The Fighter

fighter

 

Co-produced by Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter is a 2010 movie based on a true story of struggling boxer Micky Ward (Wahlberg) trying to live up to his older brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Against all odds, the two brothers come together to train for a historic title bout that has the power to reunite their fractured family and give them pride. Their explosive relationship threatens to take them both down, but the bond of blood may be their only chance for redemption.

I’m not into boxing, or most other sports, so I did not bother going to the cinema to watch this. However, I did enjoy the story and the acting which is very convincing, even from the supporting cast (including Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and the real Micky Ward).

There are several footage of the actual fights between Eklund and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard (eg in Massachusetts in 1978 and 1993), which lend credibility to the story. The music – from Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke to the numerous percussive tracks by Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and original soundtracks – add to the intended mood and atmosphere. The fights are well choreographed (though I must admit I fast-forwarded some of them because I’m not into boxing), especially those between Ward and his opponents at various venues. The trainers and stunt doubles did a great job, so did the people in charge of the special and visual effects to make the scenes authentic.

This is a story of a family that has been through a lot. It is rather powerful and dramatic – the love between two brothers, the adversity they face, overcoming odds and redemption.

The Fall

thefall

 

I’ve come across this 2006 movie quite a few times, but never borrowed it because I saw that it is an adventure fantasy film and thus would probably not like it much. Somehow, perhaps of my boggled mind, I just picked it along with other movies on one of my recent trips to the library@esplanade. After all, the synopsis didn’t sound too bad: In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.

I was also taken in by the claim that The Fall was filmed over a period of four years in 18 different cities (like India, South Africa, UK, Bali, Fiji, Italy, Spain, Prague, Romania, China, Argentina/Chile/Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and Cambodia). Wow, I thought there must be some great cinematography, special and visual effects.

Well, the 5-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is real cute, endearing and acts well. Some of the visuals are majestic (for example the stunning landscapes and  beautiful scenery, underwater scenes and lavish sets) but after a while, the novelty wears off and I was waiting for the movie to end quickly. I find the storyline more annoying than engaging. Even Beethoven’s Symphony No & in A Major has not been used to its potential.

The Fortune Handbook

fortunemovie

Riding on the new-found fame of Nathan Hartono, who emerged first runner-up in the Sing! China competition in the middle of 2016, the production team (I counted 16 executive producers in the end credits) of The Fortune Handbook got him to appear in a cameo in the 2017 Chinese New Year movie. I wonder how many of his fans went to watch the movie and were disappointed to merely catch a glimpse of him dressed up as one of the many novice-gods albeit with a guitar strumming a few chords and singing a few phrases of an unfamiliar song.

As far as the story goes, there is some semblance of a plot: Su Fu (Christopher Lee) is a good-for-nothing brother-in-law of Hao Xing (Li Nanxing). Hao Xing loves his sister Ah Zhen (Vivian Lai) but despises Su Fu who tries to steal the family’s secret traditional Chinese pastry recipe so as to sell it for a lot of money to pay off his gambling debts. An apprentice God of Fortune (Mark Lee) is eager to get promoted to a true Fortune God, sees Su Fu’s plan and decides to turn his life upside down. Until Heaven steps in to prevent a catastrophe.

Right from the opening scene, the moment the Grand Teacher (Marcus Chin) starts to give his disciples a pep talk, I knew it was going to be a waste of 90 minutes in front of the television, but since I was feeling sleepy and lethargic from the hot weather and a host of other reasons, I started gathering my Sudoku and Word Search puzzles on the ready. After all, this is supposed to be a comedy, and there may be some good laughs. I did not laugh even once, though I almost did when Hossan Leong came on as another of the disciples. I’d never heard Leong speaking so many lines in Mandarin, so naturally. He (Leong) is the only reason that I decided not to call this a horrible movie.

To be fair, Mark Lee’s performance is perfect for his character. Some of the other actors (mentioned above) also portrayed what they are supposed to do. However, some of the supporting actors are raw and unnatural, and I feel there are too many unnecessary cameos by too many Mediacorp actors (Dawn Yeoh, Sheila Sim, Ferlyn G, Dr Jia Jia, Hong Hui Fang, Edmund Tay, Lina Ng, Eelyn Kok, Allan Moo, Abigail Chay, Johnny Ng, Ho Ailing, Chantelle Ng) and even lawyer Josephus Tan and a boy I recognise from a recent piano masterclass but don’t know his name. Then there is the blatant advertising for the sponsors (Pokka, A1 Abalone Noodles, Bee Cheng Hiang, Murad cosmetics, Kangli Geomancy, StarHub, Qian Xi Group and more that I can’t remember).

I’m glad I made the decision not to watch this movie when it was shown in cinemas.

 

The Sword with No Name

swordnoname

Curious about Korean films and dramas, I decided to watch one: the 2009 movie, The Sword with No Name. I thought that since it is based on a fictionalised account of Empress Myeongseong, it cannot disappoint more than if I just watched just any TV drama. I was wrong.

I have no quarrel with the story of how a Joseon dynasty bounty hunter becomes the bodyguard of the empress he secretly loves but do not understand the craze over Korean movies. The editing does not impress, neither do the actors. The cinematography tries to capture the authenticity of the countryside, the sea and fishing and there are even spectacular and majestic scenes, the traditional Korean music (especially the drumming) attempts to invoke the mood and atmosphere, the sets and props are grand and stunning, but these do not make up for my disappointment. The only time that a semblance of interest is sparked is the slight twist in the plot about three-quarter way into the story.

It would be a long while before I watch another Korean movie.

Destroyer

destroyer

 

I’ve never been so dissatisfied with a movie that stars Nicole Kidman as Destroyer. Now I understand why the newspaper reviewer gave this movie a rating that is 30% lower than The Favourite; I would have too.

The story is fine,: Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) is called to a crime scene – an unidentified man has been shot three times. There are no prints, no witnesses and no ID except for a tattoo of three dots on his nape. She said she knew who did it. As a young detective working for the Los Angeles Police Department, Bell went undercover to infiltrate a gang. Now, she still has feelings of anger and remorse, and is obsessed with reconnecting with people in her past in order to deal with the demons that destroyed her.

However, the structure is unusual and complicated. The constant flashbacks are perhaps juxtaposed to provide more information, but the result is more weariness than boldness and interest.

What I didn’t like is the pace (rather sluggish) and atmosphere (sleepy). The constant shifting between the past and present, though well edited, actually makes the plot more convoluted rather than more convincing. What keeps me from falling asleep is Kidman’s compelling performance and the music. Though I did not recognise any of the more-than-a-dozen songs, I noted that relentless percussive beats, heavy chords, metallic sounds, crashing chords and sombre music are rather prominent throughout. The use of double bass in crescendos and the thrillingly shrill violins are an apparent attempt to give a sense of mounting momentum and excitement, but which failed.

The cinematography is decent, but I find some scenes rather irrelevant (if they were, I didn’t understand, so that becomes irrelevant). Some of these are the skateboarders and what I feel are attempts in using nature (like birds, wolf, snow) as metaphors.

Though promoted as an action thriller, there really isn’t much action (except for ducking bullets and some kicking, so stunt department is involved), and hardly any suspense or tension. I thought the Make-up and Hair departments could have done a better job; the same too for the visual and special effects departments.

Sea of Love

seaoflove

Sea of Love is a 1989 movie starring Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. Al Pacino is a veteran NYC police detective named Frank Keller hunting a bizarre serial killer with his partner Sherman (John Goodman) when he encounters a beautiful suspect named Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin) and enters into a passionate affair with her, despite evidence linking her to the murders.

A note of interest: there is some poetry-writing involved that is crucial to nabbing the culprit. An interesting one which Frank’s mum wrote to his dad when she was in high school in 1934 goes like this – I live alone with myself./ Like a hut within the woods/ I keep my heart high upon a shelf/ barren of other goods./ I need another’s arms to reach for it and place it where it belongs;/ I need another’s touch and smile to fill my heart with songs.

This is a movie that is well constructed, edgy and smart. It is thrilling and psychologically intense yet convincing. The production design and meticulous details make it all believable. The cinematography paints a rather lonely picture – bleak outlook, trapped circumstances, loneliness, emotional experiences against the urban nature, the relentlessness and the pulse of the city. This feeling is well evoked with the lonely sound of the saxophone against the poignancy of a percussive beat. The soundtrack is fantastic too. Sea of Love, a song performed in turns by Phil Philips with the Twilights and Tom Waits, features throughout the movie, as it is central to the plot. Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea, Lionel Ritchie’s Three Times a Lady are among the original compositions and eight songs appropriately chosen to enhance the atmosphere. The special effects and stunts deserve special mention. The twists keep the intrigue going till the end.

The Favourite

favourite

 

I went to watch The Favourite because I was curious about its ten Academy Award nominations, especially for Best Actress. Even my favourite Straits Times film correspondent wrote that Olivia Colman should win though his prediction is that it would go to Glenn Close for The Wife. This is what I think too.

This two-hour long period drama does not disappoint, but I will not begin to guess if it can win an Oscar for Best Picture, though I’m sure there are people who would be puzzled how it even got nominated in this category. (I’m not surprised as there had been stranger nominations in the past.)  The movie’s strength are in its two leading supporting actresses, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

The story (loosely based on true events): In early 18th century England, England is at war with the French. A frail and ill-tempered Queen Anne (Colman) is on the throne but it is her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz) who governs the country. A new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives and endears herself to Sarah. Abigail see this as a chance to return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become more and more time consuming, Abigail steps in to fill the role as Anne’s companion. This is another chance for her to fulfill her ambitions, and she will let nothing stand in her way…

I did not quite like how the story is told in eight acts (eg: I. This Mud Stinks, IV. A Minor Hitch, VIII. I Dreamed I Stabbed You In Your Eye), though I like how well-known Baroque pieces of music is featured together with more ‘modern’ works. These include Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major and Water Music Suite by Handel and Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi, as well as music by Bach (Harpsichord Concerto in A Minor, Pastorale in F Major, Fantasia in C Minor, Prelude and Fugue in G Minor), Purcell (Trumpet Sonata in D Major), Schubert (Piano Sonata No 21 in B-flat Major)  ; British composer Anna Meredith’s Anno/Four Seasons, 20th-century French composer Olivier Messaien’s spectacular organ work, La Nativite du Seignuer and even Elton John’s Skyline Pigeon (at the end credits – a haunting harpsichord-led ballad).

The Sound Department did an excellent job in picking out music (or non-music) that enhance the scenes. Even the use of Ostinato or Silence or Crescendo add to the tense, ominous or anticipatory moments. The costume, hair and make-up departments work well with the art and design departments, and the photography and editing departments also do not disappoint. Still, I do not think this deserves a Best Picture Oscar when there are better contenders.

 

Two Mules for Sister Sara

twomules

 

Two Mules for Sister Sara is a 1969 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacClaine. Set in Mexico, a nun called Sara (MacClaine) is rescued from three cowboys by Hogan (Eastwood). He helps her when she says she is being chased by the French, and gets information from her about the French forces. They become friends but Sara has a secret she keeps to herself…

I’ve never been one to swoon over a Western (in fact, I usually find them dull and uninspiring), but I thought it would be interesting to watch two thespians’ performance when they were young. I was rather disappointed because there doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between them.

I also didn’t quite like the script – I thought the plot uninspired and character development non-existent. For a Western, there is a glaring lack of action. Even the cinematography is just mediocre. The set decorations and stunts look too contrived, except for the real animals such as snakes (when my eyes shut immediately). I am sure there are other movies made that year, or even earlier, that have better sound, visual and special effects.

The only saving grace is the music: the original score by Ennio Morricone is delightful but rather misused. What a waste!

The Island

island

 

The Island (2005) is a futuristic thriller. Though I usually don’t like to watch futuristic movies, this is the second time I’ve watch this one. It doesn’t seem too futuristic, as it is set in July 2019.

The story: a group of people work in a facility as slaves; their incentive is a lottery where the winner gets to leave the facility and move to a paradise called The Island. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and his love interest Jordon Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) discover the scary truth about this paradise: The residents of this facility are actually clones, more worthy dead than alive. They decide to stage a daring escape, risking their lives and freedom to save those left behind and reveal the truth.

For a science-fiction, this movie seem pretty realistic, except for a few far-fetched action scenes. Still, it is spectacular and thrilling. It is very physical – gasoline, gunpowder,  trains, jets, motorcycles, big chase, running up and down hills and corridors and corners, ducking, diving, jumping, falling – all stunts very well choreographed and coordinated. The visual and special effects (including the computer graphics) are tremendously well done.

Colette

colette

 

I decided to go to the cinema to watch this biographical drama instead of waiting for the Blu-Ray because I was really curious about the French author Colette. First, I can’t read French; second, the rating is R-21 so it might not get to the library shelves. Am I glad I made this decision!

I was captivated from the opening scene till the end of the end credits – every moment is essential and compelling, fascinating and riveting. Most remarkable are the gorgeous music and stunning cinematography.

Born Gabrielle-Sidonie in 1873, the young Colette (Kiera Knightley) falls for her father’s friend Henry Gauthier-Villars, aka Willy (Dominic West), someone much older. After marrying the Parisian writer, Colette is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Willy convinces her to ghostwrite for him and she pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine. It becomes a bestseller and the couple become the talk of the town. Willy forces Colette to write more Claudine novels until she decides to claim some of the credit, eventually fighting Willy for creative ownership. In the process, Colette has to overcome societal constraints, revolutionalise literature, fashion and sexual expression.

William Butler Yeats’ Down by the Salley Gardens, Debussy’s Arabesque (played by British composer and pianist Thomas Ades, who also oversees the music department for this movie), Bizet’s Carmen (Act I: Seguidilla), Leo Delibes’ Coppelia (Act 1: Valse), Gounod’s Faust (Acts 2 and 3), Emil Waldteufel’s Etincelles in A-flat Major (a piece I loved playing on the piano when I was younger), Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion), Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk (from his Children’s Corner Suite, another piece I loved playing), Eric Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1: Lent (also played by  Ades), Saint-Saens’ Septet in E-flat Major (Gavotte) and more – these pieces really add to the atmosphere and add to my enjoyment of the movie.

A beautiful and heartfelt movie.