Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cruel Ironies of Life (or Death)

The passing of the master Ingmar Bergman was reported in the Straits Times' Life section today. However, the editor deemed it appropriate to put on the same page, right next to his article, a story on Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou's directorial debut - a high school romance with some dark secrets (ooh!).

Bergman & Jay

The Gods of Cinema have a truly warped sense of humor indeed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The 500th Alcoholic Post: The Birthday Montage

For my birthday this year, with the wisdom of hindsight (because 26 shots in one night is pretty much impossible), I decided to down 27 drinks, one for each year of existence, but to spread them out over the course of 24 hours.

It began at Yujin's post-wedding party at 2 a.m. or so, continued the next day with some beers by the beach, and ended around 23 hours later in the comfort of my living room. Somewhere in the middle was the shitty Fantastic Four sequel as well, which would be enough to drive a teetotaler to drink.

Here are the 27 drinks:

Birthday Montage.jpg

It's kinda obvious that I started well, but was really forcing myself towards the end. I need to spread them out even more and really just knock them back regularly throughout the day.

28 next year? I should certainly hope so.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bad June

Trash I saw in June. As is typical of blockbuster season, there's really quite a bit of rubbish in theatres - a good number of them sequels.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
The trilogy that has no reason to exist comes to a feeble conclusion in the installment with the shortest title! When the first one made piles and piles of money, the producers scrambled to announce not one, but two sequels that would (gasp!) be shot together. Since it was based on a fucking Disney ride and hence had no inherent plot, it was a wonder that the first Pirates turned out watchable. But now there was nothing left for the sequels to draw upon. Having written a bona-fide hit, the writers, bloated with delusions of grandeur, envisioned grand mythologies for their pirating world. As a result, the sequels have lots of scenes of pure exposition, delivered in a really fucking boring way. This might have been acceptable had the stuff been set up in prior movies, but they haven't, and at this point in time, it's too much to ask that we sit there and buy this shit wholesale. Quite frankly, the exposition and backstories are things that we don't give a fuck about. We want to see some badass pirates doing their fucking badass piratey shit, and there's far too little of that to justify us paying money for this convoluted, overblown mess.

Black Snake Moan
How I hated this movie! It seems to want to be a sleazy exploitation flick, but Craig Brewer obviously doesn't have the same panache as Tarantino, and his sensibilities are strictly middlebrow and even wholesome. Well, the parts that aren't misogynistic as hell anyway. I'd love to see what Tarantino could do with such a juicy premise, for Brewer just wastes it all by going for a moralizing message, preaching that all a wild nympho needs to mend her ways is some good ol' tough love from a father figure. There's only one scene which I liked, when Christina Ricci jumps the bones of a young kid that's probably the funniest bit in the whole mess. Oh, and did I mention that this movie's horribly misogynistic?

鬼啊! 鬼啊! (Men in White)
I don't like to use a word so many times in a single post, but I can't help it; "mess" is the most apt word to describe this movie. A bunch of skits tied together by the flimsiest of plots (but not in a good way, not like, say, Borat), it's relentlessly shrill and the slapstick is hopelessly unfunny. That, and every character fucking grates. It's not that there aren't moments where I chuckled, it's just that ultimately in the grand scheme of things they were few and far between, and I was far more annoyed than amused. What the hell is Kelvin Tong doing?

It's not that this long-overdue-on-our-shores film is bad. It's not, it's just rather mediocre and maudlin. While Capote was dark and biting, Infamous seems content to throw a bunch of one-liners (they're funny one-liners though) around and take a more sentimental approach - not that this is necessarily worse, but it makes everything settle into a blahness that is very forgettable. Daniel Craig is great though, and shows that he's a real actor and not just an action figure (but I already know that; I saw The Mother), and Sandra Bullock also displays her acting chops, disappearing into the supporting role of Harper Lee. The movie has good intentions, but most of the time that isn't enough to make a good film.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The best thing I can say about this is that it doesn't suck quite as hard as the first one did. The Silver Surfer wasn't all that hot, and the action, while improved, still lacks a punch. It's all so generic and cookie-cutter that I really don't have any feelings about it at all. While this may pay the bills for him, Chris Evans is far more watchable in fare like Sunshine or Cellular. And does anyone else feel that Doctor Doom is horribly miscast?

刺青 (Spider Lilies)
Another movie I hated! Wow, this month has some real stinkers. Anyway, it's wannabe-arty, wannabe-edgy, wannabe-tragic - and none of it works. The cast is complete rubbish, especially Rainie Yang as an erotic chatroom girl that's completely non-erotic (no wonder she's on the verge of getting fired) and annoying as hell, and her paramour, a female tattoo artist who's nothing more than a cardboard cutout. Pretentious lines are spouted by one-dimensional angst-filled characters while looking at some distant point for dramatic effect. Traumatic childhoods are the root cause for every problem they have. There's some shit about spider-lily tattoos and ominous symbolic shots of the same fucking flowers by a ditch somewhere. And it all amounts to a huge waste of time. By the way, the title actually means "Tattoo" and not "Spider Lilies".


Good June

Why do I get so behind in my blogging? And really, does anyone actually give a shit and read these any more?

Anyway, existential doubt aside, here's the good stuff I saw in June. A rather small list, because it is, after all, blockbuster season.

Watching this thoroughly engrossing procedural, I had a sense of almost unbearable tension from the opening scene that never really let up until the end credits rolled. I was sitting up straight, with my hands gripping the armrest or my knees all the way through, and it seemed as though all the muscles in my body were in a state of "fight or flight" readiness. Needless to say, I was fucking exhausted by the end of it. Credit has to go to director David Fincher for making me feel this way for the first time in my life, as well as to the uniformly excellent cast. Showing far more restraint than usual, Fincher's assured handling of the dense material makes this perhaps my favorite movie thus far this year.

Ocean's Thirteen
We all need mindless escapism sometimes, and the Ocean's movies have always done a good job of providing that, at least for me. What's not to like? The smooth, easy banter between the cast, the big marquee names who all look like they're having a ball of a time, the clever situations and execution of The Plan, the double-crosses - they're all just great fun. Thank you, Steven Soderbergh, for giving us a sequel in this season of crap that not only doesn't suck, it's a bloody good time at the movies. This is fluff, to be sure, but quality fluff.

(The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)

This is a fantastic anime that slowly draws you in and fleshes out all the main characters, until you forget that they're just lines and colors, but actual living, breathing people - and then they start piling on the emotional beats, and your heart breaks right along with them. It's no mean feat when a movie balances slapstick comedy and emotional resonance so well, all the more so when it's an animation (or does that actually make it easier to do so?).

Hot Fuzz
True confession: I still haven't seen Shaun of the Dead. But after this absolute gem of a movie, I'm going to do so real soon (as soon as I can find it in my mountain of DVDs). It's an irrefutable fact that the best parodies are done by people with a genuine fondness for what they're parodying, and who know it inside out, upside down, and all the way around. As such, the laughs here are those that will resonate far longer than the stupid spoofs that are manufactured by the Scary Movie bunch, because they don't play on any single movie, they play on the conventions of an entire genre. To top off an already fantastic achievement, they also have genuinely cool action setpieces, and provided work for probably all the veteran actors in the UK while shooting this. I never laughed so hard at someone drop-kicking an old hag in my life. By the way, I think this poster's the funniest because it's the only one that plays on the homoerotic undertones of buddy cop flicks.

Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof
As anyone vaguely interested in Tarantino knows, the Grindhouse doublebill was chopped up for foreign distribution, which means we'll never get to experience the full glory of the original experience. That being said, we actually get a longer cut of Tarantino's segment, but will have to wait a couple of months more to see Rodriguez's (as well as all the fake trailers). I do hope the entire shebang eventually gets released on DVD so I can see it the way it's meant to be.

The best thing about Death Proof is that, for the most part, it feels exactly like one of the exploitation flicks it's paying homage to. Ample shots of nubile young women, pointless dialogue, scenes that don't really go anywhere at all, lots of padding to disguise the fact that there's not really much story (but which kill the pacing) - all these are traits of the genre, and Tarantino celebrates them with gusto, along with scratches on the physical film and intentional editing glitches galore. Yet, ironically, this is also the worst thing about it, because the first hour or so really drags by painfully. Yes, I'm contradicting myself, but then again, this is a film that's inherently contradictory.

All is forgiven in the second half, though, as he introduces us to a new group of chicks in a great long take with his trademark rambling yet ridiculously entertaining dialogue, delivered with impeccable timing. From this point on, it starts to feel like a Tarantino flick. It all leads up to one of the most thrilling extended car chases ever captured on film, some great girl-on-guy ass-kickery, and a simply beautiful ending that gave me one of the biggest laughs of the movie. It's a perfect ending - loving homage, gorgeous freeze frame and fucking funny.

So I suppose this could be an improvement upon the typical exploitation flick then, which lures and entices by promising more than it could possibly deliver, then proceeds to confirm your doubts by delivering precisely nothing except dissatisfaction. At least Tarantino's kind enough to give us a thoroughly entertaining second half which more than makes up for the tedious journey we had to undertake to get there.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

My Near-Death Experience

I almost lost my life today. Or became paralyzed. And in the most stupid way imaginable.

Angeline wanted to see a Japanese movie, ヴァイブレータ (Vibrator). Apparently she'd seen a film by director Ryuichi Hiroki at a film festival and loved it, and so wanted to check out his other work. Trouble was, it was showing at a notorious (but not the most notorious) sleazy cinema frequented by Dirty Old Men, which was why she dragged me along as "protection". No harm, I thought, if it's in a D.O.M. cinema, it's gotta at least have lots of sex in it. Hell, with a title like that, how could it not have tons of fucking, right?

So it was that I got up early on a Saturday morning and hauled my ass over to that haunt (not by choice though) of my childhood - I took violin lessons in that same building. And I got pissed off right away because I realized that they'd raised ticket prices by a whole dollar - no doubt profiteering from the whole GST increase exercise.

Here's where I segue into a sort-of review/film summary - figured I might as well write it since I'm doing this. A whiny, needy freelance writer of random articles meets a ruggedly handsome truck driver one night in a convenience store and takes off with him. They have (badly shot) sex, she has twee voiceovers and intertitles that try to pass off for character depth, she also reveals that she pukes as a psychological reflex and/or is anorexic/bulimic (oh my, what a three-dimensional character!), they go off on a road trip together, they lie a little about their lives, they have more (boring) sex, nothing really happens, she cries a lot because it's time for the third act and some kind of resolution, he is a really nice guy for no reason (let's face it, most people would've kicked psychobitch out after the first two miles), he drops her off back at the convenience store, and she's magically changed. Hooray. Really, besides the natural performances, there's precious little going for this movie.

I was glad that I had my soybean drink and Yan-Yan (biscuit sticks with dip) to distract me for part of it, and conversation with Angeline helped to take my mind off the rest (the best thing about a D.O.M. cinema is that you can talk during the show and no one cares). I could've gone insane otherwise.

So anyway, back to the main point of this post. We got up to leave, and for some reason I turned around so I was facing the back of the cinema. Now, Golden Cinema is strange in one aspect, which is probably a holdback from its days as a live theatre venue - the rows are fucking steep. Basically, the back of the seat in front of you comes up to about 6 inches below the knee. There's just a tiny space between each row, probably just over a foot. It's also a fucking long way down to the bottom, with steep steps all the way, so it's really not for those with acrophobia.

So I'd turned back and was making some snide comment about the movie when the back of my shin hit the back of the seat below me. As you well know from movies, when this happens at crucial moments, whoever it happens to inevitably falls over. And so it was that I began to teeter and lose my balance.

For that split second, I freaked out. Visions of me tumbling down all the way to my death flashed before me. Since the distance between each row was such that if I'd fallen, the back of my neck would probably have hit the back of the seat in the next row down, I also got particularly nasty images (complete with bone-crunching sound in full surround) of me snapping my neck. For comedic purposes, I'd like to say that I also saw myself putting ads in the papers for someone with a paraplegic fetish to take care of me during my final days, but unfortunately my mind doesn't quite work that fast.

Also extrapolating, can you imagine the headlines in the tabloids? Promising Youth Cut Short By Sleazy Movie. Aspiring Filmmaker Dies In Painful Irony. Actually, I don't think any of them would be this clever.

I did, however, regain my balance, to my immense relief. Angeline, not having realized the epic nature of the human drama that had just played out in front of her, looked at me in puzzlement when I heaved a huge sigh.

I'd like to say that I had some kind of grand epiphany about how I was going to turn my life around. You know, do charity work, quit smoking, run for President, that kind of thing. But really, that kind of thing only happens in (bad) movies.


Friday, July 27, 2007

May West

I know, it's a truly awful pun. I couldn't resist. Moving on.

28 Weeks Later
In preparation for this flick, I actually saw 28 Days Later for the first time just prior to this. I loved the first two acts of that movie, before it took a bizarre turn in the third act and killed itself for no apparent reason - but then again, that's Danny Boyle for ya. A bloody genius, but has really shitty endings. Given that that was pure brilliance for the most part, I was really wary of how this was going to turn out, since he wasn't on board except as an executive producer. I'm glad to say that my fears were unfounded, because this is one mean motherfucker of a movie that sinks its teeth into you from the get-go and doesn't let up. It's a realistic extrapolation from the events of the first, and manages to be both more epic in scope and somehow more relentless than its predecessor. When the shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose, it's a spine-chilling sight indeed. A bravado sequence also goes one up on the classic one in Aliens by having us see only through the night-vision scope on a gun. Truly terrifying, and dare I say it, actually better than the original in its cohesiveness of theme and vision.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Here's a film that I'm probably going to enjoy much more on DVD for one simple reason - I can read the fucking subtitles. I'm just really bad at deciphering Irish accents, and more than half the time I had no fucking clue what the hell the characters were talking about - I could only kind of guess what was being said by looking at their expressions and a word here and there, which really does not make for a very pleasant moviegoing experience. But then again, even if I could understand everything, this wouldn't be a very pleasant movie, since it deals with such a heavy topic. Of course, it's to Ken Loach's vast credit that so many scenes transcend language and would be equally powerful even if they were in Swahili. I thought it was a good film, and I'm sure I'd think it a great film once I rewatch it on DVD.

Hors de Prix (Priceless)
I can see no one in Hollywood touching this topic with a ten-foot pole, unless it was to make some mediocre middlebrow artsy navel-gazing shit. That this takes what is basically an unsavory premise and makes it into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy makes it undoubtedly French. While there are scenes where you just want to slap some characters for their apparent stupidity, it only goes to show how much you've come to care for them. Audrey Tautou is gorgeous and gives a spirited performance that makes me forgive her for being in The Da Vinci Crap. It exceeded my expectations, and left me very happy, and really, that's remarkable achievement for any romantic comedy, isn't it?

Blades of Glory
Unlike many "serious" critics, I'm a big fan of absurdist humor as well, being a huge fan of Stephen Chow's body of work. Which is why I've found most of Will Ferrell's output enjoyable as well, and this one is no exception. The premise is outrageous enough, and the leads have so much fun with the roles, playing off each other in ridiculous exchanges, that to dislike it would really seem unkind. My macabre sense of humor means that my favorite scene would of course be the North Korean skating video with the decapitation. Even though I knew it was coming (thanks to naughty critics with their spoilers), I still laughed my ass off at it. It's perfectly cast, and just so much fun, that I can't bring myself to nitpick.

Bridge to Terabithia
No matter how the trailers and posters try to sell it, this is not a fantasy movie. It's more like a sensitive coming of age tale that, when it comes down to it, is really rather moving. The characters and the details of their lives feel real, and never seem forced, unlike most kid movies. When the unthinkable happens, it's sudden and painful, and to its credit, the film doesn't pretend otherwise, nor does it wallow in melodrama. My only problem with it is that the second act doesn't seem to be moving along much at all.

Shrek the Third
What a hateful movie. It's obvious that the makers are simply cashing in on the franchise and have no respect at all for the audience, what with their lazy, unfunny jokes and tendency to take a lesson and smack it into their audience's heads repeatedly (bringing to mind a certain Singaporean "director"). While some claim that the animation has improved from installment to installment, and I'm sure it has, for some strange reason I've found that the supposed "realistic detail" only serves to make the characters look more creepy than cute. I mean, Shrek's eyelashes just freak me out to no small amount. Creepy-looking character designs aside, Justin Timberlake surprises, though, with his sympathetic voice performance of a loser prince, and there is one genuine moment of comic brilliance, which, unfortunately, is drowned by the sheer crassness of everything else.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Gone in 30 Seconds

Some fucker stole my card holder tonight. It was brand new, a cool leather Renoma one with a picture of a goat-headed man on it. Inside I had all of the various discount and membership cards I held, such as Safra, Kinokuniya, etc. The most prized possession in that was, of course, the Golden Village VIP card that I'd won.

And all that is gone.

I was buying tickets for a movie (Paprika, which turned out to be great, but that's for another post), and had taken the card holder out to use my Cathay E2Max card. After the whole transaction was concluded, I got my credit card, receipt, etc. back and promptly walked off to a nearby counter to put my stuff away. When I got to the E2Max card, I realized that I'd left my card holder behind at the box office.

The time elapsed had been less than 30 seconds. But it was gone, just like that. Probably taken by the guy in line behind me, but I didn't think to look at his face. I mean, who looks at the people around them when they're in line, right?

I'd rather have lost all my credit cards than the GV card, since I don't even know if it's replaceable. Fuck. Counter staff were completely unable to help, besides making me fill out a form.

You know what the worst thing is? Looking around me and realizing that the thief who took my stuff was in the same room, but not having any authority to search anyone. That is helplessness, powerlessness and impotency all rolled up together in a bitter cocktail.

All the cards were eventually replaceable, even the GV one. I just have to wait one whole fucking month for it. That's a month of movies I actually have to pay for now. Sigh.

Batman Inadequacies

I just found out that a friend from NU is writing a Batman comic book. How cool is that?


Written by Josh Elder; Art by Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty; Cover by Sanford Greene and Nathan Massengill

Gearhead's turning Gotham City into a gigantic demolition derby! Batman's going to need all the help he can get, even if that means letting Batgirl get behind the wheel of the Batmobile!

Johnny DC | 32pg. | Color | $2.25 US
On Sale August 8, 2007

It also makes me feel hopelessly inadequate.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Non-Birthday

Today is supposed to be my mom's birthday. Only it isn't. There's a funny story about that.

See, when she came over to Singapore while she was still a little kid, her father had to fill out her personal information on the application for citizenship. China didn't really give out birth certificates then, and no one really used the Gregorian calendar. Her birthdate was on the 12th day of the first lunar month, and he didn't know how to convert that into the Gregorian equivalent (well, this was back in the days without the internet). So for some strange reason he decided to just randomly add 6 to her birth month - hence making her birthday on all official documentation July 12th.

So what is her real birthday? She'd checked it out many years ago, but has since forgotten it. Enter me and my trusty Google. Turns out that her birthday is on February 21st, which is pretty fucking far off from July 12th.

So today will be the last time we're celebrating her non-birthday. Next year on, we'll do it in February, which is actually cooler because now her birthday and my dad's are 6 days apart. Plus it's during the Lunar New Year period, which means my brother and I will be able to spend more on them without really feeling the pinch (yay ang pows).

This whole thing makes me wonder, though: How many people from their generation or older are running around with random birthdates on their identity cards? Do they even care? Probably not. And why should they? When you get to that age, you earn the right to say, "I don't give a fuck" and not have anyone bug you about it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

May East

The movies from May will be divided into those from the East and those from the West, based on the locales they're set in. That's why Born into Brothels is here and not in the other post. Let's get on with it, shall we?

悪夢探偵 (Nightmare Detective)
The central concept is interesting enough: A killer has the ability to enter his victims' dreams and, while stalking them in their subconscious, make them commit bloody suicide in real life; a "nightmare detective" must thus enter his would-be victims' dreams and hunt him down. And for a while, the mystery and visceral shocks are enough to keep you interested. But the shaky, handheld "edgy" nightmares get old quickly, and the flat performances by the J-Pop leads aren't compelling enough. It doesn't help that the characters constantly insist on sleeping, even though they know it's almost certain death. By the time the murderer (played by the director) shows himself and all is revealed, it's too late to save you from not caring. Also, childhood trauma is an awfully convenient motivation for a killer - try harder next time.

盛夏光年 (Eternal Summer)
For once, a gay coming-of-age tale that isn't whiny as hell. Having attended a gay-and-lesbian film festival "just 'coz" and hated almost everything I saw due to the reason above, trust me, this is something to be thankful for. You need to get past the inherent "softness" and "cuteness" in the portrayals of the guys (that's just the way many Taiwanese men speak, and aren't inherently "gay" in and of itself), but once you've done that, there's a sensitive and sympathetic tale that's often told, but not often with as much restraint on the melodrama as is shown here. No doubt it's emo, but it doesn't cross that fine line to bad melodrama, thankfully. One thing that does bug me is the casting of someone who looks like he's 30 to play a teenager. Sure, his performance is good, but come on, his hairline's receding, for crying out loud.

頤和園 (Summer Palace)
Tailor-made for the European arthouse crowd, this overlong clunker gives selling out a whole new meaning. The director knows that excessive nudity, self-indulgent voiceovers, meaningless dialogue, lots of fucking, the lightest hint of political and sociological events, thin characterizations, bad photography (the list goes on) sells to pretentious fucks in the West, so he throws in lots of them. This also has the bonus effect of making the film banned in his own country, thus giving him instant street cred in the cinematheques of Euro-art capitals. But it doesn't make it less of a steaming piece of crap. I've rarely seen more boring fucking. Seriously, give me Back Door Bitches any day over this.

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids
Photographs are a record of a specific instant in time. Similarly, videos are a record of a specific period of time, but they have an added dimension of duration. So what does this have to do with the film? Well, this film takes videos of these children of prostitutes at a very specific moment in their lives, and captures, for some of them at least, the very best moments of their lives. And this is the thing that is heartbreaking. We know some of them are in school, and there is at least some small measure of hope in their lives. But we also know that most of them are heading towards dead-ends, and will forever look back at this period of time with longing in their hearts. With their photography, they captured the rare, elusive beauty that is found in their environments. But they will just as likely never see it again in their lifetime. Children should never have to say that they know life is suffering, and we all have to endure it. But for these children, it's their reality. And sitting in that theatre, watching these lives unfold, and finally finding out who might make it and who are doomed, after we've come to love them all unquestionably, is one of the most painful cinematic experiences I've ever had. A truly powerful documentary, and well worthy of its many accolades and awards.

โหมโรง (The Overture)
This fits squarely in the mold of Miramax films - middlebrow fare that purports to be arthouse but in reality is safe and unchallenging. It's a biopic of a famous Thai classical musician, and while it looks good, it ultimately treats him with too much reverence to be completely convincing. There's a central rivalry that leads to some entertaining musical showdowns, which provides opportunities for sharp edits and interesting shots. But here's also where our lack of knowledge about the classical Thai instrument in question shows up the sharpest - we really can't tell which mode of playing is more difficult, and as such, who is really the better player, even though the film makes a claim for one of them. There's also a portion of the film that takes place around World War II, and that really feels like an entirely different movie, for the themes never really tie together for both sections. One thing I wish I could've seen more of is when a father plays the ancient instrument and accompanies his son who's playing a piano, improvising as he listens to the Western tune. It's a beautiful, spontaneous moment of magic, and I wish there were more of such moments in the otherwise rather mediocre film.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Look Again

I don't usually do this, but these ads are pretty damn clever.

Hint: Click on the pictures to enlarge, and examine them closely.

Of course, it might also help to read this article (the picture links on the webpage are broken, though).

Guess Who WON'T Be Going to Korea?

On behalf of AFA selection board and staff, we would like to express our gratitude for your interest and enthusiasm in AFA. This year AFA is very fortunate to receive applications from numerous highly qualified young filmmakers from all over Asia. As much, the selection board had to make tough decisions to the last moment before they come up with a final list of AFA 2007 fellows.

Although you have a commendable capacity and enthusiasm regarding your film work, we deeply regret that we could not accommodate you this year and we ask of you a generous understanding and continuing interest in the success of AFA. We wish you the best with your endeavors in filmmaking as a much valued member of Asian Cinema.

PARK Sung Ho
Asian Film Academy (AFA) Foreign Communication
Pusan International Film Festival