Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am incredibly psyched for the 陳奕迅 (Eason Chan) concert, which takes place in 16 hours. It will be awesome, and so completely unlike his previous, rather cheap concert here.

Maraudin' March, Batgirl!

Things We Lost in the Fire
Halle Berry plays a role that's kind of like what she plays in every serious drama she takes on, where she looks real depressed and stumbles around aimlessly. Benicio Del Toro also does the same thing he does in every other drama, where he looks dirty and aimless and shuffles around, depressed. And so no matter what it's about, this indie drama feels like every other indie drama out there. Granted, it's not especially bad or poorly made, but neither is it outstanding - simply mediocre.

Fool's Gold
I think it's supposed to be an action-adventure/romantic comedy hybrid, but unfortunately it works on neither count. The action is yawn-inducingly boring, the romance is D.O.A., and the comedy is insistently unfunny. Not knowing how to balance the different aspects, the director (I don't even care who it is, and can't be bothered to look it up) simply decides to flip-flop between the tones whenever he wants, resulting in awkward, jarring shifts. Throw in smug, annoying performances by the leads and supporting cast alike, and a nonsensical script that's ruthlessly insulting, and you have a movie that sinks even before it leaves the port.

Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Hanks is very charismatic as the titular Charlie Wilson in this thoroughly enjoyable movie, working his charm on everyone in government to further his well-intentioned cause. If only Today in Parliament was half as entertaining (but then again, how can Singapore politicians stand against Mr. Hanks?). It all ends on a nice, darker and more sombre note as we reflect on the lessons of history and how no one seems to learn from them at all. Simplistic? Perhaps. But it doesn't make it any less entertaining, especially with a Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance that can only be described as "great fun".

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
When I first saw the shitty trailer, I vowed to stay away from the movie, as it appeared nothing more than an irritating kid-flick with an overly cute baby monster, sort of an inferior copy of E.T. (hey, that sounds like CJ7!) But after reading more about it, the many positive reviews changed my mind, and I gave it a shot. And I was glad, because this wasn't just a good kid movie, this was a good movie, period. There's surprising depth and maturity at work here in all the characters, and a good portion comes with setting the film smack in the middle of World War II. These characters have to deal with lots more on their mind besides a monster plaguing their loch, and it shows in every scene. The film shies away from the typical melodrama, relying on simple, honest emotion and subtlety (a real rarity in a kid movie) to tell a good tale very well indeed. If only it had a better title.

ヱヴァンゲリヲン 新劇場版: 序
(Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone)
I'm a fan of the Evangelion anime series, and watching this movie was like revisiting an old friend to find that he's changed. Not for better or worse, just changed - the beats remained similar, and there was nothing much that was fleshed out more. It was rather fun to try to pick out what had been changed - mostly in the form of the improved, breathtaking visuals. The pacing was stepped up, of course, since it compresses the series a little, but this was to its benefit, and there was still enough breathing room for the emotional beats. I'm not sure how good it'll seem if you've never seen the series, though, because there may not be enough time to get to know all the characters. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy anyway.

第一誡 (Rule #1)
Singapore director Kelvin Tong's latest effort starts off well enough and leads us through a good number of twists and turns. However, the more we're led down the path, the more we get the feeling that the twists serve no real purpose beyond fucking around with the audience, and this is especially true in the final reveal, which is beyond unfair - unlike The Sixth Sense, this one not only came out of left field, it didn't even play fair. Such a reveal should come with a devastating emotional resonance, but this raised barely a whimper, probably because we were already sick of it all. And the multitude of cheap scare tactics (sudden LOUD music cue! Again!) didn't help either. Tong's capable of better things.

Brick Lane
The pros of this film is that the leads are good. Kaushik delivers an unexpectedly layered performance in the seemingly stereotypical husband, and Chatterjee, playing his wife, also shows nice range and subtlety. This is, however, insufficient from saving the film, which constantly heads down the "been there, done that" path. No matter how it tries to avoid the typical melodrama, it isn't very much more than a rote, prettied-up immigrant drama.

밀양 (Secret Sunshine)
The lead actress Jeon Do-yeon carries this entire film on her scrawny shoulders, with her powerful central performance in a role tailor-made for Awards. In the film's 142-minute running time, she goes through so many highs and lows and extreme shifts, the audience is left exhausted watching her. The pacing is slow, granted, but narrative drive is always present, and we're taken on an emotional roller-coaster - if not a particularly enjoyable one. There are no answers in life, least of all from a non-existent God, no matter how much we want Him to be there.

Grace Is Gone
This is a film that's all about the performances as well, and the girls who play John Cusack's daughters do their job with almost scary perfection. Cusack also dials down his typical smart-alecky screen persona to convincingly portray an anguished everyman coming to terms with personal loss. Despite the temptations to stray into shitty melodrama territory, the film resists all such urges to deliver a simple, emotionally true and moving story that's well told.

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
What is it with horror films nowadays? When will directors learn that gore isn't scary in the least, that revolting doesn't mean shit when you've got a strong stomach like I do, when stupid music cues accompanying shock cuts just make people annoyed? Well, first-time director Bayona staunchly refuses to follow any of the current conventions, and instead produces a scary movie that is classy to the last frame. True, it's nothing that hasn't been done before, but Bayona is a meticulous student of the classics, and he emulates them exceedingly well, delivering on all the chills and jumps without resorting to cheap shocks. Additionally, lead actress Rueda provides a strong emotional core to anchor the film, and that human touch is what separates a good scary movie from a mediocre retread.

The Spiderwick Chronicles
How many mediocre kiddie fantasy movies adapted from books do we need to see before the trend will finally die? Perhaps a few more, as this movie and the Narnia crap show. The CGI, while passable enough, is hardly gasp-inducing after the deluge of such flicks, and the plotting is merely pedestrian, with no real sense of danger to the crises the characters face. What's good about it is that the characters have some actual depth, which is a nice surprise, and Freddie Highmore is good in his dual role. But apart from that, there's nothing really worth your time here.

Be Kind Rewind
If there's one thing Michel Gondry is good at, it's amazing low-tech visuals, and it's no different here, in a bizarre tale incorporating insanely detailed (but still low-tech) restagings of classic movies. In fact, some of these sequences are flat-out ingenious in their staging and camera movement. But cool visuals are no replacement for story, and the one that he tells here is both imaginative and sweet. Too bad the many story threads escape Gondry's control ultimately, but the finale is heartwarming nonetheless, and the overall experience is indie feel-good fuzzy.

Often, actors and directors find a groove they think they're good at, and insist on keeping at it, not realizing that they exhausted their original creativity after a couple of movies, and are simply churning out below-average product for the lowest common denominator masses. This seems to be the case with Will Ferrell, who keeps on slipping with each and every sports-themed comedy he takes on, and recycles his overgrown man-child schtick over and over again. Despite assembling a group of more than decent comedians, the movie's good for only a couple of chuckles here and there (even though the finale is entertaining enough), and everything else just feels tired and weak.

クローズ ZERO (Crows: Episode 0)
Takashi Miike is not a director who typically makes films for the masses, but here he is with a comic book adaptation and probably his most commercial flick. Still, no matter what he does, he always manages to put his own unique stamp on things, and this is no exception, with insane visuals and a rather twisted sense of humor. However, this doesn't make it any less uneven, and to be frank, I was rather bored for most of it. There's still action, rather amusing slapstick humor and a decently entertaining climax though, so it's not all bad.

Becoming Jane
Confession: I only went to this movie because I thought Angeline might like it, her being a Jane Austen fan and all. Unfortunately as it turned out, this is more like a bargain basement Jane Austen that insists on shoehorning the author into a story ridiculously similar to the ones she wrote. I didn't feel anything for any character, and honestly did not give a shit about anything that happened in this lackluster period romantic comedy that wasn't very funny at all. Actually I don't really remember anything at all, because I was sleeping through half the movie. But according to Angeline, I didn't miss much.

Charlie Bartlett
Yes, I know almost everyone views this as a shittier copy of Rushmore, but to be honest, I rather liked it - in fact I liked it a little more than Juno, because it lacks the "trying too hard to be quirky" dialogue Juno had. Facsimile of Rushmore aside, Yelchin is good in the title role, proving himself to be a more than decent young actor (along with his turn in Alpha Dog), and while it'll feel familiar to anyone who's seen teen coming-of-age comedies (and, well, Rushmore, apparently), it's still very entertaining. That's all the defense I'll give.

奪帥 (Fatal Move)
I had a horrible time at this movie. I was hoping it'd be an action-packed and yet not completely brainless flick, along the lines of SPL. Boy, was I wrong. It aims to be a crime epic like, oh, Johnnie To's Election films, but it fails spectacularly through plain bad writing and truly inexplicable, atrocious directorial choices. For example, ridiculous action scenes where people jump down like 5 stories without any injury. It's fine in a kungfu flick, but completely off the mark here. Honestly, it's worse than some student films, which is saying a lot. How can you justify multiple melodramatic flashbacks in an overlong finale that kill the pace in the hope of adding emotional heft to a scene, but which are good for no more than a slap on the forehead and sniggers? It's a train wreck, a painful and overlong train wreck that's a blight on the face of Hong Kong action cinema. Oh yes, Fatal Move indeed.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

In Brightest Day, in Darkest Knight...

I had a hell of a time trying to get tickets to The Dark Knight - pleading, begging and cajoling all my colleagues who'd successfully balloted for tickets to the gala preview (In an ironic turn, I'd failed to secure any for the movie I most wanted to see, even though I'd gotten tickets every single time I tried for previous, shittier movies like Speed Racer). Finally, though, my efforts paid off, and it was with nervous anticipation that I sat in the theatre last Tuesday night (yep, on the 15th), waiting for the movie to start, wearing my new Bat-logo movie tie-in FCUK T-shirt.

I can't write better about the movie than tons of other people already have, since I didn't start writing this earlier. Suffice to say that my expectations had been sky-high, and yet it managed to surpass all of them, leaving them trailing in the wind like yesterday's laundry.

I expected a decent superhero movie, because, well, let's face it, Batman Begins is pretty hard to top. I got a crime epic that escalated to involve the humanity of an entire city. I expected a smart script, maybe not quite up to the mindfuckery that was Memento, but at least along the lines of The Prestige. I got a dense tome with layers upon layers of depth, twists and turns, reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy. I expected good performances. I got a mind-blowing portrayal of The Joker from Heath Ledger, perhaps the best screen performance of a villain ever. I expected to cry. I did so, more than once. I expected to feel thrilled at the end of it all. I ended up having no strength to do anything but sit there and soak in the entire experience.

There's no doubt about it. The Dark Knight is the Movie of the Year. Wall-E might come close, but there's no real competition in my heart. Not with a character that I've loved for almost 20 years. Plus, it's got a really sweet poster campaign. Now, to watch it in Imax... when's that coming out here?