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And since the scripts had been finished before early 2008, there were some “out-of-date” info in the movie like a “fantastic job” in real estate… The writers were not as smart as their colleagues working for “Transformers 2” that intentionally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?