Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On The Soapbox: Stray Thoughts On The Malaysian Film Industry

I went into town last weekend looking for either a paperback edition of Christopher Rice’s most recent book ,“Light Before Day”, or the 2-CD original movie soundtrack to “Rent” (or both). Unfortunately the book was out of stock and they only had the single CD package for the soundtrack CD at the Borders bookstore that I went to. I still want to try to get them locally so this means that I would have to make another trip into town in the near future. Normally I would order them online but ordering either books or audio CDs from is surprisingly a more expansive affair (shipping cost-wise) than ordering DVDs from them. I have yet to find any other online retailer who has better shipping rates and product discounts than so if it is too expansive for me to get them from then I doubt I could get it cheaper on the other online sites. Trying to source the book and the CDs locally makes more cost sense to me at this juncture.

Having read about the Movie Carnival 2006 happening last weekend at Berjaya Times Square from SultanMuzzafar’s blog, I decide to drop in to see what it was all about. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed at the layout of the booths that they had since it was a bit too close together and there it was fairly clear to me that little thought about crowd flow went into the arrangement. More than half of the booths there were more focused on promoting movie tie-in merchandises rather than the movies themselves. The worst example of this has to be the “Superman Returns” booth where they were just signing up people for credit cards. They did have caps with the Superman shield on them but I think you only get them if you sign-up for their credit card. They should have at least some other promotional material and a screen running the teaser/trailer for the movie there.

There were a few large screen displays scattered all over the area showing some trailers of the movies that they were promoting at the event but most of them had their volumes turned down to next to nothing. I would think that it would defeat the purpose of promotion if the viewers can’t hear anything from the trailers being shown. They also grouped all the trailers together with little consideration where it would play so that you would see a trailer for say “Garfield 2” at the “X-Men : The Last Stand” booth which I thought defeated the purpose of having a big name film singled out for a booth. It would have been better if they packaged a trailer package for the specific movie to play at the film’s booth and leave the rest to play at screens in the more general areas. I think they only did the trailers package right for the booth setup for the upcoming “Poseidon” remake.

After looking that the day’s listing of events, I decided to stick around for a bit for the “Gubra” cast appearance later that day. They also had the GSC Movie Forum set up before the cast appearance so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to stay around to listen to the panel for a bit. They set up they had on stage was simple for a non-formal discussion and there were no seats for the audience to sit down to listen to what was being discussed. I’m fairly certain that the topic discussed in that forum session was about the future direction of the local film industry which by the way were prominently absent among the films being promoted at the event. I would think that this movie carnival would be a good venue for local films to get early exposure by way of showing potential viewers their trailer/teasers but other than “Gubra” the upcoming local film promotional presence was sadly negligible. Don’t our local films make trailers/teasers that can be shown before the film comes out in the cinemas? Based on the films promoted in the event, the answer looked like they don’t or just don’t care about promoting locally produced films.

Sidebar aside, I have to admit to not knowing anyone on the discussion panel that afternoon. Being just the casual movie-goer myself, I would have appreciated that the moderator could have run through the introductions better so that we know who they were and their background as related to the film industry. Having them tell you how many times they watch movies in the cinema doesn’t make them a credible forum participant. This is especially apparent when they started discussing about their views of the local film production and where they think the direction that it would take in the future. As I was sitting there listening to the discussion, I was astounded by their lack of awareness of the local film industry other than the old P Ramlee films and Yasmin Ahmad’s films. I didn’t really know if I should be insulted or sad to find out that most on the panel have not watch any locally produced films other than the ones they highlighted.

There is such a wealth of films between P Ramlee and Yasmin’s films that they totally ignored in their discussion. The local film industry was not always sappy love stories and happy endings. We had notable horror movies like the “Pontianak” series long before the horror movie influx from Thailand and East Asia. Our local film industry have deftly tackled social issues resulting from the mass urbanization and modernization of the country back in the days in films such as “Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan”, “Matinya Seorang Patriot”, “Setinggan”, “Langit Petang” and “Dia Ibuku”. The cast of the locally produced films were more multicultural back then as evident in the “Jefri Zain” and “Nora Zain” spy films compared to most movies now. One can hardly ignore the popularity of Jins Shamsuddin’s “Esok” series of film in terms of melodramatic tear-jerkers that entertained audiences in the late 70’s early 80’s. Even closer to the current time, movie such as “Layar Lara”, “Kaki Bakar”, “Embun”, “Paloh”, “Rahsia”, “Perempuan Melayu Terakhir”, “Spinning Gasing” and “Puteri Gunung Ledang” would stand out as memorable films produced locally to people who know the local film industry.

I can possibly forgive the panelist for not knowing these films as they have long been ignored by those responsible for the preservation and promotion of these films. Other than the P Ramlee films that they show multiple times on local TV, there was little effort made to restore and reshow the other locally produce films from the past. With such lack of interest and exposure, it is no wonder that a lot of people hardly know these films and could not appreciate how much they added to the fabric of the Malaysia film industry history. More than anything, I personally feel that the local film industry as it stands now has regressed to an earlier standard of story-telling due to the lack of imaginative interpretation of what is happening in Malaysia today. With the exception of a few local filmmakers, most are content to churn out movies that are blind to the reality of what is happening outside of the confines of their camera viewfinder.

One point that I agreed with the panel was that of the need to pull in more audience to watch locally produced film and help generate a more profitable return so that in turn will generate more locally produced movies. I do not agree with the panelist contention that the reason this is not happening is due to the restrictions placed on the local filmmakers when making their films. An imaginative director/writer could find balanced ways to tell their story in subtext if required to circumvent they restrictions without degenerating to a pretentious artsy mess. I truly, hopefully not naively, want to believe that the local movie-goer today would be able to pickup on subtle subtext if done properly. My own personal view is that the reason why most non-Malays don’t come to watch most locally produced films and by extension contribute to the bottom-line ticket returns is because they do not see themselves in these films. For the longest time, there has been no positive representation of the Chinese, Indian and other races including the indigenous Orang Asli in our films. They do not see themselves and their aspirations reflected in what is being shown in local films and that makes the film more like a foreign film than one produced by their fellow countryman. As long as local filmmakers continue to ignore the other half of the population and continue to represent them in less than appealing unrealistic portrayals, they will never get them to watch local films.

I am not a filmmaker by trade or training. Neither am I a person with links to the film industry. What I am is a concerned movie-goer wishing for better and more honest locally produced films. If the panel on that particular day at the Movie Carnival 2006 proved anything to me, it was that we don’t know our own local films well enough to envision how we can produced better films. In the current atmosphere where some (OK .. one in particular) films being blamed for polluting the national culture and impinging on moral sensibilities, are they conveniently forgetting the past films that have more controversial images and subject matter that could have easily be worse than what we see today just for the sake of condemnation? If so then it is surely a sad and despairing time for our local film industry because we have these small-minded individuals trying to tell the whole country what to watch. If we let them dictate what gets produced locally, we will only get locally films that appeal to only half of the population and ignores the reality of what is happening outside of their narrow world view.

Local films would be really boring then.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

PS2 Review: Psychonauts

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I first found out about “Psychonauts” from one of the X-Play TV show episodes highlighting the PS2 games that have been overlooked in 2005. I have actually seen this title at my “friendly neighborhood” game shop where I would usually buy PS2 game titles but never really considered it. This is mostly because I personally have the reaction time of a drugged tree sloth and the depth perception of a blind goldfish so playing platformer games have always been a frustrating affair. The other platformer game that I have remotely enjoyed before were all from the popular “Ratchet & Clank” PS2 game franchise. After seeing the favorably review the game, I decided to give the game a try and see if I would like it as much as I did the “Ratchet & Clank” games.

“Psychonauts” follows the story of Razputin, Raz for short, who sneaks into a secret summer camp training children with psychic abilities to become the titular psychic secret agents. After being discovered by the camp counselors, who were all Psychonauts in their own right, Raz was only allowed to stay in the camp for one day while waiting for his father to take him home. Raz soon discovers that something insidious happening in the camp when he starts to find his new found friends abducted only to be returned as mindless TV-addicted versions of their original selves. Raz starts to develop his own considerable psychic abilities as his investigations of what was happening takes him on an adventure on both camp grounds in the real world as well as the psychic mindscape of the people he encounters during the investigations. It would eventually take all of Raz’s psychic skills to finally uncover the conspiracies surrounding what was happening in the training camp and save all his new friends.

The look of the world of “Psychonauts” would surely be the first thing that gamers would notice and agree to be a far departure from the other platform games out there in the market. Both character and level design sensibilities in this game is highly imaginative and original making the game a refreshing addition to the increasingly stale genre. While the storyline running through this games does seem to follow strictly to the normal platform game mold, the dark humor and dry wit with which the plot is moved along would surely not fail to entertain if not causing a good number of chuckles from the gamer. This is helped by the colorful supporting cast in “Psychonauts” which are not only very well written and realized but also exceptionally very well acted by the voice cast. Unlike a lot of the games out there, gamers would not find repeated dialogues with repeat interaction with these support characters. These supporting characters may look bizarre but they will always have something hilarious to say every time you see them.

The gameplay of “Psychonauts” starts off a fairly open ended as Raz begins to explore the training camp grounds looking for clues about what was happening to his friends. In addition to finding the clues from one location to another in the real world, Raz also has to collect items to trade for other items and to boost his burgeoning psychic powers. While there is definitely a lot of items for gamers to collect in this games, most of the time it doesn’t feel like a chore as most of the items requires the gamers to make use of the skills of Raz both as a psychic and an agile trapeze performer in imaginative ways to solve the puzzles before getting the items. The game controls are fairly easy to master and camera angles are rarely an issue in this portion of the game. While there were some instances that gamers need to really time their leaps and levitation skills, the game rarely degenerate to a frustrating affair as there is normally more than one solution to the puzzles that gamers need to solve to get to the collectable item.

The game really shines when Raz acquires the ability to psychically jump into another character’s mind as his investigation progress. Each character’s mindscape is a level that Raz has to complete to progress forward in his investigation. While some of the earlier mindscape that Raz has to go through function mainly as a training ground for newly acquired psychic skills, they are no less enjoyable to complete as the other mindscapes levels. Each mindscape that Raz goes through in “Psychonauts” is unique, both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay, making for a more varied experience when playing the game. Most of the mindscape levels involved Raz making his way from one point to the other within the level in a fairly linear fashion but how he makes it there is refreshingly different for each level. As in his real world, there are a lot of items that Raz can collect while within the mindscape to upgrade his powers which the makers of this game have successfully made it feel less than a boring chore.

The learning curve for the game is fairly shallow making it easy even for people with little platform game skill (like myself) to get into the game quickly. Every time Raz learns a new psychic skill in the game, the gamer get to test out the new skill for a bit before having to use it in the levels proper. The puzzles that the gamers run into in this game is usually fairly easy for the average gamer to solve once they have the hang of the combination of powers and moves that Raz can execute. If there is one criticism that could be made for the gameplay in “Psychonauts” is that the game can be a little too forgiving at times compared to other games of the genre. While Raz does have a lifebar that the gamer needs to watch out for, dying in the game doesn’t really the end of the game for Raz since he is only kicked out to the real world when that happens in this game with little consequences to the character. While the impact of the character’s lifebar running out does change a bit in the final act of the game, players would have accumulated enough replay lives by this point that dying here will just respawn Raz in his current location.

“Psychonauts” was more enjoyable and engaging than what I expected from a platform game. The hilarious situations and dialogue that I have to go through while playing this game is still the most original I’ve seen in any game I’ve played before. Overall, “Psychonauts” is a game for jaded platform gamers looking for something original and whimsical at the same time for their PS2 console. Engaging storyline and exciting gameplay round out the reasons why PS2 owners should pickup this game to add to their game library. It is truly a game worth spending the time to experience and I hope is just the first installment of a new platform franchise on the PS2. It would be a shame is we never would be able to revisit the “Psychonauts” world again in the future.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Movie Review: Gubra

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Truth be told, I first discovered “Sepet”, directed by Yasmin Ahmad, by word of mouth from fellow bloggers back in 2004. I can’t recall why but somehow I missed watching that movie in the cinema but manage to watch it on VCD instead and instantly fell in love with the story. It was a refreshing take on an old subject matter already seen in many local movie which in itself was a welcomed breeze in the increasingly stale local film production offerings. The success of “Sepet” at the time proved that local audiences were ready for a movie that doesn’t include idiotic pratfalls from any ex-Senario members or the less than subtle preaching dialogues delivered by singers who think they can act. “Sepet” was fearless in execution and delivery of controversial issues that we all knew but reluctant to speak out about. Because of this, it was embraced by many who found that it not only spoke clearly for once to them but also spoke out loudly on their behalf.

Thanks to “Sepet”, the little movie that could, Yasmin Ahmad herself became more famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) with a cult following of her own. Her ease in her interaction with fans whose first impression of her came from watching “Sepet”, myself included, endears her quickly to others. It was from her blog that I first found out about “Gubra” and from that point onwards I knew that it was would be something to look forward for as far as the local films is concerned. When some fellow bloggers got the chance to see a rough cut of the film and wrote glowing reviews about it last year, I have to say that I felt a little envious not only because they got to see it before anyone else but also have the opportunity to give their responses to the directors and editors before they made the final cut of the film. Like everyone else, I had to wait until “Gubra” was released in the local cinema last April 6th before I got to make my own judgment on the finished product.

I came into my viewing of “Gubra” with a much higher expectations that I usually have for local film features. The film in of itself breaks the mold in terms of what a film is in Malaysia that it stands in a class of its own for the time being. To compare “Gubra” with the other local production currently showing in the cinema would do it disservice as “Gubra” is clearly miles away from that wreck. I still believe this now after watching “Gubra” but I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that my expectations of the film were not fully realized. While there were more than a few things that worked well in “Gubra”, others left me longing for the quiet beauty of “Sepet”. The comparison between “Gubra” and “Sepet” was unavoidable since “Gubra” does continue the story from the first movie and there wasn’t anything else produced locally to compare “Gubra” against.

“Gubra” is a much larger and more complex movie in scope than “Sepet”. Instead of the focus being on mainly Orked (Sharifah Amani) and her kooky clan, “Gubra” also tells the story of the less affluent muezzin Pak Bilal (Shahili Abdan aka Namron) and his wife Kak Mas (Noorkhiriah Ahmad Shafie) whose lives intersect with their prostitute neighbors Temah (Rozie Rashid) and Kiah (Juliana Ibrahim). Their stories run parallel to each other in their own little corner of Ipoh only to intersect thematically as everyone in this story experiences either instances of love, betrayal, acceptance and redemption but not all four in a single storyline. I must admit that I was expecting that “Gubra” would be following similar ensemble film conventions what with all these characters running around with stories to tell so I was quite surprised that this was not the case in the latest offering from Yasmin Ahmad.

Half of “Gubra” focuses on Orked, now married to Arif (Adlin Aman Ramlee) after her return from studying in England, rushing her father to the hospital after an early morning health scare. At the hospital, she encounters Alan (Alan Yun), Jason’s elder brother who was there visiting his father (Thor Kah Hoong) who warded there after being pushed down a flight of stairs by his mother (Mei Ling Tan). While looking for a bite to eat with Alan outside of the hospital, Orked discovers that her husband had earlier left the hospital to meet with another woman whom he was having an affair with. Faced with her husband’s betrayal, Orked forces Arif to own up to his misdeeds and break off the affair with the other woman. Arif does exactly what Orked asks to the extent of publicly humiliating his lover in front of her with the choice words that Arif had earlier told Orked about the other woman. In the end, Orked still feels that Arif had crossed a line that he promised never to do and decides to leave him still after what he had done for her. Orked leaves with Alan to visit his parent’s house where Jason’s letters that were addressed but never delivered to her tearfully reminds her of everything that she missed out with his death (yes, he died at the end of the last movie as far as I’m concerned).

Across town, “Gubra” traces the story of the young Bilal and his loving wife, Kak Mas, living out their lives as devoted Muslims. The pair live their lives simply in their neighborhood where they happen to live next to a pair of women (Temah & Kiah) working as prostitutes in a nearby house of ill-repute. While their paths cross every morning when he goes to his surau for the dawn call to prayer, the Bilal never judges the desperate women for what they had to do to survive but instead offer them kind words and support. When single parent Temah is diagnosed with HIV, she finds herself embraced selflessly by Kak Mas and her family willing to help her even with her current status. Their non-judgmental attitude and unwavering supports helps her to face the future with her son amidst the uncertainty of how long she would have to live. Kiah on the other had had to continue doing what she does just until she gets enough money to leave town and return to her kampong. Desperate to get the amount she needs, she was even willing to be with an abusive john just because he would pay her extra to let him rough her up. In the end, she finally has enough to leave everything behind but it was all for naught when everything she had sacrificed for was cruelly taken away from her at the very point of her redemption.

With these two story plots anchoring the film, there are several other minor story plots involving the supporting characters that Yasmin masterfully weave in between them. While these minor story points do not add directly to the main stories, they do provide for more in either the emotional content or the comedic interludes that moves “Gubra” along it’s path. One of the minor story plot that I appreciate most was the resolution of the love-hate relationship between Alan/Jason’s Ma and Pa. Within the 120 minutes we get to see their relationship evolve through the threat of loss from one of antagonistic to one of acceptance of the other warts and all. I think that this particular storyline is one of the more personal to me from “Gubra” because it closely mirror what I’ve seen personally in life. One thing that I notice in “Gubra” is that these stories are our stories made real on the silver screen. Like in “Sepet”, Yasmin Ahmad once again has given us a voice by telling our stories when most of us are reluctant to do so.

One problem that I have with the interlacing storylines that are shown in “Gubra” happens whenever scenes of opposite on the emotional spectrums from the two storylines are juxtaposed with each other. On more than one occasion, the story forces the viewer to reconcile scenes of utter anguish from one storyline followed immediately by scenes played for comedic effect from the other. I was left to both logically figure out what message the two disparate scenes was suppose to convey as well as emotionally decide which emotion to carry forth from one scene to the next. The lack of consistent emotional build up and coherent structuring left me emotionally frustrated with a mild headache and with more questions than what I had in the beginning. These scenes are well crafted and enjoyable to watch on its own but the effect of the scene is lost when they were jumbled out in a sequence that is so beyond what an average viewer is expecting to see both thematically and emotionally. I would not go so far as to call the end result of this interweaving exercise a mess but it did detract from an enjoyable first sitting experience of the movie. It left me wishing that the film had not left me feeling that it had broken a contract between the viewer and the movie as we follow along the journey of these characters.

With the exception of a few, most of the major players gave their best performances for this production. Ida Nerina, Harith Iskandar and Adibah Noor continued to show the comic timing and dry wit that they carry off so effortlessly in this outing. I would however give special praise for Sharifah Amani for her stand-out portrayal of Orked who has to be the core that holds the movie together acting-wise. Her heart-wrenching reaction to Arif’s indiscretion and how she dealt with the aftermath was especially wondrous to watch from such a young actress. Unfortunately for me, the two main male leads in Orked’s storyline gave pale performances when stacked against Sharifah’s. Alan Yun’s delivery, in particular, left a lot to be desired and made me miss Choo Seong Ng’s portrayal of Jason from Sepet even more. No doubt that he has a nice looking upper torso that he does show off during the film but while it may be enough for me in some situations, I’m afraid to say that this is not one of them. Last but not least, I also believe that special mention should be given to Rozie Rashid whose portrayal of Temah was a an eye-opening study of quiet inner strength against overwhelming odds and oppressive environment.

Yasmin Ahmad continues to dazzle us with her style of directing with her signature scene composition techniques and camera angles. Her static camera direction allows audience to be part of the scene without giving us the feeling that we are intruding into the character’s life. Extended single takes of scenes allows the viewer to really absorb and appreciate what they are seeing on screen at that particular moment. More often than not, Yasmin employs an almost poetic sensibility in her constructions of scenes especially those that tell a lot with minimum use of dialogues. In a world of fast cuts and blipverts, her directing style stands out as a calming influence. While she did employ her signature off-screen conversation scene reminiscent of Jason’s walk of shame in “Sepet”, the one scene that really bugged me from that movie, it fortunately worked better in “Gubra” than it did in the predecessor. I think that this is partly because the viewers were meant to see the on-screen characters reacting to what was being said off-screen instead of being the one actually saying it as in “Sepet”.

Controversial images, sexual innuendo and dialogue lifted off a familiar Petronas TV ad aside, “Gubra” leaves the audience thinking about the movie long after the final credit roll. Speaking of the final credits, much have been made about the short scene that comes on after the last line of the credits at the end of the movie. Everyone I know who have seen the movie have told me to sit tight at the end of the movie and wait for the scene. To be blunt, my first reaction watching the scene was a big honking WTF (silently in my head although I nearly said it out loud when I first saw it). The whole scene begs the question who it was intended for since the implausibility of the scene happening within the confines of the story had already been made clear within the first half hour of the movie. Was this scene meant to balance out the dark ending that closes “Gubra” prior to the credits? Was this scene a romanticized ideal ending tacked on for those unwilling to let go of what Orked had before? I guess that it could have been worse. I should be thankful that the scene wasn’t Orked finding someone in the showers just to realize that everything that happened in the last 120 minutes were just a dream.

All in all, “Gubra” is still a thought provoking and emotional follow up to, in my humblest opinion a much superior, “Sepet”. While it can be logically taxing and bound to leave viewer with the emotional equivalent of blue balls at times, it is still way batter than the other local features released to date. The interweaving storylines were engaging as it stands and such should be seen as individual stories instead of a cohesive union telling the same story. The wonderful performance from most of the cast helped immensely to lift this production to benchmark levels for other local productions to follow. While I freely admit that not all my expectations for this follow up were fulfilled, I still enjoyed the experience as a whole and would easily recommend it to others who have not watched it.

I just wished that it didn’t make me feel that I miss watching “Sepet” that much more.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Trailer Review : X3 – The Last Stand (TV Spots)

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Thanks to the folks at SuperHeroHype.Com, I was alerted to the latest X3 – The Last Stand TV spots that was shown in the Fox TV network in the US last Tuesday night. The three 30-second clips were shown individually during the network broadcast of American Idols, House and ESPN shows. I only got to see the non-high definition versions of these clips here but I hope that they would put a higher resolution clip soon on either the Apple QuickTime trailers site or the X3 official website. There were some new scenes/info that was shown in these 3 TV spots that were not shown in the teaser or the trailer released back in Dec 2005 and March 2006 respectively.

Just to be consistent with the X3 – The Last Stand teaser and trailer reviews that I’ve done before, I’m documenting here some of my thoughts upon viewing the trailers. I’ve also been noticing a lot of incoming traffic to this site coming from people doing web searches about the movie so hopefully this would be something that is of interest for them. As usual, the speculations listed below are my own guesses on how the storyline will unfold based on what I know from reading the X-Men comics for the last 20 odd years.

TV Spot #1

- Had the most in terms of new scenes/info previously unavailable from the teaser or the trailer.

- There is a new close-up shots of Shadowcat in the Danger Room and a sequence of Angel launching himself through a glass window to fly down the building where he was previously held.

- More shots of Wolverine fighting in the woods near where I think the mutants who followed Magneto was camped.

- Shots of the X-Jet flying over some mountains that seemed to be near where Alkali Lake was suppose to be.

- We get to see a new shot of Shadowcat’s phasing powers in which she phases herself out of the floor where she trapped Juggernaut by phasing him through the floors. In the comics, Shadowcat is very carefully not to phase anyone through solid objects as they would die if she left them there. If Shadowcat leaves Juggernaut phased in the floor without killing him then her powers might work differently in the movie compared to the comics.

- Another point for fanboys to look out for is how Shadowcat got Juggernaut to phase through the floor. In the comics, Shadowcat’s powers work by touch so she would have to touch Juggernaut to get him to phase to the ground. Seeing that she was shown phasing through walls running from Juggernaut in the previous scene, it would be interesting to see how she did it.

- An extended sequence of Storm letting loose while fighting the Brotherhood mutants in a suburban setting which might be Jean parent’s house. She is shown flying in a wind twister and hurling lightning at Archlight and an unidentified mutant.

- There is a new scene with Jean Grey kissing Cyclops at what I think is the edge of Alkali Lake just after her resurrection. Cyclops does not have his visors on which suggest that Jean/Phoenix was blocking his powers. This is in line with the comics as Jean has always been able to block Cyclops powers telepathically in several occasions.

- During the kiss with Cyclops, Jean’s eyes open ominously towards the end of the kiss suggesting that something is amiss with her. Since Cyclops doesn’t seem to be around when Storm and Wolverine finds her in Alkali Lake, something must have happened to him just after Jean’s resurrection.

- There is a new close-up shot of Wolverine in flight thanks to a fastball special maneuver with Colossus in what I think is a Danger Room sequence.

- New shot of Pyro standing next to Magneto at Alcatraz for the final battle shooting up a ball of fire up in the sky as a flare to alert the other Brotherhood members most probably.

TV Spot #2

- Most of the scenes here have been shown before in the teaser, trailer and TV spots. This spot has the least new info out of the 3 TV spots shown last Tuesday.

- This spot seem to focus more on the individual characters in action. We get to see extended sequence of Storm, Beast, Shadowcat and Angel in action.

TV Spot #3

- We are shown a clearer picture of the X-Men lineup at Alcatraz for the climatic battle which seem to be Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Iceman and Colossus. The omission of Cyclops and Rogue from the lineup is particularly intriguing as to what their final fate might be.

- Cyclops is seen being knocked down by shockwaves coming from the middle of Alkali Lake when Jean is resurrected. In the comics, Jean/Phoenix rose out of the Caribbean sea in a burst of flames shaped in the shape of a gigantic bird of fire. Given the force of the shockwave and the distance where Jean was when she went under at the end of the last move, I hoping that the Phoenix effect would be one of the spectacular scenes in the movie.

A lot of the speculation out there in the Net is saying that at least one major character from the X-Men will die in the final installment of the X-Men trilogy. We don’t have any indication of who that would be based on the teaser, trailer and TV spots that we have seen to day. What is almost for sure is that Jean/Phoenix will be in the middle of it all and the X-Men would have to deal with her before the movie can end.

Will the movie follow closely to the resolution of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” from The Uncanny X-Men #129-138? Only time will tell.

X3 – The Last Stand arrives in cinemas beginning 26th May 2006.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

DVD Review: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

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With the success of the Harry Potter books, it is not a stretch that the movie version of these popular books will keep on coming every other year like clockwork. The lastest entry of the boy-wizard franchise, “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire”, played in our local cinemas on 17 Nov 2005 to a fairly successful box-office collection due to the legion of fans of both the previous films and the book series. The fourth installment of the currently 6 book series, “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire” sweeps the stage clear for the entry of a much darker sensibilities in the tone of the stories. The change in the tonal feel of the series fairly reflect the aging core group of readers who first discovered the adventures of this boy-wizard and his cohorts in Hogwarts School of Wizardry.

Much has been written about this movie (I didn’t write a review of the movie when I watched it last year but other reviews are available here) and many have came out to say that this is the best movie of the franchise to date. While I agree that the fourth movie was much darker than the previous 3 movies, I kept having the distinct impression that this particular cut of the movie seemed a bit rushed and erratically paced. The action scenes with each TriWizards trials moves the movie along with little help from the action happening in between which could easily be boiled down to how Harry prepares for the next challenge. To be fair to the filmmakers, they did have to condense a veritable tome length of 700 pages of the original material into the 158 minutes runtime of the feature film so there were quite a few finer points of the plot that had to be cut out.

Like the other Harry Potter movies, a special 2-disk DVD presentation of the movie was released to the market on 7th March, 2006. The DVD set comes in a 2-disk DVD set that was shipped in a cardboard sleeve similar to the one they used in the last DVD set. I have to say that I found the cardboard sleeve a bit redundant as it had the same info from the DVD case printed on it. I could easily throw these cardboard sleeves away and not miss anything important from the packaging so to me it felt a little wasteful of them to continue to ship with this packaging format. I have to say that I missed the packaging that they had for the DVD sets for the first and second Harry Potter films which were much more imaginative than the ones they had now.

Disk 1 of the DVD set contained the feature presentation accessible after the short signature menu screen that highlights the titular goblet in this outing. The picture and audio quality of this DVD set seemed considerably better looking than the somewhat grainy feel of the last DVD set. The light scenes look crisp and the darker scenes, while were more problematic than the brighter lighted scenes, was much better than my cinema experience which had me guessing what was happening on the screen. Like the previous DVD sets of this franchise, there was no audio commentary track available for this movie. With quite a few plot points dropped from the original material, it would have been interesting to hear how the process of choosing what stayed and what got cut happened. It could also be interesting to listen to the now very articulate main casts discuss about their experiences making the movie after making 4 of them.

Disk 2 was where the bulk of the special features of this DVD set were. The features were divided into four grouping represented by the three TriWizards trial and the Hogwarts Castle icon on the map-like navigation menu. Each TriWizards trial grouping started with optional mini games playable using the DVD remote. While these mini games were fairly simple to get through, there wasn’t any reason to recommend going through them as there were no rewards for successfully completing the mini games. It would have been better if they at least put in some DVD easter eggs that would be revealed after successfully completing the mini games.

The “Hogwarts Castle” icon brings the viewer to a collection of short featurettes that detailed the production of the movie and scenes in between the three action set pieces. The deleted scenes segment was located here under the “Additional Scenes” heading. Most of the deleted scenes were taken out because they interrupted the pacing of the film which I whole agreed. The full rock band performance scene which I am thankful that it was mercifully cut short in the film was also included here. The "Preparing for the Yule Ball" segment was interesting to watch in terms to how they planned and executed the scene. For the final segment of this grouping, "Reflections on the Fourth Film", viewers get to watch the three main actors of the Harry Potter series talk at length about their experiences with the film. While there were some repetition in some of the responses to the questions, it was an engaging session to watch and listen to these fairly articulate young actors.

"Harry vs. The Horntail: The First Task" featurettes traced the design and implementation of the CG dragon for Harry’s first trial. They also show that Daniel Radcliffe who plays Harry Potter did more of the stunts himself in this film outing as the film production favored more practical effects instead of the CGI replacements from previous films. Also available in this section is the “Meet the Champions” segment which charmingly introduces the other three competitors in the TriWizards tournament. This segment followed Stanislav Ianevski (Viktor Krum), Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour) and Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory) as they went through a typical day of shooting from start to finish. It was fun to watch these new comers to the franchise as well as the to see a bit of the behind the scene happenings on set.

The focus of the second featurettes, "In Too Deep: The Second Task", was Daniel Radcliffe preparation for underwater work done for the second trial. Instead of doing the scenes fully with CGI effects, they built a huge indoor blue screen water tank for the extensive underwater scenes that Daniel had to do. He also had to learn how to use scuba equipment as well as how to perform underwater without the breathing apparatus to complete the illusion that Harry Potter had grown gills for the lake challenge. It was a fairly revealing segment to watch for the lengths that the production was willing to go to create the special effects practically instead of relying on CGI special effects fully.

"The Maze: The Third Task" featurettes focused on how both practical and CGI components were combined to make the magical maze that Harry Potter had to traverse in the last trial seem more daunting and massive. This was a fairly entertaining segment to watch for the technical details of the magic that happens behind the special effects we see on screen. The final segment of the featurettes was “He Who Must Not Be Named" which also is my favorite segment of the whole 2nd disk of this DVD set. This segment highlighted preparation that went into bringing Lord Voldemort to screen. Easily considered as the Darth Vader of the Harry Potter set, they had to really work to make sure that Lord Voldemort’s first screen appearance would do the character justice given the importance of this character in the series. Played by an almost unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort came through with flying colors in that what was shown on screen was as close to the way the character was described in the books. With so little focus given to the older characters in the special features in this DVD set, it was a refreshing segment to watch.

The 2nd DVD disk had additionally features that could be access using a computer DVD ROM drive but I did not get the chance to test them out. With the trailers for upcoming CGI animated films “Ant Bully” and “Happy Feet” rounding up the DVD set, the “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” DVD set is fairly easy to recommend as an addition to any DVD library irregardless if you like the books or not.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Coming to a cinema near you - “Gubra”

(image curtesy of

After hearing so much about it, the only local film that I am planning to see this year will finally be in the cinema starting the 6th Apr 2006.

From what I’ve heard, this sequel to the critically acclaimed “Sepet”, Yasmin Ahmad’s “Gubra” will be a much darker and heavy film than it’s predecessor. In contrast to the single storyline in “Sepet”, “Gubra” will have 2 distinct storylines that I am anxiously looking forward to see how they intersect with each other. Even if they don’t actually intersect, it would be interesting to figure out the thematic ties that bound the two storylines together.

Most of the reviews for “Gubra” to date have seemed to be high praise for the film and while I do take into account what has been written about the film, I try not have them influence my enjoyment of the film itself. I will be coming into the viewing with fresh eyes that have only seen her work in “Sepet” before. I hope to leave it with even fresher outlook in live as I did after watching “Sepet” for the first time. I expect to be emotionally moved as much as I did watching her previous offering. From what I’ve read from those who have seen it, I have a feeling that I will not be disappointed.

If all goes well, I’m fairly certain that I will be watching “Gubra” this coming weekend.

I’ve made my plans for “Gubra”, what about you?

Update (12/04/2006): My full review of "Gubra" is available by following this link.