Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monte Carlo

Looking Like A Million Bucks

If you had asked me who was Selena Gomez a few months back, I would have just blinked at you. If not for attending Justin Bieber's 3D documentary film, being intrigued by his internet fueled meteoric success and inevitably feeding off the tabloids on his career, I would not have known who the lead actress was, but now I do. Based loosely on the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass, the release of Monte Carlo this week in the US and Singapore would probably be deemed suicidal, if not for its appeal to the intended demographic left out of the testosterone filled Transformers, and the more mature movie going audience who would likely flock to Larry Crowne starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (opens in Singapore next week to avoid a three-way battle).

And appeal to that group it does, playing up to its favourite things that if I were a girl I would gobble this up hook, line and sinker. There's travelling to Europe, Paris no less, with a BFF, and a sister you'd love to hate in tow, meeting attractive and more importantly, single guys at every turn, travelling in luxury from being ferried in private jets and limousines, rubbing shoulders with royalty and the rich and famous, as well as having an arsenal of gorgeous outfits to get into topped off by million dollar jewellery, participating in exotic games and attending the coolest parties. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

But that's about it, with the film very much set in territory already explored in countless of films dealing with coincidental, mistaken identity, where the Prince and the Pauper switch places – this one being one sided and without permission – for the pauper to experience the high life, leading onto moralistic questions such as whether one will be enticed by things superficial and materialistic, or will one return to one's humble roots with morals, principles and values intact. It's the same old usual themes about wanting to fulfill personal objectives and dreams, whatever they may be, whether done so through hard work, or just by meeting the right people.

Selena Gomez takes on two roles here, although her role as the mean British heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott looks like she's suffering from a constant PMS. Her other main role is of course as Grace, the simple waitress from Texas who had graduated and is taking her graduating trip to Paris with best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy), only for her parents to get her half-sister Meg (Leighton Meester) to tag along despite their hating of each other's guts. So begins the journey of self-discovery for all – Grace to decide whether she should keep up with the charade she and her pals find themselves in at the risk of being a fraud to Theo (Pierre Boulanger) of the Hotel de Paris, Emma to try and figure out if the high life and potentially rich royal-family linked acquaintance can be anything more than friends as compared to her troubled boyfriend Owen (Cory Monteith), and Meg learning to becoming less uptight while getting swept off her feet by Aussie tourist Riley (Luke Bracey).

Yes, that's all the romance lined up, as they zip around the different places in luxurious Monte Carlo, having the second act centered around closure in and around a million dollar necklace meant for a charity auction. In some ways that was the best part of the film as finally there is a sense of purpose and urgency to try and resolve everything amicably and set their identities straight as their charade comes to the inevitable close, with well timed, expected comedy to pave the way to a finale that ends all too conveniently.

Naturally the landscapes make up the film with its far flung, beautiful locations that would just make you want to save up enough to jet set in the same fashion, trying very hard to make you forget the many plot conveniences and coincidences, for the very obviously predictable way this teeny bopper film is appealing to the teenage female population through the latest It girl making that transition from music to film. Strictly or the fans only.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - An IMAX 3D Experience

I'm The Foxy Replacement

The universal hard truth – that this film will make an obscene heap of money no matter how bad a film it actually is, and that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a smoking hot Victoria's Secret model that Michael Bay just loves to train his camera onto her endless limbs and cleavage, but can't act to save her life. Welcome to the third live action installment of Transformers, which Bay at one point said he won't be back to direct, but only because he got tempted to play with new 3D filmmaking toys that we got to this point, this being his only return to a material for the third time in his career, and his second Moon outing since Armageddon.

Written by Ehren Kruger who was responsible for the mess in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I would say this time round the story was one leg up than the previous, though expect little other than to have scenes crafted to bring the audience from one major fight to the next. But it actually started off rather brightly with our first detailed view of the never-ending war on Cybertron, and culminated in a plot that Transformers fans and those who follow the cartoon series will celebrate with the introduction of the iconic space bridge, and what it can do to wreck havoc on Earth. Kruger also fell prey to the permeating sweep of nostalgia in the blockbusters of this year, with the 60s being a groovy time like X-Men: First Class, to get into, this time round tying in some major conspiracy theories into the entire Space Race between the USA and USSR, and of course the moon landing and why since the Apollo missions nobody else set foot on our moon. And not to forget that little bit on Chernobyl as well, that made Dark of the Moon feel quite epic in its narrative scale and ambition.

But some things never change in a Michael Bay film, and one enters his world knowing fully well what to expect, no matter what he's directing. Granted the army is back in full force once again, as are various quasi-government agencies, but toned down are the tremendous recruitment ra-ra moments that defined Revenge of the Fallen, although you can't help but to chuckle at how Bay is determined to show us the perfect US-led world with the Autobots now being at the beck and call of the American military to take out rogue nations and groups that pursue unsanctioned nuclear ambition. Well if you can't do it in real life, do it in film in time for a 4th of July salute, can't you?

Then there's the token female characters, one babe in Rose Huntington-Whiteley's Brit bombshell Carly taking over the fired Megan Fox whose character in the previous two movies got written off through no less than two mentions that she had dumped Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky with many characters exalting Carly's "great" qualities, and the other the brainier Mearing of NSA played by Frances McDormand looking really frumpy. In Bay's universe, hot babes get to drive sleek sports cars and pout incessantly, and in what would be a laughable moment, have enough charms to casually chat with one of the main villains in the show reminding him that he should be vicious, when the villain should have just swatted her away like an insect.

But there are some plus points to amuse a Transformers fan. For instance, the much loved Laserbeak gets featured here in its nasty glory, being one heck of a powerful opponent with espionage its main weapon in orchestrating much of the Decepticon web of deceit, though its combination with Soundwave was one scene too little. Then there's Shockwave looking too up to date save for his cyclops eye and owning a gigantic pet worm that you see in the trailer, and Optimus Prime finally having his trailer put to good use in more than one battle sequence. Yes, it is up to these little things that keeps things interesting for fans and the casual viewer, but that's about it, as the big bang finale treaded on familiar ground covered in recent science fiction films such as Battle Los Angeles - this one becoming Battle Chicago - and Skyline with its alien invasion theme with alien planes peppering the sky, and aliens flexing their superior firepower with reducing masses of humans into ash.

Effort has been put into resisting the temptation to have too many robots show up on screen pulverizing each other in close combat, and having Bay's slow motion to show off some cool stunts involving humans and robots (Bumblebee seems to be the favourite to have to slow down), but for all the loud, mind numbing and eardrum busting action going all around during the action sequences, there's this distinct lack of villainy in the movie, with action sequences being overly long and losing their impact and focus.We get tons of faceless and nameless Decepticons yet again, with plenty of action in the huge finale focused on the humans and the soldiers/mercenaries, but little on the robots. I mean, if Optimus Prime can be temporarily forgotten since he's stuck in a bunch of wires dangling upside down from some broken building, something is wrong, besides the fact that he's in identity crisis mode for the most part fawning over to audiences who like their heroes dark with his declaration of annihilation over his enemies.

There are also supporting characters galore, some returning from the previous film such as John Turturro's Simmons, now a multi-millionaire thanks to his best selling book, and the likes of military men Lennox (Josh Duhamel) now made Colonel, and Tyrese Gibson's Epps, and new ones with John Malkovich and Ken Jeong in minor roles, with Patrick Dempsey's Dylan being written in to be in stark contrast to Sam Witwicky as humans who share similar robot-related ancestry, but it doesn't matter since no acting chops are required to star in this film, only the willingness to spout incredibly bad lines, and look cool/nerdy. What Buzz Aldrin (the real Buzz Aldrin) is doing in this film, is something of a mystery in itself too, other than to lend some gravitas to the created back story on the space race.

The IMAX 3D presentation wasn't all that impressive given the trumpeting of using technology that gave rise to Avatar, and felt for the most parts a 2D film instead, since most of the action sequences were converted to 3D in post. So you just might want to save money on this and go for a digital presentation which will suffice. Will this be the final Transformers film? I suppose the millions in revenue will make it hard for the studio to say no, but whether Bay will be back for another round, well it's anyone's guess. At least this installment was more entertaining than the previous one, but it still continues with the same of Bayhemic formula (of juvenile jokes, big explosions and coverup of plot loopholes), doesn't offer anything new and is at risk of running stale. There's only so much that the robots can do on Earth that we haven't already seen before in 3 movies.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

[DVD] Sinema Showoff! Class Of 2010: Special Singapore Day Edition (2011)

Someone once told me that the best way to introduce oneself to Singapore films, is through its selection of shorts, and that still holds true to today, where we have far more shorts being made than I could keep track of, and over the years the quality of filmmaking and storytelling have improved tremendously. Probably the only essential way to capture a glimpse and slice of life of our country, with films coming out from, and representative of the various communities in our country through their respective idiosyncrasies and languages, expressed through the medium of film.

Sinema Old School has been running an ongoing showcase series since 2010 known as the Sinema Showoff! series curated by academic staff and students from School of Architecture & the Built Environment (Diploma in Integrated Events & Project Management), Singapore Polytechnic, and a Special Singapore Day Edition DVD compilation (which was commissioned by the Ministry of Information Communication & the Arts for Singapore Day 2011, held on 16 April in Shanghai) has been curated by Ramasamy Rajesree and Sueanne Teo consisting of the best from the Class of 2010 in an elegantly produced set containing six quality short films that's as diverse as can be, proudly presenting our country's emerging filmmakers.

So take a bow, class of 2010, as I look forward to the next batch who will hopefully get another shout out in similar fashion, packaged for a larger audience.

My Father Sazali / Bapakku Sazali (17:24, Letterbox)
Directed by Sazali Bin Masraji

Sazali Bin Masraji's short film is beautifully layered, capturing various thoughts, concerns and ideas into its compact run time dealing with a father and son relationship in a story about dreams, aspirations and pragmatism. Face is an Asian thing, and to the titular character Sazali (Ahmad Mawi) the barber, once a young man with filmmaking dreams, he is dead set against his son Adam (Shah Iskandar Mahfuz) in following in his footsteps. After all, Singapore society in general looks up to the ones who get to climb the corporate ladder in an air-conditioned skyscraper office downtown, not toward a small barbershop in which to ply one's trade in.

Oh the irony of it all, where the father's unfulfilled dream, turns him in a way against that of his son's own goal, and the heart to heart talk they share is nothing but heart wrenching, and well acted. It's well balanced, with plenty of comedy though in its first act involving the nagging wife Aini (Junainah Jumari) who interrupts her husband and son in their make-believe job interview session where you can see how the rather easy going Sazali got his mean streak inspiration from. One of the values of Bapakku Sazali is the capture of the modern day mom and pop trade of the quintessential Malay Barbershop, being shot inside a real one rather than a studio set, preserving the look, feel, sights and sounds of the real thing.

Masala Mama (8:27. Anamorphic Widescreen)
Directed by Michael Kam

What a tease, and I was hoping for a lot more that came to an abrupt conclusion through the comic book styled panels in its closing credits. If the previous short had shown the Malay Barbershop, shouldn't it be apt to be have a follow up with the Mamak shop, a traditional Indian convenience store (albeit quite a modern looking one) that unfortunately is making way for and having to compete with franchised minimarts and supermarkets sprouting all around the island.

There was a promise of a lot more given its build up toward a fight against the intolerant. A young boy (Vernon Ng) steals a comic book from an Indian shopkeeper (Mohan Vellayan) when the latter got deliberately distracted. We learn that the young boy gets his artistic inspiration from comics, much to the disapproval of his dad (On Eng Soon), who resorts to violence against the rather effeminate shopkeeper, ridiculing him and blaming him for his son's distraction from menial work.

And who would have thought the surprise at the end, going back to an Indian film almost always having a song and dance routine to spice it up, masala style. I would have loved for this to have dragged on for a few minutes longer since it went into a totally campy and fun mode, but that was not to be. After all, the mark of something successful, is to always leave people wanting more. And that's what Masala Mama did exactly.

Kitchen Quartet (20:35, Anamorphic Widescreen)
Directed by Nicole Midori Woodford

Kitchen Quartet may seem like a mini feature, with a well fleshed out, full story contained within its 20 minutes to deal with two families of different classes, having their paths crossed through food, whether served in a classy restaurant, or through the ubiquitous local hawker centres serving the masses.

Oon Shu An stars as Shu An the restaurant chef who we see get suspended by her boss (Loo Zihan) when she failed to whip up something of quality for the very discerning food critic Edmund Heng, played by Gerald Chew in pompous fashion. The narrative then moves into two separate threads, each dealing with the respective lead's relationship with their sole family member, with Shu An having a love/hate relationship with her mom Ai Leng (Sally Poh), in what would be the usual shunning of unconditional love and concern that any mom will have for their kid, and Edmund Heng being the contrast as a parent like Ai Leng, finding it extremely tough to connect with his son Luke (Brandon Lee) if not for his own very foul attitude.

With competent acting by the cast, Kitchen Quartet boasts of that strong sense of irony that one will inevitably see coming, and wraps itself up pretty neatly for that feel good factor after a rather emotionally punishing time for its protagonists. Wonderful art direction too in its bookends of restaurants and hawker centres, each serving up their respective gastronomical delights that probably points to that adage of a family eating (or cooking too) together, stays together. And of course that gentle reminder not to watch this short on an empty stomach as it boasts some very appetizing looking food.

Promises in December (16:32, Anamorphic Widescreen)
Directed by Elgin Ho

A cab driver (Raymond Yong) and a domestic helper (Corry Turostiowati) whom he ferries on her way home after six long years working in Singapore. Told in non linear fashion, Elgin Ho's short is set against the backdrop of the Asian tsunami disaster of December 2004, and crafts a simple tale of how an earth-shaking catastrophe can affect the simplest of individuals. In almost similar fashion to Kitchen Quartet, these two tales intertwine closely, and provide contrast with how one misses her child while away for so long, only for this unfortunate event to threaten to tear them further apart, and how the other with family close by, has the disaster to realize that his final moments with his wife could perhaps be better spent. A little bit cliched though in how some shots got designed and composed, especially in its pivotal scenes when news of the disaster broke.

You may remember Raymond Yong from television of the past, and while I didn't think of him much as an actor in his Dragon Five days, his performances in various local short films of late is nothing short of quality, and makes you sit up and take notice. His Alan Yap is very typical Singaporean, without trying too hard, and makes his cab driver instantly identifiable, with Singlish being the lingua franca of his character. If anything, his performance alone should be reason enough why one should watch this short film, which like the others in the collection, boasts of high production values that has raised the bar of local short films in recent years.

Santan (Coconut Milk) (8:11, Anamorphic Widescreen)
Directed by Farhan Zulkifli

I was half expecting Adam (Muhd Haziq) to offer his bottle of Ribena to Jarina (Nur Habriyah), the girl who stopped him in his tracks while he's taking a break at a playground, since for some reason the two kids reminded me of that nostalgic Ribena ad on television eons ago. This is the story about the two kids embarking on an extremely short adventure in search of Adam's lost file, which he suspected was taken by a homeless, crazy man (Alfrey Noor Sulaiman), but then again, that's quite usual for kids with an active imagination to have preconceived notions of odd looking/behaving adults.

Shot on film, this is quite clear it's a student effort, and has little quirky and charming moments on little things we will identify with at a similar age, what with budding puppy love, that cavalier sense of adventure, as well as the constant tussle with the parents for the minutest of reminders, threats and errants. A pity though that the end credits had to be somewhat truncated at the top toward the last few seconds (OK, so I'm a stickler for things like that).

National Day (19:11, Anamorphic Widescreen)
Directed by He Shuming
Taken from my earlier review here

In some ways this short is somewhat similar to Anthony Chen's Ah Ma, where family members rally around each other, each having their own way in dealing with a death (or in Ah Ma's case, impending) in the family. He Shuming's short is set on the 7th day after the passing of a man (well, this plot element also used in Chai Yee-wei's Blood Ties), which happens to fall on National Day. With the entire nation celebrating the occasion and enjoying the public holiday, the story looks at bereavement in stark contrast against a celebratory environment, where streets are quiet and everyone glued to their goggle boxes to partake in the parade.

The strength of this short laid squarely on Shuming's characterization of the family, with a dialect (Hainanese?) speaking, nagging mom, and the children - the daughter and her own family, and her brother, an army boy who had managed to obtain those difficult-to-get parade tickets, as we learn them being his deceased father's favourite event. As the story wore on, each member had its own segment to highlight their personal grief amidst brave fronts they put up, or quiet ones such as those that they boy fell into. There were some additional religious observations within the family that got presented as well, with different members with different beliefs, quite contrary though very real on the state of affairs facing some families which served as a momentary distraction from the main intent.

It's still pretty amazing that this was a school project, though the audio at times did sound a little airy and distant, probably voiceovers on the original soundtrack. Nonetheless a nice effort and I'll be paying attention to He Shuming's works to see what more he can conjure up.

Sinema Showoff! Class of 2010 DVD can be bought from Sinema Old School at S$19.90, and since 'tis the Great Singapore Sale seasn, you'll get two complimentary tickets (valid for 3 months) for a Sinema screening for every Sinema Showoff DVD purchased.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Art Against AIDS 2011

Art Against AIDS is a art competition that aims to raise awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The competition, organised by Action For AIDS, Singapore, also encourages community participation, particularly among the youth.

In this year's edition, Action For AIDS is running a short film competition, so budding filmmakers out there, do take note!

Living With… is a short film competition to communicate prevention messages or explore issues relating to stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS. Documentary or fictional film, it's your choice! Participants will gain access to a pool of local AIDS workers and volunteers including AIDS activist Royston Tan, and be challenged to make a short film that will inspire kindness, and action. Films will have to be 3 to 5 minutes long and participants should be in groups of 3 to 5.

Now accepting interest from all aspiring filmmakers from all tertiary institutes to form school-based teams, to submit entry forms by July 17th 2011. Win attractive and best entries will be screened by AfA in conjunction with World AIDS Day. Feel free to contact us the organizers at if you have any queries.

You can visit this site for more details as well.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hello Ghost (Hellowoo Goseuteu / 헬로우 고스트)

Eating Tofu

You can trust the Koreans to come up with a film that pads itself so much that the narrative seems to be never ending, until the final act that sledgehammers the best of emotions, tugging at your heartstrings and realizing that the extended narrative was all worthwhile for the payload at the end. Written and directed by Kim Young-Tak, Happy Ghosts may seem like a lightweight comedy that follows a tried and tested route, but I guarantee you'll be hard pressed not to give it a standing ovation when it continues to veer into melodramatic territory, just as you thought that Kim's pace was off for the most parts, that everything got forgiven for what was the final scenes that made the movie instead of breaking it.

Cha Tae-Hyun of My Sassy Girl fame stars as Sang-Man, a man whom we see in the opening scene trying to commit suicide in a cheap motel by swallowing a number of pills, only for the attempt to be thwarted by the motel owner who intervened on time. A subsequent attempt to drown in a river also got interrupted by coast guards on duty, and a quick trip to the hospital allowed him a second chance at life, bringing him back from the brink of death only to open his eyes to the presence of a number of ghosts who reveal themselves to him when in the hospital, each possessing distinct traits such as a smoker, an alcoholic, a weeping lady and a young boy with an incredibly sweet tooth.

As we soon learn, Sang-Man is depressed for having to be an orphan in the world, and quite fed up at being alone. As the adage goes, be careful what you wish for, as he now has unwanted company in the form of those spirits who each take turn, or sometimes almost simultaneously, to possess him, leading to expected hilarity as he demonstrates the dominant trait to the bafflement of others. Under the advice of a medium, and probably any one of us who have seen our fair share of friendly spirit films, the spirits are in our world using the body of a human as a vessel to go about completing their unfinished business, before they can finally depart the earthly realm.

Thus begins the quest to finish each of the ghosts' outstanding issues in narratively episodic fashion, such as one wanting to watch an animated movie, another wanting a camera back from a policeman, or even a simple requirement of having a meal together. While it will all make sense later on, it will, at this point, frustrate the impatient viewer as the episodes aren't quite ground breaking in any way, having this rather coincidental or familiar feel to them all that you've probably seen something similar in another film. The bright spark will of course be that the ghostly quests also all seem to point to, and help Sang-Man, in his romance of the hospital nurse Jung Yun-Soo (Kang Hye-Won), setting up an avenue for romance as well although it was a rather awkward, though inevitable, inclusion, into the storyline that took quite a while for it to develop.

Thematically, this is a film about belonging and family, where the lack of one drove one to want to kill himself for the lack of love and essential support, while for another character to detest whatever family she has left, albeit the latter not being too pronounced for the most parts. It reminds us of the importance of family and how grudges should always be addressed and not left for too late, reminders about positions that we sometimes lapse into. Kim also had a lot of ground he had wanted to cover with his story, resulting in the setup being quite scattered and a shifting in focus, with characters entering and being left out for the most of the midsection.

Cha Tae-Hyun may have made his name as the male lead opposite Jun Ji-hyun in My Sassy Girl, and while Jun's career may have taken off in relatively stratospheric fashion, I suppose it is now that his will finally make people sit up and take notice, playing a character being possessed by different characters will mean the actor having to impersonate or adopt the various character traits developed by others as his own that will allow for a showcase of acting chops of some sorts, from having to laugh, to cry, even some signs of childishness and slight feminism, contributing to intended comedy thanks to Cha's comedic timing, and hang-dog looks that he exploits.

There are the usual plot element loopholes as well which shouldn't bother the casual viewer, unless one gets perturbed by issues when the filmmakers didn't set their goal posts firmly, such as deciding whether the things the ghosts touch in the real world will affect those items directly, or that they would just be representations in the spiritual realm, although one can argue that such instances are performed through Sang-Man as the vessel, but if you observe closely, it's not being kept consistent.

But don't let that detract you from what makes for a powerful drama that will make you hard pressed not to reach out for that tissue. Little did I expect this to be what it was summed up at the end, and for that, made the erratic pacing for the most parts of the film come with a little bit more gravitas that warrants at least a repeated viewing, and powers its way into my shortlist amongst this year's best. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Treasure Inn (财神客栈)


This film had the honour of being the sole World Premiere screening amongst the gala red carpet presentations at the inaugural Screen Singapore film event held earlier this month since Larry Crowne only bestowed the Asia Pacific premiere (although I'm quite certain it's a first public screening anywhere in the world) for the event, with Hong Kong's prolific writer-director-producer and occasional actor Wong Jing in attendance together with leading cast member Nick Cheung here in Singapore to grace the event. Like all Wong Jing's movies, always approach them with tapered expectations, as he is responsible for a spectrum of films, some well received, while others not so.

Taking on writing and directing responsibilities for Treasure Inn, Wong contributes to an ever growing resurgence of martial arts films in the Pan Chinese territories, and like most China co-productions, have cast members from China and Hong Kong in an ensemble of light caricatures with very defined alliances of a tussle between the forces of good and evil that's set to appeal to the Chinese film market, which of course also shows its ever growing importance in terms of potential box office revenues. And in some ways you can tell the story also got watered down a little in terms of the usual signature Wong Jing bawdy style of storytelling.

The story follows two lowly police friends Kung (Nicholas Tse) and Brad (Nick Cheung) who find themselves embroiled in a thick conspiracy involving a priceless Goddess of Mercy jade statue, a bunch of armed bandits who have engaged the services of some of the deadliest assassins in the country, coupled with an elite troop of investigators led by Captain Iron (Kenny Ho), all of whom seem to be converging to the titular inn where smugglers and general treasure seekers alike congregate for that infrequent trading meet. What more, the duo have to contend with farcical romance in the form of Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi) and Fire Dragon Girl (Huang Yi), and form alliances with the likes of a civilized doctor (Tong Da Wei) who is quite the skilled pugilist himself as he holds a torch for the titular inn's owner Ling Long (Liu Yang), who in turn forms a kind of loose love triangle with Kung.

It's a typical action adventure with Wong Jing's trademark bawdy jokes at a minimum here, though not lacking in scenarios and one liners to make you laugh, some lame of course. Action gets direction from Corey Yuen, and since this is firmly in the fantastical realm, allows for plenty of wirework as well as CG effects that allows for some juvenile comedic moments of "moleitau" (nonsensical) glory, as well as ambition to make this a special effects extravaganza when skilled pugilists from both sides of the law meet in frequent clashes, with the villains being little more than one-skill wonders.

Weak villains aren't only the drawback here, as the heroes turn out to be a rather rag tag bunch. There was a hint at the lowly constables Kung and Brad turning out to be more than meets the eye, but that unfortunately stayed at just that, being little more than possessing ambition to be amongst the elite constabulary force that they take it upon themselves to get into the thick of the action. In these roles, it is Nick Cheung who shines being given some of the best lines in the film and hiding behind a set of buck teeth, while Nicholas Tse (becoming the centre of attention lately with both Wong Jing and Nick being asked the inevitable questions from the local media) turned out to be rather bland in his role despite very credible fight sequences, and his character's romance with the Water Dragon Girl was fabulously bad and cringe inducing.

Besides the welcome return of Kenny Ho (after a local turnout in Love Cuts), the Chinese actors seemed more comfortable in their roles, especially the duo of Tong Da Wei and Liu Yang, with limited screen time not impacting the more interesting and memorable roles they play, compared to the ones done by the Hong Kong veterans that you'd think there's some slight favouritism being shown. But that said, Treasure Inn still turned out to be little more than a typical, mediocre period action adventure. There are a lot of equivalent, noisy summer pictures out there, that this is only an option if those are sold out.

Your Highness

Victorious Brothers

This comedy of a film to the medieval fantasy action adventure genre is something that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer could probably never get it in their lifetime with their track record of horrible films trying to pass off as funny, taking well established formula and stereotypes from the genre and turning them all over their heads for a laugh, which worked a lot of the time and surprisingly was way better than expected.

There are many sprawling elements here that make up the narrative, from character or caricature examination to the nature of a quest movie to find a hidden artifact, kill the villain and rescue the damsel, while swashbuckling the way through countless of villains through the combination of brawn and magic. There's blind romance, lust, betrayals, squires that bootlick all the way, mechanical birds, and of course the villains such as the Cyclops and the Minotaur, the latter few items taking a huge leaf from the classic film of Clash of the Titans (especially in that original 80x film).

Danny McBride and James Franco star as Thadeous and Fabious, two princes of royal blood who cannot be more than opposite with their attitude and achievements, with Thadeous being the gross underachiever compared to Fabious' alpha-male tendencies. In his latest quest, Fabious returns with a bride to be only for the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux) to come steal her away for deflowering under the eclipse of two moons, and it's up to our merry men, and their entourage consisting the likes of court jester Julie (Toby Jones) to go on a quest to seek out mythical, perverted sages, retrieve powerful weapons and ally with equally skilled exponents like Isabel (Natalie Portman) the warrior woman who is also on a quest with common objectives.

What just worked is the casting which had many play against type, and James Franco fans listen up. I've not seen him in any role like this one where he sheds his serious alpha-male exterior for something of a flamboyant beefcake with a penchant for the rough and tumble to protect his father's kingdom. Then there's Zooey Deschanel as the evergreen go-to lass, now required to play her role of Belladonna with child like imagination since her character is modelled after Rapunzel sans long hair, being kept captive in a tower so as to fulfill an evil prophecy. Natalie Portman only had a minor role here, entering the fray midway though contributing no less with new found physicality and an insane parting shot, while Danny McBride co-writes and stars as the grouchy slouch Thadeous who is in a desperate need for money to sustain the lifestyle he's leading, not that he's very bright to begin with, but I suppose being born into the right family means connections as we see from his dealings with various enemies of the state.

Be warned though that Your Highness has plenty of raunchy jokes, and nasty visual sight gags from hand jobs to the blatant display of genitalia, or the lack thereof. Almost everyone has sex on their minds, from the above mentioned prophecy involving mating with a virgin to herald the birth of a dragon, to slicing off a creature's wiener as a wearable trophy, are but some of the really inane, crack me up situations. Everyone's not taking their roles seriously and are really hamming it all up, spewing lines that aren't scripted but were largely improvised, making this quite the romp of a medieval story filled with many modern day sensibilities, and swearing, loads of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Joanna Dong Wins in Shanghai!

Hello, You Got Award!

Joanna Dong, the lead actress of Wee Li Lin's second feature film Forever (我愛你愛你愛你), was recently awarded the Star Hunter Award at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival, where a total of 10 most promising young actors in Asia got honoured, what more only three were from outside China.

According to the festival organizers, the 10 finalists were chosen from more than 1,000 applicants by a jury panel headed by Italian actress Maria Cucinotta, Hong Kong director Mabel Cheung and Vietnamese actress Tran Nu Yen-Khe.

And that's not all, as Joanna was also invited to sing a song at the Star Hunter award ceremony which was held on Jun 17 in conjunction with the Asian New Talents Award. How's that for making an impact overseas?

Have a look at the Joanna (in the middle) holding the award here, and a video clip of her performing at the Star Hunter Award show here.

And for Li Lin's fans from across the Causeway, Forever (我愛你愛你愛你) is scheduled to hit Malaysian cinemas from July 14. Look out for it!

You can read my review of Forever (我愛你愛你愛你) here.

Related Links
- Forever Movie Website
- Facebook Page
- Forever Music Video on YouTube
- Forever Trailer on YouTube

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Beaver

Missing the Big Man

One of the best actresses of her generation, Jodie Foster makes that rare return to the director's chair to helm The Beaver, which had actually gained more traction for its lead actor Mel Gibson having self destructed the last several months in what has been painted as a disastrous personal life with drunken rants and threats turned into physical violence. There's something of a cruel irony in all of this, since Mel's character in The Beaver is a manic depressive, who created this imaginary, titular character out of a puppet to take over the thought and motor functions of his life, in an effort to try and be normal, only for this make belief to slowly consume him.

Written by Kyle Killen, The Beaver has two main narrative threads running in the story that revolves around the Black family, where little kid Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) has to endure a horrid, bullied time in school that got glossed over soon enough, mom Meredith (Jodie Foster herself) having to finally find the strength to boot husband Walter (Mel Gibson) out of the house before his blasé negativity permeates to everyone around him, and oldest kid Porter (Anton Yelchin) who coasts through his life being extremely embarrassed with his estranged father, as well as making a covert reputation for himself in school as the go-to person for essay assignments to be done for a fee, written so well since they're passed off convincingly as someone else's own work, which would be what I felt as someone who is extremely sensitive, expressive and emphatic.

Contrast this of course with the boorish, meaningless life that Walter led, until an accident filled night awoken him to the prospect of a self-help therapy of sorts, firmly sticking his left hand into a beaver puppet, and literally speaking through it, adopting an Aussie accent as well. Mel as Walter disappears, and in comes The Beaver for some dark comedy in an attempt to turn his life around for the better, with family and the employees in his toy company. Who would have thought Mel Gibson's absence from the silver screen actually didn't blunt his performance, being th consummate actor that he's known for, and if one were to overlook his personal shenanigans, you will see a performance worthy from the Oscar winner. Alas the negative publicity overshadowed his professionalism here, and it's most unfortunate that his role here will be largely overlooked.

Part of the fun is of course how The Beaver translates his message to other characters, as well as the audience, in a very dark, schizophrenic fashion, that you will think the crafted session would actually help Mel Gibson himself should he put himself into one of these speak out situations. Mel Gibson becomes the one man tour de force in his narrative arc, aptly supported by Jodie Foster herself as Walter's wife who holds on to memories of times with her husband that were more positive, and something that she misses and wants back.

The other arc is equally as engaging, dealing with Porter's growing infatuation with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), the graduating valedictorian who had to engage his services since she is having trouble coming out with a memorable speech during the graduation ceremony. A rare brains and beauty combo, it is almost natural that sparks fly, and with Porter's constant probing into her character allows for the peek into the lives of others, and a realization that everyone carries their own personal baggage, that all may only seem well on the surface, with painful memories and experiences getting hidden away into deep recesses. It's a classic, inevitable love story, and for a parallel to run between father and son especially since the latter tries really hard to deviate from the innate ways that his genes carry and in some ways, some things can't deviate too much, try as you may.

The box office response of this film got unnecessarily hurt, and hurt bad, and it's quite unfair to the film because its layers had so much going for it, that I will unabashedly claim that I have enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it as a contender as one of the best this year has to offer so far. An excellent ensemble cast, a solid story and confident direction from Foster makes this a winner, so don't you allow the bad press to affect your decision to want to watch this film, which could probably be Mel Gibson's last paid gig in Tinseltown.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Kingdom (大武生 /Da Wu Sheng) Comes in August!

Fans of martial arts movies listen up! In August this year we should expect to see this production by Celestial Pictures, mainland Chinese studio Skyland Films (Beijing) Company Limited and production company DW Films Limited, hit our shores.

Directed by Gao Xiaosong with action choreographed by Sammo Hung, based on an original script by acclaimed writer Zou Jingzhi (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles), the film stars Wu Chun, former Super Junior-M band leader Han Geng and Barbie Hsu in leading roles in a film that tells a tightly-woven tale of two brothers’ quest for fame, love and revenge, back-dropped by the Shanghai opera stage during its 1920’s heyday. The story blends martial arts onstage and offstage with a suspense-filled love story defying the genre of martial arts epics today.

The synopsis goes:
In the closing days of the 19th century, an imperial order decrees the mass execution of the entire Meng clan. At the execution, the power and purity of a young child's voice soars above the crowd, touching the hearts of his audience. Opera star Yu and his seven-year-old orphaned pupil, Guan, watch and listen. Moved by his desolation, Yu rescues the five-year-old child, Meng, and the two orphans become brothers. Yu wins the coveted golden "Da Wu Sheng" ("The Mightiest Warrior") plaque from the Prince Regent but loses it in battle with his arch rival Yue Jiang Tian and is banished from the stage. He spends his time training Guan and Meng in Peking Opera and martial arts, perfecting their skills until one day the only thing that stands between them and the coveted plaque is each other. Guan's heart is set on winning the title from the man who defeated his master, whilst Meng's heart is set on capturing the affections of Yue's lover, Xi. What follows is a sweeping story of love, lust for power, betrayal, vengeance and finally tragedy ...

and here's a sneak peek from the trailer:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Something Borrowed

Push It

Hollywood romantic comedies this year marked an eyebrow raising shift toward fuck buddies taking centrestage with the likes of Love and Other Drugs, No Strings Attached and the upcoming Friends with Benefits starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, and Something Borrowed doesn't deviate too much from this formula, having the story set against the background of a love affair that should have started some years back, but only for a drunken night to spark something where it was last left off.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson star as best friends forever Rachel and Darcy, and it's no surprise that these two are of the exact opposites in nature, with Rachel being the nerdier, studious, shy and soft spoken lawyer and Darcy the more gregarious, carefree and flamboyant bride to be, about to get married to Dex (Colin Egglesfield) with whom was sort of introduced to her when she gatecrashed Rachel and Dex's would be date many years ago. So one party gives the man up, the other takes him away, everything's fine and dandy and careening toward nuptials, until affections got slipped which translated to a one night stand and there's a serious love triangle established, with the usual guilt complex coming into play.

So begins the situation where the groom to be cheats on the bride to be with the designated maid of honour, and whether the affair that is growing stronger with each passing day can actually be kept under wraps. In essence this is a story that tosses these questions around seeking solutions, which has many characters exploring their relationships with that added and unnecessary complexity since such things are entirely choices made whether to deceive, to stop, or to continue so long as one does not get caught. Taking place in the city to the weekend getaways where chums bond prior to someone's big wedding, Something Borrowed explores the multiple romantic tangles between friends, where it's only a fool who cannot see pass each of their buddies' infatuation/liking/lust/crush.

While the story isn't too much to shout about since it's pretty much rooted in formula and the inevitable convenient cop out development in the last act to make everyone look good, thus achieving probably the best and most desirable win-win situation rather than the pain that is likely reality, Something Borrowed relies heavily on the cast to deliver the film, made easier since everyone's playing a version of themselves from their filmography in what would be heavy typecasting. For instance, Kate Hudson seems to be the go-to girl nowadays if a film has requirements for a ditzy blonde with that outgoing personality. And for Goodwin it seems that she cannot shake off that damsel in relationship distress type of role given her breakthrough in He's Just Not That Into You, being the person who prefers to be in the shadow of another, and giving things up for the status quo.

The shining light in Something Borrowed happened to be that spot on reflection and portrayal of how male and female confidantes differ from each other, when Rachel has Ethan (John Krasinski) to listen out and to offer advice, and Rachel herself being on the other end when Darcy comes knocking and confessing too, granted that the former is somehow the third party involved. But it does go to show how direct and well-meaning, often straight to the point do guys dish out pearls of wisdom, compared to the more beating about the bush, sneaky manner that the fairer sex do theirs, probably highlighting the hypocritical ways especially when all the beans got spilled. It is this aspect of the film that lifts it above the usual rom-coms to stand out from its peers.

Based on the novel by Emily Giffin, do stay for the coda during the end credits, which suggests a follow up movie to be made, but knowing just how this one did at the box office, having to watch everyone come back for another go since there is actually a sequel to the book, will seem a little bit of a wishful thinking. I won't mind having another go with all the none too subtle Heineken product placement though.

Bayside Shakedown 3: Set the Guys Loose (踊る大捜査線 THE MOVIE 3 / Odoru Daisousasen The Movie 3: Yatsura O Kaihou Seyo!)

They're Back

Bayside Shakedown remains one of the earliest Japanese movies I've seen on the big screen many years back, and it remains one of my favourite police series for its addressing of politics within organizations, the varied crime case files the cops find themselves investigating, and of course the very likeable characters whose many quirks make them endearing. And how can anyone forget the pulsating theme tune and that end credit song as well? It's the whole package that turned me into a fan, at least for the film versions, enough for me to splurge on its pricey Japanese DVD editions.

Those into the Bayside Shakedown movies will come to realize that the film formula continues in this latest installment, with a sprawling narrative of little happenings that climax together at the finale, with comedy well balanced with drama and romance, which is again very strongly hinted at here, coupled with different police teams from Wangan Precinct of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department each handling their respective areas, and the constant tussle with the higher brass from both within the station, and the bureaucrats. Just as a tip of the iceberg, the film opens with a massive migration to a new premise which boasts state of the art anti-terrorism security measures, only for two cases to interrupt and distract our merry crew, resulting in a bold theft of three police handguns, which the perpetrators threaten to use if not for the release of a slew of criminals, hence the subtitle Let the Guys Loose.

Of course I won't dwell too much on that aspect of the narrative to keep surprises still under wraps. On the bureaucratic end, there's a new precinct chief for Wangan to be appointed and it's anyone's guess who that will be, a new liaison officer Seiichi Torikai (Shun Oguri) who makes an impact as a practitioner of servant leadership for his negotiation between land forces and the federal officers, only perhaps for this character to be extremely intriguing throughout because one's always not too sure where his loyalties are, and in some ways Shun Oguri excels in the role as the man who is more than meets the eye, who probably has his own hidden agenda and ambition to want to climb the ladder. Then there's the battle that Shinji Muroi (Toshiro Yanagiba) finds himself in as Assistant Commissioner pressured in the job not to do something morally right or to seek justice, but to do what is politically right to one's career. Which sort of reflects real world sentiments on how the higher one goes, job skill sets are likely to be out the window in exchange for how well politics gets played, and this is found in abundance especially in each of Muroi's scene where a roundtable of top brass is nothing more than everyone coming together to push their individual agendas to look good.

While that aspect of the story is what makes Bayside Shakedown a unique cops and robbers series, one cannot detract oneself from the star of the show. Yuji Oda as Shunsaku Aoshima the lead protagonist may have piled on a few more wrinkles on his boyish face, but it just means it's been such a long hiatus since we last saw him and the rest of the Wangan crew. As Section Chief now in charge of the relocation, he has plenty going on for him with a health screening that turned out for the worst, having to oversee the move of the station, an unsaid romantic dalliance with fellow colleague Sumire Onda (Eri Fukatsu) in a superbly shot sequence set to tug at your heartstrings and yet frustrate you when they fall back into restraint, an understudy in Mr Waku's nephew Shinjiro Waku (Atsushi Ito) who often quotes pearls of wisdom from his uncle's diary, and of course to seek out the thieves who had stolen his handgun from the new station armoury, as well as his misplaced iconic green overcoat. Talk about pressure!

The sprawling story also has the introduction of new characters (to me at least following only the film series) and the reintroduction of old ones who make very welcome appearances and surprises to say the least, and the sprawling tale also got itself updated to today's technology with the advent of very tech-savvy criminals who straddle both the internet world and the real world with very skillful social engineering capabilities, of misguided and easily manipulated youths who do not hesitate to resort to violence and threats to see their demands met, boiling down to good old detective legwork of the precinct beat cops who walk the talk rather than those who just talk the talk. There's also a slight cautionary subplot about the over-reliance of technology so much so that improper design could lead to detrimental results, leading to both a gripping and hilarious finale, as always.

Stay tuned for the coda at the end of the credits, because hopefully, just hopefully, we can get another film installment sometime soon. Definitely highly recommended, coming from a firm fan, and for non-fans you'll probably be converts soon enough to try and dig into past episodes to find out more about the shenanigans that happen in and around the jurisdiction of Wangan. Don't miss this!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Punished (報應 / Bou Ying)

Be My Avenging Angel

When it comes to Hong Kong crime thrillers, Milkyway stands out as the benchmark to be measured against in recent years, with its stable of producers, writers and directors from Johnnie To to Yau Nai Hoi almost always boasting a stellar ensemble from Lau Ching Wan to Ritchie Jen in frequent collaboration in a series of films that would be the envy of those struggling to come up with something as decent. Without a doubt I am always looking forward to the next film from the production house, and Punished is no different – produced by Johnnie To, directed by Law Wing Cheong and starring Anthony Wong and Ritchie Jen in lead roles.

At first glance Punished may look like a knock off of Pierre Morel's Taken, where a father goes on a rampage taking on the hoodlums who had kidnapped his daughter, and clears away just about every adversary that stands in his way with vicious methods dished out without remorse. But I assure you that while Morel's film was more action oriented, the reverse is true for Punished, which takes a more in depth look at the characters, taking its time to build and set them up for the fall, and a deeper examination into the protective role of fathers. It is this that made Punished shine and allow you to feel a little bit more for the characters and a realization that fathers have it tough

The evergreen Anthony Wong chews up all the scenery each time he comes on screen, in an introduction that brings him to the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia, before the narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion, with a gruesome discovery coupled with flashbacks to bring the audience up to speed with a series of events leading up to now. Anthony Wong plays Wong Ho Chiu, a man who has worked his way up to riches though not always through legitimate means. Wong has remarried, and has estranged ties with both his son, who harbours the desire to study music instead of medicine as dictated by Dad, while daughter Daisy (Janice Man) is the spoilt brat hook on drugs and constant party. It's an understatement to say that Wong has this strong gravitas throughout in the film as the godfather type who's a business man on the outside, and a not so obvious crook on the inside, and plays the character to pitch perfection, as always.

Ritchie Jen also paired up quite nicely opposite Wong, starring as Choy his trusty executive assistant in a Kato sort of role – the chauffeur, the bodyguard, the go-to man, the ex-convict never needing another word to put his life down for his boss. In fact, Jen's Choy is the right hand muscle man for Wong's character, and for the most parts of the film we follow him as he gets tasked to investigate into Daisy's kidnapping, relying on past contacts and some pure investigative work that made Punished an engaging film to sit through. Those looking for all out action may be disappointed, since this is more detective work than going all out to bash everybody's heads in. Choy also got to deal with similar father issues with his own estranged wife and kid, and this serves as a parallel to his boss' predicament, as well as providing that contrast in parenting styles, and opportunity even when dealing with one's kids, which two methods get adopted.

A subplot involving an underling's determination to obtain a plot of land from villages through all means possible may serve as karma to try and hammer the theme about punishment in, that one need not be directly at the receiving end of a penalty, but that life can dish it out in an indirect fashion, which comes from the torment of Wong himself and the spiral of his relationships downwards. The story when unravelled is extremely simple without the usual unnecessary, meandering twists and turns, relying on seamless editing between time and space to add a little complexity to its presentation., resulting in a tight thriller especially when the vendetta order gets issued.

Perhaps the only kink in the armour was how one of the last perpetrators was dealt with, while I understand that the story had to have some form of redemption factor, it would have packed another punch if a darker tone was adopted instead. But as a tale dealing with fathers and the lengths that they will go in order to protect their kids, Punished still pulled off what it had aimed for - a well acted, gritty crime thriller with charismatic main leads to boot, being an able addition to the Milkyway filmography. Recommended!

Mr. Popper's Penguins

That's Us

Is it a natural progression for comedians to mellow with age? Gone are the days when a Jim Carrey vehicle would come with something raunchy or naughty – remember how he burst onto the scene with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – and with each passing comedy of Carrey's now it becomes tamer until we finally hit the G rating in Mr Popper's Penguins, a straight up family friendly comedy with feel good themes that you'll not be too far off if you thought this was a product of Disney, with something shrewd because one cannot go wrong with animals coloured black and white from Pandas to Penguins.

Jim Carrey plays the titular Mr Popper whom we follow through his father-less childhood in the first few scenes, given that his dad is an adventurer who travelled the world, and never quite found it in him to return for important occasions. This translates to the present day, grown up Potter who while is successful at his real estate job, is a complete dud when it comes to the family arena having separated from his wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) and being again the disconnected dad to his kids Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Help comes indirectly in the form of a bequeathed package courtesy of Popper's dad who in his last will and testament left behind a live penguin to his son, and through an expected communication mixup, lands up with six of the Antarctic creatures.

Carrey goes full circle in starring with CG animals as co-stars again, although now visibly aged, has had his thunder stolen by the very adorable penguins that comes with a distinct personality each, in order to differentiate them amongst one another. Funny face Carrey has lost his rubbery potential, and much of the mirth came from a select group of penguins just primed for comedy, such as the one nicknamed Nimrod. Situations get crafted involving the penguins and Popper's kids that they are a given, to show just how much the family members bond together when they play together, which becomes the primary message and theme amongst others in the film.

It was nice seeing Angela Lansbury in a support role as an elderly owner of a fine dining cafe within Central Park that becomes Popper's mission to get rid of if he wants to get into the board of directors. Carla Gugino did relatively nothing to further the storyline other than to serve as the alternate voice of conscience and parenting expert for Mr Potter. But amongst all the supporting members, perhaps it is Ophelia Lovibond who impresses the most, playing probably the only quirky character in the film as Pippi, Mr Potter's assistant, who speaks quality English and enunciates them with lyrical quality, and what more having a penchant to construct sentences whose words begin with the letter P. It's a constant tongue twister alright, but Ophelia pulls this off so convincingly that it's hard to imagine anyone else stepping into the role.

If penguins are your thing (and CGed ones at that) and a family/kid friendly outing to the cinema is something you need to plan for, then you will not want to miss this opportunity. Otherwise Mr Popper's Penguins offer nothing outside those healthy moral messages except perhaps to laugh at very rude penguins which fart and crap almost everywhere.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green Lantern

In Brightest Day In Blackest Night!

There was always something to talk about in this film during its production, from the CG bio-suit to Ryan Reynolds being cast as Hal Jordan, made it seem that expectations were running high from one of the relatively minor DC Comics characters, but no less important given the significance of the Green Lantern Corps in the DC Universe as peacekeepers and guardians of the galaxy. This being its maiden feature film will undoubtedly please its legion of fans worldwide, but will probably leave most wondering whether this film is the best that can be mustered, since it felt very generic and average, despite having its fair share of comics consultants working on it.

Directed by Martin Campbell, Green Lantern fell into the formula and burden of having to tell an origin story, and this one here just did it by the book, weaving in the iconic scenario where Abin Sur (voiced by Temuera Morrison) crash lands onto Earth and Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) got selected by the green ring to bear it as the Corps' latest recruit, and in this film version, much against his wishes since it called for great responsibility. We get presented the concept of the Green Lantern Corps during the voiceover introduction (quite lazy in a way), and spend only a brief amount of time getting to know the thousands of peers from around the universe, fragmented as can be, to try and show off what a Lantern can do so long as he possesses fearlessness and an iron will to conjure anything limited only by his imagination.

Green Lantern the movie suffered from having too many writers sticking their thumb into the pie, and this lack of narrative flow shows, where I can't help but to chuckle at some of the blatant “let's move on” attempts, which seemed to impact the romantic angle between Hal and Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) the most, with each character seemingly pulling their punches through inexplicable character behaviour. Little depth got shed into the various characters introduced, so much so they all look like unwanted cameos and caricatures there to pad the story. There was this sense of hurriedness with the narrative, in wanting to get onto the next scene soonest possible, that what I thought to be milestone sequences, such as the training, turn out to be nothing not already seen in the trailers, which is a pity because the story now becomes the ring being able to impart everything to Hal Jordan through some form of telekenesis.

Reynolds is certainly no stranger to comic book films, but here's one that he can finally marquee by himself, although story-wise he's just become the generic amalgam of his previous roles and still maintaining the wisecracking ways coupled with an extremely whiny attitude about an irresponsible man thrust into the limelight with powers far exceeding his responsibility, no thanks to baggage brought about by father issues. This of course is in contrast to the Hammonds where the Senator (Tim Robbins) is estranged from his son Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), and the former due to an infection develops psychic abilities that actually spiced up expectations of a face off between hero and villain, not.

It would have made a powerful contrast between the two men fighting over the same woman and about how Fate delivered unequal opportunities that is Life and its unfairness, but again this angle wasn't exploited deeply, making it all seem rather formula that the villain must have the hots for a hero's girl, and is envious of his abilities, what more looking uglier when standing next to an underwear model, whose figure hugging suit only makes the envy a lot worse. Parallax as a villain also was quite the disappointment for what it could have done given its abilities, and turned out to be nothing more than a Galactus equivalent from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer where it's all flash, and little substance and intelligence.

And we all know that a hero's stature gets elevated by the quality of his villains, and here the latter is nothing but lacklustre which is a pity. Battles are uninspiring and wasted the tremendous amount of CG put into the film as a whole, with rip off moments coming from films such as Superman - recall how a helicopter was involved in introducing our hero to the world, and that balcony fly in to try and steam things up with the lady love, which Blake Lively played to flower vase perfection, having little to do at all in the entire film. One can imagine the kind of possibilities tossed up during a fight sequence involving a Green Lantern, but alas the filmmakers ironically lacked that one quality that a Lantern should possess, with fights degenerating into plenty of energy bolts coming out from the ring, and our hero conjuring up some of the most inane items for all his ring's power (ok, so granted he's a rookie).

Perhaps it tried to bite off more than it could chew, and frankly I thought would have been better if this origin film cut down the number of side characters involved, and focused on one main villain instead, because Mark Strong's Sinestro is brewing at the side to become what would be Green Lantern's most powerful adversary in time to come. That, and giving the characters more depth would have made this an unforgettable boost of a lesser known hero to the silver screen, rather than to skim the surface of its rich mythos. A decent effort that could have been great.

Do not head out the door just yet when the end credits roll, as it will be hinted (though very obvious already during the film proper) who the villain in the next film will be if it indeed does get made. Sure it'll be the inevitable fan favourite, but hopefully by then Hal Jordan would have mastered his powers and live up to his reputation of being one of the greatest Green Lanterns there ever is. This is but the rookie attempt, so the real Hal Jordan should stand up in the next. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Help Fund Ramuan Rahasia!

And realize a true blue Singapore Malay movie that has not been made in possibly 40(!) years!

This is the time, people.

Written and directed by the award-winning freelance television director and producer Sanif Olek, this is an appeal for funding to complete the still-in-progress feature film, Ramuan Rahasia [loosely translated, the Elusive Ingredient]. 60% of the film has been shot, but has abruptly stalled since late 2009 due to insufficient funds. As the filmmaker puts it, "the film doesn't only entertain, your monetary contributions support the documentation of a cultural collage unique to Southeast Asia."

You can read more about the appeal here and here.

There's a fund raising concert on 19 June entitled KONSERT RAMUAN which is a music festival that brings together various international and local-based Singaporean artistes, performing in solidarity to raise funds for the film. There's also going to be a flea market on site too!

Hit this link for more details and ticketing information.

And there's more!

You have probably read about Sanif Olek's acclaimed short films collectively known as the LOVE Trilogy comprising Lost Sole, A La Folie and Ameen, and now this DVD collection will be exclusively sold during KONSERT RAMUAN, so making a trip down to that event kills three birds with one stone - getting your copy of the short films, have a rocking good time grooving to the music, and contributing some funds to the completion of the feature!

Related Links
- Official Movie Website

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pinoy Sunday

For The Home!

There will be a chord struck with viewers of Pinoy Sunday given that the protagonists are migrant workers, who are of late much debated about (and heatedly too) given the growing numbers in sunny Singapore that leads to competition of jobs and a clash of opposing attitudes. Perhaps a film like this one will serve to bridge the divide of misunderstanding, to remind us that fundamentally we're the same, and in pursuit of similar creature comforts in life. Directed by Malaysian Ho Wi Ding in Taipei, the language used in the film is almost entirely in Tagalog, following the adventures of Manuel (Filipino Idol Epy Quizon) and Dado (Bayani Agbayani).

If you've seen the trailer, you'll probably know the drill already. Two migrant workers in Manuel and Dado find themselves a discarded bright red sofa in the streets of Taipei City, and decide to manually cart the item back to their dormitory so that they can enjoy cool beer while chill/relaxing on it after a hard day's labour. Or at least that is the dream and the goal, but to do so will rely on the duo successfully navigating through the streets in which they do not speak the language, which becomes one zany yet fun filled road trip on foot for miles, being one really crazy objective to begin with that tests the limits of their friendship and perseverance.

This film wouldn't have worked without both actors putting in fine performances as characters of opposites. One's a committed family man yet found in a relationship with another domestic help (Meryll Soriano), while the other has the hots over a singer (Alessandra de Rossi) where the affections isn't mutual, but don't blame the guy for not wanting to try. Between the two, one's a go-getter that isn't afraid to get what he wants, while the other flinching at every opportunity to not go ahead with their joint plan. You get the drift of the contrasts involved, and credit goes to both Epy Quizon and comedian Bayani Agbayani as they share some incredibly charming screen chemistry portraying the bickering pair whose journey reveals the sterner stuff on which their friendship is built upon, not to forget the sofa being the obvious metaphor for the challenges and baggage they have to take on at situations that life throws at them.

Plot narrative remains episodic, but this serves the film well as Ho Wi Ding crafts comedy by the truckloads, as well as poignant, reflective moments that allows one to take stock of the littlest things we take for granted in others. Amongst the lot my favourites were the extended scenes involving a drunk motorcyclist which led the duo to a brush with the cops, which had discrimination rear its ugly head, and the thwarting of a suicide attempt leading to a zealous television crew trying to hunt the protagonists down for an interview, which played up the barrier in language. From time to time you'll see shades of friendship probably mirroring your own with friends, as well as the uglier side should one lapse into being unforgiving toward the strangers in our midst.

Pinoy Sunday runs just under 90 minutes, but packs such a powerful punch that it is a film definitely not to be missed - you'll laugh on one hand, yet having enough room to contemplate its themes, which are appealingly universal and touches upon some raw nerves underneath its veneer of comedy.

P.S. Pinoy Sunday opens this Thursday but do note that the director will be in attendance for Q&A sessions inside the Cineleisure Orchard cinema hall after the 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and 7pm screenings on Saturday 18 June and Sunday 19 June!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

[ScreenSingapore Photo Journal] Day Seven

[DVD/Blu-Ray Launch] Red Riding Hood Alternate Cut

I didn't vilify Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood given that I had seen some merits to the edgier retelling and update to an aged old tale, and to some extent, it worked.

Now I am curious to further explore the film given an Alternate Cut available on DVD/Blu-Ray, which will be released on June 14th, and you can check out more details from the launch website

Here's a quick look at the contents:

Special Features:
Extended Cut with Alternate Ending

with the following only included in the Blu-Ray:
- "Secrets Behind the Red Cloak" PIP w/ C. Hardwicke, A. Seyfried, S. Fernandez and M. Irons
- "Reinvention of Red Riding Hood"
- "Red Riding Hood's Men"
- "Making of the Score"
- "Before the Fur...Making of the CG Wolf"
- "Casting Tapes - Casting Shiloh Fernandez"
- "Casting Tapes - Casting Max Irons"
- "Casting Tapes - Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons"
- "Rehearsals - The Dance"
- "Rehearsals - The Festival"
- "Rehearsals - The Wolf Attack"
- "The Wolf - Music Video by Fever Ray"
- "Just a Fragment of You - Music Video by Anthony Gonzalez of M8"
- "Red Riding Hood in 73 seconds"
- "The Wolf Goes to a Hamlet Audition" Easter Egg
- Gag Reel
- Deleted Scenes

Friday, June 10, 2011

[ScreenSingapore Photo Journal] Day Six

[ScreenSingapore Red Carpet Gala Premiere] Jesus Henry Christ (International Premiere)

The double bill Singapore Night continues with Jesus Henry Christ, a film co-produced by Singaporean Sukee Chew, with its Korean-American director Dennis Lee and cast Jason Spevack in town to promote the movie. Perhaps it was the late Friday night, but there was a marked drop in attendance figures (well, every Gala Premiere screening has always run out of tickets, only for rows of empty seats to be seen), where When The Road Meets The Sun had a relative full house, the attendees for this screening was about halved. In any case here's the trio introducing (in very brief, less than enthusiastic terms may I add) the International Premiere of their film to tonight's audience, hosted by Jean Danker as well:

What You Staring At?

The second film of Singapore Night, Jesus Christ Henry got into the lineup because of Singaporean Sukee Chew's involvement being one of three producers of the film, an indie production that made its World Premiere in the Tribeca Film Festival a few weeks ago, which drew quite a mixed response with comments that it had tried to hard. Written and directed by Korean American Dennis Lee based upon his short film back in 2003, I thought this movie garnered reactions that it didn't quite deserve for trying too hard, being crafted in the same hyperactive mold such as quirky comedies that have been seen around the region such as Citizen Dog and true blue Singaporean film 18 Grams of Love even.

There are a number of focus shifts in the film that tangent off its intended protagonist Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack), a petri-dish baby conceived through in-vitro fertilization technique opted by his feminist mom Patricia Herman (Toni Collette), turning out to be the unintentional genius with a videographic memory, retaining every single little detail that he's experienced since conception. Jason Spevack would probably be yet another child actor to look out for since Freddie Highmore grew up, and this film will serve as his showreel if not for being upstaged by the other cast members given the narrative shifts that put the spotlight on them.

Specifically I thought the film devoted a lot more time (not that I'm complaining) to the Patricia character, beginning with a rather lengthy introduction to the Herman family and the demise of each and every individual character beginning with Patricia's mother right down to her brothers, each in a rather comical manner that you'll likely be surprised at its rather nonchalant manner in which to bump them off, with black comedy by the bucket loads of course. And this set the course of the film to be rather gag filled in almost every scene put on screen, that for some it may be tiring and trying since it could have felt like a water torture treatment being force fed with in-your-face comedic moments. I appreciated what it had tried to do, but opinions on humour especially, and how to deliver it, will obviously be polarized.

Yes like a typical comedic indie film, this one is filled with its fair share of quirky characters. Outside of the mother-son Hermans, and Patricia's father Stan (Frank Moore) who forms a very strong bond with his grandson Henry, the story also goes out to another dysfunctional father-daughter pair when Henry embarks on a mission to discover his biological father. This brings Michael Sheen into the fray as Dr Slavkin O'Hara, a professor whose book "Born Gay or Made That Way?" becomes a living hell for his daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) when she is the subject of his book, and becomes the constant taunt of her schoolmates.

Story-wise, the coming together of these two families in a sort of identity-crisis form the bulk of the situational comedy they find themselves in, but the pairing of both Weinstein and Spaveck together moved the story forward with both putting in strong performances and holding their own against two very powerful thespians in Sheen and Collette, although Weinstein probably upstaged Spaveck a little with her portrayal as the extremely cynical and sarcastic little girl quite unfazed by her tormentors. Again there are plenty of laugh out loud wicked moments that you will probably wonder if you're laughing at the film, or with it especially in its darker moments that could be quite unsettling.

Production values are quite spiffy given the big name executive producer behind this film, though Dennis Lee and Sukee Chew were quite tight lipped on how much this film actually cost since it looked like a multi-million dollar movie. If you're still game for quirkiness in all characters of your indie films, then Jesus Henry Christ will still be your cup of tea if you see beyond, or tolerate some eyebrow raising moments with its less than friendly jibes against lesbians/feminists as well as a white man who thinks he's black, otherwise those jaded will find fault with almost every frame of the film in trying too hard with wild absurdity in characters. Split down the middle, depending on your mood and attitude.

[ScreenSingapore Red Carpet Gala Premiere] Where The Road Meets The Sun (Asia Pacific Premiere)

A homecoming of sorts, Singaporean filmmaker Yong Mun Chee returns to Singapore with cast members Fernando Noriega and Luke Brandon Field to grace the Asia-Pacific premiere of their film When The Road Meets The Sun which was seeded with the Singapore Film Commission's New Feature Film Fund, and the end result was a film shot predominantly in Los Angeles. Here's the pre-screening introduction at GV Vivocity's GVMAX Hall hosted by Jean Danker:

The Pain!

There are a number of Singaporean filmmakers who have stretched their wings and gone out there in the world to make their films, from documentarians such as Lynn Lee, James Leong and Tan Siok Siok with her upcoming film Twittamentary, and others such as Pearry Reginald Teo and Jonathan Lim. with the world being their oyster and playground. The cinematic road brings writer-director Yong Mun Chee back to Singapore with her debut feature Where the Road Meets the Sun having premiered in the USA a few weeks ago, before making it back here to premiere it during the ScreenSingapore event.

There could have been slight ruffling of the feathers for Singapore Night given the showcase of two films that weren't made by any of the regular established names in the local film community, but after watching both films, I thought this could spur the entire community forward to realize that we have talent both within and outside our shores, some already establishing a beachhead overseas that perhaps could become springboards for others to follow. Idealistic, but worth a shot in my opinion.

Mun Chee's film tells the story of immigrants in the cosmopolitan city of Los Angeles, which in a way reflects both the reality of the city's make up as well as tapping onto Mun Chee's own real world experience of someone from the outside looking in. This is a character driven narrative in a slice of life fashion that snapshots a moment of confluence, but not before a rather long winded introduction that spanned a fast forward of months to introduce characters from various countries.

There's Blake (Eric Mabius), a man estranged from his ex-wife, and now running a cheap hotel where the characters all find themselves in, the Brit playboy Guy (Luke Brandon Field) being the rascal of the group with a penchant for all ladies, an illegal Mexican Julio (Fernando Noriega) who gets to LA in order to find work and sending back his money to his support his family, and Japanese gangster Takashi (played by Korean American Will Yun Lee) who wakes up from a coma and a steep memory of the woman of his life, but getting himself to LA with a pistol where its smuggling got casually explained away, the quintessential and literal Chekov's gun.

The foursome bond together and in itself creates two contrasting pairs in an opposites attract fashion. Julio and Guy provides the comparison between one carefree and without responsibilities to others, with the other being the all round family guy out to look out for better opportunities in order to make a living and support his family back home. One travels to strange lands for pleasure, while the other out of family necessity. Blake and Takashi are the more deeply reflective type, where they get together over a meal, or over music by the late Leslie Cheung whose Canto-tune The Wind Blows On forms the background of protagonists each searching for purpose and meaning in their lives.

Production values for a first film is superb, and perhaps it's because of the technicians behind the production that hail from a very mature industry, so much so that one's debut feature need not be a cheesy, laughable affair in terms of look and feel. Sure it may look like a typical indie film, but I suppose this will help the creative part of the production to focus on direction and fleshing of the characters, leaving aside the technical aspects to experts. Hence a film that worked on both fronts, with Mun Chee weaving very powerful backgrounds and narratives for each of the four male protagonists that sucks you into their lives and predicament, vesting your interest into what life dishes out to them.

This is a drama through and through with slight comedy that balances out what would be a rather bleak though evocative tale about friendship, hope and the struggles of the emotionally downtrodden, all in search of that magic air in a new environment to look for live-changing directions.
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