Wednesday, November 28, 2007

October's Occupations Part One

Balls of Fury
Starring a poor man's Jack Black, it doesn't really come alive until Christopher Walken shows up. Mildly entertaining, if mostly for Walken's completely bizarre performance that's part drag queen, part mafia boss, and all crazy. Oh yes, and old blind Chinese masters are usually amusing, the P.C. police be damned.

太陽照常升起 (The Sun Also Rises)
Made up of three interconnected segments that build upon one another and gradually add depth to all the characters and circumstances. It starts off rather weakly, but by the end, there is a real richness to everything that's very satisfying.

Competent enough creepy buildup, but hurtles over the top once the kid is confirmed to be Pure Evil, and everyone starts getting hysterical. This shatters the credibility of the promising premise, and flushes everything right that's gone before down the toilet.

真相 (Truth Be Told)
The filmmakers poured their life savings into making this movie, a purported mystery set in a poor neighborhood. They also posted promo emails to mailing groups, saying "This might not be the best movie ever made, but it is definitely a Singaporean movie with heart. Passion, hardwork and persistence drive this movie. If we can help bring hope to low-income residents, you can help bring hope to Singapore Independent Filmmaking. Let's pack the halls this weekend and show the nation that we care about the aging population and we care about Singapore's independent filmmaking."

Unfortunately, what they forgot to do was make sure they had a good script to begin with. Passion, hard work and persistence may drive this movie, but they sure as hell can't save it from becoming a well-intentioned drag packed with old clichés from bad TV dramas, clunky dialogue and awful camerawork. It's really too bad that Singapore Independent Filmmaking stands for shoddy work in all departments, fueled by delusions of grandeur. And it's also rather sad that this is all they have to show for their life savings.

Дневной дозор (Day Watch)
It's loud, noisy and flashy... but strangely compelling, and ties up the previous movie nicely. Perhaps a little too nicely though, for it's hard to imagine where they can go for the third. Overall, it's a passable way to spend your time.

Shoot 'Em Up
Don't believe the synopsis, ain't nothin' gritty about this live-action cartoon. Each outlandish action sequence seeks to top the one before, and it's all gleefully tongue-in-cheek and loads of ridiculous fun. For the record, I liked it better than Crank. You'll never look at a carrot the same way again.

The Dead Girl
Absolutely stunning. The individual segments build upon and enrich one another, leading up to the inevitably tragic and hauntingly sad finale. I know it sounds like The Sun Also Rises in that sense, but this does it loads better right off the bat. Fantastic performances all round, with not one false note. Undoubtedly, one of the best films of the year.

그놈 목소리 (Voice of a Murderer)
It's hard to feel sympathy for a fat, whiny kid, even if horrible things do happen to him. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, the lead actor turns in a strong performance, convincing in his deterioration from arrogance to despair, but the supporting cast is considerably weaker. The film is also given to the strange Korean sense of humor that doesn't really work for other audiences, as well as poor pacing in the middle segment (a common problem for Korean movies in general) and repetitiveness of setups. It ends strongly with the unexpected addition of a real-life element, but by then, it's a little too late.

A lengthy bore that goes nowhere at a glacial pace. It's a real shame too, since I always love Laura Linney, and the director's previous film Lantana was very good. I wish I'd fallen asleep, but unfortunately I was well-rested that day and so didn't miss a single minute. Too bad for me.

Итальянец (The Italian)
Strong lead performance by an amazingly cute little kid, but there's a niggling feeling that the supposedly horrible conditions in the orphanage aren't quite horrible enough. There's also an overall lack of urgency, as well as a strong sense that the kid is never in any actual peril throughout the film, which makes it lose some credibility. The supporting performances are also mostly weak, but on the whole, it's engaging enough.


Yet Another Reason to Be Ashamed of Singapore

This makes kittens cry and puppies drown themselves. It's by far the most horrifying thing I've seen all year.

You have been warned.

Addendum: Thanks to Angeline (and Mr. Brown), who pointed out that the chorus was plagiarized from this. Which isn't even that good in the first place.

How deeply ironic! Lovely.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


So I was downstairs having a beer and a cigarette and generally minding my own business, when all of a sudden I notice some movement out of the corner of my eye.

And a rat sneakily (well, it was attempting to be sneaky) crawled across the floor and out into the backyard. It wasn't huge, as rats go, but still.

For a split second, I had a mental image of it cooking me up a simple, homely Italian dish which would bring back warm memories of childhood. Then I realized that this was real life and not a Pixar animation, and it would more likely give me the Black Plague than cook me ratatouille, and went, "Fuck."

I need to get me some rat traps, pronto.

Monday, November 05, 2007

September's Screenings

Sigh. Seeing as it's now November, I'd better get my September movies out of the way before attempting to blog about anything else.

Jesus Camp
I really want to like this documentary, especially since Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians rank way up there on my hate list. The message is timely, with the rising power of the religious right even in Singapore, but the delivery could've been so much better. The Deluded Ones do a great job of discrediting themselves just by stating their opinions, and so the role of the radio deejay warning us of their dangers becomes redundant. In fact, in the second half of the movie, he becomes positively strident, lending little credibility to the film's argument. Basically we got all the points the filmmakers wanted to make about 30 minutes in, and the rest is just repetition. So, sadly, I agree totally with the opinions of the filmmakers, but I don't think it's a good documentary at all.

Ghosts (鬼佬)
Stunning docudrama that follows the lives of a bunch of Chinese illegal immigrants in the UK, before all save one of them perish in a tragic accident. Their eventual fate is no secret, and it hangs over the entire movie, infusing even seemingly light-hearted scenes with sorrow. Excellent performances all round from the non-professional cast, and every character is drawn clearly and given rounded personalities, making you feel for every single person, even the initially unappealing ones.

The Home Song Stories (意)
No real surprises in this film, except the nice revelation that Qi Yuwu can actually act, and he actually acts better in Cantonese than in Mandarin. Joan Chen plays a role that can easily slip into annoying neediness and screaming fits, and it's to her credit that she lifts the character above all these stock conventions. It all ends on an unexpectedly poignant note that probably makes me like it more than I should.

No Reservations
Commercial, calculated fluff. 'Nuff said. Although I think I liked it better than the German original - gasp! Sacrilege!

I already knew how screwed up the US health system was, but to hear all these horror stories from the victims' mouths was really a rather intense experience. It also made me think about Singapore's health system and realize that I'd much rather pay higher taxes if I have the assurance that at least I will never go bankrupt from paying medical fees. Which means I should probably migrate to the UK or France. Yes, I realize also that Moore is probably omitting some facts that I should know about, but still, it does sound tempting, doesn't it?

Quirky comedy that feels part sitcom, part fable - with a whole lot of heart. A thoroughly enjoyable time at the movies, and it's a real tragedy that we'll never see anything else from writer/director/actress Adrienne Shelly, who was the victim of a colossally stupid, pointless murder.

The Invasion
It would be nice to someday see director Oliver Hirschbiegel's original vision for this film, before it was taken and shat upon by the Wachowski Brothers and James McTeigue. Possibly it would have been more psychological, more intense, more chilling. Instead what we are left with is explosions and pointless, unexciting action sequences. Although I must admit, I do like the interesting use of flash-forwards in the editing.

Azur et Asmar (Azur and Asmar)
Decently-told fable, with a weird-looking animation style that suits the story but is not entirely appealing to my tastes. I felt like a kid again in the theatre, reading a story from a large-print picture-book. Which was nice.

I can't say anything more about this here movie than has already been said. Suffice to say that Pixar has done it once again - no surprise there. I'd also like to mention that I saw this with my Mom. Aww!

Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror
We finally get the second part of Grindhouse. This is the absolute perfect zombie splatter flick. Firmly tongue-in-cheek, bloody as hell, vulgar as hell, and funny as hell. A fucking awesome time at the movies. Except that the distributors scammed us out of the fake trailers that were supposed to run before the movie. I was pissed, but the sheer ridiculousness and fun of the whole situation managed to appease me quickly. I was giggling like a schoolgirl - which is a good thing.

The Nanny Diaries
This is, again, a chick flick that's pure fluff. Even Scarlett Johanssan isn't quite as hot as she usually is. The saving grace is Laura Linney, who transcends the stock character she plays (as she is wont to do) to give us a touching portrait of someone who may be a rich bitch, but who's painfully human as well.

Savage Grace
Julianne Moore meanders pointlessly through this utterly pointless, toothless and drama-less melodrama. Episodic incidents, which I hate, are seemingly arbitrarily thrown together. Scenes pop up with dates that mean nothing. The promise of debauched sex is left unfulfilled. The only scene that got me squirming a little was the much-mentioned incest scene, but all it made me feel was great relief that I'd refused to watch it with my Mom.