Sunday, July 31, 2011

[DVD] My Blueberry Nights (2007)

Love in a Diner

I've got to admit one of the prime reasons why I picked this up was its availability in the bargain bin, and given that I was quite ambivalent about the film the first time round when I watched it in the cinemas some three years back, I thought I should give it another go. And to no surprise, I've begun to like this film a little more, noticing some aspects of the film that I've failed to initially, and certain emotional aspects of the story just screaming out.

Which I suppose the experience always ties in to the current state of mind and emotions one's in, especially with a Wong Kar Wai film that is constantly fluid, discovering new things with each viewing, and gaining different experiences out of it, just like how I had disliked In the Mood for Love the very first time I saw it, but instantly after an emotional shift, came to embrace it wholeheartedly. My Blueberry Nights is beginning to have that effect on me, with characters struggling to let go as well as finding a centre for reconciliation and a second chance.

You can read my earlier review of the film here.

The Code 1 DVD by The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment presents the film and its extras in an anamorphic widescreen format, with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English close captioned and Spanish. Scene selection is available over 23 chapters. The DVD autoplays with an anti smoking warning, trailers (2:41) for upcoming DVDs for The Deal and Berlin, and trailers (4:54) for films already available on DVD such as Breaking and Entering and The Great Debaters.

There are only two Special Features included in this edition of the DVD that are substantial, with the other two being the cursory Theatrical Trailer (2:07) and two Stills Galleries which contain photos in two broad categories - Location Scout Photos with 24 stills, and Production / Publicity Photos with no less than 60 shots. I've never understood why film stills are included in DVDs to begin with anyway.

Making My Blueberry Nights (15:53) is the standard behind the scenes look at the filmmaking process, with plenty of interviews with director Wong Kar Wai and his leading lady Norah Jones, and others like Natalie Portman and Jude Law as well, talking about their experiences in working in a Wong Kar Wai film. And for fans of the director, there's the Q&A with Director Wong Kar Wai (18:30) moderated by David Scwartz, Chief Curator, The Museum of the Moving Image, where you can hear first hand from the auteur how My Blueberry Nights got conceived, and especially about his creative process as well. Though nothing fans will probably not already know about, it's still a rare opportune to listen to the director in English.

[DVD] DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection (2010)


The DC Showcase of Animated Original Shorts contain no less than four original stories, and four other animated shorts taken from its established series as selected by Bruce Timm. The Code 1 DVD by Warner Home Video presents all the short stories in anamorphic widescreen format with the exception of some in the Special Features in full screen format, with audio in its English language track presented in Dolby Surround 5.1. Subtitles are available in English close captioned, French and Spanish.

Superman/Shazam!: Return of Black Adam is undoubtedly the highlight and the primary reason why I had chosen to pick up this DVD. The longest running of the lot, it gives an updated take on the origins of Captain Marvel, who is bestowed the powers of the gods by the wizard Shazam, and transforms the young orphan kid Billy Batson into Earth's Mightiest Hero, that is unless you're a Superman fan and will take some offense at that. The Last Son of Krypton also got conveniently put into the story since Clark Kent has set up an interview with Billy at Fawcett City, and the introduction of the main villain Black Adam forces a fast tracking of Billy Batson becoming Captain Marvel, as well as to set up a series of battles that allowed for the showcase of powers. It's strangely convenient of course that with such loud fisticuffs the city is actually devoid of people and casualties.

I really hope that one day we just might get to see a live action version of Captain Marvel, if of course Warner Bros is as ambitious and successful as Marvel/Disney in pushing out their comic book property to the big screen.

The Spectre adopts a detective noir format in having the detective Jim Corrigan investigate the killing of a Hollywood media mogul, complete with voiceover narration, a mysterious death, and a femme fatale to boot. It's presented in a stylistically deliberate less than pristine transfer with its fair share of pops, cackles and hiss, but don't let that detract you from the primary function of the showcase and that's to preview the powers of The Spectre, who plays on the minds of the guilty as well as to amp up its creepy factor that somehow went unnoticed.

Green Arrow turned out to be the most entertaining of the lot, since it features a hero without natural superpowers, except for a keen sense of marksmanship with his bow and an assortment of gadgetry arrows. Centered around an airport where Oliver Queen got more than he bargained for when spotting a familiar enemy and ended up protecting a young royalty from getting killed by her enemies, we're treated to wisecracking hero who does have his fair share of losses, as well as a surprise appearance by a certain character in its final stages which made this all the more memorable.

Jonah Hex probably contained the most recognized voices of the lot, with Thomas Jane playing the titular bounty hunter, and Linda Hamilton voicing Madame Lorraine, where the live action version that didn't make it to Singapore was played by Megan Fox. It's the simplest of all stories that introduces us to the seduce then kill modus operandi of the Madame, before Jonah Hex rides into town to demand the whereabouts of one of his bounties. Like the earlier shorts, it's primed to give a brief introduction to the characters and to present a showcase of their abilities, nothing more.

Al the main shorts in this DVD collection are produced and directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, with Warner Bros Animation adopting what I felt was creative and graphical qualities like the Japanese outfit Madhouse that I had at first mistaken for until the credits came rolling.

The Special Features here are yet another series of episodes from the established animated series that DC had already churned out, and included here are those picked by Bruce Timm, which includes:

Jonah Hex - Showdown from Batman: The Animated Series
I don't remember watching this episode before, but essentially it's a Jonah Hex vehicle being introduced to the Batman audience, since the animated series had developed its own loyal following, so it's not unthinkable that another minor character had exploited this opportunity to get himself a leg up in introductions. With Ras Al Ghul as the main villain and the cursory appearance of Batman and Robin to bookend this episode, this brings us back to the wild wild west with a twist at the end as well.

The Spectre - The Chill of the Night from Batman: The Brave and the Bold
I have to admit I haven't seen an episode from the animated Brave and the Bold series until now, and from what I gather, it's firmly set like the comic book series which puts the caped crusader into more mystical stories rather than the reality based ones he's usually in. And from the character designs it's aligned more to the Dick Sprang look, and not only Batman, but his more popular villains from his Rogues Gallery as well. Even the story seemed to be something lifted from an old Batman comic book I've read involving Batman's discovery of the identity of Joe Chill, his subsequent shocking revelation that I remembered leaping out from the comic book panels, and the convenient ending together with a blast from the past origin retelling once again. The Spectre doesn't do anything much here except for his wager with The Phantom Stranger, but this episode boasts of many, many well known casts from the Batman days of old including Adam West as Thomas Wayne, Julie Newmar as Martha Wayne, Mark Hamill as The Spectre and Kevin Conroy voicing The Phantom Stranger. Ah, nostalgia!

Green Arrow - Initiation from Justice League Unlimited
This is one version of Oliver Queen's reluctant join of the Justice League, feeling out of place amongst the big boys (and girls) who have super powers. But a hero always rise up to the occasion when needed, and in this case he gets cobbled together with Green Lantern (Jon Stewart version), Captain Atom and Supergirl in a case involving a rogue Asian state with unmistakable semblance to North Korea and a strong source of nuclear energy emanating from the unnamed country. As a story, it's nothing more than to showcase the Green Arrow's marksmanship and gymnastic ability, and of course the importance of working together as a team versus a collection of individuals. Nice reason too as to why Oliver Queen decided to stick around.

Shazam - Clash from Justice League Unlimited
Contrary to the main short that marquees this DVD collection, this episode from Justice League Unlimited retells how Captain Marvel first met Superman, or vice versa, and how because of their similarities in strength, speed and flying ability, gives Superman that inferior complexity and envy when Captain Marvel inadvertently steals his thunder, and the needless comparisons of course. It's not as cordial as the other tale in this collection, and the two gets to rip a Lex Luthor built city apart in their fisticuffs, which is the highlight naturally. But the frustrating thing about this short is that it's only one half, or one of a series, that leaves you at a cliffhanger because when there's Luthor, there's conspiracy, and what this standalone inclusion does is to whet you appetite to pick up a lot more DVDs, especially of the Justice League Unlimited. We'll see.

And the DVD rounds up with Batman: The Brave and the Bold Trailer (0:32) which curiously promotes Batman as "the greatest bad guy basher", seriously. If you're a fan of Batman and enjoy the frequent team ups he has with other DC Universe heroes, then this series (into its fourth season) should be something worth checking out, since it touts one new super partner per episode.

Watching this on a Sunday morning sure brings back some memories of yesteryears where I would be glued to the television for cartoons such as these!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Win Win

Feel The Angst!

Thomas McCarthy is fast becoming one of my favourite filmmakers, having wrote and directed The Visitor which I had enjoyed, and following that up with another powerful gem of a film here in Win Win, complete with wonderfully crafted characters, great performances all round, and a story that deals with how we deal with challenges placed in front of us, whether we lapse and opt for the short cut out, or in some cases, stick to our guns and do what's morally correct, keeping our integrity and reputation intact.

Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a decent family man and a community lawyer whose business isn't thriving, and is soon running into debt if the lack of meaningful work continues. And if life on the professional front isn't rosy enough, he's also a volunteer wrestling coach at the New Providence High School, but so far having no luck in coaching championship material from his boys, and have a hard time trying to buckle their losing trend in the season thus far. Perhaps only his family in wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and kids keep him fairly sane, and of course best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) and assistant coach Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor).

But with work on the professional front heading nowhere, he signs up as guardian for his client Leo Poplar, a well to do senior citizen who's about to descent further into the stages of dementia, and as his attorney, decided to take up guardianship for an extra 1500 dollars per month as personal revenue, but snooking the judge in having to ultimately dump Leo into an elder care home. You can scream conflict of interest, and the lack of integrity now, because simply put, this is probably what Thomas McCarthy had in mind for us to think about when we bend the rules for personal benefit, which may seem like a good idea now, will come back to haunt us with deeper impact later on in life.

And everything seemed to work out pretty well too, especially when Leo's grandson Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) enters the Flaherty's lives much to the objection of Jackie, but having to listen to his plight and see that this delinquent actually has a stout heart, and for Mike not to mention a one time wrestling MVP in his hands now, the cards are finally all coming into play now, if not for Kyle's mom and Leo's daughter Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) to suddenly appear and become the perennial spanner in the works, threatening to break up something good that's happening to all the characters, and especially Mike now that he has everything to lose, especially his integrity when the truth gets unravelled.

Thomas McCarthy had weaved a narrative that simply worked wonders, with very powerful characters crafted to be fleshed out by his actors, who all did an amazing job balancing the dramatic moments laced with the occasional humour throughout. Paul Giamatti excels in his role as the average Joe being caught in extraordinary circumstances and having to deal with them as best as he can, juggling different aspects and having to spin half truths. It's been a while since we last saw him not in a chopsocky over-the-top role. Bobby Cannavale instead took over the over the topness with his role as the none too serious best friend and confidante, while Alex Shaffer turned out to be the revelation here with his troubled teenager role blessed with a talent that threatens to be wasted should he not get his personal act together, sharing great chemistry opposite Giamatti in a foster father-son relationship.

It's a fantastic story about how we tend to cover up and do the things that we don't mean to if not for self-preservation, and a reminder that honesty is always the best policy here. Sometimes we may lapse and be given a second chance to make things right again, and that's when we have to strive to achieve that win-win outcome. This film gets my clear vote of confidence in being one of the best this year has to offer, and with an excellent soundtrack to boot, what's there not to like about it? Highly recommended!

Friday, July 29, 2011

[DVD] Missing Pieces (2011)


If anyone's complaining about how linear and verbatim stories on film can be these days, then I suppose one has got to dig a little deeper and trawl through indie films to discover edgier gems like Missing Pieces which is set to challenge one's usual viewing conventions, as it forces the casual viewer to pay attention, and work at filling in the gaps between scenes, and assembling the narrative which got presented in a non-linear, extremely juxtaposed fashion.

And there's a reason for this as well. Written and directed by Kenton Bartlett, it's probably the state of mind of David Lindale (Mark Boone Junior) who had survived a harrowing car crash, only to emerge from it much different a man than he once was, leading to the love of his life Delia (Melora Walters) making an ultimatum of her own to leave him, for good. Desperate to get her back, David jumps through hoops in coming up with strategies and seeking the advice of friends, but what was probably the strangest outcome of his actions, was the decision to kidnap two teenage strangers, and make them fall in love through a series of scenarios forced upon them.

The strengths of Missing Pieces is to never know what you're going to get with each scene popping up, since they're not played in a linear fashion, with Bartlett forcing you to assemble the jigsaw yourself, and in this manner, experiencing the frustration that David is probably going through, and yet enjoying the tender moments in the brush of first love, which I suspect David is trying to recreate so that he can somehow unlock that mental block in him to feel and love once again, rather than to perpetually be in a state of indifference. At least four narrative threads got intertwined, with David's determined pursuit of Delia despite flat out rejections from the latter, the lives of Daylen (Daniel Hassel) and Maggie (Taylor Engel) respectively, and their budding romantic tale brought about by David's actions, that makes this an engaging challenge to sit through.

And I suppose many will be able to identify with the budding love story given the many questions and developed desire to want to find out more about the other party, as well as the things people do to get and stay connected. These are tender moments that the actors Hassel and Engel make believable through their excellent performance and chemistry, as is the counterpoint and parallel that exist in the disintegration of a relationship amongst the older couple David and Delia, also identifiable with if you've lived through a stinging rejection where plans fall apart, with one half of an ex-couple spiralling toward loneliness, against the springing up and out against loneliness that both Daylen and Maggie have so far experienced, in a sort of dark, ironic twist.

Although made by self-taught filmmakers, the production values of this independent production looked more like a million dollars than the 80K spent, where costs were kept low due to effort put in kind. Cinematography by Jonathan Arturo deserves special mention with his capture of the beautiful landscapes and techniques utilized that provides a unique visual eye, and I especially loved the wide shots employed. Music by Richey Rynkowksi and an eclectic soundtrack also helped to accentuate the ups and downs of emotions felt through scenes in the film, being useful cues since some scenes do get dragged out a little especially when it dwelled on the back stories of Daylen and Maggie in an effort to provide a bigger scope that didn't fit quite into the main narrative once you've worked out its linearity.

Still, Missing Pieces at its essence is a powerful love story, where one got created through circumstances, and the other how the absence and rejection from love may make one mental, which provided this film its mysterious basis to craft the story on. If it's something fresh and original in treatment something you crave for in film, then perhaps this one may be that missing jigsaw piece that you've been searching for amongst this noisy summer blockbuster period. Recommended and it definitely deserves a larger audience!

The Region 1 DVD presents the film in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer with audio in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround. No subtitles are available, and scene selection is available over 16 chapters.

Although an independent production, there are Special Features included in having a Feature Commentary by writer-director Kenton Bartlett providing an extremely detailed account on the filmmaking process so that other budding filmmakers can hopefully learn from his experience and especially his mistakes, being brutally honest about what worked, and what didn't in his debut feature film. The Making Of (30:31) is also a detailed extra containing plenty of behind the scenes look at the team's attempt at making this feature come to fruition.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

American Beefcake

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive to see Joe Johnston's name attached to the Captain America film since he was responsible for flicks like the underwhelming Wolfman and Jurassic Park III, but my fears were unfounded since his treatment of Marvel's final film before assembling The Avengers, was more aligned in spirit to one of my favourite films set in the 40s, The Rocketeer, complete with set action thrills, slight comedy and enough visual effects to transport you to a vivid WWII era.

Essentially an origin story, this was exactly how I remembered reading the Captain America comic books when I was younger, mostly sticking around how the sickly Steve Rogers (a CG-ed Chris Evans) became the beefcake he was through a top secret military experiment, and his constant battles with his arch nemesis standing for all things Axis powered personified by the Red Skull, played to perfection by Hugo Weaving with a German accented voice as the Johann Schmidt version. At its heart it's a clear cut battle between good and evil, although in this Marvel augmented reality, Evil is aided by the powers of the Cosmic Cube and the megalomaniacal ambitions of Red Skull and his Hydra shock troops, threatening to conquer the globe unless someone can do something about it.

Hence the first act concentrated on the innate characteristic of Steve Rogers, a determined, never say die young chap from Brooklyn whose enlistment to the US Army has consistently been met with flat out rejections, until the scientist Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) saw something in him that no one else does, and selects him as the first of intended many in the army's Super Soldier project, as headed by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jomes). It's almost a master-protege relationship set up in their short scenes together, but made no less powerful with nice touches about what really mattered in a world that's embroiled in a massive war.

Since there's always nothing too definitive out there as far as origin stories go in the comics world, it's admirable how Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's screenplay still managed to extract the essence of the character, of what made him tick as the beacon amongst the do gooders, and explored how events pushed the man into donning the less than camouflaged colours into combat. Allies like Howard Stark (now played by Dominic Cooper) whom we've seen in the expanded Marvel universe of films in Iron Man 2 as the military's main contractor, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) as Steve's best friend, and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter the British agent and romantic love interest, all factored in to build Captain America's world, which if a sequel is made would be a challenge to try and set it in the 40s again since the events here were pretty much open and close.

Action wise, while Captain America essentially doesn't possess super powers per se, still is the epitome of physical fitness, and Joe Johnston compensates this with large, and I mean large action sequences, coupled with plenty of montage to show the Captain's campaign against evil. And I thought there was a conscious effort to tone down the "America"ness of a one man crusade, and assembled a rag tag group of United Nations typed mercenaries whose loyalty is to the Captain since he busted them out from near death. His trademark Vibranium shield worked out very nicely in the fights, choreographed just as how one would imagine the real Captain America do it, with the shield featuring heavily in all fights designed that it's more than a good looking prop. I'd even appreciated effort to include the original shield Cap America used, together with a more logical reason how he had to don a cheesy looking costume that doesn't make camouflage sense, worked into emerging as an icon to rally behind in the face of adversity.

Subtlety is one of the key strengths of the film, with Captain America's additional and lesser known abilities mentioned in passing but enough for fans to pick up, with numerous references in this film that's set up to reference the other Marvel films from Iron Man to Thor. While the romantic angle was severely limited, I thought the emotional resonance worked particularly well especially if you know how the Cap would eventually end up, in a way fixed by the mythos and unavoidable, being the romance that had potential and room to develop further.

Some may say that a superhero film gets defined by the villain, but this one clearly didn't let its villain upstage the heroic character, which is quite rare. Not that Hugo Weaving did a bad job with Red Skull, but there are little evil deeds the Skull had significantly embarked upon besides pulverizing his opponents with no remorse, and his constant banter with scientist Dr Amim Zola (Toby Jones) to show just how egoistical he could be. Hopefully we will get to see more of the Red Skull in future sequels of Captain America, since Chris Evans signed for a total of 6 appearances. Evans too while being involved in too many comic book films as compared to Ryan Reynolds, will probably be best remembered for his Captain America outing than for his less charismatic Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four, and balanced both the drama and hard hitting action well, believable as the man you'd trust to rally the troops and lead them in the fight against evil.

Captain America: The First Avenger ranks up there amongst the comic book based movies done right even if the storyline comes up as somewhat expected given its necessity to focus on the hero's origins. This is undoubtedly highly recommended, and as always, don't leave before the end credits have rolled off, for the first look at Joss Whedon's The Avengers, and from the looks of it, it's going to be one heck of a ride, especially when mega egos come clashing up against one another. Summer 2012 can't come any sooner!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Summer in Genoa / Genova


In some ways A Summer in Genoa was fairly like Grace is Gone which starred John Cusack as a father who together with his two children have to figure out life after the death of his wife. Here, Colin Firth plays the role of dad, who decided to uproot his family of daughters Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland) from Chicago to Genoa in order to start their lives anew, which gives rise to plenty of touristy moments as they settle down in a new environment and get to learn a little bit about the culture of the Italians before they assimilate right in, not that we get to learn a lot anyway.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, this film presented what would be a one month snapshot of the lives of three characters each affected quite differently with the passing of a loved one. Made even more poignant is that one of them was directly responsible for the death in the family, in an opening scene that you are probably going to cringe with cinematic premonition that something untoward would happen, since there were plenty of visual and aural clues on how it would all eventually pan out. But the snapshot presented was really slight in nature, having its characters fall into stereotypes, while the narrative shifts gear into the morose and flatlines almost throughout its entire run time.

Colin Firth could play Joe with his eyes closed, being the dad whose new stint in a school brings him attention in the form of female students, as well as a friend from the past (Catherine Keener) who had helped him and his family in their initial settling down, providing that potential romantic interest that didn't develop much. The most Joe had to do is to appease youngest daughter Mary, the baby of the family, who suffers from constant nightmares about that fateful night with her mom.

Willa Holland as the teenage daughter Kelly expectedly falls into the rebellious phase as she lusts after the attention showered unto her from many hot blooded Italian men, with the usual flings you'd come to expect from a title like that. The only depth to her character comes from the very testy relationship formed with her younger sister, where in front of their father she plays the angel, but in his absence becomes the bully not pulling her weight in the discharge of her responsibilities.

Perla Haney-Jardine though probably was the star of the show, stealing the thunder from everyone with her performance that requires to showcase a range of emotions, and by and large her character here may have resembled the little kid in Millions who possessed a vivid imagination. Hope Davis enjoyed limited screen time in the film, but her scenes opposite Hope Davis were probably the best in the storyline that required to tread upon the supernatural, though more Casper than creepy, personifying how one grasps onto treasured memories with the reluctance to let go.

Don't expect any major breakthroughs or moments with deeper meanings, though it had one harrowing scene that reminded me of how horrible traffic in Italy could be, and their scooters that weave in and out of small lanes, where a map is probably useless since the streets have no signages. It certainly brought back some of my own wonderful experience in the country, that the most this film had done, is to rekindle that interest to go travelling and tour more Italian towns.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


The Lion Roars

It's no secret I enjoy the slew of Hindi films out in the last year or so that feature tough, no nonsense cops as their lead protagonist, from Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey in Dabangg that started the ball rolling, then Abhishek Bachchan as ACP Vishnu Kamath in Dum Maaro Dum, and now Ajay Devgn too getting into the act as the titular Bajirao Singham. Devgn's star has been shining quite brightly of late, with Raajneeti, Aakrosh and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai from last year that allowed him to flex his acting muscles, and here he goes completely brawny as the cop symbolizing the themes from the lion motif of courage and raw power - even the opening song and dance credits are designed around the lion's roar and paw.

Director Rohit Shetty teams with his preferred leading man Devgn to bring this remake of the Tamil film Singam which had starred Suriya, though in this version it's less of a mano a mano with the main villain Jaikant Shikre, where actor Prakash Raj reprised his villainous role as the chief gangster operating in Goa, whose links with politicians and the upper ranks of the police make him untouchable, so much so that he's responsible for the suicide of an honest officer whom he framed as he was getting too close for comfort in arresting him.

It's interesting to look at the narrative as how a lion got taken out of its den and put into unfamiliar surroundings, forcing it at times into a corner. But like all wild animals, this may result in the animal biting back with increased ferocity. Similar to Chulbul Pandey, Bajirao Singham is a small village cop who represents the law in his hometown through a combination of strength, wisdom and plenty of slow-motion swagger, preferring community policing, and solving the community's problems without smacking down the penal code on offenders. This of course elevates his standing in the village, which comes in useful when he has to summon the big time gangster Jaikant to the station for a conditional bail release.

In what he thought was a promotion for a job well done, Singham gets transferred to the city of Goa, before Jaikant lets loose that it's engineered through the greasing of palms, and now with Singham in Jaikant's town and reach, life becomes a living hell naturally. This toss up between hero and villain forms the bulk of the second half of the film in what would be a simple, straightforward story, made a lot enjoyable through its sheer entertainment value, with really deliberate, over the top action sequences that you'd chuckle at - you know, how one slap can leave a man flying through the air, or how there are many physics-defying moves that would make all would-be villains give up their life of crime when this long arm of the law reaches them. One of the more audacious stunts involves a car flipping through the air while our hero reaches in through the car window and yanking the driver out with one hand, before the car smashes through the ground. Take that, Hollywood!

But all work and no play makes Singham a dull boy as well. In a typical Masala offering, Singham has its fair share of moments away from the pursuit of hoodlums, or goons as the subtitles would have it, for precious romance with Kavya Bhosle (Kajal Aggarwal) and family time both his and hers, and romantic song and dance interludes that are inevitable. Check out the title tune though which is quite reminiscent of Dabangg's exalting song of fearlessness.

It's not all plain action oriented, as I would think some may find it controversial in Singham's unorthodox methods of fighting fire with fire when he discovers the rot in society is something quite beyond one man's ability to combat. I suppose tough cop stories will not go out of fashion from the Indian film industry anytime soon, for its tales of fighting against corruption in all strata and levels of society serving as an outlet in fantasy that can be eradicated completely with the enlistment of help from those who choose to stand up and be counted upon to do the right thing. This becomes that over-arching reminder in the film, despite Singham having to involve questionable methods (which can be easily classified as police brutality in certain countries) as well with the number of belt-whipping scenes, though in all earnestness, politicians such as the ones featured do deserve nothing more than a good smack on the buttocks.

Still, his is a film after all, which allows for our fantasies at having those evil at heart receive their just desserts swiftly and painfully, without too much fuss in going through a system corrupted by the rich and powerful. Singham firmly sets itself as one of my favourites of the year, and it's wishful thinking on my part if Ajay Devgn and Salman Khan can share the screen together once again after London Dreams, to feature two tough police characters in one crossover film. Now that would be a double dose of hard hitting action and no nonsense police action adventure, and villains everywhere better beware! Highly recommended!

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

All Set For A Road Trip

This is what buddy road trip movies are made of, and surprisingly it's helmed by a female director who managed to push all the right buttons at making this work. Zoya Akhtar, whose first film Luck By Chance I had enjoyed tremendously as it took a long and hard look into the workings of Bollywood, reunites her brother Farhan Akhtar and Hrithik Roshan, who together with Abhay Deol form the nucleus whose adventures across Spain we follow due to a pact that's set in motion should one of them was to get married, as part of an extended 3 weeks bachelor's party plan, they were to each choose an adventure sport for everyone to partake in.

Which brings us to plenty of bro-mantic moments as they bond over death-defying stunts, and through the conquering of their fears as a group. Not to mention that the road trip across Spain provides for multiple exotic locations in which this film got shot in. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's story also contains enough depth for each character to stand out, presenting skeletons in the closet each must exorcise through their journey of discovery, though deftly avoiding melodrama. What worked is of course the chemistry between the trio of actors as they navigate their joined quest being so natural in their banter, as well as their individual character's conflicts that makes this so engaging to sit through since the challenges in their way are things easy to identify with.

The culprit who had to put the plan in motion is Kabir (Deol), whose proposal to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin) forms the basis in which his friends have to join him in executing their pact. There's the happy-go-lucky copywriter Imran (Farhan Akhtar) who's also the resident joker of the group, as well as the dead serious Arjun (Roshan) the hotshot broker whose sole objective in life is to make money, lots of it. Naturally their friendship get tested early on due to the nature of being in close proximity most of the time, but once the misunderstandings got shelved and the wheels put in motion, there's hardly a wasted scene as subplots wrap themselves up very neatly in the narrative, involving one's quest to search for his long lost father, another's realization there's more to life than work if one were to stop and smell the perennial roses, and one having to confront his doubts and the compromise of one's happiness for the sake of others.

There's the action-adventure level this film delivered, spending considerable time in engaging the casts in their tasks of deep sea diving, sky diving, and one signature activity best kept under wraps for its surprise factor since it ties in very closely to an important plot point. Halfway though there's also the La Tomatina festival, introduced by Laila (Katrina Kaif) their diving instructor and would be romantic interest, as an unplanned detour involving the squishing of a massive amount of tomatoes - one wonders though if the timelines of all activities do gel together so nicely since there were at least two festivals almost back to back with each other.

Hrithik Roshan didn't have much luck at the box office last year with Guzaarish and Kites, but Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara will probably put his career back on track given the meatier role of the trio he got to handle. Farhan Akhtar should act more when he's not directing his own films, while Abhay Deol after this has established himself in my books as one of the character actors to look out for. With great scenic shots and an evergreen story about friendship, camaraderie and life affirming decision making, there's nothing not to like about this film that reminds us of the ties that bind. Highly recommended as it inspires one to come up with a similar pact for a road trip.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Twisted (撞鬼 / Zhuang Gui)

Not Again!

With Blood Ties being a serious thriller in tone, not many will know about writer-director Chai Yee Wei's funny bone which had been a hallmark of his short films, and this time with horror anthologies being popular vehicles for filmmakers to dabble in various aspects of the genre, Yee Wei tackles three distinct stories in his sophomore feature film, boasting a stellar regional cast in his stories that cover the spectrum of horror, comedy and a little bit of action to boot.

Told in a juxtaposed timeline with each segment being self contained, save for Mark Lee's drug dealer character popping up, and an Indian Father and Son team when you least expect, as they feature in all the stories to provide some comic relief. Smaller support caricatures also appear every now and then serving as opportunities for the director to dabble in gaudy humour complete with bawdy references, embedded in the stories to serve as sight gags in the same vein as how Hong Kong "mo-lei-tau" would treat them to milk some laughs irreverent to the plot.

Each of the three vignettes has its own star player where an ensemble cast got built around, and it's not difficult to see why. Mark Lee from Singapore with his characteristic screen swagger opens the first segment as a drug dealer having to collect his new zhng-ed Evo "Wiralution" vehicle, before a call from an ex-girlfriend (Candy Ice) resulted in a meetup that turned nasty, culminating in a deliberate crash along an empty stretch of road. At some point it does venture into Silent Hill territory with Mark's star power amped up to carry the film through its atmospheric build up, and without a doubt the highlights of this segment are its sound design and make up as it goes into overdrive with its extended Man versus Ghoul battle.

Linda Liao is undoubtedly the star of the second segment about a group of flight attendants out for some fun with colleagues played by Cavin Soh and Randall Tan up to no good through the spiking of their drinks. What was planned as a sexual romp turned out to be a series of mishaps with one dead body turning up after another. Perhaps the least ghoulish of the lot, this short enabled Yee wei to get his hands dirty dabbling with gore and close quartered action, though tame by Hollywood standards, with the liberal use of blood and the victim fighting tooth and nail for her life against a determined, though known, unintended killer. Plenty of quick edits were used to fast track the setup within an airplane and the nightclub to bring us to the story proper, and this probably didn't provide audiences with any vested interest in any character, especially the victims, which made this the weakest segment of the lot.

But Yee Wei saved the best for last, in a segment that gave rise to the movie's title. It's probably what's as close as one can get to a local remake of The Exorcist, though in more Oriental terms. We get introduced to an earlier familiar face in Alvin Wong playing the role of a medium who together with his assistant (Brendan Yuen) have scammed more folks than they can remember, until the medium decided to go honest with an opportunity provided by a mother (played by Hong Kong actress Zhu Mimi), whose daughter (Joey Leong, in danger of being typecast with her second role as a possessed woman in as many films directed by Yee Wei) is believed to be possessed what with her constant inexplicable violent behaviour, and fits.

This segment had a fair balance of Yee Wei's comedic and horror forte, with an engaging storyline to boot, boosted by the presence of wonderful performances from the cast, as well as their spot on comic timing. Make up made the pretty lass Joey Leong look more horrific than her first outing in Blood Ties, with strong technical aspects complementing a story that had much more than meets the eye, with some naughty innuendos slipped in for cheeky laughs as well. Alvin Wong is certainly the star here for his well written role, and his pairing with Brendan Yuen turned out to be a certain highlight for their chemistry on screen.

It is in this episode that Yee Wei brings about and draws upon references to the more Oriental ghoulish folklore, where in his debut feature explored that of the significance of the 7th day after someone's passing, and here the belief on the potency of blood from a black dog, as well as the convention of representing ghostly possession through being tip-toed (so that ghouls can slip under the soles of your feet).

From some of the production stills released on the Internet, they may suggest richer, more detailed plotting in the second segment especially with scenes set onboard the jetliner, as well as the hotel involving Benjamin Heng. The third segment, the longest, also probably had a more verbatim explanation to its back story and rationale behind the haunting, but I suppose in the interest of time some scenes would have to be unfortunately shortened. Still, as showreel of sorts, Twisted demonstrates Yee Wei's strengths in crafting spooky tales of different horror sub-genres complete with his comedic touches reminiscent of Hong Kong horror comedies of old, dealing with how karmic retribution works itself into the lives of the wicked.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Suit Us Up

Help! I may be losing my sense of humour, which I fear. While many have found The Hangover and its Part 2 really funny, somehow I'd hardly classify them as really being comedies of their respective years since there are padded moments that doesn't do the story any good, while at times having scenes which were really engineered and came across quite artificially. The same goes for Bridesmaids, widely touted to be the female version of that Todd Philips directed series, and in the same vein, suffered a similar fate in having the expected play out as they should, and nothing more.

Not that I'm expecting rocket science, but the story does indeed take a leaf out of The Hangover, borrowing its basic setting of an impending wedding, coupled with a celebrity finale that is as formulaic as how most wedding dinners here are conducted - you get the fanfare introduction of the appetizers, before a rather bland main course topped off by noodles or rice, followed by desserts before everyone forms a beeline for the doors.

Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, the latter /who also stars as the leading character Annie, this film could have been labelled as a singular rather than a plural entity, given varying degrees of screen time granted to the rest of the entourage. Annie is that neurotic woman who cannot seem to get her act together, being a flop in her confectionery business, a flop at her sales work, in total disarray for having entered into a f*ck buddy relationship with a rich playboy, and in arrears with her apartment rental. We only know that she's best friends forever with the bride to be Lillian (Maya Rudolph) and has been tasked as the maid of honour, which is where the whole film revolves around.

Not. Despite its wedding theme, there is only a handful of scenes related to the run up to a wedding, such as the fitting out for gowns in an expensive shop which provided some of the best scenes in the film, a bridal shower and of course the expected finale for a film like this. The rest of the scenes felt like glue, being there piece the disparate scenes together so that it can flow from joke to joke. On the jokes front, there's a good mix of verbal jousting and slapstick, which came complete with the obligatory toilet humour, and plenty of potty mouthed characters who think that swearing equates to funny. Obviously some worked while others tanked, with brilliant ideas all utilized in a single setting, leaving mediocre ones to prop up the rest, which was a pity.

The real crux of the film, one which actually made me appreciate and enjoy this a lot more, is its theme of the rich and poor divide given the presence of Helen (Rose Byrne) as the antagonist, being extremely loaded, and for reasons to be unveiled which had nothing to do with Lillian's wedding, if at all, having set up to be Annie's chief rival to be well received, and recognized as Lillian's BFF. It addresses how sometimes money can be used to buy emotions, affections, friendships and all things superficial, but when it comes to the crunch, nothing beats sincerity and a keen interest without having baggage such as ulterior motives. Sure there were a couple of engineered scenes to bring this up in not so subtle terms, but I guess when used in the context of weddings from the female perspective, meaningful things can be built without the need to always resort to material wealth, though of course the latter, together with personal connections, sometimes help, and that's the ugly truth.

Surprisingly the story was allowed to wander all over the place, to allow Annie to get involved romantically with a cop (Chris O'Dowd) naturally in contrast to her f*ck buddy, but also to provide some comic relief no matter how brief those moments actually became. I suppose no flick chick can entirely omit this aspect in a film with the absence of that proverbial Prince Charming type, so O'Dowd served the purpose complete with his Irish accent used to sound exotic and to provide a very small talking point in the film. A trip to Las Vegas got set up as well but for all the fanfare expectation, everything got centered around the airplane journey which was included in the trailer, and somehow overstayed its welcome.

If only the film had avenues to bring in the other bridesmaids, especially Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey into the picture, it would have been more inclusive since they won't fade away as unimportant, disposable caricatures. Even Melissa McCarthy had it lucky to have a jarring, comeback moment of sorts to engage the audience directly, being the equivalent of Zach Galifianakis in his turn in The Hangover though less annoying, to literally slap some sense to the protagonist and preach ideals and values to the audience out there. It's a pep talk alright about self confidence and self pity, mildly amusing though not contributing much to the story anyhow.

Still, the film lived up to its marketing billing of The Hangover equivalent for the female crowd, and it shows, despite venturing into gross out territory centered in and around a bridal shop, which personally contained the best moments of the film. Call me crass but at least my laughter was sustained in that setting alone, which bumps this film to Recommended status.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Beautiful Life (不再让你孤单)

It Sure Is Beautiful

Can Andrew Lau, better known for his Infernal Affairs movies, cop dramas and action films, deliver an outright romantic movie? Sure, as A Beautiful Life shows, although riddled with enough genre cliches compensated by an amazing timeline for the narrative to develop, more than watching a couple develop in thier love for each other from a chance meeting until the standard happy ending - it's meant for the Chinese market after all, so I suppose it has to stay within the confines that all will be well no matter how bleak everything can become.

As far as romantic movies go, this one's pretty ambitious in its timeline and narrative development, that it is almost akin to watching the natural progression of a relationship that worked, although for a romantic film, you'd sort of figure a life threatening disease kicking in at some point in order to play up the main theme of sacrifice, a cornerstone for something unconditional. In a tale of two halves, it shows how one party demonstrates that level of care and concern for the other, before tables get turned in almost a reciprocal manner, though you might add that one of the two probably drew the shorter end of the stick.

Another Hong Kong-China co-production, A Beautiful Life follows the life of Li Peiru (Shu Qi in her umpteenth romantic role of her career), a real estate agent who's perpetually drunk, in a relationship with her married boss in the hopes that she can stay in Beijing and lead the life of a tai tai. Well not quite, since she's emotionally miserable almost all of the time. She chances upon Fang Zhendong (Liu Ye), an honest cop who's the immaculate do-gooder, all round Chinese hero of sorts who inevitably falls for the free spirited lass.

As subplots to beef up the narrative, there's the brotherly love between Zhendong and his autistic brother Zhencong (Tian Liang) where the latter is also engaged in his own romantic dalliances with the mute girl Xiaowan (Feng Danying), where this almost blissful couple is in stark contrast to the more testy one between Peiru and Zhendong. And when I mean testy, it's that perennial test of trust and leap of faith where Zhendong goes against the warnings of his blind confidante (played by Anthony Wong no less) when Zhendong coughs out hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor Peiru's dream of opening up her own shop.

Seriously, the movie really dragged on and the finale was something that failed to man up, opting for the cop out to sooth audience's expectations rather than to follow through with its own intent involving unfortunate demise. Perhaps it really played to the points of one not having to be afraid when being with the one you love, or if you were to want to read it a little deeper, it's a socio-political suck up made where China stands as big brother despite its flaws, looking after the rogue entities who embrace various frowned upon vices, only to be seen ever ready to embrace them back into the fold, and show them the route to eternal happiness as one big family.

What made this work though happened to be the incredible chemistry between Shu Qi and Liu Ye especially, playing stock characters with aplomb that made their romance believable. One of the scenes that stood out was an incredibly long, single take where the duo had to walk down an extended walkway, one being piss drunk while the other constantly being that pillar of support, engaging in honest conversation that I would have shuddered to think about the effort that went behind making this one take possible. Cinematography was also top notch in this film capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, in contrast against the more serene villages, though this should come as no surprise given the director's background.

The Chinese title for A Beautiful Life underwent a change from the literal translation of the English title, to the more oomph filled one that reads a vow not to let the other party be lonely. And in some ways it's a more fitting title given the way things progressed between the characters in their give and take, and ambitious melodrama in wanting to cover the different stages, progression and development in a couple's love life. And that with their family as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wu Xia (武侠)


What's strongest in this film isn't the martial arts action sequence, or the much talked about Sichuan accent that versatile actor Takeshi Kaneshiro adopts in his role as a detective seeking to unearth the truth behind a peasant paper maker Liu Jun Xi played by Donnie Yen. Rather it's the art house sensibilities that director Peter Ho-Sun Chan fuses in the film that makes it a cut above the average martial arts movie, pretty much focused on characters, motivations, and plenty of drama about family and karma hidden behind an investigative narrative providing a more scientific approach to fantasy.

The opening shot establishes Peter Chan's intent to want to be different, with little nuances put into roles, and a painstakingly beautiful set design and art direction to introduce us to Liu and his family, with wife Ayu (Tang Wei) and two children, living quiet, almost anonymous lives until two robbers enter their village to rob a provision store, and Liu finding it hard not to lend a hand to a fellow villager in need. It's the classic top pugilist whose retirement plans of tranquility getting cut short no thanks to circumstances that spell trouble where trouble got attracted to them like bees to flowers, and for that innate chivalrous spirit to be unleashed, with expected consequences. Yes some quarters equate this to History of Violence, and to a certain extent, it undeniably does possess parallels.

Elevated to a folk hero in the village where praises get sung in his name, the detective Xu Bai Jiu (Kaneshiro) enters the scene for an autopsy and to examine the crime scene, only for his suspicion to be piqued that Liu may be more than meets the eye, perhaps even one of three most notorious wanted men he had been pursuing. Here's where the story shows off its flash of brilliance, with flawed characters providing added depth to characterization and story, keeping your interest level up as we discover how Xu's a little schizophrenic in his investigative approach, constantly communicating with his alter ego and we get to see some CG animated body internals sort of like the way Guy Ritchie treated his Sherlock Holmes, with dalliances to the question of is Liu or isn't Liu the powerful pugilist as Xu's investigations have made him out to be.

Takeshi Kaneshiro continues in similar vein with his Zhuge Liang character in having to form an uneasy camaraderie with his skilled counterpart, where in Red Cliff was with Tony Leung's Zhou Yu, here it's with Donnie Yen's Liu as investigations gets underway to try and coax something out of the latter. Yen has ample time producing some rarely seen acting chops thanks to a role that requires duality, and also showing he's no pushover when it comes to fighting in front of the camera, and taking on the directing responsibility to choreograph the action as well. And to balance the testosterone level of the movie, Tang Wei takes on the role of a demure wife who also bore some dark secrets from her past, but unfortunately this aspect remained largely vague and not as well explored, as is Kaneshiro's detective when he goes back to seek assistance from his estranged wife (Li Xiao Ran) in a one scene wonder/wander.

In a tale of two jarring halves suddenly remembering that it needed some cornerstone token villains, in come the legendary kung fu stars such as Wang Yu (the one armed swordsman being paid an obvious homage in this film), and Kara Hui who has seen a renewed lease in her career after an award winning turn on Ho Yuhang's film At the End of Daybreak. Both return to their martial arts roots which were hallmarks of their heydays, and it's really a pity how as villains they don't get much of a respect they deserve having to come back to the silver screen (especially for Wang Yu), portraying mean looking, ass kicking caricatures to give our heroes a run for their money.

Both were severely underutilized, but there is little doubt about their screen charisma when they finally appear to further the plot. Kara Hui was there solely for some of the set action pieces like a rooftop chase (not again), and between the two, it's of course Wang Yu who got the better deal portraying a Bane like brute, and I thought his heft with age provided plenty of gravitas and weight as the gangster chief who's not to be trifled with, providing the film a much needed climax and proceeding at breakneck speed toward the finale fight which pitted science against fantasy, in some ways how modern day mechanics trounced martial arts, though you get the idea employed here, the execution left much to be desired, since all it could elicit wasn't a sense of brilliance, but unintended comedy involving the much dreaded Deus Ex Machina, yet in some ways keeping in line with the notion of karmic retribution, albeit very literally.

Perhaps it was the weight of expectations that a movie titled Wu Xia would provide something more from an action front, and some may have gone to the extent to call this a redefinition of the martial arts genre through scientific methods and explanation. I thought that would really be stretching it, with big battles few and far between, the spotlight clearly centered on its story and characterization instead.

[Stage Appearance] Wu Xia (武侠)

Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen and director Peter Ho-Sun Chan was in Singapore today as part of their whirlwind tour of Asia to promote their latest film Wu Xia (武侠). A stage appearance with a Q&A session was organized at Golden Village Plaza Hall 6 for selected members of the audience to interact with them both, and here's how the proceedings went.

In Mandarin only.

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

You can read my review here.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Ice Cold Hunter

Who could have imagined Joe Wright, director of classy films such as Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, managed to embrace the action genre wholeheartedly delivering both style and substance in a film that reunites him with young actress Saoirse Ronan and bringing about a thriller that rocks on both its dramatic moments, and action sequences. What more, the Chemical Brothers have a huge part to play in peppering the film with a uniquely electrifying score that makes you yearn that they embark on film projects a little more often.

With a little mystery set up in the backstory of Hanna and her dad Erik (Eric Bana) who forges a parent-child, teacher-student relationship in the art of assassination just like what was recently seen in Kick-Ass, only this one less cartoony, sans costume and swearing, but no less effective in proving that the duo mean business. The story splits into two separate tracks where Hanna takes up a huge amount of screentime for Ronan to showcase her acting, and fighting chops, as the caged bird finally let free into the world, going about her mission yet wandering Europe (always the continent of choice for jet setting trips of sorts) with wide eyed wonderment, while Bana has it easier with a singular mission in proceeding to a rendezvous location, but not before allowing Joe Wright to once again flex that continuous long take muscle that culminates in a one versus many situation.

Plenty of fairy tale imagery comes into play to highlight the protagonist's innocence in contrast to how effective a killer she's actually trained to be, and Cate Blanchett throws in a gleefully wicked role that epitomes pure evil. Everything else remains pretty straight forward, and essentially becomes an inevitable Saoirse Ronan vehicle.

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


Sunday, July 17, 2011

[DVD] Forever (我愛你愛你愛你 / Wo Ai Ni Ai Ni Ai Ni) (2011)

Wee Li Lin's second feature film Forever has just hit the cinemas over in Malaysia this week, but in the meantime the DVD just got launched yesterday at The Arts House Earshot Cafe, and a Collector's Edition at that too!

You can read my review of the film here.

The Collector's Edition DVD comes with a four frame 35mm film strip so that you can take home a piece of the film (literally) with you (if memory served me right only Haunted Changi had packaged their own film strip in their DVD as well). The film is presented in a pristine anamorphic widescreen that reproduces the vibrant pastel like colour palette, especially the blues and the pinks. The original Mandarin language track is in Dolby Digital Stereo, with Scene Selection available over 12 chapters, and subtitles in English or Mandarin though for the feature film only.

Special Features on the DVD include the customary Trailers in a letterbox format, one 1:31 theatrical trailer and another 0:30 spot which are jointed together. The Music Video (4:16) also presented in a letterbox format is of the theme song 我愛你愛你愛你 Forever sung by Joanna Dong. The Photo Gallery consists of 3 sections each with 10 photographs from the Film, Production and the Singapore Gala Premiere.

The only substantial extra on this disc is the Making Of (13:44, anamorphic presentation) which was predominantly in Mandarin with some English being spoken by Sarah Ng and Ris Low in their interviews, in addition to that with the lead actress Joanna Dong, with Alice Lim and Teo Kiat Sing. It's female-centric alright, though I would have thought a segment with Mo Tzu Yi will make it complete. Each interviewee talks about their respective characters and their experience with working under Wee Li Lin's direction, coupled with tons of footage showing the crew behind the scenes working at making things happen on the technical front.

For those who have not seen the film, now's the opportunity to do so with the release of the DVD, now available at shops islandwide, as well as directly from its distributor.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Life of Buddha


One of the key reasons why I got interested in watching this film was to see how far Thai animated films have come, and The Buddha offered a good platform since it's about a subject matter I'm vaguely familiar with from films such as Bernardo Bertolucci's The Little Buddha (not that it's definitive), and for some reason this being a free screening at Sinema Old School, which probably accounted for its full house today filled with audiences very young (who were making their fair share of noise with parents indulging and not ticking them off to behave) and old, no doubt many amongst the audience were religious followers since they just about knew the significance of each scene.

The narrative is quite simple, encompassing the entire journey of Prince Siddhartha's birth, to his privileged yet deliberately protected teenage years, his wanting to find out about the truth and to alleviate people's suffering, hence his renouncing of his material wealth, relations and throne to seek out that path to Enlightenment, the attainment of Nirvana and the battle with Evil, the spread of Dharma and of course ended at his physical passing. For those unfamiliar with the story of Buddha, this perhaps allows for a very quick, summarized version of his life on Earth, hitting all the major milestones that one would have read about, such as how rosy a picture his father the King had painted the kingdom to be so that Siddhartha would not be catalyzed, as prophesied, into leaving his kingdom behind for his higher calling.

As a film, there were a multitude of characters to get ourselves acquainted with, some being quite fleeting who without character titles I would have been quite lost. As far as animation standards go, do not expect Pixar, though the film offered a rather unique look and feel but at times thought that the movement of characters and objects became a little bit stiff. Obviously a dubbed version since the mouths of the characters move out of sync from time to time from the English language track, I was initially worried at first that this film would be in the Thai language with Chinese subtitles only, but a quick check with Sinema revealed the version obtained was the English speaking one. Care was also taken to cast Indian voices in all the roles, since India was after all the birthplace of Buddha, and the story here adopted from the Tipitaka and Pali Canon.

Personally I had preferred the first half of the film chronicling Siddhartha's life as a Prince, and that of his struggles in exploring and dedicated attempts in finding enlightenment, only to realize the middle way is the way since extremism in either side of the spectrum spelt disaster. And in some ways this is most true when you think about how and what moderation means. There's even massive action sequences with battles against demons wanting him to fail in his spiritual quest, as well as slight unintentional comedy coming from how the characters were drawn to behave in a seduction scene. For its rating there was a surprising dismemberment scene that had a parent react with a little shock and quickly taking to allay her child's bewilderment.

The second half got a little bit too deep for a non-follower since we get to the point past Enlightenment, and a slew of devotees come seeking the Buddha's advice, followed by a number of very fleeting sections of his travels around the country. Here the pearls of wisdom get dispensed, and I suppose devotees will get a lot from this film than the casual viewer like myself. Still it got everything wrapped up in a nutshell as a quick jumpstart introduction into the life of Buddha and his teachings, packaged in animation done by Thailand with inputs and vetting by the necessary subject matter experts so you can be assured of some quality control in terms of storytelling.

Those interested, there is one more screening at Sinema Old School on 22 July 8pm, and the film has also been made available on home video in Singapore by Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery as part of her Vesak Celebration this year.

[DVD Launch] Forever (我愛你愛你愛你 / Wo Ai Ni Ai Ni Ai Ni)

This is a busy period of time on the DVD launch front with a number of films slated to be released, where we had Han Yew Kwang's When Hainan Meets Teochew, and come August we'll see Jacen Tan's Hosaywood Films releasing its repertoire of short films. Today marked the DVD launch of Wee Li Lin's second feature film Forever (我愛你愛你愛你) at The Arts House Earshot Cafe, with the attendance of director Wee Li Lin, Producer Sylvia Wong and lead actress Joanna Dong, engaged in a chat session with host David Lee of Innoform Media, and here's the proceedings, with logical breaks in between the screening of clips from the DVD - get one now if you want to see those extras you've missed!

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

and here's a small picture gallery from the launch event, and my review of the DVD here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 3D

It All Ends Now

10 years and 8 films, that was what it took to tell the saga of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the boy who survived as an infant against the evilest of wizardry villains, bringing a generation up through its novels and films and had sealed itself as a genuine cultural phenomenon, finally bringing itself to a close through a resounding finale on the silver screen. It had made a success of a writer, and had made stars of its young cast in creating a franchise which many had tried to emulate along the way, but failed miserably.

Was the decision to split the final film into two parts justified? Simply put, yes, as it allowed some room to breathe in its pulsating pace toward the inevitable showdown between its David and Goliath, and in doing so provided plenty of emotional resonance with the audience who had been followers from the start, developing together with story and characters, and allowing many to cling onto just one more film before the much talked about epilogue. At least it wasn't long drawn out and hard to let go, like how The Return of the King had suffered for its reluctance and multiple false endings.

David Yates had come onboard since The Order of the Phoenix, and in that provided some consistency as the storyline made a turning point to address its main threat head on, becoming darker and bleaker and continuing for much into this film as well, with the sense of dread and hopelessness hanging on every frame. It's "Part 2" and it doesn't dilly dally with unnecessary (or some say customary) recaps, so nobody needs to remind you to watch the earlier installment first. Even then you would probably lose count of and not be interested in the number of Horcruxes left to destroy as part of the quest of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson),since you'll be rooting for the trio to come out of each challenge unscathed despite increasing complexities and finding themselves cornered more often than not.

It's atmospheric down to a pat, with death at every corner leaving those who have not read the book wondering just who might bite the dust next, since Rowling has no qualms with ridding major characters if there's a need to emphasize the dangerous times that the story had made a turn for. A key battle takes place at Hogwarts between the forces of good and evil, with Harry Potter as a beacon shining that sliver of hope, that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) constantly tries to snuff out through mass psychic messages. I've always been impressed by the special effects employed in almost all the Harry Potter films in not being flashy for the sake of, but serving their purpose well to make magic believable, yet having enough pomp and flash to treat audiences to an SFX extravaganza that doesn't disappoint in its The Two Towers inspired full scaled assault involving rogues, wizards, witches and magical giant beings.

Many have encouraged me to read the books for they are far richer than that of the films, since there will be subplots dropped in the interest of running time. I may get down to the books one day, but suffice to say the films are sufficiently self-contained, extremely well made especially in its build up in the last few films given the ominous look and feel, and worth the bang for your buck. It isn't everyday that a strong film franchise gets developed through to its intended finale, and does so while packing an emotional punch, especially when the entire scheme of things get unravelled and revealed, throwing up how manipulative some can be for the greater good, and how powerful love can be, either of the tragic unrequited sort, or the various declarations made in the face of annihilation.

Sure there were some scenes crafted to bring back the dearly departed characters and cast members, for fans of the movie saga to allow for some fitting send off to those whom we've come to dearly follow in their adventures and come to grow fond of. Recommended to say the least, and for those who have yet to watch any of the films, perhaps you may want to do so on DVD and top it all off with a cinematic outing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

[Hong Kong Film Festival] Gallants (打擂台 / Da Lui Toi)

LtoR: Interpreter, Producer Lam Ka Tung, Actor Law Wing Cheong

Gallants finally makes its way to Singapore not for a commercial run, but 2 special screenings during this year's edition of the Hong Kong Film Festival, where Hong Kong films are allowed to be screened in Cantonese, no thanks to some silly arcane rule.

As luck will have it, being the (invite only) opening film of the festival, Producer Lam Ka Tung and actor Law Wing Cheong were the special guests invited, and during today's session partook in a question and answer session with audiences in this full house screening.

Here's most of the proceedings (my phone hung so the first question answered by Ka Tung was not captured) in Cantonese and Mandarin. As luck will have it, the video's crap in a darkened hall, but the audio should serve you well:

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

You can read my review of the film here and my DVD review can be found here. Having attended its World Premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival last year, I've managed to capture the Stage Appearance and Q&A Session which was held right after the first screening.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

8th Singapore Short Cuts

Presented by The National Museum Cinémathèque and The Substation Museum Moving Images, a selection of the best short films entries will be screened over two weekends from 6 August to 14 August 2011.

Screenings include a selection from award-winning Singaporean film director Tan Pin Pin and Anthony Chen and current students and alumni from NYU Tish School of the Arts Asia and Nanyang Technological University, among others. This year’s edition also includes four animated shorts - Libertas, A Cloudy Conumdrum, Burger Burger and Red, and here's the complete lineup:

Date: Saturday, 6 August, 2011
Time: 2pm
Films to be screened:
· The Impossibility of Knowing, directed by Tan Pin Pin
· Snow City, directed by Tan Pin Pin
· Wake, directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
· Solitary Moon, directed by Eva Tang
· Comfort, directed by Ariq Omar

Date: Sunday, 7 August, 2011
Time: 2pm
Films to be screened:
· One Day I Forgot and Used my Hands a.k.a HANDS, directed by Charles Lim
· Birthday Cake, directed by Ang Soo Koon
· Libertas, directed by Kan Lume and Megan Wonowidjoyo
· I Want to Remember, directed by Sherman Ong
· A Cloudy Conundrum, directed by Samantha Lee Suyi, Yvonne Ng and Calvin Chua
· Burger Burger, directed by Huang Shicong and Gavin Tan Jun Jie
· Thin Air, directed by Kirsten Tan

Date: Saturday, 13 August, 2011
Time: 2pm
Films to be screened:
· Red, directed by Nur Aisyah Binte Suhaimi
· Someday My Prince Will Come, directed by Ezzam Rahman
· Lighthouse, directed by Anthony Chen

Date: Sunday, 14 August, 2011
Time: 2pm
Films to be screened:
· The Wedding Avenger, directed by Michelle Cheong
· Rumah Sendiri, directed by Daniel Hui
· Sayang, directed by Daniel Hui
· The Hole, directed by Tan Shi Jie

Information for all Screenings
Admission: Tickets can be collected at the Stamford Visitor Services Counter a week before each screening. Each person is limited to four tickets and they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
[Note and Observations from Previous Editions: Do turn up at the event venue even if tickets are all collected / given out beforehand, which is almost always the case, as there will be kiasu dweebs who collect tickets but don't turn up, or collect more than they actually need. So if you're one of them, STOP your stupid practice, OK?]
Venue: Gallery Theatre, Basement, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
MRT Station: City Hall, Dhoby Ghaut or Bras Basah

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beautiful Lies (De Vrais Mensonges)

Does This Weigh 18g?

Director Pierre Salvadori reunites with actress Audrey Tautou from their earlier collaboration Priceless made some 5 years ago, but don't get your hopes up too high that Beautiful Lies would be a solid enough follow up especially if you enjoyed their earlier film on how some would fake a relationship or trade love for money. Salvadori continues with the offbeat romantic comedy premise involving make believe with this film, but alas it came through as a rather predictable affair.

It's hard to sustain a relationship based on a lie, and things get a lot complicated here when lies become the foundations on which romantic relationships, favours and that between parent and child get all built upon, where an innocently anonymous letter from a hair salon handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila) to his boss Emelie (Audrey Tautou) the salon co-owner, gets tossed aside by the latter since she obviously paid no heed to it, only for that attention to be retracted when she realized that her mom Maddy (Nathalie Baye) is due for a romantic lift from her prolonged sustained depression since her husband Marc (Paul Morgan) left her for someone younger and nubile to be his artistic muse.

Thus begins a series of contrived misunderstandings and lies built upon lies with the constant letter writings from Emelie posing as an anonymous admirer, only for her ruse to be unintentionally skewed way off the mark when Maddy thinks it is indeed Jean who has hidden feelings for her, no thanks to an errant Jean had to run which took him to dropping off the letter. Naturally this follows plenty of hidden meanings and Emelie trying to come between the two for fear of an expose, guiding this film to some laughable light hearted moments.

But it turned into a chore with Emelie having to beg a reluctant Jean to continue a charade to entertain her mother for fear of her mental and emotional state, with Emelie none the wiser that Jean was actually the originator of the letter to her declaring his love from afar. Oh the pain involved to help a loved one in her time of need, yet having to compromise one's principles to act out a lie, and worse, to lead a senior citizen on in some hope of a second wind of romance. It may sound like a fun premise, but trust me, it certainly was a chore to the character of Jean, and somehow this translated to the whole narrative giving you that sinking feeling of being unable to bail out from something forced upon, and unpleasant.

Beautiful Lies got condemned in a certain way with a whole host of unlikeable ones. Emelie begins with a good intent, but in efforts to save her own skin from embarrassment and to keep her madcap idea under reins, she turns into some crazy control freak who frequently lies, manipulating Jean and of course causing undue strain with her staff at work. Manipulative and scheming, Audrey Tautou does pull this one off to a certain degree, until it became repetitive no thanks to Emelie's constant exasperation. Jean also went into an about turn with his descend into probably one of the biggest cinematic jerks as well, one without courage to walk out of a morally compromising position, and assisting an ugly (on the inside) woman with her grand scheme. Only perhaps Nathalie Baye's portrayal as the emotionally helpless mom brought about some light to the film, if not for the last few scenes of the film to really show her off as an opportunist with no qualms to turn tables.

Without characters you genuinely feel for and a narrative that was in a hurry to conclude with a convenient ending sticking out like a sore thumb, one too perfect in many ways to sweep all development under the carpet, Beautiful Lies is extremely far from beautiful, and you would probably be better off watching any of Tautou's earlier works. Certainly not one of her best roles to date, stuck in a story based on a joke that had gone too far it isn't interesting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

[DVD] When Hainan Meets Teochew (当海南遇上潮州) (2010)

While it took quite some time for Han Yew Kuang and Lau Chee Nien's 18 Grams of Love to be made available on DVD, the wait isn't too long for their third feature film When Hainan Meets Teochew produced under their 18g Pictures banner, an independent "un"-romantic comedy film that bears all the hallmarks of a typical Han Yew Kwang written and directed film, so you know you're in for quite a treat.

You can read my earlier review of the film here, and if this is testament of the re-watchability of the film, I have done so for another 3 times (for this DVD review) and still I chuckle at all the funny, quirky bits, now being more aware for all the nuggets of information behind the scenes (that you'll get to hear from the audio commentaries) which added more fun with each subsequent viewing.

Audaciously packaged in a striking flamboyant pink theme, the Region 3 (I've popped it into my Region 1 only player and it still plays, just so you know my overseas friends) NTSC DVD presents the film and all the special features in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen format transfer. Scene selection is available over 12 chapters, with subtitles in English and Mandarin - and yes even the extras are subtitled so you won't miss a thing if you don't speak either language.

As already mentioned, loads of Special Features got jammed into this one-disc edition of the film, where in the local film context it's still relatively rare since most get their DVD released in either a barebones version, or with scant extras such as photo galleries and trailers. Granted though these are requisites in a certain way, so yes we still get the Trailer (1:!9) and the Teasers - all three of them which consists of the scene where three characters are seen decked in bathtowels (0:34), Teochew's popular "Shit" monologue (0:49) and the dialogue between the titular characters about how romantic comedies tend to be perfect in every aspect (0:34).

The extras also include the Music Video (3:19) 当我离去 by 阿洒 which serves as the love theme of the film, as well as a Promo Video (4:54) which was taken after its screening for members of the film community on November 23 last year with comments from audience members as well as the director and his leading cast.

What's more, Han Yew Kwang does a Director's Introduction to the film both in English (0:40) and Mandarin (0:34) and this bilingual feature style continues in the educational (heh) segments on How to Curse in Hainan(ese), with Hainan Boy Lee Chau Min imparting pearls of wisdom in the Hainan language both in English (0:34) and Mandarin (0:45) instructions, which are closely interchangeable since both features come with both English and Mandarin subtitles.

And to wrap things up, Two Full Length Audio Commentaries are included, with the one in Mandarin featuring writer-director Han Yew Kwang, producer Lau Chee Nien, and cast members Lee Chau Min and Tan Hong Chye engaged in rich banter that shared plenty of insights into the making of the film, with nuggets of information on the production process, right down to the shenanigans that happened on set. The English one however would just be between the producer and the director, but by no means is this version less fun nor informative since the two have collaborated with each other for such a long time, that their camaraderie rubs onto their commentary as well, and if anything, offers a sneak peek into their thought and creative process, explaining pretty much everything in extremely frank terms, including what they had intended but didn't manage to pul off, or scenes which they thought could have been improved. These two are definitely not resting on their laurels!

It's obvious much care had gone behind the production of a proper DVD release when you put this side by side with the releases of other local films, so don't let that effort go to waste. I had mentioned before that this quirky comedy provokes thought and is essentially a celebration of the spirit of independent filmmaking in Singapore, so do get entertained by a thoroughly good film and support the growing local filmmaking community by picking up something that's all homegrown and solidly packaged.

The DVD is already out in shops and you can check out the launch event here, but if you want to attend the second launch event, you can do so at Books Actually (9 Yong Siak Street) on 15 July Friday, 7:30pm! You can also order it online through its distributor.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

[Japanese Film Festival] Antenna (アンテナ / Antena)


One of the earliest works by director in focus Kumakiri Kazuyoshi for this season's Japanese Film Festival, Antenna probably benefitted from its R21 rating to draw in a sell out crowd this afternoon, with the director in attendance to introduce the film, which he described as strange - so who would have thought it really was that literal, with its narrative firmly focused on a dysfunctional family still reeling from the effects of a mysterious disappearance of Marie, the sister of Yuichiro (Ryo Kase) the protagonist from whom we follow through in his therapy, some many years ago.

As it was revealed during the Q&A session that the story was adapted from a science fiction novel, I suppose that would have explained some of the rather abstract elements in the film, such as the titular antenna, or antennae that got featured in the story, ranging from gigantic actual hardware, to figurative ones such as Yuichiro's younger brother Yuya (Daisuke Kizaki), who constantly enters a fit when his imaginary antenna which he describes as feelers, would go into overdrive twitching. But with other elements such as a cross-dressing child, an S&M service provider, and sins from the past all get thrown into the mix, Antenna turned out to be quite ambitious, if only its intended signals to be fine-tuned properly would this turn out to have provided a better payload with regards to theme of struggling with loss in very personal fashion.

The bulk of the tale follows Yuichiro's intent to engage in S&M in order to, based on the context of his research, go into alternative therapy to deal with a loss and a secret buried so deep that he needed help to unlock his subconscious. It's this alternative method that earned the film its rating, what with self mutilation with unflinching cutting of the flesh using cheap box cutters, which to some serves as a way to feel alive, and the constant self-gratification under the guidance, or instruction and order if you will, of Naomi (Akemi Kobayashi), whom Yuichiro engages the services of. It's frankly quite bizzare, especially when there's voyeurism, shock therapy, and in events on other characters such as hangings and illicit sexual relationships, that will probably earn Kumakiri a reputation as a shock jock, if this would be the only film you've watched from his filmography.

The story and continuity got choppy with its liberal use of flashbacks, and in the later part of the film, dream fantasy sequences that also introduced that of collective dreams, that made this one really trippy ride that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, yet leaving things quite unresolved if you're looking for firm answers to the predicament of the characters. Yes the obstacles get overcome to a certain degree, but One will hardly find reason to care for their loss nor celebrate in their victories since pathos did not get firmly established, and this becomes an exercise to get from start to end in the most meandering fashion possible.

Hopefully the other films slated would be a little bit more palatable, and offer a lot more to an audience, than this misfire.
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