Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jangan Panggil Aku Cina

Indonesia 2003

Details  sinarharapan

Seen 30 January 2009

A television drama on the still strong sentiment against the Indonesian Chinese, set in the traditional milieu of the West Sumatran town of Padang. Yusri and Olivia falls in love but are up against the traditional prejudice against the Chinese and the added responsibility of upholding tradition as well as keeping the extended family happy. There is also the good for nothing son as the villain.

This drama was done badly. Period. Or maybe the years have aged the drama, because the pace is painstakingly slow. A tighter script and editing would have been a much needed booster to the overall product.

It is disheartening that such a good subject has not been treated with more depth. The director might cringe if he looks at his production again in future.




Body Without Soul

Czech Republic 1996

Details  imdb

Seen 27 January 2009

A documentary on the young male prostitutes in Prague, showing how they came to the big city, starting points as hustlers, involving themselves with the gay pornography industry, questions on unprotected sex and what the future holds for them. The interviews with the boys are interspersed with an interview with the pornography director.

It is a disturbing tale and a sad reflection of how the young are taken advantage of by those who should be guiding them to a better life.

I wish these events did not happen and has stopped but most probably it is just my wishful thinking.

Get Married

Indonesia 2007

Details  movie-cinema

Seen 27 January 2009

Another light hearted look at the traditional precept that everyone has the responsibility of getting married in order to propagate and multiply the human race, and of course the family lineage. The pressure is doubled especially when the person in question is a girl.

Mai, a tomboyish girl is under pressure from her parents to get married after she managed to graduate from secretarial school. She is a part of a gang of four friends who grew up together in the outskirts of Jakarta. She is not too keen on this marriage plan suggested by her parents who asks around the neighbourhood whether there are any suitable suitors. As a solution, she asks her friends to help her when she signals that she is not agreeable to any suitor that comes to see her.

Until one day, a misunderstanding occurs and we see the consequences.

Fluff to some but still enjoyable.

Otomatis Romantis

Indonesia 2007

Details  sensasian

Seen 26 January 2009

A light hearted look at family obligations and what your heart really desires.

Nadia, the second in the family of three daughters is under pressure to marry since she is nearing 30 and still single. Compared to her elder sister who is married and her younger sister who already has a boyfriend, she is more concerned with her career as the head of a woman’s magazine.

Bambang, a man with a heart of gold, a country bumpkin in some ways who is always being bullied by his elder brother, works in the same office as Nadia but just as an administrative assistant. He has ambitions to be a reporter too since he had some experience in his hometown.

The story shows how both of them, found something in common even though they are from different backgrounds. Love or romance in this case was not automatic, hence the title.

Good watch for a relaxing evening. 

Blind Mountain

China 2007

Details amazon

Seen 26 January 2009

A girl sold off to be the wife of a farmer in the northern rural area of China tries her best to escape from her fate. A gripping tale of modern day white slavery, a common phenomenon it seems in many parts of China.

The girl’s efforts to run away were thwarted many times. There were so many obstacles in trying to gain her freedom again, even at the last moment when the police managed to be present at the village. The village itself seems like a fiefdom unto itself. There is very little hope of getting away from its clutches.

A damning reality of what people can do when they think they are in the right.


The Wrestler

USA 2008

Details  foxsearchlight

Seen 25 January 2009

The world of wrestling is hard, if you are not in the top league and are on your last legs of a once glorious career. This is what we see in Randy, the Ram.

A particularly bruising fight sees him in hospital and he had to have a heart bypass. The doctor says that he has to give up wrestling permanently or else the next heart attack would be fatal.

This turn of events sees him trying to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter and taking steps to share his life with a striptease dancer who is sympathetic to him. His efforts seem a bit too late and he goes back into the ring for his last fight.

A man, a good man but maybe his past caught up with him before he could make things right again.


USA 2008

Details  imdb

Seen 24 January 2009

Angelina Jolie gives a strong performance as the mother who lost her son and her struggle against officialdom. This is based on a true story and Los Angeles in the late 1920s was governed by seedy characters. The law enforcement agencies would try their best to keep the status quo to their advantage.

Any questioning of the official position in any matter is dealt with in a heavy handed manner. And unfortunately, the mother in the story happened to be one who questions the authority. At first the officials tolerate her but when her insistence that the boy they found was not her son, became the starting point of her nightmare.

A remarkable story of the magnitude, official power has at its disposal, to do as it pleases. Fortunately, there are those who are willing to step up and take the gauntlet. The heroes of the day and their sacrifices, we must be thankful that their good work will be continued as long as there is injustice.



The Love of Siam

Thailand 2007

Details  rottentomatoes

Seen 24 January 2009

Give me a tearjerker anytime; I’ll be misty eyed throughout. And in this case, there were plenty of those moments.

A friendship between two boys sees them facing the reality of teenage life, the normal growing up needs of companionship, acceptance and love. Pour into this volatile mix the concerns of a mother, and a father who has not learned how to let go off the past, and we end up with a potent concoction.

The refrain from the theme song keeps repeating, “as long as we love, we have hope”. How simple can it be? Is it that easy? Not quite the case here. There are questions to be asked, decisions to be made, all in the name of love.

Yes, love.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Virgin Snow

South Korea 2007

Details  sensasian

Seen 21 January 2009

Saccharine sweet, cloying, but in the end, it is a love story. This time, the story is between a Korean boy, transplanted to Kyoto following his father who is on an exchange programme. Min meets Namae accidentally and falls head over heels over her.

But being the foreigner, he had to go through some hurdles. They do manage to come to a point where love blossoms and there were promises made. Alas, circumstances dictate otherwise. Their next encounter a few years later in Seoul did not start on the right footing. Misunderstandings as usual became a hindrance to the lovers’ smooth journey towards a happy ending.

The Kyoto background enhances the overall feelings of a summer love, nurtured by the surroundings and growing by day. In contrast, the first snow fall which supposedly signifies the ever lasting relationship between couples, seems so precious.

Not quite a tear jerker, but we can get teary eyed if we just let ourselves be the teenagers in love in the story.

Budak Kelantan

Malaysia 2008

Details  cinema

Seen 19 January 2009

A raw, gritty, ugly and dark portrayal of urban life compared to the glitzy melodrama we almost always get from Malaysian filmmakers.

The cast of mostly unknowns lend an authentic feel to the whole. A juxtaposition of good and evil is present whereas both were from the same environment in times past. How did things change? Why? We do not have stock answers.

This is a Malaysian film I can be proud of despite its technical flaws. A good plot, competent ensemble and even handed treatment from the director give the audience something to mull over.

If you want a different perspective of the urban landscape, especially from the points of view of those from the other parts of the country, this film is not a disappointment.

Burn After Reading

USA 2008

Details  imdb

Seen 10 January 2009

A delicious take on spy thrillers and in this story, it is all done with such a straight face that we just cannot help being involved with the talented cast.

The first scene shows a man being fired from his position in the state department on grounds of his drinking problem. His reaction to this sudden turn of events triggers the ensuing action throughout the film. Domestic life, deceit, the pursuit of perfection, sell-outs, treachery, revenge and befuddlement can be found aplenty.

The whole story runs along smoothly ably carried off by a wonderful ensemble cast helped by a scintillatingly tight script.

A gem.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

USA 2008

Details  imdb

Seen 8 January 2009

Love through the ages? Maybe, and in this case, Benjamin, a man born in his eighties and ages backwards finds love and life along the way. He might be born differently from the rest of us but his experiences and what is important in life, love, remains the same.

The acting is low key and the story sees the journey of man from the beginning of his life until the end. There are discoveries about relationships, heartbreaks, joys and laughter. There are people who have made a lasting impression on you and you have a left a mark as well on others. Life seems just a fleeting moment in the scheme of things.



Gran Torino

USA 2008

Details  imdb

Seen 6 January 2009

This tour de force from Clint Eastwood just dazzles. Mr. Eastwood himself has given a gem of a performance as the leading character in this story on feeling at peace, relationships and living life with honour.

The subject matter is current – the prevalent generation gap in families, peer pressure, guilt over past deeds and an independent spirit. All these against a backdrop of a minority group in the American Midwest with their close knit community. The main character unwittingly becomes involved and we get to see high drama as well as emotional highs along the way.

Heart warming to say the least. 


USA 2008

Details  imdb

Seen 4 January 2009

This story would be further ammunition for those against Mr. George W. Bush, the American president synonymous with 9/111 and the war on terror.

We see him growing up in the shadow of his father and trying hard to live up to the family name. A difficult task, no doubt and Mr. Bush does have a mind of his own in the way he wants things done. Eventually he does reach the pinnacle of American political life, but his actions has never been endearing to all.

A sad commentary on one man who has so much power to do good, but has not risen to the occasion.


USA 2008

Details  filminfocus

Seen 3 January 2009

The film title refers to the life and times of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in San Francisco. Sean Penn in the title role shows not only Harvey Milk’s fight against the prejudices of the times, but we get glimpses of his private life too.

The demands of a growing movement and latter public office, took a toll on Milk’s private life with devastating effect on some occasions. Juggling the two halves is never easy and one could never satisfy all parties involved.  But at least, he started something, and the movement grows from strength to strength.

A balanced look of a significant time in the American civil rights movement during the 1970s and the results we see now are just rewards for the sacrifices made during the struggles.


The Postmodern Life of My Aunt

China 2006

Details  lovehkfilm

Seen 25 October 2008

A look at pride, stubbornness, the fall from grace and final acceptance of what you make of your life.

I guess everyone goes through the phase of wanting something better so bad that you are wiling to take that leap of faith into unchartered territory. That is what the aunt in this movie did.

She found her niche in Shanghai, even though she is not so much better off compared to when she was in her old hometown. That realization hits her head on when she fell sick and had to go back to her roots.

There was also a side story about a woman who is struggling to pay for her daughter’s medical treatment. Hers is a classic case study of desperation.

Ultimately life does dish out so many opportunities and chances but sometimes we are so preoccupied with the nitty-gritty that we are unable to grasp them. The whole picture of life seems static while the players continue to dwell on their allotted miniscule space.

I feel sad indeed.


Just Follow Law

Singapore 2007

Details  imdb

Seen 24 October 2008

Two opposites, one, the ambitious girl who follows strictly the rules of the land, whereas on the other side, is the single father who barely makes a living to support his young daughter. The two were at loggerheads at their company until the fateful day when they had their accident and their lives changed.

For better or worse, they saw a different side of their nemesis compared to previous presumptions. In a not too subtle way, there is a subtext on the lives of public servants and their all too willing acceptance of rules. Well, most of them anyway. Some do take advantage of loopholes and get the pot of gold irrespective of events that befall them.

Sometimes I feel it is more of a made for television movie but that does not distract from its main theme of rules and its affects on people. There are also some redeeming poignant moments.

At least the movie does not pretend to be high brow. A very approachable effort, very fluffy, using slapstick in some instances but quite enjoyable overall

Kissing Jessica Stein

USA 2001

Details  imdb

Seen 21 October 2008

Finding that perfect life time partner seems to be an elusive dream for many, especially if you are Jessica Stein. She, copy editor with charm and wit tried to find men who fit her definition of the perfect mate. Alas, easier said than done and repeated blind dates do not bring the desired results.

The coming wedding of her brother brings matters to a turning point. This is compounded by a personal ad in the papers which intrigues her with a quote from Rilke. The ad mentions that a girl is seeking another girl. Maybe out of curiosity or the frustrations of looking for Mr. Right, Jessica decides to answer the ad.

Jessica did pluck up enough courage to meet the girl who put up the ad, Helen. This is the starting point of a relationship between two head strong personalities. They seem such opposites but there are lots of common ground between them that they share.

A light hearted look at relationships, how it evolves, the different shades of affection and how the feelings for each other goes from one plane to the other. A microcosm of the things we do when we follow our heart.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tokyo Tower

Japan 2007

Details  tigercinema

Seen 18 October 2008

This is not a family saga in the usual mold of copious tears at every turn. It is a redeeming tale of love and devotion, sacrifices and determination. The love between a mother and son, her effort and dedication, his way of repaying all that the mother has done for him.

All these and more takes the audience into unspoken territory where words are not necessary in some instances.

There are moments when the dialogue is so apt, universal in its message, simple in its tone, but with a deep impact in our hearts.

A satisfying, engaging and cliché of clichés, poignant story, in some parts at least.


The lives of others

Germany 2006
Details  imdb
Seen 15 October 2008
An agent with the Stasi, the East German secret police is assigned to keep tabs on a prominent playwright, Georg Dreyman, who is one of the leading writers acceptable to the authorities. The state minister wants him investigated on the pretext to find some incriminating evidence against the writer. In reality the minister has intentions on Georg’s girlfriend, Christa.
That is the beginning of the agent’s involvement with Georg’s personal life and we see how it affects his work as well as his long held personal beliefs. Ideals, convictions, necessities, lies, deceit, and loyalties – so many human facets come to the fore in this extraordinary thriller.
I’m also very impressed that there is no violence shown. It is all a mind game between the pursuer and the pursued. Intrigue and complot intertwined to make the audience waiting with abated breath to see what will happen next.
A thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking effort.

Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress

China 2002

Details  imdb

Seen 11 October 2008

Two teenagers are sent to a mountainous area during the 1970s for reeducation during the Cultural Revolution in China. Their encounter with the grand- daughter of the village tailor became the starting point of a love for the girl. Banned books stolen from a fellow reeducation cadre became the focal point of the threesome’s secret meetings.

Love blossomed, tragedy occurred, and the village lass strikes a life of her own.

Twenty years later, the two friends meet again, but the girl in their previous life is not to be found.

Words, even mere fiction, have a tremendous effect on all. The power of words is such that even the old and those who are supposedly the guardian of the system of the day, are affected. Yes, a word is mightier than the sword. So no surprises when many in power try to limit the free flow.

A heart warming tale told in snippets, enhanced by the sheer raw beauty of an area, now gone forever to future generations. The area has been flooded for the Yangtze River dam mitigation scheme.


Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma

Canada 2005

Details  amazon

Seen 10 October 2008

Amnesia according to the website is a partial or total loss of memory, usually resulting from shock, psychological disturbance, brain injury, or illness.

A man finds himself naked one morning in one of the streets of Montreal. That is the start of his search for his true self. Even though, eventually, he returns to his family, he still has some nightmares about some incidents in the past.

The nightmares are compounded by his correspondence with a researcher who is doing her thesis on impostors and the criminal mind. Some parts of his recollections seem at odds with reality, but there are some insights into the truthfulness.

Is the man escaping the truth, as in one of the flashbacks he is shown to have participated in the act of tormenting and abusing his lover. Did the guilt in that incident trigger the amnesia? The film is based loosely on a true story and until now we will never know what really happened.

An unsolved mystery where love played a major role, or is that hatred? Definitely, this a thought provoking exercise.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ten Canoes

Australia 2006

Details  imdb

Seen 14 September 2008

This is a native Australian community story within a story. The style is languid, long winded and may take days if we follow the story line religiously until the end. A long forgotten, story telling culture of one of the oldest human settlers of the continent makes the film unforgettable.

The interaction between man and woman, tribes and the virtues of patience and responsibility are some of the points to ponder in the story. An elder’s role as the guide for the impatient younger generation seems to cut across cultural boundaries. Men are the same throughout, after the food and shelter needs are satisfied. Thoughts turn to procreation and we get rivalry and jealousy coming into play.

We are all human.



Jenny, Juno

South Korea 2004

Details  hancinema

Seen 12 September 2008

The central theme of teenage pregnancy is the mainstay of this teenage flick. The real problems of parental and society’s objections is only dealt with at almost the end of the story. From the beginning we get to see how attached the two young lovers are to each other. As any other teenage couples, but with an added responsibility of a baby, their daily lives might even be considered so ordinary, mundane.

School, home and outings together is the sum total of their activities. No major flare-ups between the two, except at the start when Jenny tells Juno about the baby. The story line does not show the nitty-gritty of teenage pregnancy. Instead, we get a light hearted approach.

Seems like a fairy tale to me.


Beijing Bicycle

China 2001

Details  imdb

See 24 August 2008

A tragicomedy.

A Federal Express on bicycle, location Beijing.

The hero’s stubborn streak and stubborn attitude lands him in a lot of scraps. Circumstances throw him into others’ lives and dire consequences result. The doggedness and his unfailing believe in his ambition, to be his own man, spurs him to forge ahead despite the numerous obstacles along the way.

It is hard being true to oneself. It takes a totally different person to stay on the course you have set for yourself, unwavering despite the odds against success.


You’ll get over it – A cause d’un garcon

France 2004

Details  imdb

Seen 21 August 2008

The school relay team swimmer, popular among the girls finds his life topsy-turvy when graffiti on the school wall states that he is gay. In this case, he had just slept with a girl he feels close to but not really in love with. The love act was the girl’s first experience with a boy. Added to this volatile mix is the unwavering loyalty of his close male friend, the parents’ handling of the truth, and his place in the swimming team as well as his burgeoning feelings towards a fellow male student.

An even handed look at the issues surrounding a teenager’s sexual identity and how he and those around him come to terms with the events.

Not a great movie, but insightful in some instances.