Saturday, March 17, 2007

Me No Speakee English

Since there are so many movies to get through, and I really want to finish up everything before I fly for China on Monday, I've decided to do short compilations of comments instead of full-out articles. I've also clumped the movies from February into two categories: Non-English and Oscar Nominees. Here's the former.

I've heard good things about Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who was the man behind the original Japanese-language Pulse (which was apparently destroyed in a Hollywood remake last year - what's new?). He's supposed to be a master of suspense and tension, and he proves that right here in ロフト (Loft), where his off-kilter camera angles and (more surprisingly) lack of music serves to turn the knob up effectively. Too bad that for my first introduction to him, it sucks. The plot gets more and more ludicrous as it goes along, to the point that the finale is even laughable in its hackneyed dialogue and development. What the hell was going on? I really didn't even care.

The German Requiem also takes a different approach to horror, in presenting it in a realistic, faux-documentary style. The ambiguity it serves up is appropriately fascinating and horrifying, especially in its take on repression and religious fanaticism. Couple that with fine performances all around, and you get a thoroughly gripping psychological drama without the normal Hollywood overblown theatrics and hysteria. Good stuff.

門徒 (Protégé), on the other hand, tries to be realistic, but is ultimately let down by shrill preachiness, dulling the potency of its anti-drug message. Beginning and ending with a heavy-handed voiceover wondering about the connection between drugs and emptiness in one's life, it gets better only in bits, especially a thrilling drug bust sequence that leaves you with your heart in your mouth. The sequences set in Thailand, while not outstanding visually or story-wise, are noteworthy for revealing the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Asian drug world. If only they could've been less documentary and more movie. A randomly slapped-on and unnecessary coda in Singapore's Changi Airport reminds you that there is Raintree Pictures money invested here. In short, an unsatisfying trip.



Bobby wants very hard to be a political statement, and even includes soundbites and clips of Robert Kennedy's speeches and public appearances. Ostensibly about how a number of disparate individuals are affected by witnessing his assassination and reflecting the political climate and social environment of the time, it does neither well. Really, it's not easy to delve into each character when there's so many of them, and even the all-star cast fails to give realistic life to their paper-thin roles. The overabundance of plot lines and story arcs just creates a mess that you don't really care about, given that so few of the characters feel like real human beings as opposed to stock cliches and sketches. In the end, it's not really about how the Event affects them, but about a day in their lives that builds up to that event, and even the fallout is truncated. It doesn't know what it wants to say, and ends up seeming to try to hard to tack Themes of Relevance onto a patchwork of recycled elements.

Not to say that there isn't anything worthwhile in there. A standout is Sharon Stone as the beautician wife of cheating hotel manager William H. Macy, who manages to bring pathos and vulnerability to her role while playing against type. The climax is well executed as well, but apart from that, there's little to be satisfied about.

While Bobby has an overabundance of Plots and Themes, some other movies happily prefer to exist with an absence of either. Movies like Ghost Rider, for instance. Given that the director has a track record that includes the abyssmal Daredevil, it's not really a surprise. The only unexpected thing is that he manages to make this mess even more unwatchable than the former.

There's really no point wasting time and effort writing about everything that was wrong about the flick. Suffice to say that nothing makes sense, it's boring and by the numbers, the CGI is awful, and the only thing that's even remotely interesting are the little quirks that Nicolas Cage gives Johnny Blaze, which I'm not even sure are supposed to be there in the first place. It's not even fun, because it takes itself way too seriously, with a portentious voiceover and over-elevated view of the "Ghost Rider Mythos", if such a thing even exists in the first place. Bottom line: Stay far, far away.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Themes Runneth Over

What do I have to say about Babel that hasn't already been said? Well, let's start with this: Its Oscar win for Best Music Score was well-deserved; its nominations in all the other categories (besides Supporting Actress) were not. It's overlong, over-ambitious, and over-portentious. The score, though, is a thing of beauty. Unobtrusive yet supportive, it never feels forced, unlike Philip Glass's over-the-top histrionics for Notes on a Scandal. Best of all, if you closed your eyes and just listened to the sound, you can actually identify which story you're in purely by the music alone. Each location has its own distinctive sound, which is just that little bit different from the other sections to stand out, yet not jarringly; everything blends into a seamless whole. Visually, this is echoed as well through Rodrigo Prieto's understated cinematography, and like with the music, you can instantaneously identify the location through its look.

Iñárritu's stuff has always been interesting, but here he seems to be stuffing so many grand Themes into a movie that it ends up unfocused and overblown. It starts off well, with good introductions to two Moroccan boys, but as the multiple story threads wallow in their despair and inevitably collapse together, you start thinking if any of it really matters. Most of the cast rarely seem to have anything outstanding to do, and their characters unfortunately seem to be nothing more than spokespersons for particular kinds of suffering as opposed to fully-fleshed human beings. And no, making someone like the ethereal Cate Blanchett pee in a pan is not equivalent to making them human. Out of everyone involved, the Best Supporting Actress nominees Adriana Barraza and Kikuchi Rinko truly stand out for investing their roles with real depth and feeling.

For a movie that's ostensibly about the lack of human communication in the modern world (along with every other Grand Theme out there), it's kind of sad that the story thread that's the most affecting is about a mute Japanese girl. Not to say that it's irredeemably bad, it's just that with the pedigree of the filmmakers and cast involved, expectations are naturally higher, and it simply fails to meet them, apart from occasional moments of pure cinematic brilliance that make me want to applaud. Too bad about the rest of the movie around them - it just ain't good enough.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On Life Now

Why does it always seem like there's so much to do before a trip? I'm leaving on a month's vacation on Monday, and in the meantime, there's been tons of work to do, my room is a mess, and lots of miscellaneous logistics to settle, like changing currencies and buying stuff.

It doesn't help that I seem to have to do work up till the minute I take off. But I think it'll all be worth it. I haven't been on a real vacation in ages. Even when I went to Manchester the last time I had to rewrite a script there, so it wasn't all play. I'm looking forward to exploring the nooks and crannies of China and Hong Kong that I've never been to.

So my boss who promised me a raise resigned, which reminds me, I have to get out an email about the whole issue both to him, HR and my new boss. Nothing too fancy, just listing accomplishments and repeating my core arguments of why I need a raise. After all, this new boss has never heard them, and it might be a good idea to remind my old boss.

I don't wanna get my hopes up though, because in this organization, they inevitably get dashed to pieces on the sharp rocks below. I just would like to hope that he can be fair to me, but perhaps even that's hoping for too much. I was contemplating switching to another department like marketing or sales that will definitely get me the income I want, but whenever that happens, I get an incredible gig that makes me want to stay on.

I've been working on a new script with a colleague, and let me tell you, I never realized this before, but having a writing partner is incredible. If you're a writer, you definitely need to give this a try at some point in your career. The ideas thrown around are the highest caliber I've had in quite a while, and the speed at which we churn it all out is amazing. It sure beats staring at your monitor by yourself suffering from writer's block.

The just-completed script looks damn good, and I'm not just saying that 'cos I wrote it. It's something in the vein of Arrested Development, and I hope that it will get picked up as a series. If so, we're campaigning to write the entire season together. Having anyone else do it will fuck it up for sure. Fingers crossed.

On other fronts, things are progressing slowly, but I think it looks good.

Is life good now? Let's put it this way, it's better than it's been for a while, but I can always hope for more.

Damn Good Entertainment

Damn. For my movie reviews, I'm still stuck in February, the shortest month of the year, but in which I saw 13 movies (which still doesn't beat January, by the way - that had 17). I've got some serious catching up to do, not to mention still get through November and December '06 and the Best-Of list.

So there was some pretty serious entertainment going on in February. The two great standouts were probably Apocalypto and The Illusionist, which were thoroughly enjoyable as they come. If only Hollywood turned out such movies more often, instead of the turds that usually come our way.

I was pleasantly surprised by Apocalypto, because quite frankly, I hated Mel Gibson's last movie. While that one got carried away by the sheer Christian-ness of it all, this baby thankfully leaves all that mumbo-jumbo behind to deliver a rip-roaring tale and nothing more. While it's notable for having all its dialogue in the Mayan language, which adds authenticity to the whole thing, at its heart it's a great action movie.

Shot beautifully and with mostly natural lighting, it brings us right in the heart of a lovable village community about to be beset by tragedy. We see their daily routine, their love for each other, their family ties, and this makes what's about to come hit us more. In a vicious raid, a young Mayan is abducted from his village and taken to a city to be sacrificed.

In this city, bizarre images and sights abound, and the sheer ridiculousness and excessiveness of it all makes us sick to the core, as do the almost casual way sacrificial victims are dispatched. Miraculously, through a deus ex machina I'm not entirely happy with, the young warrior escapes death, and later his captors.

The entire second half of the movie is devoted to an extended chase sequence through the Mayan jungle, as the young warrior flees his pursuers to return to his very pregnant wife and child, trapped in a hole in the ground that's rapidly filling up with rainwater. The movie has some of the best action sequences I've seen in a while, and the tension is racked up all the way through.

True, there's nothing much there beyond the action and some pointed critiques of our modern culture of excess. But sometimes all we need at the movies is a good time, and this is perfect for that, if you can stomach the copious gore.

The Illusionist, on the other hand, requires one to do a bit more thinking, but it's nowhere near the level of The Prestige in its complexity. This is not a drawback, though, because it works perfectly well without that. Sure, the twist ending is somewhat predictable, but only because after the previous movie, I was bound to be watching out for twist endings in a movie about magicians.

Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton, two of my favorite actors in the world, turn in great performances, playing off each other with great chemistry. Faring poorly in comparison is Jessica Biel as the leading lady and Norton's love interest - she simply has no character, although how much of this is the fault of poor scripting I don't know. She just kinda walks around looking worried and pretty, sometimes both at the same time. And when the twist hinges upon her, you might have a bit of a problem there.

Look-wise, it's pretty damn amazing, for the filmmakers have managed to evoke a real sense of period in the visuals. Good production design is a given, but in their treatment of the stock, lighting and color, they've someone managed to translate that age to even the film itself.

Again, there's no real depth to it all, but like I said, so what? It's solidly crafted entertainment, and leaves you feeling satisfied that you spent your time at the movies well. What more can I ask for?

Addendum: Why the movie poster for The Illusionist feels it's important to state that it's from the producers of Crash and Sideways, I have no clue. They aren't even remotely similar. You might as well put "from the country that brought you Titanic and The Departed".


Monday, March 12, 2007

Obligatory New Year Accounts

The Lunar New Year ended a week ago. Accounts time.

Total amount collected: S$670

Total amount distributed: S$400

Total profit: S$270

Spent on buying the lottery (both 4D & Toto): S$100

Won in lottery: S$15 (my share of the spoils)

Gambling gains/losses: Nil - everything kinda evened out

Net gain: S$185

A far cry from my heyday, but whatever. Most of it was blown within 15 minutes in Topman buying accessories. What the fuck.

Oh yeah, happy birthday to my brother, slimy-lawyer-in-training.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Poor Baby

From the fracas that went before, came this new tidbit of information (or as some say, gossip).

Apparently said producer had to go out on shoot without J. The poor dear realized that changes and tweaks had to be made on the spot, and everyone had to wait for her while she did it, which made her feel horribly embarassed. This so traumatized her that upon her return she felt a great need to let out her frustrations and as is the normal course for such things what she said got passed around and eventually I came to know of it.

Honestly, this kind of thing is par for the course, and it just shows how much you suck at what you do. All I can say is, if you ain't got what it takes, you shouldn't be doing the job, honey. Why don't you just stick to something simple like taking care of props?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I Struck the Lottery!

Yes, you read right - I won something in the recent S$10 million Toto Hongbao Draw!


Too bad it's only S$30 and doesn't even cover my costs. Plus, I still have to share it with my cousin.


Guess I can't buy out my bond yet.

Friday, March 02, 2007


It really doesn't pay to be helpful, as I recently found out. My helpfulness not only led to me being taken for granted, it also gave me a nice stab in the back. Maybe I should correct myself - it doesn't pay to be helpful at work, to people who don't deserve it.

R, who wielded considerable power, came to me and asked if I'd help him out - he desperately needed a writer, just for two scripts. He assured me it was an easy job, as all research had been done already. I made it clear to him that I had prior commitments, but would be glad to lend a hand if necessary.

He put me in touch with the person in charge of the project, J. As she was briefing me, she prattled on and on, and I began to get the sinking feeling that I was in for more than I bargained for. True enough, not only did she expect scripts, she also expected me to shoulder more responsibilities (responsibilities which sounded ridiculous to me), and hence more time and effort - things which I just could not spare.

I voiced my problem to her, and she brushed it off casually. She probably thought that everything would eventually work out in her favor. I pointed out that there were dates that clashed directly. She didn't say anything, probably thinking R would back her up.

The next day, I got worried, and sent out an email to all concerned, including my supervisors, who, as I expected, had not gotten wind of this request at all. I was told to wait for R's take on things. A few days passed, and as the date crept ever closer, I got more worried. I wasn't going to take responsibility for something that wasn't my problem to begin with.

So I sent out another email, clarifying my stand and saying that I would go ahead with my proposed solution if no one got back to me - which was to stick to my prior commitments and basically do nothing more for R than churn out two scripts for J.

R finally returned from his leave yesterday, and immediately spoke to J. Now, she probably said something negative about me to him, for his next email ended like this:
As you are only involved in the first 2 eps, I hope you will give your best during this period.
Oh, the pain of knowing how to read in-between the lines!

Seriously, it was completely uncalled for. I'd made myself clear that I wasn't able to commit completely. If you weren't listening properly, it's your fault, not mine. It's not my fault I can't give 100% to you, it's a fact that 80% is already taken up by another.

My colleague suggested that I write an email praising them while being self-deprecating. He said this would get the producer (who's not J) in trouble. "Right now either you die, or she does. What do you want?" he asked. The choice was clear.

It scares me that I would most probably go over to that department come April. I'm not even in there yet and I've already been backstabbed once.

What's wrong with these people? Don't they understand the meaning of "help"? Help doesn't mean I'm obligated to do it for you, it means I'm doing it out of goodwill. It means that you don't have a right to shove unwanted responsibilities and demands upon me. It means that you don't have a right to complain that I'm not doing my fair share of work when really, you're not part of my fair share at all. It means you fucking take what you get. Beggars can't be choosers. It means you stop being fucking lazy and expecting someone completely not involved to come in and do your job for you, especially when you're drawing multiple times his salary. It means I don't have to justify my actions and choices, especially not to you.

It means shut the fuck up. I'm done "helping".

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Voting Closed

Voting has closed. I think.

Thanks to everyone who helped out, no matter how many votes you cast.

Now all I can do is cross my fingers...