Saturday, January 31, 2009

[DVD] Krrish (2006)

I'd dare say that this is perhaps the movie which prodded me into exploring contemporary Indian cinema a little more, and to date I can only admit I barely scratch the surface of it. Shot partly in Singapore, or at least when Hrithik Roshan dons the costume and becomes the superhero Krrish, it has a Bollywood actor attempting Kung-Fu and wirework long before Akshay Kumar went from Chandni Chowk to China to do the same.

Despite some of the sci-fi parts which were lifted from John Woo's Paycheck (down to the exact same set designs), Krrish is actually a sequel to director Rakesh Roshan's earlier film Kol Mil Gaya. And if production news are correct, we should be seeing Krrish 2 in production sometime soon. Meanwhile, you can read my review of Krrish the film over here.

The 2-discs collector's edition by Adlabs Home Entertainment comes with some gorgeously designed 3D menus. Disc 1 is presented in anamorphic widescreen format, with audio available in either Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 in its original Hindi language track. Subtitles are available in English, Arabic, Dutch, French, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Malay, Spanish, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Scene selection is available over 25 chapters, and the only extras here are the Songs section where you can head direct to either of these tracks: Chori Chori, Pyaar Ki Ek Kahani, Dil Na Diya, and Koi Tumba Nahin.

Disc 2 is presented in a 4x3 aspect ration, and is the Special Features disc. Unfortunately it doesn't come with subtitles, so unless you understand Hindi, you'll be left scratching your head trying to decipher what is being said, otherwise you'll only be enlightened when the speakers switch to English.

It starts with a 21 minute interview talk show Hrithik's Journey: Koi Mil Gaya To Krrish hosted by Maaninee Misshra, who chats with Hrithik on his roles in the original film, and in Krrish the sequel, and fortunately, Hrithik responds in English, where he recounts the development process of both characters, and his performing of his own stunts where he had actually met with an incident on set where one of the cables broke and miraculously managed to land on top of a canopy, which was erected because it was raining.

You don't get to see any footage on that though, even in the next feature Action Cuts (24:00) where the same incident was mentioned. This segment is presented mainly in English, which begins with an interview with Tony Ching who had summoned Hrithik Roshan to Hong Kong for 25 days of Wushu training to get him up to speed on martial arts. Hrithik is a fast learner, and the clips here shown from the training sessions backs that claim up, where he works relentlessly to get himself shaped for action, and become a convincing practitioner. The rest were some behind the scenes look at how the dances were choreographed and rehearsed before the cameras rolled, and I was laughing when they introduced the Singapore segment by a montage of "fine" notices (welcome to Singapore!).

Making of the Music (21:44) contained clips from the earlier film Koi Mil Gaya, and chats with the director Rakesh Roshan, the music director (and his brother) Rajesh Roshan, as well as Hrithik who spoke in English. Singer Shreya Ghoshal was also on hand to talk about her songs which get picturized on Priyanka Chopra, and this feature ended off with talking about the quality of the visuals used to match the song, from the mountains in India to the city skyline of Singapore.

The Red Carpet (21:34) feature has scenes at the red carpet at London and Dubai, where we get to see the reception of Krrish at these cities, complete with press conference clips, interviews with the fans and with the cast and director as well. Some behind the scenes clips showing the making of the film are also included in this feature. And Krrish related extras are rounded up by the Theatrical Trailor (sic) segment which has 2 trailers running a total of 1:42.

The rest of the features in this disc aren't related to the movie, such as the section Forthcoming (with a play all option, total of 5:45 without subs) which is a list of movie trailers for Anthony Kaun Hai, Woh Lamhe, Apna Sapna Money Money and Dil Apna Punjabi. Outnow (with a play all option, total of 4:24, and also without subs) also contains movie trailers, such as The Killer, which stars Irrfan Khan looks very curiously like Collateral, 36 China Town which I had watched on a flight some two years ago but failed to write about it, and Gangster. Wrapping things up are a Star Plus Showreel (4:25) to advertise the cable channel, and a featurette entitled Stop The Hatred (1:50), where prominent stars come and speak out against race/religious incited violence.


Trying Hard

Unfortunately I'm not much of a cricket fan, and whatever knowledge I have of the game, how it's played, the rules and regulations and such, is thanks to Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan starring Aamir Khan, a movie which had the game explained in layman terms to a group of villagers assembling a rag-tag team to challenge their oppressive British occupiers with tax breaks on the line. Victory however is a sports theme movie through and through, adopting the very standard formula (which was also applied to Fashion) where it's focused on the protagonist's meteoric rise to stardom, an equally hard downfall, and ultimate redemption.

Harman Baweja's debut in Bollywood hasn't been rosy with the box-office disaster Love Story 2050 (which I've yet to watch), which was an expensive special effects laden science fiction movie involving some time travel. And I thought to a certain extent, Victory doesn't buy him much favours too because his Vijay Shikhawat at his introduction, gets passed off as a very arrogant whiner. Arrogant because of his given talent of being the complete cricket player and a powerful batsman, but a whiner as he constantly complains to his friends and family of rued chances. Not because he's a fault though, but because he's a small town boy who got overlooked by scouting talent due to corruption and cronyism of the scouts.

But as luck would have it, the National Team goes to his hometown for practice sessions, and determined to get just one shot to impress (erm, he did whine first of course), he turns up and wows everyone with an impressive display against the Team India players, and with a professional match in which he shone in, becomes Team India's latest secret weapon against powerhouse countries like Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the likes.

Ajit Pal Mangat's story then follows the beaten path with plenty of films out there where the small town boy gets led astray and seduced by the bright lights in the big cities, affecting his play and sowing the seeds of his downfall naturally. Values like hard work, modesty and humility, no thanks to his money-making sports agent Andy Singh (Gulshan Grover) milking his new client for millions of dollars of endorsement, get exchanged for hard cash, fast women, and hard liquor, before what all sportsmen fear, a career-threatening injury coming their way. Not to mention the cardinal sin for single-handedly failing against an arch-rival team too.

While Goal! was the definitive movie on football, Victory tried to be the same for cricket and adopted the same technique of having real players feature in the film. And credit to the filmmakers here, they got getting players from the various countries involved to participate, and not just digitally adding the actors in it, but to have real and meaningful interaction, which I felt it triumphed over Goal! in this aspect. For fans of cricket, I'd bet this is something of a real treat.

However, the film's quite focused too on the father-son relationship between Vijay and his dad Ram (Anupam Kher), who had pinned his cricket hopes on his son, and finally witnessing him realize both their dreams, only to be disappointed when he had forgotten his roots, and his drive to be world class. There's an interesting parallel here involving the father figure here between Ram and Andy Singh, one who has brought up the boy to become the talent that he is, and the other who pushed the talent to fulfill his commercial potential and downfall. I felt that this portion was glossed over, and could have made an even greater emotional impact when Vijay realizes his grave mistake. Not to mention the resolution of this subplot too, which was deep in melodrama, vastly hurried and lacking that emotional punch when it came.

Romance was also glossed over, even though Amrita Rao's Nandini was there from the onset and we all know of her unspoken love for Vijay. Again the tried and tested was followed to a T, but love got severely reduced to just 1 song summarizing Vijay's realization of her unwavering support and their subsequent courtship, before junking love aside to focus wholeheartedly on the game at hand. I felt that this lack of emotional depth in the film especially between Vijay and his loved ones, somehow provided that disconnect the audience has for the protagonist.

Victory doesn't steer away from expectations of a sports movie, but had unrealized potential which was traded for the familiar. The games too get played out to expectations (and provided some comedic moments in the after-game newsreels), so they became rather textbook with little fancy maneuvers. Perhaps it wanted to play a little safer, but in doing so it became just another genre movie without breaking any new ground.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Are You The Right One?

Lighthouse Pictures, The Singapore distributor of Yasmin Ahmad's Muallaf is releasing the vampire film "LET THE RIGHT ONE IN" very soon.


Singapore Release Official Website

How to win?
1. Join this facebook group as a member. (a must!)

2. Email: with your name as in NRIC/ FaceBook, mobile phone number, NRIC number & most importantly, an email address for us to email you an invite should you win.

3. Answer this question: Where & When is "LET THE RIGHT ONE IN" opening in Singapore.

This is open to residents in The Republic of Singapore only.

You and your guest have to be 16 years old and above to join or attend the screening. ID will be checked at usher point.

Date of special press screening is Tuesday, 10 Feb 2009 at 7pm sharp!

Venue will be revealed to the winners only but it will be a Cathay Cineplex venue.

Invites are valid only on day/date/time/venue and cannot be exchanged for cash or kind.

Winners will be notified by email on Sunday 8 Feb 2009 before 9pm. Judge's decision is final.

So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wrestler

A Great Triumph

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. For one who lived his known life on the stage, or in this case, the ring, providing mass sporting entertainment to thousands live and through video re-runs, being at the pinnacle of his sport, rigged and staged or perhaps otherwise, nothing would be a fate more worse off, than to be fading into obscurity. For one so used to attention, love and accolades showered, to be cheered and encouraged, to be handing out high-fives, autographs and pose for photographs, it takes a lot to readjust life back to normalcy, if at all. Such is the fickleness of fame.

The Wrestler is deceptively simple, about one man's struggle to repair himself after every bout, who cannot connect back to the real world of disappointments. Being aged, injuries don't seem to shake off easily, and outside of the ring, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a nobody. His real life is in shambles, and he's still bumming around trying to heal and mend his life outside the fading limelight. His body is broken, with countless of scars, a busted ear and a weakened heart. Relationships are non-existent, and has to rely on spending money to buy time with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) to whom he pours his heart out to, and has affection for. Not only has he to heal his physical self, but on the emotional front he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).

It's about age and how cruel time can be to everyone of us. Old stuff fade away, new guys enter the scene, and life just goes on, whether you like it or not.

For those who think that they're watching WWE in The Wrestler, you cannot be more wrong on that count. It does though provide some glimpses on what goes on behind the scenes and flashing lightbulbs, song and spectacle, and for those not in the big leagues, the more independent circuit where fights are arranged and choreographed amongst the lower league players. The documentary-style cinematography adopted by Maryse Alberti also helped in pushing this aspect of the story telling, and at times blurred fact with fiction, thinking that Rourke was indeed and perhaps a real pro-wrestler whom we're tailing from behind. We do get to witness some interesting no-holds barred fights, as well as time being slowed down, and extreme closeups to reaffirm that these are professional entertainers (surely you don't think it's real, do you?) who have to look out for personal safety too.

But what Darren Aronofsky really packed it in, was some excellent dramatic moments for the characters. For starters, you sympathize and empathize with them. I was a wrestling fan in my teens. Was, because I outgrew it. For the curious, I belong to the Randy Savage to the Bret Hart era of WWF (back then when it was known as), having to see champions come and go, and a chord was struck, wondering if my ex-heroes had suffered the same fate as The Ram, having to try and survive hawking wares of their former glories, and reduced to nothing but a pale shadow of their glorious self. Not to say that Aronofsky doesn't have anything for wrestling fans or to artificially craft a sob-story. But instead of the cursory yeah, this is something I've seen before, he strikes right to your heart and makes all of us question how our once heroes would have faded.

Mickey Rourke owns this film, and has a better screen presence than his recent Marv role in Sin City, which was obscured by graphical bells and whistles. He chews up the scenery, and I can't think of any other actor who could pull this off more convincingly than Rourke. He plays The Ram with plenty of conviction and has pain, and fight, written all over his face. If Pulp Fiction was John Travolta's calling card to return to greatness, The Wrestler is Rourke's equivalent.

Marisa Tomei also did an excellent job as Pam Cassidy the stripper whom Randy shares an emotional attachment to. Similarly, her character parallels how age has been unkind to their respective professions. She's constantly struggling to get customers with competition from younger and hotter colleagues, and even when she does, unlike Randy who still gets adulation from appreciative fans, all she has is to suffer derogatory remarks, in order to make a living. If anything, Aronofsky does make you feel compassionate to these walking wounded characters, except probably for Evan Rachel Wood's Stephanie, who given the extremely limited screen time, wasn't given enough room for expression and got crowded out by the two veterans.

So now if you please, I'll go find out what had happened to my past heroes whom I had once spent my teenage years watching on the goggle box. The Wrestler opens 2009 here with a bang, and it's really highly recommended, especially for those unfamiliar with Darren Aronofsky's work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

[DVD] Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008)

Romance 1: You Ain't Heavy

The thing with Bollywood romances, you can bet your last dollar for the inclusion of picturesque landscapes where the lovers profess their emotions for each other, nevermind if most times they seem to be suddenly transported between locations and somethings across borders. In this one it had it all figured out, since the change in locales were worked into the story. Like a James Bond film, Bachna Ae Haseeno takes place in no less than 4 countries - Switzerland, India, Italy and Australia, and provides the perfect backdrop for a Casanova character romancing three lovely ladies only to discover the ills of his ways.

Ranbir Kapoor in his debut leading man role as Ranbir in Saawariya, didn't have the luck to snag the lady of his dreams, maybe because he was kind of a cad too, where karma had a part to return and haunt him. In his second feature film here, his Raj Sharma is again a cad, and credits himself being a "lady killer", able to woo any woman when he turns on his charms. We journey with him as he learns the true meaning of romance and love, and the first half of the movie before the intermission, gives the audience three situations over the course of 11 years where he toys with the emotions of different girls, broadly the sweet, sexy and sassy type, until of course, Karma catches up with him again for that all important lesson.

Girl 1: Sweet. 1996. Switzerland. In what would seem like a Before Sunrise storyline, Raj meets Mahi (Minissha Lamba) on board a Euro-train, and engineers his way to be able to spend time alone with his mark, on the pretext of sending her to Zurich to reunite with her family for their trip back to India. This episode sets the stage for Raj as the manipulative casanova, while Mahi is a very girly girl who harbours dreams of that perfect man, the perfect romantic encounter, and that perfect romance coming out just like her favourite movie. Only to discover that her puppy love, with sweet nothings and dedicated poems, resulted to naught when Raj's game is exposed. Broken Heart 1.

Romance 2: Goodbye

Girl 2: Sexy. 2002. Mumbai. Raj seemed to have moved on to another target, though it may seem from the onset he's already been domesticated by Radhika (Bipasha Basu from Dhoom 2), a hot model and aspiring actress who's his neighbour and they're living in together. Raj would have thought that a woman like her, stereotyped of course, would be easy and loose, living the fast life, and wouldn't want to be tied down to marriage because it will hamper her career. So when an opportunity to work in Sydney comes knocking and presents itself as a perfect moment to ditch her, to his surprise Radhika contemplates marriage, which he tries wholeheartedly to avoid. She's willing to sacrifice her career for him, but suffers the unthinkable in being left at the altar. Broken Heart 2.

Girl 3: Sassy. 2007. Sydney. It's actually quite a no-brainer to cast Deepika Padukone here given that she too, like Ranbir Kapoor, had 1 feature film under her belt, and are relatively successful newcomers to the industry (her first effort was in Om Shanti Om, and more recently, Chandni Chowk to China). And (ok Gossipy news ahead) this film actually was the catalyst for their much touted romance (and you can see the dynamics at work with some of the behind the scenes and interviews included in the 2nd disc). Anyway her role here as Gayatri, a business school student who works her way through school as a supermarket check out girl and a taxi driver, impresses Raj a lot, enough to romance her in Venice, and give up his gallivanting ways. Only of course for him to have met his match, and got spurned on his marriage proposal. She's a modern girl wanting to live life on her own terms, so being someone else's wife has never featured in her plans. What goes around finally comes around. Broken Heart 3. Raj's.

While the first half of the movie before the intermission was pretty plain sailing romantic stuff, the second half proved to be more powerful, because the protagonist finally has his eyes opened by his new experience, and realized he's been quite a bastard. So off he goes to make amends with the girls whose hearts he had broken, and mind you, in both real and reel life, this is never easy. Especially when you have to go back and face the women who had one point in time truly love you, and your actions had single handedly destroyed their belief in romance, and change or scar them for life.

Romance 3: Don't Leave

We get a lot more jet-setting as well, all worked into the plot, such as the visits to Amritsar, Capri and Rome, as we follow Raj on his mission impossible to seek redemption and forgiveness from a housewife with a protective husband, and another who's now a renowned model and not surprisingly, mega-bitch with success to her head. I had enjoyed this section more because trying his best to be honest now, Raj has to strip his ego and really crack his head to device his forgiveness plan. Also, we get to see the different demeanours that both Bipasha Basu and Minissha Lamba had to tackle given their characters' failed romance with Raj, which had changed them either for the better, or worse.

One of the gripes I have, would be the Gayatri arc. It does seem a tad bit convenient to have it all wrapped up quite effortlessly, and given how he had been punished by the previous two encounters, this one seemed rather tame, especially when it seemed a little too chauvinistic a view. While the other two girls had grown and matured in their life, I thought Gayatri actually took a leap back in her rather progressive and independent ways, but then again, this isn't meant to be a tragedy.

The songs here proved to be catchy and fitting to each of the sweet, sexy and sassy persona that the girls bring to the table, and the beautiful locales they were shot in again were draws. Other than the very first musical number Bachna Ae Haseeno which opens the film, you don't get to see everybody on the same scene together, as each storyline took place under mutually exclusive terms, in timeline as well as locations.

If there's something to take away from the film, then it's the lesson that Raj learns, with the past being over and there's no longer control over it, but we can rectify things for the future if we take action in the present. Call me a sentimental fool, but somehow this works on me.

The Region Free set by Yash Raj Films Home Entertainment comes in a 2-disc edition.

Disc 1 contains the film proper, and some Forthcoming Attractions auto play when the disc pops into the player, with trailers for Dostana and Roadside Romeo, in addition to some anti-piracy messages which was quite hilarious since there were clips from various movies used and voiceovers added to mouth the message. Hmm.

Visual transfer for Disc 1 is pristine and in the anamorphic widescreen format, with audio available in either Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1. Subtitles are available in English, Arabic, Tamil and Malayalam, and Scene Selection is available over 24 chapters. The only extras bundled here are the Songs with the play all function, for all 6 tracks featured in the movie - Bachna Ae Haseeno, Ahista Aahista, Khuda Jaane, Jogi Mahi, Lucky Boy and Small Town Girl.

Disc 2 is presented in a 4x3 letterbox format, and contains the same Forthcoming Attractions in Disc 1. Before proceeding any further, there are spoilers ahead in some of the features description, so here's the cursory warning before proceeding.

A standard feature of extra discs, The Making of the Film (23:36) contains the usual cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes look at the production, where problems get discussed, such as the near drowning of Ranbir Kapoor due to an overzealous Aussie extra. Curiously though, most of the content here focused on the making of the songs in the movie, which is also included in this disc.

The Making of the Songs demonstrate that it is never easy choreographing and filming these musical numbers, especially the more exotic the locations are, the more issues there will be to address, and we get to see some behind the scenes clips to 4 of the songs in the film, with interviews with the cast and crew members involved. Khuda Jaane (3:31) would be nice for those wanting a peek into the real life dynamics between Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, Lucky Boy (4:24) is a Bipasha Basu hot number to exploit her sexy persona, Aahista Aahista (4:15) had both Minissha Lamba and Ranbir battle the cold weather, and Bachna Ae Haseeno (4:34) the opening number that had featured all the principle cast and that special effects employed for the change of Ranbir's outfits, was actually a tribute remix of the song featured in the film Hum Kisise Kum Naheen.

Deleted Scenes (total 9:47) come without subtitles or explanations why they were left out, and doesn't have any subtitles. Included here are the scene descriptions of Raj and Sachin are Jumping like Excited Kids, Sachin Asks Raj which Car to Buy, and the longest scene here, which is actually the alternate ending titled Gayatri Finally Agrees to Marry Raj was thankfully left out not because it was less comedic, but because it was very one sided in the way the reconciliation took place, seemingly coming solely from Gayatri's perspective, but I guess had to take its unceremonious snip because of the "you complete me" cliche line which totally spoils it.

While the Bachna Ae Haseeno Music Video (3:21) is the same as that included in Disc 1, but without subtitles, I thought the Bachna Ae Haseeno Zoom Special (38:20) was the real value in this disc. It had Ranbir and the girls in a roundtable interview talk show where they talk about their characters, as well as plenty of personal anecdotes experienced on set, such as height differences settled with stools and sandbags, and the usage of hot water bottles to conquer the weather. Look out too for the "cat-fight" between all three girls! But nothing beats Bipasu being the live-wire here, ribbing Deepika and Ranbir all the time about their real-life romance.

There are a number of promotional clips included in the Theatrical Trailer & Promos section, which doesn't come with subtitles. While there's only one Theatrical Trailer (1:02) and one Dialogue Promo (1:00), the Ranbir and Deepika angle got played up a lot and have a total of 3 clips from their Khuda Jaane clip (1:00, 0:30, 0:30). Bipasha Basu had her hot number Lucky Boy included, while both Aahista Aahista and Bachna Ae Haseeno had two each, each lasting about 0:30.

The Photo Gallery gets split into Posters (5, autoplays over 24 seconds), Movie Stills (35, over 2:54) and Working Stills (also 35, over 2:54).

[DVD] Zoolander (2001)

Blue Steel

Ben Stiller has only directed a handful of movies, and his latest effort Tropic Thunder was probably one of the best comedies of last year. But his Derek Zoolander character still cracks me up even today, despite being made so long ago. I guess idiocy doesn't have an expiry date, and this features full DVD has plenty of those Zoolander-ish moments from the minute you pop it into the player.

You can read my review of the movie here.

Code 3 DVD by Alliance Entertainment is presented in anamorphic widescreen transfer, and audio available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or Dolby Surround 2.0. Subtitles are available in English or Chinese. Scene selection is available over 30 chapters. For a comedy, the animated menus here are really crazy, where you have Derek Zoolander do a hilarious walkthrough for the audience on the DVD menu options, which run through the submenus as well.

The Special Features are amazingly bloated in this one-disc edition. For those who can't get enough of Derek Zoolander and his clueless moments, then this is something you want to spend time ploughing through. First up, the Commentary by Ben Stiller and Writers Drake Sather & John Hamburg is something you'd want to listen to, as deleted scenes get revealed and explained, and a lot more on the creation of the characters get discussed. You'll appreciate just how many drafts and rewrites they have to go through in order to make this a laugh fest from start to end, and hear how seed ideas get taken away and developed into the final scenes. The trio are also quite unselfish in revealing which ideas and scenes are credited to, and clue you in on some of the hundreds of cameos in the film, such as Vince Vaughn and even James Marsden!

Everything else here gets presented in matted letterbox format with English subtitles only. The Deleted Scenes included (without play all function) are those that you've heard from the earlier commentary, and so made quite relevant to see and hear (with Stiller's commentary) why they were left out, either due to pacing, or from the negative reactions of test audiences. To activate these clips, you have to select them, then choose whether you want Stiller's commentary to be on/off, before you can proceed. Included in this section are Additional VH1 Interviews (0:26), Hansel and Winona (1:05) Ryder that is, the entire Moomba (4:40) sequence which was cut off. This was discussed in the commentary and contains a variation of the scene between Hansel and Winona, and a scene which I thought was frickin' hilarious actually, involving bouncers and queues and VIP rooms. Wrapping this section up are an Additional Mine Montage (1:07) and the Zoolander Center (0:22) with David Duchovny.

The Extended Scenes too doesn't come with a play all function, and included here are also stuff that were mentioned in the fillmmakers' commentary. The Opening Interview (1:45) is just a tad longer, which is based on the original and first Zoolander short film, followed by the much talked about Earth To (1:47) sequence which had to endure countless of reshoots and permutations just to get it right, only to have them totally reshot because test responses were largely negative. Matilda and Archie (1:45) was a mini-subplot on the latter's obsession with the former and contains 2 separate scenes here. Alternate Brainwash (2:04) was an entire sequence that had cheesy graphics meant to be placeholders for actual CG work, while Walk-off Elvis/Fosse (0:34) had to be removed because there was no music clearance.

A 6:33 long Outtakes had plenty on offer, but contains the usual flubbing of the lines. The VH1 Fashion Awards Skits is where it all started, as we can witness the birth of the character in 2 shorts here, first in 1996 (2:45) and then in 1997 (3:52), where Derek Zoolander spots a goatee and opens a University for male models. The Music Video "Start the Commotion" by The Wiseguys (2:45) is also included, as are standard Photo Galleries containing Derek's Portfolio (8 stills), Hansel's Portfolio (12 stills) and 19 Zoolander Production Stills.

Plenty of Promotional Spots for you to feast on Zoolander's stupidity as well, starting with the Public Service Announcements which run about 15 to 20 seconds each, which covers the topics of Racism, Dating, Globalization, World Hunger, Literacy and Education. MTV "Cribs" contains three thirty second clips of a visit to Derek Zoolander's home, complete with a home practice runway that has to be seen to be believed. And wrapping this section up are the Interstitials, which contains 30 second interviews with Ben Stiller / Derek Zoolander discussing fancy lingo, Will Smith and the Fonze, Matilda, Mugatu and Derek Messes Up.

Last but not least, there's the Alternate End Title Sequence (2:14) which I thought was more colourful with Will Ferrell being let loose to do this little jig while the end credits rolled. What's missing in this Code 3 version is an Easter Egg which the Code 1 version had included, which is where you can activate the Mugatu logo on the second page of the special features section in order to watch the rehearsal of the Walk-off scene with a Ben Stiller commentary.

Monday, January 26, 2009

[DVD] Breaking News (大事件 / Daai Si Gin) (2004)

I'm Nasty

I guess the holidays now give me some extra breathing space and time to raid my DVD library for many films yet unseen, and given my profound admiration of films coming out of Hong Kong's Milkyway Studios, such as the recent Sparrow or Mad Detective, that I would pull Breaking News out of my archives and give it a go too. Helmed by Johnnie To and written by Chan Hing-Ka and Yup Tin-Shing, like the other two films mentioned, this was also picked up by a European film festival (Cannes no less) and probably propelled To to cult like status in the West, with legions of fan (myself included) left almost always anticipating what's To has up his sleeves as his next offering.

True, interest in the Hong Kong crime genre might be waning, but To and his band of filmmakers from Milkyway have so far never disappointed in giving the genre some breath of fresh air with each offering put on the table. Here, they managed to put a little spin on a tale between the cops, felons and the media, where the latter can be used as a double edged sword, subject to manipulation to further the political gains of either parties. Exploitation doesn't come from just the cops, because even the villains have their fare share of independent ability to put out material, thanks to new media tools for video and picture hosting. In some ways, this is a little bit like Dog Day Afternoon or 15 Minutes, but given a different take from the Fragrant Harbour.

If anything, the opening scene is where the money shot is, and cement this film as a classic amongst To's filmography. It's an almost seven minute long continuous take where we get introduced to almost everyone, from the cops in question to the villains, organizing themselves to move out for their big heist, building tension when everything comes together for an all out showdown with the surveillance team hot at their heels. It's a shoot out from all fronts, and the camera captures it all in one sweeping motion, before we head toward the crowded open streets for more mayhem ala Heat, which culminates in a clip taken by the media when a beat cop surrenders in full view to the criminals, allowing them to escape instead of apprehending them.

With the criminals on the loose, a cop obsessed to take them down, the police's public image being tainted, and a commissioner adamant in repairing the force's reputation, Breaking News is an enjoyable thriller with fine balance between the dramatics as well as in the action department, where SDU and PTU units get deployed to flush out the bad guys in some claustrophobic inducing cramped quarters of a block of flats.

Richie Jen has this steely cool resolve as chief villain Yuen, who leads his boys from the Mainland in a game of survival, having their plans for a heist end prematurely, and finding themselves up against a hard nosed cop Cheung (played by Nick Cheung), despite being armed to the teeth. Nick Cheung is pretty charismatic here in his role despite being nothing more than an action hero, though if you would like to see him in more dramatic material, then the recent Beast Stalker would be the appropriate choice. Kelly Chen rounds up the leading trio as the opportunistic Commissioner Rebecca Fong, entrusted by the upper echelons with the responsibility to restore pride to the force in the eyes of the media and public, and she goes into overdrive with her single minded focus on just that.

Being a Milkyway film, some Johnnie To regulars also make their way here to lend gravitas even though in supporting roles. Simon Yam came on and suggested some romantic tangles with Chen's Fong, while Maggie Siu's cop from the PR department allowed for some measured and experienced handling both within the department, and with the media on the outside. Cheung Siu Fai was dished out a rather plain character though, more like a Yes-Man, while Yong You's character was more of a wildcard who provided the good guys an extra dimension to deal with. The affable Lam Suet's role as a dad caught between the crossfire, allowed for some interesting camaraderie forged during a hostage situation, and is now one of my favourite of his supporting roles in many of To's films.

For fans of the genre and of Johnnie To, this is one movie that should not be missed. It had plenty of elements which made it genre defining, and for those who enjoy the many films of his which come with some intelligence required on the part of the good guys when hunting down their enemies, then Breaking News firmly belongs in that territory. Highly recommended!

Code 3 DVD by Mega Star Video Distribution is presented in anamorphic widescreen format (comes with explanation too on what to expect) with audio available in either Cantonese Dolby Surround EX, DTS-ES or in Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Scene selection is available over 20 chapters.

Given it's a single disc edition, the Special Features are quite limited, and presented in matted letterbox format. A synopsis in the Story is text based and in English and Chinese, rehashing the entire synopsis which you can read off the back cover. A single Deleted Scene (2:16, in Mandarin only, with Chinese subs only) sees the felons in the movie get their heist job, and follows Nick Cheung's cop team tailing them for leads. The Behind The Scene is woefully short, clocking in at 3 minutes, which is a super summarized version of the making of, complete with off the cuff statements made by cast and crew, and a glimpse at the sets and equipment used during filming. The Theatrical Trailer (2:48) is also included, as with the More Attraction section containing trailers of The Eye 2 (2:37) and Xanda (1:44). Rounding up the special features are some English and Chinese text based listing of Cast & Credits, with a credit listing again seen on the back cover, as well as a Bio & Fillmo(graphy) writeup on director Johnnie To, and actors Richie Jen, Kelly Chen and Nick Cheung.

[DVD] First Love (初恋 / Hatsukoi) (2006)

Let's Do It

Based on the "autobiography" of Misuzu Nakahara, I won't deny that what intrigued me to picking up this DVD was its premise of having it set against Japan's single largest heist to date, where 300 million yen (back in the 60s) was stolen in broad daylight without a loss of life. I've always enjoyed heist movies, though First Love may not be a title that one will automatically associate with a crime. Robbery under audacious circumstances, and one that's based on an historical incident, what's there not to like?

Alas the film decided to mash too much into a movie, what with troubled, idle and idealistic teenagers thrown into the mix to bloat the running time, and a romance that just wasn't. This is no Bonnie and Clyde, and we see how a lonely teenager in search of belonging, get sucked into a group of riotous teens, only to have director Yukinari Hanawa decide to summarize their group dynamics for the aforementioned robbery because the teenagers are getting quite a handful to manage, especially when they do not have much personality to begin with, and have little to show for except to get into fights and having sex.

Aoi Miyazaki stars as Misuzu, the character supposedly based on the writer's real life, or so she claimed. Living with relatives, she soon finds herself gravitating toward a bunch of youths based at the B Jazz Bar, and in a strange initiation rite, gets accepted by the group, led by Ryo (played by Aoi Miyazaki's real life brother Masaru). However, she's still the loner and the quiet one within the gang, and is in contrast to the plenty of empty vessels who make a lot of noise in the group, seeking attention where it's not wanted, especially with the authorities who don't hesitate to use violence on any group of rioting teens.

After a series of slow, emo-inducing scenes where she plays observer, the pace starts to pick up when fellow loner Kishi (Keisuke Koide, of Cyborg, She) begins to put his plan into action. He's quite the patient fellow, in planning way ahead into the future, starting with hooking Misuzu up with an elderly man at a motorcycle shop, in order to teach her how to ride. After successful competency, he drops the bombshell, that she is to help him in his planned heist, and takes her on a recce. It's an extremely simple mission, so simple that it borders on the absurd, like taking candy from the hands of a toddler, without the need for brute force or sophisticated equipment.

It takes some 50 minutes to get to this point, before we get to see Murphy's Law get exacted, and then unfortunately Hanawa's shortcomings to have this wrapped up also got exposed. The film never knew just how to end, and again, plodded along its way to the finale which is quite lacklustre, before decided to stick to the tried and tested. I felt that some 30 minutes could have been shaved off its running time, and the focus put back into the relationship between Misuzu and Kishi.

Since the title both in Chinese and English suggested that hint of romance, that angle could have been explored to more depth. After all, having it all come crashing down with realization in the last 10 minutes doesn't quite cut in, and in so verbatim methods too. It's a bit like a cheat sheet, because all the while both Aoi Miyazaki and Keisuke Koide both played their friendship in very platonic terms. From the angle of the heist and why one would say yes, it wasn't because she was doing it for someone she liked, but rather to repay the attention and acknowledgement given to her, from someone who dished it out in loads. It's more of a lonely person afraid of being cast aside, that she decided to say yes to committing a crime. Not to mention too that she had pretty good cover to shield herself from the potentially massive investigations to follow.

Aftter the statutes of limitations was issued, there still wasn't anyone who owned up to the crime, and I guess Misuzu Nakaharra had capitalized on this to release her so-called autobiography claiming her involvement in the infamous crime. Naturally this incident has become stuff of dramas and movies such as First Love, but this one somehow fell a little bit short in not being able to fully craft itself from a more compelling story. Nothing fancy here, but it somehow worked to a certain degree.

Code 3 DVD by CN Entertainment Ltd is presented in anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original Japanese language track in Dolby Stereo 2.0. Scene selection is available over 12 chapters and comes with English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese subtitles. There is no extras included.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

[DVD] Kabul Express (2006)

Kabul Express had been in a number of local festivals here, as well as in the Asian Festival of First Films, and I rue the missed opportunities to have watched this on the big screen. I guess a DVD with extras would have to do, and my interest was initially piqued because it was one of the first films to have been shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Given that we dare not venture into what are currently hot spots in the world, film then serves as the next best thing to be able to see the city of Kabul captured on screen by the filmmakers, for the world at large.

Shot entirely in and around Kabul, Afghanistan, Kabul Express features plenty of lush scenery captured by the beautiful cinematography, and it helps that both the writer-director Kabir Khan, and his director of photography Anshuman Mahaley had been in and around the country a couple of times themselves, the former being a documentary filmmaker who had gone a handful of times, and this film summarizes his experiences in the country which he had distilled into his first feature length narrative film. Through their eyes we see worlds that we don't normally see, and they have a very mature and poignant story to tell, steering clear of the very obvious storylines of condemning outright the Taliban here, though not without reasons.

Kabir Khan had weaved humanity across all the characters he put into this film, and consciously had everyone from different nationalities and cultures come together in a melting pot known as the Kabul Express, an offroad jeep which is used to ferry them around on a road trip pretty much to satisfy the wishes of the one holding onto the rifle. I thought it was a fine decision to have the actors actually from the countries involved in order to add a little authenticity and to bring across some genuine deep rooted nuances and attitudes to their roles, especially when dealing with the theme of hatred.

John Abraham and Arshad Warsi play journalists from India Suhei and Jai respectively, who decided to boost their careers with getting themselves into Afghanistan to interview themselves some Taliban, who are now hunted by the Northern Alliance and the US troops, and are fighting for their lives. With the help of a local Afghan guide Khyber (Hanif Hum Ghum) and a chance meeting cum rescue mission of American photographer Jessica Beckham (Linda Arsenio), they come into contact with an escaping Pakistani Imran Khan Afridi (Salman Shahid), who had fought with the Taliban, and now with the help of an AK47, forces the group to bring him back to the Pakistan border.

Kabir Khan had crafted some very nicely done set pieces, be it action or drama, and definitely comedy which hit the right note most of the time, at all the right places. The funny bits do defuse plenty of tension which come inbuilt with the kind of rough wild west lawlessness and terrain that the characters find themselves in, where everyone's for themselves, and self-serving militant groups still around to rule over their self-imposed jurisdictions. And for this Kabir himself got into some flak for portraying the Hazara ethnic group in bad light. There's nothing in black and white, and everything is in grey territory here, such as the symbiotic relationship that Pakistan allegedly shares with the Taliban that gets explored here.

But I suppose road movies provide for perfect opportunities where misconceptions are cleared and prejudices get addressed, where fears of the unknown get dissipated once familiarity creeps in. The team in the jeep through time spent together, whether they like it or not, had forged an uneasy alliance and dependence on one another, and if not for their backgrounds, they could be friends, given their common ground for movies, song and love of cricket. Except for the American of course, who's more often portrayed as obnoxious, and doesn't think before she shoots off her mouth. I felt that was one scene where she could have told a white lie in order to ease a tense situation, but in doing what was deemed to be the right thing, had failed to see the obvious repercussions staring right at her face.

Blessed by a truly hypnotic score, Kabul Express enthralls, not by being a novelty of achieving firsts in many areas, but through a story which was delivered right by the multi-national cast, and the relevance and importance that we live in a world without strangers, where barriers could be broken down with communication and understanding. Definitely highly recommended in my books!

The Region Free DVD by Yash Raj Films Home Entertainment is presented in gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer, with audio available in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Stereo 2.0. Scene selection is available over 18 chapters, and there's a whopping 10 different subtitles available - English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam to appeal to a wide audience within the Indian continent too.

And the Special Features for this one-disc DVD is not scrimped on. The whopper here is The Making Of documentary which runs almost 45 minutes. Everything you needed to know about the making of this monumental film is contained within, in quite standard fare behind the scenes clips as well as interviews with cast and crew members. This is as interesting as the movie itself, and encapsulates all the danger that the crew faced when making the film which is still technically a war zone. While the film may have been quite serene, the amount of security employed is mind boggling, given the death threats they faced from the Taliban itself. And one nugget shared which was simply amazing, was that real ammo was used because they were everywhere. Watch this documentary to find out more, and it's definitely not to be missed if you've enjoyed the film.

There were 3 Music Videos made for the film, which thankfully didn't find their way to the film to disrupt the flow of the narrative. No subtitles are available unfortunately, so for non Hindi speaking audiences, you're on your own to figure out the meaning of Kabul Fiza (3:43), Banjar (2:09) and Keh Raha Mera Dil (3:25).

The Deleted Scenes (4:13 in total) were really raw footage not undergone post production yet, and they too come without subtitles available. Waiting for Mujahidin is mostly a conversational piece, and more an extended scene. Suhei Interviews Mosque's Priest seemed more like a comedic scene involving some lost in translation moments, where the priest had a lot to say which was extremely summarized, and the last scene was Looking for Shelter at Night.

MTV India's The Making of "Kabul Fiza" (8:10) is included to shed some light as to why the music video was shot in the first place, since it's nowhere to be found in the film. It's in English and has interviews with the director Kabir Khan, actors John Abraham, Arshad Warsi and songwriter Raghav Sachar. Wrapping up the extras are TV Promos (2:47) which is presented in 4x3 full screen format, and a Theatrical Trailor (sic) (2:56).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bride Wars

Here Come The Brides

Anne Hathaway rules the screens this month in Singapore, with three movies hitting the screens - Rachel Getting Married, Passengers, and now teaming up with Kate Hudson for my second wedding theme movie of the day, Bride Wars. Alas this film by director Gary Winick had the trailer to thank for in letting every cat out of the bag that there's little surprise left when the girls have a go at each other.

Liv (Hudson) and Emma (Hathaway) are best friends since young, where they were subconsciously programmed that they must be each other's maid of honour, as well as to have their weddings at New York's swanky The Plaza in June. Fast forward to today, and they are on the cusp of their engagements, which of course meant that they do get to finally turn their long held dreams into reality. From being girly about attending each other's events to engaging one of the finest wedding planners ever, Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen), little do they know a small administrative screw up will threaten their very friendship.

One wonders if girls can indeed be so petty over such little details. You see, the entire plot hinges on this very fine condition that the two girls hold onto, and that is to be each other's maid of honour. Which doesn't make sense because they can each have their wedding on the same day and at the same venue (different ballrooms of course), but because of their insistence to be present at their best friend's wedding, they fall out, insult each other, and declare war.

So only if you buy that wee bit of irrationality (OK, so some claim that the opposite sex can get unreasonable from time to time...) do you buy into the entire bickering, where they go one up against the other, sabotaging plans to be at their best come their wedding day. It also helps that the demeanour of the girls are on opposite sides of the spectrum, with Liv being the alpha-female go-getter who doesn't take no for an answer, and Emma the good natured sweetheart. Of course the series of back-biting do change their characters both for the worse and for the better. Best friends can become your worst enemies since they know every dirty little secret you had confided in them before, and can exploit your very weakness to gain an advantage, so one can find it easy to identify with the predicament of both sides.

Those who suffer will nonetheless be the common friends, who have to sit on the fence and not take sides. The trailer has spelt out the storyline and laid out the best jokes on the table, so unless you're really hard up for jokes that you know the punchline to, this may be just an average chick flick. Having it rated PG (instead of the original NC-16) also meant that some of the more coarse dialogue in Marion St. Claire's meeting with the girls, get chopped off quite abruptly.

The Wedding Game (大囍事 / Da Xi Shi)

Have a Whiff

This was a movie waiting to be made. Celebrity couples don't get any bigger than this pairing in Singapore, so exploiting the real for the reel was something quite expected, given after all the timing, with Christopher Lee and Fann Wong tying the knot sometime later this year. If audiences want a glimpse of what their big day would look like, the many costume changes in bridal gowns and suits here would provide for some teaser anticipation.

Like the other local movie offered this holiday season, this too is a Singapore-Malaysia co-production, with a cast from both sides of the Causeway and around the region too, together with Thai support in post production, and with Ekachai Uekrongtham at the helm. Gone are any arthouse pretensions, as this one is clearly and shamelessly commercial fare through and through, banking on the stardom of the couple, as well as interjecting the story with plenty of formulaic flavour played out to satisfy those looking for a family friendly film to bring the whole household to.

Real life moments did inevitably creep into the story played out purely for laughter, such as that infamous line Fann Wong made about rival Zoe Tay. Since Mediacorp had a hand in this film, spinning off a short reel from Return of the Condor Heroes can proceed without a hitch, where the two lovebirds reportedly met and fell in love in. It tried to provide some lift in its narrative especially when attempting to talk about celebrities having their lives led under constant scrutiny, be it their public persona under the spotlight, or what happens behind closed doors, with the paparazzi being exaggerated loads here. One wonders if their relatively fine performances (and obvious chemistry) stemmed from being exactly in the same shoes 24 x 7.

Otherwise, the story's as straightforward as it can get. Jack Fong (Christopher Lee) and Vikki Tse (Fann Wong) have their agents May (Alice Lau) and Tom (Chen Jian Zhou aka Hei Ren) to thank for in conceptualizing the PR stunt of the year. Obvious loggerheads with each other, the actors put on their finest performance (Lee seemed to have his character written such that he's strutting around shirtless a lot) in convincing the general public of their romance, all this while reaping in the benefits of endorsements to the tune of 6-figure sums. Well, at least that's what Vikki is in for, with the money used to bail her dad's business. As for Jack, his motivation wasn't fleshed out properly, other than to boost his popularity.

Much of the story in the first half had both Jack and Vikki put into various situations to reinforce their lie, and there were many situational gags that seem a throwback to Hollywood's What Happens In Vegas, where the protagonists had to move in with each other, to "enjoy" their new found status. What I particularly enjoyed were the moments involving the rather cliched use of mirrors to echo each character's innermost thoughts. Subplots here include the relationship each agent has with their client, and while things are less complicated for Tom since he's gay, the narrative did dwell a bit with May pining incessantly for Jack. But everything else went out the window when formula dictates that both Jack and Vikki will, through the passage of time, begin to fall for each other for real. There's little adversary here to screw things up, and whatever spanner was thrown into the story, was quickly resolved and brushed aside.

Like a wedding video made for the newlyweds, this is like Ekachai's version stuffed full of friends and the industry's who's who in an ode to the couple's (upcoming) marital bliss. While you can admire how GV Max and the National Museum, amongst other locales angled into new light, a bunch of blink-and-you-miss cameos also spiced up the fun. See if you can spot the lights of David Glass, Quan Yi Feng, Loo Zihan, Anthony Levi Kho, Zhu Houren, Dennis Chew, and Cassandra See, amongst others. Cicakman Saiful Apek also lent a helping hand, though not as his superhero alter-ego. Lai Ming again was severely underused, if not only to add yet another familiar face to the movie since it's also opening across the Causeway this weekend. And yes, in yet another motherly role.

So here's my verdict for the battle of the local movies - The Wedding Game trounces Love Matters convincingly, but only because it stuck to a formula delivering something that was quite plain, but not horrible, and had more convincing performances from the leads right down to the cameo appearances. Still, this only means that the bar has been set really low for other releases this year to stamp their mark of quality. And the real winner here seemed to be New Moon, having its product so prominently featured in both movies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Try To Stay Awake

It's an interesting premise to begin with, having the power to bring to life characters and events to the real world by just reading relevant passages. I can figure it out already, where to get fame and fortune from the right literature to read out loud. But with great power comes realization and responsibility, and because there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's always payback in the most unexpected forms.

While I haven't read the book by Cornelia Funke, what got translated on screen did get a little boring, bogged down by bad lines, uninteresting characters, and humour which fell flat each time. The trailer might have painted an epic adventure with boundless possibilities from plundering the premise, but too bad a lot of books got burnt from the start, leaving The Wizard of Oz the highlight of the lot. It was fun while it lasted though, in trying to identify characters and objects from various well known stories, such as the Gingerbread House, but these sprung out like little nuggets for those in the know to spot with glee.

Otherwise, we're left with Brandan Fraser's Mo Folchart, nicknamed "Silvertongue" by the characters he brought to life because of his innate gift, which had banished his wife to the books to take the place of those that came out. With his daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), they scour the corners of the world to look for the same book Inkheart, in the hopes of figuring out how to reverse the changes, and get back their loved one, wife Resa (Sienna Guillory). Fraser is being Fraser the big budgeted blockbuster hero, and doesn't show much expression from his repetoire of movies from the Mummy franchise to flicks like Journey to the Center of the Earth, playing very much the concerned dad.

And if you think a bland hero is bad, a bland villain is miles worst. There are countless of villanous characters here, courtesy of the Inkheart book, that pepper the story, and they are the standard dumb goons. Even Andy Serkis' Capricorn is nothing more than an average cowardly henchman status with the sole objective of wealth accumulation, and hams it up so much that the villain becomes a comedian, and a bad one at that. Shades of Lord of the Rings come courtesy of his attempt to bring to life "The Shadow", the pale cousin to the Dark Lord Sauron.

Surprisingly, a string of recognizable stars are involved in this film, such as Helen Mirren playing Meggie's grand aunt Elinor Loredan, equipped with a big mouth that whines too much, and Jim Broadbent as the reel Inkheart author Fenoglio, who relished every moment of interacting with his characters, yearning for a chance to try and get into the book because whatever glimpses he had over in the real world, was an orgasmic walk into his own imagination, as he quipped. But I felt the best character here was Paul Bettany's Dustfiner, a lone figure marred in melancholy who for nine torturous years, had unsuccessfully tried to convince Mo to send him back.

Kudos to Bettany's acting of course, with so much pain in his expression he makes you pity his character, put in a world not to his liking, and very much against his wishes, because like Mo, he yearns to reconcile with his family, and what more when his wife Roxanne is played by his real wife Jennifer Connelly in a cameo role. In fact, his Dustfinger got put into more interesting situations in the film compared to the rest, and thus inevitably steals the show with a character motivation that's easily identified with. And he really showed off his range of emotions when he inevitably had to hear spoilers, which was the only time in the entire movie which I felt genuinely though tragically comedic.

Inkheart is like an adult fairy tale, and could have been like Stardust which I had enjoyed, with its star power and unique premise. A pity though that it was delivered rather plainly and had neither the depth nor anything unexpected to ruffle what essentially was a one-way train going through the motions on its tracks from start to end.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love Matters (幸福万岁 / Xing Fu Wan Sui)

I Tried My Best, But...

Looking at Jack Neo's track record for the last 5 years, he's the first local filmmaker with a film off the blocks to usher in the new year. From The Best Bet in 2004, I Do, I Do in 2005, I Not Stupid Too (2006), Just Follow Law (2007, well, One Last Dance was made by Max Makowski at the helm), to last year's Ah Long Pte Ltd, all of them were comedies and the latter films have been instant box office successes with star power delivering its dues. With Love Matters come a different shade of Jack, and risk taking too. He shares directorial duties with another local filmmaker Gilbert Chan (in my opinion inconspicuously left out since it's still billed as "A Jack Neo Film"), and gone against the grain in making a non-comedy as well.

The trailers may have fooled audiences into believing, like the rest of his films, this is a laugh-fest. The funniest bit in the theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found in the film, as are other scenes too. One wonders if they were trimmed for run time reasons (this clocks in very close to 2 hours), but the decisions to have kept whatever made it to the theatrical cut, were strange indeed because they were very tired jokes, recycling some from Jack's past films, and most turned out to be terribly expected, cliche and rancid.

The story's a simple one, running along three arcs keeping all the characters distinctly segregated with little interaction between them. Henry Thia's Bo Seng and Yeo Yann Yann's Jia Li are husband and wife of many years, and they experience marital woes of not being appreciated and witnessing their sex life evaporate. Throw in some male ego-centric anxieties, and that sums up the first arc, a subject matter that Jack had tackled with That One No Enough. Alex Leong plays their son Benny, a nerd who is infatuated with the school belle Jennifer (Natalli). Rehash I Not Stupid Too's mobile phone moments, which is the crucial plot element here, coupled with technology, instead of blogs, to video hosting sites, with a dash of scintillating sex scandal, and there you have the issue of the bedroom voyeurs of today.

The third arc involves Seng's god-brother Jeremy (Jack Lim), a good natured person with a penchant of helping anyone, but harbours a perverse hobby of porn surfing and trawling online sites for, you guessed it, sex. He meets Benny's teacher Ms Wong (Cheryl Lee) when posing as a parent, and struggles to woo the woman of his dreams, while grappling with the hopes of meeting up with his latest online acquisition. This arc had some potential even though it was coasting along the predictable, but got bogged down by an elaborate hoax, and poor delivery, plodding all the way to the end which lacked suspense, was expected and everyone waiting for it to just happen. Precious minutes could have been shaved to pace it tighter, and its Hard Candy / Audition moments just cheapened the story many notches down.

New Moon Abalone is deliciously smooth, is easy to slice, and makes the best ingredient in porridge too. Check out the silky texture of the congee, mmmm.....

Yes, like every Jack Neo film, product placement is very blatant and comes out quite out of the blue, and OCBC continues to be a partner, but credit to Jack, who must have heard the plenty of flak he received for such obvious in-your-face ad moments, that this time round they got toned down. A lot. And gone too were the many satirical moments on local politics which have almost become a hallmark of Jack's movies.

Henry Thia has to date played supporting roles with some of the best speaking lines, but to headline a film, that's something new. While most will associate him with being the comedic dim-wit, he continues his dramatic streak from Money No Enough 2, though of course you shouldn't be looking out for award winning performances. Yeo Yann Yann is grossly underutilized here, being no more than a menopausal "auntie" who has husband issues to settle, no thanks to gossipy friends.

The one who stole the show here, is Jack Lim. And unfortunately I believe many of his comedic moments got left on the editing room floor, which is a pity, because there were glimpses on what he was capable of in the comedic and dramatic department, but alas, his character here, like all the others, are caricatures. The two youngsters in the movie were extremely painful to watch as well, with the lack of charisma and acting ability, that one wished that their screen time would be severely limited. Cameos by Mark Lee who plays a Thai gigolo was a much welcomed addition, and Lai Ming continues to be a Jack Neo film favourite lately, with "Lao Zha Bor" absent despite being featured in some stills.

Production values were surprisingly average at best. While many have chided in the past that his movies looked and felt like tele-movies, I shan't deny that this one reinforces those sentiments. I had no qualms about the quality of the audio, which I suspect a number of dialect speaking moments were redubbed to make it Mandarin-friendly here, until one really awful ADR hack-job of a line spouted by Benny really turned many people off. You can literally hear the bewildered groans in the cinema, and I felt that this corner shouldn't have been cut. Really poor execution again.

Love Matters is far from being Jack Neo's best film, and given his worry of having it rated NC-16, which has its impact already felt when the evening sneaks at a heartland cinema where his traditional fan base hails from, only had it 33% filled, I think it might struggle to make a dent at the box office, which his previous films had done quite effortlessly. Given the economic glum and the appeal for family friendly comedies during the festive season, audiences may vote with their wallets for something a lot more entertaining. I would recommend this only if you really have nothing to watch this week.

P.S. No, New Moon did not pay me a cent to include that paragraph in my review. It is here for illustration purposes only.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Battle of the Lunar New Year Movies

Much has been said about the upcoming battle of the local releases come next week, where cash registers usually ring loudly at the box office because traditionally that's when a Jack Neo film rakes in big bucks giving the mass audience what they want. Now with Ekachai Uekrongtham also encroaching to the space, what does this competition spell for us?

To the average Joe, a whole lot of confusion that's what!

If It's a Fight You Want, It's a Fight You'll Get!

First, did they hire the same designer for their posters, or is Red/Pink the automatic "In" colour because of the festive season? Also, wedding gowns and suits are in vogue too, though while it is relevant for Ekachai's movie, I am inclined to think that the first poster could have been a comedic swipe at the latter. After all, it's a romantic movie with a lot more than a Wedding to employ, right?

And look at the supporting cast lining up the bottom of the posters too, to say that this is not just a Yeo Yann Yann/Henry Thia versus Fann Wong/Christopher Lee movie (no prizes which of the two couples are more eye candy), but to show off that their respective films boast a regional cast, for that release on foreign shores.

We're Regional Talent Who?

And what do you know, there's a common character in both films, no thanks to local audiences being already introduced to Lai Ming from Malaysia, who now recycles the jokes from Money No Enough 2 for Jack, and pairs up again with Fann Wong after their Ah Long Pte Ltd stint. You're not to blame if you're seeing double!

Dunno Whether Ekachai Called Lao Zha Bor Or Not?

Next, the flip flopping of the titles. I hope that by now they have stuck to what should be the final Final titles. Jack Neo and Gilbert Chan's movie (the latter also conspicuously left out of Top Billing in the credit - the marketers chose "A Jack Neo Film" for an obvious reason than a riskier "Gilber Chan Who?" effect). From Republic of Happiness, it is now Love Matters, and Wedding of the Year is now known as The Wedding Game.

Between the two movies, The Wedding Game flinched first. Rather than go head to head on the exact same traditional opening day of Thursday next week, it had decided to leave that date for Love Matters and shift itself to Lunar New Year eve on Sunday (25th), forgoing three extra days of intake to bang on families going out for a movie after their Reunion Dinner.

And if you're putting your money on Jack Neo winning at this box office battle, don't count your chickens just yet. Jack Neo has announced on his latest blog entry that his film is rated NC-16! If memory serves me right, this is probably his first movie out of 13 that's given this rating for a general release (anyone with elephant memories, could you please check for me?). And the major implication of course is for secondary/primary school students who are fans/friends of the child actors used in his film, couldn't make a beeline for the box office.

Sorry Kids, You Cannot See This

Worst, this means that families with children can't fit everybody into the same cinema hall watching the same movie, leaving the doors for The Wedding Game wide open as an alternative that fits all age groups.

The salvo has been fired, by the regulators instead of the filmmakers themselves. Let's see how it develops!

Related Links
- Love Matters Official Web Site
- Love Matters Trailer on YouTube
- The Wedding Game Official Web Site
- The Wedding Game Teaser on YouTube
- The Wedding Game Trailer on YouTube

[DVD] Ghajini (2005)

Original Duo

So the dust is beginning to settle for A. R. Murugadoss' Ghajini starring Aamir Khan, given that it had broken, and is still continuing to rake in stellar box office receipt records for a Bollywood movie around the world. For me, it piqued my interest enough to revisit his 2005 Tamil version starring Surya Sivakumar in the lead role, with Asin who also starred in both versions as Kalpana, and Pradeep Singh Rawat as the villain, curiously not called Ghajini here, but Laxman.

I shall leave comparisons with Christopher Nolan's Memento unmentioned because I've done so with my earlier review of Ghajini (2008). Instead I shall focus more on the similarities and differences in the Murugadoss films, since he crafted both the screenplay and dialogue, and directed both movies with predominantly the same leads, save for the protagonist Sanjay Ramasamy (Surya Sivakumar) inflicted with short term memory loss.

The opening credits stayed similar, and for the first half hour, I thought I would be watching the same 2008 movie all over again. I see the same policeman (Riyaz Khan) going through the same investigations and employing tactics seen before, and even the scene transitions relied on the same time lapse technique already seen. The structure of the story remained for at least two-thirds of the film, and especially the romance between Kalpana and Sanjay, except for distinct differences such as the knowledge of who the chief villain is with the possession of the all important polaroid, and spending some time showing how Sanjay had tattooed himself with the clues.

While it may be easy to work on a remake, given that you're basically rehashing what you've done before, and more so with experienced actors in the same role again, it is easy to free fall into complacency and to go through the motions with your own remake especially. But kudos to Murugadoss for identifying plot loopholes, and to make changes for the better in the Hindi version, rather than to import such flaws wholesale into the new movie. Obviously the production values were ramped up significantly from this version, but that's not the only thing that had improved. as was the editing.

The pace here is pretty much slower, and had plenty of fat which were removed in the latest version. Tweaks were done for the better in the latest, especially so in the editing department to gel scenes together much more effectively. Here, you get abrupt jumps and cuts, so the narrative turned out to be a bit choppy at times, especially so when it's time for the rudimentary song and dance sequence which pops out from almost nowhere. Sorely missed were the daily routine that Sanjay would have to relive everyday, which I thought was an important scene to reinforce his difficulty in trying to hunt down the gangsters.

The final act turned out to be an all out whackfest without too much thought put in to making this film more plausible, opting instead for a pseudo-terrorist hostage situation. You could tell from the onset at this point that there were a few scenes Murugadoss would have elected to do differently, such as to avoid having Sanjay as a muscled and skilled fighter from the onset, with exaggerated Kollywood styled prowess to boot too. These were toned down for Bollywood, and having Aamir Khan show off his six-packs from extreme training also helped to make it believable.

Murugadoss also decided to downplay and eliminate the complicated finale battle here, which made use of wire-fu, and his decision to change the that battle to that seen in the Hindi version, is much appreciated for creating a stronger sequence altogether. Even the very last scene of his reworked version fared miles better since it sent home some very strong emotional chords to the audience, rather than this version here which actually was quite creepy (my first thoughts were of reincarnation!)

Music wise, with all due respect to Haarris Jayaraj for his work here, I thought A.R. Rahman's actually worked better. The music here, while still effective, was a little downbeat, and the picturization (if that's what it's called) could have been vastly improved, many times being something like watching a tacky 80s made music video. Compare Guzarish and Sutrum Vizhi (which is my favourite song of the lot in this film), and you'll see what I mean. The placeholders for music to come on were pretty much the same, save for this version having what I thought was 2 distinct pieces reworked or removed totally from the remake for pace purposes. Sutrum Vizhi has this really hypnotic, head-banging beat to it.

My frank opinion would be to watch the Hindi version not because it's vastly superior, but for its production values as well as a more coherent story reworked for a much better result. This version is still valuable in terms of seeing how far everyone had come in terms of storytelling techniques employed, and acting, and for fans of Asin, this is the film that provided her that breakthrough in her career.

The Region Free DVD by Venai Holdings is presented in matted letterbox format. Visual transfer is average at best, seemingly done off a VHS quality source. Toward the last hour there's this curious green tinge at the top right hand corner, but wasn't irritating enough to mar the enjoyment of the film. At times there were some pops and cackles in the visuals as well, but nothing too serious. Audio quality is in stereo and in the original language track, with English subtitles as an option. No other extra features contained in the DVD. Guess I shall wait for Ghajini 2008 to see if it comes with a special edition of sorts for some making of documentaries. Given the box office success, I don't see why not.

You can read my review of Ghajini (2008) here.

[DVD] Adiantum Blue (2006)

Yet another Japanese romance movie that has two eye candy leads facing adversary in the form of a life threatening illness. Almost of the synopsis available out there contained a certain degree of spoilers about the ending, so do avoid if you can. Otherwise for those new to the genre, this would be something of an eye-opener, but those jaded with the genre will find this piece pretty much forgettable.

You can read my review of Adiantum Blue at by clicking on the logo below.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Reader

Tell Me A Story

After the recent Golden Globes, I'm sure many were scratching their heads why Kate Winslet was put up for a Supporting Actress award, because if she's not the lead actress in The Reader, then I don't know who is.

Based on the book by Bernhard Schlink and adapted for the screen by David Hare, The Reader tells of the sexual relationship between a boy and his older lover during a summer in post WWII Germany that had been kept under wraps, and the aftermath of that relationship after some trying circumstances involving sudden departures, unexpected reunions, and worse of all, denial because of confusion in wanting to do what's right.

Directed by Stephen Daldry, The Reader tells the story of Michael Berg (played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes as the older man) and his sexual awakening under the tutelage of Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet with an accent), a tram conductor whom he met one day when he was sick. Soon after he's back at her place more frequently like a horny schoolkid given a head start in sex education, who thought that his reading to her the classics of works from Charles Dickens to D.H. Lawrence was kinky foreplay. Rated R21 for full frontal nudity (male included) and what have yous, but it's all quite tastefully done without the need to gratuitously exploit the scenes.

The first half dealt more with the physical nature of Michael and Hanna's relationship which slowly transforms to an emotional one, albeit peppered with issues because of their obvious age gap, and for her, in being a cradle snatcher. We know little of her past as well, which will be revealed in due course, but so long as it's not made known to her lover, their tiffs (as with all couples) become more pronounced and reconciliation becoming more difficult as well. She disappears one day, leaving Michael heartbroken, and it's not until much later during a trial that he finally learns more of her. Not an ideal situation of course, as it presents a chock load of questions to which there are no clear answers.

Kate Winslet deserves her awards thus far for her portrayal of a woman hiding what she deems as a shameful secret, and it's not about her romance with Michael at that. She gives her Hanna an air of innocence despite the severe crime against humanity in which she was implicated, all because to her it was a job, and has to be done right, and duties discharged professionally. Winslet brings through her exasperation really well, and slowly we see her steely resolve and innovation in correcting her deficiency. The make up department also deserve credit for their work on her, and adds an extra dimension to her performance.

Ralph Fiennes on the other hand has limited screen time here as the older Michael Berg, but managed to add gravitas by linking both past and present together. His role is to carry the sense of guilt over, as well as to seek some redemption and forgiveness of his past. His short scene opposite Lena Olin wrapped that up quite nicely. David Kross naturally steals the show as the protagonist, who in his youthful exuberance and defiance at first deemed his relationship under wraps to be perfectly novel, until like Adam's biting of the forbidden fruit, he finds himself surrounded by controversy that he's unable to handle, and a tinge of shame that his promising future will be on the rocks should his illicit affair be made known.

Kross had shown this change of attitude perfectly. From that innocence of a wide eyed boy toward getting to the candy shop every day, preferring to forgo hanging out with his immature peers for the arms of a mature woman, to discovering that growing up also meant change, and wistfully wanting to be back with his peers. He doesn't know whether to do the right thing, or weighing the consequences, prefer to keep mum, deny, and let another go through persecution alone. His failure to understand and grasp his reading to Hannah, and worse, that act being associated in what was deemed to be a heinous crime, seemed to all condemn his silence even further. While Ralph Fiennes had that excellent scene opposite Lena Olin, here David Kross has plenty opposite Bruno Ganz who plays his law lecturer.

You know that Oscar season is here when movies like these start to make a beeline for release dates from now until February. The Reader is recommended for its well thought story, as well as its wonderful cast to bring to life a tale of romance, guilt and redemption.

Chandni Chowk to China

Golden Flowers

You can't deny the mystic appeal that Kung Fu films have on the masses. Not only has Hollywood managed to finally get the essence so succinctly and successfully infused it into the animated film Kung Fu Panda, and taking on one of China's icon as its own, India too has shown that it's no pushover now in combining its Bollywood "masala" formula with the martial arts genre, and does so too by snagging the iconic Gordon Liu as lead villain.

It's been some time since Gordon Liu fought on screen, and one cannot forget the memorable 36th Chamber movies, amongst others in his filmography. Like Christopher Lee and Terence Stamp, I'm hoping that this sparks a comeback of sorts for the guy, because he still got what it takes to put young men to shame given his still buffed physique. As head villain Hojo, he's the typical gangster chief who's exploiting a group of villagers in plundering treasures of the land for sale to foreigners, earning good profits as well as dabbling in diamond smuggling, thanks to sidekick Meow Meow, played by Deepika Padukone. To those who oppose him, they're fatally dealt with the spinning bowler hat!

Deepika, like in her debut film Om Shanti Om, plays two roles here. Besides the villainous Meow Meow, the other role as Sakhi is a tele-shopping model who goes back to China in search of her roots, of paying respects to her family members presumed dead. Deepika carries her roles with aplomb, though between Sakhi and Meow Meow, I thought she would have more fun as the latter since she's given the chance to experiment with some wire-fu, and looks good in dishing out some martial arts moves, not to mention having a funkier wardrobe too.

Small town cook to big time hero, that's Akshay Kumar's Sidhu, who's mistaken to be Liu Sheng, a fictional China folk hero and formidable warrior reincarnate. Given hope under false pretense by street-side fortune teller Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), he bids his guardian Dada (Mithun Chakraborty) farewell, before heading East to an incredible reception by the villagers who deem him the solution to their problems. Naturally he's in for some rude shock, disappointment and personal tragedy, before like all Kung Fu heroes, come bouncing back after some intense training.

It has shades of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle especially with the cartoony aspects, as well as elements that were a throwback to the genre in the 70s and 80s, with a montage segment featuring his training under a sifu (Roger Yuan), as well as finding out one's destiny and true self. Akshay's no stranger to action, and his martial arts background also helped in making that credible comeback for, what else, revenge. Given the standard two-half format for a Bollywood film, he spots a bit of a paunch when his Sidhu's a little idiotic, before physically crafting his body into an Iron Man.

Chandni Chowk to China has everything - romance, melodrama, kung fu, high tech and fantasy gadgets, even a potato that looks like a god. It's pretty entertaining as a fusion of sorts, though not as funny as I thought it would be (that training montage is still the funniest of the lot). And thank goodness that some attention was paid to diction in the Chinese language (you know how some films tend to screw it up) when spouted by non-native speakers. Song and dance segments weren't really memorable, except for the theme song for Sidhu (so far, every Akshay Kumar film I've seen him in, has a song for his character). But for fans of Gordon Liu, this is one film you'd definitely not want to miss. And I'll be keeping an eye out for that sequel too!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Haunting of Molly Hartley

I'm Scary, Not

I guess all teenage starlets have to go through their cinematic rites of passage by having some horror flick under their belt. So far I've seen every film on the big screen that Haley Bennett had starred in, from her breakthrough role as the uber-sexy Cora "Buddha's Delight" Corman in Music and Lyrics, to Kendall of College, and now, the titular character in this horror film. Save for her debut, everything else had been of dubious quality, and I'm afraid without another hit soon, she'll more than be forgotten and should concentrate on her singing career instead.

The film begins in some spooky woods in the 70s where a girl, on the cusp of her 18th birthday, begins to hear voices swirling around, and eventually got deliberately killed by her father. We don't know why, because we're suddenly transported to today, and to the bedroom of Molly Hartley, who is starting life afresh with her father (Jake Weber) in a new town.

The focus is then shifted to high school pangs, of having to deal with new rivals, new potential love interest Joseph (Chace Crawford), and new friends such as the rebel Leah (Shannon Marie Woodward) and Bible-thumper Alexis (Shanna Collins). And because of a near fatal accident involving her mother, Molly's got regular shrink schedules with the school resident councillor Dr. Emerson (Nina Siemaszko), where doubts are planted in the audience mind that Molly's not who she really seemed, having strange habits of going to the toilet to hyperventilate, or hearing voices of unknown folks again swirling around her, or experience hallucinations which provide for plenty of cheap scare tactics. Scenes like these were repeated ad-nauseam.

But they are nothing frightening, because the movie has an entire look and feel of High School Musical, save the characters don't break out into song and dance. A little bit of positivity about the film is that there was an air of mystery about it, having this cool scream queen who doesn't know what her destiny is, always possessing this edgy feel to her character that there's more than meets they eye, holding you in some suspense. Coupled with the strange and slow revelation on what happened between Molly and her mom, it leaves you guessing for the most part.

Until it decided to play it fast, and here's where the loopholes all start to appear really dumb in this hurried mode to finish the story off. You laugh as it went from scene to scene and not made much sense, and the worst part of it all was how it leapt into some bubblegum pop type of film, betraying all instances of sane thriller development into something that could have been the Wow factor when revealed, instead of the Duh factor. In doing what it did, it showed the filmmakers had lack of flair and skill, making some very strange decisions to have the story take on this flaccid psycho-babble route, and lacking any compelling characters to feel for. Heck, there's not even a decent body count too.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley had an idea, but alas the translation of this idea into a feature film, with eye candy looking cast and all, failed miserably. Save your money, and fans of Haley Bennett would be better off watching her (non) performance on rented DVD instead.
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