Monday, April 30, 2012

The Avengers: An IMAX 3D Experience

My Favourite Avenger

It's almost like a no-brainer to put together some of Marvel's mightiest heroes, all of whom have their own films that have been worldwide successes, into one single film to encompass what the comic books have already done for years. There's no bigger comic book team up than the Avengers, bringing about a staple of heroes in their own franchises, and combining them into an initiative to do battle against adversary larger than any one of them can handle alone. And Joss Whedon seemed to have nailed the film version right in the head, drawing upon the strengths of what previous directors have done with the individual films, and putting them together for what would now be the mother of all comic book superhero movies.

Although if I may add a little personal bias here, The Avengers is perhaps the Hulk movie that never got made until now, leaving the other two films starring Eric Bana and Edward Norton biting the dust. When Mark Ruffalo was announced as taking over the mantle of the gamma powered being with anger management issues, I'm sure many like myself would have been bewildered, but Ruffalo shows why he's the best Hulk just yet, and is a mean Bruce Banner as well. We get back to seeing Banner being a scientist, enlisted not for his raging abilities, but that of being the go to expert on gamma radiation. That doesn't mean he's a pushover when it comes to the crunch, and with Ruffalo being motion captured rather than having the Hulk purely CG, is something different, not to mention the countless of cool scenes the big monster gets himself into thanks to his powered abilities. In short, it's almost Hulk 3: Hulk and Friends instead.

But I digress. The Avengers finally made it to the big screen after all those stingers in the various Marvel movies gave audiences a tease for years. The wait is over, and boy, was it worth the wait. We welcome back the familiar faces in Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), as well as the SHIELD agents in director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Coulson (Clark Gregg) and new addition Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), as well as bit roles to others such as Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Jarvis (Paul Bettany), Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stringing all of them into a fit as the villain hell bent on enslaving all of humanity, with help from an alien race army of course. Talk about an ensemble cast!

And true to form, Joss Whedon devotes adequate time to almost all of the Avengers, and making this more like an extension of their individual films as we dwell a little bit more into the background and issues each hero face, some which we know of from their earlier arcs that thankfully don't get rehashed too much save for certain quick montage sequences. Tony Stark has just about finished his research on renewable energy, not forgetting a new version of his armour that we'd get to see here (the Mark VII), Captain America still finding his feet in the real world and showing shades of the leader he's growing into, and Thor continuing his bickering with half brother Loki that culminates into having him being sent back to Earth to take his villainous brother back to Asgaard once again. The quieter moments in the film provides plenty of opportunity for characterization, and Whedon doesn't disappoint in showing how well he's comfortable and knowledgeable about each one of them from comic folk lore.

And when it comes to what fan boys all over the world are clamouring for, Whedon doesn't disappoint when it comes to larger than life action that pits the Avengers either against each other, playing into the hand of Loki in his divide and conquer strategy, and when they finally get their act together to cooperate and save the world. The Team Ups here, either in twos or threes, is fun in every essence of the word, pitting each hero against each other, or when cooperating to address problems that require their unique, combined abilities. And there's always good natured humour around the corner when you least expect, some really taking you by surprise, yet is still keeping true to the nature of each character. If you'd think the bulk of the wisecracks come from Stark, well, think again!

Whedon also makes it a conscientious point never to rehash what had already been seen in the individual movies, but providing a lot more and expanding the scope from what had been done before. I assure you that you'd haven't seen the Hulk do battle like what he does here, easily becoming a fan favourite and stealing the thunder from the rest, and of course a lot more from Captain America whose own film saw a limited variation in his fighting abilities, as compared to what he finally does here. Thor with Mjolnir is another dimension and class altogether, while Hawkeye finally saw some battles of his own after his short cameo appearance in Thor where he didn't fire a single projectile. The biggest challenge and change of course was on Tony Stark, and it would be interesting to see if this change, about being less egoistical and self-centered, would translate into his next film as well. The final battle that took at least half an hour of screen time, is the Avengers comic book come alive in larger than life spectacle that's best seen in the IMAX 3D format.

So what's next? Iron Man 3 will blast off and be first off the blocks, then there should be another Captain America film that will showcase more of SHIELD. I guess maybe either Thor or Hulk may make a big screen return next, before getting everyone together again for another hurrah, hinted upon midway through the end credits, but which was mentioned would be a smaller film than this one. Let's wait and see, but in the meantime, get out there and enjoy this one heck of a ride! Definitely a film that fans of either hero will find irresistibly awesome and in a league of its own. More please!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

[DVD] Beyond the Grave (Portos dos Mortos) (2010)

Look Out Behind You!

I'm always a fan of first films, because it's usually a chronicle of a filmmaker's struggles in getting it produced and completed, and a unique labour of love with mistakes made that a filmmaker can only learn from. One can only make a first film once, and it becomes the foundation on which a filmmaker can build upon, showcasing what he or she can already do, and paving the way for more to be done. Brazilian Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro wrote, directed and co-produced his first feature length narrative feature in Beyond the Grave, and as a genre film, showed plenty of promise in its ambition trying to weave gore, action and fantasy elements all rolled into one, although the usual trip ups were also expected from any first film.

Pinheiro has plenty going on in Beyond the Grave, that follows in a singular fashion a nameless police officer's quest in seeking out his enemy known as the Dark Rider in a post apocalyptic world infested with lumbering zombies. And to make the job a little bit tougher, the Dark Rider can assume the identity of another through possession, like in Fallen, where the spirit moves from body to body to ensure longevity, and to keep the hero guessing for the most parts. Even before the opening credits, we're treated to a sequence where the Officer, played by Rafael Tombini, goes up against three enemies that showcases his skillset, being equally adapt as we will soon find, with the gun, or the samurai sword, which he frequently uses given the scarcity of bullet rounds.

Rafael Tombini plays his Officer with aplomb, being the loner that he is in a world where one cannot trust anyone since loyalties are shifting, and relationships established are usually short lived given that anyone can fall prey to the zombies, or to other human alliances all out for that glimmer of survival. And we learn of this through the hard way given his bond with a teenage couple he picks up during his journey, plus another three whom they meet in an isolated school that seem untouched by the chaos outside, except for the occasional zombie that comes passing through. These relationships are primed for a fall, especially when they encounter the Dark Rider at different moments, and bring everything full circle in the usual, expected climatic battle between good and evil.

But the journey to get there seemed to be bogged down by the curious, and relentless need to expand upon the world set up for the film. Things sometimes enter the picture with little explanation or background, leaving the viewers much to own our devices to come up with probable rationale. We get to see a number of things from ritualistic killings to what would be a premise for a zombie film, but that in itself looked a little more like an experiment to dabble in heavy set makeup and special effects, lending little to the plot, other than to allow the characters to do battle. Fight scenes, while nicely choreographed and shot, could have been a little bit extended to allow for a better appreciation since the opening would have already piqued plenty of interest.

Stylistically, the art direction is top notch in painting a sparse landscape yet brimming with chaotic undertones, and Brazil, little seen in this part of the world, proved to be an eye-opener for the extremely beautiful landscapes that the cinematography captured especially in the wide shots. For the horror fan there are numerous references that you will spot throughout the film, and what I liked about it is the Western genre feel that the Officer adopts, where you can imagine very closely how the man with no name would have reacted if caught up in a world such as this one.

Still, it's a little bit different in narrative style with its amalgamation of its fantasy elements with that of horror, and for any film fan this is worth a pick up just to get in tune with genre cinema that's seldom seen. It is ambitious, but had the constraints of a first film to work around, where in some aspects you'd feel that punches have been pulled rather than to go for the jugular in matching its intent.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fabulous 30 (30 กำลังแจ๋ว / 30 Kamlung Jaew)


The mainstream cinema of Thailand has in the last decade conquered the action and horror genres, and now it looks set with its sights aimed at making an impact in the romantic comedies as well. But it isn't the romantic weepies that the Japanese seem to have a stranglehold on, but that on the more light hearted fare that the used to be the mainstay of the Koreans. Utilizing equally good looking casts, the Thais look set to be on a roll with the adoption of the universal formula, and we'd probably be looking at a lot more of such film offerings to come.

In Fabulous 30, Somching Srisupap and Sakilaa Banyen's story deals with the notion of a younger man wooing after a much older woman, 7 years to be exact in this tale directed by the former. You can say all you want about the character being a cougar, or that of looking for a sugar mommy, but in essence it deals with that of looking beyond one's outer appearance, as well as judging a book not by its cover (yes, it's rather cliched), or to look beyond age since it doesn't really accurately reflects one's emotional maturity when dealing with relationships and the opposite sex. There are older folks who refuse to grow up and adopts a childish mindset, and vice versa. Fabulous 30 throws all these issues and themes into a single context, and explores it through a light hearted romantic romp.

Ja (Patcharapa Chaichue) is a successful career woman who seem to have it all amongst her clique of friends, but as we soon learn during the celebration of her 31st birthday, she got unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend of 7 years Nop (Peter Corp Dyrendal), whom she berates for having wasted all her youthful time on, leaving her pretty much high and dry and dejected in her love life, almost resigning to her fate that she may never find another suitable man as her partner. In comes Por (Phuphom Phongpanu), the friend of her staff Sen (Nithit Warayanon), and despite the goading by her friends that this younger chap is all hot, she doesn't really bat an eyelid toward his friendly advances, and almost settled for placing him in the dreaded friend zone.

But thanks to Por's childish antics, stemming from never having been in a relationship and going all out on his first attempt, the best he ever got to was for Ja to seriously consider over it, with their age gap being one of the largest stumbling blocks because, I suppose, it's somewhat running against societal norms. You got to tip your hat off to her for enduring Por's really cloying behaviour, which sometimes lead to very embarrassing circumstances, and making things worse is the return of Nop back into Ja's life - here's a chance to go back to normalcy, or to take a chance with someone really new, and may be taking things a little light with the kinds of wooing tactics employed, which depending on your tolerance level, may deem it excessively desperate, or really novel.

The story circles around these issues, and it does get tiring after a while to witness Ja's indecision whether to go for it, to think about it, or otherwise. Por has a clock to run from, where work opportunity will place him into a 6 months separation from his lady love, so an answer is quite crucial to work out something long distance. Again I suppose the games people play make it to the narrative because it may be therapeutic for the storytellers to perhaps exercise some old demons from the past, and in doing so make their collective experience very much identifiable to audiences. But too much of a good thing adds up to a dragging of the narrative, even if it comes with a little bit of a revelation to explain in very verbatim terms why Por got so attracted to Ja.

But you have to admit that Patcharapa Chaichue would drive any young, hot blooded male crazy over her looks, despite being really of a close age to her character Ja. Her expressions throughout were really top notch, whether in expressing embarrassment, delight, or a mixture of both, she has the acting chops to put veterans in their place, making Ja come alive with sultriness and spunk, yet lamenting at her indecision. While Phuphom Phongpanu may share some chemistry with the leading lady, his range was somehow let down by the characterization of Por, who's quite the lovelorn character who can't seem to grow up, again being in the same age group in real life, but I wonder if even he would go to the extent of wooing someone with the kinds of stunts pulled off in the movie.

As always, there is the sheer coincidences that happen, and the very sweet, saccharine courtship rituals that come to pepper the plot. Pacing is a little bit erratic, as is the introduction of supporting characters such as Gift (Aorada Arayawuthi) whose subplot to become a viable alternative, distraction or temptation for Por didn't seem to move off from first gear, and got forgotten soon enough. Fans of romantic comedies will do yourselves a favour in checking Fabulous 30 out, and to keep an eye out for more of such films to come out from Thailand that are currently milking a proven formula.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Raven

It's Elementary

The mystery surrounding the death of American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe provided writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare with inspiration to design a narrative that built around the themes and stories of Poe, and have a go at a fictionalized account of Poe's final days, involving a serial killer inspired by Poe's writings, and challenging the writer on a personal front to solve a series of murders, and essentially serving as bait to come get him. For what it is, similar to fictionalized tales of the macabre like From Hell, The Raven contains enough just to skirt around as an alternative to the blockbuster season offerings, and it's always a welcome to see John Cusack, as Poe himself, back on the big screen.

Directed by James McTeigue, The Raven races through its narrative, staying in tune to its main story where it's a race against time for Poe and Detective Fields (Luke Evans) to try and track down the identity of a serial killer taunting them with horrific clues usually made out of his victims, in fashions adapted from Poe's spectrum of gothic stories. Not only that, a personal vendetta got thrown in as well when Poe's beau Emily Hamilton (Alive Eve) got kidnapped, and solving the series of clues will lead to her whereabouts, with death a whisker away if they dilly-dally. With V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin filled with violent action scenes, McTeigue toned it down a little in The Raven, while still containing dark themes and settings, offers the same amounts of blood but done through Saw inspired death sequences which thankfully the censors here didn't have any issues with, or may have closed their eyes when it mattered, missing everything.

But the point about this film, where the villain gets inspired by the protagonist, actually felt like art mimicking life, and vice versa, where the entire look and feel of The Raven felt like National Treasure meeting Sherlock Holmes, where the characters have to rely on intuition and their deductive abilities in order to race around the city of Baltimore (with Serbia locales doubling up for a very period looking city), filled with sufficient red herrings to keep you guessing until it let the cat out of the bag by an intentional dwelling of a scene that you will go, Ah-Ha! Even John Cusack, one of my favourite actors, looked quite like Nicolas Cage with his receding hair-line and goatee, with expression probably gleaned from watching too many Cage films, going right down to perfecting his mannerisms for the screen. And speaking about derivative, here's not forgetting Alice Eve doing her best rendition of Ryan Reynolds in Buried as well.

Knowing what to expect with The Raven delivering as promised, the film moves on an even keel with excitement brought about by relentless pursuits given the unnamed and unmasked villain almost always being so close to getting caught, but successfully giving our heroes the slip, adding to the suspense and build up. Luke Evans as the proud detective also fit into the role and shared a great chemistry opposite Cusack, as one realized that Poe is probably going to be an asset given his intimate knowledge of the characters and settings he created in the novels that the killer is following almost to the letter.

It doesn't boast as much fight action sequence as Sherlock Holmes as this is more of a demonstration of brains over brawn, but does have its fair share of gory and creepy moments, with cadavers aplenty, with excellent makeup highlighting the grotesque and the morbid. The closing credits though deserve a mention, with stylized graphics and Unkle's Burn My Shadow playing in the background in what I thought was a fitting wrap for an exhilarating adventure ride where we get an imaginary peek into the personal style of a literary giant, his body of works, and pitting him against the bane of creative talents like himself - the plagiarizer with zero originality. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

P.O.V. - A Cursed Film (POV: Norowareta Firumu / POV~呪われたフィルム~)

Somebody's Watching Us!

The first person, found footage sub-genre has become a regular staple in horror films, and Japan now jumps onto the bandwagon with writer director Norio Tsuruta's latest movie that deals with perspectives, curses and the likes. But while it had a promising premise involving a school and a persistent ghoul, it lapses back into the same old stale bag of tricks involving countless of shadowy figures, flickering lights along long corridors, and plenty of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't instances, trying hard to build up anticipation and suspense, but coming off most of the times as unintentional comical, and amateurish.

Starring Mirai Shida and Haruna Kawaguchi as fictionalized versions of themselves, things go bump in the dark when they play an anonymous CD submitted by a viewer of their variety show, and soon the bubble gum pop programme gives way to a back story involving the perennial school toilet, an exorcist and a creepy school administrator. Tauruta has a solid idea as a rationale behind the unfinished business, but the final act which was supposed to emphasize its P.O.V in the title, came off as illogical, and unbelievable even if you were to suspend disbelief, and poses too many questions that arose from one's eager intent to add a few more scares into the film.

It probably might have been better if it had just dropped its Ring-ish ambitions in trying to force its own Sadako onto the real world, short of saying to flush it down its many shots of toilet cubicles.

You can read my review of P.O.V. - A Cursed Film at by clicking on the logo below.


After Dark Action - Stash House

Dark Castle Home Entertainment and After Dark Films recently unveiled the new action movie franchise AFTER DARK ACTION, which will showcase five original, adrenaline-pumping films theatrically as a commercial film festival in US markets and VOD on May 11.

Check out the brand new trailer and poster for the upcoming action-packed STASH HOUSE, starring Dolph Lundgren, Sean Faris, Briana Evigan and Jon Huertas, directed by Eduardo Rodriguez and written by Gary Spinelli.

Dolph Lundgren as a villain? Fans, it's time to rejoice!

For her birthday, Dave Nash buys his wife, Emma, a beautiful foreclosed home. Gated, serene, and surrounded by friendly neighbors, it seems too good to be true… and it is. Dave and Emma soon discover the walls are lined with bricks of heroin. Before they can leave, cartel thugs trap them inside. Imprisoned in their own home, Dave and Emma withstand relentless attacks from thugs seeking to plunder the “stash house” of its riches. As the deaths of innocent bystanders mount, and they come ever closer to losing one another, Dave decides to take matters into his own hands...

Watch for it! And for this part of the world, I guess we can wait for a DVD release, while keeping fingers crossed for a big screen one where possible.


Related Links
- After Dark Action website
- After Dark Action on Facebook
- After Dark Films on Twitter

Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming Soon: Ghost on Air / 靈聼

At first it was the Jack Neo brand of comedies, and now it looks like horror films are becoming the de facto staple genre that local filmmakers can't wait to dabble in, since audiences here, and in the region, are keen cinema goers eager to lap up all kinds of scares a filmmaker can throw at them.

Directed by Cheng Ding An, whose first feature length film was Kallang Roar the Movie, Ghost on Air sees a collaborative effort with 933FM DJ Dennis Chew, himself no stranger to local horror films having starred in The Ghosts Must Be Crazy, when the director and the lead actor for this film had been actively looking out for a chance to work together. So what better than to tap upon the DJ's real life experience in hosting the popular "Grandpa Chew's Ghost Stories" radio program, and translate that for the cinema?

Set in the modern day, Ghost on Air tells the story of a top radio DJ has who fallen from grace and discovers a shortcut back to fame by telling ghost stories. But as he continues, he realizes with horror that his newfound fans may have come from another realm.

The film’s central philosophy comes from a famous Confucius saying: “One should learn to acknowledge and respect the Gods and Spirits and keep your rightful distance.” Ghost on Air has placed its central emphasis on the fact that sometimes, in the pursuit of true horror, sensationalizing tales of the unknown may bring us to the jaws of a very real danger.

In a run up to its 17th May wide release, expect a slew of promotional activities which you can have a look at a select few here:

(Update 25 April 2012: Dates are still tentative, so lookout for updates!)

28/29 April, 5/6 May: Ghost on Air Parade on the Street - Spooks will trawl Orchard Road and a Facebook contest will be run where snapshots of these ghouls with the most likes will stand a chance to win some prizes

27/28 April, 5/6 May: Meet the Cast in Frasers Mall, with fun and games being organized to win prizes.

1 May: Darkest DJs Challenge - The DJs of 933FM will compete in a dare, and the losers will have to distribute the film's gala tickets at a haunted location. Erm, then who will pick those tickets up then?

14 May: Dennis Chew's fans will be joining him in an exclusive screening of the film

18 May: Film Set Tour - visiting the Ghost on Air sets and actual locations used in the film.

Have a look at the trailer here:

Related Links
Facebook Page
Official Movie Website

Sunday, April 22, 2012

[Earth Day Global Screening] One Day on Earth

On Earth Day today, Young NTUC, 350 Singapore and ECO Singapore organized the screening of One Day on Earth Global Screening: Singapore, a film that was made from more than 3000 hours of footage submitted from almost every country on the planet, from the two poles and with contributions even from the International Space Station, capturing a slice of life everywhere over the course of one day, designated on 10 Oct 2010. Screenings were also held in countries around the world, and in Singapore about 90 turned up at the NTUC Centre downtown for the screening event, where Randolf Arriola warmed up the crowd with a soulful live-looping showcase.

Of course, films like this one aren't exactly new in concept, given the proliferation of cameras and amateur filmmakers around the world eager to contribute their talent toward a common cause. In 2011 there was Life in a Day, made under the banners of YouTube, LG and Scott Free Productions, with Kevin MacDonald taking on directing responsibilities in combining footage submitted from those shot on 24 Jul 2010. But One Day on Earth by Kyle Ruddick seemed the more organized of the two that organizes the clips submitted in more thematic terms, bookended no doubt with sunrises and midnight sojourns, and more surprisingly, having footage sent from even the most oppressed of countries that we have amongst our midst.

Broad categories such as peace, war, different times of death, life, death, love, religion, and the things people do, all fall into place with naturalness, making this film extremely easy to follow, with picturesque landscapes telling as much of a story as those which are almost interview, talking heads styled. And with public submissions, there is a balance between choosing those of high technical quality, and those which somewhat fall short, yet having a powerful story to tell with their compelling visuals. Not only was it designed around themes, there were also some key, recurring characters that pop up from time to time, touching human stories such as the French little girl, and Vincent, a 10 year old boy who was given a life expectancy of 10 years, and is celebrating his 10th birthday much against all odds, on 10-10-10.

One Day on Earth serves as a snapshot of the countless of stories that exist every moment of our lives on this planet we share, where our perspective at a point in time is that singular experience, and consciously knowing that there are concurrent moments that are happening around us all the time, as seen through the eyes and experienced by others. Like in real life, it's near impossible to document and capture on film everything in real time, and then playing them all back at the same time so that we can experience what others have gone through. This film serves as a snapshot at best, that as humans, the experiences we go through shape our beings, and ultimately through common themes one will realize, if not already, how similar in spirit we all are, in the desire of similar things, and especially in dreams and hopes for the future.

Singapore's representation in this rendition of the film, as far as I can catch given that Kyle Ruddick makes a point to brand each clip with its country of contribution, is less than five. I suppose with greater exposure and publicity, if there's another film made that calls for a similar level of participation, hopefully we may see a significant rise in the number of contributions submitted.

StreetDance 2

Dirty Dancing

Assemble a crew with dance abilities, and you can have a dance film. Step Up showed how street dancing can be viable for the big screen, and the European's StreetDance movie continues into its second edition, this time becoming a little bit geographically encompassing with the narrative traversing almost all of Europe during the opening credits to recruit a series of dancers for yet another movie/story. It can't get any more blatant than that, but like any genre film, the kick is in the strength of its unique value proposition, and with so many moves that can be amalgamated and combined, there is a possibility for infinite sequels.

The flimsy story, if there's ever a need for one for films like this, follows the disastrous efforts of an American boy Ash (Falk Hentschel), a popcorn seller who fell on his bum when challenging the top crew team known as the Invincibles during a competitive dance off. Eddie (Geprge Sampson), a returning character from the earlier film, sees Ash's talent, and convinces him to head a crew that they will assemble to take on The Invincibles again during an upcoming European dance competition in 8 weeks time. They get a crew easily due to Eddie's contacts, with an eye for keeping it multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. So a rag tag crew assembles, and to add some flavour and sensuousness to the group, Ash and Eddie recruits Eva (Sofia Boutella), a Latin dancer to help them all learn how to sizzle on the floor.

Is this film unrealistic? For the most parts, yes but it's something of a quibble that will plague any genre film that adheres strictly to an established, working formula. Unless someone in the crew has a trust fund to tap from, everyone seems to be surviving on dance and eating air. But that's the least of our concerns where they get their sustenence from, as all we need to see, is to see them dance, and all real world troubles will be instantly forgotten. And we really don't care about their backgrounds and such - efforts to add depth to characters all fall flat - except to see them work together to execute slick, choreographed moves against beat bobbing music that will leave the non-dancers amongst us astonished at how dance helps to contribute to toned bodies and rock solid abs.

As a film, directors Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini's efforts showed a little bit more maturity than their earlier StreetDance film, especially since it now got the knack of 3D. The first film went straight for the format, and found itself rooting the camera to the ground for the most parts, and like the worst of dancers, being extremely rigid in its capture of every dancer's movement, or moving the camera in bullet time format while freeze framing the dance action. Most of the time it was set square to the action so that everyone, and everything, has a chance at flying toward the screen. There's no need for that now, although there were subconscious efforts to try and maximize value for those who paid top dollar for 3D, but otherwise it can be done without, and the camera now breathes a lot more, moving around with bold angles to do justice to efforts by the dance choreographers in coming up with innovative, creative moves.

What got worked into the story was of course its much touted fusion of Latin Dance and Street Dance, with the usual storyline going where practitioners of either just cannot fathom how they can work together because of differences in philosophies and practices, but soon find it within themselves to respect the other form, and to blend styles and attitudes together to come up with something unique and new that opponents have no answer to. But that is only if opponents were actually given an equal amount of time to showcase what they can do. With the story so focused on Ash, Eva and their crew, little time gets devoted to the other teams, even during the expected big bang finale, that the story just had to find a technical loophole for the final dance battle to occur. Which works when the runtime had to be strictly kept to under 90 minutes.

If I may file another complaint on the story, it would be how the formula had to be followed to a T, with the expected rift caused between the leader and his troops coming from what was thought and mentioned as a sense of quitting and letting everyone down, when I felt that if they had pounced on the opportunity of not letting the enemy gain some intel on one's secret weapon and moves, it perhaps could have been a little better, and narratively less jarring with characters keeping to their motives and objectives rather than to let formula dictate how events have to strictly unfold. Especially since it involves an exchange of bodily fluids the scene before.

But as a genre fan, that wait for the finale was worth it, although my favourite dance routine has got to be that Druken-Master-Kung-Fu inspired moves that must be seen to be believed!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Crowdfund: The Obs: A Documentation

Perhaps with the exception of 2011's Ignore All Detour Signs by filmmakers Helmi Ali & Razin Ramzi, featuring the local band I Am David Sparkle, the local music scene doesn't get a lot of opportunities to be featured on film. Music, whether as a documentary or full blown concert, has been a relative genre staple in recent years, and perhaps it is time that local filmmakers turn the spotlight on their counterparts in the arts scene, and provide that exposure boost, or better yet, a capture of a band's essence to add another dimension to the documentation of a band's journey outside of trade magazines, cursory mentions in the press or limited airtime on the radio.

One of the biggest Singapore bands in the last decade, The Observatory, or The Obs, is currently made up of lead vocalist Leslie Low, bassist Victor Low, keyboardist-singer Vivian Wang and guitarist Dharma, and some have plans to move abroad in 2013. What this means I do not know, but one thing's for sure, it's now or never to start charting the ups and downs of one of Singapore's premiere bands, and director Yeo Siew Hua (whose last feature was In the House of Straw), has plans just to do that.

But he needs our help.

S$50,000 is what stands in the way of The Obs: A Documentation from being made, and your generous help goes a long way to help to fulfill that vision, not only of the director's, but to have captured on film, something that explores the relationships and processes behind the group’s body of work, taking a look back through archival footage, interviews, and treading into their rehearsals, homes, office, and in-between moments, as the synopsis details.

As always, like any savvy investor, you may want to check out the Production Team, the terms and conditions behind this crowdfunding, and other pertinent FAQs before you part with some cash, or contribution in kind.

The Obs: A Documentation crowd funds from now until 31 July 2012, and is expected to complete in 2013.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Delicacy (La Délicatesse)


Expectations can be such a bitch, when pre-conceived notions formed by others become shattered when reality dawns upon them. It can apply to many areas, but in a romantic comedy, it almost certainly applies to how one perceives the other half that a friend had chosen. And I suppose for the girls if their friend's new beau doesn't come tall, dark and handsome, but balding, goofy and awkward, then there will be bewilderment that will take on a life of its own around the gossip mills.

The debut feature of directors David and Stephane Foenkinos, adapting from the former's novel, Delicacy turned out to be not what one expected, with scenes played out in rather individualistic fashion, and ultimately never finding a natural rhythm of pacing. It's a classic case where the sum of all its parts turned out to be rather rote and hardly surpassing the brilliance of ideas injected into individual episodes, making it a rather rough ride where you'd constantly wonder just where the story is heading.

The draw here is of course Audrey Tautou, playing yet another strong female character whose whirlwind romance with Francois (Pio Marmai) comes to a full stop when the inevitable happens, in a scene where I was expecting a vehicle to hit Francois on the screen from right to left. Well that wish got unfulfilled, but Francois does succumb to injuries and Tautou's Nathalie Kerr becomes a widow, devoting herself to her work for the next three years, before discovering opportunities for a fresh love life comes knocking on her door again. And all these serving as the prologue, while being really inconsequential to everything else that came after, and could have sped up the pacing to get to the crux of the story instead.

And that's the new chapter of her life predominantly set in her workplace, where her boss Charles (Bruno Todeschini) tried to hit on her, and her fellow work group mate Markus Lundl (Francois Damiens) becomes comicly attracted to her because of her sudden and unexpected, one off advances where she kisses him out of the blue. The rest of the film deals with their romantic dalliances, with some nice touches to dialogues given Markus' deadpan humourous streak, and self-deprecating jokes that gets delivered with a straight face. But it's true, I suppose for those who don't have what it takes on the outside, being a funny man definitely works wonders, and Markus soon has Nathalie eating out of his hand, not that he could handle the attention anyhow.

While the romance doesn't really work out that well, what did work are the little background events that anyone working in an office will encounter from time to time, and these are the most fun, with gossips spreading like wildfire, and how sometimes we get easily offended by others who tend to be quick to pass judgement on who we are from glimpses on the outside. Audrey Tautou is at her pixie best in a role somewhat failed to challenge the actress, with Francois Damiens upstaging her in almost every aspect and scene, thanks to having portray a more interesting character complete with insecurities and quirks that is easily identified with by anyone - you will feel his pain when being compared with the Ideal, Perfect Man, who exists only in minds and not in real life, and being quite the good sport and feeling quite comfortable with himself when his shortcomings are mocked at.

Delicacy turned out to be a rather choppy ride, with a rather erratic pacing and structure that seemed to branch off and take on a life of its own, rather than to be in sync to form a more coherent narrative. Still, it's down to the chemistry of the leads when playing the unlikeliest of couples both in social standing, looks and attitudes, without whom this delicacy would have turned out to be a bland affair.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

I Can See Through To You

One of the best ways to thoroughly enjoy The Cabin in the Woods, is to steer clear of its trailer and go in blind. Don't read any reviews because there are plenty out there who are just plain lazy and in their plot summary hint at what's to come, or tend to reveal too much - heck, if you're that cautious, skip my review altogether, though I promise to tread really carefully. A film that's usually bad gets shelved for months before a release date, and this was delayed for 3 years, though due to its battle to resist being converted to 3D. Thankfully it stayed the way it is rather than to go into yet another senseless depth of field conversion that brings little value to the table, and along the way nothing else got created that resembled its brilliance, keeping it extremely fresh when seen for the first time.

Written by Joss Whedon (whose next film The Avengers just can't wait to burst onto the big screens) and Drew Goddard who wrote Cloverfield, and episodes for television series such as Lost, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the concept for The Cabin in the Woods is so fluid and probably easy to come up with if you're smoking something, working on many levels, and gives us all a reason why horror films play out the way they do. The writing duo takes the quintessential horror film ensemble of characters, and slaps on some fictional yet logical rationale, though keeping it thoroughly entertaining, and with the usual bag of tricks up the sleeves that every horror filmmaker out there would have dipped into from time to time, packing it with plenty of strong irony that drips in every scene.

Goddard also takes on directing responsibilities, and his feature film debut demonstrates a keen eye for various genres, all incorporated seamlessly into this film. Laughter and satire are always close by, and I can't fathom another film that's remotely close to its offering of thrills, spills and laughter, not by a mile. There are plenty of moments where you're kept on the edge of your seat, with surprising twists and turns popping up every now and then, even when the film established its own ground rules early on that will probably give you a whiff of what's to come later in the narrative. You may think you have all the answers, but the final act provides clear cut answers, and throws just about everything from the horror genre onto the screen in one giant melting pot.

What I really enjoyed about the film is its tongue-in-cheek treatment about competition from around the world, reflecting real life and how we view horror films in general, with each subsequent viewing of a particular film, or a sub-genre, sensitizing us to anything a filmmaker could possibly throw at us, leaving us jaded, and almost always a step ahead of the filmmakers. Here, there's a deliberate flag flying attempt that pokes fun at the return of US horror filmmaking brilliance in a less than subtle sequence, and in what I thought was an overt warning was not to celebrate before the chickens hatch, a reminder to focus on the task at hand until it gets completed rather than to rest on premature laurels.

So step into The Cabin in the Woods, and throw all preconceived notions you think may happen along the course of the movie. You'll get some right, but trust me there are a lot more going on here with references so fast and furious that this is firmly set as one of the rare few horror films that begs repeated viewing. Highly recommended, and a shoo-in into the shortlist as one of this year's best!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Where Are You?

One may not think much of Gone. After all, the trailer seemed to have spelt out the entire plot from A to Z, but there are still a limited number of suprirses that Brailian director Heitor Dhalia managed to pull out of a hat, turning this into a worthwhile effort to sit through, even though it didn't contain anything great in a mystery/thriller that worked out like the female version of The Fugitive, bearing emotional scars as she investigates into the disappearance of her sister.

Just like how nobody believed Dr Richard Kimble's account of the one armed man, nobody gave a hoot about the lead character's apparent abduction about a year back, her involuntary admission into a mental institution and more so about her allegations now that some boogeyman is still after her, and took her sister by mistake. Alarm bells powered by the trailer would suggest that this could be a psychological thriller with Amanda Seyfried's Jill making everything up in her mind and projecting events and characters into her life, but the good news is that Allison Burnet's story stuck to the more conventional investigative drama, albeit making things a tad too easy for the protagonist as she hops from witness to witness providing her pertinent clues to solve the biggest mystery of her life.

But one thing's undeniable in the film, and that is how it puts down the police force. If this was a comedy there will be full of slapstick cops bungling everything up with loads of physical comedy thrown in for good measure. Every cop character here is practically useless in not following their standard operating procedure, and made to look very silly indeed. Otherwise how could the protagonist be more interesting if she cannot constantly outwit them, both in the brains and brawn department?

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


Monday, April 16, 2012


Got Milk?

Europa Corp looks set to expand upon its stable of storytellers and filmmakers, with Luc Besson once again lending his brand name to herald the introduction of first time feature writer-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger by coming up with the story and premise, and letting them take everything from that launch point. So here comes Lockout, a futuristic science fiction that contains all the genre staples from the studio, with a recognizable cast unfortunately wasted in a relatively mundane plot.

That doesn't mean that it's not good, except that with quality associated with the Besson / Europa Corp brand name, one automatically demands a lot more, which the film does deliver on the technical aspects, but was let down by a script that didn't do everything much justice. The premise sets up a murder mystery that CIA operative Snow (Guy Pearce) gets framed for, and we see a good part of his interrogation/torture under the hands of the Secret Service, adamant in getting him to spill the beans, which he resist since information is almost always the objective and currency that keeps one alive. This comes with the obligatory escape sequence in a flashback that was more animation than live action, that's loud and defying any laws of physics just to add some thrills and spills, which frankly doesn't excite since everything went by in a blur.

On the other hand, there's the US President's daughter Emile Warnock (Maggie Grace) who's taking a trip up to the latest maximum security prison out in space, to verify that the worst inmates possible, convicted for various forms of violent crime, still get treated humanely and not inexplicably used in their cryogenic stage for time travel experiments by the builders and sponsors of what's essentially a space installation. But with all forms of technology and the introduction of human error no thanks to humans wanting to circumvent controls and take unnecessary risks, Emile's research programme gets interrupted by a prison break out, and soon she becomes hostage with danger threatening to boil over especially when the generic band of villains begin to learn of her true identity.

Plenty of special effects for that outer space setting got used when Snow gets sent to the prison in space on a one objective rescue mission, but he has something up his sleeve to look for someone who could clear his name, having interacted prior to his arrest, and to find out the whereabouts of a briefcase that can be used to prove his innocence. So reluctant hero travels, and we ask whether having a space fortress of sorts out in space to keep all the evil bad folk from Earth out there, out of sight and out of mind, will actually be a good idea, since it gives rise to scenarios like this, like a Con Air, but only in space.

While the villains are the usual bland psychos where most of them, under the effects of a cerebrum treatment, have a go at one another, saving a select, lucky few who aren't affected by the side effects, the heroes here prove to be the ones who carry the film. Guy Pearce plays his heroic Snow like an A one A-hole, complete with wisecracks that work, and many that don't. I could have sworn he was a cyborg for the amount of punishment sustained while nary having his skin broken, and having to survive various unbelievable action sequences that somehow made everything put together seem over the top. Maggie Grace's Emilie doesn't appreciate Snow's antics, so watching them go one up against another, with that inevitable romantic development amongst their characters as a given, gives Lockout a different flair, since their chemistry worked.

Forget about the effects used in the Star War-ish finale with space fighters going all out against a Death Star like installation, or other special effects that look more animated than to augment real life action, or that the fights here happen to be more of the usual way with fisticuffs being used to settle disputes. If you're game for some science fiction action adventure without minding a mediocre plot livened by the chemistry of the leads, and to allow Europa Corp to blood its fledging storytellers, then Lockout would just be right up your alley.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

[DVD] Saga of the Phoenix (阿修羅 / A Xiu Luo) (1990)

Spot the Difference

Following Peacock King, this sequel seemed to be somewhat of a rush job to cash in on whatever success and goodwill the first film had established, only to come off as being a pale shadow of the previous movie, dumbed down for a more juvenile audience. A number of principle cast members got replaced, which isn't exactly a good thing, save for Yuen Biao to return as Peacock and Gloria Yip as the Hell Virgin Ashura, now hell bent on living on wonderful Earth instead of going back to where she came from.

With Lucky Fruit (now taken over by Hiroshi Abe) and Peacock forming a friendship with Ashura, they plead her case with Master Ji Ku (Ken Ogata taken over by Shintaro Katsu) and a High Abbess (Yuko Natori), who are adamant that Ashura cannot remain on Earth and have to be sentenced to eternity living inside a Buddha stature, only for them to relent and allow Ashura seven days to roam the human world under the watchful eyes of Peacock and Lucky Fruit, and 3 more female nuns who shadow their movement without their knowledge. Happy for her wish to be granted, Ashura grabs this opportunity, and picks up her companion Genie, a gremlin like creature which allowed the filmmakers to utilize stop motion techniques and puppetry developed from the earlier film.

But of course Hell still has some unworldly creatures left who are harbouring hopes of conquering our world, with the Hell Concubine desiring whatever's left of Ashura's powers, and so from time to time our heroes have some fight sequences during their watch, culminating in Yuen Biao's convenient disappearance for about a third of the movie when he got frozen in ice. The rest of the story deals with Ashura's time spent on Earth like a teenage girl who has her curfew lifted, tracking her Genie down, inadvertently picked up by a girl (Loletta Lee) who brings it back to Hong Kong, who soon got befriended by Ashura and Lucky Fruit, as well as her brother Tan (Lau Shek Yin) who's a madcap scientist working on a teleportation device. Most of the mid section deals with the shenanigans of Genie so much so that you'd be mistaken if that creature was the focus of this film, with half baked subplots such as the unlikely romance between Loletta Lee's character and Lucky Fruit, and some cheap moments where the 3 shadowing nuns got their clothes shredded and subsequently changed into swimsuits, characters who don't even deserve a decent send off in the film.

Fight scenes were extremely limited, and the stop motion, animatronics that were the highlights of the first film got severely reduced as well. There's not much of a story going on, and this is essentially a kids movie along the same veins as any Power Rangers episode, where the conniving villains send their lousy minions to do their dirty work, and when defeated come howling back to base only to get obliterated. The finale battle sees a new Peacock rising, which alas was extremely short and nothing more than an elaborate light show, and budget limitations meant some very cheesy and cheap methods employed to try and get the most bang out of the buck received.

It's a pity though for a film rich in content from its manga roots, cannot deliver something relatively decent, especially when compared with the first in the series where this made that look like a classic. As I have already mentioned before, this series would be ripe for a remake with today's advancement in technology. So as long as someone has a bright spark of an idea for a strong storyline to happen, combined with spruced up effects and a proper ensemble cast, who knows this could be wiped from memory when a remake done with all the right ingredients finally does get made. But until then, you can choose to watch this only for glimpses of how youthful looking some of the stars back then were, having signed a contract to make a film especially friendly for kids.

The Region Free DVD by Fortune Star under its Legendary Collection imprint presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen format. Unfortunately like Peacock King's transfer, it's also not digitally remastered, and the print quality is akin to that from a VHS quality with very obvious signs of pops, cackles and hiss from various wear and tear. Perhaps one day we can get something that's remastered properly back to a relatively pristine condition, but I guess this'll have to do for now. Audio is available in Cantonese or Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, and given that this is a co-production that'll be significant portions of dubbing whichever audio option you choose from.

Subtitles are thankfully removable and not hard-coded with the print, available in English, Mandarin or Cantonese either in Simplified or Traditional scripts, and sad to say the English translation is riddled with typographical mistakes. Scene selection is available over 18 chapters, and there are no extras on the DVD, save for a Theatrical Trailer (3:25) done in really old-school 80s style, and a Photo Gallery containing 10 stills only.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Raid (Serbuan Maut)


With the all round great reviews The Raid, then subsequently subtitled Redemption, is getting from festivals worldwide, and chalking up an impressive box office in the US and Indonesia, I just had to get out there and watch the film, with appetite whet by the numerous teasers and trailers available. After all, it's 99.999% uncut in Indonesia, and chances for it to survive unscathed in Singapore remains - and after watching the film I'm fairly convinced - slim even if under the R21 category. Having had a number of Asian martial arts movies especially Thailand's (from Ong Bak 3 to Bangkok Knock Out) ruined by censorship and/or distributors thinking of allowing potentially a wider audience base catch an adulterated version, I'd rather cross geographical boundaries for an action film even if the lack of English subtitles means having to rely on my non-existent Bahasa skills, or getting Bahasa speaking friends on the same trip fill me in on some of the gaps.

The declaration above is so that you'd know better to check the relevant local censor board's website for the rating, since no other local reviewer out there will tell you the truth from a press screening, and that this review obviously couldn't cover all the nuances of the characters properly, since there are dramatic episodes in The Raid to provide an overall character focus rather than to be just an all out action fest. The gist of the story you'd likely know from the premise and synopsis, where a group of SWAT team members under the leadership of Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), are tasked to invade one rundown apartment block notorious for being a haven to just about the nastiest gangsters in town, led by the drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy).

Their job is simple in this pre-dawn raid - go in silent, make arrests and capture the head honcho, all done in stealth. It starts promising, but midway their presence was noticed and all hell breaks loose, with every thug in the building out for their blood, and the group, without proper backup when they realize their raid was an unsanctioned procedure, find themselves trapped from all angles, and needing to desperately find, and fight, their way out. Dramatic moments make up for the usual brotherhood themes, back stories to key characters, and betrayals from both sides which will turn up the level of surprises as the movie progresses, which provides this action film with a little bit more than what you'll get from its peers, without feeling like they're there to pad and lead from action sequence to action sequence.

Written, directed and edited by Welshman Gareth Huw Evans, who together with leading man Iko Uwais and most of the core group who had worked together in their first feature film collaboration Merantau, The Raid picked up from the good groundwork established from that film, and translated big time into this, with bigger stunts and bigger action choreography. The action, oh the action, for the first time in an extremely long while, left me holding my breath, literally, before gasping for air when the dust settled. Never before had an action movie grab me by the scruff of my neck in attention like The Raid has, with eyes kept wide open for the fear of having to blink means losing out a single frame of a finishing blow. Merantau, if compared to this, was a tease of what the entire team can do, and under the martial arts choreography by Iko and Yayan Ruhian, who plays Mad Dog in the movie, the battle - tooth and nail, fight for survival type - sequences are a sight to behold.

Evans handled The Raid with a deftness, building up suspense, anticipation and excitement like an old hand, despite this being only his third narrative feature film production. The level of complexity got increased here even if the scale of the film got reduced into from the sprawling city in Merantau, into a claustrophobic apartment block. There's CG enhanced firing of rifle rounds, before gun battles between opponents cook up a flurry of emptying magazines after magazines of automatic weapon rounds. When ranged weapons are no longer an option, in comes close quartered combat weapons like knives and batons against machetes and pipes, before the lowest common denominator of relying on bare knuckles, kicks, throws and the occasional head butt.

To describe the action in the film would be a disservice in revealing too much, when it is best that you experience it for yourself. It's bloody, it's violent and it's no holds barred, bringing out panic, tension, and a great adrenaline rush as if putting you into the thick of the action like an embedded war journalist having to weave through attacks from all directions. In each carefully choreographed action milestone in the film, you're bound to discover many amazingly delivered fight sequence that you'll probably never seen before, keeping things really fresh even for the jaded action / martial arts film junkie, where you're bound to find a certain moment within each sequence that will serve as a talking point when the end credits roll, and providing you with rationale to just about watch the movie immediately again.

Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian just about found the perfect holistic ingredients that go about making hard hitting action films, with a competent stunt team and martial arts crew to deliver action just as the two of them conjured, making everything feel real when the going gets rough, with an eye for detail and attention, keeping fights credible with an element of real danger put into them. Both men play characters on either side of the fence, with Iko on the side of the SWAT Team powering his way through to an escape, and Yayan being the brutal enforcer on the side of the thugs, each having moments to showcase what they can do individually. You'll be catching yourself more than once wondering, how the heck did these guys do that? But they did, and it's all up on film for everyone to witness. It's testament of their talent and their brand of martial arts being worked for cinema, and with this they had shown that they've come a long way from Merantau some 3 years back, despite being their second action film with Gareth Evans.

Action films from South East Asia are raking up a storm, with Thailand leading the charge, Malaysia following suit recently, but Indonesia really cranking and setting the bar really high for everyone else to follow. The cinematography here is silky smooth, with none of the bullshit that Hollywood tries to force as a standard - what with its shaky cam and up too close camera angles - THIS is something that Hollywood should wake up to, where the camera flows and moves around the action, keeping things steady to capture the absolute beauty of martial arts being executed by professional practitioners, and allowing the audience to see who's hitting what/who, with edits and cutaways being kept to a minimum and logically done, rather than to cover up the lack of real skills by the stunt team, or try to pass off the non-trained actor as a modern day superman.

Chances are I will want to watch it again in Singapore when it premieres next month, with slight differences of course. The soundtrack for the local release will follow the US', meaning we'll get to listen to Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Joseph Trapanese's version compared to the Indonesian one, which in itself is already rocking and suited the look, feel and mood that The Raid will bring to action cinema. For those, like me, who can't wait, you can either do the same crossing overseas, or pick up the Merantau DVD available if you have not seen that film yet. It will introduce you to a different aspect of Silat, one primed for action cinema, and provide you a sneak peek into what to expect from The Raid from just about almost the same main cast and crew who had progressed leaps and bounds from there.

The best action movie of the decade some say, and I'll verify and concur to that with a resounding Yes. Definitely highly recommended, where action junkies will find a new film to pay homage to, as it powers its way to my shortlist of one of the best this year has to offer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Awakening

Look What We Have Here

Haunted mansions and a ghostly kid. Sounds like formula all over again. But to its credit The Awakening packed a reasonable storyline to prop up a mystery and provided some attempts at scaring the audience, except that its focus centered around the main lead Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) and her capabilities making this more like a ghost hunter's adventures in early 20th century England, with creepy sets to boot.

And Florence Cathcart is undoubtedly an interesting character, who through the course of the film transforms from a Dana Scully equivalent to a Fox Mulder believer. We get introduced to her in the tail end of her investigations to bust false prophets and mediums who claim to be able to communicate with the nether world, and she does so with aplomb and satisfaction, exposing those in the trade to fool gullible citizens who are unable to let go of their grief. A bestselling author, she gets challenged one day by a teacher of a boarding school, Robert Mallory (Dominic West) to look into a recent death of a pupil, who had claimed to have seen a ghost before he died.

Reluctant at first, she takes up the challenge, brings her wares, and digs deep to try and prove that a boarding school is fertile ground for pranks to be played by its many naughty students, a thought that soon got debunked as little by little the inexplicable happens, paving way for great atmospherics set up by the filmmaking team, utilizing the sprawling mansion with its dimly lit long corridors and staircases to full effect. But the scares never really got there, with the usual shadow play and bag of tricks used, with director Nick Murphy being quite certain to want to play up the atmosphere to raise those goosebumps, yet underwhelm in his delivery of real moments that will make your heart beat faster, nor allow you any avenue to squirm in your seat.

The narrative then has enters into the school vacation period, which reduced the number of usual suspects who could have some role to play in the whole scheme of things, such as Mallory himself being a war veteran and have lived through hell on earth during WWI, the matron Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton whose make up makes her look really sinister), and the young kid Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who stays behind because his parents were away. It doesn't take long for you to soon figure out who's who and what's what, although I am fairly impressed with the backstory Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk had come up with, while on one hand isn't something not done before, but still it's well written and fleshed out, dealing with how we tend to psychologically block out really nasty memories from our lives in what would be an automatic self-protecting mechanism.

Rebecca Hall plays it really serious as an investigator hell bent on using (rudimentary) science to bust all matters of the supernatural, only to find herself caught thick in some ghoulish action. She's no scream queen here as her character possesses more of a pragmatic and determined mind to learn of the truth, only for tables to be turned and for her to dig deep into her own experiences instead in order to live through the ordeal. Probably the only disbelief here in the entire movie would be her character's needless romance with Dominic West's Mallory, which was quite unnecessary if only to show that some desperate feelings develop in a cold, dark mansion with two lonely people being put together.

The final scenes of the film offered up some nice little twists and surprises that prolonged the conclusion, with an epilogue that will leave you guessing right up until the last minute to see whether Nick Murphy decided to go for the jugular like other films in the genre, or to stick to a more traditional and conventional finale, and I'm glad it was what it had decided to be. It may not effectively be an out and out horror film designed to scare, but as a mystery-thriller, it does have what it takes and presented something quite decent through its storytelling strength.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Lucky One

All Glory Is Fleeting

Zac Efron contributes his pretty boy looks and buffed frame to be part of the Nicholas Sparks fraternity of actors who have taken on a leading role from the writer'series of romantic novels, being turned to films with aplomb by producer Denise Di Novi. Like how Dear John involved Channing Tatum being sent off to the Middle East frontlines that disrupted his budding relationship in Dear John, Efron's character returns to the USA after multiple tours, the last one being his luckiest having to survive many deadly situations, thanks to a random photograph of a girl he picked up.

Directed by Scott Hicks, The Lucky One is that same formula that any romantic film fan will have come to accept, given the subscription to themes like fate and destiny, since it didn't take Efron's Logan too long to google and track down Beth (Taylor Shilling), the female posing in the picture her found, and from there, both lonely souls got attracted to each other, with the usual obstacles placed in their way in which they have to overcome before being able to enjoy their happily ever after. This comes in the form of an ex-husband still dead set on winning his ex-wife back although clueless in going about doing so, and a kid whom Logan charms as a necessity since he's likely to be family.

With all the ingredients all ready to cook up a successful storm, somehow Hicks managed to really simmer the broth too much, that it sucked up all heart and soul of the film, turning it into something generic, bland, and wasted a lot of time with the mundane, and the uninteresting stuff that padded the middle of the film, sagging its pace and making scenes felt they've lasted way past their welcome. Efron wears a blank expression throughout most of his scenes, with fans here just expecting him to rip his shirt off so that they can squeal in delight. I felt Taylor Schilling is a bit miscast starring opposite him, sharing little chemistry as a credible couple, perhaps to show how even the unlikeliest amongst us, with the intervention of Fate's invisible hand, may have a say with whom we hook up with.

Expect the usual syrupy romantic moments that Nicholas Sparks is famous for, in a tale where everyone has redeeming qualities.

You can read my review of The Lucky One at by clicking on the logo below.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Sitting Duck

E-4, E5, E6 - Battleship sunk!

Sometimes I cannot fathom how a classic pencil and paper game could be made into a movie, just like how once upon a time board games like Risk and Monopoly got mooted for the same, save for things like Cluedo which had been, and would probably be just another murder mystery genre film. But I suppose Hasbro has got plans in mind while waiting for Michael Bay to reboot the Transformers franchise, and it's not healthy to have the software graphics engine lying idle when it can be milked for other films. So call it what you want, Transformers' poor cousin, or Independence Day on water, Battleship has its moments, but alas for a film based on a game you'd know that the story is flimsy and quite waterlogged.

Peter Berg, known for films like The Kingdom and Hancock, seemed to have picked up some directing tips from Michael Bay in learning how to craft and introduce characters, as well as to blow things up. Take for instance the entire sequence where Hong Kong bore the brunt of a crashing from UFOs, which come complete with the destruction of skyscrapers and obliterating just about everything on its crowded, narrow streets. And that's not all, with the story by Erich and Jon Hoeber taking a leaf out of crafting the requisite female character who's all boobs and legs, and little else. The hero of the day turns out to be a zero at first, with John Carter's Taylor Kitsch having a second go at leading action man status, starring as the troublemaker Alex Hopper who got recruited into the army by brother Stone (Alexnder Skarsgard) so as to teach his wayward sibling about discipline, and holding down a job since the US armed forces is just about ready to recruit and retain just about anybody.

So for character development, you get to see how Alex grows from zero to hero, having responsibility and leadership thrust into his face as the most senior officer on board a ship, while on the other hand is all jitters when he has to ask permission from the father of his girlfriend (played by Brooklyn Decker) for her hand in marriage. With Liam Neeson playing Admiral Shane (and a very ceremonial one I may add) and the main man that this rascal has got to approach, it's believable just about everyone will piss in their pants as well. But hold on, shelf that aside, because here comes some aliens from outer space that interrupted what would seem like a typical Five Powers Defense Arrangement naval exercise, and conveniently only a handful of ships get to go one on one with the aliens, with the rest of the more powerful armada of aircraft carriers, frigates and destroyers left out of the cold through the introduction of a force field.

Some of the rare plus points will point to why Battleship is still an enduring game up until today, because it's a game of strategy and tactics, and only when the humans versus aliens actually sit down and play what would be a spruced up version of this game, do things start to excite. A bit. And it's pretty short lived as well, since the focus is almost always on the special effects, and to paint just about who has the larger and faster weaponry that can tear the other party apart. Rihanna, in her feature film debut, also impressed with her charisma, lighting up the screen each time she comes on, believable as the tough as nails sailor chick and gunner of her ship, and thank goodness there was a deliberate hand at play to keep her musical background at bay since she doesn't break into song, nor contributed any music to the soundtrack of the movie.

If Rambo was cathartic to address USA's failure in the Vietnam War, then Battleship is the equivalent of the same for the US Navy in WWII in how they were blind-sided by the Japanese at Pearl Habour. Indeed the film is set near, and around the Harbour and the Hawaiian islands, and the Japanese got set up as friendly foes in the games the military men play, but everything else soon dissolved into admiration and friendship, with Tadanobu Asano playing the Japanese captain Nagata with whom forms a fast bond with Alex Hopper. It's also implicitly implied about the concerns and jitters faced by the US Naval fleet with that of the Chinese, who are obviously not invited to the war games, but get mentioned more than once during the commotion when trying to figure out what they were up against. Nothing like a little real world anxiety being injected, coming from China's modernization of her fleet in recent years.

In what would a reflection of real world sentiments, and a spot on one at that, is how the American armed forces tend to want to shoot first, or deals in foreign policy with guns cocked and ready. The aliens here actually came quietly, but got interpreted as approaching Earth's atmosphere in "formation", and its accidentally whacking of one of the satellite junks in space brought about the destruction of Hong Kong. All they wanted was to call home by borrowing NASA's telecommunications capability (after all, they were the ones who sent out the signal first) maybe to tell everyone back home they're safe and found lifeform on Earth, and in many, many instances, don't fire first unless a threat is detected, in what would be true self-preservation mode. The film likes to cut to the aliens' POV, and there are frequent occasions they colour code things green instead of red, the latter only when locked and loaded, or fired upon. But military muscle must be flexed, even giving everything a middle finger with the expected deployment of a WWII battleship going up against advanced science fiction weaponry.

But I digress. Not since Top Gun was the US Navy put into focus, and even then it was the aircraft in its arsenal. Here, the focus was on the ships available for the war games, though the more advanced ships got effectively neutered as it went to show how one destroyer under able command is able to pin point the weaknesses (there must always be on according to film law) of the alien enemy, and to exploit that during battle to turn the tables around. It's almost like a recruitment ad under Peter Berg's direction, and I would have loved to see more of that old school styled Battleship game moments, rather than what looked very much like a Transformers clone with military mixed with alien technology, in an Earth versus them storyline.

The coda at the end of the film hints at another sequel as always, leaving the door wide open to such possibilities, and who knows if it does decently at the box office we'll see the same old formula being recycled again since it has some legs to be a cash generating machine.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

[DVD] Peacock King (孔雀王子 / Hung Cheuk Wong Ji) (1988)

Would You Look At That!

This was amongst the reasons why growing up in the 80s was cool, with Hong Kong cinema at its heydays and with just about every genre that's covered. And for a kid growing up during the era, Peacock King, in my memory, was one hell of a special effects extravaganza and showing off, at the time, what the East could do with special effects that the West have already accomplished, with fantasy monsters coming to life with stop motion rubber suits and the likes, similar to films such as Ghostbusters or Clash of the Titans, which if viewed today looks dated, but still contains a lot of charm.

Alas, The Peacock King somehow didn't withstand the test of time. A kid would have found the premise very interesting, dealing with hell's gates and a hell virgin who held the key to the destruction of mankind once she heralds the return of the hell king, and it is up to two monks to stop every conceivable devil in his or her tracks. Conveniently, given that this is a Hong Kong-Japan co-production, the location of the hell's gates happen to be in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and in Tibet, where the monks Peacock (Yuen Biao) and Lucky Fruit (Migami Hiroshi) meet by chance when they're sent by their masters Ku Fong (Eddy Ko) and Ji Ku (Ken Ogata) respectively, to stop hell virgin Ashura (Gloria Yip in her debut) chaperoned by the evil witch Raga (Pauline Wong Siu Fung) to fulfill the former's destiny.

However the storyline if viewed today, as an adult, consists of plenty of unnecessary sub plots and loopholes, and characters who don't really serve a purpose. For instance, there's the retail store's Okada (Yasuda Narumi) who's in this film just to balance the female quotient, being more than a bother since she hangs around the monks and in my opinion seems more like a liability with her non-powers as well as potential to trip things up. Moreover, her character also presents an unlikely romance with Lucky Fruit, so there isn't really a point to get her over to Hong Kong or Tibet once the Tokyo story arc is over.

Then there's the waste of Gordon Liu's character Kubira, a warrior sent on an assassination attempt on our heroes, if only to allow for a backstory to tell of how the two lead characters are linked together in a twist of fate, and to provide for more credible fight sequences using bona fide kung fu, balancing out the over-reliance of special effects here. But Kubira's introduction gives additional time to Ken Ogata as the latter comes to the aid of his disciple during the final act, in addition to brining a lot more unnamed characters into the fray for that increase in body count.

Director Lam Ngai Kai may be questioned for his choice of inserting random English language music to make this truly a one of a kind international production, but really the soundtrack stuck out like a sore thumb. Some filler scenes could also be done without, since they pose a lot more unnecessary questions - an airplane shot means the heroes travel by air, but how would they pass customs with their weapons, and the bringing of a Hell Virgin as a passenger? Hmm. But I suppose such is the charm when watching it as a kid as you rarely question these points and take things at face value, in it for the many special effects shots that pepper the movie.

And in all honesty, for that time, they were well done, with grotesque looking monsters given some air time to up the eerie quotient. Some are done for the sake of, such as Peacock's exorcising of a few critters on the streets of Tokyo, while others look really rubberized, such as the dinosaurs in the shopping centre arcade. Raga's transformation was perhaps the highlight, showing off the creativity of the filmmakers in making something really functionally ugly, while the design of the Hell King was kept quite simple - that of a giant, bald man.

One would have expected the role of Peacock to provide a lot more visibility to Yuen Biao, but sadly this wasn't really the case. He shares screen time with Lucky Fruit's Migami Hiroshi to contrast the opposites of both men - one the relaxed joker while the other a little bit more uptight, to have to learn to cooperate with each other given an adversarial introduction, in order to combine their strengths to save mankind. Gloria Yip as the Hell Virgin also didn't have much to do here, other than to act cute when away from Raga and happen to be frolicking the Ocean Park theme park with Peacock, for him to be convinced that she's nothing but an innocent child who's ruined by Fate to do the inevitable. There's not much of a character development in any character here other than the perfunctory scenes, given that much of the 80 minutes got dedicated to battles, mostly CG enhanced rather than to showcase real moves, which is a pity.

Revisiting Peacock King somehow marred that wonderful film that I had in my mind no doubt created by being awed as a kid. Watching it today made me realize it's quite a weak film with only dated special effects to boast about. and I wonder since some older classics have been remade by Hong Kong filmmakers, whether anyone had thought about this manga inspired movie to be given an update as well. One can only hope.

The Region Free DVD by Fortune Star under its Legendary Collection imprint presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen format. Unfortunately it's not digitally remastered, and the print quality is akin to that from a VHS quality with very obvious signs of pops, cackles and hiss from various wear and tear, but not enough to really distract and irritate you from what's going on screen. Perhaps one day we can get something that's remastered properly back to a relatively pristine condition, but I guess this'll have to do for now. Audio is available in Cantonese or Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, and given that this is a co-production that'll be significant portions of dubbing whichever audio option you choose from.

Subtitles are thankfully removable and not hard-coded with the print, available in English, Mandarin or Cantonese either in Simplified or Traditional scripts, and sad to say the English translation is riddled with typographical mistakes. It also seemed to be redone as I remember the language used for Peacock and Lucky Fruit's chants weren't as simplified as the ones used here. Scene selection is available over 18 chapters, and there are no extras on the DVD, save for a Theatrical Trailer (3:15) done in really old-school 80s style, and a Photo Gallery containing 17 stills.

Singapore Memory Project Short Films

In case, like myself, that you're not aware, there's a national initiative started in 2011 called the Singapore Memory Project (SMP), where its aim as listed on their website is to collect and preserve a national collection of content from various mediums - print, audio, video - in digital form, and to make them available for discovery and research. As part of the SMP initiative, both Tan Pin Pin and Wee Li Lin have been commissioned to produce short films to be showcased on the SMP portal, and they have been launched and there for viewing since 30 March 2012.

Singapore Country - Wee Li Lin

The one and only bona fide Singapore country musician, Matthew Tan is the subject of Wee Li Lin's music documentary done interview style in the walk down memory lane of Matthew's life, from the early days where he formed Matthew Tan and the Mandarins, to his leaving for Nashville, Tennessee in the 70s, and then back again to Singapore, now with Singapore Cowboy being created.

With plenty of archive photographs to chart his life and times both in Singapore and overseas, and clips of vintage performances, Adrian Pang becomes the interviewer as he chats with Matthew reminiscing the path that one man took to live and pursue his dream. And yes, you do get to listen to Matthew perform his famous song within this 15 minute film, and guess what? Singapore Cowboy is also Wee Li Lin's next feature film project, currently in pre-production stage.

Yangtze Scribber - Tan Pin Pin

OK, confession time. Despite watching the number of films and going to just about every cinema in Singapore, I haven't really stepped into the infamous Yangtze Cinema, which I think I should soon given its fine selection of arthouse (heh) cinema screenings that changes ever so often. Tan Pin Pin's documentary Yangtze Scribber takes on the memory of Debbie Ding, who provides the narration to her peculiar hobby of documenting survey markings and graffiti in Singapore, and this special one featured happens to be located in the stairwell of the building where the Yangtze Cinema is located.

Probably Singapore's only graffiti symbologist, the sheer number of photographs on her findings, as seen through her flickr account, is quite astounding. Playing like a mystery, maybe someone out there who's watched this short film, and can shed a light and a clue to the origins behind the the strange sketches of a man and a woman together with a series of numbers. Surely there's a story behind that as well!

Remember - Tan Pin Pin

Tan Pin Pin uses the Visual Thesaurus to create something like a word association, or a 3D mind map of sorts in this animated piece that digs into the depths of what it means to Remember utilizing an online tool to visually capture meanings.

Don't watch this windowed at the Singapore Memory site, but expand it full screen so that you can read the individual words, and to take on a surreal trip that resembles a textual journey deep into the recesses of the mind, and the close link that memory has with its opposite, whether be it natural forgetfulness, or the deliberate choice in choosing not to recollect.

You can click on the links below to watch the short films:

Yangtze Scribbler (6 min):

Remember (6 min):

Singapore Country (15 min):
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