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A missed opportunity....
"Pharmakon" has a lot of potential to be a gripping, dramatic thriller. Branko is a young Albanian graduate who has recently returned from his pharmacological studies in the United States to work for his wealthy, domineering doctor father. Branko becomes interested (obsessed?) with Sara, a beautiful young nurse whose mother is receiving expensive cancer treatments from Branko's father. There are lots of moral questions and mysteries here. Is Sara in a relationship with the father to pay for her mother's treatment? Are Branko's intentions more akin to love or lust? Is the father a villain or a hero?
There are interesting opportunities to talk about corruption and misogyny in Albania and Albanian culture....
Unfortunately, the film is overlong and spends a third of its running time having its four main characters walk up and down stairs, through hallways and down the street. The film could have benefited from some judicious editing to trim its 135-minute running time, and tightening up the script a bit.
I generally enjoy films from Albania, but this one could have been so much better.
Die Ameisenstraße (1995)
Black comedy with some fun ideas but too many characters to make a comprehensive film
Early on in the film, the narrator informs us that the apartment building at the heart of "Die Ameisenstrasse" (aka "Ant Street" or "The Ant's Path") has 18 tenants, a Yugoslavian concierge, two shops, 3 children and one dog (not to mention a pair of new landlords and a crew of Polish workers who arrive later). I immediately wondered how the writers were going to introduce so many characters. The answer: with great difficulty.
There's a lot of fun ideas here....The building's tenants are an interesting slot...We've got an old lady who's a kleptomaniac, a man man obsessed with getting all the clocks in his shop to synchronize, and a bitter old woman who talks about how things were better under Hitler. When the kindly landlord dies, his nephew starts a series of never-ending "renovations" in the building bringing an infestation of seemingly unnecessary repairs, gross insects, Polish laborers and apartment hunters into the building. It's all interesting, but ultimately the director and screenwriters have too much going on for them to handle.
A cast with fewer characters might have worked better, or perhaps a TV miniseries fleshing out the building's quirky cast of residents. But with its 86-minute running time, it seems like we never really get to know anyone very well, and too many promising subplots appear and disappear without much resolution.
Having said all that,"Ameisenstrasse" is never dull and there's enough going on to keep the viewer's interest. This film was the Austrian nominee to the Oscars in 1995 (it was actually better than at least two of the films nominated that year) and was released on DVD with English subtitles in Austria around 2009. 7/10
Ha phraeng (2009)
"Phobia 2" is an anthology of Thai horror films made by some of Thailand's top film directors. As previous reviewers have mentioned, it's difficult to rate anthology films because they may vary wildly in quality.
"NOVICE" (by the director of "Body") is the weakest of the bunch. A delinquent teenager is dropped off at a jungle monastery by his mother who promises to pick him up "when things calm down". "Novice" has some very good ideas but ends up depending too much on loud noises and jump scares while also being somewhat dull. Great ending, weak film. 6/10 "WARD" (the directorial debut of a Thai producer) finds a teenager placed in a hospital bed next to an old man on life support after a routine bicycle accident. Strange things begin happening and the film achieves a claustrophobic "Rear Window" feel since the strong-willed teen can't movie his legs. Good but predictable. 7/10 "BACKPACKERS" (by the director of "Dorm") was my favorite. When it starts off with two silly Japanese teenagers hitchhiking in Thailand, you wonder why it's a horror movie. That's answered soon enough. Thrilling, spooky, gory and exciting. Sadly, this director has turned more to teen comedies lately. 10/10 "SALVAGE" (by the co-director of "Shutter" and "Alone") features another story about karmic justice as a woman who sells used cars gets a comeuppance that would never happen in an American movie. Also takes a while to get going, but ends up worth the time. 7/10 "IN THE END" (by the OTHER co-director of "Shutter" and "Alone", as well as "Pee Mak") is delightfully silly and a great way to end the series. You'll have to know a little bit about Thai horror (think "Scream"), acting and Thai sense of humor, so this might be the most difficult for Western audiences. Still enjoyable with a creepy ending....9/10
An interesting immersion into an exotic culture
A film with charms and faults in equal measure, "Mask of Desire" revels in exotic Nepali traditions and ceremonies, as it tells the story of a young couple confronting the spiritual world. The story is as follows: Saraswati and her husband Dipak have two young daughters but dream of having a son. A mysterious hermit tells Saraswati that if she prays at the shrine of an obscure goddess (Tripura Mata), her wish will come true. However, after tragedy strikes soon after, she and her husband are forced to turn to a beautiful spiritual medium for help. If this sounds like a fairy tale, that's also how this movie feels- at least at the beginning. The medium, Gita, is a beautiful widow who performs exorcisms and cures afflictions that doctors can't treat. The lonely Gita, who has mixed feelings about her spiritual gifts, becomes fascinated by the couple, leading to some rather unexpected developments in the second half. "Mask of Desire" is at its best when it delves headfirst into supernatural themes of religion and spirits, but falls a little flat when it wanders off into soap-opera territory with the accompanying South Asian melodrama.
Though clearly made on a limited budget, the director makes good use of locations. The exorcism scenes are suitably eerie, performances adequate (particularly Gita), and the ending a little bit of a disappointment. Whatever you think about the filmmaking, "Mask of Desire" is an interesting cultural experience. In 2000, it became the first Nepali-language film and the first by a Nepali director ever to be sent to the Oscars (Nepal sent a Tibetan-language film by a French director in 1999). I was able to watch it in 2010 by signing up for an account with the online UNESCO Media Library.
Pulau hantu (2007)
Horror movies don't necessarily have to have a lot to be entertaining....A great script, a budget and good actors are a bonus, but a decent horror movie can make do with a creepy atmosphere, some good scares and a fast-moving plot...."Pulau Hantu" (Ghost Island) commits a cardinal sin....It's just BORING.
The first thirty minutes is shot and edited like a music video, which is not cool, just annoying...Eight rich Indonesian teenagers end up on a resort island by themselves along with two resort workers who cook and watch over the place.
Of course the island is haunted (the title literally translates as "Haunted Island", after all) and people start dying (albeit pretty late in the film)....There's some nonsense about a little girl who disappeared and a doll that keeps moving around, and the "twist" comes too late and is fairly predictable. The film seems to consist mostly of the characters calling each other's names out loud and the ghost constantly grabbing people and letting them go like a Scooby Doo cartoon....It's as if they made up the script as they went along...
The film is never quite sure what kind of film it wants to be....There aren't enough scares to make it a "scary movie" (the ghost, a ripoff of Sadako from "RINGU" just keeps popping up again and again...and again and again...). The characters aren't funny or particularly interesting enough to make it an engaging comedy or drama.
All in all, it's a boring film. You look at your watch an awful lot in 88 minute running time. 1/10
Perpetuum Mobile (2008)
The title means "Perpetual Motion" but film feels like "No Motion"....
Some friends and I went to see this movie at the local EU Film Festival in Tokyo, where it was representing Lithuania.
Unfortunately, this drab "arthouse" film has little to recommend it. The main characters- a divorced alcoholic and a desperate model with some sort of murky backstory- are unpleasant and uninteresting. The plot meanders from "so what?" to "who cares?" as we watch the man repeatedly drink, gamble and have a hangover in the morning....Even the scenery is dreary. By the end, we're indifferent as to what has transpired during the lean 90-minute running time.
As one of my colleagues pointed out, it's a "slice-of-life" drama (which Eastern European countries usually do so well) but about low-lives.
If you're looking for a better film from the Baltic Republics, go and enjoy Estonia's "Klass" (9/10) or even Latvia's beautifully shot but overly patriotic "Defenders of Riga (7/10). There's nothing here to to recommend to the viewer....
La symphonie marocaine (2006)
Beautiful music but dull melodrama
"La Symphonie Marocaine" is the story of a group of down-on-their-luck Moroccan musicians living in a trainyard who get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to audition for a symphony in England. Predictably, the disparate group, including a Lebanese war veteran, a beautiful prostitute, a mute and a stuck-up woman waiting to emigrate to Canada band together to make beautiful music. 90% of the film is in Arabic, and 10% in French (much like life in Morocco).
According to the synopsis, director Kamal Kamal was a musician before becoming a filmmaker and it shows. The film is at its best when the group is practicing together, and a scene in the middle of the film features the group singing a beautiful haunting melody- half classical, half traditional- amidst several rings of fire, is truly memorable.
However, these moments are few and far between. Sadly, although everyone does their best, the characters and the melodrama are not particularly interesting and the story mostly forgettable. There are a few interesting twists, but not enough to sustain the film. Director Kamal obviously has some talent as an editor and a composer, and I don't want to diss a film from a developing country, but this film is a minor effort.
Ultimately dull and predictable
I saw this film on a plane after hearing that Bangladesh had submitted it in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2009 Oscars.
Working on a low-budget is not a hindrance to making a great film, if you have a good director and a good script to work with. There are some signs that "Aha" has the first (there are some beautiful shots, working interspersing the light and music) but it certainly doesn't have the second. The script is dull and predictable, and the way the plot progresses doesn't really make sense.
A kindly old Bangladeshi man lives in a rundown yet stately old home in Dhaka. He reluctantly agrees to sell it off and have it turned into apartment blocks. Around the same time, his whiny daughter returns home from America after leaving her abusive husband. Also around the same time, a disheveled middle-aged man comes onto his property and says that he has killed a man and needs a place to stay. The old man agrees (WHY?). The young daughter begins receiving strange phone calls from a lecherous old man who lives in the neighborhood, and begins seeing him secretly. (WHY?) The kindly old father, upset at his daughter's behavior, makes a momentous decision.
I have seen better films from Bangladesh....The script was clearly the problem here.
Shangri-La Plaza (1990)
Would have been fun as a series
I'm pleasantly surprised to see I'm not the only one who remembers this fun half-hour pilot from over 15 years ago! Filled with kitsch sets and bright colors, the plot is as follows: When her deadbeat ex-husband dies, Amy and her young daughter Jenny inherit a coffee/donut shop at the local mall, next to a garage run by two mechanics, the Bondo Brothers. The two brothers, sensitive George & player Ira, both fall instantly in love with Amy. Amy plans to sell the shop and move to France, but is thwarted when she discovers the shop is heavily in debt. Faced with no choice but to stay for the time being, she begins working.
The musical numbers were nearly all memorable, and range from the kitschy ("Donut Hole") to one really beautiful ballad ("Don't Tell Me I Can Really Care"). Terrence Mann and Savion Glover (as a rapper on crutches) are major Broadway stars (and the other three leads clearly could have been...Melora Hardin and Carmen Lundy are singer/actresses....Jeff Yagher is just an actor with a great voice), and the songs are done with style and by someone who truly loves musical comedy.
I taped this pilot by accident in 1990 and my sister and I watch it every few years for fun (it's in terrible condition, but you can still hear the songs). Not sure if they could have sustained the energy for an entire series, but it could have been fun to watch the game cast give it a try.
Interesting "slice-of-life" film from Central Asia
It takes talent to make a good film in which "nothing happens".
Well, Aktan Abdykalykov, his teenage son Mirlan (who plays the titular lead) and the rest of the largely amateur cast have managed to do so, with a minimum of resources and a maximum of heart.
"The Chimp" is set in a desolate town in Kyrgyzstan at some unknown point in the past. The lead character ("The Chimp", so called for his big ears) is seventeen and about to enter compulsory military service with the bulk of his friends. The film is a look at life in a country that the rest of the world would probably never otherwise have a chance to see. Perhaps the most striking thing about life for "The Chimp" in rural Kyrgyzstan is how many of the same problems affect people in all countries around the world. The boys in the village are horny and sexually frustrated, (some of the girls seem to be so as well), alcoholism remains a problem among the largely blue-collar town, and the kids fight with each other, fight with their parents, have crushes on each other, get into trouble, listen to pop music, get part-time jobs and generally do their best to get by.
The main reason to recommend this film is to see a "slice-of-life" from Central Asia. It's not necessarily "exciting", but it is a fascinating look at a Kyrgyz family and community (mixed Kyrgyz and Russian) struggling to get by. 7/10. Recommended.
Asrar el-banaat (2001)
An important movie from Egypt that deserves to be seen.
"A Girl's Secrets" is a well-acted drama from Egypt about what happens when two teenagers from respectable middle-class families in Cairo end up having a baby.
Yasmine is a pretty, outgoing 16-year old, whose life turns upside down when she accidentally becomes pregnant. This is a fairly common plot/subplot in the United States, and it was refreshing to see this done from a non-Western point-of-view.
All sorts of issues come into play....religion, family honor, abortion, female circumcision, shotgun marriage.....as a result of the pregnancy, which Yasmine managed to hide from her loving family until the seventh month. There are also a number of more subtle questions posed. Yasmine's parents raised her a great deal more conservatively than her best friend and cousin. Did this conservative upbringing play a part in what happened? It is so rare in the West that we see the family dynamics of a Middle Eastern family. The families of both the teenage mother and father deeply love their children, and are all flawed and realistic characters. Yasmine's parents are angry and ashamed of their daughter's behavior, but they also love her and want to do what's best for her. But what to do? This emotional confusion is at the heart of the film, as the families struggle to cope with this most unwanted problem.
The acting is excellent, and if I had any complaint it was about a slight over-reliance on flashbacks to tell the back-story. I imagine it took a lot of courage to make this film in Egypt. I first heard about it when Egypt submitted it to the Oscars about five years ago, and I was finally able to locate it on ebay.
Very well done.
A Japanese man's descent into insanity
I really wanted to like this movie, but despite some moments of sheer brilliance, it doesn't quite hold together....
As earlier reviewers have already stated, the film centers around a reserved young Japanese man who wakes up in a hotel room unable to remember the day before. He regains his memory little-by-little through flashbacks and little clues from his pockets. He soon learns he is the subject of a national manhunt, for reasons best left to the viewer.
"Monday" switches genres several times in the space of 1 hour and 40 minutes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is difficult to do well. The first fifteen minutes are brilliant. The funeral scene is expertly timed comic gold....We then veer into absurd "Twin Peaks" territory at the bar, which ends up merely being annoying.
We then enter Tarantino-ville, although the style is really more Dog Day Afternoon vs. American Psycho. The protagonist understands what he has done, and we watch as a very disturbed man goes insane before your very eyes. This is done well, but the film goes off-track again (is it being preachy? is it being tongue-in-cheek?) before ending.
Basicaly, I felt that this is a very original movie and a very original idea that could have been a lot better. I'd like to see what else the director can do.
Sex o phalsapheh (2005)
An interesting, colorful and ultimately sad love story from Tajikistan
Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf trekked across the border to post-Soviet Tajikistan to make "Sex & Philosophy", reportedly because Iranian social restrictions did not allow him the freedom to make the movie he wanted to make.
"Sex & Philosophy" brings us an original story. Upon reaching his 40th birthday, John, a Russian-Tajik poet/dance instructor, invites his four girlfriends to meet at his dance studio at 2pm sharp, where they learn of each other's existence. What follows is a beautifully filmed treatise on love, examining John's relationships with the four women- including a flight attendant, a lonely prostitute and a doctor. The filmmaker has a talent for highlighting colors (reds everywhere) and incorporating the choreographed chorus of beautiful, silent dancers of John's studio with the action and flashbacks of the story. The beautiful local music, especially that of the blind man and his wife, is also a real treat.
Weak points? Well, the film is very "talky" and you definitely have to be in the mood for some of the semi-philosophical conversations about love, and some of the slow (one might say choreographed...) silent scenes between John and each of the young ladies. I must admit, these scenes were handled rather well. I also thought the film spends too much time on the first story, and rushes through the other three (more interesting) characters.
I'd have to agree with one of the previous reviewers- I'm not sure I agree with the director's jaded and ultimately pessimistic view on modern love, but the story is presented well, and it's always fascinating to see what people look like, how they talk and how they live in one of the world's remotest regions. A good effort. 73/100.
Thai Independent Queer Cinema meets Afterschool Special
"Rainbow Boys", a Thai movie based on the series of novels by Mexican-American writer Alex Sanchez, was heavily publicized among the gay community in Thailand as a rare independent film that would show what it was like to be gay in Thailand. Although everyone seems to be doing their very best, "Rainbow Boys" is definitely an amateur effort by all involved. Tat and Nat are two upper-middle class best friends and university students who are both gay. Nat is effeminate, out and proud while Tat is still closeted to his friends and family. Tat develops a crush on popular jock, Ake (Ek), a nice guy with an abusive father, who Tat ends up tutoring. Ake is curious and confused about his sexuality, and is starting to lose interest in his beautiful girlfriend. What results is a cute, but ultimately amateurish paint-by-numbers "gay teen film". Nat is a funny guy, and Ake is beautiful (one wonders why he becomes interested in the dorky-looking Tat....) and it's interesting to see this kind of a story handled from a non-Western filmmaker (although it's fairly obvious that it's based on an American story), but it's not a great film. 5/10.
Ahingsa-Jikko mee gam (2005)
Bizarre....and it almost sort of works....
"Ahimsa: Stop to Run" is one of the bizarre movies I've ever seen....When I saw it with a Thai friend in the movie theatre last year, we sat there for at least 30 seconds watching the credits roll before I said to him "I have no idea whether I enjoyed that movie or not..." To my surprise, he replied that he totally agreed! The best way I can describe this movie is a "Buddhist karmic thriller". (People also said this about Andy Lau's "Running on Karma") The movie takes genre-bending to the next level...Absurd teen comedy, violent thriller, touching drama..."Ahimsa" has everything, and it doesn't always work. The plot? Ahingsa (his Thai name; not Ahimsa) is a party boy living in Pattaya, Thailand, a tourist city known best for the sex and drug trade. He and his best friend do drugs and hit the club scene at night, wander around the city during the day, and generally lead a hedonistic life. One day, a man with bright red hair and a red tracksuit begins to appear to him, and tells him that he must pay for his sins from a previous life. In other words, Ahingsa will soon die. The Mysterious Man (who nobody else can see) is Ahingsa' "karma". He tells him that he was meant to die as a child, but his mother's prayers bought him some time...which is now up. Ahingsa starts to see disturbing premonitions in fits and starts, and his life and that of his friends, starts to fall apart. He recognizes his love from a previous life
but it's a 35-year old female doctor, who is also set to die soon. More original than almost any other Western movies I've seen, "Ahimsa" isn't always easy to watch, and it's not always well-done (I could have done without the evil, effeminate drug dealers)...but it comes together with a rather, brilliant and surprisingly moving ending. Earlier this week, Thailand decided to send this movie as its representative to the Oscars for 2007 (they originally chose "Invisible Waves" but changed their mind at the last minute). The Foreign Film committee will probably have a heart attack, but if you're looking for something different, check this movie out. It's available on DVD with English subtitles.
Rohng tiam (2005)
"Happy Inn" (or Rohng Tiam in Thai) has a great premise and some talented actors, but ends up looking like it was filmed without a script (maybe it was....). One dark and rainy night, a motley group of people end up staying at an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere....A rich man and his beautiful Eurasian mistress, a group of three thieves trying to find the loot they hid years before, two crazy comedians and a mysterious man with a permanent case of the hiccups. There's a lot of potential to make a "Clue"-style mystery-comedy, but it's all wasted on unfunny jokes, bathroom humor and a million shots of Sayan Meuangjaroen (a famous Thai comedian who has Down's Syndrome) calling for his cat down a dark hall. Instead of telling an interesting story, the cast (most of whom are comedians) seem to care more about doing their own shtick. Naowarat Yuktanan, as the hot-tempered hotel concierge, does her best in a fairly one-note role, and I will admit that the ending, though predictable, was well-done. Still, not impressed....3/10
Så som i himmelen (2004)
I did not want to see this movie, but I'm so glad I did...
I never seem to write a review on IMDb unless I am extremely surprised at how good, or how bad, a movie is. This film falls into the first category. Every year, I try to see all the nominees for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, even those that I know I won't like. "As It Is In Heaven" seems to fit the bill. The plot sounds sugary and sentimental and slow....For my tastes, which run more towards original, dark and/or daring foreign cinema (Michael Haneke, Francois Ozon, A lot of modern Japanese/Korean cinema) "As It Is In Heaven" does not sound particularly interesting....It didn't get released in the USA, so I sat down to watch a VCD I found in Singapore, preparing to "cross it off the list". After a dull beginning, "As It Is In Heaven" becomes that rare film where you really become inspired by what is happening on screen. Weak points: The characters in the film are pure "stock" characters- the Wounded Dreamer, the Town Bully, the Battered Wife, the Loose Woman Yearning for Love, the Repressed Minister....Thankfully, they're largely a likable bunch, as well as being well-written and well-acted. Ingela Olsson, as the minister's wife Inger, would have been nominated for an Oscar had her performance been in English. Strong points: the music is beautiful, and the main song, sung by Gabriella, is truly dramatic and memorable. And keep an eye out for the feisty 87-year old actress playing Olga, who is keeping up with the dancing steps as well as the younger ladies! I won't discuss the ending, but I will say that it makes sense. They're are a lot of emotional things happening in the last hour of the film, and you're not quite sure why they're happening. Although nothing is explained in words, it all makes sense as the movies comes to a fitting crescendo. **** out of *****. Probably the strongest Swedish movie I've ever seen.
Perfect Killer (2005)
Stylish, bloody, but ultimately boring....
I'm not exactly sure what went wrong with "Perfect Killer". There's definitely some talented people involved. The film-making is rather well done, with a very edgy, bloody Tarantino-esquire style to it. The two appealing young stars have done good work before; Supakorn Kitsuwon is the hero of film festival favorite "Monrak Transistor" and wacky Chaicharn Nimpulsawadi is the lead katoey from "The Iron Ladies". Ultimately, I guess it was the story that failed to engage. Two guys are released from prison. Kiab is an innocent man who has developed a killer reputation after he was found guilty of single-handedly exterminating an entire gang in one go, five years before. Song, his uncle, is a remorseless professional hired killer. The film is an action-comedy about how Kiab ends up being assigned to kill a major gangland boss when Song is hospitalized. There's a rather ridiculous subplot involving Kiab's 4-year old English-speaking son, and the movie failed to exploit potential comic gold in Kiab's shady lesbian ex-girlfriend, Si (who is also his son's mother!), and it all ends fairly predictably. All in all, everybody is trying very hard, but there are a lot better Thai movies out there. Recommended only for fans of the genre. 5/10 for effort.
Be with Me (2005)
I had heard mixed things about "Be With Me"...The critics, with whom I never agree, loved the film....Several of my friends, whose opinions I value, called it "pretentious".
I usually HATE movies like "Be With Me"....I hate pretentious movies, I hate slow movies, and I REALLY HATE movies with very little dialogue....
Well, "Be With Me" is slightly pretentious, very slow and has very little dialogue. It's not perfect and for the first fifteen minutes I was wondering exactly where the director was going....But it all comes together, and it ends up being a very sad, very inspiring, very relateable movie! I'd never heard of Theresa Chan, an amazing Singaporean woman who after being becoming deaf and blind at age 14, managed to learn English, write a series of books, travel the world and do a lot of volunteer/charity work....and now star in a movie! Her story really makes you want to do something with your life. Obviously, it's hard to make an "exciting" movie about a woman who obviously has a great deal of trouble speaking, but her story was very interesting (and is mostly told in subtitles)....She's definitely a woman who puts the rest of us to shame.
As a side-note, I would like to note that in my home country, the USA, there is a sizable minority of immigrants who live there for twenty years, and still cannot speak any English. In the country where I now live (Thailand), the majority of foreign residents (including many Americans) do not make any effort to learn Thai. And yet this amazing deaf and blind woman (raised speaking only Cantonese) can learn to speak and write English, and write several books in the language!!!! People should be ashamed at their laziness! The other three stories in the movie are more "arty" but all of them are handled fairly well. As much as we probably don't want to admit it, the vast majority of humankind can probably relate to the three stories of more traditional loneliness in the film....After losing his wife, a man loses the will to live.....A girl is spurned by her new "crush" for no apparent reason....Even the slow, fat man with a heart of gold was sympathetic....
And as this IS a Southeast Asian movie, there's even a ghost!! Anyway, this was a flawed film (too many closeup shots of people eating...), but definitely a surprisingly good one. 7.5/10
The Wedding Date (2005)
Porn for Straight Women
"The Wedding Date" may not be the worst movie ever made, but it could definitely be called the most unrealistic...The movie is a total straight woman's fantasy. I'd rank "Star Wars", "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "My Favorite Martian" as slightly more likely to happen in real life....
Meet Kat, an annoying, neurotic career woman (although admittedly Debra Messing has never looked more beautiful) who hires a gorgeous, nationally renowned male escort (Dermot Mulroney) to be her date to her sister's wedding. He does the job well....He charms her whole family and manages to solve lots of their little problems along the way. For no apparent reason, the two are suddenly in love with each other. The ending was never in doubt.
(Minor Spoilers Ahead, although the movie is so predictable I couldn't really call it a spoiler)
So, straight woman's fantasy. Despite being irritating and socially awkward, Kat manages to have a beautiful man fall in love with her. Okay, that COULD definitely happen. The problem is that for no apparent reason, Dermot Mulroney's character does a complete turnaround after sleeping with Messing, giving up his career and lifestyle (what the hell is he going to do now?) for a client (did I mention she's annoying?) that he just met? Again....Changing a man....Straight woman's fantasy!
This is not a BAD movie, but it's not a GOOD movie either. It is what it is. A total chick flick that will have women swooning and men chuckling to themselves in disbelief. A good supporting cast including Holland Taylor, Amy Adams and Jack Davenport (TV's "Coupling") and an extraordinarily short running time (about 80 minutes) helps move things along quickly to the expected conclusion.
Andaman Girl (2005)
Silly, genre-bending fun
Like many Thai movies, "Andaman Girl" (or "Jee" in the original Thai) takes some crazy characters, an outlandish plot and utilizes everything but the kitchen sink to try and entertain the audience. Some of it works and some it doesn't, but the cast looks like they're having a great time, and you shut the DVD off with a smile on your face.
PEE is an award-winning Thai director who's down on his luck. His beloved girlfriend has thrown him out of the house, his latest films have all flopped, and he's totally broke. After seeing a beautiful girl in a parking lot drop a pair of red panties, he is inspired to write an action movie about her (yes, really). The mysterious girl is JEE, the daughter of a local triad boss who is about to married to the hideously ugly son of a Hong Kong triad friend of her father.
In order to make his movie, PEE has to convince his old film buddies to join him in making the movie on a very tight budget. When each of them says no, PEE gleefully sabotages their current endeavors until they sign on. They then assemble a motley crew of cast and crew members, secure a 2 million baht budget (an inheritance from BROTHER TONG's dead mother, who died after becoming over-excited by a golden bikini-clad male dancer named MAR) and begin to film the movie with JEE (on the run from her arranged marriage) as the female star. Problem: Brother Tong is worried about his investment and says he won't pay up unless they do the film as a porno.
Having such an innocent looking actor playing the naughty PEE was a good choice....The rest of the cast and crew are a lot of fun to watch, but it's MAR (the exotic dancer-cum-male lead) is the one who always steals the show.
(Very Minor Spoilers) In the course of 100 minutes, the crew gate-crashes a funeral, battles a lecherous female ghost who lives in the toilet (which has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the movie), tries to simulate a sex scene using a banana tree and a giant rubber ball, learns about Jee's peculiar sexual attraction to sweat and generally gets very drunk.
Too much bathroom humor to be sure, and as much of the movie falls flat as works, but it's still a fun romp through Thai film-making. Maybe this is how Thai movies get made....Recommended. 7/10
Sheng xiao chuan qi (2006)
Singapore's Stab at Shrek-Style Animation
The story of how the Chinese Zodiac was created has always been one of my favorites, so I decided to check out Singapore's animated version of the story, even though I fully realized that I'm about 15 to 20 years older than the movie's target audience.
"Zodiac: The Race Begins" fills in some of the holes from the old fable. Why were these twelve animals chosen? Why not The Elephant? (he was too big and dangerous). Why not The Cat? (she was too lazy and foolishly trusted the Rat to sign her up) After a truly horrible musical number (which is admittedly kind of catchy) the twelve chosen animals begin a race to the Jade Emperor's Heavenly Palace.
Some of the animals have to confront a villain described as The Evil Tree Spirit (?!) who's not very scary or relevant.
My main problem was character development. Obviously, this is a children's movie, but it would have been much more interesting to see an exciting race between the animals. Instead, the mildly annoying Rat and the hard-working Ox are the main characters and the other ten animals are relegated to the background. All the animals have at least one or two scenes, but most don't have much more than that.
Another problem is that the outcome is never in doubt. Anybody who knows anything about the Chinese Zodiac (as most of the audience presumably does) will know the exact order that the twelve animals finish. The director needed to find other ways to engage the audience, and he did not succeed.
The animation would be quite good for a student project, but it's just not up to par for a full-length international animated film. It's quite possible that young children won't notice these flaws, but this is not a "fun for all ages" quality production like Shrek or Japanese animated films.
Final Note: The Snake (my own sign) does sing a pretty song in the middle though.
A mixed bag....
REVIEW: DARK TALES FROM JAPAN
Apparently this anthology of horror tales from Japan was "Made for TV"....and it shows. All five main stories (interspersed by a sixth story taking place on a late-night bus) could easily be called "Twilight Zone-esquire" and like that famous TV show, some stories hold up better than others.
"Spiderwoman" (KUMO-ONNA), directed by the writer of "Dark Water" centers on a tabloid reporter who is selling a lot of magazines by reporting on numerous, unconfirmed reports of a lady who is half-spider, who has been terrorizing suburban roads at night. It's pure cheese, and not particularly well-done, but it gets better as it goes along. ** 1/2.
"Crevices" (SUKIMA), by the director of "Ring 0" is much better. After a tenant disappears, the landlord calls the man's friend over to investigate. They find every nook and cranny of the apartment sealed up, along with a video camera of the tenant's final days....Short and to the point. *** 1/2
"Sacrifice" (ONAMAKUBI) is the most developed story of the five. A woman is being stalked by her co-worker, who's obsessed with black magic. At the same time, her mother falls ill...and memories of a giant disembodied head (!) from her childhood plague her memories. Not bad. ***
"Blonde Kaidan" (KINPATSU KAIDAN) is an embarrassment. By the same director as the Ju-on and Grudge films, it's about a Japanese guy visiting Hollywood. Pointless and pathetic. *
"Premonition" (YOKAN) is the only story that could rightfully be called a good movie. Well-done on all levels, it's a macabre story about a dishonest businessman who meets three unusual souls when he is trapped in an elevator. Good from start to finish. **** out of *****.
All in all, there's better Japanese horror out there, but this one is okay as a time-killer.
Le fils (2002)
Might have made a decent short film....Then again, maybe not
"Le Fils" takes an interesting premise and turns into an excrutiating experience in which we watch a boy being taught about different kinds of wood. YAWN. Olivier is a dedicated carpentry teacher in a vocational school for boys....(perhaps all of them are delinquents? it's not quite clear). He begins acting strangely upon seeing the name of a student new to the school, who has just been transferred there after being released from 5 years in a juvenile prison. He begins following the student around, and allows him to enroll in his class. We soon find out that his strange obsession is due to the fact that this 16-year boy murdered his young son five years before. The murder has obviously destroyed his marriage (though he remains on good terms with his ex-wife) and he (obviously) suffers from a great deal of emotional stress dealing with boy...though he can't quite pull himself away from him.
Sound good? To be sure, when the movie actually deals with the father's anger over the murder, I perked up and paid attention. Whenever the ex-wife entered the picture, and yelled and screamed about what the hell the man is doing teaching the boy who murdered their son, I perked up and paid attention. Most of the film however consists of long stretches without dialogue, interminable lessons about carpentry, and scenes where the audience learns about different kinds of wood. Terribly slow and uninteresting, there are a few genuinely memorable scenes, such as when Olivier tries to casually extract information about the murder from Francis in the car. There is a hell of a lot of dramatic tension in this scene.
SPOILERS The ending is nonsensical and the ending credits start rolling a few minutes after an exciting chase scene in which Olivier chases Francis after telling him the truth about his son. They then go back to loading wood. To be honest, I would have preferred this to be a revenge drama with Olivier avenging his son's death....The boy killed Olivier's son for a car radio, and I really had no sympathy for him.
Los niños invisibles (2001)
Though I didn't think the plot sounded very interesting, I decided to rent this based on some positive buzz I had heard about the film from local festivals. I personally found the film to be terribly boring. In 1950s Colombia, a small town is abuzz because (A)- a local girl has been selected to represent the state in the Miss Colombia Pageant for the first time and (B)- the first-ever television has arrived for them to watch it on. Against the backdrop, we watch the story of a chubby 12-year old boy who likes his next-door neighbor. Ho-hum. He steals a black magic manual that will supposedly cause him to become invisible upon performing a ritual in the cemetery with the gizzard of a stolen hen, the heart of a cat, and a scapulary (a kind of Catholic medallion). He then enlists the help of two friends. A boring coming-of-tale. 3/10