Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The 400th Narcissistic Post: Portraits of a Cinewhore

The Cinewhore at work...

Monitor Baby

Gaff Tape

then unwinding with food...

Burger King





and babes...

Erdinger Babe

before it all comes hurtling back up.


Sometimes he's a bit of a chameleon...

Le Hair

New Hair

and sometimes he's coy.

Virginia Slim

Sometimes he's got something to say...

Please Jesus

Heart Flag


and sometimes (well, rarely, actually) he's sporty.

Pose 6

Pose 7


Actually he just likes to look cool.

Studio 1

Studio 2


Retro Beng

And that's the Cinewhore in pictures.

Summer Stinkers

So besides X3, what else sucked this summer? Well, as is traditional for the season, most of what's in theatres. I'm glad I don't see every "big movie" that comes out, or I'd probably be throwing stuff at the screen in disgust. Nevertheless, I did watch these stinkers.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The first Pirates had the distinction of a ridiculously long title, which gave you a hint at the overstuffed contents. Luckily, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were around to save the day and steal scenes from the bland confection that was Keirlando. This time round the title gets shorter, but unfortunately the movie gets even more overblown, with the writers wanting to stuff in plot development after plot development after... you get the drift. It wants so desperately for you to have fun that it really becomes quite sad, kinda like watching your parents try to be cool. True, there were fun scenes, but they were few and far between, and for some reason everyone involved thought it'd be a good idea to have more of Keirlando. Wrong answer. We don't give a fuck. Just give us Johnny Depp cavorting for 120 minutes and we'll be happy, even if there's no plot. I'm dreading the final installment (Why does everything have to be a fucking trilogy these days? I blame Star Wars).

Nacho Libre
Nacho Libre sounded great in concept. Jack Black playing a Mexican wrestler who's really a priest (or something like that)? Fuckin'-A! Unfortunately, in the hands of Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess, he's really fucking boring. Sure, there are some chuckles here and there - how could you not? He's Jack Black after all. But he seems really subdued here. There are comedians that do small really well, like Steve Carell, where a little eyebrow raise can bring the house down. Jack Black is not one of them. His appeal lies in his largeness - he has to do it BIG. And when you try to restrain him, like Hess did here, it just doesn't work. I haven't seen Napoleon Dynamite, and after this, I really have no desire to, even though some of my friends swear it's the funniest thing since Play-Doh.

Lady in the Water
When I first read about the movie, I got the impression that it would be about a man who comes to realize that he's living in a children's fairy tale. While I suppose strictly speaking it's not entirely inaccurate, I thought this meant that he came to realize that he was a character in a book or story, and I was immediately interested in the concept of his growing self-awareness of his own fictional existence.

Unfortunately that was not the movie that was made. Pity; I think my misunderstanding of it would make a much better film.

What did get made though, was a movie that did not make very much sense at all. Suspense you got in bits and pieces, I guess, but sense was pretty much lacking. Exposition was put across in probably the clumsiest way I've seen in a good while, and characters didn't seem to have much purpose besides trotting on to say their line and trotting off again. I was especially annoyed by the Korean girl who looked about 10 years too old to play the college chick she was supposed to be.

One of the huge problems it had for me was that the mythology was entirely constructed and had no basis on any existing myths. Perhaps it might be more acceptable to people who have no idea about Asian culture and legends, but to spin something that wants desperately to be elaborate and then simply tack it on to a Korean old lady is sheer laziness. It's like if I said that all Americans have heard of a whistling baby who rides in on a tricycle and steals shed hair off the floor - it's not true, and it's really insulting. I simply did not buy this movie for one second.

Paul Giamatti is an actor I have huge respect for, and he tries his best with this material. It's really too bad, because I liked the first trailer for it a lot, but every subsequent trailer became worse and worse, until the movie came along and kinda shuffled to its watery grave.

I won't even start on M. Night Shyamalan's ego, because Tim does an excellent job of that.


Monday, August 21, 2006

The Singer Factor

This is the first time in a long while I've had time to really sit down and blog, so lots of posts tonight, boys and girls. Let's get on with it.

There were two big superhero movies this blockbuster season. One of them was good; the other was a piece of shit. But why was this so, when both seemed equally strong in concept? The answer lies with one man - Bryan Singer.

I must declare: I'm not a Superman fan, per se. I've read the comics quite a bit, but I was never really that into the character, not like, say, Batman. I did watch Lois and Clark when it was on TV, and the first season of Smallville, but these two series got repetitive after awhile, and you could almost count down what was going to happen by looking at a clock. I also saw the early Superman movies when I was a kid, but they didn't leave much of an impression on me. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, yes. The Back to the Future trilogy, yes. The original Star Wars trilogy, yes. Supermen I through IV, no.

That said, I loved Superman Returns. A big part of that has to do with Bryan Singer. Not that he's the second coming of Christ or anything, but this guy just "gets" comic book movies. He doesn't look down on them, he doesn't do the whole tongue in cheek thing where this has to be manufactured fun in a can, he treats them seriously, with respect, like the modern myths that they are. He digs deep and he finds the human truths in them, and brings them to the forefront.

And he does that right here. Granted, he does paint Superman as a Christ figure in ridiculously broad strokes at times, but he also gets the human emotions right, which is crucial for bringing Big Blue down to earth so we can connect with him. I cried more in this movie than any other in recent memory. Yeah, I'm just a geeky crybaby fanboy deep inside.

But even so, when Superman soars, he soars high. The pulse-pounding plane rescue was an action sequence to beat, but Singer tops it off with the arena of people just welcoming him back into their lives, cheering him on, no questions asked. Clichéd? Of course. But it brought tears to my eyes.

I thought the love story between Lois and Superman was played out quite well, even though he seemed like a stalker at times. Singer was probably counting on the human emotion to make us overlook that fact, and to his credit, he almost succeeds. Unfortunately he had a weak leading lady in Kate Bosworth, who played Lois like a spoilt little girl instead of the independent woman she's supposed to be. I mean, come on, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who doesn't know how to spell "catastrophe"?

I enjoyed the plot twist, even though I saw it coming a mile away, and the whole father-son theme, while a bit overdone, was nice. Kevin Spacey shows what fun he can have playing evil instead of trying to say something Really Important About The World We Live In Today, and he really should stop taking himself so seriously. Brandon Routh more than acquits himself as the Man of Steel, filling in Christopher Reeve's cape and tights better than anyone expected.

I think I should stop now, because I seem to be gushing like a boyband-crazed teenage girl. Next up, let's look at why X-Men: The Last Stand sucked complete balls.

Well, it's simple. Bryan Singer wasn't on the project. Look at what he did with the first two X-Men. He weaved themes and human emotion into a complicated soap-opera-like mess of story threads, somehow managing to keep everything dramatically compelling and the action coming at the same time. The action has more impact because the drama is there. They felt like real people, and when real people get hurt, we feel it.

This time around, Brett Ratner directed because the money-grubbing studio couldn't wait for Singer to be done with Superman. Well, it's their loss. What could've been the strongest of the series turns out to be one big piece of fluff. Ratner never brings even a fraction of the gravity Singer brings to his dramatic scenes. No, he's always too eager to cut away to the next scene. Lookie! It's another explosion! No one cares because they can't feel anything for the characters. And how can they, when everything and everyone is simply thrown willy-nilly into the mix and characters exist for the sole purpose of exposition?

Like I said in my Flixster review: "Great for kids with ADD as stuff blows up every two seconds. For anyone with half a brain, too bad. Ratner undoes everything Bryan Singer did to build up the series, and ends the trilogy with a soulless, emotionless whimper. Yes, kids, he killed the X-Men." I still stand by it. Oh, how I hate this movie.

So yes, for comic book movies: Chris Nolan, good. Sam Raimi, good. Bryan Singer, good. Tim Burton... oh-kaay. Anyone else? Try harder. You've got a lot to live up to.


Warning: Gross Content

One of the small things in life I'm grateful for right now:

The ability to fart without liquid shit gushing out all over my legs.

It's true. Amen to that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sucks to Be Sick

Explosive diarrhea, zero appetite, retarded digestive capability (still tasting some bread 4 hours after I ate it), body aches, no strength, heavy head, possibility of falling over if I shut my eyes.

Sucks to be sick.

The Little PDA Warrior

Today on the MRT, a young mother, probably no older than I was, brought her little daughter onto the train. The little girl looked to be under two, and was only just able to string a couple of words together in speech.

Anyhow, the little girl plonked herself down and reached out her hand to her mommy. The woman took out a PDA from her handbag.

To my complete and utter shock, the little two year-old took the PDA, flipped it open, quickly pressed a few buttons, and proceeded to watch a video clip of a cartoon on the device.

I can't even do that.

By the time this generation of kids grows up, they'll probably be able to take over the world with their technology.

Seriously, I might as well go kill myself. I mean, she's a fucking two year-old.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Local Produce

In the last couple of months, there have been a slew of releases of Singaporean films, which is nice. Add to that the commendable work done by Cine.Sg, and that's a lotta local films I've seen all year - probably more in a two-month period than the whole of the last two years combined. And since Cine.Sg is still ongoing, I hope there'll be more to come.

鐵男 (Unarmed Combat)
A man persuades his wife to sign up for an arm-wrestling competition, but begins to regret it when she becomes obsessed with it. Meanwhile, a beautiful stranger enters his life at his laundry shop. The story sounds interesting enough, doesn't it? And the writer-director is obviously heavily influenced by Stephen Chow's recent movies, where drama and slapstick can exist side by side. But this is a very tricky thing to do, because the last thing you want to do is to have an important dramatic scene and then undercut the mood with a silly joke. Hell, I'm not even a fan of Stephen Chow when he does that; I just don't think it works. Not to say that humor and drama can't co-exist in the same scene - it's just fucking hard to do it well.

So yeah, I had a problem with the general tone of the movie, so it really didn't do that much for me. The leads are game enough, but somehow the pacing doesn't ever get going, and coupled with my discomfort with the tone, made the whole thing seem longer and slower than it was.

愛情故事 (Love Story)
This is a real rarity in Singapore film for two reasons. One, you can't tell that it's shot in Singapore. And two, it's a mindfuck. The traditional narrative is eschewed for an exploration of the creative (writing) process, with scenes that relate more to the theme than to any actual plot. In fact, for probably that reason, it reminded me of a theatrical play that leaps across space, time and every other dimension. It also reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's work, which I suppose is a huge compliment to writer-director Kelvin Tong. Bears repeated viewing, if only for the reason that the first time you're likely to just go, "What the fuck?" (but in a good way).

The HD cinematography is gorgeous, with artfully composed shots that transform every location into a dreamscape and make them look nothing like what they normally are. In fact, there's only one single shot in the entire film that gives away the fact that it's shot in Singapore, something really difficult considering that I've lived here all my life and know lots of places by sight.

Other highlights include an unrecognizable Evelyn Tan as a librarian, and opening titles that come half an hour into the film. Performances are generally decent, except for Ericia Lee's horny policewoman role, and this was mainly due to her atrocious Mandarin.

It's an encouraging sign when an arthouse movie is made on a big budget, but sadly the money had to come from Hong Kong. So far all the Focus First Cuts movies have been disappointments (well, the single one I've seen made me want to throw up) but this is the first that's a hit in my book.

Talking Cock the Movie
A movie composed of little sketches, with the common threads being characters and jokes from the Talking Cock website. The humor is quintessentially Singaporean, i.e., anyone not local will probably be left scratching their heads. Probably the most noteworthy thing about the movie is the fact that the directors had absolutely no clue what they were doing when they made it, yet went ahead and did it anyway. Now that takes balls. As you can expect, the results are uneven at best. Sometimes it seems that they took every idea that came along and threw it at the wall to see if it would stick. Many jokes that would probably be hilarious on the page simply don't translate as well into a visual medium, and so while I got some good laughs out of it, some sequences were just too painful to watch. I loved the dirty old man song, even though his joke was unfunny and overdone.

City Sharks
I'm probably more than a little biased here, since I know the writer-director personally, but I think this is one of the most enjoyable local films I've seen. Of course, it's not the best (that would probably be one of the depressing arthouse flicks), but it's definitely the most Hollywood, in the sense that it uses the traditional formulas in screenplay construction, but uses them well. I've seen it before on crappy video CD, and I'll have to say a big screen really does wonders. For one thing, you could actually notice the cinematography.

It's a fun road movie, and the three leads have really good chemistry together. Sheikh Haikel's character tends to get annoying, which is unfortunate since he's supposed to be a lovable one. Filled with loads of cameos and funny one-liners, but also has heart as well, and Lim Kay Tong in a rare comedic turn. Of course he plays the straight man, but he does that well. Ultimately it's a popcorn movie, but when those are done well, they're to be commended too.

I saw Royston Tan's short film 15 (made in 2002) several years ago, and loved it immediately. Later it was made into a feature film, which I never got the chance to see. I've also seen a couple of his shorts, which were rather well-made, especially in comparison with most of the crap out there. But on the other hand, there's also been so much press about the guy that quite frankly, I was sick of reading about him. Is he overrated? Maybe. But that doesn't make his film bad. I believe in evaluating each film on its own merits, and for sure, 4:30 has plenty of them.

Singapore is a big city, and underneath the hustle and bustle of big cities is always one common emotion - solitude. This film explores that in the form of a boy left home alone and the Korean tenant in his flat. The cough mixture-chugging boy becomes obsessed with the man and slips into his room at 4:30 every morning to collect personal mementos. The story progresses slowly and deliberately, with emphasis on mood and feeling as opposed to plot developments and dialogue. It could've been overdone and pretentious, but it's to Tan's credit that everything feels natural and unforced, and I wasn't bored at all.

Much has been said about the boy's fine acting, but personally I think it wasn't that difficult a role. More of the mood and emotions are conveyed in the framing of shots, sound design and editing than in his actual performance, which is not to say that he wasn't effective. It's just that you don't need an amazing actor in his role, and he was more than competent for the part.

This is one of the more thoughtful local films around, and while I don't worship Royston Tan like a god (as opposed to the local media), I think it's definitely a feather in his cap and a credit to the local film scene.

Cine.Sg runs till November. Here's to more good local films.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Hate Summer Blockbuster Season

The summer blockbuster season brings with it lots of movies specifically designed to get the popcorn-munching, Coke-slurping crowd into theatres. This means that there's a distinct lack of anything decent for me to watch. This phenomenon usually manifests itself between May to August, with the driest month being the school holiday period in June.

Don't get me wrong, the small arthouse releases are still there. It's just that there are less of them compared to other months, and on top of that, the possibility that a major studio release is going to be good drops dramatically.

The converse happens near the end/beginning of the year, where we get a huge influx of films that have been playing in US theatres throughout the year and are generating Oscar buzz, so as to cash in on the Academy Awards in March. Then I go apeshit and hop like a maniac from movie to movie.

Goddamn Singapore distributors. Can't you even it out a little?

Anyway, here are some flicks I caught in the height of blockbuster season, in the midst of all the dreck that was floating about.

Good Night, and Good Luck.
A gorgeous, gorgeous film that finally made it to Singapore theatres like, decades after its release in the US. This was actually shot in the 1950's in black and white! That McCarthy dude is one crazy fucker, and they really don't make newsmen like Murrow anymore. Just look at all the insipid spineless twats that pass for journalists in this fine city of ours. The scare and pressure tactics used by McCarthy are still used today in a certain island in the Asia-Pacific, but no one's standing up to them.

Hey, and I know it wasn't made in the 1950's. I'm not stupid, you know. It just evokes that period so well you can almost believe it, especially with the seamless integration of the newsroom footage. Even though you know the outcome, it's still pretty exciting at times.

Initially the concept of talking cars seemed freaky to me. But somehow as the movie moved along, that thought was forgotten as the breathtaking widescreen vistas of America rolled by onscreen. I swear, this probably only comes second to Brokeback Mountain in showcasing the sheer spectacle of American scenery. Pixar continues their tradition of solid scripting - even though it's purely functional and doesn't have any surprises, it's still better than most. It got to me at times, and really, that's all I'm asking for.

A wonderfully guilty B-movie pleasure palace. You want gore? You got it. You want gross-out? You got it. You want killer slugs from space? You got it. You want lots of blowing up of said killer slugs? You got it. Killer one-liners and gallows humor? You got it. Oh yeah, and a hot girl too. It's a celebration of everything wonderful about scrappy horror filmmaking, and the love of writer-director James Gunn shows every step of the way. This is someone making a splatter flick going, "Look at this! It's so cool! And gross! Eww! Whee!"

Sometimes we all just need to chuck the self-important arthouse head-up-the-ass attitude aside for a while and relish the chaos of a good B-movie with drunken glee.

While pleasant enough, it doesn't really dare to push the envelope enough, but still insists on dragging out the drama to overlong lengths. The music choices are impeccable (Pink Floyd, Bowie, Patsy Cline and The Stones), and the acting competent, but this doesn't make it different enough from all the other "wrestling with alternate sexuality/coming-of-age" movies out there. In fact, as a coming of age movie, it's pretty damn weak, since the main character remains hugely passive for most of the movie. I guess "safe and stale" would be the best description of it.

The Road to Guantanamo
An Important Film that somehow didn't really have that much of an impact on me. Sure, the ill-treatment inflicted on the main characters was pretty bad, but SAF training stories and tales of Japanese atrocities during the Occupation are far, far worse. Also, you couldn't help but feel that part of it was their fault for being so fucking stupid and getting into all that trouble in the first place. Still, I have to admit it's the best docu-drama I've ever seen (unlike all the True-local crap), with the re-enactments blending seamlessly with the interview footage to create a very unsettling feel.

King and the Clown
I was prepared for this to be awful. After all, it did amazingly at the Korean box office, and you know how I hate most Korean movies with a vengeance (except, funnily enough, the Vengeance flicks by Park Chan-Wook). And it had this completely effeminate lead actor who apparently was huge with the fans worldwide. I mean, look at him. He's prettier than some of the contestants in this year's Miss Universe pageant.

Now I do not understand what is up with the female species in some Asian countries at all. In Korea, they're going nuts over this pretty boy - he looks more feminine than most women I know. He's equally popular in every country the film has travelled to. And look at the pop idol market in Taiwan, chock-full of no-talent boys with flowing locks and longer eyelashes than fucking Bambi. What the hell is wrong with all these women/girls? Do you like your men with more oestrogen than testosterone now? Hello, there are real men out there, you know. Men who might actually look worse in your makeup and heels than you do.

That gripe aside, the movie doesn't commit the typical sin of the Korean film - a dead in the water Second Act that meanders around and doesn't quite know what to do with itself. No, this one thunders ahead all through Acts One and Two, pleasantly surprising me. In fact, I was entertaining the thought that it might even be good. The acting was decent enough, apart from the over-the-top snarling of the king character, and the homoerotic currents came through well without seeming forced. Hell, it even had plot developments straight out of Hamlet, where a play is used to force scheming evil-doers out into the open.

But it was not to be. The movie goes straight to hell in the Third Act, with the tension entirely dissipating in a mush of melodrama, with a series of endings enough to make Peter Jackson blush. There was weeping all over the place, there were loving freeze-frames and zooms, and enough corny lines to make you retch. What a colossal waste. The Koreans just have trouble staying away from the melodrama, and rarely is it as apparent as in this movie, where the problematic section just stands out like a sore thumb against the generally competent sections that preceded it.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

All By Myself II

I came upon this song today, and didn't really feel anything much for it then. After all, it's just a typical syrupy lovelorn pop song, right?

When I was young, I never needed anyone.
And making love was just for fun.
Those days are gone.

Sitting outside just now, smoking a cigarette, I got it.

Living alone, I think of all the friends I've known.
But when I dial the telephone, nobody's home.

I go out with acquaintances, friends, good friends, best friends, brothers. And I enjoy myself, typically. Sometimes I have a blah time, sometimes a good time, sometimes a great time, and sometimes a fantastic time. But at the end of the day, I still end up smoking outside. Alone.

Isn't it funny how some songs just hit you when you get to a certain age, or just happen to be, I dunno, in the right frame of mind for them?

Hard to be sure, sometimes I feel so insecure.
And love so distant and obscure, remains the cure.

True, the lyrics are trite and corny. But sometimes corn contains at least a kernel of truth (sorry, I couldn't resist).

All by myself, don't wanna be all by myself anymore.
All by myself, don't wanna live all by myself anymore.

Sometimes all you want is to come home to someone. Right now, that sounds nice.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Blue Skies and White Clouds

Townerville 2

On a clear, sunny day the sky outside my house turns a beautiful shade of blue, spotted with fluffy white clouds. And apart from the few blocks of HDB flats, I can almost believe I'm not in fucking Singapore.

Townerville 3

That's why I love my house.

Townerville 1

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Obfuscation II

Five days, and then.

I'm too old for this shit.