Malayalam. Scene selection is available over 20 chapters, and for those who can't get enough of the songs, there's a Songs section where you can selectively pick those particular scenes you want to watch again - Dhoom Again (i), Touch Me, Crazy Kiya Re, My Name is Ali, Dil Laga Na, and Dhoom Again (ii). If you like them all, there's a play all option too.

Disc Two is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio. I had expected a lot more features in this disc, but it only provides very brief details, and not even a making-of. Master of Disguise collects various clips of Hrithik Roshan sitting on the make up chair having the various prosthetics put on. Only Aishwarya Rai joins him for one of the disguises. No dialogue, and it runs 5:40.

Storyboard to Screen highlights the various action sequences - Desert, Backwater, City Chase, Fort and Climax - and showcases some of the storyboards designed for those scenes. You can't select them individually though, nor have control over watching the storyboards or the actual footage. It all gets lumped together in a feature which lasts 8:34.

D:2 Fashion Special (7:31) has every major cast member talking about the clothes that were designed for the character, while the Deleted Scenes (4:04) come without subtitles, and contains only 2 scenes which you cannot select individually - Arrival at the Airport, and Jai and Ali Sit For Dinner. Music Videos, while it looks like a repetition of the feature available in the previous disc, contains Dhoom Again (5:42), which combines both the clips in Disc 1, and has the second part without the end credits rolling, and the other song is the Remix (3:04) of Crazy Kiya Re, which speeds up the tempo and contains some scenes from the movie, versus the original rendition with just Aishwarya Rai performing.

Finally, there's a Theatrical Trailor (sic) (2:05), and the various TV Promos (3:34), which again plays them all back to back, without any controls to select them individually. Promo 1 contains a trimmed trailer, Promo 2 is Crazy Kiya Re by Aishwarya Rai, Promo 3 is Dhoom Again, Promo 4 is Dil Laga Na, and Promo 5 is Go Dhoom which is a series of mini ads for exclusive mobile downloads.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

27 Dresses

I'm Too Sexy for this Dress!

Katherine Heigl probably captured the imagination of the many geeky boys out there when she gave Seth Logan's Ben Stone a one night stand in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up. It's a ridiculous premise some might add, but it propelled her to mass consciousness as the beautiful girl who would, and provided her an elevation of status she would recently decide to loathe. Anyway, all is forgiven, and she's back to grace our screens in a role that demonstrates you can attempt to dress her up in a sack, and even that would still make her look oh-so-sexy.

Yes she's a clotheshorse, and Aline Brosh McKenna, whose earlier work was adapting The Devil Wears Prada for the screen, wrote a story filled with clothes and accessories that would do her no wrong, try as they might. This in fact is the draw of the movie, hitting out at the target audience just as Prada did with the many fashionable clothes, and this time, wedding gowns fit for a bridesmaid. Heigl plays a plain Jane, who discovers that her goal in life is to ensure that others celebrate their unforgettable wedding day with everything going like clockwork. She's the maid of honour, and organizes everything from early preparation like food tasting right down to actual day menial tasks, like holding the bride's gown while she's taking a pee.

Like the trailer suggests, her perfect world is about to turn topsy turvy as the man of her dreams, her boss actually - George (Edward Burns), get smittened with her sexy-kitten sister Tess (Malin Akerman), thus allowing the green eyed monster to rear its ugly head, while at the same time, a mysterious lurker Kevin (James Marsden) becomes a perpetual irritation by trying very hard to crawl into her life. It's your classic recipe for a romantic comedy with love triangles, repressed feelings, and the most cliche of all, having the one you love standing right in front of you without you even knowing it.

However, 27 Dresses played out like how the dresses themselves get quickly discarded into an overflowing cupboard. It has tons of potential in its material, but decide to bite off too much more than it can possibly chew. Like In Her Shoes, there was stuff of sibling rivalry ripe for the picking, but easily get glossed over in fleeting, unmemorable moments when the sisters go up against each other. And the love loss moments, while clearly there to milk emotions of the sentimental ones, did highlight a certain truth - that when we act on our impulses of negativeness, be it anger or envy and the likes, while we get our short term satisfaction when dishing out sweet revenge at that moment, more often than not we'll very soon find that we're flooded with feelings of regret and remorse, that actions when done, are spilt milk that cannot be cried over.

I liked the beginning though, as it succinctly highlights the commercialization of the solemn marriage ceremony in modern times. These days, you can't tell one wedding moment apart from another, and don't get me started on those wedding dinners, where the same old formula gets repeated until they become stale, and you realize this starkness when you get invited to different weddings at the same venue, no doubt being packaged by the same offering. Such events are supposed to be unique and special, but they turn out like factory assembly lines.

In my opinion, Katherine Heigl would probably be able to cement her leading lady status, and probably able to marquee movies on her own soon enough. Perhaps it would be refreshing if we could see her take on more diverse roles, if she breaks out of the rom-com genre. James Marsden continues his bad run of supporting roles, from Hairspray and Enchanted. Here, he combines elements from both, continuing his himbo status, and makes it three in a row in exhibiting his singing voice. Edward Burns plays the male bitch, taking over Meryl Streep in Prada, though there's a subtlety in the difference here that he doesn't show that he's an ass outwardly in an explicit manner, but rather seemed to be like the one in Singapore Dreaming. And Heigl is not only the one here making an impact though, as Malin Akerman herself probably, and hopefully not in a permanent manner, boxed herself as the new ditzy blonde (remember The Heartbreak Kid?), clearly taking over the mantle from Cameron Diaz.

27 Dresses is a movie that's meant to be a filler during a date, and one which doesn't shy away from trying hard to satisfy those who have come to pay tribute to woman's fashion. Especially when they're modelled by a statuesque beauty like Heigl. Come to think of it, while the gowns get their fair share of screen time, all 27 of them, the ones that stand out are the ordinary ones worn by Jane. And that's what 27 Dresses actually is. Ordinary, and saved by the beauty.


Fresh Meat

The plight of innocent victims of human trafficking for sex has moved filmmakers enough to make movies addressing the issue. The last two in recent memory that I've watch are Your Name is Justine, and Lilya-4ever, both which put the spotlight specifically on the characters created, highlighting the abuse they receive and exposing some of the tricks that the conmen exploit in order to target and thereafter control their prey. Given that the viewpoint of the entire unfortunate ordeal from the perspective of the victims have been portrayed, and is easy and turning the same wheel if done again, Trade takes on a more macroscopic look, while still maintaining a finger in a more personalized tale, in order to ramp up the human drama and emotions.

While the other two movies mentioned take place primarily in Europe, Trade highlights a more international network involved in the supply chain, where increasing amounts of money get exchanged for women and children to feed the demand by perverts and paedophiles. While having its premise for the demand set in USA, it goes to show that the unfortunate victims come from all over the world, and suggests the use of Mexico as the proxy to get into the USA illegally, no doubt with the help of corrupted authorities. From then on, it's an established hush-hush protocol of transfers and transactions that take place in the most unlikely of places, and naturally technology comes to play in anonymous bidding on the internet.

Primarily, this story is a race against time, following a young Mexican boy, Jorge (Cesar Raoms), in his chase to rescue his sister Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) as she gets abducted randomly off the streets - being a young child, she is set to obtain record prices should she be auctioned off to be deflowered. While Adriana gets to enter USA through already established methods by the syndicate, Jorge has to rely on his street smarts, and unwittingly gets hooked up with US cop Ray Sheridan, played by Kevin Kline, who assists in Jorge's quest under moral circumstances rather than deporting Jorge straightaway for being a stray.

Like a buddy cop movie, Trade also looks at the unlikely partnership between street delinquent and tough nose cop with the heart of gold, as they try and penetrate the system, while leaving room for some clash of cultures and slightly comedic instances. The unfortunate circumstance of the victims are again getting a shiner in order to be subdued, and of course the weapon of choice, rape. And the movie results in you silently cursing the worst for those involved in the trade, and never sympathizing an iota with them when they receive their dues.

Technical wise, someone should tell the filmmakers that password fields are always asterisk, never in clear text, even the dumbest website programmer won't make that mistake. One of my other peeves here was the decision not to mount the camera on a tripod. While it's not the extreme kind of shaky cam like Cloverfield's, it did bring on some queasiness given the very minor movements, all of the time. I don't see the need for this, and wondered if it's because it might look cool and edgy with the fast cuts and all that the tripod was junked, wrongly.

Based on a New York Times Magazine article published on 25 Jan 2004 written by Peter Landesman, Trade offers to strike a balance between painting a picture of sympathy for the victims and disgust for the perpetrators. Unlike the other movies which has come before, Trade managed to spin a somewhat refreshing look at the worldwide sex slavery problem.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Flock

The New X-Files Team

Hong Kong directors crossing over to Hollywood to make movies is nothing new, with the temporary exodus of the likes of Tsui Hark, John Woo, Ringo Lam in the 90s. From their collective output, only a few movies (or may I say just one?) made an impact at the box office. The Andrew Lau and Alan Mak partnership has been a tour de force in recent HK cinematic history, especially with their now famous Infernal Affairs trilogy which was remade into Martin Scorsese's The Departed, so it's no surprise when Hollywood comes knocking on the door.

But without fellow collaborator Mak, who usually has script/story duties, how did Lau fare with writers Hans Bauer and Craig Mitchell? It's like the X-Files without the X, in the way the story is crafted, the characters and the parallels drawn with the Chris Carter series. Richard Gere and Claire Danes pair up ala David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, only that they don't belong to any federal investigative agency who bear arms, but are employees of Protective Services, who's chief role is to ensure that sexual predators who belong to their jurisdiction, are kept safe from society when they are released from having served time. Hence they are the shepherds tending to their flock, only that their flock suffer from sick sexual perversion with the propensity for violence.

The parallels in characterization are so blatantly obvious, that it's just a cosmetic touch up on the outside. Like Fox Mulder, Gere's Erroll Babbage is a strange, lonely man, consumed by his obsession in his quest to doggedly harass his flock to tote the line. Pained by a failed attempt to rescue a missing child, just like how Mulder pines for his missing sister, Babbage is shunned by colleagues and given the marching orders disguised as a retirement plan. He has deep disgust for the people he's monitoring, sick of their crimes and what they stand for, that he has no qualms in using unorthodox methods, short of flying off the handle while dishing out illegal, preemptive punishment. At the same time, he too has strong urges that he has to fight against, in order not to cross the line into becoming like those he loathes. As part of routine, he also scans newspapers and tabloids for clues and leads toward his objective, that of seeking closure, salvation for himself, and possessing a strong belief that the truth is still out there, and he wants to believe.

Danes' Allison Lowry on the other hand, is the ingenue brought in to replace Babbage. But in the meantime while learning the ropes on the job for the next 18 days, she is required to spy on him, and to report his shenanigans, pretty much like what Dana Scully was tasked to do with Fox Mulder. As the disbeliever of pre-emptiveness and holding onto the notion that those discharged back to society have been cured of their temptations, she slowly starts to see what Babbage sees, and understands that it takes a whole lot more than being just a desk and administrative job if she truly wants to help people.

And it is this discovery of the world of fetishes and deviant sexual practices, that we open all our eyes to, much like how 8mm starring Nicolas Cage brought snuff films into the spotlight. It's a decent investigative drama with the usual red herrings, and my, are they really good ones as it made you wonder quite often if your guesses are correct, and you soon find yourself firing from the hip as you get proved incorrect at alarming frequency, though I don't credit this to a tight narrative, but more from the sprawling number of characters (watch out for Avril Lavigne's cameo) and sub plots. The scene in the darkened ware/shophouse was akin to Se7en's David Mills and William Somerset when they raided John Doe's apartment and find plenty of bizarreness inside, though here, given the subject nature, it wasn't lingered upon much.

Apparently, The Flock somehow decided that Enrique Chediak's cinematography was good enough, despite its very strange style of having no style, utilizing almost every trick in the book to try and recreate feelings of watching another Se7en, only that this was deeply steeped in tinges of brown, rather than the doom and gloom of black. It does take a little while to get used to this, and I put this effect as one which actually distracts from what is happening in the story. Not a really good move though, with somewhat frequent repetition of scenes involving flashbacks.

But The Flock still makes decent entertainment, though X-philes out there would probably find it hard not to picture their favourite actors in the lead roles, given so much similarities in character. Gere and Danes do put forth some chemistry as the old fogey (heh) and his protege, and while it's not exactly great, Andrew Lau did manage to pull off something enjoyable.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Look at the Size of its Package!


You'd be expecting to hear a lot of that, but not to fret, the rest of this review is spoiler free, guaranteed! So we've weathered a six month wait since the teaser trailer premiered with Michael Bay's Transformers (and draws some parallels, more on that later), and set the net buzzing with its many viral marketing sites appearing online, some red herrings, some dangling treats for those who can't wait to guess just what the movie will be titled (well, just Cloverfield), and speculate on how the creature, if it was one, would look like.

In recent history, Hollywood had tried this stunt before. Remember the Godzilla of 1998? Audiences were teased with a tail here, a roar there, and the filmmakers pretty much had the monster kept under tight wraps. Until it opened, and because it failed to live up to its hype, and didn't meet everyone's expectations of how the good old Japanese lizard would look like and behave, it tanked at the box office. Now, Cloverfield adopted similar strategies in having us hear a roar, and to witness its destructive powers, without a visual clue of what it looked like. Did it deliver?

Strangely enough, in my opinion, yes. Don't get me wrong, as I was leaning toward, and close to committing the cardinal sin of loathing a movie prior to experiencing it for myself first hand. I was apprehensive about watching something that perpetually couldn't keep still, and yet its technique adopted in presenting the movie worked perfectly. Like Blair Witch Project, we witness a series of events as unfolded through the lens of a handheld consumer camera. In doing so, we forgo watching the movie from a third person perspective, and get plunged head on to first person instead. In this age of reality television, exclusive news scoops, youtube voyeurism, this shakycam technique works in putting us there where the action is, watching things unfold, raw.

Imagine, just if, a big unknown were to happen. You push and probe, and frankly, get scared, wondering what to do next, worry about your loved ones, and probably would just follow the masses. Cloverfield took a simple, tried and tested story about a monster invasion in the scale of Godzilla's, and played with us - what if we were caught in the same situation with the monster pounding everything in sight - what would we do? We take pictures for our blogs. Then run. It puts the focus on the microscopic behaviour and story of a select group of humans you see running away frantically in all those monster/disaster movies, the ones your eyes barely notice as you're transfixed to the larger than life sized creatures doing what they do best.

I would put my neck out even to say that there is no grounds of comparison between Cloverfield, and one of my recent monster movie favourite The Host, simply because it's like comparing apples and oranges. The latter decided to show all very early in the movie, and had a strong focus and emphasis on the family of characters. Here, we don't feel much for the yuppies, we somehow become one of them, the videocam being our eyes and ears. And the creature, while we don't see it in full glory clearly, makes it all the more menacing. It plays on actual fear - we catch a glimpse, then quickly run away - and I thought it made the 1998 Godzilla look like a pussy with so much unexplained, that this uncertainty breeds and grows within you.

But of course there will be some quick to dismiss this along the lines similar to those who dislike Transformers on the grounds that there isn't enough screentime for what mattered to them - "we're here to see robots/monsters, so give us the robots/monsters!" As mentioned, there are nice moments where we sneak a peek at the rampaging creature, but there will be those whose appetite remain insatiate. Bear in mind though the point here is to experience what it would be like if you're stuck in a similar situation yourself (wonder why this wasn't available in IMAX format), rather than watching in God mode, the narrative unfold in extended Starship Troopers style. And similar to Transformers, Odette Yustman is your new Megan Fox, except that she goes back to being the classic damsel.

Cloverfield, if it makes enough money at the box office, leaves plenty of room with multiple doors wide open to possibilities of spin offs, prequels, sequels, and probably even a television series, animated or live action, or through any other visual medium. You can essentially repeat the same premise, but from different points of view - trust me, there are enough - and can probably build an entire community of creative work just around this one simple flint to sustain a campfire.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

To All Aspiring Short Film Makers in Singapore...

Yet another public service announcement from yours truly...

Storyboard ’08 is an initiative to educate, entertain and excite young Singaporeans in film appreciation and creation. A collaborative effort between *scape and students of the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, Storyboard is slated to roll out from the 15th to the 23rd of February 2008.

Fables, the Short Film Competition organised as part of Storyboard ’08, is now open for entries! Send in your works today (existing works welcome) based on the theme of Singaporean Identity (pictures of which can be viewed for interpretation at the website) and stand to win cash prizes and Canon Camcorders!

On top of that, the top 20 films will be showcased at *scape Youth Centre until 23 Feb 2008 – and the top 3 films stand a chance to be aired on National TV and at Storyboard’s inaugural outdoor movie screenings, StoryNights, before an audience of about 3000 that includes key media industry players.

For more information on registration and entries, please visit the website at

Cloverfield Monster Revealed!

OK folks, the moment you've been waiting for. After getting sloshed by the tons of viral marketing material, and spending so many man hours scrutinizing every pixel in the many versions of the trailer, this is it!

As you can see, it emerged from the water, so it's gonna be fish-like, with twin tail-fins to swim the vast oceans. And it takes a stroll down Manhattan, so it requires legs. Those hands are the ones guilty of ripping off Ms Liberty's head and tossing it inland. Those eyes so big they are for gawking at puny humans, and the tongue, well, that's just my personal creative input.

But given the Blair Witch Style cinematography, this is what you're likely to see all the time:

I know, don't need to thank me! All those movie watching amounts to some fine tuning of the deduction radar! You saw it here first!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Mist

Cover Your Mouths Y'all!

With a title like The Mist, you probably won't be faulted if the first thing in your mind is that it's one of those run of the mill horror movies, like The Fog and The Haze (ok, so I made the last one up, it's actually a recently made short film competing in Berlin). And the trailers do suggest strange shenanigans happening inside a mist shrouded town, so in the hands of any mediocre storyteller, it's so easy to make them go Boo. Based on the novella by Stephen King, The Mist turned out to be unexpectedly excellent, with audiences whooping for joy both at the right and wrong places.

Granted, sometimes Stephen King's materials do make uninteresting movies when adapted incorrectly and helmed dubiously, but Frank Darabont has proven himself with his previous King works like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both good movies in their own right, with excellent casting. Here, a cast of mostly unknowns carry the movie, and the direction doesn't rely on gimmicky tricks to frighten you, but in its measured, calm and at times standard by-the-book style, it brings heightened tension every step of the way.

Thomas Jane, whose last movie I saw was The Punisher, stars as David Drayton, a comic artist whose house was smashed in one night by a tree during a bad storm. The next morning, he leaves his wife, and bringing his child and neighbour, they journey to the local supermarket to get supplies for home repairs, but not before realizing the army whizzing away at top speed. The pace picks up and within 10 minutes, the shoppers in the supermarket find themselves locked in as a mist descends upon them, with a frantic man running back to warn everyone that there's something within the mist.

If we're talking about a cliche story, you'll probably get wave after wave of attacks on the shoppers inside the supermarket, as they barricade themselves in for a fight for survival. However, all that turn out to be secondary, as the story becomes clear that it's not about it being a horror movie, but a social mouthpiece about a couple of topics, all of which centres upon fear, and holding a mirror unto ourselves. We are afraid of the unknown, and chances are it will lead us to make irrational decisions, sometimes firing from the hip. The movie will constantly probe you into questioning how you would respond to the given situation, whether you'll break under pressure, or be able to maintain a sane mind in formulating survival plans.

And in the unknown, there would bound to be a Bible-thumper. Truth be told, I thought that the character Mrs Carmody (sounds like "comedy", played by Marcia Gay Harden) will be one that the censors here might be touchy with, given how she was portrayed in extremely negative light. In times like these where there's a huge question mark hanging over you, there will be those who turn to religion for answers, and sometimes they may drift into the fanatical zone on the words of false prophets. Then I realize that this of course could be left as a warning against extremism, that it doesn't, most of the time, solve problems, but create them, and in the false name of god, makes it easier to do so too, in persuading others to join in the lost cause.

Naturally, the preservation of self also takes centerstage, and does so very early, almost from the start - how we think of others having ulterior motives against ourselves, and just how much would we contribute for the greater good, or toward fellow friends and acquaintances. And this rams itself in with a key ironic scene, that sometimes, on positive karma, you may be rewarded for the good things you've done for others. There was a tinge of sadness, pity and sense of woe in the ending, and I enjoyed every minute of it, even though you may have guessed how it would turn out to be. As a friend put it, neither of us expected Frank Darabont/Stephen King to have the brass balls they had to pull it off, but it just had to be to evoke those emotions, making it all the more powerful, and wretched, at the same time.

Despite it being devoid of a soundtrack until the final moments, I thought it was highly effective in not having one, letting ambient noise play a primary role. It allowed all our senses to be focused on how things were developing during the movie, without having music to emotionally manipulate our thought process and opinions. There are moments that you had to judge, without being biased by any particular soundtrack playing over the background. But fret not, interspersed nicely between scenes of questioning, are the scenes of the usual action-adventure that you'll come to enjoy, often times squealing together with the characters (and depending on the audience, them too) as the unfortunate faceless/characterless few start to succumb to the out of the world creatures.

We've waited for a long time for The Mist to descend upon our shores, and now that it finally did (almost, at a GV Surprise Screening), it didn't disappoint a bit, but surpassed all expectations. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 14, 2008

[DVD] Dragon Inn (Xin Long Men Ke Zhan) (1992)

DVD Sleeve

The revival of the martial arts genre in the 1990s saw many movies spring out, some good, some entertaining, and some quite boring. Unfortunately, this remake of the King Hu movie in 1966 turned out to be the latter. There seemed to be a certain appealing factor missing, despite it's A-list cast of Brigitte Lin, Donny Yen, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, and loads of martial arts sequences. While it's not directed by Tsui Hark, who only produced it, there certainly are plenty of hints that he probably got his fingers all over this one.

As the story goes, set in the Ming Dynasty, the eunuchs are growing in power, and one of them, Tsao Siu Yan (Donnie Yen) takes control over the Eastern Chamber, and founded his own militia, the Black Arrow Troops. The introduction had us witness the prowess of this gang with their mean and thorny design of their arrows, and the almost magical way that it can turn around corners to hunt its prey. It set out Tsao as the one with the biggest, erm, attitude, ordering the murder of political rivals such as military secretary Yang, and in true Chinese fashion, giving the order to wipe out his entire lineage.

In comes our heroes Chow Wai-on (Tony Leung) and Yau Mo-yan (Brigitte Lin) who save the children and try to smuggle them to safety at the frontier. However, the long journey sees them stopping at the titular Dragon Inn in the middle of a desert, run by sultry innkeeper Jade (Maggie Cheung) who forms a rivalry with Yau for Chow's affections. It's only at the inn that things start to pick up, but I thought it seemed more like an extended everybody-get-together scene where our heroes congregate with their enemies at the lobby of the inn, each not wanting to commit in making the first move to eradicate the other. One looking for a means to escape, while the other group stalling them until the main troops can arrive. At times, they exhibit a battle of wits, something like scene in Swordsman where each group tried to get a leg up on the other.

In the movie, I thought Maggie Cheung had a field day with her character, and steals the thunder from Brigitte Lin. Her Jade flip flops from side to side, depending on who's giving her current advantage, and with her shifting loyalties, you just didn't know who's side she's on, when you realize that she's actually acting on her own interests in preserving the way of her life - conning lecherous folks, killing them for money and then removing the evidence by serving their bodies as meat buns. Tony Leung's Chow is somewhat similar to Chow Yun-Fat's Li Mu Bai, except that here his martial arts skills aren't that really great, and has to rely on cunning and charm to save his troupe.

The two weakest characters here belong to Donnie Yen, whom we don't really see much of except for the finale fight, but the most disappointing one was Brigitte's role as Yau, which is somewhat an uninteresting character in being there just to act as a proxy, and love interest, contrary to the notion that she might be a very skilled swordswoman, given her top billing on the poster / DVD sleeve. I guess after seeing her as Invincible Asia in Swordsman II, anything less would seem like a disaster.

Nonetheless, for martial arts genre fans who love it for the swordsplay and kungfu, then you can count on the action choreography of Chng Siu-Tung and Yuen Tak to deliver the goods. While it's usually more of the same type of choreography (creative clanging of swords), there's a single scene at the climatic battle that on one hand drew laughter (of the serves you right kind), and on the other, just make you marvel at the audacity of it all, as you almost definitely won't see it coming, nor develop in such a manner, and when it does, just puts a smile on your face.

Having not seen the original version by King Hu, I am interested now to see how his vision contrasted with the more standard fare that we're used to from Hong Kong, especially from Tsui Hark. Don't keep your hopes up too high when you're watching this version, and for Brigitte Lin fans, I think another round of Swordsman II might be more satisfying.

The region free by Tai Seng Video Marketing is presented in letterbox format, and the visual transfer is only average, as if transferred directly from a VHS source. Audio is available in either Cantonese, Mandarin or the English language, with subtitles available in English only. An 18 chapter scene selection is available for you to zoom into a particular sequence. An audio commentary is available and provided by Ric Meyers (which the DVD sleeve has listed as a Hong Kong Film Expert). He provided quite an interesting insight as to how the characters each represent different aspects in the run up to the Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, and how Tsui Hark usually infuses these aspects into characters in his movies, together with political metaphors. He provides general information on Hong Kong movies, and would make interesting listening to for anyone new to Hong Kong cinema.

While this is the extended director's cut, the extras are quite lacking, with only trailers and filmographies available. Trailers are provided for Dragon Inn Hong Kong Trailer (3:14) and the US trailer (1:33). Others include Running Out of Time (1:37), Armageddon (1:38) and The Duel (0:57), the earlier two all redubbed in English. In the Filmographies section for Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Tony Leung, the text is presented scrolling upwards, and thankfully you can press the pause button to read everything on screen, before letting it all scroll away. Nothing much except to give you a very brief introduction to the actors and their body of work, strictly for those who have no idea who they are.

Screen Shots at ACM - It Must Be Love: Stories From Yasmin, the Storyteller

Fans of Yasmin Ahmad, come Feb 22-23 next month, Asian Civilizations Museum will be screening a retrospect of her movies Mukhsin, Sepet and Gubra in that order, which is chronologically correct in the loose Orked trilogy, without Rabun unfortunately.

Our beloved director will be present for a dialogue session after Gubra, so those in Singapore have no excuses not turning up! For non-fans (or fans to be), this will be an excellent opportunity for you to catch her movies on the big screen!

You got to hurry though as the hall accommodates 150 persons. Tickets are still available, so fasterly get yours!!

The details as follow:

SCREEN SHOTS presents...
It Must Be Love: Stories from Yasmin, the Storyteller
22 Feb 2008 - 23 Feb 2008
Friday & Saturday | @ Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, Singapore
Registration and Ticketing Details here:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

Damn Stylo

It's been a long wait for the remake of 3:10 to Yuma to finally reach our cinemas. In fact, the Code 1 DVD is already out, and I thought it was probably missed opportunity if there are interested folks out there who decide to get the DVD instead of catching it on the big screen. I do not understand why the need for the delay, contrary to the belief that it is a Western movie which might be an unpopular genre to go into, and of course, I can only recall a handful which made it to cinemas here in recent times - Dances with Wolves, Unforgiven, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp - the last 2 being movies about the legendary lawman and the shootout at OK Corral.

Some 50 years ago, audiences were introduced to the duo of impoverished rancher Dan Evans (then played by Van Heflin) and the number one outlaw of the land, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford). As the story goes, Evans has to feed a family and the poor harvest and weather aren't doing him any favours. As Wade gets captured, volunteers are immediately called for to escort him to the town of Contention, to put him onboard the 3:10 train to Yuma jail, hence the title. Two powerful actors have now taken over the mantle of the 2 rivals, namely Russell Crowe (who's having a comeback of sorts to our screens with the recently released American Gangster), and Christian Bale in respective roles. And unlike American Gangster which had again 2 high profile actors sharing top billing, Bale and Crowe share a lot of screentime together, thus boosting the appeal of the remake.

Even for those who have seen the original movie, I am glad to say that on the whole, this version ranks far superior than the original version. The earlier version, being made half century ago, will definitely need a decent update for modern audiences, and that aspect did not disappoint, with more in-depth character development, and exciting shootouts. However, in my opinion, the ending of the original packed far more a punch that this one, given that the ending in the 2007 version is likely to be more in line with stories these days - the cynical, non-saccharine sweet ending.

If it followed the original closely, then most audiences would have found it trying as most of the movie took place in a hotel room where the duo are waiting for the awaited time to make a run for the train station. Here, director James Mangold and scribes Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas decided to boost the middle section with a detour to Apache land and encountering railroad builders (check out Luke Wilson!), presenting again more threats to the group escorting Ben Wade. Also, Ben Wade is presented in a more manacing manner, constantly probing the group and looking for opportunities to make his escape, rather than the rather subdued original which didn't exhibit any notion of danger. What I also found to be a leg up, was the swapping of importance between Evan's wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and his son William (Logan Lerman), which eliminated a rather awkward moment in the original where Alice paid Dan a visit whilst holed up in the hotel room. The structure and development otherwise remained about the same, and even some lines from the classic were reused in this remake, in particular in the first half of the movie.

Character wise, you can't get any more better than having Crowe and Bale flesh out their characters and giving both a sense of angst, who on a better day, could probably have been good friends. You follow them as the duo gain newfound respect for each other, and the longer running time provided ample chances for the audience to find reason to connect, and understand the characters at a deeper level. Ben Wade was given time to show that he isn't all bad, despite what he tells others and from what he had done to gain his notorious reputation, and in Dan Evans, he finds the kind of life that he yearns for - beautiful wife and family, with sons who look up to the dad - but will probably never get, unless you count the mercenary hoodlums as family (Ben Foster in a truly badass role). And from Evans, learning his true motivations for this suicidal job, could have made any grownup feel sorry, while he exhibits his admirable work ethics in the face of temptation, to just get the job done, to put food on the table for his family, and teaching his sons as well that it's not the size, calibre or speed of the gun that matters, but principles.

3:10 to Yuma deserves to be watched on the big screen, and given limited screenings and the crowding of movies this month, do make time for it. It's a perfect balance for those looking for mean gunfights, and powerful drama, and this remake delivers it all where it should matter - adopting the best bits in the original, and plugging the gaps when those portions falter. Highly recommended, even if you're not a fan of the Western genre!
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