Saturday, May 18, 2013

Life's Priorities

This is one of those rare blog entries that isn't a film review. I've done that in the past, but those were few and far between.

I thought I could carry this on indefinitely, writing these reviews for pleasure, which had opened some incredible doors for the good part of my life in the past decade or so. The galas, the premieres, the parties, the festivals, and best of all, getting to meet and know a lot of people from all corners of the globe, some of whom I have the privilege of knowing on a personal level, and proud to call them friends. And to do a stock take and look back, it's been one heck of a ride, and I'm thankful for everything that had happened, both the good (that made this life journey interesting) and the bad (hopefully brought out some character).

These are memories that are cherished, but alas there comes a point in time when one has to refocus on life's priorities. Stop and smell the roses so to speak. Where from out of the blue came that proverbial bolt of lightning, changing the game in more ways than one. For the good part of this month I was distracted, but in a good way, as I embark on another part of my life with someone I truly care about.

Trance was probably the last proper review that I did, and I'm embarrassed to say the recent ones after that aren't up to the scratch. And I've got an uncharacteristic backlog that should hopefully see the light of day soon.

I'm not totally disappearing, far from it I suppose, but it's nothing quite unexpected as I had seen this coming when I first started out. And like everything one starts, there's got to be a Plan B. I'd say to return to this blog's original intent that never really quite took off, to focus on local films. That Singapore commercial, or more importantly, indie film that is screaming for a chance to be heard, for its place amongst an unforgiving crowd. Let's do that. And I suppose that odd, occasional review from outside this little red dot, if time permits, and for films I feel strongly about, will pop up occasionally.

So see you at the movies. Although this time, I'm likely with someone special in tow, so come up and say Hi!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spring Breakers

New World Order

Babes gone bad. A simple enough premise, set around teenyboppers who just cannot wait to break their goody-two-shoes mould, and take on something grittier on film. Written and directed by Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers is that film you may feel nauseous when sitting through, no thanks to its psychedelic colours, repetitive voiceovers, in your face camera angles, and non linear chronological presentation that seemed high on moving backward and forward to rock your cognitive balance deliberately, providing that first hand experience on the perpetual state of high the characters all seem hooked on in their search for hedonism and narcotic nirvana.

It's like a guys wet dream fantasy come alive when dealing with characters who are uninhibited in wanting to try crazy stuff, and the story follows four college girls - Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of the writer-director) and Faith (Selena Gomez), the latter playing that religious girl enticed into the life of hard partying by friends who resorted to robbing a restaurant to fuel their spring break vacation. Then it's scene after scene of merry making, sometimes with the aid of drugs, that we see the drowning of values within Faith as she falls deeper into the rabbit hole of trouble.

Faith may be the character differentiated enough from the rest of her friends, but it's a little bit limited to what she can do, given the subject of peer pressure. The others were bland one-dimensional characters who bond deeper because of their clique that had survived an almost impossible pulling off of a robbery, catching the eye of Alien (James Franco), who decided to help the girls out of jail, posting their bail and taking them under his crooked wing.

James Franco stood out for being the thorn amongst the warped roses, and credit to the makeup and wardrobe team for completely knocking off his good looks, and replacing it with a gangsta inspired wardrobe with metallic braces, sun shades and plenty of tattoos. But the outfit doesn't make the character, and Franco owns it as Alien, a rapper cum drug dealer/distributor, complete with small army and a fortune to go on the recruitment hunt that would put the fun-seeking girls in his predatory path.

It's ultimately light in treatment, trying its best to ramp up the final act with the introduction of a gang rival, and the extent of rot the girls descended into, courtesy of the seduction from the dark side. There's little pleasure obtained from watching the movie, like a desperate exercise by the cast to show off how nasty they can actually be for film, playing to the fantasy of the filmmaker.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Call


You'd have a fair idea just how this film would transpire from beginning to the end no thanks to its verbatim approach adopted by the trailer, which does the film no justice, leaking out every little detail, key scenes, and identifying all the major characters in the movie, giving away some supporting characters' demise as well. So what's left in the movie that would make anyone want to sit through and watch it?

Maybe it's the performances of its Academy Award winner and nominee in Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, which the trailer also never fail to remind you of their acting pedigree, as if hinging on their past successes in order to guarantee this one. But even their experience alone can't salvage Richard D'Ovidio's story, which is kept simple, despite having an interesting premise to work on, in the centralized control centre of all 911 emergency calls in Los Angeles. It was worked well into the story as a prologue with Berry's Jordan Turner playing an emergency phone responder, and having things go down south when she's distracted and not composed in her role, causing the death of her caller (no worries, this already covered in trailer territory).

Now months later, she's no longer in the frontlines, but adopted the trainer role in induct new joiners to the occupation, explaining the job hazards and providing a lot more detail that serve as interesting nuggets of information to the audience, but little else, before the serial killer (Michael Eklund) strikes again, this time abducting Casey Welson (Breslin) from a mall's parking lot, before putting her in the boot and driving off. A cat and mouse game ensues, with Casey having in possession a pre-paid cellphone, can only feed off to the cops some bits and pieces of information, while the killer continues to violently thwart every obstacle put in his way.

There are little thrills and spills in the narrative no thanks to the trailer for just about leaking the entire story in under 3 minutes. It did however, keep the motivations of the killer at bay, although what's being revealed is neither shocking since it's somewhat expected. The kicker though, turned out to be the final few mintues, which plays completely out of character, yet in it because you know director Brad Anderson needed something more intelligent, and this was a random grasp amongst straws for anything that can be turned into a story about revenge and just desserts.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Big Wedding


This could have been a fine romantic comedy and heartwarming family drama, but it turned out to be nothing more than an extension of its trailer, having revealed the entire plot, and a total waste of talent at its disposal. Directed by Justin Zackham, who also adapted the screenplay from the 2006 French-Swiss movie Mon Frere Se Marie, The Big Wedding is light on laughs, and even lighter in its dramatic, emotional moments, making it cold and distant, and never quite achieving anything in its featherweight treatment.

Imagine the likes of Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams in your cast list. Filmmakers will kill to get a fraction of that talent in their movies, and Zackham showed prime example just how to flush everyone down the toilet. It's true that if you get good talent, it's half the job done, but being unable to manage and direct, exposed how everyone can just go through the motions to get that paycheck for bill payments. Clocking at less than 90 minutes, everyone has a little bit of screen time, just to turn up, play their caricatures, then retire into the sunset. The premise was set, but hardly anything of note happens, with convenience pretty much summed everything up, and its supposed surprises being pulled off as desperate attempts to add flavour to the mix.

De Niro plays Don, who has for many years divorced his wife Ellie (Keaton), and is now in a relationship with Bebe (Sarandon). They all get together when their adopted kid Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is about to get married to Missy (Seyfried), and one would expect hilarity to ensue because of the clash of characters, and hidden agendas amongst all players. Then there's the big lie they have to put up with, because Alejandro's biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) is scheduled to attend his wedding, but seriously, at this point, everything had sounded terribly tedious.

The narrative then tried to boost its other areas and subplots to pad up the screen time, so we have Don and Ellie's other kids turn up to. Heigl plays Lyla, who has daddy issues and boyfriend woes, while Grace plays virgin Jared, who has the hots for Alejandro's biological sister Nuria (Ana Ayora), a Columbian who plays up Zackman's fantasy that South American girls are hot, and are willing to fulfill all sexual fantasies of American men. Robin Williams was nothing more than a cameo playing a priest, which he had already done to better results in License to Wed.

So expect the usual bickering when characters go head up against one another, especially with Missy's parents Barry (David Rasche) and Muffin (Christine Ebersole) doing nothing but to provide one liner revelations of their entanglements with the main family members. Surely this could have been that fine comedy when everything comes crashing down at one large, social gathering, but alas, The Big Wedding fell flat on its face, not knowing exactly what to do with talent and hand, and hampered by an extremely unmoving, and uninspiring story that didn't even try to be smart, since it can't get through to hearts, being without one of its own to begin with.

One of the worst films of the year? Well, it's a possibility, given its unbelievable criminal waste of talent. If you don't know what boring means, then you just might want to grit your teeth and sit through this. This film is big, on nothing and emptiness.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Evil Dead

Something Between The Legs

It's hard to live up to one's tagline, especially when it's screaming the words "most terrifying", because it's building expectations sky high, only for it to come out a little bit underwhelming, despite having cult classic pedigree backing it. Evil Dead is that continuation of the Sam Raimi Evil Dead films that had Bruce Campbell in the starring role, but this installment is all seriousness without the camp, which made it a little bit dreadful to sit through, and an exercise in excessiveness.

With the slew of horror and slasher films trying to out-gore one another, a plateau has been reached as to how many times something can be dismembered on screen, full on view, without the need to cut away for decency. Then comes the gushing of copious amounts of blood fit for vampires partaking in their own version of Oktoberfest. There's a limit to how much is enough, though that limit has constantly been pushed further and further away, that it's probably not far fetched to start pondering about how much more the envelope can get pushed, before enough is enough. When one's desensitized, the ability of shock-and-awe diminishes, and the obsession to drape everything in blood isn't really healthy.

But I digress. Credit has to go where credit is due, and the entire make up department deserves that pat on the back for making its main cast of five look grotesque when they needed to be, given that the Book of the Dead has unleashed a demon amongst the midst of five young adults, who are assembled in an isolated cabin in the woods to assist one of them, Mia (Jane Levy), to kick her drug habit. This in itself is a smart premise, because when Mia experiences spooky occurences, it could be brushed aside and treated as just another side effect, until of course it's too late. Iconic scenes do not get replaced, so when Mia issues her threats while under possession, you'd know just what to expect.

The body count's pretty low here for obvious reasons there are only a handful of characters, but there were some nifty moments to ensure some of them got recycled as part of the plot. There's possessions and mind control, coupled with characters who can take a lot of punishment given the slew of weaponry being targeted at them, from chain saws to machetes to a nail gun. It has everything including the kitchen sink, and everything and anything can be used as fair game to stop the madness from decaying from within each of the characters.

As an expansion to the Evil Dead franchise, this has set itself up pretty neatly for future installments for this component, and the established mythos, to collide some time in the future. The soul, erm, sole redeeming factor here will be the finale, with Fede Alvarez crafting what would be an excellent scene of Man vs Monster that would be a no brainer as the poster-child of the movie, and one that's most memorable. It's a pity it had to plod along to get to the best part.

Friday, May 03, 2013


What Do You See?

To say that Trance is this year's Inception, is to do either films a disservice. But if I were to lean toward a preference, then Danny Boyle's latest movie has an edge for being succinct in its tale, little loopholes and while fewer characters, is no less complex, but equally stylish in treatment, and bold in its story-telling, dealing with the premise of a heist gone wrong, and hypnosis being the last resort to get into the deepest recesses of the mind for the secrets it harbours.

James McAvoy is probably in one of his best roles yet, opening the film as Simon, an art auctioneer who apparently has reasons to turn corrupt, giving the lowdown on the security measures on how to secure the most valuable art piece of the session in the event of an interruption of the process. And lo and behold, a team led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) comes in forcefully to seize that same valuable asset, only for Simon to have hidden it away both physically and psychologically into his mind, that it seemed a peek into his subconscious would be necessary to unlock the location of the stolen painting. Enter Rosario Dawson's Elizabeth, a hypnotist with skills so sublime, she can lull you into anything if your guard is not tip top.

But you know I'm just scratching the surface of the premise, because even understanding the premise will take away the fun you would experience when watching the narrative unfold. What worked here is the multiple perspectives and shifts in the narrative that Danny Boyle puts you under, being the real mastermind and hypnotist at work in lulling us the audience into lapping up just about everything being thrown at us. Who you thought was the lead in the film, gave way to some other character, and then more, putting you in a spot, yet being terribly engaging from start to finish that you'd want to have a go at the story again, being enlightened the second time round as to who the real puppet master was.

Credit has to go to writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, the former who was responsible for an earlier television movie of the same name in which this film was partially based upon. What I love about the film, is that everything was neatly planned, and didn't entail crafting escape clauses for itself for a less than well thought out narrative. Everything was in place from the start, and the movie magic came from astute direction and intricate editing to shift perspectives, chronology and the like, together with absolutely wonderful performances from all three main leads to pull off this psychological thriller.

Danny Boyle once again proves to be one of the most eclectic filmmakers of this generation, taking on varied genres without a bat in the eyelid, and delivering impressive results in coming up with a film's powerful imagery, with that knack of blending in a top notch soundtrack, and coaxing stellar performances from his cast. Trance becomes that fine balance of substance and style, extremely well made, and very much less confusing than Inception, but no less complex in execution.

James McAvoy retains his boyish qualities while contrasting that with darker emotions that hasn't been seen in most of the films he had starred in. Vincent Cassel is no stranger to playing morally shady characters, and his chief instigator and mastermind being the heist could have been a walk in the park role, but once again he brings an edge to the character like none other, if not for his experience. And the surprise performance of all was Rosario Dawson. She's been in the industry for sometime already, but nothing really stood out until now. Not to mention it being one of her boldest acts yet, and the sacrifice having to really bare herself on screen.

There are many layers to this film than I dare reveal, but let's just say at its core, I'm buying into its love story about the dangers of obsession, which touched upon a raw nerve in how perverted it developed into, and how it enveloped all motivations of the players involved. The twists and turns in the last half hour will leave you breathless, filled with some gory moments that's quite Cronenberg-like. A definite recommend for its all round solid approach, and it's little wonder if it finds itself in my top films of the year listing.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Scary MoVie

The Horror

I thought after some days of hectic work I'd pick the funniest film on release this week to laugh my rear off, but unfortunately Scary Movie 5 turns in a disappointing form, with the Wayan brothers abandoning their franchise for A Haunted House instead. Despite having David Zucker in a writing capacity, this installment seems finally to have run out of steam in its long-running franchise, one which took the horror films in between them and give them the spoof treatment. And the lack of material shows despite the seven year absence, having to touch non-horror films as well given the wafer thin content upon which to draw inspiration from and to make fun of.

And you would think that their crowning glory, having the two Tinseltown folks who can't seem to get out of trouble and the wrong side of the limelight - Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan - would be a tad interesting, but it's not. Both look like they were in it for the paycheck, and couldn't care less to ham it up a little. The jokes they partook in were really bad, with absolutely nothing to laugh at or about, and if they were to think they have a second career as comedians, they just might want to think again, given their lack of comic timing.

No spoof of any horror film today would be without the Paranormal Activity style of video cameras being mounted almost everywhere, with the playback naturally being remotely hilarious, especially when people tend to miss the whole point of what they were hoping to see. Forming the basis for whatever semblance of a storyline is that of Mama, which involves Jody (Ashley Tisdale) and Dan (Simon Rex) picking up three spooky kids, thrown into a mix of Paranormal Activity, complete with a haunted house, Mama, and a housekeeper whose antics were probably the best bits in the film.

Then came some other story development that linked up Black Swan, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Evil Dead, for the most parts, and so you have one really amalgamated piece of narrative that had tried its best to blend these diverse stories together, but as it turned out, someone forgot to include genuine comedy in the film, short of tapping into the same old bags of toilet humour just for laughs. Some worked, and most didn't. Perhaps it is time to retire the franchise, for good. Even A Haunted House, was miles better than this, without having its jokes run stale, or feeling forced.

The many cameo appearances, do nothing to save the film from its depths of woeful scenes trying their hardest to pass off as comedy. And as if sitting through the film isn't torture enough, you can elect to stay until after the end credits to extend that dreaded feeling for a scene longer.
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