A version of this review appears in KLue magazine, for whom I'm freelancing as a film reviewer.
One of the more consistent comments from Malaysians about Terminator Salvation is that it is LOUD. I call it excellent and purposeful sound mixing. The filmmakers intentionally loaded the audio track with constant bass as well as sharp, ear-splitting sound effects (from even as basic an action as twisting a car door handle) in order to get past audience jadedness from other action films. As if that wasn't enough, there's the brooding, bass-laden score by Danny Elfman. The principle seems to be: if the audience isn't cowering from the firepower and explosions and smashing machinery, then it is not enough.
This is just one aspect about how hard the filmmakers tried to make sure the audience gets it - this film, unlike its previous cousins, is about war in all its intensity, precariousness and high stakes. As such, it's more than a little ironic that this is the first Terminator film to receive less than an R-rating in the US. Parents will complain.
There is every sense of the filmmakers squeezing every ounce of brain juice to make the film less susceptible to audience disappointment - especially director McG, who is understandably trying to shake off the notion that just because he did Charlie's Angels he can't do anything else. Storywise, the film doesn't embarrass James Cameron's Terminator films the way T3 did. It connected the dots properly while adding new ones without making it too distractingly self-referential. After the prologue, the plot flings the audience headlong into the action and barely decelerates for a breather till the end. (The film does benefit from never having to explain the now-familiar backstory.) The cinematography and production design is suitably dark and gritty, with its bleached-out colours and rusty metallic industrial settings. One thing about McG is that he likes to have at least one impossible one-take scene (think of the opening scenes in both Charlie’s Angels movies) – I was anticipating it and sure enough, there’s at least one in this film.
Under such an extreme story environment, the characters are virtually reduced to one-dimensions, but every character inhabits a particular value and carries it with concentrated ferocity - in particular, John Connor the raging, fiery prophet-warrior. The adolescent Kyle Reese offers some 'aha' moments for the audience as we see the beginnings of his transformation to become ... well, Michael Biehn; Kate Connor is simply the concerned, pregnant wife for now. The story introduces Marcus Wright, a new variable that threatens to complicate Connor's long-held world vision; he is the only character with an arc, a lost soul seeking redemption and finding it. Interestingly, by the end of the film, the character I would rather see going into the next film is not Connor but Wright. T5 will have to seriously justify John Connor's raison d'être after so much (as yet unrewarded) buildup about his ostensibly Messianic importance to the Resistance.
Oh yes. If you didn't know, Hollywood has planned this as a trilogy right from the get-go. For now, I say, good job, McG, and you have greenlight to bring on the next one!
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8.5/10
How Much I Liked It: 8.5/10
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
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Not that the Malaysian facility had anything to do with it; we have not actually started production work yet. But my colleagues in India as well as Los Angeles certainly had a lot to do with it - the bulk of the CGI in that film is done by Rhythm & Hues.
As per tradition, whenever a movie done by Rhythm & Hues appears in the cinema, the company would take out all the staff members to watch the film at the same time. In the case of the Los Angeles, Mumbai and Hyderabad facilities, we're talking hundreds of people. I was there in Hyderabad when the company went to see Fast & Furious, and we took up half the cinema - where we proceeded to scream and cheer and clap whenever any of our CGI shots came up. And to my glee, there is nothing the other audience members can do about it, since there were so many of us there.
Not so today. The Cyberjaya facility only has a handful of staff, including myself, so when we went to see Night At The Museum 2 it was done unassumingly, without much fanfare. No cheering or clapping. With so few of us, the Malaysian audience would've booed us out of the cinema hall. (We did cheer for some of our Indian production coordinators' names which appeared during the end credits - some of them for their first time!)
And we wouldn't have had the voice anyway. It looked like half the film contained CGI shots produced by Rhythm & Hues, which means we wouldn't have had enough voice left over for cheering our colleagues' names during the end credits. (I don't know accurately how many of the shots were done by Rhythm & Hues, but for certain I saw many of our artists working on virtually all the non-human museum showpieces that came to life.)
Well, let this be a warning lah. In over a year's time, when the number of digital artists from Rhythm & Hues Malaysia grow to a hundred and more, then we will sit our arses down to fill up half the cinema hall, and we will cheer and clap to our hearts' content for our work, and at that point, you'd wish you never entered the same cinema as we did.
Or, maybe, just maybe, you'll think it'll be pretty cool to sit in and watch a movie along with the guys that helped made the movie you're watching.
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Initial reviews coming out from the US indicate that the film was not very good, and as such I had slightly lowered expectations about the film.
The deal with The Da Vinci Code is something I talk about among my filmmaker friends, and we agree: despite the fact that it is universally acknowledged to be a less satisfying film than it could have been, considering it had a pretty intelligent script and great actors and Ron Howard directing and a supposedly engaging storyline involving mystery and puzzle-solving and all that, we could not for the life of us figure out exactly what part of it caused the film to be unsatisfactory. I don't know what the Ron Howard camp thought about that, because ultimately the film made a lot of money. They did, however, made sure to comment that for this film, it will be more fun and entertaining and faster-paced.
Well, that it is. And guess what, I disagree with reports that the film wasn't good. Angels & Demons will very easily be considered better than The Da Vinci Code purely because it IS so much faster-paced (which really is a natural quality for a story that happens in a matter of hours and had a clear and defined sense of urgency built into the conflict of the story), though it retains the darkness we see in the first film.
Comparisons. Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon still plays a huge part in the story but this film did feel a lot more like an ensemble piece. One feels like being shuffled from one location to the next like in a theme park ride attraction, because at any one time multiple characters may be anywhere. Ayelet Zurer as his female partner is perhaps less prominent than Audrey Tautou in the first one, but I did kind of like here in this. She comes across as serious and professional. Ewan McGregor is brilliant as the Camerlengo: his grand monologue about religion and science and the onset of the modern age is strangely inspiring.
There were a number of noticeable flaws, which suggested perhaps they were in a rush to finish this. For one, I noticed that sometimes the sound mixing wasn't very well done - in particular when Robert and Vittoria were being led up the stairs towards the archives, the quality of the dialogue track was particularly off considering the surroundings. Another thing is the CGI sometimes show through - though I doubt the average audience notices. The thing is, it was always going to be a challenge shooting in locations which the Catholic Church made sure the production couldn't get into. St Peter's Basilica, for one; the Pantheon is the other. (In fact, reading Wikipedia, it seems like the production people had to basically build or CGI virtually all the religious locations of the story in the soundstages in Los Angeles itself!) In the scenes in the Pantheon, it was distinctively obvious that the backgrounds were all fake; it was all greenscreen work. What is very impressive, however, is that fact that for the most part one felt that the characters were where they were; the enormous square in front of St Peter's Basilica, for example, where CGI had to integrate production-shot elements with CGI backgrounds, both small scale and large scale.
The storytelling is well done, and for the most part I understood what was happening. I did worry that a few among the general Malaysian audience might not - like, why did we suddenly jump from the Vatican to the CERN in Geneva? The point was that the film was dealing with themes in science and religion, of course; but religion seems so much easier to understand, whereas quantum physics and its experiments were never gonna be easy stuff to understand even for the most perceptive viewer. The movie's introduction scenes in the first 20 minutes were fairly fast-paced as it is, but once the chase begins the movie never lets up. While there aren't any grand physical stunt chases, the combination of scene after scene of intrigue, puzzle-solving, shoot-outs, rushing cars, and so on makes it one exciting film indeed. It helps that Ron Howard utilises his traditional dolly-around in a half-circle camera technique - maybe too much! By lending so much camera movement to the shots, it helps to enforce and strengthen the sense of urgency of the scenes.
The climax sequence in the third act, in particular, is a beautiful sequence to behold - horror and beauty and heroism and disaster all combined, tied together by Hans Zimmer's emotionally poignant score. (The score in this film takes on a different tone right from the get go, announced by Joshua Bell's violin rendering of the original motif we hear in The Da Vinci Code. The same motif plays often enough in this film, but we also hear a jittery, pulsating drumming with a more kinetically charged motif lining most of the action scenes, whereas the first film tended to consist of a lot of religious music-inspired grand and solemn melodies.)
Though, I have to say, the story does kind of telegraph what transpires in the fourth act earlier on, in the sense that the twists were less surprising than it should've been. Not a big enough problem to jeopardise the enjoyment of the film though.
It's one of the most entertaining films of the year so far, though strangely I don't have a particularly urgent desire to see it again in the near future. That sentiment will change soon enough, I suspect. [UPDATE: Having listened to the "Science And Religion" track from the soundtrack over and over and over again, I really want to see the film again, and SOON.]
How Good I Think The Film Is: 7.5/10
How Much I Liked The Film: 8.5/10
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Visual Effects
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I watched this on the 9th May at night at Sunway Pyramid with my best friend - 11.45pm showtime. Great movie, had us laughing out loud from the start to the end, and the last scene is just genius.
But I have to draw your attention, Joon Han, of what happened when we went to TGV Pyramid. We arrived at around 11.30pm, saw that there were only two other movies available (can't remember what they are now). We went to the counter, asked for Sell Out!, and she told us that there were only front seats left, but I asked her to show me the seats anyway. And guess what? Turns out that there were more than ample seats - in fact when we entered the hall later, it was half empty.
I don't know if this is a conspiracy against local movies or what, but I thought that you should know. Last I read, Yasmin Ahmad had the same problem before - which is just disappointing imo.
Yeo Joon Han wrote:
Hi Clement, thanks for your message. The same thing happened to us yesterday at GSC MidValley. We were told that the screening was sold out. The lady at the counter refused to even show us the seating plan on her monitor. [We later] found that it was half empty, too.
Also, earlier, when I tried booking seats online at Cineleisure Damansara, the 5.30pm screening seemed more than half full. But when we went to the cinemas to check, only 5 or 6 seats were taken.
And another; 三龙是三龙，不是其它 wrote:
And also, corrected the title because Clement corrected himself: TGV Pyramid rather than "GSC Pyramid". I would have caught the mistake ... if not for the fact that I hadn't set foot in Pyramid for 10 years.
internet memang tak sama..
kami tak ikut sistem...
wat lao eh...
k0k s3n w4i offers a plausible explanation - read Comments section.
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Hi friends! The Sell Out! soundtrack is on its way to music stores. (Official title of the CD is: "Music from the film Sell Out!") Obviously, KL stores will get them earlier because they are nearer to the distributor's warehouse but everywhere else should have them by early next week :-) Obviously, it includes all the songs in the film, even the sung version of "Here and Now" (the karaoke song) and, of course, "You're Not My Type." Try to resist uploading/downloading the songs because the music arrangers, producers and I worked really long and hard to make this CD. I also spent all my money on the CDs :-( [emphasis mine]
Actually, we've been trying to get some of the radio stations to play "You're Not My Type" but they have a lot of rules that prevent them from playing new local songs by unknown artists. If you like "You're Not My Type" or any of the other songs, perhaps you could help us by emailing or calling our Malaysian radio stations and requesting them to play the songs? Thanks! :-)
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Sell Out! will be playing at the following cinemas throughout Malaysia:
- Cathay Cineplex City Square, Johor
- GSC Dataran Pahlawan, Melaka
- TGV Jusco Shop. Ctr Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
- TGV Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
- GSC Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur
- GSC Pavillion, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
- TGV Cap Square, Kuala Lumpur
- GSC Alamanda, Putrajaya
- TGV Cheras Selatan, Selangor
- GSC IOI Mall, Puchong, Selangor
- TGV Sunway Pyramid, Bandar Sunway, Selangor
- GSC One Utama, Selangor
- Cathay Cineplex Mutiara Damansara, Selangor
- TGV Kinta City, Ipoh, Perak
- GSC Queensbay Mall, Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
- GSC Plaza Gurney, Pulau Pinang
- Screen Solution Langkawi Parade, Kedah
- GSC Berjaya Megamall, Kuantan, Pahang
- Star Cineplex Medan Pelita, Kuching, Sarawak
- GSC Signature @ The Gardens, Kuala Lumpur
If you’re not too bothered about Star Trek, then do please go and watch Sell Out! first when it releases on May 7th because Star Trek will be around for at least a month whereas Sell Out!, being a Malaysian production (and a non-Malay one to boot), will likely not survive past two weeks.
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Son: I will choose my own bride!
Father: But the girl is Bill Gates' daughter.
Son: Well, in that case ... okay.
Next day, Father approaches Bill Gates.
Father: I have a husband for your daughter.
Bill Gates: But my daughter is too young to marry!
Father: But this young man is a vice-president of the World Bank.
Bill Gates: Ah, in that case ... okay.
Finally, Father goes to see the president of the World Bank.
Father: I have a young man to be recommended as a vice-president.
President: But I already have more vice-presidents than I need!
Father: But this young man is Bill Gates' son-in-law.
President: Ah, in that case ... okay.
This is how business is done.
A lady in a faded grey dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun suit, walked in timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President's outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn't even deserve to be in Harvard.
"We want to see the President," the man said softly. "He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped. "We'll wait," the lady replied. For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn't and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president." Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they'll leave," she said to him. The President, stern faced and with a dignified air, strutted towards the couple.
The lady told him, "We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus."
The President wasn't touched. He was shocked. "Madam," he said, gruffly, "we can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery." "Oh, no," the lady explained quickly. "We don't want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard." The President rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, and then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard." For a moment the lady was silent. The President was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now.
The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, "Is that all it costs to start a university? Why don't we just start our own?" Her husband nodded.
The President's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. Mr and Mrs Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a student that Harvard no longer cared about.
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STAR TREK is the best* film of 2009 so far. There's plenty of competition in the road ahead - but its utter and complete mastery of gee-whiz audience entertainment has ensured that it'll take a tougher-than-tough opponent to take it off its pedestal.
As I remarked to Benji, the film's so good there is virtually nothing to discuss about. I have zero complaints about the film.
I'm not so sure that's the case for Trekkies though - but since I'm not one I'm not the reviewer for you either.
JJ Abrams has used a very clever device which allows him to reboot the entire Star Trek story and gives him free rein to change anything he wants from the Star Trek of yore - the fitting phrase film critics have been using is "carte blanche". (Trekkies who are unhappy with the major surgical snips and adjustments Abrams has done can just SUCK IT.) It is also, when you step back and think about it, a very unoriginal device - but the fact is, he made it seamless into the story. Put it in the hands of any other director, even the best ones - even Spielberg - and it could've so easily been contrived.
There is a huge amount of action sequences, and they are all both purposeful and fun, from the physical hand-fights to galactic shootouts. It is shot with characteristic Abrams' style shakycam - the modern shakycam style has never been used on a feature film in the space adventure/thriller genre prior to this. The film is filled with a great amount of humour and sense of fun that has been gone for a long time - it felt that way. It's the sort of swashbuckling adventure fun we see often in the 80s - in the Indiana Jones trilogy, for example, but which we didn't feel for the last Indiana Jones film.
All the characters have their moments, from a grown-up Anton Yelchin (living up to his Russian ancestry for the first time) to a oddly familiar Simon Pegg (though now fitted with a Scottish accent ... hence Scott?) to a fast-talking Karl Urban who plays so different from his iconic assassin character in The Bourne Supremacy to John Cho, who is still cool and gets to play swordfight. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have ample great moments, only Zoë Saldana doesn't quite have enough stand-out moments. Pine, in particular, handled the brash young captain persona well - complete with captain-y sarcastic quips. I still can't get used to Winona Ryder playing a middle-aged mother though.
The visual effects and the sound effects are extremely accomplished. Benji, who's a cameraperson, winces at the liberal amount of lens flares and white-outs the VFX guys have given to the film - but it fits in with the futuristic space-traversing environment. In fact, one gets the sense that a lot of thought has gone into making this futuristic world realistic. The special effects are, to my mind, one of the best I've seen to date because of how seamlessly the futuristic objects (gigantic and small) fit into the background.
And the story. There is not one false note. In all Malaysian movies (as well as in lesser Hollywood moves), when there is a melodramatic scene it's always laughable, and when there is a serious scene it's ... still laughable, or groan-inducing, or when there is a scene where one is supposed to cry ... I laugh at the people who actually sob because of how stupid they are. (I guess what I'm trying to infer here is that Star Trek contains far better drama and character development than any Malaysian dramatic film we've seen.) Here, the scenes portraying heroism are exactly that, heroic; the opening sequence is actually quite touching. And it accomplished that in ten minutes. The action sequences are truly thrilling, the twists and turns are in fact surprising. There is a lot of fast-talking but the dialogue is infused with a balanced mix of technical-speak and everyday banter as befitting the 23rd century. ("You green-blooded hobgoblin!")
Star Trek may just usher in a new era of space adventure films the way Gladiator started another trend early this decade. And unlike Gladiator, there can be sequels!
How Good I Think The Film Is: 9/10
How Much I Liked It: 9.5/10
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Make-up
* I have been overusing that word lately. I'm sorry. I don't actually use it that often.
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU is worth watching, even though a lot of my Malaysian friends don't think so. They think it's slow. I think they think it was a romantic comedy. No, it's leaning towards a dramedy - but there is quite a lot of comedy in it.
The key, is Jennifer Connelly. My appreciation for her talents has just jumped a notch after seeing her in this - and she is already high on my list of admirable actresses as it is. She manages to guide the audience's feelings towards her character from indifferent to precariously annoying back to sympathetic. I keep thinking about how well she played through her dialogue in the hardware store confrontation scene.
Now, you would think, with the cast lined up purely with big name movie stars that there might be a weak link. There isn't. Other than the fact that Drew Barrymore had an oddly shortened role, everyone was perfectly casted, ensuring the web of relationships and its resulting dynamics are actually interesting and leave me waiting to see what happens next.
It's by no means a perfect film, and I think the average audience is thrown off by the documentary-like talking head interludes and the lack of a cohesive storyline - what part of multi-plotted storyline do they not get? It consists of scene after scene of discussions about relationships and love and the opposite sex and all these different theories, guys giving guy friends advice and girls giving girlfriends support as well as guy-to-girl advice, just people talking and talking - but it's fun banter. Some will say it's kinda like a sitcom and they may be right. But are they implying sitcoms aren't enjoyable?
I liked it. I enjoyed it.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8/10
How Much I Liked It: 8.5/10
WOLVERINE is an okay film. It doesn't try to be ambitious. I enjoyed some of the action sequences at the time ... but have now forgotten what they are. Gavin Hood is an okay Hollywood director. It's just wasted that he doesn't aim to make his films more memorable, and instead just went for making the film coherent and complete. The film felt like it was on fast forward, abbreviated - right from the beginning the film is racing to get to the end, as if it couldn't wait to throw this lot of audience out of the cinema so that it can get the next batch in and suck ... I mean, earn more revenue. It's fast-paced editing alright - but it's not what I mean by the sort of fast-pace Malaysian films should emulate. It left the audience with no emotional attachment to any of the characters. That it came out at the same time as Star Trek makes it that much more obvious how inept it is as a film. I will not be holding my breath for the next Gavin Hood film. Two strikes, mate.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 6.5/10
How Much I Liked It: 5.5/10
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