31. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment

blog-terminator-01 Terminator Salvation (2009). If I had to use one word to describe the new Terminator movie, it’d be this: disappointing. McG’s continuation of the Terminator franchise has created a loud and noisy movie that’s more thunder than lightning. This film feels like Transformers 1.5 than Terminator 4.

The inclusion of those scary metal robots which can single-handedly wipe out a full station’s roster of law enforcement officers is entirely coincidental in Salvation. Aside from three supposedly familiar characters – Kyle Reese, John Connor, and the T-800 with Arnuld’s likeness showing up late in the film – and some references that if Reese doesn’t survive Connor wouldn’t, you could had replace the evil machine protagonists in Salvation with generic stock newly created aliens and no one would had been able to tell the difference.

Bluntly put: this isn’t a Terminator movie. It’s generic sci-fiction and lazy film-making.

My other huge gripe for the film would be that the overarching plot fails logic 101. If Skynet’s overall plan was to terminate John Connor, why did it bother even with the infiltration unit? Wouldn’t it had been much easier to just have the the Terminator Infiltrator kill Connor the instant he got the opportunity? Better still, kill Kyle Reese and therefore make it altogether impossible for Connor to have ever existed in the time-line.

But hell no – that would mean the show would have ended at about the hour mark and 25th minute mark respectively for the movie’s already relatively short running length of under 2 hours.

And what’s with that video control room, at the top of Skynet’s tower…? You mean machines need that Apple storefront-likeness to work out their plans for world domination?

blog-terminator-02

The apparent ‘little’ nods to the existing films that McG inserted as Easter Eggs elicited more groans than chuckles. The “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back” just sounded forced. At least the T-800’s appearance with Arnuld’s face CGed onto it brought a few smiles.

And talking about dialog howlers. Parachuted A-10 pilot Blair Williams nuzzles up to the Marcus and says “I need body heat” and looks all comfy. Maybe the new Infiltrator bots carry with them built-in body warmers.

Well at least the visuals looked pretty OK, though nothing especially fantastic when you consider that USD200 million had been spent on it. You would had expected something better.

And when the film’s epilogue with Christian Bale’s almost bored voice that one battle has been won but the war continues, you’d arrived at the inevitable conclusion: that this film and the destruction of the factory in the ongoing war between machines and humans has achieved… nothing.

Lastly, the film’s PG13 – which is problematic in itself. For a film that’s supposed to be about unstoppable human-killing machines called ‘Terminate-ors’, the film really is quite tame with minimal gore, blood and guts.

Watchable on the overall, but just not your Terminator movie, or even a good movie.

30. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-doubt-01 Doubt (2008). When scrolling through the list of newly arrived DVD rentals on the Homepal service, I look out for the cast in it and typically will pick up titles because of an actor. I picked up Doubt without knowing what the show was about but only because actress Meryl Streep was in it.

The film is based on an award winning play of the same name by American Playwright John Patrick Shanley. The drama takes place at an American church which a semi-liberal priest, Father Flynn, preaches at, and attached school which is run by a very strict nun, Sister Aloysius. Their two ideologies and character dispositions eventually clash over an allegedly ‘improper’ relationship Sister Aloysius accuses Father Flynn of having with a 12 year old African-American boy in the school.

Doubt has four adult leads: Father Flynn played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, the lovely Amy Adams – from Enchanted – as Sister James, a young nun caught in the middle between the two, and Viola Davis as the boy’s mother.

All four were nominated for acting at the Academy Awards – and very deservedly so. Doubt is a dialog-driven drama with no explosions, no violence, and no guns, and the four leads put in amazing performances that will likely divide audiences into four sides.

blog-doubt-02Davis has just one scene and with Sister Aloysius, but it’s a very powerful one in which she refuses to be intimidated by the Sister’s accusations and misgivings about Flynn.

This isn’t the only character confrontation scene in the movie that spell-binds audiences: there’re several others between Sisters Aloysius and James, and with Flynn. In every one of them, heck throughout the entire film, Meryl Streep lives and breathes in her role as the conservative nun.

Both the play and film never quite solidly show whether Flynn did indeed have an improper relationship with the boy. There’s instead little bits of evidence throughout to support either conclusion, and audiences are left to decide on their own who to finally believe.

On the overall, Doubt is a film that’ll leave you thinking well after it’s ended.

29. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

After doing a bunch of reviews, I realized I haven’t started a Fav Film list yet. So, here we go – and identifying only films that were released in the last 20 years, a series of my favorite picks from each of the major film genres. Starting off with…

War & Conflict

My four picks in the film genre of War & Conflict are Saving Private Ryan (1998), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Braveheart (1995).

blog-spr-02

War movies weren’t quite in the vogue up till Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. There weren’t very many of such films to begin with outside a couple of critically acclaimed foreign-made ones like Das Boot and Stalingrad – both of which were German productions – and a few Hollywood productions, e.g. Glory.

Saving Private Ryan pretty much changed all that. The Omaha Beach Landing was the first and still possibly most visceral war scene ever shot on film, and there was no letup in the rest of the movie. The story concerned the efforts of a small section of soldiers, led by a Captain John Miller played by Tom Hanks, to pull out from the front-line a paratrooper who had just lost three brothers in the war. Spielberg’s intention wasn’t to glorify war in this movie but to honor the memory of what he regarded as the Greatest Generation.

blog-spr-01

I saw the film four times on the big screen in Singapore, and it left an indelible impression on me. It still remains the singularly most powerful and moving film I’ve seen in my life. Saving Private Ryan won Best Director and several other Oscars, but lost the Best Picture Oscar to the nice but ultimately trivial Shakespeare in Love in what I thought was the greatest ever let-down in the Academy Awards history.

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator followed 2 years thereafter, and revived another genre – the ‘Sword & Sandals’ epic that had been dead for a few decades at that point. The CG work for the Roman Coliseum wowed a lot of cinema viewers. The tale of revenge was simplistic, but benefited from Russell Crowe’s restrained number as the Roman General turned slave turned gladiator. He deservedly won a Best Actor award for it. Joaquin Phoenix as the sneering but semi-preadolescent Emperor Commodus hammed it up a little, but had scenes which were at least balanced by the statuesque Connie Nielsen (whatever happened to her in recent years LOL) who played his sister.

blog-gladiator-01

The historical background for Gladiator was largely hokey (e.g. Commodus really was a semi-benevolent ruler than a despot), but the production and sets weren’t. The film had great music by Hans Zimmer that sold a lot of CD copies, though subsequent films with music by Zimmer turned derivative.

Scott followed Gladiator with a second film set in pseudo-Africa but this time with a stronger historical premise: Black Hawk Down, based on Mark Bowden’s book of the same name, which in turn was an account of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu when U.S. Army Rangers and SEALs engaged thousands of Somalis in a urban street battle in the city.

Scott didn’t bother too much with character development preferring instead to jump straight into the telling the story of the couple of days long battle between the two sides. The visuals and cinematography are amazing, as are the production sets. The film won a couple of technical Oscars.

blog-bhd-01

The last film in my pick list is Braveheart which Mel Gibson both directed and lead-acted in. The film is loosely based on one historical Scottish hero, William Wallace, who is said to had led in open rebellion against the occupying English forces in 13th century Scotland. For a couple of years, this was the best film I’d watched until Saving Private Ryan in 1998.

Despite the severe changes made to the historical person, the themes of the story courage, honor, love and ultimately sacrifice are intricate and very obvious elements of the story-telling. The film was also nicely supported by some of the most beautiful music ever composed for the cinema. The end-titles of which is a favorite among film soundtrack recording orchestras.

blog-bh-02

The film had a great cast too: Gibson starred as Wallace, and his great acting will make you forgive his off and on Scot accent. French actress Sophie Marceau starred as the English Queen, and as the story in the film went does something absolutely scandalous with Wallace (though nothing liked this happened in history though).

That’s a wrap. For persons who have an aversion to bloody battle scenes and the like, should at least catch Braveheart still. At heart, the film is still a romantic drama.

Lastly, special mention also goes to a couple of War & Conflict films I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years, especially Der Untergang, Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, Schindler’s List (which I think belongs more towards the drama than war genre), and Client Eastwood’s pair of films on Iwo Jima: Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

blog-english-patient

I’ve blogged about wedding music last year, and in the pair of posts noted that one of my choices for Ling’s Processional was “I’ll Always Go Back to that Church”, better known as “Kip’s Lights”, from The English Patient by Gabriel Yared.

The original motion picture soundtrack on CD has a marvelous recording of this track. For those of us who don’t mind picking up an alternative recording of the same music, Naxos has just released a soundtracks CD of film music performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis – and one of the tracks is an arrangement of the piano solo theme from The English Patient and “Kip’s Lights”. Easy way to pick up two very lovely pieces of music at a go.:)

The MP3 version of the track is available at Amazon here for those of us with US Credit Cards. Alternatively, you can pick up the track for free at eMusic as a trial subscriber, or just USD0.20 in my case as a current subscriber.

Either way, it’s well worth the acquisition.:)

28. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags:

I’m a big fan of the Terminator series of films. So as soon as McG’s Terminator Salvation reached local cinemas here, I got to booking the tickets.

Unfortunately, for possibly the first time since 4 years, I’ll be watching a theatrical screening alone. How’s that? Well, Ling wants to watch the show, but won’t be doing so for Hannah’s sake. She was afraid that the inevitable loud audio track in the theatre would damage our baby’s hearing.

Initially I thought that was must mummy paranoia – until I did a quick search for information on this topic. And guess what – there’s some factual basis. E.g. one source says:

blog-baby-girl While there have been no studies done to confirm that loud music, such as that found at concerts, can cause damage to a foetus, statistics have shown that women who work in an environment that requires hearing protection have babies with higher rates of hearing loss and there is growing evidence that excessive noise can have a detrimental effect on foetal development.

The greatest risk to the baby as a result of exposure to loud music comes from the physiological changes that can happen to the mother. Loud noises can trigger the mother’s body to release stress hormones, which may negatively affect the growing baby. Here, the risk of damage to the foetus is greatest during the first 14 to 60 days after conception, when the baby’s central nervous system and vital organ formations are still taking place.

No kidding! I need to get my hands on a pair of home headphones now if I’m going to be able to enjoy my diet of loud, noisy and bombardistic movies when Hannah pops.:)

Here’s a little home-video for keepsake. Hannah has been so active towards the end of the last trimester. I derive quite a bit of entertainment and amusement just by watching the movement (i.e. her stretching, poking, punching and spinning) she created on my belly. The video clip shown here is one of her milder ‘dances’ (It was not that easy to capture it on video ok! She has her ‘moods’).

I shall entitle this video clip ‘The Nah Nah Dance’. Hee hee. :P

27. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-outlander Outlander (2009). Matt was remarking the other morning that I don’t have much time left to watch loud and noisy movies at home – Ling will make doubly sure of that when Hannah arrives in a fortnight LOL.

I saw the trailers for Outlander, and it looked liked it had all the trappings of a violent and gory sword-fest against a scary-looking monster with huge teeth. It does have a couple of small twists though: that the monster goes about rampaging a Viking village in a story that’s set maybe in the 8th to 9th century, and their savior is a futuristic space-faring fellow who crash lands into a lake in the vicinity. Just to make things interesting, his sophisticated weaponary goes down with his ship and his whopping laser gun gets dropped early on. So he has to make do with only his wits and knowledge of modern tactics in taking down a human-gobbling critter.

The film has strains of the Beowulf legend – made popular through two films last year – the Predator movies, Ridley’s Scott Alien, and The 13th Warrior which in itself was inspired by the Beowulf legend. The production boasts of quite a quality cast, including James Caviezel – who did the title role for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – John Hurt who dons a huge wig and beard for his role as the Viking King, Ron Perlman of the two successful Hellboy movies, and the very lovely Sophia Myers whom I last saw in the medieval chick-flick Tristan + Isolde.

In this sort of movie, one doesn’t expect subtlety in the dialog, and Outlander doesn’t go out of the norm here. The spoken script is business-like, and the story takes a backseat to the well-staged action scenes. So, there isn’t much acting going about here even with the talented cast. Just lots of grunting, hollering, sword-waving and stabbing, and running from the critter of course.

blog-outlander-02 The story itself contains no surprises either – you’ve seen all the major plot developments before. No one believes the crash-landed Hero about The Beast –> he gets beaten up and imprisoned –> obligatory first scene where the critter kills a lot of people in the village –> Vikings believe the Hero –> and they try to fight the monster off, and eventually do defeat it though not before the body count racks up.

And no surprises either on which of the major characters dies and lives by the end of the 2 hour film. Their fates are practically stamped on their foreheads the minute they get introduced.

The fight scenes though are well-staged, and the critter is sufficiently scary enough with all the physical traits you expect from a thing that eats humans: violent disposition, huge teeth, drooling saliva, huge claws, and a wicked tail that decapitates a couple of unlucky fellows.

So, it’s a watchable film, and definitely better than last year’s truly awful Pathfinder, another Viking-esque show. Neither are for Ling though.:)

blog-bolt Bolt (2008). I didn’t catch Bolt when it was here on the big screens late last year. The trailer seemed pretty blah – something about an actor dog who genuinely believed he had super powers, a psychotic hamster, and a very thin-looking cat.

My interest in it only came about because there was a demo-LCD TV at the Challenger outlet at Hougang Mall screening snippets of the animated picture, and it seemed interesting – sort of. That’s when I looked up the show again on IMDB and was surprised to see a 7.5 / 10 rating for it. A show with that rating can’t be all that bad.

So, the show got rented over the weekend. And surprise surprise – it was a pretty OK picture. Nothing especially memorable, but a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes on a Saturday evening. Ling coo-ed and squealed at the film’s beginning scene when Bolt is a cute puppy picked up in a shop by Penny, to whom he develops a loyal and loving relationship towards.

The psycho hamster, Rhino, is still there, and is a critter who genuinely believes Bolt possesses those powers of the super dog he portrays on-screen. He got some of the best lines in the show and reminds me a little of Po the Panda and his hero worship. The third animal to round off the trio is Mittens, an alley-cat who can’t believe her luck in getting involved with a delusional dog, has some heart-warming scenes late in the film when she teaches Bolt all the things he should have learnt as man’s best friend.

The voice work was OK, with a special nod to Susie Essman and Miley Cyrus who did the voices for Mittens and Penny respectively. The pair of men are OK, though I thought it would had served better if Rhino’s psycho turn was a little less sedate. Story is straight-forward from start to finish with no surprises.

What was really striking too was the paint-work liked imagery in the background scenes, especially of the mid-west as the three take a road trip from New York to Hollywood.

On balance; not reaching the greatness of Ratatouille or Kungfu Panda but still worth at least a rental.:)

Some say that pregnant ladies will exhibit nesting instincts when the due date draws near.

I started on tidying Hannah’s room about 2 weeks ago. Thoughts of decorating the room also flooded my mind. Just recently too, I finished a cross-stitch work on Hannah’s name. Each letter took me about 2-3 hours. Am tempted to start another one with her birthdate, birth time and weight and then framed it up to be hung on the wall. Wanted to get a strip of pretty wall paper to go round the liliac-coloured wall but could find the time to get it done.

I’m getting really heavy and also clumsy in the way I walk. My feet have started to swell since last week – sigh. Hannah weighs about 3.2 kg today. I hope that she won’t grow too big so that it won’t be too difficult for her (and me!) to squeeze her way out. Ya. :)

Due date: 12th June 2009. Any time really.

blog-cross-stitch

22. May 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-ncis-01 NCIS (2003+). In between the episodes of The Tudors, another series I’ve started watching on DVD rental is NCIS, short for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The series is based on the investigative cases by a fictitious team of special agents from the real-world naval agency.

I got into this series cold-turkey. The series’ lead star, Mark Harmon, had a guest appearance in The West Wing as a Presidential Secret Service agent assigned to protect C.J. Cregg, the series’ White House Press Secretary. His guest role in The West Wing spanned just four episodes though – his character is tragically killed while attempting to stop a convenience store robbery – but left me with a deep enough impression to search for a series where he shows up as a lead.

The NCIS series is a little different from the usual law enforcement shows on account that it’s not really about law enforcement but about investigation of criminal cases. There’s rarely violence, gun battles, explosions and car chases. Rather, the team of agents, headed by Jethro Gibbs (Harmon’s character), spend each episode’s running length gathering clues, analyzing evidence, talking to witnesses and suspects, with each case reaching its conclusion at the episode’s end.

Harmon’s Gibbs is terrifically fun to watch. He’s all business when it comes to investigative work, but displays also cynical and dry wit. His small team of special agents all come with their own eccentricities but are all nonetheless likable. There’s one, Anthony DiNozzo, who thinks he’s God’s Gift to Women but really is a womanizer-lite. His spoil is fellow agent Caitlin Todd, an ex-Secret Service agent. The pair is fun to watch as DiNozzo constantly tries to bait Todd with innuendos.

There’s also a pair of agents who handle the forensic and scientific backend of cases: a Abby Sciuto who’s the techno-whiz-girl but dresses up in pig tails, tattoos and likes all things Gothic, and the fatherly “Ducky” Mallard, a medial examiner who talks to dead corpses and rambles to the living, especially Gibbs LOL.

blog-ncis-02

NCIS as a series has been running for six seasons now, and according to the series’ Wiki entry, the team of agents has stayed relatively the same throughout the years with just one or two personnel changes.

I haven’t got very far into the series yet though – just perhaps half of the episodes in the first season – but I really like what I’m watching.:)