What Movies or Shows Have You Seen Recently?

It’s awards season and I am watching all the nominated ones…

I read nothing about Aftersun (2022) and went to the cinema because I enjoyed watching Paul Mescal in Normal People. I came out shaking my head, feeling totally underwhelmed by the movie. Then I popped into a used CD shop just outside the theatre and the guy manning the store was particularly chatty. He asked me what I have just seen and how I felt about it. I told him what I thought. He replied that I was not the only one. Apparently, Eric Khoo, a local director (Mee Pok Man, Tatsumi) also found it unsatisfying. But like an elusive virus that refuses to die, the movie continues to whirl in my mind for many days and then I got it. Aftersun is an unusual narrative in that it doesn’t focus on the huge emotional beats but on the spaces between them, amplifying them in a defiant way. Then it happened… I fell in love with it. It took me a while but I got there eventually and appreciated the unique storytelling. I think it helps to understand what the writer-director Charlotte Wells is attempting here before you check this out. The story is about Sophie trying to reflect on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories real and imagined fill the gaps between as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t. So essentially the story is told from Sophie’s point of view, but yet there are scenes where she isn’t present. There is one that is particularly interesting - the father carries an asleep Sophie and puts her to bed. Then he goes to the balcony to do some stretching and smokes. The scene goes on for longer than necessary and on hindsight I now understand that it is an adult Sophie trying to fill in the blanks with a particular memory. Memory is a theme of the movie and so is empathy. The scene resonates with me because that’s how I think about my dad who has passed away, not through a shared experience but through an imagined sequence. Mescal gave an understated but resonant performance but I don’t think he stands a chance against the “loud” performances by the other actors nominated in the Best Actor category. The revelation here is Frankie Corio as Sophie. Their chemistry is lovely and palpable. This is a great movie but it seeks a particular type of matured audience. I am so glad I got it in the end and I am definitely watching this again once I get my hands on the blu-ray. There are movies that compel you to see it again after you get the whole picture; Aftersun is one of them. There are also brilliant movies that you can only see once. The next one is one of them.

The Whale (2022) is about a reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempting to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. This is very much a chamber piece and feels very much like a one-locale play. Darren Aronofsky’s even chose an aspect ratio that makes Brendan Fraser filled almost the entire screen. Don’t shoot me please, but I don’t think this is a great film. It is a film filled with a few outstanding performances but the message is lost somewhere inside the blubber. It is content to put the spotlight on an extremely obese man, making him look like a “monster of the week” sideshow, but it offers little in terms of a redemptive arc. This is a movie that just wants to press all the hot-button issues, but has nothing to say. However, the movie soars on the wings of a couple of stupendous performances, namely Hong Chau’s and Brendan Fraser’s. To me, Fraser’s performance doesn’t court pity but shows you a side of a man who eats his way to get himself out of a bout of misery and melancholy till a point he can’t stop. This is a superb comeback film for him and he has gone for broke here. How I wished the film is a better one with a central message that rings true and I particularly find the daughter annoying and undeserving of anything good. To me, she is the devil incarnate. This is a movie that one watches to appreciate Fraser’s sensitive performance.

Elvis (2022) chronicles the life of American music icon Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), from his childhood to becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). The first time I saw this I gave up after 15 minutes. Then I had to watch it again because it is a Best Picture nominee. My complaint isn’t with Austin Butler, the actor totally disappears into his role and he is a dead ringer for Presley in terms of his looks, mannerisms and speech patterns. My complaint is two-fold - I couldn’t stand Tom Hanks’ thankless character and for once he couldn’t garner any positive sentiment from me. I found his character grating, the equivalent of scratching your nails on a blackboard. My other complaint is with Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic stylistics. He just doesn’t allow any scene to breathe with authenticity and his stylistic signatures are everywhere. His brand of operatic excess cinema can work on the right project like Moulin Rogue! (2001) but with a story about a music icon I find his bombastic approach distracting, but I take nothing away from Austin Butler’s performance; this is a sit up and see me performance and he will go on to great things. But my money is on Brendan Fraser for Best Actor because what a fairytale that would be.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is about two lifelong friends who find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them. The movie is measured and richly layered, offering sharp wit in one instance and in a heartbeat switching to heartrending melancholy. The gorgeous Irish scenery works as brilliant counterpoint to a friendship going thermal nuclear and the explosions happening across the channel works a superb metaphor to what is happening in the foreground. There is zilch false note in this film and even the casting is marvellous. We already know the remarkable chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from In Bruges (2008), but Kerry Condon as Padraic’s long suffering sister and Barry Keoghan as a mentally challenged kid are spectacular. Farrell, especially is exceptional in a career best performance. A wonderful film I will want to see again in the comfort of my home. At first, I was sure this would be my choice for Best Picture but my logical brain informs me that the Academy seldom rewards films like this with the big prize, but that isn’t a slight against it.

Tár (2022) is set in the international world of Western classical music, centring on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra. Todd Field’s Tár is a brilliant character study of a narcissistic music conductor. Field’s skill in withholding information and trusting the audience to fill in the gaps and connect the dots is a lost art in a world where audience are constantly spoonfed by expositional dumps. The movie demands focus and patience from the audience and you will be rewarded if you demonstrate the two pre-requisites. In the theatre I was in, a woman walked out and didn’t return. She didn’t know what she missed. I have always loved narratives where the storyteller respects the intelligence of the audience but frankly it isn’t a tough job to concentrate here because Cate Blanchett is phenomenal. To witness her performance is to see magnificence. The movie didn’t need to beg me to give it 100%, I was practically kneeling in front of the screen, completely mesmerised by Blanchett’s stupendous performance. Watch out for a single take of a scene of her berating a music student in Juilliard - that scene is practically a teacher-student scene in Whiplash but done in killer poetry. If there is a false note for me, it has to be the final act where some crucial scenes are withheld and with it some of the catharsis was lost for me. It is going to come down to Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett for Best Actress and my money is on Blanchett but my heart is on Yeoh.

The Fabelmans (2022) is loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, from age seven to eighteen. A young man named Sammy Fabelman discovers a shattering family secret, and explores how the power of movies help us see the truth about each other and ourselves. This is a very personal film and you will definitely come away with the feeling Spielberg is at times laying his heart bare. But I find myself kept at a distance from the story and it took me till the middle act to get behind the story. The sudden discovery of filmmaking is quite magically portrayed and there are many grace notes peppering the entire film, the best for me has to be the last scene. I turned to Choo and excitedly whispered we saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) recently, but I doubt she remembers. In the great pantheon of films about the love for cinema, The Fabelmans won’t be one of them but it just might land up a great film about the love for filmmaking.

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Continuing my journey through the Oscar nominated films…

Women Talking (2022) completely skipped the theatres here and for good reason. The cinema chains probably thought it wouldn’t sell. The women of an isolated religious community grapple with reconciling their reality with their faith. Through the backstory, we see a community of women come together to figure out how they might move forward together to build a better world for themselves and their children. Stay and fight or leave. They will not do nothing. The synopsis sounds exciting, but this is essentially a talking heads movie, with lots of them debating their place in a world dominated by men. It sounds dry and boring; it isn’t. The skill on display is evident - a superb sense of place and time with a propulsive pace littered with witty humour throughout. These women laugh as hard as they cry. I love the dialogue and the screenplay handles so many hot-button issues like gender identity, religious freedom and even sexual liberation without feeling like it’s an information dump. This is testament that a densely themed movie can be exciting. I can see why this is nominated as Best Picture - it is woke with a pulsating pulse and it screams importance. I doubt it stands a chance against the favourites but it has a strong chance for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

Triangle of Sadness (2022) is social hierarchy turned upside down, revealing the tawdry relationship between power and beauty. Celebrity model couple, Carl and Yaya, are invited on a luxury cruise for the uber-rich, helmed by an unhinged boat captain. What first appeared instagrammable ends catastrophically, leaving the survivors stranded on a desert island and fighting for survival. I have followed Ruben Östlund’s career since Force Majeure (2014) to The Square (2017) and he has been sharpening his cinematic skills and I am glad to say Triangle of Sadness is him at his zenith. This Palme d’Or winner is a damn funny movie and I laughed till my eyes were tearing up. The hilarious thing is that at some point you will realise you are laughing at human behaviour that you see every day and perhaps you are even guilty of. This is a satire of the highest class. Great satire knows how to draw laughs in the most unusual ways and suddenly makes you realise you are laughing at yourself. The last act does lose some momentum but I was still guffawing like nuts at the reversal of the roles in the social hierarchy. At first the ending felt like a slap to my triangle of sadness (the first scene will tell you which part of the human anatomy this is - I thought it was somewhere else :laughing:), then when I let it simmer I realise the director was letting us complete the ending. It’s audacious and very clever. A worthy Best Picture nominee but it will not win the big one. One advice - it’s probably not a great idea to watch this with a full stomach. You will understand why in the second act.

Close (2022) is a nominee in the Best International Feature Film category. Leo and Remi are two thirteen-year-old best friends, whose seemingly unbreakable bond is suddenly, tragically torn apart. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Lukas Dhont’s second film is an emotionally transformative and unforgettable portrait of the intersection of friendship and love, identity and independence, and heartbreak and healing. The sensitive movie is buoyed by two outstanding performances by two boys. Their friendship feels so precious and palpable. I find myself rooting for them and it harkened my mind to think of some of my childhood friends and how precious those friendships were. You wouldn’t realise at that moment but years later you will dawn on you that you have never known friendship like this. So it makes it all the more heartbreaking to see the boys’ friendship starts to disintegrate, not for any major reason but mere peer pressure and the cruel rites of passage. I find myself mapping out the plot and then it lays on a surprise in the second act. From that moment onwards the movie goes on a straight path with no surprises or twists. That’s not a slight against the movie but I was in the mood for something that would surprise me. Interestingly, a friend of mine likes this and he is the only friend I know who watches more movies than me. I am guessing he was watching this movie through the eyes of a father and that can most certainly give you an big emotional wallop.

That’s it for the Oscar nominated films and normal transmission will transpire from this point onwards…

She Said (2022) tells the story of New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor who broke one of the most important stories in a generation - a story that helped ignite a movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood. Boy do I love investigative journalism stories. When done well like Spotlight (2015) and All the President’s Men (1976), they can inspire you and make you goddamn pissed at the system, but She Said moves like a frigid and insipid mess when it should be cracking and angry. This is the story that practically moved the objectified women of the world to speak up against sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, but the movie moves with little sense of urgency, place and time. Information dumps occur every few minutes that feel so contrite and I never got the fist-pumping catharsis I wanted. Really… all the brave women who came forward to speak up against Harvey Weinstein needs a better film that this.

Bergman Island (2021) revolves around an American filmmaking couple who retreat to the island for the summer to each write screenplays for their upcoming films in an act of pilgrimage to the place that inspired Bergman. As the summer and their screenplays advance, the lines between reality and fiction start to blur against the backdrop of the Island’s wild landscape. If you are Ingmar Bergman fan, this movie is practically a special feature for the humongous Bergman boxset by Criterion. I wouldn’t mind making a trip to Faro for a tour of Bergman’s inspiration for his movies. The premise is cool but it doesn’t know where to go from there. It starts to flounder amiss all the Bergman worship, then much later on it hinges on an idea where the woman starts to tell her husband her idea for a story. The lines of reality are blurred as we see an enactment of the story idea she thought up. It had elements of a Bergman film but it doesn’t quite become one. It eventually hits an ending that doesn’t feel earned and simply ambiguous. Choo wasn’t sold on this when I told her what the ending meant. This is a story with a cool premise but it needed to be cooked longer before it’s served.

Clerks III (2022) is about how Dante, Elias, and Jay and Silent Bob are enlisted by Randal after a heart attack to make a movie about the convenience store that started it all. I watched this on a blu-ray and before going into the main menu it actually shows an appreciative Kevin Smith selling the idea that buying a disc beats streaming it. If you ever need an impetus that buying physical media is still relevant in these times, this is the video you should see. His arguments are absolutely valid. I will always have fond memories of watching Clerks (1994) at the defunct Picturehouse. Went in with no expectations and I came out with a silly smile. With a shoestring budget, Kevin Smith managed to break cinematic taboos and came out with something so slice-of-life, so irrelevant and yet so heartfelt. Clerks II (2006) couldn’t hit the same spot and Clerks III (2022) doesn’t come close too with jokes that feel off and simply unfunny. However, it’s an ending that feels earned and generally heartfelt. Underneath all the side characters that took too much runtime, Smith finally zeroes in on Dante and Elias’ friendship which has always been the heartbeat of the movies.


Time for another six and there is a one stinker here…

I really wanted to write my usual lengthy piece on John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) but I was bogged down with work and by now everything about the movie has already been written. So I will just do my usual stream of consciousness thing and see where this goes. Since it has been a week from opening day this won’t be spoiler-free. The real fans have already seen this and the half-fans are probably waiting to stream this from somewhere. Let me just start by saying that this is the type of movie you should see as soon as possible in a theatre bursting at the seams. Nothing beats that sense of immediacy and that shared experience. Chapter 4 absolutely hit my action junkie G-spot. Everything I want in a John Wick movie is amplified to delirious levels. More kungfu, car-fu, bullets, knives and swords. There are even arrows, shurikens and a skull-bashing nunchaku. The world of Wick-verse gets expanded a little more. The High Table is still nowhere to be seen but they are pulling the strings and their presence is ominously felt. Wick gets to travel like James Bond although we never do get to see him board a plane. The action choreography continues to be breathtaking and I still don’t get the bored feeling that I have seen that. Case in point being that careening car fight at the Arc de Triomphe and the staircase shootout. There is also a long one take scene of a shootout in a building that was quite cool. Mythological top-down expositional speeches are gone and in comes a reticent Wick who hardly speaks, preferring to let his guns do his shouting. His commitment to reach the finish line is never in question. Having Donnie Yen on board definitely added to the cool mano a mano fights; the guy is the real deal. Although I don’t know why he has to be blind like many Asian kungfu characters; the dude even played a blind Jedi in Rogue One. Here’s an idea - get real martial arts actors in each installment. Here are a couple of names: Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. Three hours whizzed by and I had so much fun sitting between two ladies who epitomised two different ways to enjoying this - at one point my wife on my left whispered there are no police throughout the entire mayhem. Interestingly, this observation never registered in my brain all through the sequels. There was police presence in the first one and I thought the scene that involved the police was so cleverly written which added to Wick’s mythological status. I was quickly schooled by the sequels to just go with the flow and to let my logical brain stay on the floor. Even in the midst of the pandemonium, the bystanders in the movies behave like the violence happening around them is non-existent. Remember those knife fights in the train station, the subway and in Chapter 4, the club? I find it super duper cool that the mayhem doesn’t encroach into the real world. On my right, sat my ex-colleague who first lamented she might doze off because she had had a long day. I told her I would nunchuck her shoulder if she sleeps. Oh… not only did she not doze off, she was totally involved in the movie, constantly uttering stuff like “get up” and “get them”. Finally, the ending. There is a finality to everything but my rule for cinema is this: if John Wick wasn’t shot in the head he isn’t dead. Moreover, there isn’t a body at all. For all I know, Wick is now a horse rancher in Yellowstone working with the Duttons finally getting a much needed respite (although with the Duttons peace is always short-lived). But I won’t count on this for long because this is a helluva money spinner for the studios and Wick will be back to finally wipe out the High Table, so see ya all for Chapter 5. Phew… this was a long one.

Creed III (2023)… After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When childhood friend and former boxing prodigy Damian (Jonathan Majors) resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian - a fighter who has nothing to lose. This is serviceable entertainment but it is missing a few ingredients that made the early Rocky films such good films that transcended beyond the line of just being entertaining. First off there is no underdog scenario here unlike the Rocky movies. Then Jonathan Majors cuts a solid antagonist but his meteoric rise feels unbelievable and Adonis’ sudden coming out of retirement with training montage even more unbelievable. The final fight is a foregone conclusion and doesn’t have real stakes at least for me. What I really loved was the parents and their hearing-impaired daughter relationship which I feel was the heart but Jordan doesn’t choose this story element to hinge the final fight on. When it ended I sincerely hope that is the last I will see of the Rocky-verse. Let Rocky walk into the sunset already and interestingly or disrespectfully, there is no mention of Rocky in this Creed installment.

We did a doublebill of The Outlaws (2017) and The Roundup (2022) at home. I will concentrate on the sequel. 4 years after the events of Garibong district round up operation, Geumcheon Police’s Major Crimes Unit is given a mission to repatriate a fugitive who fled to Vietnam. Beast cop Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok) and Capt. Jeon Il-man intuitively realize that there’s something wrong with the suspect’s willingness to turn himself in and uncover crimes committed by a terrifying killer named Kang Hae-sang. Ma and his unit begin their investigation across two countries and follow the bloody breadcrumbs left behind by Kang. There are no borders when it comes to catching scumbags. I had so much fun watching the first movie. Yes, it’s contrived but Ma Dong-seok completely sold the movie which knows how to use his bulky frame in the fights. One punch from him and the unlucky dude sees stars make perfect sense. And because of his huge frame he lacks patience and prefers to let his fists do the talking. Then I popped the sequel in and lo and behold… this is a much better movie that delivers the laughs and the violence. At a shorter runtime it has lesser fats and they up the ante with the big fights and yet never cut back on the laughs. It’s a deft act of balancing hilarity and ultra-violence, and The Roundup delivers this in spades.

Here comes the stinker…

Netflix’s Luther: The Fallen Son (2023) succeeded in destroying a legacy character. The plot is about a brilliant but disgraced detective John Luther who breaks out of prison to hunt down a sadistic serial killer who is terrorising London. I have no idea who signs the contract to make this movie when it should have more eyes (and probably brains) scrutinising the script. Everything about this is undercooked, everything screams underdeveloped. The villain is so wishy washy and his motivation is never detailed with any clarity. He has a whole lot of worker bees that study the social media of important people to find possible crimes so that he can hold them hostage. It sounds preposterous - if the crime is an affair, why would the person agree to commit suicide by diving head first from a building at Trafalgar Square? I mean if the fella finds out I stole some stationery from the office, I rather be zero than dead. Andy Serkis plays the villain and it is one thankless role. I can never erase the scene of him singing Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Up” in a menacing voice. It has to be the silliest scene I have seen this year. The only saving grace is Idris Elba who gave it a sincere go but whatever goodwill his character had amassed through 5 seasons of Luther is gone in 129 minutes.

Here are two great ones for acquired tastes…

Crumb (1994) chronicles the life and times of R. Crumb. Robert Crumb is the cartoonist/artist who drew Keep On Truckin’, Fritz the Cat, and played a major pioneering role in the genesis of underground comix. Through interviews with his mother, two brothers, wife, and ex-girlfriends, as well as selections from his vast quantity of graphic art, we are treated to a darkly comic ride through one man’s subconscious mind. As stream-of-consciousness images incessantly flow forth from the tip of his pen, biting social satire is revealed, often along with a disturbing and haunting vision of Crumb’s own betes noires and inadequacies. As his acid-trip induced images flicker across our own retinas, we gain a little insight into this complex and highly creative individual. This is a fascinating documentary that carries no artifice and gloss. It’s a full-on look at sanity with madness a step away. I can safely say this is a film that one would either love or hate, but I enjoyed it tremendously for one reason - it’s a taboo subject that seldom would we find anyone willing to step in front of the camera and bare their soul unconditionally. Here we have Crumb and two of his recluse brothers talking candidly about their troubled childhood and school bullying, and how they have never recovered from that. It also makes a strong case that art can save lives, in this case only Robert’s.

The Hero (1966) is a psychologically rich character study, written and directed by Satyajit Ray, Bengali film star Uttam Kumar draws on his real-world celebrity to play Arindam Mukherjee, a matinee idol on the brink of his first flop. When Mukherjee boards an overnight train to Delhi to accept an award, a journalist (Sharmila Tagore) approaches him seeking an exclusive interview, which initiates a conversation that sends the actor reeling down a path of self-examination. Seamlessly integrating rueful flashbacks and surreal dream sequences with the quietly revelatory stories of the train’s other passengers, The Hero is a graceful meditation on art, fame, and regret from one of world cinema’s most keenly perceptive filmmakers. I adored Satyajit Ray’s films and his eye for characters’ details is second to no one during his time. I am slowly going through his filmography and to date I have seen all the movies that have been released on Criterion, a label who are film-lovers first and business people second, at least I would like to think so. Uttar Kumar seems to be playing himself and turns in a rich and nuanced portrayal. Sharmila Tagore always melts my heart - beautiful but without any notion that she looks gorgeous. Interestingly, hiding behind a studious looking glasses her beauty is kept at bay. I particularly loved the two dream sequences which feel like scenes depicted in Salvador Dali surreal paintings. If you are getting Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries vibe you will be quite right. I won’t consider The Hero top tier, but even if it’s isn’t it’s still better than all the stuff that are churned out by Bollywood every other week.


Time for another quick six…

1st April was the 20th death anniversary of Hong Kong superstar Leslie Cheung. I still vividly remember the day the sad news broke. A sense of disbelief washed over me and I still harboured the thought it was just a nasty April’s Fool joke. I believed I walk around that day with a hole in my heart. Now that I am older, the passing of an icon becomes more frequent, a cruel reminder that I am not young anymore. Cheung left an amazing legacy of great music and movies, and I am sure he will be remembered for a long time. Life is short, art is forever. To mark the day, I thought it would be great if I play some of my favourite Leslie Cheung albums and also indulged in some movies he acted in. I selected 4 but was only able to watch 3: It’s a Wonderful Life (1994), Ashes of Time (1994) and Once a Thief (1991). It’s an eclectic choice because our memory is still fresh from watching his iconic movies recently, so these 3 will have to do.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1994) is mildly entertaining. If you were to watch with a current frame of mind, this won’t pass muster with its avalanche of cliches and recycled jokes. For Choo and I, it felt like a time machine to the HK cinema reminiscent of the 90s. I am not sure about her but I could see myself in my 20s guffawing at all the broad comedy like it was a breath of fresh air. This one was probably a star-studded Chinese New Year movie with a heartwarming message, but it’s one of those movies that the plot will just dissipate into nothingness the moment it ends.

I still remember I went to watch Ashes of Time (1994) alone at a cinema at Hougang and there were only a handful of patrons with me. I was so pissed when it ended because I wasted good money and 90 minutes of life. I was thinking now that I am older maybe the Wong Kar-wai movie would speak to me. It is still a helluva frustrating movie but it is a much better experience. It’s Wong Kar-wai’s first foray into the wuxia genre and he doesn’t quite adhere to the genre rules, preferring to use the genre as a blank canvas for him to paint his favourite humanistic rumination like loneliness and lost love. It’s a simple story of a love triangle, but Wong paints it like it’s a dense and complex story. I like listening to all the voice-over narrations that carry some truths, but this is a largely indulgent movie and it will test your patience. The formidable Sammo Hung was the action choreographer but by my count Wong could have saved money and get a nobody to do it. The action is practically indecipherable and it’s practically a joke. There was supposed to be a sequel but thank goodness the movie did so poorly that no one with a logical brain would finance it. Consider this a blessing.

We ended the evening with John Woo’s Once a Thief (1991). I liked this tremendously and I have always felt this is an underrated movie in Woo’s oeuvre. The tone is at once fun and situating the action in Paris gives it a romantic feel. The heist sequences are inventive and Chow Yun-fatt really hams it up. He seemed to be having so much fun on screen but of course most people would say he is over-acting. It’s a very different kind of John Woo movie. Yes, there are violence, gun-ballets and car crashes, but everything is toned down and there is a sense of light-heartedness even when there are lots of people dying. I particularly loved that villain at the end whose choice of weapons are playing cards with razor sharp edges. The keen-eyed viewer will notice the homages to Godfather and Die Hard. This was probably a Chinese New Year movie if I am not wrong and one can forgive a lot if you see it during that festive time.

In a Lonely Place (1950) is about Dixon Steele who was once a successful screenwriter, but like many writers in his industry, he has run into a bit of a rut and hasn’t written a hit film for quite some time. When he is tasked with turning a trashy bestseller into a hit film, he seeks out hatcheck woman Mildred Atkinson to recount the story for him back at his place. The next day, Steele is informed that the same girl who was at his place the night before was found dead that very night. Under the circumstances, coupled with Steele’s short temper and violent tendencies, Steele’s is immediately pinned as the prime suspect of the murder. The police’s efforts and suspicions of Steele complicate matters when he falls for his beautiful, albeit equally enigmatic neighbour, Laurel Gray. I find this an immensely absorbing watch, not so much for the mystery, but for the budding whirlwind relationship between Steele and Gray heading for heartbreak. It has a downbeat ending but it is a powerful one and if you ponder over it you will realise it is an ending that is absolutely right. To me, this is a cautionary tale for all people in relationships and marriages, where trust is at the centre of it. Once there is distrust, love will subside faster than the changing of tides. The ending sent me into a tailspin and it is good reminder that trust should never be trifle with. This is a great film.

I adored Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (1985) and picked up The Funeral (1984), his debut film at a recent Criterion 50% sale. Like the name suggests, it is about a funeral over the course of three days. At the beginning of the film the father-in-law of the protagonist dies unexpectedly of a heart attack. The remainder of the film is episodic, moving from one incident to another over the course of the three-day funeral, which is held (as is customary) in the home. These incidents contrast old ways and new ways, young and old, ritual ceremony and true feelings, often comically, but sometimes with real poignancy. This is a wistful film and so hilarious and astute in the way it observes a traditional Japanese funeral. Balancing humour and death is a high wire act but Itami’s command is classy. I found myself laughing at the antics like a group of people who will drink and refuse to leave, the arguing over the cost and the hypocrisy of it all because everything is so familiar. If you were involved in the funeral of a closed one, you will no doubt see all the send-ups. Yet, Itami never plays it for cheap laughs and he deftly balances the hilarity with instances of poignancy that can make you cry. This is a great satire and a great film.

As a movie lover I do rewatch a lot of movies and with the advent of 4K UHD I have been checking out many old movies in 4K glory. I will mention one that we saw recently, To Sir, With Love (1967). The story is about an idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End. This is one of the great teacher movies and it saved me. On the evening before I began my career as a Mathematics teacher (but during my first year I had to teach English and Physical Education because there was a dire lack of teachers in these departments) in a secondary school many moons ago, I had cold sweat thinking I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life. That night I decided to pop in the DVD and the movie emboldened me, filled me with cold steel that I could do this. Moreover, teaching a class of girls could not be as bad as what Sidney Poitier did in the movie. The movie needs no introduction and if you have never seen it you don’t know what you are missing. I don’t think you need to be a teacher to get it because Poitier’s Mark Thackeray is the very essence of integrity, morality and sincerity. Poitier’s performance is simply incredible and he carried the movie all the way through. He makes Thackeray feel like a real person and that gamut of emotions he holds just underneath his skin is the real deal, but of course the kids will make him boil over. This movie is one for the ages and to revisit it in 4K is marvellous. The vividness of the colours and the visual details are worth the price alone. It also comes with Dolby Atmos which only comes alive during the musical moments. If you are a fan this is worth picking up.

Bro WEB, I always wonder how you find time to watch sooooo many movies.

Many have asked the same question. I always say if it’s your passion you will find the time. I only write about six every time, but I watch a lot more.


Another selection of six we have seen recently…

Table for Six (2022) was screened in its original Cantonese language during the Hong Kong Film Festival last year. The tickets were sold out within minutes and I missed the boat. No way was I going to watch the Mandarin dubbed version screening at the regular cinemas because I was sure this essentially rapid-talkie movie only works in its native language. I finally saw the blu-ray and picked it up in a hair of a second. 2 hours whizzed by and it was such unbridled joy. This is an ensemble dialogue-heavy comedy revolving around a family gathering gone sour. To big brother Dai, nothing is more satisfying than dining with his two younger half-siblings. But when his old flame shows up as his brother’s girlfriend, World War III strikes and it’s up to his part-time girlfriend to simmer down the situation. The plot-line seems like it was plugged right out of comedies of the 80s to early 90s, but it never becomes disposable and continues to stay afloat with its poignancy and theme of family. Positioned as an Mid-Autumn movie, it rings home thematically without the maudlin. The Cantonese wordplay is in full swing here and every character has moments of brilliance; everybody brought their A game. Everything ends on a heartwarming note that blood is always thicker than water. How thick? The eldest brother has to hold the dick of his younger brother as he peed because of his injured hands. That thick! I laughed the loudest at this point.

Have you ever seen movies that you hate at first, but after revisiting it becomes a godsend? I am sure you have. My recent rediscovery was Jordan Peele’s Nope (2022) in 4K and Dolby Atmos. Seriously, I hated it when I saw it in the cinema. Choo even had to wake me up twice. It felt like I was watching a disjointed movie with two storylines that don’t gelled together. By the time the prolonged third act rolled in I already decided I have no love for it. But the last act was brilliantly conceived and sitting in the cinema I thought it will look and sound amazing in 4K and Dolby Atmos, and I was absolutely right. Sitting in front of my big screen, I was completely mesmerised and I don’t have the dreaded feeling I was watching two movies. Perhaps it is because my expectations have been reined in and I could finally see the movie for what it is – a sci-fi blockbuster, an ode to good old filmmaking and our fascination with watching spectacles. The last observation reminds me of how traffic always slows down when it passes a site of an accident. Got to also love the alien spaceship design which is out of this world. If you have a 4K and Atmos set-up give this a shot. Even if the movie doesn’t wow you, the PQ and SQ will.

Crimes of the Future (2022) is David Cronenberg at his eccentrically dullest. I like the idea that in the future the human body has evolved to a state where pain is a luxury. So pain and surgery is the new sex. Cool idea eh? But the execution is so uninteresting. Bland drama, dull dialogue, zero tension and nada of a story. For a movie about surgery and fooling around with organs, there is hardly much gore, at least nothing that would make my stomach churn. What was even scarier is seeing all the interviews given by Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux and Kirsten Stewart in which they praised the movie to the high heavens. I thought they would shed light on the story and their roles. Perhaps they were clueless like me but at least they were paid. I had to go through a nearly 2-hour torture session. There are great Cronenberg’s films. This is not one of them.

Pearl (2022) is Ti West’s second film in a trilogy with a central character played by Mia Goth. I enjoyed the first film X tremendously, a bloody slasher movie with a cool premise, so I was thrown into a loop when I thought I will see the same movie. Tonally, this is very different from X. Rural Texas, 1918. Decades before the events of X (2022), Pearl, a young and ambitious farm girl obsessed with dancing and the movie industry, can’t wait to spread her wings and leave the nest to make a name for herself. Instead, Pearl is trapped in the isolated farmhouse, living under the same roof with her punishing, disapproving German mother Ruth and her infirm, wheelchair-using father. But more than anything, Pearl wants to be like the pretty girls in the pictures and not end up like her mother. However, as the romantic dream of a glamorous movielike life fades, chronic frustration, violent tendencies, and pent-up emotions pour forth. When you are simmering with rage, how do you deal with not getting what you want? As much as I think the first movie is a good one, this is even better. Audaciously and defiantly different, Pearl feels like a character study of a woman slowly losing her self and gradually becoming insane. There are links with the first film in terms of the main character’s ambition of wanting to make it in Hollywood, but it ends there. It can’t be the same character because the time period doesn’t make sense. Within a few minutes, I got myself over the fact that this isn’t X and just enjoyed the ride and what a ride this was. If X provides no precursor that Mia Goth can act, she shows here what she can do. Her handle on the character is brilliant – the naivety, fragility and wild streaks of madness shine through. The sense of place and time of 1918 is strong and vivid. When it hits the bloody last act, I was in comfort zone and I know a smile was plastered on my face when I see her swing her axe. Oh man… if this is the second film, I can’t wait to see what Ti West and Mia Goth do in the final film.

Hunger (2023) is wildly entertaining even if it doesn’t forge a new path. Aoy, a woman in her twenties, runs her family’s local stir-fried noodles restaurant in the old quarter of Bangkok. One day, she receives an invitation to leave the family business and join team ‘Hunger’, Thailand’s number one luxury Chef’s table team led by the famously ingenious, and infamously nasty, Chef Paul. Visually, this is stunning. How food is photographed here will make you hanker for food made by artisan, not those from Hawker centres, not that I have these type of meals every other day. Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying continues to be compelling to watch. She provides a stellar turn as a woman out of her depth and eventually in over her head. Where the movie falters is with its bizarre turns and satirical elements on the rich and snobbish, the latter lacks an identity. The final denouncement that family is everything feels trite. That said, I dare you to turn your eyes away from Aoy’s character journey.

Mildred Pierce (1945) begins with a man getting shot six times. As his final breath leaves his mouth, he utters one word: “Mildred”. Who is he? Who shot him? A mystery ensues but in an interesting choice of narrative the mystery element is cast on the wayside and what ensues is a story of melodrama and maternal sacrifice by a mother hell-bent on making sure her children are free from the stigma of being poor. Joan Crawford plays Mildred Pierce with a fiery turn which earned her the Best Actress Oscar. The storytelling is masterclass. It will suck you in and you will immediately be vested in Mildred who garners much sympathy. Her decision to buy happiness and love for and from her daughter is a train wreck waiting to happen. We can see it but she is blind from it. It is a case of blind parental love that I see all the time and nothing good ever comes from it. It might be a 1945 film but I was still caught surprised by the final revelation. I know there is a mini-series with Kate Winslet in Crawford’s role and I definitely want to see that.

Some other stuff we have watched include Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Devotion(2022), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Kill Boksoon (2023) and we are currently chasing Barry, Succession, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, all in their final seasons and Gangs of London S2. Today, my friend gave me a heads up on a new Hindi series called Jubilee. I am definitely watching this later this evening because it is directed by one of my favourite directors, Vikramaditya Motwane (Lootera and Udaan). My friend is always spot-on with his recommendations.

Time for another six…

A Man Called Otto (2022) is an unnecessary remake of the Swedish film A Man Called Ove(2015). It’s about an ill-tempered and grumpy old man who finds displeasure in everything around his neighbourhood. The man always has the last word in any argument until a new neighbour moves in and everything changes. All movies are manipulative but the measure of a good film is that it can somehow make you see past the plot machinations and go with the flow. On that note, the American remake doesn’t hit its stride and seldom rises above the machinations. But a good story is a good story. Even though I see all the moving gears some scenes still got to me, especially the one Otto talks about his wife. The love he has for his dead wife feels palpable and I think how you talk about your other half without his or her presence is a good measure of how much you love him or her. Tom Hanks puts in a heartwarming performance but I would suggest you see the original Swedish film.

And talking about our significant other, my wifey was down and out for the count for a week, so we saw a lot of fun ones that don’t require the use of a lot of brain juice.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) is about Puss in Boots discovering that his passion for adventure has taken its toll and he has burned through eight of his nine lives, he launches an epic journey to restore them by finding the mythical Last Wish. I put this in thinking it’s some disposable fun romper, but I didn’t count on it to have such effervescent storytelling. I can’t believe I am saying this but this really works on so many levels – it’s one super fast ride, superb visuals, fantastic characters and thematically, this scores. It made me think about mortality and the type of legacy I want to leave behind and it even has Puss running away from the personification of death. One of my favourite side plots is the one with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it is a poignant story so well told. This was an amazing experience and I could see Choo’s spirits gradually lifted up. Really… all along I thought this is going to be about that one big joke about Puss looking at you with those big cute eyes, but it turned out to be infinitely more.

I thought I saw all of Robert Zemeckis’ movies but apparently I missed one. Used Cars (1990) is pre-Back to the Future and it is one crackerjack of a screwball comedy with so many inventive scenes. The plot: When the owner (Jack Warden) of a struggling used car lot is killed, it’s up to the lot’s hot-shot salesman (Kurt Russell) to save the property from falling into the hands of the owner’s ruthless brother (also Jack Warden) and used-car rival. Oh man… this is great comedy and all great comedies hurt and ain’t pretty. Under the hilarious sheen is a clever dig at human greed, corruption and how we can lie through our teeth to sell something. It’s vulgar, it’s barn-stomping and it’s one crazy ride. There are so many zany characters, memorable scenes and even the dog is a comedian. The last act is one helluva cockamamie scheme and to see it being carried out bring so much unbridled joy. The scene of Russell jumping from moving car to another moving car is reminiscent of Jackie Chan in his heyday. I found out a little pop culture tidbit: this was released the same time as Airplane! and of course the audience only had time for one screwball comedy and Used Cars became a flop. It was through the video rental market that it became a cult classic phenomenon.

Election (1999), Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is running unopposed for this year’s high school student election. But school civics teacher Jim McAllister (Mathew Broderick) has a different plan. Partly to establish a more democratic election, and partly to satisfy some deep personal anger toward Tracy, Jim talks popular varsity football player Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run for president as well. Chaos ensues. Oh what sweet chaos this is. This is one razor-sharp satire of our times when everyone feels self-important and wants to be the policeman of social mores. It is a sharp but hilarious critique of the American dream. It might be an election for Student President of a high school but it might as well be a representation of a political election for the highest office anywhere in the world and a backslide of moral values. Choo has never seen this before and this was my second time but I still laughed like a lark. Starring a very young Reese Witherspoon and she is just perfect in the role of an eager beaver. You hate her but you will notice a version of her in your station wherever you are. Mathew Broderick is also her equal, slipping from drama to comedy with deft timing. Choo looked at Chris Klein and mistook him for a young Keanu Reeves. I was thrown into a loop and I had to check IMDb to verify his identity. Klein was perfect as a jock with a heart of gold. Down the road if I were to watch this again, I am sure I will still laugh like crazy.

Seeing that Choo was gradually coming out of her dizzy funk, I decided to move to serious stuff…

An Inspector Calls (2015), I know is a Literature text but I have not studied it. Written by J.B. Priestley, it is a play of three acts which takes place on a single night on 5 April 1912. The play focuses on the prosperous upper middle-class Birling family, who live in a comfortable home in the fictional town of Brumley. The family is visited by a man calling himself Inspector Goole, who questions the family about the suicide of a young working-class woman in her mid-twenties. The play has also been hailed as a scathing criticism of the hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian English society and as an expression of Priestley’s socialist political principles. This was one engrossing and absorbing watch. The TV movie has excellent production values and the acting is top class all round. David Thewlis as the mysterious inspector is the perfect tour guide though a menagerie of vile human behaviour. His deadpan expression works to his role’s advantage because you can’t quite put a handle on him. My mind was working overtime trying to piece all the jigsaw puzzle and wanted to know who he is. Wisely, the storyteller kept him vague. Choo and I were at first disappointed, but like all great movies, it doesn’t leave my mind and continues to swirl in my consciousness even after a night’s rest. Then I realised his identity isn’t important. He might as well be a Good Samaritan, an angel or even the dead young woman’s close relation, and not knowing who he is gives the story an ageless mysterious power.

You know me… I have to include a stinker.

The Witch: Part 2 – The Other One (2022) is all wrong because of two different punctuations in its title but I let it go because Part 1 was an incredible movie with a plot twist I never saw coming. 4 years later, the same writer-director graced us with the sequel. I nearly saw this at the cinema and thankfully I didn’t waste good money. This is just a mess. This is basically the same story told in Part 1 all over again but little is told of all the characters’ motivations. I was just floundering in the dark because there are so many characters with 3 groups of villains all wanting to kill the new girl with powers. Why don’t they all work together? I mentioned “dark” and I hate it when the action is all happening in the dark. It is a cheapskate way of hiding cheap CGI. There is a twist at the end but it’s nothing like the one in Part 1. It is littered with cheap jokes all told by a Caucasian hunk who is not even remotely funny. I have no idea why this character is fleshed out more than others. The horror of horrors is there is going to be a Part 3. I won’t be spending money on this and will wait to stream it somewhere because I do want to know how it ends.

It’s six time…

Let’s start with one of the worst seasons of a show I have seen. Gangs of London S2 ups the ante in terms of violence, betrayals and shocking deaths, but the logic completely goes out the window. None of the episodes in S2 comes near to the brilliant episode directed by Gareth Evans in S1. I am not saying S1 was perfect but at least the brutality was a jaw-dropper and the fight choreography was awesome. For some reasons, S2 takes a massive nosedive in terms of every aspect. Instead of just suspending disbelief, S2 requires me to have a lobotomy. Really… nothing makes any sense here. In an early episode, an actor whom I thought is going to be a major player judging from the opening episode, leaps from the top floor of a skyscraper because he learns that the investors are here. I knew from that moment on I am about to experience some of the worst characterisations ever. It’s like at one point a character will have 31 possible choices he can make and all of them would be logical, but apparently 31 flavours of Baskin Robbins isn’t enough and he asks for the 32nd one. A case in point would be the languorous episode that is devoted to the torture and killing of Lale. I am supposed to believe that she can escape being hanged upside down and basically kill every brute of a man along the way. I lost count after 8 and then when she finally has the opportunity to finish off Asif she doesn’t. What utter rubbish! But that’s not the worst… when she makes it out and sees Sean I immediately had Chaser (2008) vibe because I am starting to think like the bad writing. Sure enough she is captured again for Asif to do his worst. But you know what? That’s not the worst. The worst happens in the final episode when Asif and Lale are sitting at the round table drinking and laughing away, probably at my expense. Don’t even get me talking about guns that never seem to run out of bullets, the non-presence of police and bystanders and the flipping of allegiance like it’s roti prata. This has got to be the worst tourism promotion show for London ever.

The Sunny Side of the Street (白日青春) is a 2022 Hong Kong drama film written and directed by Malaysia-born Lau Kok-rui, a debut feature. The film tells the story of a Hong Kong-born Pakistani refugee boy who forms an unexpected bond with a local taxi driver. The film was being shown as part of Singapore Chinese Film Festival and it was screened in its native language of Cantonese, which is the best way to see this film. I mean if you want to listen to Anthony Wong curse, you wouldn’t want to listen to dubbed mandarin. The film arrived minted with 4 Golden Horse Awards recently: Best New Performer, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best New Director. Sitting in a full-house screening, I couldn’t say I was bowled over with a story that felt contrived and an ending that was a foregone conclusion as the story goes into the second act. But there is a sincerity that radiates, all thanks to Anthony Wong’s crusty but heartwarming performance. I thought the director know how to allow the scenes breathe and let it play out in unexpected ways. I also thought the movie could have highlighted the sad plight of refugees in Hong Kong but the issues were only brushed on. But I could easily excuse it because the director prefers to focus on the odd couple relationship which paid rewarding dividends. After the movie I was treated to an engaging Q&A with the director and a surprising appearance of Anthony Wong on Zoom. Wong gave curt answers but he was always self-deprecatingly funny. It was through the insightful Q&A I realised the metaphor of the boy’s goggles and I started to appreciate the movie even more.

Empire of Light (2022) has lofty aims - It’s a drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times, set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s. Anchored by the iridescent Olivia Colman who can communicate vulnerability through her entire mien, the movie lacks a much needed vital energy. It takes too much time to get anywhere. I like the cinema as a metaphor of hope and healing but it is a theme that is not satisfyingly explored. This is one of those could-have-been movies. You want it to be important but it is content to not do any heavy lifting.

La Piscine (1969), lovers Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) spend their vacation in a villa on the French Riviera near St-Tropez. Marianne invites her former lover, Harry, and his teenage daughter Penelope to stay. Tension rises between them, especially when Jean-Paul seduces Penelope. This is a very deliberate and controlled film, it seductively lulls you in a languid repose, then it turns on the screws. But I can’t say I love it because of the ending feels like a non-event. It feels like the storyteller was teasing me with a couple of endings and ultimately chose the non sequitur. I don’t know… a great ending would invite a cool discussion and provoke thoughts, but the choice taken here made the story end on a whimper. Still, this is a sexy movie and seeing beautiful people fall into a reservoir of pain is my type of entertainment. You also can’t watch this without knowing one pop-culture tid-bit: Alain Delon and Romy Schneider had been real-life partners from 1958 to 1963. They were no longer a couple when this film was shot, but remained good friends after their split. In 1966, Schneider married director Harry Meyen and had to put her career on hold to care for her son. Delon imposed that Schneider should be his co-star and the film revitalised her career. Their sizzling on screen is undeniable.

Knowing that his glory days are far behind him, the hopeless French director, René Vidal, enlists the help of Hong Kong actress, Maggie Cheung, to save his doomed take on Louis Feuillade’s classic silent-era film serial, Les vampires (1915). Cast as inimitable Musidora’s Irma Vep, the sleek, latex-clad cat burglar with the strange name, Maggie Cheung turns up in Paris without speaking a word of French, bent on giving her all. However, amid catastrophic screenings of daily rushes, intense sexual objectification on the set, unrequited loves, and mysterious dreams, more and more, Maggie Cheung becomes obsessed with her character. But, the question remains. Can they finish the film? I enjoyed Irma Vep (1996) a lot because of its free-wheeling vibe and I wasn’t sure which direction it would go. It possesses an energy and moves with invention. Along the way it throws barbs at French cinema which I thought was hilarious. But the one element that truly makes this watchable is Maggie Cheung who essentially plays herself. Her vulnerability shines through and yet she is so confident on her feet. You can absolutely understand why her wardrobe assistant Zoe wants to get into her pants and seeing how Cheung turns her down gently is so endearing. I know there is a TV series based on the film with Alicia Vikander playing Cheung’s role and I am very curious to check it out.

Bones and All (2022) is a story of first love between Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), an intense and disenfranchised drifter, as they meet and join together for a thousand-mile odyssey which takes them through the back roads, hidden passages and trap doors of Ronald Reagan’s America. But despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and to a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their otherness. The plot synopsis written by a staff of United Artists makes the movie more exciting than it is. The movie appeared in quite a few Best of 2022 lists so my radar went up. I think those critics must have been paid to put this in their list. My problem with this movie is that there is nada tension. The violence is usually depicted off-screen and the characters stay in their comfort zone too much. I feel myself not drawn into the story and everything just happens at a safe distance.

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It’s time for another six…

Air (2023) explores how Nike’s basketball shoe division was struggling in 1984 due to low sales, and how the company’s Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) tasked basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) to find a new spokesperson for their shoes. Although they considered third draft pick Michael Jordan off limits due to his preference for Adidas and Converse, Vaccaro convinced them that Jordan was a generational talent, and that Nike should pursue him and try to convince Jordan to sign with Nike and the rest as they say, it’s history. This is an immensely entertaining movie that just carries you with an infectious energy all the way to a conclusion you already knew. I can’t say this enough – that’s a skill of a good filmmaker, the ability to tell a story that keeps you at the edge of your seat when you already know Nike and Michael Jordan, more specifically Jordan’s mother, won. The dialogue is whip smart and the characters are so vividly drawn down to all the peripheral ones who all have an opportunity to shine. Before watching this I was thinking why is there a need for this story to be told and I now realised it is a story that needed to be told. This was an important time when a supreme black athlete can leverage his talents and get recognition in the world of sports endorsement, a game mostly played by white men in suits. I think that is a story worth telling, a story of recognising your self-worth and getting what you truly deserve.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is a riveting “sunset” gangster film. It’s downbeat all the way but it is so compelling because of all the wonderful performances. The title is so ironic because Eddie has no friends in the truest sense of the word. As a small time hood, Eddie is about to go back to jail. In order to escape this fate, he deals information on stolen guns to the feds. Simultaneously he is supplying arms to his bank robbing/kidnapping hoodlum chums. But who else is dealing with the feds? Who gets the blame for snitching on the bank robbers? You can see the ending coming from a mile away. There’s a heavy sense of inevitability about it. You want him to catch a break and all through the last act I was hoping Eddie has one more day in the sun. Robert Mitchum plays Eddie Coyle like no one else could play the character. He brought to the role so much world weariness that you can eat off a plate. The movie also has a superb sense of place and time, and the dialogue is so well-written. There is a sense of authenticity and naturalism to every scene, a true gem of the gangster films of the 1970s. Marvellously directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt) who accomplished the unthinkable – making a gripping film about a loser who never wins. A minor masterpiece in my humble opinion that all cinephiles worth their salt should seek out and see.

Round Midnight (1986), I remember seeing in the 80s but I didn’t get it. Watching it again now I finally got it. That’s the thing with great movies – they are patient because one day you will finally understand it. The movie is not heavy on plot and it’s a story about a sax player named Dale Turner on his last legs and a Parisan man who loves his music and tries to save Turner from himself. This is a heartfelt love letter to jazz. Legendary saxophonist Dexter Gordon plays Dale Turner beautifully. Gordon is a musician first and actor second. When he speaks, his tone is so measured and none of his words is careless; his voice carries notes that a musician who has played music his whole life has. I knew the ending is inevitable but when it came it still left a bittersweet and wistful note in the air. I really like Herbie Hancock’s evocative score but I can’t say I love jazz much, but seeing and listening to all the music performed live gave me a tingling feeling so much so that the next morning I started playing the two masterclass jazz SACDs I have: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The movie made me love the albums even more.

Rocky (1976) needs no introduction and it’s one of the best sports movies ever made. I saw it again in 4K and it still gave me goosebumps in the last act. It is not a sit-up-and-look-at-me kind of 4K UHD, but there are up ticks in the visual aspects. I will spare you the synopsis but tell you the story of how I used it for my lessons. Whenever I taught Secondary 4 graduating classes, I would use Rocky as the finale to whisk them out of the door hopefully towards success. I would first tell them the story of how Stallone was down to his last few dollars when he wrote the script in a burst of creativity in 3.5 days after watching a 1975 boxing match in which low-ranked fighter Chuck Wepner unexpectedly went a full fifteen rounds against heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. That is lesson #1: inspiration comes to you from everywhere and most of the time the best one comes when you are at the lowest point of your life; grab it. The script was shopped around all the major studios in Hollywood and they knew a gem when they see one, but the studios were taken aback by Stallone’s stipulation that he must act in the titular role. The bidding for his script (without Stallone starring) climbed up to $265,000. That is lesson #2: no matter the temptation never doubt yourself and your ingenuity. In the end, producers Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler and Gene Kirkwood shared Stallone’s passion for the project and they managed to convince the United Artists to bankroll the film. Chartoff and Winkler went so far as to use their homes as collateral to guarantee its completion. That’s lesson #3: passion is infectious; if you hold out long enough you will eventually find the right people on your side. The budget was under US$1 million but the team made an incredible film that laughed so hard at the slim budget. Then I would show them the students the climatic fight and explain the clever ending – the camera is full-on Rocky as he screams for Adrian and you are listening to the results of the fight n the background. If your heart don’t swell to bursting point at this point do make an appointment with your doctor. Here, I would tell the kids that maybe getting that A isn’t as important as “going the distance” and what does that mean? Perhaps it means to apply everything that the teachers have taught, not to be careless, don’t write the first idea that pops in their mind and so on. I said if they work hard during this time to the exams, it will the As that chase after them and not the other way round. I love using Rocky as inspiration for teenagers to follow their dreams with courage, determination and perseverance, but I don’t do it anymore because as the years passed I realised kids also changed and they started to see the climatic fight as comedy. I find that so sacrilegious and rather than sour the magical film in my memory, I don’t use it anymore. So this anecdote is for prosperity.

It’s probably just me but I feel after Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame (2019), there is nothing from Marvel Studios, and that include the TV shows, that could reach the zenith established by Endgame. Then superhero fatigue set in and the only superhero movies I saw after Endgame that reached that level of storytelling was Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Choo shares the same sentiments and these days we just wait for the movies to drop in Disney+ and HBO for the DC ones. So we recently went into Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania with tepid anticipation. The movie barely passed muster and it’s basically a tick-the-boxes type of entertainment. Thank goodness I didn’t waste good money to see this at the theatres. It introduces a major villain in Kang but everything is so lightweight like the microscopic superheroes.

Choo had to be somewhere one evening so I was home alone and that meant I can watch something she would never want to see. I still had 4 more Guinea Pigs flicks to see but horrific scenes from the first two are still wedged deep in my consciousness, so I asked my friend out of the last 4 which is the one I should definitely see. He replied with one word: “Mermaid”. I replied that I am not sure if I should have my instant noodles while watching the movie or have it after. Knowing the movie, I am guessing I won’t have a stomach for food after. He replied “haha”. So I cooked some noodles and got comfortable in front of the TV. Goddammit… 30 minutes into Mermaid in a Manhole I saw so many slimes and worms that I wanted to puke and looked down at my curry noodles and saw worms. F*cking hell! The synopsis: Unable to come to terms with the loss of his beloved and recently deceased wife, a grief-stricken artist returns to the sparkling river of his childhood memories–now a vile sewer–in search of inspiration. There, next to a drainage pipe, a generous surprise awaits him, as a trapped mermaid riddled with lumpy carcinomata and grotesque boils begs him, telepathically, to help her. Without delay–having already found the stimulus he was seeking–the compassionate painter brings the contaminated siren home to deal with her grave pathological condition; however, the malignant disease keeps getting worse, spreading all over her body. Now, through the aquatic being’s anguish and her nauseous septic fluids, the widowed man can express himself on canvas, documenting the rampant and irrevocable decay. Is there beauty in pain? Can there be salvation in death? This is one nasty film and surprise surprise it has depth and some veiled environmental theme like ask yourself why a mermaid would live in a sewer. Maybe I am reading too much into it but the storytelling has more than depth than Guinea Pig #1 and #2 combined. When the boils and lesions on the body of the mermaid start to pop my senses went into a tailspin and my eyes became saucers. Oh my goodness… I swore I vomit a little into my mouth and suddenly my curry noodles which I love a lot turned into one gnarly blow of worms. There is an unmistakable sense of melancholy interspersed with black humour courtesy of the busybody neighbours of the man. The revelation at the end is sad, not unlike the one in Psycho (1960). There are somethings in life you can’t un-see. This is definitely one of them. This one totally destroys mermaids for me so I guess I can save money on The Little Mermaid.

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This is my fave franchise. Whatever mentioned here is relatable and I knew all the behind the scenes surrounding the production from print to screen.

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A number of TV shows that I had been faithfully following have bowed out, so this is me trying to hold on to the treasure-chest-at-end-of-the-rainbow endings, typing out some quick thoughts as closures for myself. Needless to say this post will be filled with spoilers so be forewarned if you have not seen the finales or have plans to check out the shows.

Sometimes watching a TV series is like making an incredible journey. We go down roads we have never been before with the main characters as tour guides. Sometimes those roads are treacherous; sometimes they are comforting walks with old friends. However, all good things must come to an end and every episode will build towards a gorgeous finale that hopefully the show has earned. There are so many ingredients that make a finale memorable like scenes that will stay with you forever, sublime closure of character arcs and perhaps there is that one last cruel twist you never see coming. You pray that the show will stroll into the sunset on its own terms and nail the ending without the dreaded feeling of ennui. So many great shows reached the edge of precipice of ultimate pathos and messed it all up. Game of Thrones anyone? But there are others that stay on the resolute path, culminating to something magical. When it cuts to black, a great sense of satisfaction will engulf your entire being.

In the past week, 3 shows I adored have ended: The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Succession and Barry. This week will also see the ending of Ted Lasso (I am going to activate my 3 months free AppleTV+ this weekend). Did all 3 get it right and earn their place in the history books?

I only got into The Marvelous Mrs Maisel during last year’s Chinese New Year holidays and we didn’t stop. This is a story of a 1950s housewife who thought she has everything she has ever wanted and everything changes when she discovers she has a hidden talent – stand-up comedy. Every season will see Miriam Maisel struggle to realise her dream to make it big in a male-dominated society which is always rooting for her to fail. This is a breeze to watch because it comes right down to Rachel Brosnahan who plays the effervescent Miriam Maisel. Your eyes will just rest on her because she is such a joy to watch. Feisty and spunky, hers is a sit-up-and-look-at-me role. In her, I see the woman that all women want to aspire to – she is her own woman with the courage to forge a path for herself and hold her own in a male-dominated society. This is very empowering to watch especially if you are a woman, but I am a dude and I still loved this to bits. The final season is a bit of a time line flip galore where we get to see the future and throughout the season the show draws the crucial events that made the future make resolute sense. Things have soured between Midge and Susie Myerson, Maisel’s manager but the why is gradually teased out. I have always believed that the heart of this show is the warm relationship between Maisel and Susie, and to see it end made me feel hollow. Thankfully, this is Writing 101, the writers will break the friendship, mend it eventually and my heart soared. The finale also shows you the exact instance Maisel’s star goes supernova and it is a wonderful stand-up routine that had me in stitches and crying happy tears. It is also in this particular scene that Maisel earns the respect of everyone in her family and by large the entire society. That sequence is the equivalent of a climatic fight between the hero and the villain in an action movie, except the villain in this case is society and Maisel herself. In the end she shows the world how incredibly funny she is and buries all the men who tried to suppress her gift. The show ends exactly where it should be – front and centre on Maisel and Susie, a friendship that has gone through hell and back. There is a full circle vibe with this finale and suddenly all the flashbacks and flash forwards all come together in a tsunami of bittersweet feels. I just want to say one last time for prosperity: “TITS UP!”

I will spare you the synopsis for Succession which is most certainly the best show on earth for the duration it was on air. This is a top tier show on dysfunctional family dynamics and every Monday evening this show is our therapy pill – seeing super rich people shoot themselves in the foot. Usually the discussion will start on Monday morning when we will “write” what happens to the Roys over breakfast and see if we were right in the evening. The final season is a helluva rollercoaster ride with ep3 a high watermark. I was convinced it is the single best hour of any TV show this year. My jaw fell open the whole way and I couldn’t believe the menagerie of the worst and at the times the absolute heartbreaking human behaviour on display. I am not so crystal clear with all the business manipulation but I was captivated by all the proceedings. The king is dead and everyone wants a slice of the pie. Over the course of 4 seasons I have come to know the Roy children better than I know my friends. The writing and acting are impeccable. I had an ending written in my head – the Roy siblings run the company to the ground with their in-fighting and when I say fighting I mean they smile and joke with each other while calculating when is the best time for the kill-shot. The movie-length finale had everything and just when I thought I know these characters I see another vile side of them. The moment it ended I had the dreaded feeling of not having my hunger pang satisfied but the morning after the finale haunted me. There is poetic justice in Tom Wambsgans coming in from the left field and becoming CEO which surprised me. Seriously, who saw that coming? Yes, he won but he also lost in a way because he will always be Matsson’s whipping boy. The fella is parasite numero uno and he is not beneath crying to get something he wants and I see his character arc come into his own right from season one. If the pandemic wipes out 99% of the world’s population, he will be one of the 1% who survives. With the last vote falling on Shiv, I had no idea what she would do but my wife knew who she would vote for because she is also a survivor. That last scene in the limo with the power hand holding speaks volume without needing a single word. Of all the Roy kids I am guessing Roman will do okay because he has finally seen past all the BS. With Kendall I am not so sure. Sometimes Choo and I would have discussion on who is the absolute scum and ranked them, but we were always sympathetic towards Kendall, who constantly wants Logan to see his worth in the huge scheme of things. None of the kids sees their father as Muthafucker Number One and he is; the worst person in TV world with truckloads of money and power. To see Kendall almost getting the key to the kingdom and in one fell swoop lost everything and becoming the ultimate zero is quite heart-wrenching. The last scene of him walking with an uneasy gait in the park with his driver walking behind probably on suicide watch is sheer masterclass. The opening theme is played once again but this time with an orchestra. I followed the music that I have come to know so well and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the last two notes but they didn’t come because Kendall doesn’t deserve that two notes for his swan song. He stares out into the horizon contemplating what the hell went wrong. I hated the finale at first, but I have completely changed my mind. It is brilliant, a finale that never panders to the audience and it bowed out on its own terms.

There is nothing quite like Barry on TV, a black dra-medy about a hit man from the Midwest who moves to Los Angeles and gets caught up in the city’s theatre arts scene. This is one of the most unconventional approach to storytelling but that is its charm. That off-kilter-ness is always hard to pinpoint and it never oversteps into farce. The last season goes all out with huge timeline jumps and we see all the major characters in a new light. With only 8 half-hour episodes the show never felt rushed and knew exactly where they wanted to go with all the characters. There is one ultimate one shot shootout that is brilliantly shot. I was laughing my head off while seeing people get shot but I saved the heartiest laughter for Noho Hank’s poetic demise. I was mostly satisfied with the closures of all the characters except for Barry’s. I don’t expect him to walk off into the sunset but having him killed by Cousineau 10 minutes before it cuts to black left me empty and unsatisfied. But then again, the morning after, the ending still hasn’t evaporated into ether and I have come to love the epilogue. It essentially double-downed on the theme of the iffy part of show business in that Hollywood always finds a way to bastardise a true story into a narrative that will bring in the dollars. So the scene of Barry’s son watching a movie based on Barry’s life is hugely cathartic to him but strangely unnerving for us. It is an audacious ending and right towards the end it was never conventional.

I can’t believe three awesome shows have ended in the space of a week and they really left a hole in my heart. It’s not easy to find another show that can eclipse them. Well, I have Ted Lasso to look forward to this weekend.

give your “Rating’s” buddy…
i remember the good old days when u rated each movie or series u watched…
Definitely miss your “Rating’s”

Probably not for this post because I anyhow wrote them. They are just my thoughts and feelings for the finale and not even a proper review. But if I were to do one for the entire series, then…

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (4/5)
Succession (5/5)
Barry (4/5)

thks for the ratings buddy… now i can see shows that are rated 4/5 n above…

It has been a while since I last mused about movies and shows I have seen. The other day my friend was telling me he has too many things he wants to see but too little time. My problem isn’t that; somehow I can always find the time to watch them but then again I am accumulating faster than I can go through them and Choo is always complaining about the huge pile of unseen movies that it is reaching human height. I just think it’s a happy problem. My problem is that I can’t find the time to write about the ones that I love (and detest), and I do love to write. For me its a kind of closure and also a form of appreciation for the pleasure the movie or show has given me. So this is me finally clearing up the endless marking and lesson preparations, sitting down to try to punch out 6 quick ones.

Ted Lasso has been a darling for me. Born during the time of the worldwide lockdown, it reminded me that the world can use a little bit of kindness. Jason Sudeikis has already declared that S3 will be the last season so I went into S3 with a heavy heart. Perhaps I had just binged Welcome to Wrexham which is an outstanding documentary on what it means to run a football club, suddenly Ted Lasso feels too much like a fairytale. Lasso makes being a football manager an easy job. It didn’t help that the episodes are less focused with plot-lines that don’t go anywhere interesting. The episodes felt wobbly and overstuffed, and at some point it felt like it was ticking boxes especially with the double LBGT storylines which felt like the writers were trying to make this a woke prestige show instead of a comedy. I for one didn’t think the lesbian plot was necessary. So the missus and I were watching this not entirely vested in the characters and then it happened… the magic came and I knew exactly the moment it happened: it happened with Hey Jude and the story behind how the song was written. I never knew that and how that pop culture tic-bit fed the narrative was brilliant. From this moment on we were all in – hook, line and sinker. Every episode starts to improve and it crosses the finish line in such bittersweetness. It is a finale that felt earned and deservedly so. Characters come full circle and the send off for Lasso was emotional and yes… my tears were earned. It does feel like the end for the coach but it leaves the door open for spin-offs. I am not sure it would be the same without coach Lasso. (4/5)

Slow Horses S2 only took us two sittings to get through and it was a blast. Actually, we were watching Silo and managed to hit the halfway mark before we got so tired of it. It’s a show that has a superb opening episode but every episode after that feel overwrought and dragged out. I can see Choo more engrossed in crushing candies than this, so I suggested we move on to Slow Horses. This is the complete anti-thesis of Silo, and it moves like it’s on rollerblades. S1 already established the motley crew of lovable losers and all the other major players, so S2 just let it ripped while peeling away more layers from the characters. This time round, the team from Slough House finds themselves investigating criminal activities that trace all the way back to Cold War tensions as Russian villains with ties to their government leave behind a body of former MI5 agent. Unlike S1, there is a lot of spycraft on display and every character has moments to shine and not everyone will survive. At 6 episodes, nary time or scenes are wasted and the glue that continues to bind all the elements together is Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb who fine-tunes his snarkiness to the level of art. His one-liners are the best and they are so good there are no comebacks. S3 drops this year and we can’t wait. (4/5)

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) is a prequel that takes audiences on a ’90s globetrotting adventure with the Autobots and introduce a whole new faction of Transformers – the Maximals – to join them as allies in the existing battle for earth. The good: this one fixes what was wrong with the Michael Bay’s movies – the dumb and cringey dialogue with the humans. The bad: like the Bay movies there are simply no real stakes in the story. You know exactly who will win and it doesn’t cost the heroes anything earth-shattering. The human element in this latest installment still feels redundant but you do understand their motivation and I actually thought the human element is used well in the last act because he becomes integral in the climatic fight. The story still can’t get away from the MacGuffin plot element. This time round is a key that allows the recipient to get anything he wants. The bad guy wants to eat Earth and the good guys want to return to their home planet. Situating the bombastic last fight in the forest of Peru is a better move than in a major city. With movies of this sort, I am quickly thrown out of the plot and my mind is calculating the exponential cost of city repair. I didn’t have that dreaded thought here and I was ogling at the mayhem which has so much clarity. The post-credit sequence is pretty enticing and it sets up something promising. Let’s just say they are merging two Hasbro properties in the next one, so buckle up! (3.5/5)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill rallies his team to defend the universe and one of their own – a mission that could mean the end of the Guardians if not successful. It starts with Rocket walking from to A to B, cleverly establishing the setting to Radiohead’s Creep. We surmise that Rocket (and the rest of the ragtag team) is a creep and if you know your Radiohead you would know Rocket is also f*&king special. Truth be told, I am so sick of superhero movies because every one of them follows a blueprint, but this is James Gunn, the filmmaker who knows how to serve up a product that will bring in the moola for the studios but he is also his own man who knows how to serve up a story that is wholly his. Nobody does a tentpole movie centering on an ensemble of misfits, recalcitrants and outcasts like him, so I am particularly keen to find out what he can do for Superman. GotG3 is a blast, bloated duration of time or humongous cast of characters aside, I loved every minute of this and all the amazing needle-drops. I thought every guardian has a chance to shine, in particularly Rocket and the villain is a refreshing change. Yes, he is still the megalomaniac archetypal who wants to rule the world by destroying one to make another. I thought what set him apart is his jealousy in that Rocket is better than him. I love the underlying subtext running throughout the runtime in that racism and xenophobia have no place in this world and even in another universe, and it doesn’t even need to preach the message for the audiences to get it. The end-credit sequence suggests that the Star Lord will be back but neglects to make any mention of the other Guardians. Any which way GotG3 is the perfect sendoff for this ragtag team who taught me you don’t need to have any talent to be in a team; you just need the ability to make everyone laugh and everyone, and that includes you and me, is f*&king special. (4/5)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse (2023)… oh man I totally don’t get the hype. I went to the theatre based on the strength of the first which had so much heart and inventiveness. But with this, I was totally lost in the mire of clashing animation stylistics and the movie doesn’t believe in slowing down to let the pathos hit home. I saw this in a sneak preview and walked out feeling disappointed with the clusterf*&k, but f*&k me till Sunday because the world totally dig this and at this moment it is ranked #11 in IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all time. I must have gotten this wrong because the missus and I are probably the only 2 out of perhaps 10 in the world who had no love for this and I really hated the ending… it’s basically the The Empire Strikes Backending with nothing resolved, but with tESB I wanted to start queueing up to buy tickets to the next installment to find out what happens. This one felt like a punch to my guts. I will revisit this in my home theatre when it’s on streaming, maybe the second time will be a charm. (2.5/5)

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) tries too hard to divorce itself from the cheesiness of the first two, but totally forgets that is precisely what made the first two so fun. This second sequel is totally unnecessary and takes a detour by taking the magic out of Magic Mike. What’s the deal with the weird voice-over narration which basically gives a thesis on the act of a dance. Come on… the dance is foreplay and don’t tell me otherwise. The story is perfunctory and the characters are drawn so wishy-washily like Salma Hayek’s Maxandra Mendoza is drawn like a power figure in a game made for men and she goes head to head with the establishment like a lioness in heat. Then in the last act she gives up so easily and becomes a pussycat. The only thing worth seeing here is Magic Mike on the dancefloor. Just fast forward this to the last 15 minutes and I hope they really mean that this is his last dance. (2.5/5)

gosh… that bad?! I am thinking of watching this tmr in the cinema.

Go see lah. Don’t trust what I said. Just decide for yourself.

11/250 on IMDb top movies of all time list. That cannot be wrong. Chaos doesn’t like me :blush:

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for the Flash movie, I agreed, it’s a good DC movie. Just caught it yesterday at a heartland GV cinema and I loved it. The multiverse concept is not as “complicated” as the MCU and I think MCU should learn from DCU in this regard.

Frankly, I really liked to see more such reviews on current movies released for local screening compared to some of your other reviews here. Keep it up!