Monday, November 16, 2009

An Overwhelming “Buffet” – “2012”

There are only two questions that you need to ask for any doom-day movie: When it comes, where will you be and who will you be with? Anything else, like the special effects, humanity issues, religions, etc., are either pure technical things or things that could be covered by these two billion-dollar questions.

The profile of Roland Emmerich (a.k.a the director) actually decreased my desire to watch this movie: From “Independence Day” (1996), “Godzilla” (1998) all the way down to “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) and “10,000 B.C.” (2008), it seems that the only thing increases is the ratio and tech level of those special effect shots in his movies. It was actually this poster and the name “John Cusack” (a.k.a the leading actor) that dragged me into the cinema.

The whole thing looks like a mixture of all disaster movies within the recent decade – You don’t need to be an expert to pinpoint the names like “Japan Sinks” (OK, if you haven’t watched this Japanese movie yet, go for it. I recommend the 2006 version.), “Titanic”, “War of Worlds” and Emmerich’s own “The Day After Tomorrow”. And of course, the Ark... It seems that Emmerich believed that if he could “extract” the classic scenes from all these movies and put them into one new movie, he could be able to create a more successful one. But what we see here is just an overwhelming “buffet” – we have everything, but we simply cannot digest.

Again a wrong role in a wrong movie for John Cusack. He could not even surpass Tom Cruise in “War of Worlds”. He should pick some more sophiscated roles to engrave his name onto some trophies.

And the writers of this movie simply “follow the rules”: Bad guys must be Caucasians; those supporting roles can find their peace in heaven so that the leading guy will reunite with his family and live happily ever after; and don’t forget these “popular” issues now:
1. BRIC: The fallen Christ in Brazil, Russian president and giant plane, the secret discovered by Indian scientist (and in India also), and China that makes the Arks.
2. Black U.S. president.
3. Brave U.S. firemen / firewomen
4. Tibet

Although, you should watch such a doom-day movie once every several yrs, just to think about those two billion-dollar questions, it’s good for your own sake.
P.S. Do you know the meaning of “Himalaya”?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Legend on the Stage – “This Is It”

Although I knew it is just a final milking from the cash cow by the production company, after watching this “Final tribute to MJ”, I still felt sad and sorry for his departure.

He belongs to the stage: Whatever he did off it, he just shines on it. Even without actually singing those songs (to protect his voice before the real show, as he said), his confident movements proved that he is really the “King of Pop”. Those 80’s costumes and movements might look “out” on anybody else, but just so “in” on him. And he is one of the only two ppl that can make the “black-shoe-white-socks” a fashion instead of a disaster – the other one is the late Bruce Lee. Now they can finally meet in the heaven.

And the stage belongs to him: As one of the two stage directors, he requests for perfection for every detail – echo, lighting, movements of the dancers, etc. The keyboard guy complains that “MJ knows every tone of every single one of his songs”. God knows that most singers have to recite the lyrics and stage positions before every single one of their shows… And I particularly like what he said to that young guitar girl when they were rehearsing for the duo – “It’s your time to shine!”.

Editing based on limited original video clips is never an easy job. (I did some trivial editing jobs recently, and that’s why I understand that.) This documentary really deserves an Oscar nomination for that. Come on, you cannot get MJ to come back and shoot for some additional cuts when you find out that you are missing them… Yup, I heard that some of the scenes were not by the “real MJ”, but, whatever…

There are so many songs that are important to me here: The anti-war “They Don’t Care About Us”, the save-the-planet “Earth Song” and “Heal the World”, the anti-discrimination “Black or White”, and a very special one for me – “Beat It” (cuz I performed this song in an aerobics way with some classmates back to the college yrs…). And so many classic movements: moonwalk, robot dance, “Billie Jean” (you know what I mean…), etc. Just like a “compilation”… After watching all these, you will have the same feeling as I do – why we have to lose him?!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Golden Ages Once More -- "Inglourious Basterds"

Again, I was attracted to cinema by Brad Pitt. Not Quentine Tarantino, cuz so many movies related to his name really disappointed me... Lucky for him, this time he made it right.

There are 5 chapters in this movie (literally), so I would take it more like a "compilation" of 5 short films which are somewhate related.

Chapter 1: The conversation between a French diary farmer and a SS officer (Col. Landa) almost single-handed consists of the whole 20 min, and even within a humble farm house setting! From now on we should pay attention to this name Christoph Waltz, who also brought us several other excellent scenes in the following chapters.

Chapter 2: This is like a brief for the team of "Basterds", in a close-to-Kill-Bill style. And I guess it's this chapter that made this movie got the "M18" classification in Singapore.

Chapter 3: The real story began here -- One leading female role Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) made her official debut. And with the handsome German Ace sniper Fredrick (Daniel Brühl, who gained worldwide fame by "Goodbye, Lenin!"), I almost thought that this gonna be a "love in war" movie... Luckily, I was wrong. Another conversation (or interrogation?) from Col. Landa, with Shosanna this time, equally breath-taking.

Chapter 4: This chapter reminds me the "Where Eagles Dare"(1968). If you don't know what I'm saying, go find that movie and watch it. I'm pretty sure that Tarantino has already done that. BTW, although I cannot distinguish Munich and Frankfurt accents, I was strangely whispering "shit" when I saw the English Lieutenant gestured his three middle fingers as "3"... And I saw John Woo in the gun-fighting again...

Chapter 5: Shosanna's make-up scene with the 80's Disco music was a little bit "over", esp. when she walked out in a red-yellow-black outfit... The ending of Shosanna and Fredrick was a bit surprising, but surprisingly good. The distorted face and horrible laugh of Shosanna in the fire brought me the feeling of "The Phantom of the Opera"... And the final scene was actually within my expectation, I even wish Pitt could do sth "further"...

Like I said, you can find many elements of those classic spy movies in this one, and Tarantino's biggest accomplishment might be to make you walk out of the cinema laughing after seen so much blood and bloody things. He should thank Brad Pitt in particular.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Magic of Sandra Bullock

She is not a “pretty girl” any more, but she still got the magic. After “Speed”, she got bad shots like “Speed 2” and “Miss Congeniality 2”, but she got more good ones like “Miss Congeniality”, “Two-week Notice” and the successful re-union with Keenu Reeves in “The Lake House”. This latest “The Proposal” could be considered as a “reversed” version of her “Two-week Notice” with Hugh Grant several yrs ago – you just need to change the boss from a guy to a gal, and of course, change the super assistant from a girl to a dude.

Sandra did quite a good job in playing “tough girls”, like the “wild cat” in “Speed”, and of course, the Tom-boy cop in “Miss Congeniality”. This time, she is once again, playing an icon for all OLs – the all-mighty editor in chief, a.k.a., “the witch”. While Ryan Reynolds is arguably the most handsome assistant ever, you could be daydreaming about having such a considerate assistant that can do everything from OT, bodyguard, party partner all the way to rush out to buy lady’s pads for you at midnight… The funniest thing is, he even drinks the same flavor of take-away coffee with his boss, cuz he’s afraid that he might spilt her share on the way to office…

The whole story is actually quite predictable – the female boss was forced to fake a marriage with her own male assistant, and they had to pretend to be a couple in love in front of the family members and friends of the dude. Jokes are everywhere, and I particularly like those ones that are quite close to our daily office work. Obviously most audience in the cinema shared the same opinion as mine.

BTW Sandra Bullock keeps fit quite well (although not quite sexy…), and when paired with the latest “Sexiest Man Alive”, the nude scene is pretty nice… Feel like that Ryan shares with Andrew (his role in this movie) in one common thing – they both married a powerful woman…

For the ending, everyone knows lah… Plus, the scenes in Alaska are gorgeous.

(This pic was used to make the cinema posters in Singapore, which I preferred. Wonder why I couldn’t find this version of poster online…)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Splendid Feast – “G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra”

“G.I.Joe” was the only “boys’ cartoon” I watched during my childhood. Now I could even hardly remember the names in it, don’t mention the stories. But the theme song still rings the bell – “G.I.Joe, G.I.Joe, …”. So I headed to the cinema as soon as I found this “beginning” movie was on.

Basically there are two “winning tricks” to make a real-life movie out of a classic comic book / cartoon: You can either make a much “deeper” (and most of the time, much darker too) story to attract those ppl that never watched the original ones, or just use tens of millions of dollars to “reproduce” those classic costumes, scenes and monsters so that the loyal fans will finally pay the bill. This “G.I.Joe” movie chose the second one, by piling up incredibly advanced weapons, incredibly CG effects and incredibly hot hulks and chicks. Don’t expect anything “abstract” or “reasonable” here – what you should expect is just a splendid feast for your eyes.

Channing Tatum is not good enough for my Duke, but anyway he is not doing much “solo” here (Marlon Wayans a.k.a. Ripcord definitely stole a lot of scenes from him), so I’ll just let it be. Sienna Miller showed me nothing but her sexy curves, and the most unforgivable thing is that she even could not make any chemistry with the Korean heart-throb Lee Byung Hun! On the contrary, Lee Byung Hun did whatever he could to make the impression, including showing his six-packs without any reason in his last scene (OK, I admit, there is one reason for that, the box office…).

To me, he did his Hollywood debut much better than his fellow Daniel Henney. Other baddies are just normal, no difference from other baddies in other movies. The only one that “popped up” is Arnold Vosloo (as Zartan, whom I believe that will have some bigger shares in the next sequel), because another “un-credited” role in this movie is Brandon Fraser (as a Joe trainer). That reminds me the “Mummies” series… Another name to take note is the young Storm Shadow (the adult role by Lee Byung Hun), Brandon Soo Hoo. This little boy is only 14 yrs old, with black belt in Taekwondo, fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, and practicing Wing Tsun now. Could he become the next Bruce Lee?
Notable scenes of this movie:
1. The car racing in the streets of Paris. Although we all know that was not true, just use your imagination pls…
2. The fall of Eiffel Tower. You guys French must got some issue with Hollywood – There are quite several movies recently took this big guy down.
3. The attack of Joe’s under-water troops against the secret base of MARS. That reminds me the Pacific War era – the legendary Hornet and Yamato…
Scenes that could have been better:
1. The first confront between Baroness and Duke. Maybe they wanted to make Joe’s look more powerful, by portraying a group of useless commandos…
2. Fights between Baroness and Scarlett. Come on, two hot chicks are fighting! Can you show us sth hotter?
3. Fights between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. Again, we expect more skillful sword-plays. Even the laser swords in Star Wars 30 yrs ago did a better job.
And I can promise you that there is definitely gonna be a sequel. But I really got worried for the writers and director of this coming sequel – how would you make the story when you got Zartan in the office of xxx…

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Era of Passion -- "Public Enemies"

That was an era called "The Great Depression", and now it's the era called "The 2nd Great Depression". That was an era that ppl hated the banks that "robbed" their money so that any bank robber could be a super star, and now its the era that ppl hated the banks that "cheated" their money yet the banks still gave huge bonus to their management staff. That was an era of passion, and now it's an era of re-creating such passion, on the screen.

Nostalgia colors, old-school microphones, 30's costume and settings, all these brought us back to that era. But I don't buy it that a Thompson semi-auto can be fired like a M-16, although the gun fighting scenes are awesome, esp the one in the Little Bohemia Lodge and the woods. We've been flooded by bombs, lasers, missles and other modern weapons, so when I heard the gunshots that resemble the real-life ones, it actually touched me more. The other thing I disagree with the camera-men is that why they couldn't just hold the cameras still? I felt like car-sick after the show...

Johnny Depp doesn't look quite like John Dillinger, neither does Christian Bale look like "Little Mel". Aside from the box-office, they earned their roles, I bet, most likely because they always dared to do some "extreme" things in their previous projects, like "Edward the Scissorhands" and "Mechanics". Depp is definitely the star of the whole movie, via the skillful acting that he used to portrait Dillinger from being smart, being aggressive, and finally being desperated. There is only one scene that I felt that he was "over-acting" -- The scene that Billie got arrested. Dillinger was actually surrounded by dozens of special agents, and he acted like he just wanna shout it out. Hard to believe that no one noticed such a strange guy there and just let him drive away like that... The scene that Dillinger visited Chicago Police Department looks quite weird, but I heard that it was based on reality. I just saw Depp walking around like a ghost, weird, but I kind of like it.

Compared to Depp, Bale was not that lucky, for his role, special agent Melvin Purvis, was just not the focus. This is not "Catch Me If You Can" after all.

Our "Dillinger Girl" Marion Cotillard could be hardly categorized as "beauty" in Hollywood. The most impressive scene is when Billie was tortured by that fat-boy agent. Besides earned some points to her career, she also earned a romantic scene with Bale here. ^_^

I actually don't quite like the director to put so much love stories upon Dillinger, but I know that's for the box office...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Better in School -- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The first minute of this movie really lighted the fire: Flying together with the Deatheaters caused me feel like car-sick, and the collaps of the Millennium Bridge also brought some "Armageddon" feelings. But then the director seemed to recall the idea, and put the boys and girls back in the school, making the whole thing more like a high school movie. BTW I really don't like the arrangement of the love relationship among our main roles: Ron is too fat for Hermione, and Ginny is just too normal for Harry. I would rather make a H&H couple, and assign Ron back to his bitchy GF. Guess what? I also wanna add some spicy things here by making Drako and Ginny a "Romeo & Juliet" couple! Seriously, why didn't Rowling never think about that?

The later half of the movie made almost all of my friends sleepy, and no exception for me. If the whole thing is about some evil plot, it's obviously not that evil or complicated that we really need our brain cell to digest.

The new professor Jim Broadbent(as Horace)is average, but the mad woman Helena Bonham Carter (as Bellatrix) really drove me mad. There are some "formulas" to play a bad guy in a movie, but she definitely did not get it.

Finally, may the soul of Dumbledore rest in peace...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Older, and Nicer, Maybe? – “Duplicity”

When I first saw the poster and the trailer, I thought that it was a challenge to “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, and with Julia Roberts on the board. But actually it looks more like a spin-off of “Ocean’s” series – tricks, traps and traveling.

The story-telling is quite nice though, with several pretty surprising turns. But I don’t like some points that were made so “over” – the “vulnerable” travel arrangement department, the messy “battle room” and those magic photocopy machines. In details like dialogues and body languages, these guys showed us some real stuff, and that is not only about Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, but also a full set of supporting roles. I particularly like the exaggerative speech by the CEO Dick (Paul Giamatti), which reminded me some “big bosses” I’ve seen.

Although not that necessary for the story, the scenes in Dubai, Rome, London and other multiple cities in U.S. are quite entertaining. As the big “coming back” of Julia Roberts, the movie company definitely paid a big bill. But shouldn’t the happy mummy tried harder to keep fit before bargaining about such benefits? And don’t even mention the obviously aged faces of both Roberts and Owen – ppl DO get old… Even with a slimmer figure (compared to “Children of Men” and “Shoot’em Up”), it’s quite hard to believe that these two can “seduce” anyone…

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rose In the Brambles – Sunshine Cleaning

Just saw Emily Blunt as the gorgeous and noble Queen Victoria in “The Young Victoria”, it’s really a bit hard for me to see her in a Gothic outfit playing a troubled-and-not-so-teenager teenager. Plus the silly vase from “Night at the Museum 2”, Amy Adams, this “Sunshine Cleaning” truly brought us quite some surprises.

Struggling single mother, troubled family members (tough-to-handle father, troubled son, even more troubled sister and a mother killed herself) and an affair with the detective in town who has already got wife and kids, every element here could be used to tell a nice story by Hollywood writers, and here they were so generous to pile them up! Some reviews compared this movie to the awards-winner “Miss Little Sunshine”, and I can understand that now. Life is tough, and even tougher for Rose here. Obviously the budget for this movie is quite limited – there is no special effect, no splendid stage setting, no fashionable costume, even no impressive music. With a bunch of no-so-famous actors (although some of them have earned some attention in recent yrs), the director was lucky enough to get a good chemistry among the crew and make the miracle to happen.

The mood is a bit over sometimes, like the scene that the younger sister Norah crazily shouting under a bridge and the one that Rose “spoke out” to Winston (the owner of the cleaning appliance shop) all of a sudden. I would prefer that Rose to be tougher here.
And since the scripts had been finished before early 2008, there were some “out-of-date” info in the movie like a “fantastic job” in real estate… The writers were not as smart as their colleagues working for “Transformers 2” that intentionally left the name of the US president blank and used the post-production to “fill in” the winner’s.

Another “surprise” is the little boy acting as Oscar, the cute son of Rose. The young actor, Jason Spevack, made his debut in 2003, while he barely started to walk by himself…

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Real “Ever After” – The Young Victoria

There is a rather unknown movie by the legendary Romy Schneider (in case you don’t know her, she is the Princess Sissi forever) about the same topic of this one. But that version is a pure prince-and-princess-style fairy tale: the prince married the princess, and they were happy ever after. And today, this movie is gonna show you some not-so-happy things behind the fairy couple and ppl surrounding them.

Basically almost everyone in the movie got a dark side somewhere: the mother that wanted to be Regent of her own daughter, the prime minister that wanted to use the young queen to defeat his political enemies, the uncles that wanted to use marriage to control the queen and even the whole empire, etc. But the only role that was doomed is Sir John Conroy, a.k.a the lover of the mother. The scenes that Conroy shouted at the young princess (later on the queen), grabbed her in the arms, and even tried to force her to sign the “Regent Order” seemed rather unbelievable to me – Can you imagine that kind of things happened in any sovereign country where the bad guy actually had no power (officially he was just the treasurer and housekeeper of the mother)? Several simple words from the queen could easily send him to jail or even the guillotine. And when you saw the scene that the queen happened to meet Conroy alone in the corridor shortly after the unsuccessful assassination, you knew what would happen next…

As the core of the whole story, the B-cast Emily Blunt showed the potential of another “Her Majesty actress” – not so good-looking, but always behaves like a noble, and just like what Victoria said about herself in the move, “stronger than looks to be”. We are so glad that we find a successor to Cate Blanchett. And standing by her is the rather C-cast Rupert Friend (although he looks quite like Orlando Bloom, this is the first mainstream leading role he ever got in a full-length movie). Actually he did a pretty good job, but for commercial reasons, we would prefer a better created face…

And as a historical topic (and even more, a royal topic), this movie showed us some interesting points of the royal life. Some of them had been well-known via other Victorian movies (like the Romy Schneider version), but others are rather novel, like the funny rule that Victoria must hold the hand of a maid whenever she stepped up or down the stairs, and when she was having a date with Albert (given it a walk in the garden or a chess play by the stove) there would always be a group of “companions”. Maybe we shall thank the consultant of this movie, the former wife of Duke of York, Sarah Ferguson.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Embarrassing Hybrid – Blood: The Last Vampire

Another movie adapted from popular comic books, this Blood: The Last Vampire (titled as Last Blood in Japan) combined the production team (including director) from Hollywood, beauties from Korea and Japan, and the stunt team from Hong Kong. But sometimes, a hybrid just could not be the perfect combination of advantages from all ancestors, but those shortcomings instead.
When you saw the “blood” syrup splashed everywhere in a 300 style, you knew that the director wanted to take the advantage of that classic movie. Unfortunately, he could not add any value to the once-successful style, but only acted like a copy-cat. And to make things worse, we saw those stupid Caucasians screaming and running around and doing stupid things, just like those victims you saw in every SAW or I Know What You Did Last Summer or Jason movies. Another scene that made me feel disgusted is at the beginning, when I saw a U.S. military camp with the Mt. Fuji in the background, in which there were so many “happy” marines, American chicks, etc. Come on, just think about what U.S. brought to the whole world these days, you could not feel anything “happy” here.

The stunt designed by Corey Yuen is not quite exciting either. Although he was a “classmate” of Jackie Chan, obviously he did not have the equal creativity as his junior. Fighting in the rainy streets and the forest could be more attractive. And since the two main roles, Saya (Gianna Jun) and Onigen (Koyuki Kato) were so slim, they seemed to not be able to control their own motions while being lifted up to the sky by wires. (The fact is, if you do not have enough strength in your waist muscles, you will most likely be “dancing” instead of “fighting” on those magic wires.) And there are several shots to satisfy the guys’ desire – I could see the black brief of Gianna…

Things I couldn’t understand:
1. Since the zombies could even change into the form of US marines, why didn’t they just use guns to kill Saya (she was killable by guns) or at least that silly blonde?
2. Saya kept talking to the old Kato in Japanese (although Gianna herself is Korean…), but always used English when talking to Onigen. I mean, Koyuki Kato (I hate to call her “Koyuki” only, cuz that’s also my Japanese name…) was good at English at all. The horrible Japanese pronunciation of English…

Monday, June 8, 2009

As Subtle As a Japanese Dish – Departures

When you heard the rough story of this Departures (or Okuribito in Japanese), and when you knew that this is a Japanese film, you just knew what you gonna see. Subtle emotions, subtle story-telling skills, and even subtler acting, are the trademarks of this kind of movies. Actually this movie kept reminding me of a lunch I enjoyed in a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kyoto: A whole set, including dozens of small bowls and plates was spread in front of me, and each one of them only contained a small amount of food, so that I could just tasted with a bite, not be stuck up (like a Subway sandwich normally does).

The topic about how an unemployed man got a new start with a new career is nothing new to Hollywood. The job of “Noukanshi” (literally “People put the corpse into the coffin” in Japanese) probably sounds rather OK to western ppl (thanks to those cute and cool guys work in the morgue in CSI series…). But to Japanese and other East Asian cultures, it is often considered as a “humble” job that only certain class of ppl or ppl in extreme needs for money will likely to do. Bare this in your mind and you will enjoy more when you watch the struggling of the leading role Ogoku (Masahiro Motoki).

How subtle can Japanese be? Take a look at the scene that Ogoku tried to wash off the smell from the corpse he just handled before going home. Hair, hands, ear holes, nostrils, and he even drank some water and “sneeze” it out from the nose! Japanese really never mess up…

Another thing that Hollywood should definitely learn from this movie is, no matter how “friend” you are with those cameo stars in your movie, cut them out whenever they are not necessarily needed. Those ppl playing the family members in sorrow or even the “corpse” are not just nobody in Japan, esp Toru Minegishi (the last “corpse”, and the actor himself actually died of lung cancer during the showing period of this movie in Japan).

And as a plus, do enjoy the music by Joe Hisashi.

P.S. The Japanese title of the movie, Okuribito, means “people send others away”. It is somewhat related to the English title “Departures”. As a Buddhist point of view, death is just to leave this world to another (and hopefully better) one. So the funeral is also a ceremony for “departure”. But the original novel that this movie was based on is actually called “Diary of Noukanshi”, and throughout the film they used the word “Noukan” (the action that put the corpse into the coffin) to indicate this particular job, even the name of the company “NK Agency” came from the initials of Nou-Kan.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Unsuccessful Extension of the Classics – Transformer Salvation

Terminator 1 & 2 are two classics: One showed us the infinite possibility of “time travel” in fictional world, while the other one introduced one of the most impressive robots in history. And of course those creative and bold stunts and explosions re-defined some “rules” of Hollywood movies. The third one in the line was a disaster: ruined the box office, and sent Schwarzenegger to the Governor’s office.

Now here comes T4, which used a different naming style, a brand new cast, and most attractively, a new actor in the leading role. But the script writers seemed to be lack of some imagination: The human-robot-hybrid looks not quite much different from RoboCop series, and the “mercury robot” just disappeared (maybe ppl nowadays know that could not possibly come true before 2018?). The non-stop bombing and stunts are quite exciting, esp. with the thundering sound effect, but we shall expect more from a T movie, right?

Some bugs in the story:
1. How John Conner suddenly became the global leader of Resistance? At the beginning he was just a member of the field team (a junior leader at most), but when the Commander gave the order to bomb Skynet, he could simply make ppl around the world to disobey it. Was he some kind of “Robinhood” here? Anyway he gained the leadership in this sequel, so we don’t need to worry about that in the next one, if there is any.
2. How could the Resistance maintain their super hi-tech communication channels when Skynet got the ability to destroy those satellites? Transmission stations above the ground are easily recognized, and mobile ones are too unstable. Don’t take your globally roaming mobile phones for granted…
3. Why Skynet did not just kill Kyle when they found him? If Kyle is dead, John Conner will not be born, so everything will be changed right? Keep Kyle and lure John Conner into the Skynet base looks just for the storytelling’s sake…

As for the actors, most look average. Christian Bale is the star, and Sam Worthington got an equal share too. But not like some reviews saying that Worthington “steals” the show, they actually contributed some pretty good scenes together. God knows how long we have been waiting for those real man-to-man scenes! (OK I know those journalists don’t like Bale, but over-praise Worthington is not good for him…) Anton Yelchin (as Kyle) is quite hot these days, like the most recent appearance in Star Trek as the genius Russian young lad. Moon Bloodgood must have mistaken the famous “sun-burn” makeup originally from Faye Wong (in case you don’t know, one of the most successful and famous pop queens in Chinese-speaking areas, who also always led the fashion trends until retired to family yrs ago). But as an ex-model for MAXIM, her performance as the wildcat-like sexy pilot was actually beyond expectation. And since she got a typical Asian face (got Korean blood), reviewers from Asia gave her a hell lot of praises, which I think is a bit over. Bryce Dallas Howard (as Mrs. John Conner) looks pale, not only because her role is pregnant. Why she took this trivial role when she actually got the talents to write and direct a full-length movie by herself?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Small vs. Big -- Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

There are some movies that did a pretty good job in small details, but failed in the big picture. The long-waited sequel of the big hit in box office, Night In the Museum 2, unfortunately joined the club here.

Ben Stiller's influance in Hollywood is obvious -- just look at the whole group of ppl he summoned for this carnival-like movie! It seems that he wants to make it another Ocean's series. But my suggestion is, next time, write the scripts yourself, Ben.

Similar to the original one, this sequel movie tells the "battle" in the biggest museum of the world -- National Archives of USA, located right in the heart of Washington D.C. We know that the story is predictable, but the effort of trying to improve that by adding a whole bucket of patriosim, a classic Hollywood version of "the man saved the day and got the girl", several pieces of funny talkshows (OK, they are NOT that funny, actually) and the most IN items such like the Jonas Brothers (but they really look cute... pardon me...), is not effective here at all. 99% of the audience are here for Ben Stiller, not a freak lady pilot crazy for whatever man she saw. I'd rather to see some more scenes about the little boy playing Ben's son.

Some jokes are too abstract for foreigners and even some Americans. The last scene about Motorola mobile phones is so ironic -- I'm pretty much sure that we will see this end of this once-holy brand quite soon.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Should-Not-Delete Deleted Scenes – Angels & Demons

I’m a huge fan of Dan Brown, esp Angels & Demons. So you can imagine that how excited I was when I saw its trailer in the cinema for the first time. But when I finally bought the ticket and sat back to enjoy the show, I grew disappointed only after 5 min – yes, with the scene that Tom Hanks on a “Vatican helicopter”, instead of the CERN’s super jet.

With limited length of the film (actually not quite “limited”, 2 hrs 15 min according to my watch), it is understandable that the director needs to cut off sth from the original book. But should that be those most important things such like the father-and-son relationship between Camerlengo and the Pope? If you’ve ever read the original book, you will definitely agree with me that this is the key to the whole story – why this young man killed his be-loved Holy Father and planned for the series of cold-blood murders. Without the key, you are just looking at a normal plot-of-murders movie (OK, a luxurious version maybe). Was it because of the pressure from the real-life Vatican Court? Otherwise I just couldn’t understand why the director chose to keep so many details about religion, history and arts while deleted the key. BTW sometimes I felt like that Ron Howard shared some common things with Dr. Langdon – they showed off a bit too much.

Tom Hanks finally got a decent hair-do, for God’s sake (literally here…). But Ewan McGreger still stole the show, even with so many scenes deleted – the Father’s gown is gonna be the Next Bit Thing in fashion industry for sure.
The only thing that the movie did better than the book – they really found a stature of “Angels-And-Demons”!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pieces of Memory – “Star Trek”

I’m not a real Star Trek fan. When this classic TV series was being broadcasted in China, I only caught up with several episodes, here and there. My only remaining impressions about it are the skinny uniforms and the “flash away” of the Enterprise. But when the movie hit cinemas in town, I still decided to go watch it.
By telling how the main crew of Enterprise was assembled, it appears that we are expecting sequels… Guess the main cast signed some contract (like Harry Potter and Pirates of Caribbean series) to act in sequels… They look toooo old for the roles of fresh-grads! Captain Pike (by Bruce Greenwood) looks more like the captain of Enterprise in my memory. And see if you can recognize Winona Ryder…
The story is quite predictable: tragedy, grow-up, conflicts, reconciliation, revenge, etc. But I really don’t like the way that Hollywood writers handle the topic of “Alternative Reality”. Since the time of Back to the Future and Lost in Space, they’ve been continuously talking about “go back, change, and happy ending” stories. Well, I feel like that even people did travel back to the past, they should not be able to interfere with anyone or anything that existed in that reality, but rather be a pure “watcher”. Occasionally people in that reality could see some trace of those time travelers, and most likely they would treat such things as “oracle” or “miracle” and develop a whole bunch of religious stuff.
The music is not as good as the Star Wars classic, but the visual effects are quite nice, especially the scene that a whole planet collapsed into a black whole within seconds.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (7)

Some misc stuff:

1. To send a postcard from Vietnam to any other country, you need a VND9000 stamp. Stamps are available @ the post offices (working daily) and many souvenir stores. You can either ask the hotel reception to do the post service for you or look for the post box like this:

(There is one just outside of Rex Hotel.)
But the speed of the post service is quite slow: To Singapore is 7-10 days, to North America and China took almost 20 days! Looks like they travel by sea…

2. Some other interesting souvenirs: Herbal wine made of snakes… Posters of Tin-Tin: (although I don’t think he ever visited Vietnam…)

3. Publishing is a popular industry in HCMC. Besides a lot of small book shops all around the city, you can even find many hawkers selling books just around the corner. They like to carry the books by piling them all the way up to the sky…

4. A very “elegant” reminder I found in my hotel room…

5. HCMC is said to be the “Capital of fashion” in Vietnam. You can find many big brands here instead of Hanoi, like this:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Luxiousness In Recession -- X-men Origins: Wolverine

It is said that every economy recession period is also a "golden age" for film industry, for ppl tend to choose cheaper ways of entertainment (i.e., a movie ticket instead of an air ticket), and more ppl need some entertainment to just forget about the cruel reality, even just for a moment.

The story of this "Pre-" movie is rather OK, meaning it does not contain too much co-relationship with the X-men I, II & III movies, so that you can undertand the storyline even if you are not familiar with these mutant guys and girls. But since the title is "X-men Origins: Wolverine", are we expecting "X-men Origins: Storm", "X-men Origins: xxx", etc.?

The part that a team of mutants were organized as a special unit serving US government reminded me of Watchmen. But there are two guys look not that like mutants: Wade (a.k.a Deadpool, played by Mr. Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds) and Agent Zero (played by a German-Korean hearthrob Daniel Henney, a real hearthrob for Korean drama fans!). To me they are just well-trained sword player and shooter, respectively...

The reasons that I called this movie "luxiousness" are:
  1. There are so many nice-looking guys playing small roles in this movie: Wade, Agent Zero, Gambit, etc. Every single one of them is worthy a B-class movie (actually Ryan Reynolds led his own B-class shot Definitely... Maybe already). But here they just played the "green leaves" surrounding Hugh Jackman, with very limited screen time and even more limited lines. Is it because that their paycheck is smaller now during the recession?
  2. There are so many splendid mutants like diamond skin, laser eyes, etc., but the movie focused on a series of WWF-like dogfights between Sabretooth and Wolverine...

Talking about Sabretooth and Wolverine, are you sure they are just "back-to-back" instead of "brokeback"? *_*

Friday, May 1, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (6)

Notre-Dame and Central Post Office are two "traditional" buildings you will find in major European cities that of tourists' interests. Here in HCMC, you will find them also, and again, in French style.
Notre-Dame looks just like any other Notre-Dames you can find in Germany and France. Actually it was designed by French, and even all the materials (bricks, glasses, etc.) were shipped from France. Crazy French ppl...

The Central Post Office is still a post office now, open daily till 5pm. Besides the normal post service, you can find some souvenir store inside. Stamp sets sold in these stores are much more various than those shops @ Pham Ngu Lao.

Talking about souvenirs, I found some very interesting things:These caps are made of cola tins!

The History Museum of HCMC is listed as "must-visit" in my tour guide book. Well, if you have no idea in Chinese culture and interested in some "exotic" things, it might be a "must-visit". But tell you the truth, the items exhibited in it are not of much value, most probably this is not the capital after all...
One highlight of the History Museum is a small water puppet show theatre in it. The water puppet show is unique to Vietnam, so worth to watch one with cost of around US$3.
There is another water puppet show theatre in downtown also, can check with the travel agencies.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (5)

War Remnant Museum is both a famous place of interests in HCMC, and a place for history education by Vietnam government. The curious thing I found about it is, it’s purely for propagation of the war crimes done by (mostly) US army, yet among the visitors, a lot of them are from US. When I was watching at those old guys walking around and discussing with their families, I couldn’t help wondering if some of them were actually participating that war.
The museum is not quite big: several 1-storey or 2-storey small buildings surrounding a small yard. In the yard there are some F series airplanes, tanks, cannons, bombs, etc. Most of them were left over by US army when they retreated from Vietnam in 1972-1973, and captured by the North Vietnam army when they captured this capital of South Vietnam in 1975 (right today, Apr 30…).
Inside the buildings there are a lot of photos, illustrations, maps, etc. that show the war crime to Vietnam ppl done by US army. Some of them might cause you to feel uncomfortable.
One building is a replica of the “Tiger Cage” used by the Southern Vietnam government as prison for political prisoners. And some torturing and executing equipments are shown, like this guillotine:

(Ticket for the War Remnant Museum is VND15k, or US$1.)

The Reunification Palace is another must-visit in HCMC. Originally built by French as the governor’s house (named “Norodom Palace” for the namesake of royal family in Cambodia… Obviously French could not tell the diff between these two countries.), the old building was again, a French style piece of arts: Unfortunately this building was bombed and destroyed in an unsuccessful assassination against the then president of Southern Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. So the president ordered it to be re-built in a modern style. Although the president was assassinated one year afterwards (hence he never saw his new office building), his successors finished the job and renamed it as “Independence Palace” (some tour guide books still called it with this name, so don’t be confused).
After the war, the building was renamed again as “Reunification Palace” and used as a reception place to honorable guests to the city and exhibition. It is said that everything inside the building including furniture, carpets, curtains, etc., are at exactly the same place as the day that the North Vietnam army marched in 34 yrs ago. (The government of the HCMC is now located at the People’s Committee Hall building.)
To be frank, the building itself looks quite boring: But inside it is decorated in a quite splendid way, a style mixed of Chinese and Western cultures. (Actually Vietnam culture is normally categorized as Eastern Asian instead of South-Eastern Asian, due to the huge impact of Chinese culture upon it.)
The basement of the building is a huge bomb shelter, and designed so that the president and the cabinet can still give orders to the military force even under heavy air attack. But ironically, Saigon was never bombed by North Vietnam air force -- in fact, they surrendered even before that.
(The ticket to the Reunification Palace is also VND15k, no tour guide inside, so better get a package tour.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (4)

Cu Chi Tunnel is a must-visit spot in HCMC. Built during the Vietnam War by Viet Cong (the communist gorillas of North Vietnam government that time), the whole tunnel system is more than 200km long and was continuously being built in around 20 yrs’ time. Now the part opened for tourism is only a small portion of the whole system, and divided into three major areas. The most famous and most frequently visited by foreigners is the Cu Chi Area. Here the original tunnel (about 100m long) was preserved so that tourists can try it by themselves, and some exhibition rooms are showing the weapons, traps, tools, etc. used by the Cong at that time. The entrance is about 1.5 to 2 hrs’ (depending on how jam is the traffic…) bus ride from District 1, and the entrance fee is VND80k per person. They don’t have an overall tour guide for the whole tunnel area, so better take a package tour from city.

This tunnel entrance is very famous – you can see photos about it in every travel agency office in HCMC: The entrance is just a 25cmX15cm hole on the ground, and if covered by leaves you could hardly recognize it. The hole is so small that only small-sized Vietnamese can get through. Actually this is the idea of the whole tunnel system: They were built such narrow by intention, so that the big US guys would be “stuck”. I tried the “walk in the tunnel”, which I quit after only 20 meters (No one in my package exceeded the 40m line…). Basically we were not “walking”, but “crouching”, for the inside is only less than 1 meter high. And such a position made my thighs stubborn for the next several days… And I guess when they built the tunnel, they never expected that so many ppl would get into it at the same time (there are more than 40 ppl in my package). The oxygen inside the tunnel almost ran out when everybody got in, and the ventilation was not quite good. So do take care of yourself when you are in.
The gorilla life is full of wisdom: Sandals made of old tires. Disguised landmines. A Trap.
And a piece of video showing how a trap works:
A genius door trap: Nails on the lower half, so that even short guys will get hit; the end part is connected to the main frame with chains, so that even if you catch the main frame in time, the end part will still hit you. And the “nailed ball” in the hand of the tour guide got a very evil name – “Shampoo”. A tank destroyed by landmines and captured by Cong. Clustered bomb dumped by US Air Force, which should have be forbidden after WWII.

And if you are a military fan, there is a shooting area inside that you can buy some bullets and experience the M-16 guns.
The whole tunnel area is smoke-free. And do bring some mosquito-expeller with you. Dengue is still a fatal disease now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (3)

To go to the ferry by Saigon River, I chose a less “popular” route: Still walk from Pham Ngu Lao to the Tran Nguyen Han Square, then go through Ham Nghi all the way down to the river. From there, walk northward by the river, till the Tran Hung Dao Square (again there is a statue of this guy Tran Hung Dao in the middle of the square). This routine is closer to the daily life of normal Vietnamese ppl in HCMC, so you can see how they do business in the workshops, chat with their neighbors to kill some time in the sauna-like afternoons in HCMC, etc.

Buildings by the streets of HCMC are normally very “thin”, just like Vietnamese ppl.

There are some boats in Saigon River, mainly for the “dinner cruise”, which starts from 7:30pm and ends at roughly 9:30pm. The price various from US$15 to US$35, depending on what kind of meal you want.
Tran Hung Dao is a general who led Vietnamese troops against Yuan Dynasty of China (the Mongolian Empire, founded by Genghis Khan).
And if you got to the ferry during the AM or PM rush hour, you will see a quite speculate scene: Thousands of scooters are crowded at the entrance of a “passage” to the ferry, waiting to be transported across the river. The passage reminds me the one in the movie Australia where Nicole Kidman drove the kettles onboard the ship…
Walking around in HCMC requires some athlete skills and guts also. There is barely no traffic light @ the crossings. Most of the time, you have to depend on the “understanding” between you and the drivers to get across the road.

Vietnamese spring roll is another must-try. The real Vietnamese ones are “raw”, meaning just use “rice paper” to wrap the chicken meat, seafood, veg and then go with some sauce (normally the Vietnamese “fish sauce”).
And here is the traditional way to enjoy Vietnamese coffee:
Above the big coffee cup, put a steel filter board, and then put a small steel cup on top of that. Coffee power is put inside the small steel cup, and hot water is poured in slowly. The coffee liquid will then drip down to the coffee cup at the bottom. “Black” tastes a bit burn flavor, so I prefer the “milky” version, which contains a piece of condensed milk in the coffee cup.

Again, although there are many delicious adventures in Vietnam, do try them in reliable restaurants.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (2)

The international airport of HCMC is definitely larger than its current needs, and the new terminal 2 looks quite new and nice. But the management of the airport is rather lousy – only around 10 flights inbound and outbound per 6 hours, yet they need to change boarding gates and even ask the airplanes to hover in air waiting for the track!
Normally it shall take 30 min to travel between airport and District 1 by taxi, normally. Actually, you need to arrange for 1 hour for this trip, due to the heavy traffic jam. And there is no such thing like “Airport Expressway” – basically your cab will be overwhelmed by waves of scooters as soon as you turn out of the airport parking lot.

My hotel is good enough to let me check in at 9:30 am without any additional charge. But the so-called “tour desk” they put on their website is actually a “recommended tour agency”, named “Sinh Café”. Anyway this agency is quite big (they even have their own hotel and resort somewhere in Vietnam), and location is convenient (office @ Pham Ngu Lao is just one block away from my hotel), price also reasonable. They provide various tour packages from half-day HCMC city tour to 15-day Indo-China Peninsula Full Tour. You can even travel along the famous “Ho Chi Minh Path”, i.e. starting from Hanoi, entering Cambodia, and finally arriving HCMC, or vice versa. I picked a one-day tour which includes a half-day Cu Chi Tunnel tour and half-day HCMC city tour. The limo bus tour with tour guide only cost VND 170k (a.k.a. S$17 or US$11). If you got several companions, can try their private tour, which will provide you with a private tour guide and travel by vans or even cabs.

For myself, I chose two “focus areas” that would not be covered by the city tour for my own exploration: The People’s Committee Hall area and the ferry area.

From Pham Ngu Lao, walk towards north-east direction, you will see a big square with a statue in the middle. The main statue is of Tran Nguyen Han, but most travel books mistake it as “Tran Nguyen Hai”… He was recorded as the first Vietnamese that used pigeon as a communication tool in the war, so his statue is he riding on horseback with a pigeon in one hand.

North to this square is the largest and oldest market of HCMC, Ben Thanh Market, built by French in 19th century. It’s quite big inside, and also quite hot. Can savor it by buying some souvenirs. Not worthy spending too much time bargaining if you do not do wholesale.
From the square continue walking towards north-east, there are several paths leading to the People’s Committee Hall area.
The Hall itself is a logo of HCMC, built in European style. (In case you don’t understand, the “People’s Committee” is like the parliament plus mayor’s office, for there is no mayor here. Simply speaking, this is the City Hall of HCMC.)
Right opposite the Hall is a small park with the statue of Ho Chi Minh himself. (Actually his portraits and statues are everywhere in this city with his namesake.)
Beside the park is the famous Rex Hotel, which was the headquarter of foreign journalists during the Vietnam War. Although still a 5-star hotel today, it was rated as “old, out-of-date” on Internet. In case you wanna have some “historical” experience, the standard room price is starting from S$200 per night, quite OK actually.

At the other side of the park, the Opera House is only one block away. Again built by French, it is still in use today.

After a two-hour walking and photo-taking, I picked a local restaurant named “Pho 2000” (@ the Tran Nguyen Han square) for lunch. In Vietnamese “pho” means “rice noodle”, and the beef rice noodle soup is one of the most famous Vietnamese dishes. The biggest chain restaurant in HCMC is “Pho 24”, meaning selling pho 24-hourly. M & K are not popular in Vietnam, only several branches in HCMC.
In general Vietnamese food is quite healthy: less oil, less deep fry, and healthier sauce. My lunch consisting of a big bowl of beef rice noodle soup and ice coffee (local coffee is a must-try!) only cost me VND55k, quite reasonable in a hot travel spot.