Thursday, June 24, 2004

'13 going on 30' film review

Saw this movie last night. Saw the trailer a couple of times on other movies' DVDs and thought I'd give it a try. What a surprise it was. I was expecting some kind of dumb comedy, as the trailer surely presented it as one. But it's quite a pleasant little movie. The story, in capsule, is about a 13 year old girl who on her 13th birthday wished she was 30 (Why 30, you ask? Because before that she read an article in a Cleo-like magazine titled "Thirty, flirty and..." something, which was kind of funny). The next thing she knows she woke up as a 30 year old.

The movie could've easily played with this fish-out-of-water situation to comic effect, but surprisingly, after about 20 plus mostly unfunny opening minutes, it settles into a romantic drama mode, with some serious meditation on the kind of values that we young people of today have practically forgotten. What other recent adult or teen movie has its main character saying this to her mom, "I'm sorry I missed last year's Christmas"? With all us young people striving to be more and more 'independent', some of us HAVE neglected to realise the importance and value of family. The importance of being decent human beings towards each other, and even other people. These are only some of the things that this nice little film took the time to let us ponder about.

Yes, it doesn't 'flag' these things or say them out loud, but they're definitely there, if only you'd care enough to look. I won't go so far as to pronounce it as a 'very good' film. But a 'good' film it certainly is. The director, Gary Winick (of Tadpole, which I haven't seen), nails most of the film just right, except for the opening 15 to 20 minutes when the film can't seem to decide what it wants to be.

But the biggest plaudits must go to the 2 lead actors, Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. They just have such a fantastic chemistry together. And they acted out their parts wonderfully, especially Ruffalo. I've been impressed with this guy ever since I saw 'You Can Count On Me'. Which now, come to think of it, the latter part of this film, i.e. after the opening 15 to 20 minutes, definitely has a similar tone to You Can Count On Me.

Closing statement? I came in expecting a dumb comedy of sporadic entertainment. I left feeling entertained and at the same time feeling that it's money worth spending. I also felt glad that I saw it. At least it made me think about a few things that I might have taken for granted before. (7 out of 10)

Monday, June 21, 2004

fringe directors

I saw 3 new films by people I'd call 'fringe directors', i.e. directors who have never really been given much attention in critical circles. Some of these directors make decent box office, some don't even have a good box office record. Examples from the past would be people like Jacques Tourneur, Samuel Fuller, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Aldrich, Nicholas Ray (at least not until Cahiers Du Cinema started giving them the ink they deserve) and many others. So here are the films reviewed.

Directed by David Twohy. I'm sad to say that of all the David Twohy films that I've seen, this is surely the weakest. It is quite simply incomprehensible. I've been an admirer of his ever since I saw Pitch Black and The Arrival, both are films with lean and mean scripts, executed with such dogged determination that they become elegantly intelligent cinema despite the genre limitations. Even the submarine flick, Below, was a unique genre picture. But Riddick, I think, is a victim of a big budget and probably the director's own ambition to craft his own space opera in the vein of Star Wars. The surprise success of Pitch Black surely convinced the Universal executives to greenlight this grand project, that is as ambitious as Lord Of The Rings, in its attempt to create a universe all its own. But LOTR had a legendary book as its source, and millions of devotees who'd already known that world beforehand. To try and do it with only a little seen film (Pitch Black) as a source is simply too ambitious for its own good. Somewhere within the first 10 minutes of the film is a scene that people who hasn't seen Pitch Black will find difficult to understand. Hell, even the whole story about Jack/Kyra will baffle those who've never seen Pitch Black. I won't even try to sum up the story for you, as it is pretty bewildering even for a Pitch Black fanboy like me. Let's just hope that he gets a chance to correct this with another instalment in the story of Riddick. (5 out of 10)

Directed by Renny Harlin. Do you like Renny Harlin? I think I do. At least I've enjoyed most of his films, except for Driven, which was kind of bad. But Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and most of all Deep Blue Sea, I enjoyed a lot. So here comes a new film, starring some pretty young things plus Christian Slater, Val Kilmer and LL Cool J. It's about a group of trainee FBI profilers sent for training on an island where they discover that they're being hunted and killed and need to figure out who the killer is pronto!! It's a fairly simple and predictable premise, but it sure does kick a lot of ass doing it. There are some very imaginative death scenes worthy of the first Final Destination. And the final showdown employs the already done to death Matrix-style bullet time effect, except here it seems logical and will blow your mind away!! And be prepared too, cause Renny just loves pulling a Deep Blue Sea on us viewers (remember how Samuel L Jackson was one of the first ones who died and surprised the hell out of us in Deep Blue Sea?). So folks, just turn your logic brains off and enjoy a spectacular ride, courtesy of Mr Harlin. (7 out of 10)

Directed by Matthew Bright, who previously did Freeway, Freeway 2, and Bundy. I read that the director disowned this film when it played at Sundance, as he claimed that he was fired by the producers after shooting wrapped and never got to finish the film. I loved his previous films for being fearless and inventive in playing with the themes they're tackling. Freeway was basically a modern retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, and Freeway 2 was a modern retelling of Hansel & Gretel. They're thematically audacious films with scenes that will disturb your mind long after you've seen them. I was very surprised with this film because of its gentle spirit. It's about Steven (Matthew McConaughey) who's in a serious relationship with Kate Beckinsale, who's now pregnant with his baby. What she doesn't know is that Steven has a twin brother named Rolfe (Gary Oldman) who's a dwarf, and that his parents are also dwarves. This is a romantic drama, with a little bit of comedy thrown in, so I was very relieved that the obligatory 'crisis' among the lovebirds does not involve the girl being freaked out, then breaking off the relationship, and finally learning that dwarves are humans too. That would've made me turn off the movie in a heartbeat. But the 'crisis' is with Steven, who grew up amongst the 'little people', and knows first hand what that would entail, mentally and physically. Yes, the screenplay sometimes feel like a class in understanding the basic things about dwarves, but I think as a whole, the script is sensibly written, and the direction wonderfully direct. The film moves to logical and sensible conclusions, and has a generosity of spirit that I think is quite rare today. This film was totally trashed by the Sundance crowd, but I understand why. It is not 'hip', nowhere near 'edgy', it is just a simple story well told. But I love it. And I think this is Matthew Bright's brightest moment yet (excuse the pun!). I saw it yesterday and it definitely made my day. You should too. (8 out of 10)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

merry christmas mr zwigoff - 'bad santa' film review

After such a long wait, I finally got to see this film i.e. Peter the Pirate has finally got hold of a copy of its DVD!! Thank god they got it, for this film, along with Matchstick Men, The Station Agent, Mystic River, PTU and a few others I can't list off the top of my head, is certainly one of the best films of last year.

But no, don't run yet. This is in no way a 'slow' movie. Unless you're so PC you get easily offended in case someone says "fuck-stick" or "cocksucker", this movie will entertain you in ways you can't possibly imagine. The script, I simply can't praise enough. It's very, very vulgar, yes. But I howled so much with laughter, I sometimes feel ashamed of myself for doing it. You can't even count how many times the word 'fuck' is used in the film. I assure you, you'll lose count after 10 minutes or so into the film. And what they do with the characters is simply fearless. Lauren Graham (the hot mom in Gilmore Girls, and FYI, is still HOT here), for example plays a bartender who has a Santa fetish that when she shags Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), she makes him wear his Santa hat whilst screaming "Fuck me Santa! Fuck me Santa!" repeatedly!! Santa himself does so many outrageous things, you'll be wondering why in the hell do you think all these things are funny. Example? Well, he tends to piss his pants quite a lot. I know, is that funny? Well wait till you see the movie and then you tell me.

So some of the stars you already know. The director is Terry Zwigoff (of 'Crumb' and 'Ghost World' fame). The script is by the guys who last wrote 'Cats & Dogs'. I know!! Cats & Dogs!! But this one's so good, I'm already tempted to see 'Cats & Dogs' again just to see what I've missed.

The story? It's about 2 criminals whose M.O. every year is to pose as Santa and one of his elves in a department store and then rob it when everyone goes home for the holidays. Santa then encounters one troubled kid who may or may not teach him a thing or two about Christmas. So the story sounds normal enough. But believe me, even the most potentially cliched things, like what makes the kid so troubled and fucked up, is presented with humility, freshness and surprise without a single ounce of the schmaltz we've come to expect from movies of this kind. For me this film is truly a perfect example of when "art" and "commerce" goes hand in hand in perfect complement of each other.

I loved every single thing about the movie. It may be, for the most part, 'mean-spirited' or 'nasty' or 'vulgar', but just when you are about to make up your mind on that, it reveals its spirit and its humanity to you. And you'll love it more after that.
I can't recommend this film high enough. But do yourself a favour and see it. A fucked up darling, that's what I'd call it. (9 out of 10 stars)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

'miracle' film review

Saw the film "Miracle", of all things, last night. I know. A lot of you must be scratching your heads, asking, why? It's a Disney movie, so that's usually not a good sign. It's a sports movie, another worrying sign. That's why I was wary at first too. But I read somewhere that this film's getting a 2-disc DVD release. It's not a huge money maker like LXG, or Bad Boys 2, or T3. It's not a critically acclaimed film like Pulp Fiction or anything like that. So there must be something special about it to warrant a release like that. So I checked it out.

First of all, the director is Gavin O Connor, who last did the film 'Tumbleweeds'. And the lead actor is Kurt Russell, who gives a fantastic performance that should've at least won him some sort of acting nomination. I'm not sure what year this film is released in, but if it's 2004, I hope he gets an acting nod in the next Oscars. It would be a shame if he didn't.

The story? It's about the miraculous feat of the 1980 USA Olympics Ice Hockey team beating the Soviets in the semi-finals and later winning the gold. Smell the cheese anyone? I can definitely tell you one thing, this film is so unhip, it hurts. But you'll be surprised how good it is if you see it.

First of all, I think the filmmakers did a little bit of pre-flashing on the negative of the film before shooting because the film has this very authentic washed out look of the late 70s and early 80s films. Sometimes the colours look normal, but more often than not, this muted look is what you'll get. There are no fancy camera moves, but plenty of handheld ones to make it a bit more realistic. I definitely like the 'look' of the film.

The most surprising thing is that the films chose to focus on the coach, Herb (played by Kurt Russell). The players are all young, good looking guys, but the film chose to not dwell in who they are, or what their problems are, thus evading cliches like winning the final = winning back girlfriend, or winning the final = proving to everyone that you're not a dweeb, or winning the final = getting money to fund your terminally ill little brother's operation. Another ballsy move by the filmmakers.

The next thing is, THERE ARE NO VILLAINS!! The Soviet players are not bad guys (in any sense of the word, be it bullies or whatever), they are just another opponent. Even the hysteria (and political and emotional weight) surrounding the US team's dream run to the Gold medal is played down. It is strictly about the coach, and his obsession to build a TEAM. And that's it. If you ask me, that is pretty radical and ballsy in films like this.

You can even say that this film is actually a sort of character study on the coach, which I think is brilliantly done, because he is NEVER presented as a hero. He's obsessed with getting what he wants, can be very insensitive (even to his wife!!), and even downright cruel. You do get a well rounded character here, and as I said before, Kurt Russell is amazing here. You believe him 100%. The film IS centered around him and he carries it effortlessly.

My only complaints are the over-enthusiastic score, the little bit more effort that could be made to acquaint us with the players, and the sometimes pedestrian cinematography, especially during the training and the hockey games.

But all in all, a good movie with a fantastic performance that's worth checking out. 3 out of 4 stars.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

public private wish

Sorry folks, someone's away and can't check their email, so this should've been private message is going public. Yeah, baby!! Yeah!!

My DVD wish list:

1. The Adventures of Antoine Doinel Box Set.
2. Beauty and the Beast (Black & White film, NOT the cartoon version)
3. Tokyo Story
4. Shock Corridor
5. The Naked Kiss
6. Pickup On South Street
7. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul
8. Mr Hulot's Holiday
9. Mon Oncle
10. Band of Outsiders
11. Down By Law

1. Shadows
2. Faces
3. Husbands
4. Minnie & Moskowitz
5. A Woman Under The Influence
6. Gloria (NOT the one starring Sharon Stone. This one stars Gena Rowlands)
7. Opening Night
8. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
9. Love Streams

1. Waking Life (it's an animated movie)
2. Fat City (directed by John Huston, starring Stacy Keach)
3. Divine Intervention (Palestinian film, directed by Elia Sulaiman)
4. American Movie (a documentary directed by Chris Smith)

My CD wish list:

1. GUIDED BY VOICES - Do The Collapse
2. CANDY BUTCHERS - Hang On Mike
3. CANDY BUTCHERS - Play With Your Head
3. SUGARBOMB - Bully

That's all, love. I doubt you'll find even one of the titles I listed above but, should you find more than one, I'll leave it up to you to pick out which one (or 2, or 3, or more!! He he!!) You know better when it comes to budgeting. Anyway, take care over there and buy me lots of stuff from this wish list!!! Ta!

BTW guys, that's the end of the private message right there. So if any of youse guys have some spare cash and want to buy me something, just look at the list above. I look forward to receiving some nice gifts from admiring fans. Ta!!

good morning lucy - 50 first dates review

I saw 50 First Dates last night on DVD. Wasn't able to catch it while it was playing in the cinema. I was expecting something like The Wedding Singer, but I've never expected it would be this good. In a better world, critics would be raving about this movie. But since it's an Adam Sandler movie, with a kind of journeyman director, Peter Segal, it will never get the credit it deserves.

I laughed a lot. Smiled a lot. Felt pretty warm and lovey-dovey inside. And was quite surprised to see the way the director handled the movie. He's restrained when he has to, especially during the ending, which could've easily been silly or overtly soppy. And his timing for the gross-out jokes was fantastic too. Even the scene transitions are sometimes startingly creative.

There's a tender quality to the film that will surprise a lot of people. Sandler and Barrymore shares this incredible on screen chemistry, so much so that you wholeheartedly believe that they're in love, despite the far-fetched premise of 1 day short-term memory loss. The guy who plays Barrymore's dad too has this wonderful humanity to him, that you can't help but care for these people. In short, they do look and feel like real people. It's not easy to find this humanity in films, let alone a mainstream romantic comedy.

And who can forget Ula (Rob Schneider) and Sean Astin as Barrymore's brother. Sure, they're caricatures of very obvious types. So you can sometimes spot the jokes from a mile away. But they'll still make you laugh. Now isn't that a sign of a successful joke, dumb or not? I sometimes pity those so called 'intellectual' people with supposedly better 'taste' in art who prefer 'intelligent' British comedy like the Monthy Python guys or Black Adder, or things like that. I really fail to see what's so 'intelligent' with that. They're still dumb jokes. Only delivered with a British accent, that's all. You call that 'wit'? I don't think so. Anyway, I'll talk more about this later.

Back to the film, if this was a French movie, I think it will get a lot more respect from critics and casual audiences simply because it's French, and foreign language movies are always 'classier'.

I just loved it. I might analyse films a bit too much (technically or artistically) when I see them. But still my response to them are always in a 'visceral' way instead of 'intellectually'. I simply want to believe, be moved, and be dazzled by the craft. You see the chronology? Believe first, moved second, and craft last. Film rating? 7 and a half out of 10. Go see it folks if you haven't. It's simply marvellous.

Monday, June 07, 2004

weekend fun vol. 2 - gig mania

Went to a gig last Saturday. Malay language songs only. Naturally, I had to check it out and see what sort of bands and sounds would be there. I only know 3 of the bands playing. But things like this don't happen much, so what the heck. Guess what, it turned out to be quite an entertaining experience, although 'entertaining' sometimes can be interpreted in an unusual, or different context. Example, William Hung - entertaining? Hell yes!!! Good? I don't think so. So there's quite a few moments like that during the gig.

The funniest part? One of the bands had a 'backing vocalist', who held the mic as if he's the lead singer, seemed very clueless throughout their entire set (this even though he was reading from a lyric sheet most of the time), and couldn't hit the right notes even if his life depended on it!! Damn, that WAS funny. You know what, the band even had the balls to play their own songs, one of which sounds uncannily like Creep by Radiohead, except with Malay lyrics, and they were howling the melodies so madly, it kind of turned into a guilty pleasure, he he!! I hope Thom Yorke never gets the chance to hear it, otherwise a lawsuit would be quite possible. He he, sorry guys!!

Then there's the fantastic pleasure of hearing quite a few decent Indo-rock songs being butchered. That was surreal too. There's even a metal band with a singer who shrieks as if he's the lead singer of Helloween or Iron Maiden!! Boy, you guys sure missed a lot by missing the gig.

All in, I think there were only 2 good, worthwhile bands that night. One was Nadia's Picture Show. Sure, they're as Indo sounding as they come, but they look good on stage, they're tight, a killer lead guitarist, and some of the songs do sound great. I even bought their demo, but I have to admit, the songs sound much better live than on CD. I just hope the lead singer will work on hitting the high notes as sometimes he did seem to struggle too much with it. But this band could be huge if they play their cards right.

The other band was D_va. I know, kinda cheesy name. But their original songs are quite a delight, especially "Sentiasa". That will surely be a hit if they get signed.

Then there's this band called Ratu. An old friend of mine plays bass with them. The singer's girlfriend just signed with Broadway Entertainment, so Mr Boon Tan was there to see them play. Their songs are not bad, but I just thought that they tried too hard to impress that night. But you girls are gonna love their lead singer. Blonde hair, good looking, with some sense of style, he's definitely got the package. Can't say the same for his bandmates though. Cowboy hats, the pub band look. Whew, I thought my band was bad!! I know, naughty!! Sorry guys!! I hope you never read this!!

Had dinner with the D_va guys. Boon Tan joined us as well. I think it's quite enlightening and refreshing to hang out with a bunch of people who have no qualms about signing with a record label, as opposed to the normal 'underground' types. The D_va guys seemed alright. But the Ratu guys kinda of worries me cause they seem too eager to sign, which is always a bad sign, as you're never going to think straight when you're too into something. But what the hell, they might even be making lots of dough and groupies by next year. Who knows?

The lowdown? It was quite an experience. I just felt sad that not even one of the hipster Malaise or KLUE gang was there. Goes to show how 'united' our local non-mainstream scene is.

weekend fun vol. 1 - movie mania

Watched shitload of movies last week. Will do a capsule review of each one for your reference. Here we go!!

Bought this DVD a long time ago but finally saw it, as I was really bored out of my mind. I really had high hopes for this, having heard all the hype and having already liked Sofia Coppola's debut, The Virgin Suicides. But sadly, I think this is a very empty movie. It's just full of pretty images of mainly the 2 leads moping around looking bored and 'lost'. But that's about it. It's pretty funny at times. But I just think that it's got no soul. Shame, really. Overrated dross for hipsters to love...

Directed by Rainer Weiner Fassbinder and part of the BRD trilogy. Another very 'cold' movie. It's impossibly gorgeous to look at though. The black and white cinematography, and the scene transitions are absolutely stunning. The only problem is that I never 'cared' for the characters. The story is interesting enough, a kind of remake of Sunset Boulevard, but I think the script should be worked on more.

Lined up for about an hour to get tickets for this. I like it. The direction by Alfonso Cuaron is way more imaginative than Chris Colombus'. But 'darker' doesn't necessarily equals great, so I'd have to say that as a whole, I still find the first H. Potter movie the most special one. I can return to it as many times as I want and still not get bored. It doesn't mean that this movie blows, not by any chance is it that. I'd give it 7 out of 10 stars, which means it's very good, maybe even great, but not near 'special' enough. Please, go see it anyway. The time turner set-piece is absolutely awesome. Well done, Mr Cuaron.

Awesome destruction, characters you care about, involving stories, but it kinda withers a bit near the end. A very good popcorn movie nonetheless. Definitely worth your money and time.

Nicolas Cage's directorial debut, and it's surprisingly sad and affectionate. The story has been told many times before. A gigolo wants to go straight. Only, the 'madame' is his own mother. But the script works out plenty amounts of tenderness, anguish and frustration. And the direction is usually non-intrusive, which suits the material well. There's only one very dodgily shot scene, the only one where I think Mr Cage made an error of judgment. But the rest is pretty easy to like. And the performances, especially by Harry Dean Stanton, are pretty good too. So go look it up folks. It's definitely not the best of films. Has quite a few flaws too. But I kind of love the sloppy, affectionate tone of it. Rating? 7/10. Kind of special, but flawed.

Bloody brilliant political thriller by David Mamet, the master of cinematic mind games. Someone's daughter (the President? The movie never confirms who) went missing, and the CIA, Secret Service etc are out to look for her. That's the whole plot right there. But it's beautifully told, complete with twists and turns and even political conspiracy and paranoia. Should've been a hit. Exciting from start to finish. It's a pity Warner Bros. didn't really go all out with promoting it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

random musings and being a fool

I've been naughty last weekend. Went to Tower Records KL and found this wonderful bargain bin full of Tower Singapore "write-off" CDs for RM9.90 each. Haven't been this excited since I rummaged through Notting Hill Gate's Music Exchange bargain basements practically every day of the week when I was studying in London.

Bought a few CDs too. I found some long-desired CDs that I simply couldn't afford (or couldn't find) when they first came out. Bought the album Sparking Ray Gun by MARS NEEDS WOMEN. Always read about them in power pop 'zines but have never seen their CD before. Now I got it, for RM9.90!!! Not really a big deal. Pretty good Enuff Znuff & Cheap Trick inspired power pop, which means it rocks and kicks your ass big time. Maybe I need more time to get acquainted with them.

Also got Mock Heroic by ADMIRAL TWIN. Now this I like. Reminds me of people like Brian Leach, Weird Summer, Sugarbuzz and maybe some Swirl 360. Adult power pop, if you want to call it that. It maybe is a little bit over-produced, since it is on a major label, but there are some totally irresistible songs on it that I keep on playing like mad, like "Better Than Nothing At All". Keeps me smiling even though I've been rather glum lately cause I miss my baby....

Then there's WESTON and their major label debut. They were from this time when the American punk underground were charmed by a select group of bands like Discount and Sicko, who merged pop-punk with a little bit of indie-rock a la Superchunk. I expected more of the same at first. But when I put this CD on I was absolutely stunned, because this CD strongly reminds me of Jimmy Eat World's masterwork, their album titled "Clarity". It's truly a wonder why this album, or this band for that matter, are rarely mentioned by emo fans today. They're not as musically proficient as J.E.W but they're pretty close!!! I've always had a soft spot for pop punk and emo, so I'm sure this CD will be popped into the CD player quite often.

And last but not least, the gold mine, the holy grail, is the self titled CD by THE WAKING HOURS. When this came out, people in the power pop fraternity were raving and drooling all over this band. But their CD was only available on Import, and cost about GBP18.99 so I really couldn't afford it. What a fool I've been for this CD is almost EXACTLY what I currently want to achieve with my band, 'couple'. It is the most perfect, awesome and jaw dropping blend of American power pop and Britpop I've ever heard. Just imagine The Shazam, The Heartdrops and Phantom Planet all rolled into one perfect combination. It kicks ass, it makes you smile, it makes you go all gooey, it has everything for every mood. They just released a new CD independently and you can bet my ass I'm gonna get it. Hallelujah!!! What a fool, huh? What a fool...

You may probably be wondering by now, when the hell will this smart-ass write about the cinema, like he said he would. Well, my wonderful flock of sheep, all I can say is, patience.... Have some patience. Teacher's not in the mood yet to talk about the cinema. But worry not, teacher will....