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And here I thought angels could do no wrong...
Every year there's a show that warms every man's blood and makes the winter worthwhile. That season is upon us again, and this year's is particularly treasured as there were (false, thank God) rumours circulating that Victoria's Secret was going to cancel it (!)
There were quite a few changes since last year's show, most notably which Gisele's contract had finished and did not get renewed. It's a real shame as VS is now missing their World's Richest Supermodel, and she has never failed to please with her opening walk. That honour has now been extended to Adriana. Secondly, to nobody's great surprise, Miranda Kerr was unveiled to be the latest addition to the Angels. I've never seen a more welcoming reception to a new VS model, her all-encompassing popularity with the fans is extraordinary, and personally I feel she's worth every bit of that status and more. At the tender age of 22, she must be the youngest Angel ever, and with her bounce and sass, she can pass for even younger. On the other hand, I have no idea what VS was on when they inducted Marisa Miller, she may have experience but she's far too old (and looks it!) she sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the real beauties. My guess is that VS got insecure and felt it necessary to include an all-American Angel, bad move.
Alright, enough bitching. Let's get on with the show. As with last year's, this year's show was hosted by Heidi Klum. The opening skit was kind of lame and exploitative; and the Rocky theme was just pure cheese. Kanye West was supposed to be the artist opening the show this year, but he had to pull out. His replacement will.i.am did a fine job considering the time constraints and the impromptu-ness of his summoning, but really we were disappointed by his distinct lack of cool, something JT so effortlessly oozed last year. In fact, will brought an odour of sleaze to the show, and that wasn't just his song content.
As aforementioned, Adriana opened the show this year, and she seems to have been overcompensating all her efforts to stir up the crowd just seemed desperate and gimmicky. The first collection was "Into The Wild" think tiger prints set to a Blade Runner backdrop.
Another change this year was the "special features" which VS intersperses between the catwalks. I thought they did an excellent job last year, with models telling tales of their first kiss, etc. which was incredibly cute, but this year was decidedly dull, just simple video bios of the Angels. I consider myself a pretty hardcore fan, and even I was bored by listening to their histories.
The second segment was "Age of Elegance" a tasteful, subtle collection which somehow made patterned cloths look outrageously sexy. Well, if anyone could do it, it'd be Victoria's Secret. And here was the only remix of the night, enjoy it while it lasts. The soundtrack always used to be full of stellar remixes but this year they must've gotten lazy. It's just not as special when we can just buy a copy on iTunes.
Even Victoria's Secret had to kowtow to this unfathomable craze with reality TV. In true America's Next Top Model fashion, VS toured the nation to find 30 girls, out of which one would be given the honour to walk the runway for PINK. This year's running theme was "Miss America", each model representing an American state. There were cowgirls, forest rangers, ski bunnies and all. It was amusing to see Miranda Kerr being the one chosen to open this line, her being an Aussie. Her Miss New York outfit is definitely my pick of the show. Our winner Katie Wilde actually does a surprisingly good job with her surfer chick outfit. Of course she doesn't exude as much confidence as the other more experienced models, but give her a few years and she might just be gracing the cover of your 2012 VS catalogue!
In the interlude we have another live performance, a duet by Seal and Heidi, who make such an adorable couple! The following collection was "Rome Antique", a flurry of golds, greens on rich silks wafting down the runway. There was even a mock Roman fountain in the background. After that was the "Surreally Sexy" collection, inspired by Dali, Man Ray, Magritte and co. It really was quite clever how they managed to recognisably work the famous pieces of art into the clothing line.
And here was the biggest mistake of the evening in my opinion. My guess was that Victoria's Secret simply hired the Spice Girls for the hype. They forgot about the fact that they simply _aren't very good_. Despite being a live performance, they mimed the whole thing and the backing dancers were inexplicably dressed as soldiers. Huh???
The night finishes with "Deck the Halls", a Christmas-themed collection with models dressed as ornaments, sexy Santas and the like. Selita was the golden girl who got to wear the million-dollar bra this year, sparkling like the queen she rightfully is. Seal is on stage again for a final song, backed by a chorus clad in red. For the finale, Heidi comes in with a dangerous-looking snowflake outfit. Not only does it look tacky, but that thing could really poke someone's eye out. :P
All in all, Victoria's Secret has put up another amazing show for us but that's what we've come to expect. The design ranges were, as always, incredibly sexy and innovative and the models outshone themselves once again. The production could be a bit slicker though, put some more thought into the music to make it sound more unique, and provide some more interesting special features to bridge the gaps. Have fun, and see you next year!
The Ten (2007)
Blasphemous and not in the good way either
When I first saw this film on IMDb I got quite excited. After all, how can you possibly go wrong with such a star-studded cast? So despite the relatively low rating, I braved the winds to go see it. Boy was I wrong. David Wain seems to have done the impossible brainwashed respectable actors into believing they're reading a decent script before signing their contracts. There cannot be any other explanation, I refuse to believe it. I don't normally waste my time reviewing films I regard to be bad, but this one offended my senses so much that any money I can deprive the filmmakers of would be a cause for the greater good.
Hmm, how should I start? The plot is conceptually sound: ten stories, each inspired by one of the ten commandments. It could've gone in the way of Magnolia or Crash: an epic story with an ensemble cast which eventually all ties up nicely after numerous conflicts. But the writers decided to try something new, which is great in theory, I welcome innovation and free enterprise in film-making, but they managed to balls it up so majorly that it's unwatchable. Paul Rudd is normally cute and lovable, but his character the narrator is cheesy and annoying as hell. And that's before we learn that he's screwing Jessica Alba (bouncy and two-dimensional as always, but that's how we like her), which instinctively makes every man on the planet want to kill him.
Now the stories themselves. It's hard to put my finger on which one is the worst because they are all so bad. Lazily thought up, nothing holding the piece together, each feels like an excuse to tell some really unfunny jokes, crude and distasteful. The connections to the Ten Commandments are marginal at best, false at worst.
I think by now you understand how much disdain I reserve for this movie, and the actors who shamed themselves by appearing in it. If you find any copies, BURN THEM. Think of the women and children.
Hotel Chevalier (2007)
"What the *beep* is going on?"
I haven't been so confused since watching Mulholland Dr. (which by the way is an excellent movie, unlike this one). Are we really supposed to take Jason Schwartzman seriously with that comical American-French accent (see: 14ème Arrondissement in Paris, je t'aime) and the stupid thick moustache? Natalie Portman fares no better, unconvincing as a seductive vamp with a tomboyish haircut. Both actors are too young and horribly miscast here.
The dialogue is awkward beyond belief and makes no sense whatsoever. I don't understand how anyone can praise this short film since it offers pretentious "mysteries" yet explains nothing to satisfy our reluctant suspense. Until The Darjeeling Limited is released one can't really say it's good at all except stylistically. I suppose if Anderson's intention was to create hype then fine, he did his job, I will watch The Darjeeling Limited just out of curiosity to see whether he will redeem himself.
The background music is far too loud and distracting. Now is that more arty-farty symbolism, an homage to Paul Thomas Anderson or did Wes just forget to turn the sound down on his PC whilst editing? I know the exaggerated use of yellow was an intentional decision he made, but it turned out that he made a bad decision. The one shot that was beautiful and near perfect was the memorable balcony scene, in which the colours really does take your breath away. Promising, shame about the other 12 minutes.
Oh, and for the overzealous horny fanboys (for which I am one), Ms. Portman does not go nude for this film. Disappointing and unsatisfying, perhaps that's why I feel so bitter and cheated. Ah well.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
The end is once again extremely ****ing nigh
I've never been a huge fan of the zombie horror genre, but I was very impressed by Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later Somehow it managed to create characters worth caring about as well as throwing mindless zombies at them. So when I heard that a sequel was in the making, I was excited but understandably cautious since the Disappointing Sequel Syndrome is all too common nowadays. I also disapproved of the director switch, fearing that yet another low-budget gem will be Americanised by Hollywood, made far too slick for its own good.
So to say 28 Weeks Later was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Fresnadillo managed to maintain everything that was good in the original and add his own flair. The rage virus, the zombies and the gore are all still here. But most importantly, what keeps the series shockingly vivid is the willingness to flaunt the naked truth: we humans are the real monsters. Under such extreme circumstances, mankind's self-preservation instincts kicks in and it is an ugly sight to see. It might be the necessary thing to do, but that still doesn't make it feel right.
The film starts off at an odd pace but soon settles into a familiar terror-stricken rush. The cast was well selected, nothing out of the ordinary but no obvious weak links either. The Americanisation was not as severe as I had previously dreaded, and I actually quite welcomed Rose Byrne and Jeremy Renner leading the plot. The shots of post-apocalyptic London may have been done already but they're still as effective as ever, and John Murphy's score is brilliant as always.
All in all, a worthy sequel to Days and very few fans will be disappointed, I hope.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Makes your life extraordinary
Nowadays, the phrase "carpe diem" is referenced to so often that it actually sickens me. You see it pasted into the Favourite Quotes section of every Myspace of every teenage rebel without a cause, trying to display their impulsiveness and individuality by claiming stake over a Latin phrase written two thousand years ago. Tonight, I watched this film for the first time, and for once I feel a little sympathy for those who tell us to "Seize the day". It's a testament to the film's strength how overused that phrase is it may not have been originated from the film, but it certainly popularised it.
The film is set in a 1950s boarding school for boys. Despite how distant and tedious that sounds, Weir quickly introduces us to the main characters and we realise that these teenage boys are not all that different from us. They have the same tendencies, the same overbearing parents, and the same problems with members of the opposite sex. They are real people. It's that emotional bond that Weir establishes so early and establishes so well that makes the rest of the movie so effective. You really feel like "one of the guys" you laugh when they do, you cry when they do, and you feel the zest, the zeal, the exhilarance that comes so naturally with being young.
Soon we meet John Keating, the new English teacher. The way I see it, the poetry that he teaches is simply a medium to get his message across. What he really teaches is a life lesson beyond even the scope of poetry: independent thinking and personal liberty. Robin Williams is truly inspirational in his role here, and well-deserved of that Oscar. I think we've all wanted a teacher like Keating in school and I believe this character has touched the souls of many an audience and has turned their lives around, urging them to be better people. We all got the message. The fact that Williams' performance can reach through the screen like that is so rare and incredible. In fact, all of the Dead Poets Society's acting is pretty strong, and this helps us feel what they feel: anguish, indignation, love.
The film weaves through one issue after another, utilising each experience to teach us a lesson, yet we never feel patronised. It reaches the climax but never stoops so low as to conform to a cliché. Towards the end it even asks you the question on who do you side with. I don't want to spoil anything here, but the last scene is nothing short of extraordinary. I actually had tears welling up in my eyes. I can't guarantee the same for you, but in my opinion, this is one of the most powerful and moving endings ever. Ethan Hawke (who was frankly underused in the rest of the film) finally makes a stand for himself and proves that I had not overestimated his talent.
Regardless of what generation you're from, this film will inspire you to "seize the day". There, I said it.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
I never understood why John Hughes was so lauded as an 80s teen movie master. To me, Sixteen Candles was unrealistic, Pretty in Pink was unsatisfying and Ferris Bueller was totally over the top. But fluke or not, I have to give him credit for writing the best high school movie (for once I do agree with Entertainment Weekly).
What makes The Breakfast Club so special then? I'd like to think it's the characterisation. Despite being such stereotypical brain/athlete/basket case/princess/criminals, the cast somehow makes it all work and adds so many distinct dimensions to the characters that you can relate to everyone. Never have I met someone who has said they couldn't identify with anyone from The Breakfast Club. The entire cast is simply outstanding, with my personal favourite being Ally Sheedy who manages to steal scenes without even speaking! Judd Nelson of course has to carry most of the movie on his shoulders, but I can't imagine a better actor to lead this fine film. Even the supporting cast is brilliant, John Kapelos always possessing that devious twinkle in his eye.
Like all of Hughes' "Brat Pack" films, this one deals with a theme: one that does not involve the Molly Ringwald character trying to get a boyfriend. Well, almost. The film talks about subjects that matter to a teenager, and one of the most problematic ones is the parents. Whether it's pressure for success, going through a divorce, or simply ignoring your child, Hughes shows us all the ways how parental influence can screw up a kid for life. And he does this without falling into the trap of being condescending, which in itself is mighty impressive. And of course, there's the topic eternally plaguing all teenagers: sex. The end result is a hilarious script, witty yet still heartfelt.
Of course, the film is not perfect. The pace ground down to a halt when they did the typical "share our problems in a circle" thing, but soon conflict arose and it became interesting again. Pairing Alison with Andy always felt a little forced to me, especially after she is made over by Claire. But I guess that epitomises the teenage years even at the sweetest times (and oh how sweet they are) there will never be a lack of issues.
I wasn't even born yet on March 24, 1984, but somehow Hughes manages to make me reminisce about "the good old times". Because really, are our teenage generations all that different?
A pretty strong thriller
Refreshing to see such a film that's capable of building up suspense at the right moments without taking itself too seriously. Impressive stuff considering there's no blood and gore and it's all for a PG-13 audience. The 'thriller' part of the film is almost forgotten at times since you're just having so much fun with the characters and the teen drama aspect of it. The actors all played their parts pretty well, none of them were glaringly out-of-place. Shia LaBeouf is shaping out to be quite a solid male lead, but Aaron Yoo was probably the MVP here with a hilarious turn as Ronnie. Sarah Roemer may not be Elisha, but she's still hot and teasing enough to keep you both intrigued and frustrated at the same time. I didn't think much of David Morse's acting he was just quiet whilst lacking the intimidating intelligence exhibited by, say, Sir Anthony Hopkins. Some of the events were not entirely believable, and required a few deus ex machinas to move things along, but that's to be expected from a thriller where the protagonist is not a professional. The soundtrack is your typical teen-angsty stuff, perfect when you're feeling sorry for yourself. There's probably some deep philosophical subtext on the lack of privacy in the modern world if you dig around long enough, but really, what's the point? Overall, a pretty strong thriller.
Get Over It (2001)
Just a fun feel-good movie
I caught this on TV again last night and I was reminded of just how much fun it was to watch this movie. In the age where teen slapstick comedies are a pound for a dozen, Hollywood occasionally manages to get it just right and produce something with heart, like this one. The story is loosely based around The Bard's perhaps most popular comedy in that it also utilises a love square.
Sure, the film is never going to win an Academy Award any time soon, but really, that's not what you're watching this film for, is it? It's light and fluffy, perfect for a night in with some friends and you can all get some laughs out of it. The casting was perfect; right down to Shane West's laughably abysmal accent. Ben Foster is definitely nerdy enough to play the "hapless loser" or so Berke calls himself, and you can't help but feel sorry for him as he tries so hard at every turn to win back his ex-girlfriend in vain. But sometimes you just want to scream at him for not seeing what's right in front of him: Kelly, played by the gorgeous Kirsten Dunst, the quintessential girl next door. However, the star of the show here is actually Martin Short, who manages to steal every scene he's in as a maniacal, completely OTT drama director. His lines are pure gold and he manages to accompany that with a crazed performance "Pluck! You've got to PLUCK it!"
What sets this film apart from all the rest is that it's a musical that works. The actual production at the end was fantastic, had some great energetic, toe-tapping numbers and O'Haver did a marvellous job directing it. This is exactly what High School Musical tried to be and failed. It's a shame that some of the production songs aren't on the OST because if carried out in full, I think they're good enough to fit onto an album in their own right. I know I would love to watch the final production in its entirety. Kirsten Dunst really surprised me with how good of a singer she is.
So watch it, laugh out loud, and don't take it too seriously. It sure didn't.
Disappointment but what else would you expect?
I went into the film fully expecting another mediocre book-to-film adaptation, and unfortunately, it met my expectations. Tom Tykwer is one of my favourite directors and I had high hopes that he would be able to transfer Suskind's sensational read into the audio-visual format, but regrettably, it appears that the medium of film is not quite ready yet. Suskind vivified descriptions better than any other author I have ever read. Somehow, he managed to capture the wafts and wisps of every fleeting scent and ten minutes into reading the book, I discovered a heightened sense of smell. That effect seemed to have been lost in translation. Admittedly, filmmakers only have two channels to work through: the sense of sight and the sense of sound, whereas Suskind's magic was weaved through our greatest sense of all: our imaginations. Kubrick and Scorsese both conceded that Das Parfum was "unfilmable" and although I admire Tykwer's willingness, he happened to prove the master directors correct. Visually, Tykwer produced an impressive banquet of colours, contrasting between the spectacular and the mundane, the sensual warm palettes and the pale cold ones. But they were still cheap substitutes, and that was not enough. Flashes and glimpses of various objects do not liven our sense of smell. Neither do too many shots of Grenouille's nose with an added sound effect of someone inhaling. There was very little subtlety involved in conjuring up the imagery. The score was divine at times when it was brave enough to crescendo (most notably when Grenouille smells Laura for the second time) but mostly it was just average and too quiet to make an impact.
Really, the filmmakers really fell over at the first hurdle: casting. I thought they ought to have looked harder for actors more suited to their roles, and if they couldn't find that perfect someone, abandon the project entirely. Ben Whishaw certainly looks demented enough, but too young and boyish to play our protagonist. For the first half of the book, Grenouille is expected to be an ugly, hunchbacked, yet arrogant subhuman. Whishaw just looked scared. The English accents felt equally out of place in 18th century Paris. Dustin Hoffman was simply ridiculous as Baldini, far too jolly and adding comedy where there was meant to be none. The true Baldini was devilishly resourceful and scheming, something that Hoffman doesn't understand. I was expecting Alan Rickman to balance him off with a little more gravitas, but apparently nobody told him that he was no longer playing Snape. John Hurt's narration was bearable, but personally I am strongly against narrators in films though for something like this I'll concede it may be necessary. There was one surprisingly bright beacon of hope among the cast, and that was Rachel Hurd-Wood as Laura. With how the book described her as the female Messiah, I expected to be disappointed with the film version, but she was simply perfect and more. I'm thankful that they did not decide to cast a twenty-something in the role of Laura and let her pretend to be the paradigm of chastity and virtue. Her innocence spoke volumes and I can see how Suskind could summarise it as incest-inducing in Richis.
It was only when Laura appeared on screen that you felt that Grenouille finally had a goal. Before that, he seemed to have been aimlessly wandering around with only a concept of what he was planning to do. But here is where the film contrasts the most with the book while the book was getting tedious towards the end, the film only now starts to spark up. Unfortunately, it still cannot inspire splendour and magnificence as the book could. There was nothing artistic about Whishaw's Grenouille, you only felt dirty and perverted as the beast gazed upon such a creature of beauty.
As with every book-to-film adaptation, time is the most valuable asset and to compensate, parts must be carved out, making it feel like an impoverished imitation. Not only that, some parts were diluted and pasted in hastily in a poor attempt to recover its former glory. Virgin No. 1 was one of the most monumental moments in the book and you could almost taste the warm, syrupy, yellow plum juices dribbling down her hand. Yet minutes before, the film for some reason decided to inject in an unnecessary meeting between the two. The first night down at Baldini's cellar, when Grenouille was a whirlwind of talent whilst in creating Nuit Magique, was decidedly unspectacular. The climax of the film, when Grenouille showcases his ultimate perfume and provokes a mass orgy, was simply too weak. Whishaw looked unconvincing, childish, and downright silly in that blue suit, brandishing a handkerchief(!) as if it was meant to inspire slavish devotion amongst the crowd. If Grenouille could fool the masses into believing that he was an angel, we should be under that same illusion. Instead we get shots of Whishaw pathetically waving his arms and punching the air, Henman-style.
A minor grudge I hold against Tykwer is how he mishandled the deaths of all those who played a part in Grenouille's life. Suskind did a great job to amusingly mock all of those fleeting personalities and their respective demises, and I thought if anyone could capture that fully, it would be Tykwer since he has done it before (and well) in Lola Rennt. However, for some reason he just missed the target on this one.
If you do want to enjoy the film, it is probably a better idea not to read the book first otherwise you may feel cheated. Trying to recreate paradise in two dimensions was always going to be an impossible task. I must applaud Tykwer for having the guts to take up that gauntlet, but perhaps it was better to leave Suskind's masterpiece alone until the world of film is ready.
Paris, je t'aime (2006)
Vraiment, je t'aime tant
I think I fell in love with this film before even watching it. The initial concept was just so brilliant 18 stories by 18 directors set in 18 arrondissements of Paris, worshipping it in all its glory and triumph. It was so unique and fresh, different from all the films I have previously seen. And being the Francophile I am, I knew I had to watch it immediately. As I lovingly unwrapped the DVD cover (even that was designed with great consideration - the splash of red on Miranda Richardson's trench-coat is both bold and understated at the same time), I knew I was going to be in for an enjoyable, and distinctly Gallic ride.
And it fails to disappoint. Well, mostly. The over-arching theme can of course only be love, considering that all of the stories are set in the most romantic city in the world. But each writer/director approached the subject from their own perspective, following the "rules" as strictly or as loosely as they desired. Some set out to send a message to the audience; some wanted the capture the raw emotion of the characters; and some just decided to be funny. It's not a film that you want to be watching with a mob of people, but is a film that you'll want to discuss intimately with your loved ones afterwards. Everyone will have their favourites and least favourites, and exploring those instincts with others is by far one of the most enjoyable experiences that the film brings to the table.
Each story lasts around five minutes. For some, it is the perfect length and for others, you yearn to learn more about the characters. The cast is superb and none of them threatens to overshadow the others. Pierre Adenot does a fantastic job with scoring the film quaint little set pieces and decidedly French, like quiet musings to the soul. It is a shame that two arrondissements fell through, I would've loved to see what Raphael Nadjari and Christoffer Boe would have done with Popincourt et Vaugirard. But since each story can be viewed as a masterpiece in its own right, the film does not feel incomplete.