Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ah, the French!

Le Fils (The Son) comes highly recommended by critics all over, with its lead actor winning Best Actor at Cannes in 2002. The Dardenne brothers are former documentarians, and they carry their love for realism and observation into their fictional films. Everyone seems to love them, with reviews filled with phrases like "searing Christian allegory" and "masterful control" and things like that.

And while those may be (at least partially) true - I certainly saw glimpses of them - I can't help but wonder if it isn't some collective hallucination. Because I really dislike this film.

Why? Because it is the first movie since The Blair Witch Project to make me feel physically sick. And I think I felt worse after this one.

It's done almost entirely in handheld close-ups, and after a few minutes, all that panning and walking and tilting and shaking conspire to make you feel like you just got off all the rides in Six Flags combined. I got a throbbing headache which lasted the whole night, so any life-shattering lessons there were to be learnt in the film escaped me.

There should be something meaningful here, and I wouldn't say, "Don't see this movie!" But if you do, make sure that it's on video and not in a theatre. Unless you want to get violently ill.

On the other hand, Caché makes one sick as well, but in an entirely different, and altogether more pleasant way. Perhaps pleasant isn't the best word to use, since what you get is an increasingly unbearable feeling of tension and unease, culminating in an explosively traumatizing scene guaranteed to shock even the most experienced moviegoer. Like Tim, who wrote a much better review than this, the entire audience in my theatre gasped at this scene.

Michael Haneke's films do not usually get to play in Singapore. The last one I saw was La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher), almost four years ago. Scott Tobias of The Onion writes of the "frightening control he can wield over a collective audience’s emotions", and I can't think of another phrase to describe his skill as accurately. Yet he never resorts to cheap tricks like scary sound effects and MTV-style editing. In fact, Caché has no music soundtrack at all, and is probably stronger for it. He simply lets his camera sit there and observe, or cuts between standard, classic point-of-view shots and lets his actors and situations do the work. In fact, his style is should typically be described as "restrained", because he rarely goes for the "money shot", but rather leaves most things to your imagination.

Unlike most directors, his use of tension and unflinching violence is not to entertain the audience, but to punish them. I cannot claim ownership of this insight, because I read it from elsewhere, but that doesn't make it any less true. Nor does it diminish the emotional and psychological power of his films. If you're looking for a good time, it's best to avoid Haneke completely. If, however, you have a sado-masochistic bent and are willing to bend over and call him "Master", you'll find yourself amazed at his stuff.

A Real Fairy Tale

He sits by himself, eating. She sits at the next table, also by herself. He can't help but notice her. There's this air of confidence about her, something unconscious, yet undeniably compelling.

He finishes his lunch. As he leaves, her umbrella falls. He picks it up and returns it to her. Their eyes meet. She smiles and thanks him. He returns the smile and walks away.

The more steps he takes, the more he feels that he needs to go back and talk to her. There was something special going on. He felt it. If it's lost, it's lost forever.

He calls a friend and insists on buying him lunch as a pretext. They return and sit next to her. He gets to talking with her. She's very friendly and approachable. They have lots of laughs.

She's an air stewardess stopping over in town for a few days. And in one those few days out of an entire year, their paths crossed. It's like something straight out of a movie.

After they've been emailing and chatting and seeing each other for some time, he realizes that she is completely different from anyone he's dated before.

He realizes that he loves her. Enough to want to be with her for the rest of his life.

Maybe fairytale romances can happen in real life after all.

Note: It's not me lah! Don't jump to conclusions!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Public Service Announcement

I was sent this email from Tan Pin Pin almost a month ago, and have been sitting on it since then. I feel especially guilty because it was Pin Pin not only went to NU as well, but is also the only Singaporean to have an Oscar (albeit a student one) to her name. Not forgetting the fact that I love this little movie here.

Hello Friends, as you probably know, I made a film called Singapore GaGa which opens theatrically at the Arts House from 11 March - 16 April, 5 weeks

The film premiered at Singapore International Film Festival 05 and has continued to play to full houses here and abroad, collecting great reviews along the way. Straits Times describes it as "A subtly subversive yet thoroughly celebratory film... one of the best films about Singapore" and the Malaysian Star says "Singapore GaGa presents a brilliant alternative gaga view of the go-go lion city"

I am very excited to be working with Objectifs films for this release and proud to premiere at the Arts House. But we need your help to ensure that this film finds its audience. Especially, if we perform well, more independent Singapore films can be released in the same way too. I am asking you to save the dates on 11 March - 16 April and urge everyone you know to come out and watch the film. I guarantee that you will be entertained, meet people you never met before, and be singing along to songs you can't get out of your head.

I will be at the screenings from 11-19 March to answer questions and to promote the film. In the meantime, please help spread the word. Some ways you can help.

1 Send an email flyer to all your friends, listservs, organisations
2 Link Singapore GaGa to your website, blog
3 Order tickets early (hotline 6332-6919) and organise an outing with friends! It's a perfect day out.

Postcards are available from objectifs if you would like to distribute them at your school or business.

Anyway, here's the screening info. Thanks again for your support and see you soon.

Best Regards, Pin Pin

Showtimes: Every Sat, Sun and Wed from March 11 to 16 April
Tickets: $8 (students with ID, $6)
Arts House tickets: 6332 6919. Email:
1 Old Parliament Lane, Behind Victoria Memorial Hall (MRT City Hall)
with English and Chinese subtitles

Anyway, if you have never in your life seen a documentary on the big screen, here's your chance. I guarantee you'll have a good time. I did. And if you don't, I'll give you your money back. Seriously.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

He's a Woman, He Likes Men

"Do you know that my mom saw Brokeback Mountain before I did?" said I to my friends.

"Really ah? Your mom is so happening!"

But I digress.

There's something about a movie that everyone's raving about, that generates so much excitement and anticipation that nothing short of it being The Best Movie Ever Made will make it live up to the preconceived notions I have of it. It's sad, but I kill some really great movies for myself this way, and I did it again with Brokeback Mountain. I should've read less reviews, listened to less hype, talked to less people about it. But read, listen and talk I did, and after having seen it, I felt really guilty about not liking it more.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great film, superbly directed with great restraint and care, with beautifully nuanced performances and wonderful subtlety. It's a rare film where the only complaint I have is Anne Hathaway's monstrously mutated hairdos. I just had unrealistically high expectations of it, which nothing on Earth could live up to.

It's probably the complete opposite of this veteran actor, who expressed that he didn't think it would be that great and ended up being blown away by it, especially by the performances. He's been in the biz long enough to know, and he's a damn fine actor, to boot.

But in my case, perhaps it's because somehow or other my life experiences have left me wanting in certain aspects, that all the regret and repression in the movie couldn't get to me. Or maybe it's because I've locked away those portions of myself and don't want to go there. I don't know. What I do know is that it seems like I have some sort of defect for saying, "I really like it a lot," as opposed to "Best movie of the decade."

That aside, if one day I ever manage to get performances of its calibre from my cast, I would die happy. Heath Ledger is fucking amazing, and even people who had one or two scenes were pitch perfect in their roles.

Speaking of "alternative sexualities", I also saw Transamerica the other day, which also features a bravura lead performance by Felicity Huffman that saves the character from cheap laughs and indignation. It's certainly something to say that she was completely convincing as a transsexual and I never doubted her for a moment. She was easily the best thing about the movie, which while being decent, never really seems to rise above a sweet little road movie, albeit one with lots of gender-bending.

Ever sat next to someone who just wouldn't stop talking throughout the movie? I'm sure you have, as have I. But it's one thing to have someone stating the obvious ("Wah, the King Kong so big!"), it's another thing to have them jumping to completely erroneous conclusions out of sheer ignorance.

These two girls (and we'll get to why I'm calling them that in a minute) were talking loudly just before the movie started, which I can forgive. I've been known to do a bit of chattering myself during the previews. But once the movie starts, you have to shut up. It's only polite.

The movie begins proper. The girl sitting beside me starts making comments and reacting very audibly to what's onscreen. Felicity Huffman shows herself to have a penis in her underwear. "Oh my god!" the girl gasps.

Did she not know what the fuck the movie was about?

Later on, a character is revealed as being a hustler offering gay sexual services. Immediately, the girl's companion turns to her.

"Omigod he's gay!"


"Yah, his father is a gay, and he's one also. Must be a family thing."

First of all, Huffman's character is a transsexual, which has nothing to do with being gay. Second, just because someone offers gay sex for money, doesn't mean he's automatically gay, just like you can't assume all hookers offering straight sex are all straight themselves. And third, what do you mean, "a family thing"? If that's not prejudice and ignorance, I don't know what is.

Never mind, I stay quiet. More inane comments and reactions follow.

In another scene, the hustler character comes on to a trucker and follows him back to his truck for sex. The girl beside me starts cringing and going, "Omigod, gross! Ee-yer... (which in our context is the equivalent of "eww...")"

This is an R21 movie, meaning only adults above 21 can view it. If you chose to see this film, then I'm assuming you know something about it, and if you can't take alternative sexualities and lifestyles then you have no right to be in the audience. That you should come in and behave like a fucking high school girl is beyond forgiveness; it is simply unacceptable. I can't take it anymore, her sheer idiocy is getting to me.

"Can you kindly keep your homophobic comments to yourself? Thank you very much."

I know "homophobic" isn't exactly the right word to use, but the alternative would've been "ignorant bitch", which I'm not sure she would've liked much better.

She turns to me, shocked, affronted, and indignant. "What's your problem?"

"My problem is you." (Man, I've always wanted to say that to someone!)

We sit in relative silence for the rest of the movie. Then as the credits roll, she turns to me.

"I just want to tell you that I'm not homophobic. I was just saying that he's such a poor thing because he has to prostitute himself for money. It was very rude of you."

I couldn't believe her audacity. Here she was, annoying everyone around her throughout the whole movie, and she calls me rude? Jesus fucking Christ, if I was Dick Cheney I would've pumped her full of lead there and then.

"If you're not homophobic, then what was all the 'ee-yer' and 'gross' about? And you're talking about 'rude' with me, when you've been talking nonstop through the movie? Just ask the people around you. So just stop, I don't want anything more out of you."

OK, I admit, "homophobic" was probably not a better word than "ignorant bitch" at that point. But whatever. I had to stand by my word choices; it's not like I had a fucking thesaurus with me. Anyway I stormed off, with my friend telling me to calm down, and me saying, "Fucking bitch" in a voice just loud enough to be overheard.

I think I've suggested this before, the notion of an intelligence test before one was allowed into a theatre. I still stand by it. Hell, maybe we should just weed out all the idiots and gas them or something. Genetic cleansing never sounded more attractive.

Addendum: Check out Tim's great review of Brokeback Mountain. The man certainly has a way with words.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crash and Burn

Cathay Cineleisure had this contest thingy where if you predicted the Oscar winners in the ten categories they'd picked, you could win a free movie pass for an entire year. Imagine that, one whole year of free movies.

I almost got that pass.

For some strange reason, Best Director wasn't a category they'd picked. Anyway, out of the ten, I got nine right. They were:

Best Actor - Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)
Best Actress - Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)
Best Supporting Actor - George Clooney (Syriana)
Best Supporting Actress - Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener)
Best Animated Feature - Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Best Art Direction - Memoirs of a Geisha
Best Costume Design - Memoirs of a Geisha
Best Foreign Language Film - Tsotsi (South Africa)
Best Visual Effects - King Kong

The one I didn't get?

Best Picture - Crash

I used to like the movie, but now I hate it, because it cost me my free movie pass.

I'd picked Brokeback Mountain, based on all the research that I could gather (i.e., going to Tim's blog and reading Premiere magazine). But apparently Roger Ebert picked correctly, beating almost every other film critic in the world.

All this leads me to one conclusion. Roger Ebert hates me and manipulated the results. Damn you, fat man! And to think I actually used to read your writing! I even own a couple of your books! You already get free movies, why must you deprive me of my chance?

And while I still stand by liking Crash (or at least, previously liking it), I thought all the other nominees sounded like worthier choices (I've only seen Brokeback, due to all the moving). Hollywood just lost all its collective balls.

Fuck Crash.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Took Them Long Enough

After being back in Singapore for almost two years, the SAF finally wised up and sent me notification of my posting and reservist training. Ha! Not that I'll actually be doing much "training", on account of my... *ahem* condition.

Funny how it acted up so much in the army and just kinda died down after that. Of course, I did become more careful when walking, so that probably helped. And I'm pretty sure not running around blindly in pothole-filled fields also contributed to my successful rehabilitation.

But anyway, it's still a long way away, in September, and looks to be pretty much a pain in the ass. Or it could very well be a paid (forced) vacation. We'll see.

Back to packing. Man, do I have a lot of shit. Thanks to Meihui's mom and aunt, who very kindly gave me more boxes when I ran out earlier today. Moving tomorrow, whew.

Why Should I Care?

I've come to realize that the question "Why should I care?" is a rather accurate barometer when it comes to movies. If a film can give a satisfactory answer to that question, then it works in terms of engaging the audience either emotionally or intellectually.

In Syriana, the answer to that question would probably be "Because you're part of the problem too." And possibly, "Because the poster is fucking cool."

Watching the film is akin to being thrown into the deep end of the pool when you don't know how to swim, and the life preservers are a long way away. The multiple storylines, dozens of characters, and dialogue jam-packed with jargon are confusing at first, to say the least. I thank whoever came up with the idea of putting both Chinese and English subtitles on the prints at Lido, because I would've been a lot more confused without them. Through the murkiness though, something begins to emerge after a while, and the threads are all slowly but surely shown to be intertwined. It's a masterclass in editing and organization all by itself, as it weaves skilfully in and out of plots. The beauty of it is in showing how pervasive the politics of oil are at every level, from the power players to the sheikhs to the man in the street to misguided terrorists.

It's all so complicated that I highly suggest you visit the website to check out the synopsis, part of which is exerpted below. Also check out these reviews from The Onion and Roger Ebert.

While 'Syriana' is a very real term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East, as our title it is used more abstractly. 'Syriana,' the concept - the fallacious dream that you can successfully remake nation-states in your own image - is a mirage. Syriana is a fitting title for a film that could exist at any time and be about any set of circumstances that deal with man's unchecked ambition, hubris, and the fantasy of empire.

At the end of it all, I emerged dazed, shaken, and feeling more than a little dirty and guilty at using any petroleum-fueled vehicle at all. It's all very good, and very depressing, because you realize at the end of the day that the people who really want to do good, who actually give a damn, are always the people who are deemed dangerous and who are stubbed out before they have a chance to make the world a better place. Because something that will benefit the common people upsets the status quo. Because the rich want to continue getting richer at the expense of the poor. Because morality never ever comes into the picture. That's the way it is, and nothing can be done to change it.

The Constant Gardener has kind of the same theme, it's just not as strident as Syriana is, because it's also tempered by a love story. Basically the evil corporations are pharmaceuticals this time round, and they're evil because they test experimental drugs on poor African folk on the pretext of providing humanitarian medical aid to them. After all, who's going to miss some stupid nameless Africans? But the film is adamant about this - these people have names too. They have families. And we should miss them.

Why should I care?
Because this is wrong.

The love story aspect of it is also handled well, and kind of in reverse, because it starts off with the death of the woman (the always lovely Rachel Weisz), and through his investigations into her death, her husband (Ralph Fiennes, robbed of a Best Actor nomination) realizes how to really love her all over again and comes out of his quiet gardener shell. It's a beautiful story, told in a fantastic kinetic style by City of God's Fernando Meirelles. The guy is, to say the least, amazing, and so is the movie.

At the end, it feels similar to Syriana, in the sense that while individual battles may be won, goodness and decency will never triumph, because humans and nations are too fucked up to care. But hey, at least some individual battles are won in this movie, making it less depressing than Syriana in a way. They're both great, just don't see them in the same day, lest you start feeling suicidal.

If the above two movies answer that question I raised well, then Jarhead doesn't really at all.

In the movie, Jake Gyllenhall, a wonderful actor usually, has nothing to do other than mope around and act crazy most of the time. The titular marines are stuck in the desert during the First Gulf War, and spend lots of time sitting around doing nothing. To pass the time, they train, masturbate, watch war videos, talk, eat, train some more, masturbate some more, break up with their girlfriends and wives, train some more, masturbate some more, repeat ad infinitum. I assume the masturbation is of the solo variety, since the desert isn't really of the Brokeback variety. Of couse watching this brings back memories for all the ex-National Servicemen in the audience, because hell, this is what the military is like - complete and utter pointlessness.

Unfortunately, so is the movie. It shows us the pointlessness of their lives, then finally says that the marines are forever changed by their experience. But how? It never says. We get shots of them in their daily lives after their military stint, but save for a voiceover and a possible suicide, we never really know how they're different because of their experiences. And more importantly, we don't really care too. It's not a bad moviegoing experience, but ultimately it feels hollow. I can't even decide if this is an intentionally ironical point or not.

One good thing about it: The poster is possibly even cooler than Syriana's.

Why should I care?
Um, I dunno...