Thursday, April 29, 2010

The day the taxmen cometh today...

Hello folks, remember to file in your income tax statements in person at the income tax offices relevant to you or simply go online and the whole process gets done within minutes from the comfort of your seat -- be it at home, at work or at wi-fi enabled "hotspots". Deadline for filing income tax information is today!

Cheers
FD

Saturday, March 6, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

MOVIE REVIEW

By FRANCIS DASS




PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF
Directed by Chris Columbus (also director of Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets)
Starring Logan Lerman, Brando T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Melina Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Julian Richings

This lightweight teeny-bopperish film is suitably, well, lightweight. The first of a few films to come our way under the Percy Jackson and The Olympians tag, this one sees magic, mayhem and modernity all sitting pretty next to one another.

The Greek gods are seen presiding over humanity and, sometimes, coupling with humans and creating demigods in the process (yup, like in the good old mythical days!), and on the other you have the humans living oblivious to the existence of these supernatural entities and their powerful offsprings amongst them.

Like all films targeted at teens today, the film is spot on in the crucial looks department -- both that of its cast as well as the realistic rendition of special effects.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon and his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is actually a myhthical beast assigned to guard him.

When Zeus' (Sean Bean) thunder is stolen -- ok, ok, it will sound a lot better (and not make Zeus seem like a petty loser) if we say that Zeus' favourite mother-of-all-lightning-bolt is stolen, the Greecian chief god confronts Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and accuses his son Percy of having stolen the bolt of lightning. Harsh words are exchanged and deadlines delivered for the return of this weapon of destruction.

This forces Percy's teacher Mr Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), mother Sally Jackson (Catherine Keener) and Grover to rush him over to a special school for demi-gods so that the young lad would be safe and prove his innocence.

At this school for demigods, he befriends the attractive Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who is the daughter of Athena (Melina Kanakaredes) and Luke (Jake Abel).

Hades (the funny Steve Coogan) also wants the lightning bolt so that he can dethrone Zeus and take over. This results in Hades capturing Sally and taking her to the underworld.

As Percy springs into action to save his mother and prove his innocence. a whole lot of magical creatures are unleashed. If you like your sword and sandal movies with heaps of magic and cute young actors and actresses in the lead, then this is the perfect movie for you.

In this film, the adults gamely play second fiddle to the cast of young ones. It's obvious everyone working on this film is seriously hoping the Percy Jackson films will be a gigantic franchise!

Also on the plus side, it is hilarious to see the ultra flirty Persephone (Rosario Dawson) who is Hades' companion and the super-campy Medusa (Uma Thurman) hamming it up on the big screen.

This harmless movie, where everything ends happily-ever-after, is a nice antidote to a stressful day at school or work!

Friday, March 5, 2010

MOVIE REVIEWS: LITTLE BIG SOLDIER AND THE BOOK OF ELI

Movie reviews

By FRANCIS DASS




LITTLE BIG SOLDIER
Directed by Sheng Ding
Starring Jackie Chan, Wang Lee Hom, Steven Yoo Seung-jun, Lin Peng

As far as I can see, Little Big Soldier is a movie that marks a dramatic shift in Hong Kong filmmaking. Having watched quite a number of Hong Kong flicks, this is probably the first time that the former British colony has produced a legitimate buddy-movie, and set in a period piece too!

The film, like all Chinese films do, glorifies ancient Chinese history and transports the audience to a period when a battle is waged by the Qin and Liang factions centuries ago.

Jackie Chan plays a lowly soldier from the Liang side and in the opposite camp there is Wang Lee Hom who is the general from the Qin faction. The movie begins with the duo being the only two survivors of a bloody battle where everyone on both sides are practically mutually massacred. Jackie's character survives by feigning death with a trick arrow while Lee Hom's General barely survives, being badly wounded in battle. As Jackie's character (he is nameless in the film and is not interested in war) takes the general hostage for the purpose of collecting a reward and owning his own plot of farm land, an-initially-antagonistic-and-then-respectful friendship develops between the two. In the process, the General is treated with  Jackie's secret family potion to speed up his healing.

The director Sheng Ding has done a remarkable job of sustaining the audience's interest in the unlikely friendship that develops between these two protagonists. To have only two actors carry the bulk of the movie is quite a feat indeed. Sheng Ding displays a firm grasp of the techniques and art of filmmaking which indicates that future projects from this director are worth looking out for.

As the buddy-film brews at the centre, on the side is the traitorous Prince Wen (Steven Yoo) who is pursuing the General in the hopes of silencing him -- as Wen had a hand in betraying his own soldiers, resulting in the bloodbath that we see at the start of the movie, The Prince had hoped that the General would have died in battle. The General, aware that only a betrayal could have caused him to lose the battle, is determined to get revenge.

There is also a horde of barbarians who cross paths with the film's two central character as well as Prince Wen and his men. Such instances provide some worthwhile action sequences in the film.

Oh, there is the gratuitous addition of the ornamental actress Lin Peng who serves no purpose at all.

If anything, the film is watchable for the novelty of seeing pretty boy Wang Lee Hom actually delivering a very decent performance throughout. However, Chan disappoints as he is obsessed with playing the doofus with acrobatic skills. Someone should tell him that many people find this very tiresome. Worse crime of all, the script is written to glorify Chan's character and makes him a martyr of sorts at the film's end, referencing Ridley Scott's Gladiator. For film aficionados, the ending makes a film that is initially somewhat watchable a bit of a letdown and lose its artistic integrity.





THE BOOK OF ELI
Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes
Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Chris Browning

If there is one man in Hollywood who takes his craft very, very seriously, then that man is surely Denzel Washington. He does not fail to deliver in this latest outing of his.

It bears saying that this mystery-thriller-drama-action-&-sci-fi mashup is brilliantly directed, acted and scripted.

Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man walking his own chosen path in a post-apocalyptic world. But unlike the other survivors who have no purpose in their lives, Eli is a man on a mission. He is carrying a book and feels compelled to take it to an unnamed destination on the west of the United States.

Along the way, this lone man is under threat from all sorts of post-Holocaust thieves and hooligans.

(The look of Mel Gibson's Mad Max films is present, although the look and colour of The Book of Eli is all its own.)

Eli, when faced with danger, is quite deft indeed with a knife and guns. The violence brought on by such face-offs is staggering -- probably a first for Washington -- but there's nothing gratuitous about it. In a brutal dog-eat-dog and mouse-eat-cat (seriously!) post-holocaust world, the shocking violence is necessary for self-preservation.

Unfortunately for Eli, there is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man determined to rebuild his broken-down town. He uses his thugs to rule a nondescript godless town where he aspires for respect, which he hopes will be brought on by scriptural words.

In an encounter, when Eli single-handedly wipes out Carnegie's minions, the latter's interest in Eli is piqued. Carnegie tells Eli that he could do with a man like Eli in his team.

The book that Eli is carrying -- as you would have guessed by now -- is supposedly the last known copy of the Bible. Once Carnegie finds out of Eli's prized possession, he is hell-bent on wresting it from the hands of the lone man.

Carnegie believes that in a ruthless and crude world, the elegant wording of the Bible would win people over to his post-apocalyptic religious institution and help him reconstruct civilisation. But don't think for a moment that Carnegie is saintly or noble in any way. He feels the Bible is an excellent tool to control the stupid masses. In this, the script takes a delightful, if veiled, dig at the mafia-like construct of organised religions throughout human civilisation, i.e. serving the purpose of the delusional and self-righteous few who want to exert control over the masses.

As Eli makes his getaway, he gets an unlikely travel companion in the form of Solara (Mila Kunis), who is impressed by this mysterious man, and decides to follow him.

Mila Kunis, she of That 70s Show fame, has here blossomed into an impressive big screen actress indeed. Perhaps it is her own talent -- or maybe it is the opportunity to bounce off her performance against an excellent actor like Denzel Washington  OR even thanks to the masterful direction of the Hughes brothers -- whichever one or a combination of all three factors as the reality might be, Kunis comes across as a formidable presence in this film.

As Eli and Solara make their getaway from Carnegie and his "leftover" henchmen (whoever is left from the earlier massacre) they encounter some very interesting characters, the most outstanding being the strange couple Martha (Frances de la Tour) and her devoted husband George (Michael Gambon). It is amazing how in such a serious movie, the couple bring out the laughs so effortlessly. There's also the "Engineer" (Tom Waits) who is wickedly-blackly funny in his dealings with Eli.

That's the thing about this movie -- the casting is truly inspired and almost every single performer on screen delivers an ace of a performance, no matter how small their part. The good script makes this serious movie enjoyable and something worth talking about after a viewing.

What is clever and completely unanticipated about The Book of Eli is the stunning twist at the end. You have to see it to believe it. What was driving Eli indeed!?


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

VALENTINE'S DAY

MOVIE REVIEW

Review by FRANCIS DASS


VALENTINE'S DAY
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Bryce Robinson, Taylor Swift, Matthew Walker, Larry Miller, Joe Mantegna, Garry Marshall

It'd be no surprise if, the first time you see this disposable romance and the sheer number of stars who continuously keep creeping out of the woodwork, you end up wondering if the film had a gazillion dollars for its budgets.

As the film's title indicates, the movie is centred on Valentine's Day. It starts with various couples preluding and then celebrating Feb 14th, driven by their own visions of love.

The unrealistic Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher) wakes up and proposes to Morley Clarkson (Jessica Alba). She, who has seen an awful marriage at work -- her own parents' -- is wisely not as keen on the idea as he is.

Reed, is oblivious to her true feelings and goes through the day fantasising about a happily married life with Morley. (Yes, there will be those of us who retch at the idea of Punk'd's Kutcher being given so much screen time but take consolation in the fact that although Demi Moore's cub is a lousy actor -- mercifully! -- the other stars are infinitely more watchable and make the lightweight film enjoyable.)

Most fortunate for us, there is also Jason (Topher Grace) and Liz (Anne Hathaway). Grace, from the That 70s Show fame has grown to be a very lean and muscled man and his on-screen likeability is remarkable. Yes, this young man has leading man potential written all over him. Hathaway, of course is the most talented actress of her generation and is practically a screen magnet. Everything she does and says on the silver screen is riveting. She is the Julia Roberts of her generation.

But talent alone is nothing if one has no one of equal or some measure to spar with. So, the best thing director Garry Marshall has done is pair Hathaway with Grace. Their onscreen chemistry is heartwarming, cute and endearing.

Also on the high end of the Hollywood performance scale, there are two solid actors Susan (Kathy Bates), a television producer, and her journalist Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx). Bates' Susan gets Kelvin to do a coverage of Valentine's Day, veering him off his true calling as a sports journalist.

In case you wondered if the film is a showcase of love amongst random couples, note that there is a six-degrees-of-separation thread at work and the characters are all linked in one way or another -- as friends, colleagues, lovers and/or florists etc.

The kinds of love projected in this film is not that varied from the many forms of love that we have come to see on the silverscreen. So, not to flog this love horse any further, the other characters in the film are:  the delectable Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel) who is a public relations practitioner; Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) whom Kara represents; the delightful Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah) who is part of Sean's talent management package; the dashing Holden (Bradley Cooper) who befriends Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) while on a flight; the philandering Dr Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey) who is having an affair with the all-jaw-and-funny-enunciation Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner); and Edgar (Hector Elizondo) who is married to the flamboyant and diva-esque Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) who once had an affair with Edgar's business partner.

Oh, and there are also Willy (Taylor Lautner) and Felicia (Taylore Swift) who play a young, dizzy and silly couple in high school. Swift is a ditsy delight and showcases her talent for comedy rather well.

As you can imagine, Garry Marshall who is now 76 years old knows that love is overrated and comes in all colours and flavours. Although he does the right thing with the Hollywood studio that funded his film (i.e. there are plenty of happy endings all around!), audiences also get to see that loving someone is all about accepting one's partner's weaknesses and foibles. The point that Valentine's Day valiantly makes is that it is the ups an downs of life that  make a relationship so much fun and being with a partner is better than being alone in life!

And it must be said that although Julia Roberts has a small role, and Marshall has captured some really, really unflattering angles of this actress' feature in this film, she has a magical way of working her lines and and it is astonishing to see the raw power of her talent when she is emoting even the slightest of feelings.

The script, although can be saccharine at times, is also funny often times. Valentine's Days is a harmless and worthwhile distraction if you are up to it. The funny references to other movies also work towards making this film enjoyable.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

AVATAR AND LADY GAGA ARE AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

AVATAR CLIMBS TO THE VERY PINNACLE OF FINANCIAL RETURNS! 


According to boxofficemojo.com, Avatar's current takings at the box office stands thus:
Worldwide box office gross (including the US):  US$2,077,338,293
US domestic box office gross:  US$603,789,348

Yes, James Cameron's Avatar has passed the US$2 billion mark worldwide and also the US$600 million mark, making it the biggest movie ever released. And the amount it has raked in keeps rising as the movie is still on wide release all around the world.

And as for the oft-said inflation adjusted grosses that pits older movies against Avatar as the top dog -- does anyone actually care?


Going GAGA on youtube...

And on another note, Lady Gaga is the Queen of Pop on youtube.com. Her latest music video, for Bad Romance, has had a staggering 104 million views! And it is still climbing!

In case you wondered, Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me only managed 19 million views and Beyonce's Single Ladies managed 12.5 million views only.

Gaga has indeed become quite a phenomenon in the pop world.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I SEE YOU, AVATAR -- BREAKING RECORDS!

To ride on Avatar's meaningful line, "I see you", I am sure audiences around the world have already read news that Avatar has surpassed Titanic as the biggest grossing film at the box office (and still counting -- as Avatar is still showing to strong audience support around the world).

Both Avatar and Titanic are directed and written by James Cameron, making the movies basically cinematic brothers.

Here're additional news about the movies -- albeit brief, but useful. We'd like to think that the informative and fun nature of this blog is what sets this website apart from others!


TITANIC:

Titanic was released on Dec 18 1997 in Malaysia. Its US release date was Dec 14.

The film collected its US$1.843 billion record-breaking cash stockpile over 41 weeks, reportedly having played in cinemas globally from Dec 1997 till September 1998.

Titanic's running time is 194 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the US.

Its take at the US box office alone was US$600 million.


AVATAR:

Avatar opened in Malaysia on Dec 17 2010. Its US release date was Dec 16.

At the moment, Avatar has taken in US$1.88 billion worldwide. Of this amount, the movie has raked in US$558.2 million in the US alone. As the film is still running strong in cinemas worldwide, it will in all probability break through Titanic's US$600 million mark very soon. AND it looks poised to be the first movie to cross the US$2 billion barrier at the global box office.

Avatar's runtime is 162 minutes and it too carries the American PG-13 rating.

(NB: Basic information and figures were obtained from www.imdb.com.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gaga-fying the world -- one raised eyebrow at a time


By FRANCIS DASS

(REVISED VERSION)

Just how hot is Lady Gaga? Her Bad Romance music video on youtube.com has garnered more than 92 MILLION views --  AND STILL COUNTING!



Imagine if you would, Donatella Versace having a love-child with a man who is the result of splicing together filmmakers David Lynch and Tim Burton, then you would most definitely get the very real and fashionably out-of-this-world Lady Gaga.

Coming like an intermittent downpour on the pop music scene in the beginning with Just Dance, she managed to make an impact on listeners young and old early last year. The song was lightweight synth-pop reminiscent of disco pop tunes of the 80s and 90s. In terms of looks, the video was cheap and cheerful. Was she yet-another-Britney-clone type of artiste, many wondered.

The lyrics of Just Dance was suitably silly, talking about not knowing which club Gaga was in, lost phones and the song also mentions her having had a bit too much to drink, amongst an assortment of the singer's other seemingly harmless and ditzy observations/experiences. The song was completely unserious.

Interestingly, the first ones who were humming the song and miming the words in Kuala Lumpur were teenagers. Not ordinary teenagers, but terribly hip ones. They took to Gaga's dance song like duck to water.

As Just Dance went into heavy rotation on the video music channels, it became an almost overnight hit with pop music fans everyhwere.

Then, as the pop pundits sat back and wondered what this strange woman will deliver next, out came Poker Face.

On Poker Face Gaga sang like some kind of a stern instruction-voiceover to a Dummies Guide to Singing audio book! Her voice delightfully matched the formulaic pop-beat of the song.

Like the earlier video, Poker Face's music video was nothing much to scream about. Just Dance had Akon and pop lightweight Colby O'Donis gracing it. Poker Face was all Gaga and cohorts. Her unique style was expertly harnessed: the wigs, the weird costumes and metal plates stuck on the face (these would become her trademarks in subsequent music videos) were plain for all to see.

From these videos It was obvious that, like a typical New Yorker that she was, Gaga held an amoral view of the human body (nudity) and of relationships.

However, what WAS worth screaming about was her appearance in the Adam Lambert season of American Idol last year. Her stunning live performance of Poker Face on the show had global music fans scrambling to find out more about her. She was superbly theatrical and mesmerising during that Idol performance. The intermittent rain that was Gaga had changed to a full-blown Category 4 hurricane.

It was as if Gaga had pushed aside the imaginary bouncers guarding the global music stage and scampered single-mindedly towards the limelight at the centre with the hit song Poker Face. The song is not revolutionary -- it sounds like a standard-issue synth-pop concoction. It's just that the timing and delivery were pitch perfect.

With lines like, "Russian roulette is not the same without a gun" and "And baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun..." -- listeners were hooked to this naughty young lady.

As a result, those who knew of her music loved Poker Face even more and those who didn't, clamoured for news of Gaga: just who was this Gaga?

Gaga is New York-born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the daughter of an Italian-American multimillionaire Internet entrepreneur. She was born on March 28, 1986. In case you wondered, both her parents are extremely proud of their daughter.

Her New York origins largely explains her rather avant garde and over-the top sensibilities. The bisexual Gaga's  I-don't-give-a-damn-what-people-are-gonna-say outlook on life has lent her mystique -- that which took silverscreen stars years to attain, she has gained almost overnight, within a span of a year!

Her pop-star name, as everyone knows by now, is a reference to Queen's hit song, Radio Gaga. Apparently one of the many songs she wrote reminded someone of the great Queen's song and they referenced her as Gaga and she took to it.

Her stars started shining brighter with the next hit song Paparazzi. It was a love song and an ode to fame at the same time.

The video was visually stunning and was simultaneously Lynchian and Burtonesque in the way it told the Gaga story of being wronged by a man, then how her deep love brought her back to form -- and the adoration of the masses!

You see, in Gaga's universe, grave bodily injuries and a wheelchair are not enough to stop a natural-born showgirl like Gaga. For her, with the help of her trusty dancers, THE SHOW MUST GO ON! Burlesque and the grotesque are happily married in Paparazzi. The video was a beautifully conceptualised and artistically realised.

In the Paparazzi music video, audiences had a hilarious glimpse of how Gaga liked her men: dead!

In real life, Gaga, you see, suffered from a really bad break up with an ex called Luke. So, if you listen to any Gaga song that deals with relationship, trust Luke to figure somewhere in there.

Late last year, though, Gaga became a full-fledged Category 5 hurricane in the pop realm with the song Bad Romance.

The thumping Bad Romance is an anthemic dance floor scorcher that is stunningly epic. The music video can only be described as being simultaneously theatrical and visceral! Bad Romance is ten times better and even more over-the-top than the celebrated Paparazzi. It's like James Cameron Avatar to his Titanic, if you like.

Just last week, Rick Dees announced that Gaga's Bad Romance has topped his popular Top 40 radio show.

Thanks to her uncompromising style, Gaga has now become extremely hot property in the music industry, topping charts all over the world. She has also  started collaborating with big names, like the sizzling hot Beyonce.

After reading all this, if you are still asking, "Just how hot is Gaga, exactly?", the answer to that is that her video for Bad Romance alone on www.youtube.com has had 92, 483, 282 views. That's more than 92 MILLION views folks! And still rising. It's a staggering number by any measure.

(Gaga's Just Dance has garnered almost 95 million views on youtube.)

All we can say is Go Go Gaga, as her spectacular career unfolds right before our very eyes!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hmmm... what should the kids be watching?

By FRANCIS DASS

Chipmunks vs frogs: can't decide which kiddie movie to catch this weekend ?
Let us help you make up your mind - OR NOT, as the case might be!


Let's see... you are a very discerning filmgoer. This being January -- you've spent all your hard-earned money on the children's school expenses. In case they didn't tell you in parenting class -- the kids are not done with you or your helpless wallet yet. Just when you thought the end of the first month would spell relief as the salary comes in -- the kids want to go to the movies. As your budget allows for you, your wife and 14 children to catch ONLY one movie, let us help you decide which film to catch.



THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Voice talents of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cumming, Peter Bartlett, Jennifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth M. Dampler, Reggie

This has to be the most insipid, irrelevant animated feature that the Walt Disney company has churned out in ages.

The script is weak and contrived, and the animation is supremely insulting. As if it is already not bad enough that the said "princess" is a figurative one in the beginning (sheesh, could you tell little Abdul and Ting Ting to stop bawling their eyes out already!), this pseudo-princess who is called Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is the daughter of a black man who has such huge stereotypical black lips that you don't know if you are looking at a pair of gargantuan luggage handles transplanted onto his face or whether he went for some silicon jabs and got the supersized-treatment.

Whatever happened to the fairly land and fairy-like things in a story that misleadingly calls itself The Princess and the Frog, then? Well, there is a jazz-loving alligator, a firefly and blind voodoo priestess. They all sing and dance, if that is any consolation at all.

To be fair, there IS a prince in the film. He's a callous young man called Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) whose transformation from carefree (think more along the lines of "I-don't-give-a-frog's-wart") to being responsible is so flimsy that you would miss it if you blinked. Adding a dash of the supernatural is a bad guy called Dr Facilier (Keith David). Facilier is a lifeless rip off of Hades from Disney's other animated film, Hercules (1998).

As fate would have it, Naveen is turned into a frog by Facilier, is kissed by Tiana who turns into a.... (not a princess, if that is what you thought!) and the rest of this pitiful movie revolves around people trying to turn themselves into humans and the baddie getting his just desserts.

There are the customary song-and-dance numbers scattered throughout and the introduction of the blind voodoo priestess Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis) who is probably the film's highlight. No, she does not have any real merit if you think about it -- but we said it just to spite the idea and any possibility of having to say anything nice about the hard-to-care-for and completely uninspiring leading couple.

Disney cartoons, I frankly think, do not prepare the kids for the real world. Then again, which Hollywood film ever does. It is all escapism in one way or another.



ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL
Directed by Betty Thomas
Starring Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, Wendie Malick, Kathryn Joosten

This live action-computer animation merger of a film, is somewhat watchable -- ONCE your hair stops standing on its end and your mind gets used to the sub-intelligent script. You look around, and the kids are rolling with laughter -- all those who are five and below, while you audibly hear explosions in the minds of anyone above 10 whose brain cells start committing suicide.

IN YOUR SEAT, you will look in great wonder and amazement at the screen and realise that the chipmunks actually DO speak like, err, chipmunks. It's not because they are wearing some super-tight underwear and their you-know-what are constricted -- but because if chipmunks spoke, they really would speak like that -- with that voice!

ON THE SCREEN, the likeable Dave (Jason Lee) is hospitalised because of Alvin misbehaves and so Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) are shipped over to the Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten). The chipmunk boys are enrolled in a school as part of their growing up process and Dave's slacker cousin Toby (Zachary Levi) is entrusted with looking after the rodents. Why Toby, you ask? Because Aunt Jackie is shipped to hospital (yes, feel free to blame the chipmunks.)

At school, Alvin turns his charms on the teenage girls -- and, shockingly, they respond! But the teenage boys know better... or so you think! A wedgie or two here and there and the chipmunks score a homerun against all who stand against them. Sigh!

Don't be surprised if the kids in the audience break out into unrestrained applause as a trio of female chipmunks are introduced: Eleanor (Amy Poehler), Jeanette (Anna Faris) and Brittany (Christina Applegate) as the rival singing sensation to Alvin and the Chipmunks. At about that time, you will notice that David Cross who plays the "evil" Ian is having plenty of fun hamming up his performance. You might feel an urge to smile at the thought of an adult acting so badly and having the license to enjoy doing so for the sake of earning a living. Then, as the thought of abandoning your family and running off to Hollywood to make an easy living enters your mind, suddenly, you will start noticing the other actors: the teenage-cast-of-thousands. When actors are badly directed, they will deliver horrendous performances -- that is a given, and the phoney-ness of their acting is clear for all to see (the hordes of teens reacting, err, wildly to the non-present CGI chipmunks which are added way, way after filming has ended). If you are movie savvy, this can be very painful to watch. On the other hand, if you are just a kid, you would not care at all.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, despite the bad acting and bad script, Alvin and the Chipmunks does manage to find its groove as the film progresses. By the end of it, you will feel money was better spent catching this with the kids rather than Princess and the Frog.



Monday, January 18, 2010

2010 Golden Globes... and the awards season starts!

2010 Golden Globes Awards

By FRANCIS DASS

I saw Ricky Gervais just now. No, not in person, but on television, where he was was hosting The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 2010 Golden Globes Awards.

The Golden Globes, in case you didn't know, is the awards show that kicks off the movie awards season -- not only in America but also the rest of the world. It -- USUALLY! -- foretells of what will transpires during Oscar night on March 7th. (Sometimes, the Oscars' Academy Awards gang like to cause an upset or two!)

Anyway, back to the 49-year old Englishman Gervais. I usually do not like the man at all. His humour never did translate over well with me. So, I have always avoided his shows (he is the man behind the original The Office in UK -- the show which was then transposed to American television audiences with the extremely likeable Steve Carell at the helm.)

Anyway, as host of the Golden Globes this year, Gervais has indeed chalked a new chapter for all other hosts in future at any awards programme: he has perfected the role of a host as a facilitator to the proceedings rather than the traditional one of the host aggrandizing him/herself to no end. (Sorry Whoopi -- although you ARE indeed very funny -- you are into that self-edification mode that comedians often fall into. Ditto to Jon Stewart of The Today Show.)

Gervais, on the other hand, was very much interested in pushing the programme along, oiling it remarkably with irreverent jokes.

Anyway, back to the Hollywood galaxy (which is not very, very far away) and its constellation of luminous stars.

As expected, Avatar won Best Motion Picture (Drama) and its director James Cameron won the best director golden globe.

Cameron said what the whole world knows by now: he and all the people gathered in the auditorium had the best jobs in the world. It is fitting indeed that Avatar ended on such a top note, as it is still number one at the box offices in the US and around the world. The film has collected a staggering US$1.6 billion around the world (stateside alone, it has bagged almost US$500 million!)

The golden Globes not only celebrates movies on the silverscreen but also television programming, and thus, it was a great, big, fat delight for everyone indeed that TV series Glee won Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy).

In accepting the award, one of Glee's producer/creators said the funniest thing that night when he described the actors in the musical comedy as "fake sexy-teen cast". On a more serious note, he posited that the show is about the importance of arts education and that Glee is -- laugher still had the last laugh! -- made for "anybody and everybody who got a wedgie in school!"

That high of an acceptance speech was easily matched by Robert Downey Jr who won the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) nod. In a hilarious speech, that demonstrated this Hollywood royal's wit and intelligence, he demonstrated mock-hubris in the face of all the other overdone acceptance speeches where the stars feigned to be full of humility and gratitude. But a few seconds past not wanting to thank the talented cast and crew that make movies happen, he did thanks those involved in the intoxicatingly clever Sherlock Holmes where his performance was nothing short of magical.

Another funny notable moment was offered by Todd Phillips, director an producer of extremely funny movie, The Hangover, which won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). Phillips had said he was afraid at winning this award in case he got into a fist fight with Harvey Weinstein, whose musical Nine was up in the  same category.

"But I have My Tyson on my side," Phillips cleverly said, too close his joke, which was appreciated by everyone.

Paul McCartney was a presenter for the Best Animated Feature Film and he CRACK-ed a gem of a joke too. He said animated movies are enjoyed by kids and drug-taking adults, vaguely quipping about the good old drug-fuelled days of long ago.

Talking of speeches, although it was a dignified speech, I was rather put off by Mo'Nique, the actress who bagged the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture award for her turn in Precious. She took herself too seriously (as did all the other Precious people seated at her table -- making it look like the Grim Reaper's table!) -- with the exception being the sunny spirited Gabourey Sidibe who played the lead role in Precious.

Other memorable moments at the Golden Globes this year was seeing James Cameron's oldest and dearest friend California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger introducing Avatar, the sight of Mike Tyson coyly stepping into the world of filmed entertainment and, of course, the sight of George Lucas seated right at the front table, a few feet away from the presenters -- the most important seat in the house, we reckon, since he is like Zeus, compared to the rest of them!

Gervais, to his great credit, delivered the funniest lines and ribbed his guest to the max. Paul McCartney, who handed out  the animated movies prize got ribbed as did Mel Gibson, just before Gibson gave out the award to director James Cameron.

Gervais had said: "I like a drink as much as the next man, unless the next man is Mel Gibson!" This truly was funny -- Gibson has been arrested slandering Jews a while back while driving under the influence -- and this clearly threw off even the good-humoured Gibson who laughed and flubbed momentarily.

Gervais started the evening with some fabulous jokes: how performers have all put on the show of the best work -- the best work of plastic surgeons, that is! --  and an interplay with Steve Carell who is more famous than Gervais thanks to the stunning global success of the American version of The Office and when Carell mockingly gestured that he would break Gervais in two when Gervais was getting "personal" and "rude".

Here is the complete list of the winners at the 2010 Golden Globes:

Best Motion Picture - Drama: Avatar

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: The Hangover

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy: Glee

Best Director - Motion Picture: James Cameron (Avatar)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Serirs or Motion Picture Made for Television: Chloe Sevigny (Big Love)

Best Television Series - Drama: Mad Men

Best Foreign Language Film: Das weisse Band (Germany)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture: Up In The Air

Best Performance by an Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Kevin Bacon (Taking Chance)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture for Television: Grey Gardens

Best Original Score - Motion Picture: Up

Best Originl Song - Motion Picture: Crazy Heart

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama: Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama: Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

Best Animated Film: Up

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: John Lithgow (Dexter)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy: Toni Collette (United States of Tara)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: MoNique (Precious)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Exquisite photographs of people with a common faith




By FRANCIS DASS


A treat for photo enthusiasts in Kuala Lumpur

The modern millenia's Mona Lisa -- that unforgettable portrait photograph of the Afghan Girl, which was snapped in 1984 and published by National Geographic on the cover of its June 1985 issue -- is in town.

That iconic photograph along with 75 others, all taken by lensman Steve McCurry during his travels around the Middle- as well as varrious other parts of South Asia are currently being exhibited at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia under the title: A Common Faith: Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World.

The thematic string that runs through every photo at the exhibition gives it great relevance for the Islamic Arts Museum where the photos are being exhibited in the capital.

A bonus for visitors is the fact that almost every photo is a must-see masterwork at the exhibition. From afar, some look like exotic Renaissance oil paintings while others are simply visually stunning.

(Yes, McCurry is more than a one-hit wonder -- there are a handful of other classic shots that this talented photographer has captured for posterity besides the soulful and iconic Afghan Girl. BUT, to his great and utter credit, McCurry is very gracious about the fame that this single shot has gained him and he says so unabashedly, demonstrating great character!)

What visitors at the exhibition will immediately note is that, through his work, McCurry gives a face to the troubles and joys in the lives of people in the Muslim world.

However, since there are always people new to the iconic Afghan Girl portrait let us tell the short story that lies behind the image.

In the beginning, the mysterious Afghan Girl, of course, was just a nameless girl in a refugee camp in Pakistan, displaced from her homeland after her whole family was almost annihilated by the Soviets who invaded Afghanistan.

As part of his National Geographic assignment, McCurry had to disguise himself as an Afghan and was snuck into the refugee camp by aides hired by National Geographic. At great risk to his life (in a paternalistic society such as the Afghans' and Pakistanis', it is unthinkable for a man to take photos of their women folk, especially one who is neither a family member nor a Muslim), he managed to sew the film rolls into his garb and snuck out of the place.

Then, the photo of the Afghan Girl was selected for NatGeo's cover story titled Along Afghanistan's War-torn Frontier. The article does not identify her specifically -- she was simply a face of the Afghans' plight following the onslaught of the Soviet invasion of her homeland -- but the article did deal with the lives and losses of the people as a result of that deadly conflict.

National Geographic, of course, got added mileage from her, when the magazine engaged McCurry to track down the mysterious girl 17 years later and she turned out to be a woman called Sharbat Gula. Good things did come out of the photo shoot that followed this National Geographic in-search-of documentary: "The documentary we made after finding her again had a big impact on my life. The best part of the story was being able to help make her life better. There was a school built in Kabul based on the donations collected from that picture," McCurry says.

Another stunning photograph (among many others, I might add) that visitors to the Islamic Arts Museum's exhibition will feast their eyes on is Flower Seller in Lake Dal in Srinagar, Kashmir (1996).

Despite the war and pain, McCurry explained, he was moved by the ability of these strong people to continue going about their daily lives and appreciating the beauty in all things around them -- and in the case of the Flower Seller, the beauty of flowers.


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"A Common Faith: Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World" exhibition is currently ongoing at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia until April 8. It is reported to be McCurry's biggest exhibition.

Entrance fee is RM12 for adults. Call 03-22705160; 22705158; 22705164; 22705117; 22705142; 22705135 or 22705110 for details. You can also email info@iamm.org.my.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is located at Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur

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You can also visit Steve McCurry's website at www.stevemccurry.com








Friday, January 8, 2010

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT -- Oh dear... not really an attractive position, is it?



Review by FRANCIS DASS

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Jessica Carlson, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, Morgan Saylor, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison

Movies are like food, if you think about it. Some movies have excellent starters (beginning) a good main course (premise/script/acting/direction) and superb desserts (climaxes/ends on the perfect note).

Unfortunately, like all meals, the cards are also distributed unevenly in Hollywood. Some of these so-called "movie-meals" sometimes have excellent starters, an awful main course and completely washout desserts.

With that in mind, let's just say that Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a film made with only a possible sequel in mind. So, if this first movie is the starter, and the second the main course, let's just say that The Vampire's Assistant is merely a glass of water. The introduction of the characters are so cursory and shallow, that you would be right in thinking that you were cheated. It's like food was promise but nothing delivered.

Like Hollywood's Godzilla, Transformers 2 and New Moon, The Vampire's Assistant is the antithesis of its own brilliantly captivating trailer which preceeded it.

(Regardless of whether it is the first episode or not, we like each of our cinematic serials to be hearty meals in themselves, like The Matrix or Star Wars -- Episode IV, don't you agree?)

What will sustain you till this badly fleshed out movie ends, however, is the humour. The jokes will have you laughing, that's for sure. Alas, jokes alone do not a movie make.

The Vampire's Assistant stars John C. Reilly. Neither handsome nor charismatic, his wonderful sense of comic timing and delivery of jokes manage to sustain Reilly's  vampire character called Larten Crepsley. He is part of a travelling freakshow and for company, his acquaintances are his lady love Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) a woman who can grow a beard at will and foretell the future; Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones) who lives up to his name; Rhamus Twobellies (Frankie Faison) whose name is also self-explanatory as are Evra the Snake Boy's (Patrick Fugit) and Mr Tall's (Ken Watanabe) monickers.

These characters are just so fleetingly introduced that you get no inkling of what drives them or any other aspect of their lives.

As the film begins, the freak show's next stop is Darren Shan's (Chris Massoglia) town and this dull straight-As kid who always does as his parents tell him to, gets winds of the performance and sneaks out in the middle of the night -- when all freak shows start, we imagine -- to catch it. Darren is captivated by what he sees (especially an exotic spider -- an arachnid, not a human freak with eight legs or something like that, as you might have imagined!) and after the show, sneaks backstage and steals Crepsley's prized spider. Darren, you see, is drawn to spiders for some bizarre reason and, to be fair and honest, the vampire's pet spider is a beautiful creature indeed.

The actor Massoglia looks somewhat like Karate Kid's Ralph Macchio and, like Macchio, there's not a hint of manliness about him in both looks or mannerism. (Is this feminisation of American men the reason why Hollywood looks to Australia for macho men like Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and Sam Worthington? Is there something about the great outback Downunder that makes a man a real man? Oh well -- that deserves a whole critique of its own!)

As a lead, Massoglia is mis-cast by a gargantuan margin of error!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, or make a tall man short, as they would probably say jokingly in freakshow circles, the spider escapes, bites Darren's best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) and the young man is forced to strike a deal with the vampire to save his best friend, thus becoming the vampire's assistant and partly undead.

Darren's best friend Steve, unfortunately, has always harboured the desire to become a vampire (this is a comic book adaptation, you know!) and is miffed that Darren has become what he'd really, REALLY wanted to be and promptly sells his soul to and joins Crepsley's nemesis, a sinister fatty called Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris).

There are a few run-ins between Crepsley's side and Mr Tiny's undead minions and a lame showdown between Steve and Darren takes place to tide you over till the badly thought out film ends. The rubbish battles between these two camps look like they are of no consequence to humanity and are, instead, more like two undead sororities going at each other.

Instead of watching this completely forgettable film, I'd rather recommend folks go buy an Alice in Wonderland book to read in anticipation of Tim Burton's re-imagining of the Mad Hatter's world which should hit cinemas in March.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CASE 39: You might just be CASE 40 if you are easily scared or startled!


MOVIE REVIEW

By FRANCIS DASS


CASE 39
Directed by Christian Alvart
Starring Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Kerry O'Malley, Callum Keith Rennie, Bradley Cooper, Adrian Lester, Georgia Craig, Cynthia Stevenson, Mary Black

(SPOILER ALERT: The first paragraph pretty much reveals what the film is all about. Read on at your own peril.)

Remember that fabulous modern Japanese horror classic The Ring (Ringu) from 1998? If you are a horror aficionado, you probably do. Well, if dear departed and supremely demented pre-teen Sadako had an American kin, she would probably be very much like Lily in Case 39.

This movie starts off innocuosly enough. Lily (Jodelle Ferland) is just an ordinary child who is so very sweet. Sadly, she is having a troubled young life. Her grades, you see, are down. And she is unable to sleep. You'd be distressed too if your parents are trying to kill you all the time. And mind you, these are not her foster parents. These are her own BIOLOGICAL parents -- and they are very biologically intent on killing this sweet child.

(I know, I know -- that comparison with Sadako gave pretty much a lot away. But the real fun is in watching this film -- it is rather well constructed.)

Anyway, it should come as no surprise at all that a child welfare woman Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) is terribly concerned when she reads the case file numbered 39. She wonders if poor Lily is being abused in anyway at home. If that is the case, could Emily perchance do something to help the poor child?

Following departmental procedure, she pays Lily a visit and finds her parents' behaviour odd. To be frank, they are freaks. The opening scenes that extend to include Emily's visit, are excellent with really, REALLY tight shots (so tight, you feel like saying out aloud, apologetically, "Oh, so sorry Miss Zellweger -- I didn't mean to be so in your face! Oops, you two too -- Mr and Mrs Lily's parents!"). The tension during these moments are so, well, taut, in fact, if you were a musician, you could pluck the spooky Psycho violin tune during these times! Provided you could un-tense yourself, in the first place, to pluck the strings. The acting, of course, has to work for such directorial devices to work and the cast is rather up to the task.

Anyway, not following departmental procedure, Emily pokes her nose into the Lily family's affair and ends up rescuing the little girl from being roasted alive. Yes, literally, as her parents go completely Middle Eastern on Lily and try to "kebab" her.

Lily, is a little maestro at mind games and before you can say, "Emily you stupid fool...", Lily's parents are jailed and Emily has already taken the girl into her very own home. Oh, and a few people around Emily either die or are murdered under suspicious conditions soon after.

What transpires as a result and what Lily is capable of make for an intriguing watch indeed. Case 39 sees, Zellweger (who, incidentally, looks like she has those chipmunk cheeks that are full of nuts, or whatever!) giving a good leading lady performance. We can only hope she attends therapy regularly after being so frazzled playing the role. The child actress Ferland is suitably creepy and understated at times and menacingly over-the-top at the right moments. Mercifully, she is nothing like the horrid child actress that Dakota Fanning was -- Fanning always over-acted or constantly over-emoted and ruined many movies in the process! (However, luckily for movie addicts, Fanning has grown up finally understanding what tolerable acting is all about in "Push" and "New Moon").

Case 39 ends as it should and you won't leave the hall saying, "Why do all horror movies have such stupid endings, as if anyone wants to see a sequel!" Oops, did we just give away the ending?

This is not a major movie by any measure, so the spoliers sprinkled here should not spoil your appetite if you are an avid movie fan and enjoy a good scare!