United Kingdom | Movie Review

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Actually, this is not a movie review but a sharing.

A UNITED KINGDOM tells the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama, the king of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker that he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments. Seretse and Ruth defied family, apartheid and empire – their love triumphed over every obstacle flung in their path and in so doing they transformed their nation and inspired the world. Source: Shaw Cinema, Singapore

Click on image to catch the trailer complete with captions 🙂

Marriage across racial lines always causes tensions. I speak from first-hand experience, as my wife is of Chinese descent whereas my father is from India. Even in supposedly melting pot Singapore, we faced issues. We courted in the 1970s and married in the early 1980s. When our daughter wanted to take up Mandarin as her mother tongue in school, we had to lodge a special appeal before the school acceded. Of course, all this has changed—for the better.

“Ask yourself this question: if you have a child and he brings back a boyfriend or a girlfriend of a different race, will you be delighted? I’ll answer you frankly – I don’t think I will. I may eventually accept it.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 26 November, 2004 in Singapore Parliament

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Hidden Figures | Movie Review

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Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American women mathematicians that worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, and Mahershala Ali in supporting roles – Source Wikipedia

Besides the obvious lure of two powerful themes – the civil rights movement and women’s emancipation – two of the cast drew me to catch this movie:

The first was Kevin Costner – I became his fan after watching him in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991) and several other movies such as – The Guardian (2006) and McFarland USA (2015).

The second was Octavia Spencer who first caught my eye in another civil rights movie, The Help (2011).

I did not know that African American women made such significant contributions to the American space program as early as in the 1960s. The story had to be told on the big screen and I am glad to have caught the movie.

If you like more backstory, read it here: Hidden Figures.

Image source: IMdB

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A family friendly tent-pole movie that has something for everyone: romance, adventure, thrills, science and the aforementioned themes on confronting and prevailing over racism and sexism.

Hidden Figures was nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Best Picture. However, it did not win any. But it did win a whole bunch of other international awards.

I highly recommend the movie.

My rating: A 10 out of 10

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Alone in Berlin | Movie Review

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Berlin 1940. The city is paralyzed by fear. Otto and Anna Quangel are a working class couple living in a shabby apartment block trying, like everyone else, to stay out of trouble under Nazi rule. But when their only child is killed fighting at the front, their loss drives them to an extraordinary act of resistance. They start to drop anonymous postcards all over the city attacking Hitler and his regime. If caught, it means certain execution.

Soon their campaign comes to the attention of the Gestapo inspector Escherich and a murderous game of cat-and-mouse begins. But the game serves only to strengthen Otto and Anna’s sense of purpose and a renewed love for each other. Slowly their drab lives and marriage are transformed as they unite in their quiet but profound rebellion…

Source: Shaw Theatres Singapore

Click on image below to catch the video.

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With Emma Thompson in the lead role, I had to watch this movie. She is such an accomplished artist – and elegant too. In my opinion, her best film ever was THE REMAINS of the DAY opposite Anthony Hopkins.

Opposite her plays Brendan Gleeson. I first noticed him in BRAVEHEART with Mel Gibson, and subsequently he played several supporting roles in contemporary as well as period flicks – such as TROY and KINGDOM of HEAVEN. This is his first starring role and he pulled it off so well.

Besides the fact it was based on a true story – not every German of that time supported Hitler – it was also a poignant story of love. Ordinary folks. Middle aged love – something which most movies and TV dramas do not delve into. For studio executives seeking tent pole box office success, love is meant for young and old-pretending-to-be-young people.

To me, set in very dangerous circumstances was the couple’s rediscovery of their love for one another, and the powerful bonding. For those of us so blessed, there is nothing more inspirational as having one’s spouse support your ideals – dangerous as it might be. Beautiful and nail biting, and the impending outcome lent great urgency to their story.

There is much realism in the movie – I judge a movie by how real it is – and Alone in Berlin did not disappoint. Not one bit. It was brutal how the SS treated their own police officers and here, Daniel Brühl – remember him as Niki Lauda in RUSH (what a classic actor) – pulled off the role of Inspector Escherich remarkably well. Like many Germans of that time, he was conflicted between upholding the law, the ill treatment of people and self-preservation – though that did not stop him, initially, from displaying brutality on others.

I was particularly impressed by the screenwriters: Vincent Perez and Achim von Borries. The dialogue was in German English. Excellent! Yes, there is such a thing as German-English as there are Carribean, Indian, Singapore (Singlish) English, etc.

One thing that caught me off guard was the use of guillotines for execution. I thought only the French used that. The Nazis executed by firing squad and – Hitler’s favourite – hanging his victims on a wire from a meat hook. For whatever reason, they chose not to show the execution and only hinted of it. I would have preferred if they had not been so coy because I think the execution scene, though terribly sad, would have been inspirational – courage in the face of death. But that’s me and perhaps it was just as well.

I watched the movie on a Saturday afternoon and – as expected in Singapore – the hall was less than a quarter filled. Says something about movie-goers’ preference.

If you like to watch a good movie with your significant other – a movie for adults and thinking people – I recommend ALONE IN BERLIN. Worth every dollar and more.

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

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One Minute Film | The Hangman’s Noose

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Causing death by reckless or dangerous driving in Singapore:

Any person who causes… death… shall be guilty of an offence and… liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.

[Note: Most drivers who cause death spend only a few weeks in jail.]

the-hangmans-noose

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Light between Oceans | Perfect

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The Light between Oceans,” an international best-seller, takes place on a remote Australian island in the years following World War I, where a lighthouse keeper and his wife are faced with a moral dilemma when a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a two-month-old infant. When they decide to raise the child as their own, the consequences of their choice are devastating. Source: Shaw cinema, Singapore

In one sentence: I love the movie

Only one downside: The end, the last few minutes came across as clichéd. But, it is only a minor blip on an otherwise superb storytelling.

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Michael Fessbander’s portrayal of his character, Tom Sherbourne, was intense and perfect. Not an easy part to play but he pulled it off.

And Swedish actress Alicia Vikander shone as Isabel Graysmark. I loved how she actually made the first move and proposed to Tom. Quite extraordinary even now, let alone in 1918.

All the supporting talents were well cast.

The setting was authentic and the overall tone in keeping with the period. There were scenes of craftsmen working on boats in the background and all. Take a good look and you’ll see how much detail the director and screenwriter, Derek Cianfrance, delved into – right down to Rachel Weisz’s character, Hannah Roennfeldt, sporting unshaven armpits. Yes, women shaving armpits is a fairly recent practice.

The screenplay was tight and in my opinion, Derek Cianfrance, did not waste a single sentence. Every sentence and every phrase propelled the story forward and revealed character. Excellent! He deserves an Oscar for this!

Finally, the cinematography was breath taking. The aerial shots of the sea and surf was awe inspiring and picture postcard.

Interestingly, the movie hall was almost empty – only 9 people. I went for the Saturday 10.40 am show and that could have been the reason but I doubt it.

My rating: 9.5 out of 10 (and only because of the last few minutes)

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P.I. | MediaCorp Channel 5 Drama – Review

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Summary: Episode 1, the pilot episode of PI – sucks! But first…

Much of the camera work was professional and with great sound track too – well done! In fact, the only thing going for PI were all from the crew.

Catchy opening credits – nice! Cinematic aerial footage – drones at work (?) – Good job and of course the spectacular Singapore skyline gave it an added boost. All in all, excellent – comparable to anything from Hollywood. Great behind-the-camera artists.

Acting was ordinary – quite a disappointment.

Usually, the talents come through, they always do – in spite of the script and direction – but not in PI. The Hush’s scripts – at least episodes 1 & 2 that I watched before throwing up my arms – were rubbish, but most of the actors came through alright. There was sustained brilliance in acting.

In PI, all the actors were not bad and only ‘okay’ – nothing to entice me back to episode 2.

Carl Ng, as Donny Lai, was particularly lagging and I really cannot figure out why. He has the rugged good looks and all, but was simply unable to pull off his character. Were the scriptwriters and director expecting too much, should they have cast a chameleon instead? Is he supposed to be witty? The wit was simply not in the lines and were delivered off-key, so to speak. Was he supposed to be a petty crook – swiping drinks from a convenience store and doing an Ethan Hunt with his pilfering of clothes and all? If he is supposed to be an anti-hero, he is lacking the darkness. I could not invest in his character – could not even dislike Donny Lai. I know I’m not supposed to dislike him – but what is there to like? Give me Inspector Koh from The Hush anytime – at least, it was easy to dislike that character!

I would love to review the script because I think that’s where the problems lie – pot-holed.

I’m not going into the story because it had all the hallmarks of MediaCorp’s mediocre imprint – in the plot as well as character backstories.

I can provide a detailed breakdown but that will run into pages… Here are a few comments. Click the images below.

It would seem the movies TAKEN and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE | GHOST PROTOCOL had given the scriptwriters some inspiration.

Click the image below for the short video…

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Okay, another hyped up Channel 5 drama to skip… better things to do with my time.

At least they still have The Noose and some great documentaries. I caught the first few episodes of Tanglin – long overdue, I know, but it is pretty decent.

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Allied | Small screen movie on the big screen

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Allied – a made for TV movie released on the big screen. Impressive CGI but nothing more going for it – big name actors notwithstanding. No wonder the cinema hall was mostly empty even though it was a Saturday afternoon.

Click on image to view movie trailer and comments…

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P.I. | MediaCorp | Channel 5 Drama

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New English drama series: PI debuts 9 January 2017 at 10.00 pm on Channel 5, MediaCorp, Singapore.

Though I’m an incorrigible optimist, I suspect PI will be a dud similar to Hush.

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Image source: MediaCorp|Channel 5|Toggle

Genre: Drama

Series Synopsis? [What a laugh!]

In a desperate search for her missing husband, a woman comes to Singapore and gets entwined in a tale of lies and deceit as she engages the service of a bogus Private Investigator who runs an agency that takes on cases which can only be resolved discreetly. P.I. is all about hunting, searching and uncovering the truth that may be false, white that can turn black and black goes to grey. A Christine Yeoh comes to Singapore in search of her missing husband, Sam Ong. She engages Donny Lai, thinking he’s a private eye. Little does she know that Donny Lai is a con man. Donny sets up a temporary office and also assembles a motley crew almost overnight. The crew comprises of Bruno (the muscle), Rabbit Warrior (the hacker), Mozzie (the informer) and Maia (the seductress). Donny names the gig ‘The Honest Agency’. Donny thinks that locating Christine’s husband would be an easy assignment. With dead informant, unknown enemies and loads of danger coming towards his direction, Donny is in for the ride of his life. Besides searching for the missing Sam Ong, the agency also entertains other cases from their uncanny clients. From the CEO’s maid who moonlights as a ‘service provider’ for adventurous old men to actress asking for help from internet trolls, The Honest Agency takes them all. (222 words)

Series Synopsis – Source Toggle/Channel 5/Media Corp

[I wonder when, if ever, MediaCorp will engage the services of synopsis writers/editors.]

Here is my synopsis:

CHRISTINE YEOH comes to Singapore in search of her missing husband, SAM ONG. She engages DONNY LAI, private eye. Only, Donny is not a private eye but a con artiste who immediately establishes a bogus outfit called The Honest Agency. Donny assembles a team: BRUNO, ex-con and muscle; RABBIT WARRIOR, hacker and Donny’s niece; MOZZIE, underworld informer and Donny’s friend; and MAIA, single-mother and sex-bait.

Donny reckons that locating Christine’s husband would be a cinch but soon finds himself over his head as he contends with mysterious enemies, danger and death. Besides searching for the missing Sam Ong, the agency also takes on other cases: from a maid who moonlights as a call-girl to an actress who needs help from internet trolls.

[Did I miss anything? And, in 122 words to boot.]

Character Bios

[Character bios should not let the cats, the dogs and the mothers-in-law out of the bag. But these are the official briefs – verbatim – from MediaCorp’s website.

Therefore, beware >>> Spoiler alert!]

Carl Ng as Donny Lai > Swinging single, playboy type with rugged looks, Donny is a just-out-of-prison con man with a huge debt to clear. So when Christine, a beautiful young and most importantly, rich woman engaged him to find her missing husband, Donny started “The Honest Agency”, a not-too-honest private investigating firm.

Vanessa Vanderstraaten as Christine Ong > Christine is an attractive yet seemingly vulnerable woman who is desperate to find her missing husband. But Donny soon discovers that she is much more than a damsel-in-distress. Behind her entitled and helpless demeanour, her motive to look for her husband might be more than just for a reunion.

Karylle as Maia > Self-confident Maia works as a pole dancer and part-times at a PI agency as a “bait” to lure unfaithful spouses out. Yet, she is also a young and loving single mother to her 9-year-old son. She believes running The Honest Agency with Donny is her chance to break out of her current predicament.

Kathiravan as Mozzie > Taking odd jobs like debt-collector and deliveryman, Mozzie knows everyone in the criminal underworld. This proves very useful for Donny and The Honest Agency. While he always likes to wind Donny up, he is someone that Donny can rely on out of old friendship sake and mutual respect.

Joyce Ng as Rabbit Warrior > A traumatic car crash took away Rabbit Warrior’s parents and left her wheelchair-bound. Always moody and rude to her uncle Donny, she prefers interacting with computers rather than real people. By paying her $50 for her hacking work each time, Donny can gain access to any device and network.

Najib Soiman as Bruno > All brawny and battered, Bruno proves to be very useful for Donny’s trouble-laden private investigating work. Having had bad experience working under a discriminating boss due to his criminal past, working in The Honest Agency has let Bruno found an unprecedented sense of purpose and belonging.

Shane Mardjuki as Sam Ong > Sam is a childhood friend to Donny and the missing husband of Christine. He has mysteriously disappeared from Christine’s life after a big fire in their Kuala Lumper house. Yet when Donny finally tracks him down, his disappearance and what he did to Christine seem justifiable as well.

[Please MediaCorp, employ an editor to sort out the primary six English! For a channel that produces English drama – you need to get the basics right.]

[And while you’re at it, get someone who knows what a character bio is… Hint! It’s not a vehicle for you to rehash the synopsis]

Review

Notwithstanding the first impressions, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and shall watch the pilot when it debuts on 9 Jan 2017 10:00 pm over Channel 5.

Look out for my Review…

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The Great Wall | Movie Review

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irected by Zhang Yimou, The Great Wall is a US$150 million fantasy adventure. Starring Matt Damon (one of my favourite actors) and a stellar cast of Chinese actors. Check out IMDB for a full listing and details.

Click on image to view official trailer (captions by Eric Alagan)

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Synopsis:

Damon plays William, an Irish mercenary who arrives at China’s Great Wall together with Spanish companion Tovar (Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal) just as it is besieged by a monstrous horde of Taotie – mythical beasts from the bowels of Hell, whom the Chinese believe were sent to keep their greed in check.

Initially the foreigners simply wish to flee with as much explosive “black powder” as they can carry, but after earning the respect of Commander Lin (Jing Tian), newly appointed leader of the wall’s Nameless Order, William agrees to stay and help defend the kingdom.

Source: South China Morning Post

Bouquets

Simply love the CGI in The Great Wall. The CGI slinks into the background and that’s how it should be.

Non-stop action if that’s your cup of tea, coffee or teh-tarikh.

I went in knowing it’ll be mindless action and therefore was not disappointed. Expectations lowered, the movie was less of a disappointment.

Brickbats

It is okay to create a fantasy world but one must live by the rules of that world. Here, the scriptwriters messed up and surprisingly, so did acclaimed director     Zhang Yimou.

A fine line separates critique and nit-picking, and with that caveat, here is a sampling:

  1. The commander dies and almost immediately – within minutes? – the soldiers had come up with literally hundreds of lanterns. With high casualties expected, perhaps the stores had a ready supply. The scene also reminded me of the Thai festival – Yi Peng.
  2. What was even worse – the hot air balloons, which our heroes used to ride to the capital, were supposed to be “experimental” and yet they had dozens primed and ready to take off. You would think they would have made a few prototypes and get those perfect before embarking on mass production. Okay, large stores – very large stores – and idle soldiers, as they have been waiting 60 years for the Taotie to appear.
  3. Lu Han (as Han Lu – come on, is that the best they can do?) is punished and sent to do kitchen duties. Okay. But we see him in full armour and helmet while engaged in washing chores. Hmmm, full battle dress even when taking a shit, I suppose.
  4. The Taotie Queen did not match up when compared to the more realistic queen in the Alien franchise. I mean, instead of been a baby machine, the queen was actively directing the war. If she can do that, she can certainly feed herself instead of having to be fed – regurgitated food – reminded me of African hunting dogs feeding their vulnerable young. The scriptwriters could have done more with the backstory.
  5. The Mongols can come and go as they wish – the Taotie don’t seem to have bothered or driven them to extinction. Perhaps Mongols don’t taste good.
  6. The Caucasian characters were fairly well developed – considering this is a plot driven action movie. But all the Chinese characters were resolutely jig-sawed from cardboard. Considering the renowned talent, the scriptwriters could have done better here. But, it was a mindless action movie and one must not nit-pick.

All said and done, I had lowered expectations and therefore enjoyed the movie. I would recommend it for an afternoon of casual entertainment that does not tax one’s intellect.

My rating: 5.5 out of 10.0

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Screenplay dialogue

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Kenneth Branagh, as Col. Tim Collins, addresses the 1 Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, in the BBC production: “10 Days to War”.

Excellent screenplay/dialogue: click on image to view video.

Iraq War

BBC has some of the most memorable TV/Film productions: Rome; House of Cards (not the US series but the 1990 BBC version); and more.

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