Sunday, May 31, 2009

[DVD] Not Easily Broken (2009)

Home Base

Newly weds beware! This is about as close to a reality check a movie can offer, once you're past your honeymoon period, and the challenges in life start rearing their ugly head to threaten to rip your vows apart. It's a little interesting, albeit formulaic film about the love of a couple being put through a series of tests that run like a soap opera, and having some religious undertones to it as well. But it's actually decent enough to tell a good story with some humourous moments thrown in for good measure. Don't expect too fantastic a storyline, and you may just find Not Easily Broken somewhat entertaining to sit through, with some good moral lessons and tips to survive a union of two.

You can read my DVD review of Not Easily Broken at by clicking on the logo below.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

[DVD] Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood (2009)

Same Old

It's kind of a surprise if the home video market demand would clammer for the latest installment of a movie from the Anaconda franchise. Granted of course that this was shot back to back with Anaconda III, but the open ended finale has left room for more. Only if you're up for some cheesy, repetitive CG snake, a wafer thin plot, and a heroine that's the B-grade version of Lara Croft, then you just might want to pick this up to see how mediocre a film like this actually is.

You can read my DVD review of Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood at by clicking on the logo below.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Terminator Salvation

We're Here To Save The Franchise

One thing's for sure about the Terminator franchise now, we can begin to dash all hopes of a Cameron-Arnie comeback, given the former has mentioned he has done all he wanted with the first two films, and the latter now a politician. Terminator Salvation, with McG at the helm and a bevy of writers attempting to do a one-up on the original two films, only managed to bring about a thrill ride which is miles better than the third installment, but has plenty of catch up to do if the new films were to stamp their authority on the franchise.

For the most parts, you would have felt that McG and his team had wanted to play it safe. For starters, there are numerous elements here, from one liners to artifacts to references and events that serve as a throwback, or homage, to those seen in the earlier movies. Which is good in a way, because it reminds us that characters like John Connor (now played by Christian Bale) have come a long way and Salvation reinforces their character traits a bit more. Fans will likely have a field day with the dozen easter eggs that can be identified, and I guess that the filmmakers are trying to tell everyone that they've got a good grasp of what has happened, and to trust them in moving the franchise forward.

Then there's the play on you, the audience, with your back knowledge of certain events that will happen, such as Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) coming into the mythos in the now-future, the raging war between the humans and the machines, and how Skynet is still scheming to get rid of the leader of the Resistance, only to be a little more cunning in its methods. It's a little no brainer in picking up where T3 had left off with Judgement Day, though like John Connor's voiceover in the trailer, this is not the future he was warned about, as something's not quite right, and different from his personal expectations.

The setting here is not something not seen before, with post apocalyptic environments done to the death in films such as Resident Evil. But this film felt more like The Matrix Revolutions, with more cerebral potentials making way for all out action. Under McG's guidance, whom I think has taken a huge leaf from Michael Bay, Terminator Salvation brings us to that bleak sci-fi future which is pretty much void of everything, where everything that can be blown up in a fireball, will be. And the explosions get larger and more intense as it goes along, with mushroom clouds ballooning over many horizons, and with robots of all shape and sizes entering the fray. I particularly liked the lumbering T-600, the precursor to Arnie's T-800, and this film allows the witnessing of Skynet's design sophistication, knowing we're eventually going to be introduced to the later models already seen in previous films.

But story wise, John Connor is the franchise's Neo, or so he takes it upon himself to think. He's been brought up by his mom Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton lending her voice here), the equivalent of a Morpheus, to believe that he's the next The One, humanity's saviour from the machine world. Only that because how Skynet's assassination efforts in the future/past have been thwarted time and again (T-800, T-1000, T-X), we now face a future that could, and possibly is, a tangent of what was the original sequence. If you want to talk about a time-travel-mind-warp, this is it, since three films as chronicled skewed events that would happen in the future. Connor, to his band of rabid followers, is their messiah and prophet, as he has battled Skynet's creations before, and could predict what would be next in the assembly line. To his superiors (yes, he's not Resistance Leader), he's just lucky with his guesses, but little do they know of the Bible that he refers to - his mother's audio tapes.

With this belief in being The One, Connor irks the leadership more so because his primary objective in saving Reese, boils down to the fact that without Reese, his own existence will be in jeopardy, and can no longer fulfill the role he believes he will, in being the salvation of mankind. And I thought that provided an angle that would have elevated the film, if not for forgetting about Connor mid way with the focus on new character Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), and that of the action sequences.

But don't get me wrong. Sam Worthington is a discovery in this film, bringing his ghost in the shell Marcus Wright into being the most tragic figure thus far in the storyline, tussling constantly between humanity, and his unknown destiny. Destiny seems to be the flavour of this year too, in reboots especially. Star Trek suggested that what will be will be, even though the journey to enlightenment will take a knock and a meander, but you'll get there. Here, we all know John Connor would be the leader of the Resistance, and we will journey with him to that stage, albeit with some kinks along the way.

In fact, Bale seemed to be second fiddle to Worthington's presence, but here's a warning shot - don't forget Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. I think he has a knack of reprising roles in long-standing franchises, with his Chekov being very well liked in Star Trek, and now his Reese bearing some similarities in mannerisms to Michael Biehn's take. I'll definitely be paying attention to this young actor as he moves Reese's character forward in future installments. And of course, the very pregnant Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard, previously Kate Brewster played by Claire Danes) might spring a surprise or two later as well.

Am I looking forward to the next installment? Yes, to no surprise of course. Terminator Salvation, like all the reboots and remakes you have out there of well known and beloved franchises, served its purpose as being the bridging film, cementing known knowns only to gain acceptance from the audience, before boldly moving forward on its own two feet, hopefully.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Young Victoria

The Queen

The cinematic interests in the British monarchy continues with Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901), after having seen in recent years, the efforts with Keira Knightley's The Duchess, Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth films, and Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman's take on the Boleyn sisters with The Other Boleyn Girl. More contemporary stories would include Helen Mirren's award winning portrayal of The Queen on the current reign of Queen Elizabeth II at the turn of Princess Diana's death.

Each of the films mentioned featured stunning actresses with acting gravitas (ok, so some may dispute Johansson) or were the flavour of their moment, and each film had a definitive moment in their historical character's legacy that it becomes a no brainer to have those events featured, and in fact Elizabeth had enough to span two films. However, The Young Victoria, as the title already suggests, is a lite-version of the young queen's life, and if you're looking for that definitive event, or the staple political intrigue that plague all royal households and their dealings with shady, self-serving politicians, unfortunately there's nothing of depth here.

That's not to say The Young Victoria is without. Directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (best known for C.R.A.Z.Y.) and written by Julian Fellowes, this film chronicles in very plain terms, ,the life and times of Victoria (Emily Blunt, soon becoming the new It girl) when she was a child, the troubles she faced before Coronation such as the eagerness of her mom The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her advisor Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) to appoint themselves as joint-Regent to her throne, as already planned for by reigning King William (Jim Broadbent). As if that wasn't enough, the political power play enters the picture with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) being a Prime Minister-in-waiting trying to gain the trust of the new Queen, and subtly plants his own trusted allies into positions within the palace. On one hand you'd understand the need for a young, and new Queen to have trusted people in key positions, but on the other, are they really acting in her interests, or in the interests of others?

Even this angle of intrigue creeps into her romantic story with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), where their relationship forms the bulk of the second half of the film, and pretty much everything already included in the trailers. For both, they've been brought up under the influence of others, and told each step of the way exactly what to do. Even their union may seem like a firm registration of an alliance, if not for both lovers recognizing their common need to establish their own grounding, and to do so with the help of each other. Instead of being pawns, there's this constant search and probing of opportunities to break out of stifling, and at times absurd, rules and regulations. Trust also becomes a much valued commodity, and loyalty too can be traded for wanting to set the slate clean.

However, all these themes become but a breeze through the narrative, from childhood to romance, marriage and children. In fact, there's so much fast-forwarding here, especially the last few minutes filled with inter-titles, that it actually leaves the audience wanting for more, and room of course for another movie, which I suspect would probably not see the light of day, but perhaps a television series might pick up on the film's response, and come out with a mini-series or such. It's a pity that all the effort here in ensuring the gorgeous costumes, sets and art direction would be confined to a film that's quite lightweight in theme and brief mention of issues, that they don't really challenge the protagonists in order to allow for some overcoming of character-defining adversary.

With its star-studded cast, one would expect more, but one would be left wanting more instead. Recommended for those who are ever curious about Kings and Queens in the British Monarchy, only as a complement to other more engaging stories available in the other films already mentioned.

Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms (Disco Ormene)

That's The Way I Like It

School holiday season would dictate more animated and family oriented films being released in the theatres, and while we would rue at having to wait until September for Pixar's Up, we have to make do with the rather lacklustre Monsters vs Aliens with 3D gimmick, and the little unknowns (pardon the pun) like Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms, set in the insect kingdom with earthworms species being put in the spotlight.

I suppose it's a challenge to animate earthworms. After all, they're tiny, they're slimy, and you just can't tell heads over tails. But no matter, this Danish animation managed to have it all worked out, fusing disco singing and dancing, with an effective, if not tried and tested, formula about turning zeroes into heroes. Released as the dubbed English version here, the animation is easy on the eyes, going for a very clean look with just enough visual details that prevent it from clogging up your senses. Disco lovers will no doubt find themselves tapping to famous tunes of the Disco era, such as Blame it on the Boogie and evergreens from the Village People, amongst others.

But I was rather surprised and pleased at the more mature theme a show for kids had attempted to tackle, and that's on discrimination. It's set very early on in the film that the earthworms are of lower caste in the insect kingdom, getting no respect or love from the larger community, just because they are at the bottom of the foodchain, having no valued skills other than to maintain the compost of their shared habitat. Literally the shit job if you'd like, and having a career none other than to do that for the rest of their lives. One cannot even aspire to be the CEO of their compost company, because it's a position reserved for other insects to manage over them.

So dreamers like the titular Barry, who dreams of being a disco singer/dancer with his own band, have no place in the community for his lack of willingness to conform, unlike best pal Tito, a fat worm looked down upon and being made fun of because of its weight. Barry finds his true calling one day when he gets passed down his dad's old box to help him in his middle-management examinations, and soon finds enough inspiration to turn his dream into reality, even if it means dodging his protective mother's queries, and having absolutely no clue going about doing so, assembling a rag-tag team of worms with raw talent that needs plenty of polishing.

Throw in a romance subplot, and a chief adversary in the form of a ballad crooning beetle who sees them as a rival in their bid to win 10 Grand in a Top of the Pops equivalent contest, and you have a neat film which has great musical tracks and a simple story with a main theme that children can grasp onto. It's a little inspiring as well with the entrenched thought of dreaming big, and working at making one's dreams come true, with what matters being the journey and the experience gained, not everything focused solely on the destination and material goals.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Echelon Conspiracy

Eagle Eye 2

At one glance, it's easy to dismiss Echelon Conspiracy as yet another Eagle Eye wannabe. Face it, it has a man who receives mysterious and anonymous instructions, being on the run from authorities, and constantly getting put into various lines of fire. Only that despite its plot loopholes and common ground factors, this B-grade movie is a lot more fun than the big budgeted action thriller from last year, and Shane West being a lot less irritating that Shia LaBeouf.

West (the only other recent film I saw him in was Red Sands) plays a computer engineer Max Peterson, who while in Bangkok for a job assignment, receives a mysterious DHL (thank you product placement) package which contains a state of the art mobile phone (I want one!), seemingly bundled with real time information which provided him a Final Destination moment, and insider trader information. He doesn't know who's tipping him off, but like every ordinary Joe out there, nobody's rejecting money-spinning messages once the results have been verified.

Which brings him to Prague and Moscow and back to the USA in a semi-global wild goose chase in order not to look cheap, first by Ed Burns' John Reed, an ex-FBI agent now working for a conglomerate whose casino Max tries to fleece from, then from Ving Rhames' Agent Dave Grant, under orders from NSA chief Raymond Burke who has higher orders to allow Dave to work outside of the country (yep, that's unbelievable loophole #1 if you wish). In any case it's a reluctant cat-and-mouse chase of sorts and cooperation in others as the trio play at this dangerous cloak-and-dagger in trying to find out who the source of instructional messages that have caused the lives of the recipients. No prizes to be won after you sit through some 20 minutes of the film actually.

There's plenty of slime thrown at the Bush Administration by writers Kevin Elders and Michael Nitsberg, aiming the gunsight of their story squarely at the Patriot Act, and the playing of the trading of freedom for big brother type of surveillance, which is lengendary of the NSA. Perhaps there's too much credit here given for being able to come up with THE ultimate supercomputer able to crunch facts and numbers, to be the tool of choice when tapping into just about every telecommunications device in the world to churn out threat reports. A little science-fiction thrown in of course, with big assumptions that everything is connected on the world wide grid, and coupled with an ending that would astonish non-techies, but a comedy to nerds.

Recognizable names such as Burns, Rhames, Sheen and even Jonathan Pryce lend some gravitas into a slightly-above average thriller, which if you put aside the implausibles, actually is of some fun. Shane West though makes a good alternative to the over-exposed Shia LaBeouf, and hopefully we get to see opportunities presented to him to step up into more mainstream, big-budgeted action roles, because frankly, today's Hollywood cinema needs a new It boy to be doing all the running, rather than going back to the same old name currently.

I just cannot stop laughing at the lack of ingenuity of the filmmakers of having the BBC news channel spoofed as CCD (C'mon, can you be a little more creative than this?) with similar colour schemes employed, and an English accent too. Echelon Conspiracy isn't going to win over any fans, but it was fun while it lasted. Just check your logic at the door.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Another Long Night

I didn't particularly enjoy my first Night at the Museum as I thought it had tried really hard to be funny, and going from set piece to set piece from within the New York Museum of Natural History, taking a while before it got its engine cranking. For me, the funniest Ben Stiller comedies had been the relatively more adult fare like There's Something About Mary, The Heartbreak Kid and such, but this family friendly fare surprised me, and belonged to the rare few sequels which actually surpassed the original.

This Battle of the Smithsonian (Singapore opted to drop this subtitle for the more idiot-proof numerical "2") has Shawn Levy going back to the director's chair, and written by the returning team of Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, who seemed more at ease this time round in bringing back the characters created some 3 years ago, while infusing a lot more of new folks without breaking a sweat. For those like me who believe that bigger is not a certainty it's better, this night at the museum proved that it can be delivered and done so with more fun as well.

If you can get past the idea that in 3 years, Ben Stiller's night guard Larry Daley is now a CEO of a company making household products, and from time to time still visits his old friends back at the Museum such as Octavius of Rome (Steve Coogan), cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallgher), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), "dum-dum" Easter Island Head (Brad Garrett), the skeletal T-Rex and the mischievious monkey, whom we all have gotten acquainted with in the first film. Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) now informs him that these old exhibits will now be archived in Washington's Smithsonian Institute (hence the title), but Monkey decides to bring along Ahkmenrah's magical golden tablet responsible for their nocturnal coming to life, hence setting up the new adventures for Larry when he receives a distress call from Jedediah.

Played out like a rescue mission, Larry becomes embroiled in new adventures now set in Washington, where a larger footprint of exhibits offers a lot more artifacts coming to life and providing some entertainment, ranging from pop culture references to Hank Azaria hamming it up as chief villain Egyptian Pharaoh Kahmunrah who speaks with a nasty lisp. Joining his villanous plan to take over the world (with possession of the tablet Larry now holds) are historical bad guys like Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alan Chabat), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) and his posse of gangsters who happen to be in black and white.

On the side of the good guys, we have the gigantic Abraham Lincoln and The Thinker (also voiced by Azaria), a not-too-bright General Custer (Bill Hader), Sailor Joey Motorola (Jay Baruchel), an American Gothic painting, some bobbing-heads Albert Einstein (Eugene Levy) and singing Jonas Brothers cupids. Amy Adam's sprightly Amelia Earhart provides for some strong feminine influence opposite Larry Daley, and an angle for a romantic subplot too.

It's not much of a plot as well this time round, but the larger scale provides an avenue of the night time activities to go beyond the four walls of one museum. This time round it doesn't try too hard to be funny because it actually is, with Hank Azaria stealing plenty of thunder each time he comes on screen with his Kahmunrah almost always screaming. The scenes he shares with Stiller were some of the best here, especially with the insane dialogue coupled with their comical timing that would provide me reason enough to watch this film again.

Other than that, this new outing at the museum allows for a perfect family outing to the cinemas, being family friendly as it is with nary a swear word or violence, which is cartoony of course. Predictable but has its moments, thanks to the expanded cast of familiar faces, and new ones to the franchise (yes, I predict there's enough bandwidth for another round!)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex)

Stand Off

Although the events portrayed in The Baader Meinhof Complex dates back to the 60s and 70s, this look back at West Germany's struggle with political extremism and armed resistance holds some relevance in today's terror threats, given that it's never always just about tackling the issue as an independent silo, but there's this inter-connectedness with events around the world that shape rationale, objectives and outcome.

Director Uli Edel has crafted an engaging political action-thriller if you might, from Stefan Aust's book about the founders of the Red Faction Army (RAF), one of Germany's violent left-wing anti-capitalist group, whose logo is a combination of a Red Star and an MP5 sub-machine gun. It captured quite succinctly the coming together of the group in their armed push to get their ideologies through to an audience. It doesn't set to glamorize the group, but puts forth the events as they happened, from founding right up until the demise of the first generation leaders, in a trial recorded as Germany's most expensive to date, and the controversial end to it.

The terrorist techniques then don't really differ from those of today, such as bombings, kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations. Terrorist camps become training ground for members to get equipped with guerrilla warfare, and hats off to Uli Edel and his team in accurately reconstructing the major events as accurately as possible, and how they allowed for the smooth juxtaposition of archived newsreels, which at times made the movie play out almost like watching a documentary with ring-side seats to the series of world events, from US political elections to the Vietnam War, and even to the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. And everyone knows that innocent civilians, once they become unnecessary collateral, tend to chip at the legitimacy of the methods employed, thus being the catalyst to a slide in support. If anyone needs a 101 to terrorist techniques, then the RAF's host of methods employed as seen in the film, allows for that glimpse.

Like what is commonly said these days about one faction being overly zealous in pushing their ideologies across the table, only to encounter an equal force opposing in the other direction, the armed resistance here seemed to have pushed for the justification of a police-like state in order to counter their threats and to keep them under control. But what I found more intriguing, is how support for their activities come from a much wider geography, a network of like-minded individuals or groups who form that kind of help and support for training and logistics, which still holds true in today's context. Also, for any grouping without its charismatic leader clearly in control, it'll still manage to thrive under the next generation of leaders, but focus on the objectives would probably be skewed or diluted, with much deviation from what was originally intended. And there are always eager beavers who would not think twice at solely using violence to achieve their goals.

Art direction was top notch in recreating the feel of yesteryear, and the cast does a great job in their convincing portrayals of historical figures. Despite its runtime of close to 150 minutes, it never for a moment felt dreary to an audience unfamiliar with the politics or significant world events of the time, partly also because of the kind of relevance it holds today, and under Uli Edel's astute direction in keeping a quick pace. If there should be shortcomings, then perhaps it didn't exactly put forth the appeal of the group of anarchists, because at one point it mentioned support coming from one in four Germans, but doesn't go beyond the Us or Them syndrome, or provided some depth into the court proceedings, which in the film looked more like a circus than to serve any purpose.

Germany's entry into the Foreign Language Film category in this year's Oscars, The Baader Meinhof Complex is thoroughly riveting and engaging, and should be in your list of much watch films of the week, instead of opting for the week's summer blockbuster offering.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Italian Film Festival 2009

Heads up, people! This year's Italian Film Festival will run from 4th to 20th June (with the 3rd being an invite only Opening Night event), and the line up and schedule of films are already available in full here as a PDF file download.

Presented by the Italian Cultural Institute in partnership with the Singapore Film Society, The Picturehouse, Cathay Cineplex, The Arts House and the National Library Board, this year's lineup seemed to have expanded, not only in screening venues as already listed, but having a slate of FREE - yes you read that right - screenings during the festival period too!

2 fringe programmes will be made FREE to the public, and they are no pushover films, mind you. For those who are into animation, then you shouldn't miss Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto's shorts and feature length films. But the other fringe programme piqued my interest sky high since I'm a fan of the thriller genre. A total of 4 "Gialli" - thriller genre - films are going to be shown at The Arts House, so there's no prizes for guessing where I'll be during that week!

From the main programme, I'd likely be catching The Girl by the Lake, Good Morning Heartache, and A Whole Life Ahead. If time permits, then perhaps The Wind Blows Round and Skylark Farm starring Paz Vega as well.

Seriously, I can't wait! Share with me your choice of films?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blood: The Last Vampire

Blade In Schoolgirl Uniform

Jeon Ji-Hyun, now known as Gianna for this international film, trades her demure demeanour for something that action junkies will probably find reason to cheer about - having a beautiful heroine kick some serious butt with her near-invincibility and possessing a blade that cuts through vampires, monsters and demons like hot knife through butter. But seriously, do we need another half-vampire, half-human hybrid being for the big screen, even though this has anime roots?

If done well, I don't see why not of course, with enough room for yet another vampire hunter, since the closest if anyone wants to compare modus operandi with, will be Wesley Snipes as Marvel's Blade. I am trying really hard to find redeeming factors for this film, but alas the negatives seem to outweigh the positives a lot more, and draw tremendous attention that you'll find hard to ignore.

First of all, there's the issue of Saya (Gianna), being the all powerful hunter that she is, actually succumbed to an old pitfall - never have your hero sit on the pedestal that it becomes absolutely effortless when facing adversary. One slash of her katana means instant death, and thus there's no kick, and no challenge. She rarely broke a sweat (OK, so the heavy downpour might disguise that a little) when dispatching scores, and I mean scores, of faceless, nameless beings, that by the time the next action sequence rolls around, you know what to expect - hack, slash, hack, slash, wash-rinse-repeat.

No doubt Gianna's no true-blue martial arts practitioner, director Chris Nahon decided to spice things up a bit through extremely fast cuts, close ups, and a dash of time-lapse or slow motion here and there. Stylistically it may look gorgeous, but you become well aware that these were employed to mask short-comings in the action sequences, directed by Corey Yuen. No offense to Corey, but I felt that Blood was in need of some genuine edge-of-your-seat excitement in its battles, because Saya does look like a one-trick pony, until the last set action piece provided a little glimpse into more powers that she possesses. Everything in-between was nothing new, nor accentuates her abilities for an audience unfamiliar with the source material.

Then there's the outcome of over-reliance on badly delivered CGI. No doubt wanting to stylize blood spurts probably to lessen the impact of very graphic violence and dismemberment, again something overly done becomes the spoiler for the broth. The rooftop chase was cartoony, though I'm quite sure the intent wasn't to infuse some animation at certain points in the film. What I thoroughly enjoyed though, even if it was rather old school and done countless of times, is the ninja attack set in a leafy forest. Execution was swift, with a real sense of peril, up until the point Saya enters the picture, without which it was a treat to see her guardian and trainer Kato (Yasuaki Kurata) take on a hooded army relying heavily on cunning and trickery.

But the biggest culprit to bog down the film from reaching its expected potential, is the severe lack of credible villains. Everyone else besides chief demon Onigen (played by Japanese actress Koyuki) was like a side dish appetizer meant to pass time until Saya meets Onigen in the showdown you see in the trailer. No offense to Koyuki, but her English diction here really made one strain the ears to try and make out the threats she's dishing out (I had Chinese subtitles available to assist thankfully), and despite her awesome powers, she failed to heed the prime lesson that most cinematic villains have fallen for - that an egoistical soliloquy is always a waste of time. Not to mention that the final third of the film seemed like it was a rushed job to get to where it wanted to be, and out of convenience too.

There were some nice moments such as the whole set up of the ultra-secretive Council (like a Men in Black predecessor) and the clean-up jobs that the lower rung operatives have to conduct each time Saya cleans out the demons, and it was a pity that the entire council got forgotten midway. Clint Mansell provided the score, but unfortunately there wasn't a memorable tune that came out of it. And to round up the disappointments in this very choppy film, what was unforgivable the sense of deja-vu in having a scene lifted from Underworld: Evolution. Think flight from danger with a winged beast attacking the getaway truck, and you get my point, attack for attack - swooping from heights, slamming of the windscreen, driving on a mountainous winding road and the ripping of doors, with such similarities just too close for comfort.

Bottom line is, Blood: The Last Vampire is a straight forward action film. Forget the wafer thin plot and try to ignore the potential where certain scenes could have been made better. It's nice to look at with plenty of style over substance, and unfortunately nothing more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dance Subaru!

So You Think You Can Dance?

Ballet and Swan Lake isn't exactly my cup of tea, but Dance Subaru! convinced me to stick around for its sensible storyline which reflects on the principle notion of keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer. Meisa Kuroki stars as the titular character Subaru, who had to live through tragedy and parental objection, in order to pursue her dream of dance. She runs away to a cabaret where she becomes the protege to an ex-ballerina Madam Isuzu (Momoi Kaori) and like a martial arts practitioner, has her innate talents honed by multiple teachers along the way, not only in Ballet, but Contemporary Dance, Hip Hop and the likes.

Surprisingly this dance film has a lot more to do than just showcase its dance moves. Essentially it contains a very true to life story on human nature itself, how we from time to time succumb to envy, where friends can become rivals either on personal or professional terms. Here, we see how super cool Subaru has two friends/fiends in Mana (Sano Miku), whom she knew since childhood, and peer critic Liz Park (Korean model Ara), who is seeking out new inspiration to her craft. At times the characters' rivalry reminded me of that in the Japanese animation film The Piano Forest, where one of the protagonist harbours envious thoughts at his friend's raw talent, making light of the hard work he has to put in to become one of the best.

That aside, it's also a reminder of how one has to learn both to work independently and become a star player, and also be adaptable to become a team player should the situation calls for it. And the dances here provide some excellent avenues for that as well, when we journey with Subaru to unlearn what she has learnt, and picking up new vibes and skills to become a more well-rounded dancer.

This film is not strictly for dance fans, as non-fans could easily follow the universal themes here, and of course, pick up a tip or two about dance, Ballet, and Swan Lake.

You can read my review of Dance Subaru at by clicking on the logo below.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

[DVD] Billu (2009)

Hit Hit

If you're wondering why no new Hindi movie reviews here, well then you're probably not aware of the ongoing spat between film producers/distributors and the multiplexes in Bollywood with regards to profit sharing. We're not getting any new releases for what, the last 4-5 weeks now? I wonder how long this tiff will last, but no matter I'll just have to dip into my reserve DVD stash and enjoy what I've collected thus far.

I still can't fathom why Billu (now Barber dropped from its title) didn't get as much love as it should. There's a nice heartwarming story about simplicity, family and friendship, about fame, the elite and the peasants, and even though this is a remake of another Indian film, I would have imagined the star power here, with Irrfan, Shah Rukh Khan and Lara Dutta, would at least have drawn in an audience. I guess it takes a lot these days to keep audiences impressed. But I certainly was.

Watching it again reaffirmed that it's still one of my favourites of the year, and you can review my review of the movie here.

The Region Free DVD by Eros International is presented in a pristine visual transfer on an anamorphic widescreen format, and scenes whether day or night, indoors or outdoors, all come across crystal clear. At certain points in the film though, especially the songs, the translucent Eros watermark will appear at the top left hand corner.

The DVD autoplays with some pat-on-the-back Eros International promotional ad, before a relatively cheesy animated menu will appear, where songs from the film are used at various menu-optons, with Love Mera Hit Hit the song of choice for the main menu. Scene selection comes in 24 chapters, and audio is available only in its original Hindi track, either in 5.1 Dolby Digital or 2 Channel Stereo. However much is left desired in the audio department as the volume does seem to be uneven at times, and more jarringly noticed when during the songs. Subtitles are in English only, and are removable.

No Hindi DVD will be complete without a section dedicated to its Songs. Here, the DVD is designed correct, where your song selected will take you back to this submenu once it's completed instead of continuing with the movie. There are 6 songs in total in Billu, and it comes with a Play All function if you want to listen to them all in one sitting: Love Mera Hit Hit (4:34), Ae Aa O (I call this the Sahir Khan swagger song, 5:34), Billu Bayankar (4:39, the song where the villagers suck up to Billu, and interesting enough, every utterance of the word "barber" in Hindi got silenced! Is it really that degrading and offensive?), the lovely ballad Khudaya Khair (4:25), the pulsating Marjani (4:14) and Jaoon Kahan (2:30).

While the Bonus Material of "Billu" are split into its respective sections, it actually continues to the next when the option you selected finishes, so be prepared with a remote in hand to obtain some control over what you want to see. It's mostly in English and presented in a letterbox format. The main extra here is the Making of the Movie Billu (17:06) which contains the usual interviews with the cast and crew, where the production designers, DoP etc recount how they create the distinct look and feel of the different worlds presented in the film, and how the natural sets themselves became a character as well. The stars in the film (unsure if in jest though) seemed to be a little bit spoilt when they reminisce their experience in the village, and their getting used to the environment the film is set in. You can get to see very limited behind the scenes clips in this feature though.

The other "Making Of"s were of the songs featured in the movie, with Shah Rukh Khan being the constant in sharing his experience in shooting the music videos. Marjani (2:46) had Kareen Kapoor abject to share her thoughts though, in this Punjabi music influenced song. Hit Hit (4:28) had Deepika Padukone talk about her minor role, as well as a look at the miniatures used to create some of the sets in this space-aged theme video. Farah Khan, who directed Om Shanti Om, reunites with her leads SRK and Deepika to choreograph their dance steps. Khudaya Khair (5:40) seemed to have Priyanka Chopra lead the making of as she recounts shooting this soulful, R&B song, and I felt her appearance in the film was the least amongst the three ladies. This song also leads into the theme used for Billu and his wife, and had additional behind the scenes look which borrowed from the Making Of.

Deleted Scenes do not come with finished audio, nor subtitles, so non-Hindi speakers will not fully understand what's going on, nor why these scenes were removed from the final cut, if not for pace. Presented in letterbox format, a total of 3 such scenes are included, and runs 4:27.

Rounding off the Special Features are two trailers in the Now Available section for Heroes and Drona.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sell Out! Again!

Faster Watch

My personal favourite amongst the SIFF selection this year, Sell Out! is still making its run at the Cathay cineplexes here, so if you've not seen it, do not wait too long! I hope it survives another week in the halls despite the barrage of summer action blockbusters all lined up, and I suppose if the halls still manage to pull in some 80% attendance like this evening's screening, it stands a good chance.

I did a review much earlier during SIFF, and you can read it here. Was it as much fun the second time round? You bet! There were a couple more nuggets caught that had flown by my radar the first time, and watching it again provided more opportunities to witness how brilliant many scenes were, and a lot more easter eggs spotted that went unnoticed.

But of course the highlight today was to get my hands on this treasure, because as of now, it's still not available on our shores.

Thanks to my friend who had zipped from Malaysia to Singapore for a pit stop, I can now listen to the songs everywhere I go once it's loaded on the iPod. The CD sleeve also has lyrics printed too! Best of all...

It's Autographed!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

[DVD] Summer Days With Coo (Kappa No Ku To Natsu Yasumi) (2007)


A very well animated film, I felt this was one of the longest I've seen, clocking some 20 minutes over 2 hours. Some scenes were a little unnecessary and had dragged out some plot points, but I suppose as with any "origin" type film, some indulgence to explain in full certain events might just be warranted. Surprisingly violent too for a kid's movie, which raised my eyebrows, but once the momentum got going, it still contained a fairly interesting story of the friendship between a family and their adopted mythical water creature.

Don't be expecting this to be somewhat similar to a Miyazaki anime. For starters, the creature here doesn't exactly fit the usual mold of cute, furry or cuddly. It's rather gangly with strange patches on a green back, complete with shell and webbed limbs. But as they say, judge not a book by its cover, and for what it lacks in looks, Coo (as the creature is called) makes up for it in the personality department. A nice heartwarming story told in two halves, one centering on the relationship between the creature and his rescuer, while the latter half was a little more of a reflective piece on society's reaction to strangeness.

Quite an adult picture if you ask me, but recommended nonetheless.

You can read my DVD review of Summer Days With Coo at by clicking on the logo below.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fireball: Muay Thai Dunk (ท้าชน)

Mean Machines

Rather than Fireball: Muay Thai Dunk, this could have been more aptly titled as Firebrawl: Anything Goes, and I mean that in a nice way. We know enough of how sports and martial arts can coexist in movies, either in comical fashion like Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer, or played in a more deadpan, idol-movie like manner with the Jay Chou vehicle Kung Fu Dunk. Joining their ranks is this latest action film directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan, which fuses an illegal underground basketball league, and Muay Thai fighting.

For those who want to organize their own tournament, here are the extremely simple rules as explained in the movie. It's your standard 5 on 5 basketball on a full length court, except that when the whistle blows, you can brawl with your opponent immediately, which makes it something like a WWE Royal Rumble, only faster and more brutal. To win, you still have to put the ball into your opponent's goal/basket (it's still basketball after all), but it only takes one dunk to win. Either that, or the team with the last man standing will be the victor. Killing your opponent is allowed, but only within the court (anything outside equals to punishment for the team), but there's no replacement players allowed as you progress through the stages. Which means survivors get to split more cash between them, but suffer from numerical disadvantage. Weapons are optional too.

Which makes the film perfect as an all out actioner, and Pongsuwan doesn't think twice about indulging the audience into detailed, well executed fights which take precedence over a decent game of basketball. While watching the film I felt it was a throwback to the 80s Bloodsport type of movie with gladiators battling in an arena, sans plot and character development, where the focus is to let the fists and feet do most of the talking. That said, the fight sequences were nicely shot and tightly choreographed, though it seemed more like an all-out street brawl than sticking to Muay Thai principles. Fans of hard-hitting action will definitely appreciate the ring-side seat to all of the action here, which is relentless in pace and powerful in execution.

Story-wise, it tells of the tale of Tai (Preeti Barameeanat), who has recently been released from prison because twin brother Tan got him out of jail by raising required funds for bribery, but at the price of fighting for his life in a coma at the hospital. Tai learns from Tan's main squeeze Pang (Khanutra Chuchuaysuwan), who provides a cursory and unnecessary romantic angle, that Tan often got himself badly knocked up, and discovers that his twin was actually knocked comatose by an opponent in a Fireball tournament. So like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Tai adopts Tan's identity, and finds himself looking for a team to join for the tournament, seeking revenge.

Enter Boss Den (Phutharit Prombandal), who recruits Tai's Tan into his Fireball team, led by captain and best fighter of the lot Zing (9 Million Sam, yes you read that right!), with Muk (Kumpanat Oungsoongnern), K (Anuwat Saejao) and teenager IQ (Kannut Samerjai) as the rag-tag, hastily assembled team with trust issues amongst one another, and personal issues, each from the doldrums of society, mercenaries for hire if you like, eyeing that prize money at the end of the rainbow in order to lift their lot. Throw in some match-fixing potential, which is de-facto in any underground fights, and nasty opponents with no qualms for un-sportsmanship behaviour, and you're all set for a non-stop action film where the drama in between becomes an excuse to glue the multi-faceted fight scenarios together, and when that happens, everything slows to a crawl. One of the best scenes in the film involves a training sequence where the boys play a friendly in and around a narrow and cramped apartment block, resembling a parkour-yamakasi piece.

Given knowledge that a prequel will be made, I can't help but to think that this film could end up as the "middle" movie, since it ended the way it did with doors opened for a sequel, and of course the story of Tan provides ample room for scenes before the opening shot here. The players too are likely to be similar for the prequel, and it could follow John Woo's A Better Tomorrow where you can bring back the key actor from the excuse that we're looking at the twin / likeness resembling relative, which this film had all set up, and set subsequent movies back in time too.

That said, as a basketball-type movie, Fireball would not muster any merit for lay-ups and slam dunks. But as an action film, then yes, it will satisfy any action junkie who misses the good old days of no holds barred fights, multiplied by the number of players on the court all happening at the same time.

For Singapore audiences, alas in the name of profits by the distributors, the film is severely edited in the final game so that it can be rated NC-16 rather than M18. Just as you're awaiting the climax, the censors scissors draw final blood in order to allow for that lower rating to happen, so you can only guess how some characters meet their demise. For those who cannot stand second-guessing, and prefer to see how just desserts get dished, then you might want to hold out for the DVD (if rated higher than NC-16), or watch it in a theatre somewhere else. You have been warned.

Henry Poole Is Here

Just Chillin'

From time to time I had wondered how I would react if some doctor was to tell me I have X-number of days left to live. One plan I have is to quit the job, sell off everything, pack some essentials into a backpack, and hit the road to travel round the world, even though I know at some point I would probably succumb to whatever's sapping my life away, and at some unknown place, but man, imagine the adventure where risk is but a word in the dictionary.

Or I could opt for what Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) did, buying a house with whatever available cash, binge on vodka and pizza, and live life like a recluse with doors shut and heavy curtains drawn. He's been told that his lifespan is expiring soon, and tries unsuccessfully to buy the house he grew up in, settling instead for a substitute a few blocks down, and shutting himself away from the world as much as he can while waiting for the Grim Reaper to knock on the door. Except that the knocks come from curious neighbours who cannot fathom why this young man is living as he does.

It's somewhat similar to Half Nelson where the protagonist is being numb to life, and couldn't care less if his neighbourhood's burning to the ground. Luke Wilson, often overshadowed by his more illustrious brother Owen, carries the weight of this film on his shoulders with nonchalant ease as the titular Henry Poole. He's mean to everyone, in a stage of denial and has this immense rage against the world, despite neighbours such as elderly and religious lady Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), single mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell) and daughter Millie (the cute Morgan Lily who had her 1 minute cut at fame with He's Just Not That Into You), and grocery store checkout girl Patience (Rachel Seiferth) trying their best to connect a little with him and bring him out of his shell.

The crux of the story here centers around the mysterious, well, coincidental appearance of a water stain on the wall of his house, and to Esperanza, it looks like the image of Christ. So begins the mad tussle for his sanity when he has to spurn all Esperanza and her friends' advances into his property to pay homage to their God. And to compound matters, miracles start to happen all around Henry on the people he knows, thus challenging his very core beliefs through doubt.

Religious allegory aside, the theme here is primarily of hope and not giving up. I still feel a Plan A type as mentioned in my first paragraph, an optimistic, fear none, gung-ho spirit to take the bull by the horns, would be the best way forward. Sitting around moping and wasting away isn't a solution. Something like attempting and completing your bucket list before you call it a day. is. It's also a reminder that one shouldn't be too proud to admit the need for help, and to seek it. After all, the old man up there helps those who help themselves, and we must be the one who knock, so that it can be answered. Watching this modestly pace film allows you ample time to ponder over what you would do, if you were in Henry's exact same situation.

Well rounded great acting by the ensemble cast makes this one man journey toward redemption pretty engaging to watch. And having an excellent soundtrack helps to, even though it's just to accompany slow-motion, drama-mama visuals usually with Henry in deep thought, wondering what to do next with the limited time granted to him. Some may not like the cop-out ending, but I felt that it served its purpose in fulfilling its thematic exploration and reminding one and all that nothing's ever hopeless, unless you allow it to.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Monsters vs Aliens


I'm beginning to wonder whether the 3D novelty is wearing out already, especially if slapped on films that think the beauty of visual effects and animation take precedence over a solid story. Everything here worked to a perfect T, from the very key component of animation, to voice casting, and sound, but what the film ultimately lacked, was a compelling narrative, and soul.

The premise for success is all there, and as seen in the trailer, there's a pretty good balance of comedy, action, and homage to the 50s and 60s horror and sci-fi genres. But as the adage goes, too many cooks, in this case, screenplay writers (5 of them no less) will spoil the broth, and as a result, the trailer contains the best bits from within the movie, and everything else just plain boring, which to me too is a surprise.

Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon who brought us Shark Tale and Shrek 2 respectively, you would have thought that the combination of their strengths would result in one heck of an entertaining ride, not. It's about time animated films pull a stop to lampooning all that's pop culture. Sure it's funny for a while, but it gets on your nerves pretty much faster than you can roll your eyes at the next joke from the same joke book.

While the film has plenty of monsters and well, just one alien and a giant robot which form the adversarial core, it's not about teamwork but the celebration of the strength of individuality. It's the story of a wistful bride Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) whose only goal in life is to go to Paris with her husband-to-be Derek (Paul Rudd), a news weatherman whom you know is actually the jerk that he is. Cue huge falling debris onto Susan on her wedding day, and she becomes Ginormica, captured by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) who puts her in a top-secret pet "zoo" of sorts with his other trophies Insectosaurous, Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), a merman creature known as The Missing Link (Will Arnet) and the crowd favourite, the nonsensical B.O.B (Seth Rogen), a blob of jello goo with no brain who serves as the punching bag and the source of all things funny here.

Speaking of funny, the laughs unfortunately don't come hard and fast. Attempts are made to be funny from the get go, but more often than not the effort fell flat on its face. It tried to emulate the Zucker brothers style of slapstick wit, and to a certain degree, when it worked it worked wonders, but you can sense an audience disconnect here when everyone fell silent most of the time. Even kids aren't tickled by the usual juvenile antics of the characters anymore, which now calls for a shift in sophistication.

A whole host of stars join the lineup, such as Rainn Wilson as the villainous alien Gallaxhar, Stephen Colbert as the dim-witted President Hathaway, Amy Poehler as a computer voice and even Renee Zellweger, but despite the star power going all round in flesh out the carefully designed and crafted animated characters, ultimately everyone was one-dimensional and playing to their stereotypical tendencies. 3D-wise, there are only a handful (pardon the pun) of scenes that are specifically designed with that kind of interaction in mind, otherwise the visuals only provide that depth of view, and nothing much that will make you reach out or duck.

Technically, you cannot fault Monsters vs Aliens. But essentially there's no heart in this film at all, and that proved to be its ultimate downfall that no novelty factor can redeem on its behalf.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


New Waterboys

I guess you know the drill by now for a typical Japanese zero to hero story, and while it's easy to lump this together with Waterboys, this one plays it serious and is pretty much devoid of humour. However it is no pushover in its drama, and its role in elevating the sport itself, given ample opportunity to explain its basic 101 diving principles to any rookie. Watching this for its spectacular dives is pretty much akin to watching it on a television sports channel, but of course the actors here make their characters more endearing as they battle their own personal demons.

While there's scope for rivalry and friendship, ultimately the story touches on personal struggles, and the strength that the characters find from one another as they battle their way to the pinnacle of the sport. And like all individual sports, it gets lonelier as you approach the top, wanting desperately to meet a challenger who can spar with you and give you a run for your money, and the achievement whether be it for personal glory, or the survivability of the flock. It also deals with motivation and the love for the sport, and newbies won't feel alienated as you're given ample coaching lessons on the different patterns and system of scoring.

Based on a novel by Eto Mori, the story has three male protagonist, who are actually crafted to cover an entire spectrum so as to provide some broad-based appeal. In one corner, you have the perfect diving athlete Yoichi Fujitani (Sosuke Ikematsu), of pedigree stock and carrying the weight of the entire diving club because he's the best. The coach (Ken Mitsuishi) also happens to be his father, who treats him more like protege than a son, and despite the introduction of new female coach Kayoko (Asaka Seto), the weight on his shoulders is no less when she introduces a newcomer Shibuki Okitsu (Junpei Mizobata).

Shibuki represents the other end of the spectrum, the rogue-like unorthodox challenger who doesn't seem to stick by the rules, and plays the game his way. Of pedigree as well since his grandfather represented Japan in the Olympics, his wild attitude also comes from an upbringing and honing of his craft not in stagnated pools, but from leaping off natural cliffs into the sea. He's aloof and seems to be a ticking time bomb that only Kayoko could reach out to and diffuse. A wildcard of the team, he brings about a real challenge to Yoichi, as well as aspiring to live up to his family name.

And rounding off the trio is Kento Hayashi's timid, unpolished gem Tomoki Sakai. I've seen one other Hayashi movie before in Love Fight back at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, and he too played a similar type of character, one with no innate talent, who has to rely on pure hard work, grit and determination to see him through his challenges. I suppose he continues to excel in such a role given his rather slender physique, though in this film he's rather toned. He represents the common man who has no proud ancestry to boast about or to live up to, and is just about your average Joe who makes the best use of opportunities that come his way, despite petty, childish setbacks and sacrifices to be made.

Technically, Dive!! boasts of such excellent camera work, in large part due to the sweeping shots of the platforms, divers and the landscape around them. Then again, given all actors aren't professional divers, I guess the most they can achieve through their acting skills, is to convince you that they're the real deal, through the striking of believable poses that they're just about to execute some mean looking twists and mid-air somersaults before hitting the water cleanly. Camera angles play a key role here in ensuring the stunt / professional divers don't have their real faces exposed, and editing ensures the right cuts made, all the time.

Expect the usual training montage to take place as well, and while you're likely to stay one step ahead throughout the narrative in predicting accurately just what will happen, since it doesn't offer any surprises after spelling out the motivation and goals of each character, director Naoto Kumazawa still manages to instill some sense of excitement during competitive dives, even though you're fully aware of the movie magic that's going on all around. Except for the final dive which I felt was a little over the top in trying to get its message across, to the point of bordering on the ridiculous.

Nonetheless Dive!! is still an entertaining crowd pleaser, and I guess it'll put many in envious mode as the girls get to ogle at cute looking boys going about their thing with determination and drive, while the guys will wonder whether it's time to hit the gym to get those washboard stomachs!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

[DVD] Amusement (2009)

Behind You

This qualifies as one of the worst horror films that I've seen, given a film that relied totally on cliches and formula, and even then not getting it correct. Thankfully though it has a short running time to put you out of your misery soon enough, consisting actually of a number of short stories (well, at least it felt that way) extrapolated into a feature film. The chief villain lacks charisma to be anything memorable, not to mention iconic, and his lame name "The Laugh" is not even funny to begin with.

Bad acting, bad premise, and lacking of components to make your goosebumps stand and make you jump at your seat, this is certainly valuable for the only fact that it's a basic 101 guide on how not to make a bad movie. No wonder it hit the DVD shelves and had its theatrical release date junked. Watch this only if you want to know what pitfalls to avoid, or if you have DVD rental money to spare for a lazy weekend viewing, time which you can put to better use.

You can read my DVD review of Amusement at by clicking on the logo below.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Angels & Demons

Is That You, God?

Tom Hanks returns as Dan Brown's symbologist Robert Langdon in his first adventure Angels & Demons, which Hollywood decided to make after The Da Vinci Code, given the latter's more controversial subject striking a raw nerve on the faith itself. The Catholic Church was up in arms over the first film, but seemingly nonchalant about this one. And it's not hard to see why, considering Ron Howard had opted to do a flat-out action piece that serves as a great tourism video of Rome and Vatican City, and would probably boost visitor numbers given the many beautiful on-location scenes, save for St Peter's Square and Basilica which was a scaled model used.

So I guess with the bulk of the budget going toward the sets, the ensemble cast had to be correspondingly scaled down. Ayelet Zurer tried to step into the female void left by Audrey Tautou, but given Tautou's character then having a lot more stake in the earlier film, Zurer's scientist Vittoria had a lot less to do other than just waiting in the wings to change some batteries on a canister filled with anti-matter. In the book she's the fodder of course for Langdon to converse his vast knowledge of the Vatican, the Illuminati and the great feud between the two, but here she's neither love interest, nor his intellectual equal.

Ewan McGregor on the other hand, chews up each scene he's in as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, who is temporarily taking care of the Papal office while the other prominent cardinals are in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope. And he plays Patrick with that glint in the eye, with nuances enough to let you know there's more than meets the eye. There's no surprises here for readers of the novel, but McGregor's performance here is one of the highlights of the film as Hanks plays well, Tom Hanks.

The book itself is rich with arguably accurate content as always, and had a lot more plot points on science versus religion, and a wealth of information that Dan Brown researched and linked together in an engaging fictional piece of work. While reading the book some years ago, I thought that should a film be made of it, it's easy to lapse and dwell more on the set action pieces. Sadly, that's what this Ron Howard film did, with a pace that doesn't allow a temporary breather. Unlike the first film where you had the characters sit down for some "discussion time" over a cup of tea, this one moved things along so quickly, it's like reading the book all over again, page after page being skipped just to get to the thick of the action.

Catholic reviewers have called Angels & Demons harmless, because I guess it didn't dwell on its many controversies, unlike The Da Vinci Code which struck a raw nerve at the centre of the faith with its theories. And if anything, this film served as a great tourism promotional video with a nice showcase of the many prominent touristy landmarks that would entice many around the world to go pay a visit. Naturally certain areas like the catacombs beneath St Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican archives remain out of bounds, but the walk along the Path of Illumination, now that's almost free.

Nothing new for those who have read the book other than to see it come alive, but for those who haven't, this film may just compel you to pick up Dan Brown's novel just to read a bit more about the significance about the landmarks, and characters such as Galileo, Michelangelo and Bernini who are intricately linked to the plot, but much left unsaid. Satisfying pop-corn entertainment leaving you with nothing spectacular.

You can read my review of Angels & Demons at by clicking on the logo below.


and since this is a blog after all, taken from my 2004 trip to Europe which included pit stops in Rome and Vatican City. This was in 2004 before you have Tours like these which make your life easier.

St Pietro's Basilica

Castel St Angelo

Castel St Angelo and Bridge of Angels

The Pantheon

The Pantheon Dome

Piazza San Pietro

Inside St Pietro Basilica

View From The Top of St Pietro Basilica

Piazza St Pietro

Piazza St Pietro

En Route to Capella Sistina


The Uninvited

A Tale of Two Sisters

I haven't seen the original Tale of Two Sisters by Kim Ji-woon to begin with so I won't be able to do any meaningful comparisons. But if a remake is any indication of how the original is generally miles better, especially if done by Hollywood, hen it probably is worth my while to put the Korean horror movie in my to-watch list. After all, Kim Ji-woon's film is one of Korea's top box office draws when released.

There have been more misses than hits when Hollywood adapts what it thinks could be instant box office gold with its fountain of Asian content, and since there have been only a limited number of successful Asian horror releases in recent years, it had looked inwards and cannibalized on remaking its own shock/slasher films. This one took a long while to translate to The Uninvited, and I guess taking some 6 years indicated the filmmakers wanted to do things right instead of rushing through and come out with crap.

As such the directing duo of the Guard Brothers Charles and Thomas managed to find some balance between telling a psychological thriller, and moments where they can properly employ tricks from the usual formula book to scare an audience, with the usual light and shadows, smoke and mirrors, warped beings, decomposed bodies and jump cuts with ghouls staring down at you. Surprisingly it didn't rely on sound or lack thereof to add a further sensory dimension to set pulse racing, which I thought was a little let down in its moments to build up to the next “Boo!”

If anything, the acting duo of Emily Browning (of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, with pouty lips to rival Angelina Jolie's, and given special attention too in this narrative) and Arielle Kebbel shine as skimpily clad sisters Anna and Alex respectively, who have to rely on each other as they uncover the truth behind the death of their mom (Maya Massar). It doesn't help of course with Anna just being certified sane and safe to be released from a mental institution, and their suspect happens to be their nanny-turned-new-step-mom-to-be Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) whom dad (David Strathairn) intends to marry. Given the short run time of under 90 minutes, the pace is kept compact with little room wasted to pump in unnecessary subplots (unless set up just to provide an additional avenue to unleash horrific mayhem), focusing very much of the relationship between the two sisters, and their strained one with their father. Emily Browning, as the lead, of course had enough latitude to showcase a double-head snake role in being “nice” to Rachel, in order for some fishing of information.

That isn't to say there isn't any loophole that a jumbo jet can't fly through. Even if you have no background knowledge gained from the original Korean film, it is easy enough for sharp-eyed viewers, or those whose cinematic staple is horror films, to stay one step ahead and deduce just what is exactly going on. Which makes me wonder just how much it'll take for shockmeisters to scare seasoned audiences since they're getting savvier, and easily bored with the same old bag of tricks.

If anything, The Uninvited would have piqued your interest in the original, which has a longer run time and in all likelihood, the exploitation of mood and atmosphere that are quite standard tools for horror films from Asia, which is sorely lacking in this version. Nonetheless it's still one of the better Western remakes of Asian horror attempted. Oh yeah, and a cut was detected in this PG-rated film. Tsk, should have stuck with NC-16 instead.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

For This Week...


No, I'm just terribly busy with work the last few days, and in days to come as well. And it just so happens that I've got the reviews all up for the major theatrical releases this week in Singapore.

So in order of Merit, here goes!

1. Sell Out!
Absolutely one of the most hilarious flicks I've seen this year. My movie of choice from this year's Singapore International Film Festival because it's a breath of fresh air from all the stifling arty-farty flicks, this Malaysian film is a must watch! You can watch the Q&A session from SIFF here.

2. Star Trek
J.J. Abrams had got this reboot done right, despite the need to navigate the tremendous amount of canonical history from the long running franchise. A younger Enterprise crew to ensure enough legs to continue the cinematic franchise, non-Trekkers will also find enough bait here to be hooked.

3. Kabei - Our Mother
Veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada puts aside his Samurai sword, and is a force to be reckoned with in his ode to Mothers, in time for Mother's Day too in its local release.

4. Claustrophobia
Watched this during its world premiere at last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, one of my favourites at the festival and a recommended watch for the leads Ekin Cheng and Karina Lam's performances. Check out the press conference here.

5. The Ramen Girl
Passable but below average. Wait for the DVD if you must. And for Brittany Murphy fans only who cannot get enough of her pout.

Normal service will resume soon...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

[DVD] Red Sands (2009)

War Mongers

My first reaction after watching this film, is how uncanny it resembled the local movie Pulau Hantu, from its narrative structure of a military interrogation of a lone survivor amongst his platoon mates, to the inexplicable happenings, cover ups, and disbelief. Even the way it ended was somewhat similar, that I would have thought one screenplay had two different interpretations. In fact, Korean horror flick G.P. 506 shared the same structure, so I guess it's no surprise if other films wanting to emulate it, would follow the same formula...

... To varying degrees of success of course. Hampered by an relatively low budget of US$1.5 million, I guess the filmmakers did what they could, and missed a number of plot points. It couldn't decide if it wanted to be a downright horror flick, or a psychological thriller, and ended up being none but a very laborious and tedious plod from start to end, without clear and certain direction. It had an idea about dabbling with Djinns, but I guess lost the plot midway when budget dictates a less than ideal rendering of idea into reality.

You can read my DVD review of Red Sands at by clicking on the logo below.


[EU Film Fest] London to Brighton


There were some in the audience who couldn't believe that a film like Amos Gitai's Promised Land could be made, given its almost documentary like feel to an aged old problem of human trafficking for prostitution. I suppose those who feel that way would probably not take to London to Brighton, which like films such as Lilya-4-ever take an angle of child prostitution, and spun a different narrative out of it.

Here, it's actually out of desperation - in fact almost all the characters here reek of it, in exploiting children on the streets and enticing them with significant sums of money in order to satisfy the whims of some rich clients. The film takes on a non-linear narrative in having its tale told, which leaves you pretty much engaged in wanting to find out just why two women are on the flight as per its title, leaving behind the city of London in double quick time, where we are introduced at 3:07am to Joanne (Georgia Groome) in thick makeup, being hidden in a stank toilet cubicle by an older lady of the streets, Kelly (Lorraine Stanley), suffering from one badly bruised eye.

I suppose a modest production budget made this film look like a typical gritty English crime thriller, with the hand held camera bringing the audience into the thick of the action, either slowly drawing some sympathies from the lead female characters because of the lack of options made available to them, including being on the run, or presenting a sense of clear and present danger up close, especially when pimps Derek (Johnny Harris) and Chum (Nathan Constance) become inevitably close in catching up with the duo for an event they committed, kept closely under wraps.

The relationship between Kelly and Joanne remain one of the highlights of the film, two women who have nobody else to turn to, trying to determine what their next course of action might be at every turn. We see how Kelly takes it upon herself as the surrogate guardian of Joanne, but I suppose only because of the immense guilt that she brought to the table, for having again out of desperation, introduce a young girl into her dark underworld. Those who have watched Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging would see how Georgia Groome makes an about turn from privileged child, to one roaming the streets.

The other highlight which I had enjoyed was how thugs have the capability of systematically breaking down one's defenses, in balancing threats and carrots so as to gain some level of trust and obedience. Johnny Harris plays his role well as the pimp who constantly looks out for himself, of bowing to authority and pressure, while Nathan Constance as his chum actually had a lot more characterization going on for him instead. A pity though that it wasn't explored further, and had to be ended as it did in the film.

London to Brighton has a sense of danger permeating throughout, in a sort of hunter versus prey kind of film, that will leave you on the edge of your seat as it builds up to its last act, in a story succinctly told in under 80 minutes.


London to Brighton plays on 9 May 09 1900hrs at GV Vivocity, and comes with a bonus extra short Royalty written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Click on the image below for more details, or here directly to book your tickets.

For those who would like to participate in a masterclass with the Producers of London to Brighton - Alastair Clark and Rachel Robey, then click here for more details!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

[DVD] The ESP Couple (2008)

Can You Read My Mind?

At first glance some halfway through to the film, I'd thought the pairing of the couple was something like that of the Condor Heroes of Huang Rong and Guo Jing, where the lady relies on her street smarts to get them out of difficult situations, and the guy relying on his brawn. Here, Su Min (Jin Goo) and Hyun Jin (Park Bo Young) play a couple where the former becomes incessant in finding out the ESP abilities of the latter, and conjures up some scenarios where he has no choice but to employ his abilities to bail them out of. Until of course it's put to better use in trying to assist in solving a kidnapping case, to which there's a slight twist to it all.

If not for that little sleight of hand at the last act, this would be your typical pilot episode of a television series, and in fact, the look and feel was one that fit right in. The little anime segment in the last act served up some nice, differing visuals from the rest of the narrative. If this was to be made into a television series, I would be curious enough to give it a chance to see how it develops further.

You can read my DVD review of The ESP Couple at by clicking on the logo below.


[EU Film Fest] Playing Solo (Sooloilua)


The debut feature film of Finnish director Lauri Nurkse, Playing Solo tells the story of three individuals who are just that - selfish people who have to learn how to change themselves in order to live with one another. Based on the novel by Katja Kallio, it brings to mind the constant tussle in the modern world of how one can be so easily caught up with work, that relationships often take a back seat, for better or worse.

We have Emma Huilu (Saija Lentonen), a reporter in a long distance relationship that recently ended, and in a stroke of luck from an occupational hazard, gets to meet possibly the sexiest orchestra conductor alive in Joel Abrahamsson (Lari-Pekka Toivonen) to conduct a last minute interview. Needless to say, sparks fly immediately, they go on a whirlwind romance, and before you know it, he soon loads her up with his personal problem - that of taking care of his aged mom Lea (Kristiina Elstela) who is beyond control in the nursing home's she put up in.

The character of Joel is your typical alpha-male type whose jet-setting career and reputation puts him in the clear path of temptation, and how he battles that would naturally have repercussions in his relationship with Emma. Toivonen plays this role with ease because of his stature and good looks, and exudes enough pathos given the frustrations of his childhood and his difficult mom. We think that he's the poor victim here when we see how he gets dumped by a pregnant ex-girlfriend, but there's more than meets the eye to this handsome man.

Saija Lentonen on the other hand had a deeper role to play, though nothing unexpected since we see a strong, independent woman succumb to being needy, and you're likely to feel that she had made a number of missteps and was being blatantly silly. But then love is blind, and you would like to trust the best in your partner, though ultimately I still think that the finale didn't do the story, and her character, justice at all.

Stealing the show every step of the way is of course Kristiina Elstela as the strong-willed mom who doesn't accept any nonsense from anyone. Clearly missing her son who's never emotionally there for her, much of the comedy stems from her razor sharp wit. With Joel being out of the picture for the most part, the story then takes on the spin of bonding amongst women, who between them at first was full of animosity, but nothing beats some earnestness in holding out that olive leaf. Both have lessons for each other, and their dynamics brought to life by the actresses are one of the key highlights of the film.

And there's a particular scene which I enjoyed, as it dealt with the notion of time, devotion and returns. It brought about the thought of having to understand someone, a stranger perhaps, in order to have some form of meaningful conversation. But like in many scenes which involve Joel, life in itself is one where it's easy to take things for granted, and usually we devote time to pursuits which translate to economic gains, rather than to spend that same amount of time, or even a quality fraction of it, with the people we love, just to understand them a little bit more, and to spend time because we simply want to.

Playing Solo reinforces the reminder that there should always be time to stop and smell the roses, and that family should always come first. It's true that we sometimes cannot stand the little idiosyncrasies of loved ones, but ultimately we should never take things for granted, and nobody should be flying solo in his or her lifetime. This comedy-romance comes recommended for that theme alone, despite an ending that I just couldn't agree with completely.


Playing Solo plays on 13 May 09 1900hrs at GV Vivocity. Click on the image below for more details, or here directly to book your tickets.

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