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For once, the critics were right.
This movie had its moments, I'll give it that, and Susan Sarandon was the star behind many of them. She does an incredibly convincing job as Drew's distraught mom finding an outlet for her pain. She's so pathetic, but her portrayal of the character is beautifully believable and well done.
Apart from that, I enjoyed the little truths in this movie -- the way meeting someone is more awkward than talking to them on the phone for 23904823 hours. And Drew's spiel about last looks.
The cinematography was also incredible; some of the scenes left me with the crazy urge to fly the 923049823 miles from Singapore to America and take a road trip myself.
Still, this movie is so terrible that I don't think even avid Orlando fans will be willing to watch it a second time. The accent, ladies, is not a reason to watch the film, believe me. Aside from the fact that Orlando's not even quite there yet with his American accent during his voice overs, which are plentiful, you can also clearly hear his British accent every time he yells on screen, which happens a lot more than necessary.
On top of that, Kirsten Dunst seems to have a problem remembering during 75% of the movie that during the remaining 25% she develops a terrible southern twang. She also forgets 95% of the time that her character, besides appearing to be in dire need of therapy, is supposed to be at the very least likable. The absolute lack of chemistry between the two co-stars (excepting their first, abrupt kiss, and the end--sort of, as long as you squint and hope very hard) is another disappointment.
Still, it's not the acting that destroys this movie, or Susan Sarandon would have saved them all. Sadly, even her brilliance can't save this film. The problem is that instead of acknowledging the fact that chick-flick is Elizabethtown's defining keyword, it tries to be a semi-introspective, off-kilter, romance while trying to stay realistic comedy, in which everyone has problems solvable by taking unplanned -- or, depending on how you see it, planned-to-death, road trips. The script was literally begging to be analyzed, to the point where I had to wonder if everything had a hidden meaning, and what each scene was supposed to symbolize. I couldn't even ogle at Orlando properly -- who has his fair share of ogle-able scenes -- and it gets very frustrating, very quickly; much like Kirsten Dunst's psychotic, barely tolerable character.
And, aside from a bad script (as if that isn't bad enough), the editor should have been fired. There were several awkward shifts in music (although they had good music, I'll give them that), transitions that were plain weird/abrupt, and jumps in scenes that should have been smooth and difficult to disrupt, even for amateur editors. Not these few, though. They managed it, somehow. It drove me nuts. I was complaining so often I was pretty sure someone was going to turn around and smack me. They were probably too engrossed in the train wreck to even realize I was throwing in my (many, many) two cents, though.
If you're hoping for a two hour sit back, relax and laugh gig, this is not the place to be. The spiffy website, though? Helps it gain just enough brownie points to barely scrape a passing grade.
Mambo Italiano (2003)
Under-appreciated gem I wish I'd found sooner.
I absolutely adored this movie. The languid pace may get to you, especially when they've finished chronicling Angelo's life and you realize less than a third of the movie is over, but it is very much worth the watch. It's really more a character piece than a typical plot-driven film, and it's done so well that you just want to watch it again.
The actors were well-casted, and they had an amazing chemistry as a family that brought the sometimes flat movie to life. And the interaction at different levels of a relationship between different people, like Angelo's parents, Angelo and Nino, Angelo and his sister (Claudia Ferri), before and after his coming out, was spot-on. Everyone was affected, adversely, and it changed the way they acted around and towards one another. The subtle changes, the epiphanies -- Mambo Italiano did an incredible job making you feel for all its characters, diverse though they were.
It also managed to capture the essence of all the characters' relationships, and moments during which those relationships evolved, seamlessly: one of the best examples is the scene where Angelo's parents are in the garden a while after Angelo and Nino break up in their living room, and Angelo's mother asks if they still love their son. The father replies, of course, he is their son. The mother then asks, tearfully, why it's so difficult to pick up the phone and call him if they still love him.
Then there's the scene where post-breakup Nino visits Angelo after hearing from his mother that Angelo's seeing someone new, and the way they talk to each other and look at each other is absolutely heart-wrenching, full of regret and longing and I-wish-this-was-different. It really made me sit up and take notice and think, yeah, that could happen. I see why they're doing this, why they're being unreasonable or stubborn or moody.
That's what I loved most about this film; the realism. It's something I'm always looking for on screen that a lot of the time is sorely lacking. I'm not talking about realism in the literal sense; have at your light sabers and dinosaurs and reviving dead bodies, but make me believe it. Look at Lord of the Rings: it's realistic, because the actors make you feel like you're watching real people even when they're fighting ghostly images that you know they don't see.
Watching this movie, I never felt as though someone was reacting in a way that was exaggerated, or unbelievable, just to incite humor, and that's one of the main reasons it kept me so engaged and so amused. It felt like I was watching the someone's true life story (to be honest, I think a lot of people go through the same thing that Angelo does, though in different ethnic settings, of course) and I laughed not because the plot stretched the truth, but because it embodied it.
There was a scene in the film itself that reflected this: the only script that Angelo wrote that got produced was the one he wrote about his family and their daily interaction. When his parents went to watch the studio filming they laughed so hard I thought they were going to start bawling. That was the beauty of this movie. And despite the almost-too-sweet ending, where everyone's happy in their new life, Nino with his wife and Angelo with his new boyfriend and his accepting family, it's not sappy or corny. Predictable? Maybe. But boring? Never.
This is, without doubt, an under-appreciated gem. Believable acting, superb script, incredible chemistry; it fulfilled just about everything I ask for when watching a movie. I only wish I had gotten my hands on it sooner.
17 sui de tian kong (2004)
Duncan Chow is the saviour of this occasionally brilliant movie.
It's a little bit hard to put your finger on this show, which is a mixture of comedy, romance and gay sex there is a lot of emphasis on sex. Also, it's one of those films in which everyone is homosexual and loving it. There is no struggle with sexuality in any of the characters -- although that's really not the point of this movie. In all honesty, the fact that the cast is gay has no impact on the plot whatsoever. It could have been a straight story and I would have been none the wiser. Of course, I probably wouldn't have watched it either, had that been the case.
There were a few things that really suckered me into enjoying this film, though. Firstly, the chemistry between the leading men; sparks fly between Tieh Nan and Tian Cai from the minute they see each other (oh, they really, really do!). For some reason, they worked very well together, going from adorable bashfulness to familiarity to blissful contentment with incredible feeling. Also, the buildup towards their sex scene with the hesitance and the fumbling hands? One of the best, most believably sexy moments I've ever watched on screen (another that came close was between Diego Luna and Romola Garai in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights; the transition from languid touches to frantic desperate need was so excellently done I can feel tingles down my spine just thinking about it).
Another thing I liked about the movie is that they had exaggerated comic relief, a typical characteristic of most Chinese films, but that it somehow, for most of it, wasn't too outrageous. I actually enjoyed it. Wen Yu, CC & Alan are, aside from Tian Cai's protectors and sex gurus, the comic relief of the show, and they pull off their parts with justified aplomb.
On top of that, I thoroughly relished the way the movie incorporated the difficulties of being in a relationship and dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. The barrier of language in Wen Yu and his Caucasian boyfriend's relationship was used very well, and the contrast in his and Tian Cai's behavior after their breakups (one wallowing while the other channeled all his pain into anger) was a delight to watch.
Finally, Bai Tieh Nan, which is where I indulge myself in a little bit of (what some might consider) biased rambling. You see, although he's not the typical swoon-worthy boy, his acting is so wonderfully crafted that there are quite a few scenes I rewound and replayed over and over again just to stare in amazement at his incredibly spot-on expressions. Naturally, this doesn't hold up through the entire film. His visits to his psychiatrist are too exaggerated, his attempts at callousness in his flashbacks are pathetic, and they should never use the "slow-mo, wind blowing his hair as he walks into a room with absolutely no wind around" angle on him. He's not traditionally handsome enough to pull it off. But boy, does he have aura. I could go on and on, because he is that good, and he has several scenes in the movie that are ovary-bursting worthy. Near the close of the film, he prays for a sign, any sign, to show him where Tian Cai has gone, and says that if after he counts from one to ten his sign doesn't appear, he'll give up. It is possibly the most emotional countdown I've ever heard.
Now, this movie is not without its downside. I could have done without the lengthy, somewhat pointless intro. There was absolutely no use in Tian Cai's dream about jumping into a pool at the start of the movie and then getting kissed by Tieh Nan while his voice-over went on and on about trigonometry. It bore no further significance, either, even at the end where it becomes apparent that Tian Cai has this recurring dream quite often, in which he asks several different questions that Tieh Nan now has the answers to. If that was supposed to show me that Tieh Nan was, quite literally, the man of Tian Cai's dreams, it was a pathetic attempt. The lucky condom that Wen Yu gave Tian Cai was another useless plot point. One of my pet peeves is when these little details are brought to attention only to be neglected at the end of the film.
Formula 17 is a difficult movie to sit through, even with its occasional flashes of brilliance. It's only worth it when you realize the wonder that is Bai Tieh Nan. He almost single-handedly saves the show. Steals it, really, though with the acting that Tian Cai couldn't do, it isn't hard to see why.
Nanny McPhee (2005)
Good, clean fun for the entire family
After this movie, I may have to admit to being a bit of a pervert. (ALL HAIL THE ADORABLENESS THAT IS THOMAS SANGSTER!!!!!11) Then again, Thomas Sangster turns 16 this May, so it's not that big an age gap. But I digress. I had to note the similarities between Nanny McPhee and The Sound Of Music and Mary Poppins (wow, Julie Andrews certainly has a taste for nanny-roles). Rascally children, several fed up nannies, and then the heroine who swoops in to teach them all a lesson, sometimes with a little bit of magic though never too cruelly, or underhandedly (though that, I concede, is debatable). And of course, there is the scene where the nanny leaves once the children are well behaved.
The style of the movie, on the other hand, reminded me very much of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, which I also enjoyed more than I probably should have, Klaus (Liam Aiken) being a major plus point. On top of that, there were plenty of gorgeous shots of scenery or quaint cottages, which was all very nice, if sometimes lacking in depth.
What really drew me in was the exploration of the father-child relationship, though. The bumbling, busy Mr. Brown struggling to keep his family afloat on their measly allowance and his loneliness at bay, distancing between himself from his children in the process, and the adverse effects that that distance had on his children. It was lovely to witness, especially as they reestablished their connection. Certain scenes, like the one where Mr. Brown thinks Aunt Adelaide has taken Christianna away and he chases the horse-drawn carriage all the way into the middle of the woods, just slayed me. As did the scene where Mr. Brown tells Christianna to pick a story for him to read to them, like he used to do.
Acting-wise, the movie wasn't half bad. Aunt Adelaide was a delight to watch, with her largely deformed nose and her failing eyesight that all the pompousness in the world couldn't save; even Mrs. Quickly, horrific a character as she was, pulled it off with such enthusiasm that I couldn't help but smile when she was on screen. Mr. Brown gave a convincing performance as a resigned father in a world where everyone was against him, and Evangeline and the other children (even the baby! The adorable little baby!) did pretty decent jobs of playing their parts. Then, to top it off, both Nanny McPhee and Simon were absolutely stellar. I loved how ugly Nanny McPhee looked in the beginning, and then how, as the children learned their lessons, her blemishes like the warts and her huge nose began fading, one by one, and then the gorgeous Emma Thompson was allowed to appear in true form. (She is such a beautiful woman, honestly. Also, I was rather impressed by the fact that she wrote the screenplay for this movie.) In fact, what was, I could say impressive, about this film was that they managed to show that class distinction does matter (as shown in Evangeline's self-deprecating remark about herself not being educated and thus not good enough for Mr. Brown). This is a family movie, no doubt, but the implications of social standings and even independence, or a lack thereof Mr. Brown's reliance on Aunt Adelaide's money was nicely done.
I was a little iffy about the use of magic in the movie, though. It was fun, especially when the children were the ones receiving the brunt of it, like the scene near the start of the film where Nanny McPhee magicks it so they have to continue their mischief in the kitchen against their will, but at the end during the wedding, when Nanny McPhee makes snow start to fall and turns Evangeline's ruined dress into a long, white wedding gown, it just felt like Kirk Jones had taken it a little over the top. Children not questioning Nanny McPhee's power, I can understand, but for all that to happen in front of a crowd of grown men and women? Such an elaborate, and worse, blatant, display of magic just isn't something they would have accepted.
Good, clean fun for the entire family, and a well-needed break from the recent trend of terrorism-based movies, long biographical films, and all round recycled fluff.
Eight Below (2006)
Unexpected gem of a movie.
This movie was focused, as it should have been, on the dogs for the better half of the film. Now, I must clarify two things before I proceed: one, I have a long-standing phobia of dogs, and two, I have been losing faith in Disney productions with most of their latest films (the exception being Treasure Planet) and I was therefore sure that this movie would be a flop. I am so glad that I was proved wrong.
As always, I loved the realism of the film. The dogs had a system that worked much like a human system: there was hierarchy, like the dogs listening to Maya when Old Jack was no longer around, and letting her have the best of the seagulls that they caught before taking their own; there was a certain each-dog-for-himself attitude that reflected today's society excellently; there were strong bonds between all the creatures, which was shown all the time through their unwillingness to leave even their dead companions alone; there was camaraderie and determination, and a sense of "if I have to sacrifice myself for the greater good of my friends, I will" that was incredible to watch.
By the end of the movie, I was in love with the dogs. The fact that they had survived 175 days in Antarctica, as a team, was amazing. I felt indignation on their behalf when Katie didn't go back for them, when Jerry gave up on trying to find a way to get to them, and when Davis told Jerry to let it go and move on. I felt awed each time they found a solution to each of their many, many problems, and went on bravely with their lives. I felt my heart stop when the leopard seal pounced out of the whale's carcass and attempted to attack Max. I felt an acute sense of loss when I thought Maya had died, and an even greater sadness when Max insisted on leading Jerry back to her. I felt as excited as Jerry did when I realized she was still alive.
I must admit that through a better part of the movie I was covering my mouth with my hand, desperately trying not to bawl, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. The decent soundtrack helped a great deal in building up the moment, but it was mostly Frank Marshall's aptitude for choosing the correct moments to reflect suspense, agony, desperation, and relief that made this movie so incredible at least when it came to the dogs.
In fact, I have only two complaints with the movie: one being the actors. I have nothing against them, any of them (except maybe Moon for having such a ridiculous name), but they took precious screen time away from the dogs, which were honestly the stars of the movie. Few actors can express so much through actions alone, and these canines pulled it off absolutely perfectly. There is so much emotion in the interaction between them that it will both break and warm your heart.
My second complaint is that while the relationships between Jerry and his canine team, and even the relationships between the dogs, unfolded so seamlessly, the scriptwriters were unable to write Katie and Jerry's relationship the same way. They went from friends-with-potential to exes-with-bad-karma to we-are-totally-JUST-friends to the making-out stage with such awkwardness and so abruptly that it mostly fell to pieces, because they just didn't make sense at all.
In fact, when I think about it, the pacing of the movie left something to be desired on a whole, but when you're so absorbed in the story you really don't notice.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Absolute fun to watch.
Meryl Streep was stunning. If I was only allowed a one-line review, that would be it. She was brilliant, and it was such a thrill watching her bask unapologetically in her demanding, diva-like behavior. Her frigid "that's all" would have sent braver men running for cover, and her glare could have crumbled cement. She tossed her list of things to do the same way she did her coat and handbag on her assistants' desk: carelessly, and certain that someone would handle them exactly the way she wanted them to.
That said, she played the part of adoring mother and broken woman equally well, so much so that I couldn't understand how the other occupants of the fashion world could find her so terrifying.
One of my absolute favorite scenes of the movie came at the end, when Miranda and Andy see each other outside of the Runway building, after Andy has resigned. Andy smiles at Miranda, gives her a slight nod, and watches as Miranda slips into her car without another look. What Andy doesn't know is that Miranda is observing her from her window, with a smile -- a rare, rare gift. All of a sudden, the smile slips, and Miranda snaps "go" at her unsuspecting driver, giving him one of her best are-you-stupid? looks in the whole movie. I loved it. It was such a Miranda thing to do. Perfect, perfect, perfect.
Anne Hathaway was not as disappointing as I expected her to be, either, and the performances by Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier (who, as Andy's neglected boyfriend, had me rooting for him throughout the movie) were spot-on, as well. My only complaint is Simon Baker, who, while walking the fine line between suave and sleazy, tipped too far right and landed in unsavory territory for the better half of the movie. He did this without any charm, mind, and any fool could have seen that he was not the type of guy Andy would have fallen for.
The film also had a bit of a Sex And The City feel to it (although that could just have been brought on by the big fashion names) and it was only when I googled David Frankel that I found out that he had, indeed, directed a couple of episodes for the series. There is nothing particularly interesting about his style, but it's very well done and incredibly smooth, which I admire very, very much.
Another thing I enjoyed was the breadth of the film. It covered family, friendship, loyalty, integrity, relationships, dieting, fashion, Harry Potter, success, ambition, stepping stones... the list goes on. Fun for the whole family.
Unfortunately, that's all I have to say about this movie. Aside from rambling on about Meryl Streep's brilliance at playing Miranda Priestley, I don't have much else to say. Better still, I don't have many other complaints, except maybe how predictable certain parts of the plot were. That was salvaged, though, because I was surprised by many other things, like the announcement of Jacqueline as James Holt's partner instead of Nigel, as had been previously alluded to.
Overall, even if there had been anything fundamentally wrong with the film, Meryl Streep would have saved it from being crucified. And since there wasn't, she only added to the stellar quality.