Friday, December 31, 2010

The 10 Best & Worst Movies of 2010

As 2010 comes to an end, let's celebrate the best and worse cinematic experience. Here's my top 10 movies that been screened in a Singapore Theatre (or other form of public screening) from the 1st Jan 2010 to the 31st Dec 2010. It's not possible for me to catch all the movies that out in Singapore and my selective nature might have prevented me from catching some others gems (or duds) of 2010. Nevertheless, here my list of Best and Worst 10 of 2010 ...

The 10 Best Movies of 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo | Män som hatar kvinnor - Who would expect a Swedish Film about a 40 year old cold case could be this good. It's so good that there's two sequels and a Hollywood remake (by David Fincher) coming soon. The thriller is compelling and rather graphic (specially when it depicts rape). The characters are intriguing and the actors (Michael Nyqvist & Noomi Rapace) were terrific in their respective roles. It's a pity that the following two sequels pale in comparison.

Triple Tap | 鎗王之王 - As a sequel to Double Taps, Triple Tap offered something new and something old. It once again flash out the engaging psychological rivalry between two sharpshooters and even offer linkage to the original with Alex Fong returning as the wise mentor who had been scarred from the experience in the original movie. The psychological case here is twisty and keep the viewer guessing what's the criminal mastermind up to. Triple Tap get a lock in my top ten due to it's ability to retain the flavor of the original movie while branching out to something new.

the social network - Facebook currently the biggest social networking platform in the net. Who would have guess that the formation of Facebook would packed so much drama and emotions? Leave it to David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin to craft out one heck of a movie that in most movie fans' top ten of 2010.  Awesome performance by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake. and Not forgetting the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ... currently receiving plenty of playbacks on my mp3 player.

Flowers フラワーズ - Beautifully shot with various styles that define the different era of Japanese movies, Flowers focus on the struggles of six ladies from the 1930s till modern times. The movie brings out the various hardship and difficult decisions that they might face. They reacted differently but yet still retain a certain gracefulness that admirable. Kudos have to be given to the filmmakers and the cast for making their respective segment memorable when they have only so limited time to shine.

Confessions 告白 - The best vengeance movie of 2010. How do you extract revenge on people who simply apathetic with other people's lives? How do you teach the self centered generation about the pain of others?  This beautifully shot movie did it in the most disturbing way and in a way brilliant. It hooked you with the opening intro and never let go until the final dialogue fades away with the blackout. It reveal confessions upon confessions, digging to the truth of what's really in the mind of those involved. Bold concepts and eerily relatable.

Liar Game: the Final Stage ライアーゲーム ザ・ファイナルステージ - My friend been recommending Liar Game TV series to me and although this is my first introduction to the world of Liar Game, it's not hard to see why it's worth recommending. Completely accessible to newbies, Liar Game: the Final Stage is constructed on simple rules to test one's greed and deviousness. It does not conveniently abandon the rules (like a couple of other movies that I saw) and the unconventionally thinking to get around the game were a delight to follow.

Shutter Island - In many ways, Shutter Island felt rather similar to Inception. Beside having the same leading man, the protagonists that leading the operations weren't really in the right frame of mind. Both are plagued with their own dreams and obsession with their wives. While many embraced Inception, Shutter Island would be the flick that's in my top ten. The emotional trauma and the revelation felt more realistic and poignant to me.

Summer Wars サマーウォーズ - An interesting blend on family bonds and the internet realm.

Not many anime / movie could achieve the fine balancing act of bringing those two elements together. Summer Wars not only combine both elements well, it bring a rousing performance that's able to bring a strong emotion affection even on the second viewing.

One of the Best Japanese animation have to offer in 2010 and it just reaffirms that Mamoru Hosoda (who also directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) is one guy to watch out for.

Up in the Air - Technically a 2009 movie and a contender for the last Academy Awards, Up in the Air was release theatrically in Singapore on March 2010 and remained etched as my top 2 favorite 2010 movies. Up in the Air is about a man who fly all over to assist with corporate downsize. A movie that invokes thoughts on our daily trivial pursuits and our jobs. It's about perspectives in life and how you don't always get what you want. It's funny, it's informative, it's interesting, it's heart breaking and last but not least it offered a glimpse of hope.

Fish Story | フィッシュストーリー - An Epic tale of Apocalyptic proportion...  told in a series of irrelevant and non-chronological stories. Childhood dreams, friendship, courage, faith and passion for music, this is what the 20th Century Boys tried to achieve in their trilogy but somehow fumble and made a mess with the materials at hand.

Fish Story is defiant, invoking a sense of wonderment and a groovy punk rock song with the weirdest lyrics that hard to forget. It dealt with the process of creation and facing the uncertain future. Needless to say, I was elated when Fish Story won the audience vote for Best Film of the Japanese Film Festival (Singapore).

Other notable mentions for 2010 ... they are all great and 4 stars movies but just couldn't squeeze into my top ten for 2010.

Lala Pipo: A Lot of People, I Give My First Love to You, Fantastic Water Babes, Goemon, Little Big Soldier, Nodame Cantabile: The Final Score Part 1, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Aftershock, The Joneses, Outrage & Air Doll.

The 10 Worst Movies 0f 2010

Vampires Suck - Who would expect a parody of a dreary teenage vampire romance series could be even more dreary? Only when it's Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer directing it. Yup the same duo who gave us the horrendous spoof like Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans.

There are far more inventive and funny online spoofs of the Twilight franchise. This movie actually made me want to watch New Moon or Eclipse instead.


Phua Chu Kang the Movie - I don't remember the iconic Singapore Ah Beng (uncouth) renovator Phua Chu Kang being that bad when it was still a Singapore sitcom.

How did it became so juvenile, crude and unfunny? Phua Chu Kang the Movie is filled with tired old gags that are executed horribly bad that it's hard to even chuckle at them. There's also the juvenile Hokkien shouting match between Phua Chu Kang and Frankie Foo that goes on thru out the movie. It makes me forgot that there's a plot involving Phua Chu Kang's mom visiting them in Malaysia and some plotline about renovating an old folks home.

I would recommend that you pick up PCK the Singapore Television series instead. Never seen so much local talents wasted in such horrible manner.

I feel so bloated from bad scripting

City Under Siege - It seemed that the director's focus was on the special effects and came out with a meandering script that lacks any real motivation for the protagonist and villain. Resulting with the protagonist and villain stumbling upon a power source that turned them into superpower mutants. Literally floats the protagonist around and leaving the villain without any real objective to achieve. The awkwardly patch them together for a predictable finale.

Ironically the special effects ain't that great either and the best bit would be Aaron Kwok clowning around.

Clash of the Titians, Future X-Cops & District 13: Ultimatum - Their original story wasn't that great but CotT made it's mark in the movie special effects history and FXC / D13U were fun in their own rights. These remakes / reboots / sequel were a dismay bunch. While the original CotT modify it's tale from the mythology, this CotT mutated it into something that just sucks. Future X-Cops lacked the predecessor's star powers and all the real fun had been squeezed out for the China market. D13U is so weak and bland with it's storyline that it made the original one look like it's a work of genius. Even the free running stunts felt less impressive.

Valentine's DayHot Summer Days - Love Actually wannabes with all the stars but none of the sizzle. A blatant effort in cashing in on the celebrities' popularity and weak effort in creating a story segment that works. Watching a rerun of Love Actually would actually be more engaging when it comes to pulling heartstrings.

I Hate Valentine's Day - Is about Genevieve Gernier (Nia Vardalos) and her stupid crazy idea of dating the opposite sex for only 5 times so that the romance will not ends with miserable breakup. The movie played out in a formulaic and tired fashion. It's also laden with unfunny comedic elements and Nia Vardalos' acting which consist largely of  one smiley expression.
I Hate Valentine's Day just reeks of desperation that Nia Vardalos was trying to recapture the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding to prove that she is not a one hit wonder. I Hate Valentine's Day just reaffirm that her My Big Fat Greek Wedding might just be a fluke afterall.

Legion - is the perfect example of how to think small when approaching the grand ideas of conflicts between God, Angels and other Demonic creatures. There's potential in the setup for Legion. An angel go against God to protect a special unborn child and the all important battle take place at a diner located at the edge of a desert with the remaining few survivors who are taking a stand with the fallen angel.

Getting an entry here means that somehow this movie managed to squander off it's potential. Legion is reduced to nothing more than a shoot'em up flick of people taking on angels and demons.

Or perhaps the movie's only concern was how to create as many supernatural special effects fights as they could on a limited budget. But then again, the special effects didn't really make much of an impression and the story impressively bland.

and the other movies that made me wanna bolt out of the cinema in 2010 were Armored, My Ex & Enthiran

That's all folks ... See you at the movies in 2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saw 3D [ Movie Review ] ***

In the 7th installment, there's basically two stories going on at the same time. The main story would be on Bobby Dagen, a man who claimed that he is a JigSaw game survivor and learned to embrace his life more after the traumatic experience. His book made him famous and he started reaching out to the other survivors. Obviously that didn't please Jigsaw and soon, Bobby Dagen found himself "back" in the games. This time, it's a series of games which he must accomplish to save his colleagues and his wife.

Meanwhile, Jill Tuck (Jigsaw's ex wife) is trying to escape from the latest Jigsaw killer. After the incident in the previous movie, she seeks help from the police and the Jigsaw is trying to find ways to kill her. The thing is that his identity had been revealed to the police and he could no longer use the perks of being a police detective to achieve his mission as Jigsaw.

The thing about this installment would be that it's a last ditch effort to regain the high turnover at the box office as the previous five movies did. To entice the audience, the filmmakers are throwing in the 3D gimmick and removing the 7th from the movie title, hopping that unsuspecting folks might just get the tickets without knowing that there's a long history.

Bad news for those unsuspecting folks cause the whole Jill Tuck's story arc is somewhat rooted in what went on during the first 6 movies subplots. To understand why the latest Jigsaw is so hellbent on killing Jill Tuck, you need to know what happened in the climatic finale of Saw 6. Then there's the return of Dr Gordon, a character from the 1st Saw movie that had not appeared since then.

Fans of this series might be disappointed too. The return of Dr Gordon felt like an awkward insertion to the storyline. Not much is done on the part that he play in this franchise except the possibilities of expanding this series further with the involvement of this character. If fans had embrace the previous retcon (Retoactive Continuity) as a mean to deepen the series mythos, the retcon of Dr Gordon just felt rather repetitive and tedious.

Similarly Bobby Dagen's journey felt like what happened with the main "victim" of Saw 6 and Saw 3. One solo guy going through a series of sadistic tests to save others who are trapped in deadly contraption. It's all been done before and in more interesting fashion.

If this is the final chapter to the Saw franchise, then the series had ended not with a bang but a whimper.  There are still some open threads ways that would allow another sequel to be made but it would take a movie with a calibre of the 6th movie to make the Saw franchise interesting again.

Ironically the director of Saw 3D is the same as Saw 6. It just make one wonder how did he did such a bland job out of it. Perhaps he is still unhappy about being pulled off from Paranormal Activities 2 to direct this movie. Or perhaps the 3D technology took time away from crafting a stronger story (refer to Saw 6). Or even perhaps the script was that weak that the director couldn't do much to savage it. There might be hope that a Saw VIII might give the Saw franchise a proper finale but given the poor box office collection, that unlikely to happen. It's just a pity that the series would end with such an average installment.

Was it worth the 3D price?

There's some gimmicky 3D tricks of having some body parts and blood flying towards the audience. It was more comical than gruesome. The depth of field is nothing worth mentioning and watching this movie without the 3D gimmick would have been better. In fact  Instead of making it 3D, more effort could have spent on making this one heck of a finale. Save that extra 3 bucks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Go Find a Psychic! | 曲がれ!スプーン [ Movie Review ] *** 1/2

Go find a psychic is literally about a lady quest for a real psychic. Yone Sakurai (Masami Nagasawa)  happened to work in a television program about people with psychic ability and most of them turned out to be fake wannabes seeking their 15 minutes of fame. While her colleagues are probably just concerned about program ratings, she is one individual with a strong conviction on the mysterious and unexplained phenomena.  Her boss used her strong conviction and sent her on a trip all over Japan to find a real psychic (or phenomenon).

Meanwhile, in a cafe, a group of individual with different psychic abilities gathered for a small private party. Unlike the fake wannabes, this group of people with real special capabilities want nothing to do with the media, specially the psychic program show that Yone Sakurai works for. Their party was crashed by a wannabe and the enthusiastic group of special folks unwittingly revealed their power to the wannabe.

While the special psychics are trying hard to protect their secrets, Yone Sakurai entered the cafe to interview this wannabe. To escalate events, one of psychic with X Ray vision discovers that there's a poisonous spider (from the previous wannabe) in her name card holder. In order to save her, the psychics took turns with their special abilities to remove the name card holder from her pocket.

That the whole crux of this movie. Will they be able to help her without revealing their secrets?

On the whole, Go Find a Psychic! has a Japanese Christmas telemovie / television series feel to it. The camera work, the events, the actors's performance and even the gags weren't spectacularly cinematic. However it brought up a good point on what people will do if they have special powers. It was also rather amusing to see how these psychics draw the line on what they would use their power for and the limits of their power.

Moreover it also instill the belief of holding onto one's faith no matter how strange they might be. That and the Santa gag made this movie seemed just right for the Christmas season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

TRON: Legacy [ Movie Review ] ***

After 28 years, the sequel to the cult favorite TRON is finally making it's way to the screens. Like all computer programs, it's getting a makeover with an update on the visual and special effects. But can TRON: Legacy change the track record of the previous TRON's box office collection and attracts both the old and new fans? Can it modify the story into something more accessible for the casual viewers to appreciate or even make the story better than it's predecessor?

This time round, TRON Legacy is basically about a son's search for his dad in the digital world of the Grid. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the hero from the original TRON had suddenly gone missing. "Abandoning" his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) for many years, the story starts when his friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) suddenly received a page from Flynn's Arcade that had been closed for years. Initially reluctant, Sam finally visited the abandoned arcade to investigate the source of the page. After fiddling around with arcade games, Sam discovered a secret passage to his dad's workplace and accidentally activated the teleporter that digitize / teleport him into the Grid.

Upon arrival, Sam was quickly captured and sent to play the deadly games. Using his survival skills, wits and an unexpected aid from a pretty warrior (Olivia Wilde), Sam managed to escape the games and is reunited with his dad. It turned out that this time round, its' Kevin's program CLU ( a younger Jeff Bridge ~ the power of movie magic) that's up to no good. Entrapping Sam and keeping Kevin stranded in the digital world, CLU is planning to use the trapped father and son to carry his sinister plan.

Without a doubt, the biggest draw for Tron Legacy would be the update on the visual feast (special effects and costume / set design) and Draft Punk's contribution to the movie soundtrack. The blazing disc war and lightcycles were constructed to wow. It's well worth the ticket money to see how the world of Tron has been stylishly fabricated for the 21st century.

Another unexpected highlight would be how Tron Legacy play up the reunion between father and son.   The setup for the separation between Sam and Kevin didn't feel like a tedious wait before the good time (in the Grid) could start rolling. In fact, it was well handled and well acted by the duo that the audience could relate to their longing for each other without the need of overdoing it.

Dude, I'm not your Father

Tron Legacy pays plenty of homage to the original flick. From reusing the CLU character as the main villain to Sam making the similar remark as his dad did to a very big door, this movie is filled with nods to what had came before. But after a while, it started to feel more like a reboot than an actual sequel.

Such as the obligatory disc war, lightcycles, escaping from the Grid and the restarting the source were the very same path that Kevin had taken in the original TRON. Although various elements had changed, it make one wonder why doesn't TRON Legacy branch out more as a story of it's own.

Even the flawed story in the first TRON didn't get much update in the second TRON movie. While the first one was rather inaccessible to the casual viewers, the second one had a storyline that's too convenient. Just when our heroes are clueless on what to do next, a Solar Sailer appears right beside them to take them where the story wants them to be. It also mind boggling to know that Sam arrival into the Grid was a trap by CLU and yet Sam had to go through dangerous games that could end his life. If CLU was being a wise tactician, the script certainly didn't make that aspect shine.

With a tagline that declared The Game Has Changed, it make one wonder did the sequel really change much from what had already been established in the first movie. Beside the change in players / user, a little modification here and there, Tron Legacy is basically a rehash of prominent events that occurred in the original film. It's pretty to look at but without a good story, TRON Legacy ends up looking like a beautiful vase.

Worth the 3D price?

Like many other recent blockbuster movies, TRON: Legacy is presented in 3D. The only thing I could get out of this 3D presentation was the depth of field and the diminishing gradient. It's a pity as it marred my enjoyment of watching all the impressive visual and special effects in their full glory.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Confessions 告白 [ Movie Review ] ****

Every once in a while, a truly disturbing movie comes our way and stayed etched in the minds long after the end credits roll off. Similar to Battle Royale, Confessions used an extreme scenario to highlight and reflect certain issues in our society (or at least perhaps in the Japanese society). It's tense, dark and unflinching movie that grip hold of you tightly right from the start. It also used an innovative flashbacks method to tell the story.  Last but not least, the beautiful cinematography creates just the right type of moody setting and it was nothing less than a visual treat.

But the most satisfying bit about Confessions would be how it dealt with the effective ways of punishing someone who is truly apathetic to his wrongdoing and almost everything else in the world.

Confessions started with a middle school teacher Yoko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) and her rowdy students. She informed them that her teaching life is coming to an end as her four year old daughter had died from a pool accident. After doing some investigation, she had discovered that her daughter was murdered by two of her students. Identifying them only as student A and student B, Moriguchi revealed that even after learning the shocking truth, she won't be going to the police as due to their age, student A and student B won't be prosecuted by the criminal law. Through the teacher's detailed recounting of what had transpired, the class managed to guess the identity of Student A and B. In a eerily calm and collected manner, she ended her class by informing the class that among the packs of milk that the class had just drank, she had tainted two of them with blood containing HIV.

Usually, such unexpected and surprising revelation would be reserved till the end of a vengeance movie and used as a climax twist or punch to the revenge tale. But in Confessions, this is just an intense wrap up for the introduction arc.

The class started to dish out their brand of punishment on Student A and B. While Student A managed to endure the nightmarish bullying, Student B went crazy and stayed away from school. On the surface, it seemed that the two kids had received their punishment for their atrocities but as the story slowly revealed more shocking truth behind the initial revelation. From the confessions of the class rep, student A and B, we discovered their thought process and the actual motivation behind the horrible murder. It's just bone chilling to learn what the kids truly felt about the whole incident and they are so wrapped up in their own selfish thinkings.

Besides the dynamic tension between the teacher and the students, the film also explored the issues between a child and their mother. On one hand, it cover how the lack of motherly love could fractured a child's growth and on the other hand, it also show how smothering one child could be equally damaging. It's on the extreme bits but somehow these scenarios are heart wrenching to watch.

Beyond the Movie

  • Confessions 告白 is Japan's candidate for the upcoming Oscar Best Foreign Language Film.
  • Was Top of Japan Box Office for 4 weeks in a row.
  • Confessions 告白 made it through the 1st Oscar Best Foreign Language Film nomination round. ( as of 20th Jan 2011)
  • Confessions 告白 is now officially out of the race for Oscar Best Foreign Language Film (as of 26th Jan 2011)
  • Confessions 告白 won 4 awards at the 34th Japan Academy (as of 18th Feb 2011)
  • Picture of the Year: Kokuhaku
  • Director of the Year: Tetsuya Nakashima
  • Screenplay of the Year: Tetsuya Nakashima
  • Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing: Yoshiyuki Koike