Category Archives: Movies

World War Z


Lots of hype for World War Z and I’m not sure why. Funnily enough I saw it as I was reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin, and there are lots of similarities. Except The Twelve is a good book and World War Z an average movie. It features Brad Pitt – many of my friends went to see it for him. It’s the story of a UN staff looking for a way to save the planed from a Zombie invasion/plague. Thin plot, and the zombies are not really scary. Too many glitches in the story for my liking and at the end of the day, not much happening. I should have watched it on a plane.

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Stoker, the film


I had never heard of Stoker when I flew to Singapore last week. When I saw they were playing it on the plane, I was curious to find out what the story was about. The film features Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode. Director is Park Chan-Wook and scriptwriter is Wentworth Miller. The movie has just come out in 2013. The story revolves around teen-ager India Stoker, who has just lost her father in a car accident. An uncle (brother of her late father) turns up, whom she has never heard of before. She is intrigued of course, and whilst grieving for her dad, is attracted by her uncle – she has to compete with her mother though (Nicole Kidman) a somewhat unstable and distant woman (one of Kidman’s classic roles). The truth behind the uncle’s story is very unsettling, to say the least. We learn quickly that he is dangerous, but his past is only revealed at the end, and it is chilling. A good story and for those of you who like slow movies, it’s perfect. It was little slow for my liking, but I realise this is how it was meant to be (It’s a psychological thriller after all). It does accelerate mid-way through. A good movie to watch on a plane, except that the way it is filmed, and some of the frames and pictures are stunning. I love the way India focusses on small things and insects, and how this is brought to life by the camera. The way the last frame of the movie links back to the first is perfect. Not the best movie I have seen, but a good one to watch (beware, there will be a number of dead bodies). Oh and Stoker is a family name, and it says it all…

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The Impossible


I don’t know if you get annoyed as I do sometimes with people going to the movies and buying a 2kg bag of popcorn, a few drinks and several bags of sweets during the film? It’s not the eating or drinking that I mind, but rather the noise that goes with it. It was particularly bad in Hong Kong when I was living there, but it’s not much better here in Australia – okay, at least we don’t get the smell of McDonalds food in the theatre. I wish candy companies had found a way to produce plastic bags that make no noise when opening them. Popcorn can be particularly  noisy too, and when you’re engrossed in a movie, it can be quite irritating. Well, I have found the movie you can go and see without having to worry about the noise people make when eating and drinking! It’s The Impossible, by director Juan Antonio Bayona and featuring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts (I love her). The film relates the story of a family with three kids holidaying in Thailand when the 2004 Tsunami hit on Boxing Day. It’s based on the true story of a Spanish family, although they are English in the film. This is a compelling and heart-breaking story. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, because the term is not quite right considering the topic, but it’s a very good movie. Anyway, back to my ranting about eating noises. The movie session started as usual with stacks of eaters and drinkers surrounding us, but fifteen minutes into the story, silence! You could have heard a pin drop! No one was either moving or opening their mouths to swallow anything or speak. The story is quite graphic and watching Watts’ torn calf bleeding profusely, the deaths that surround her and her son, the injuries, what she  throws up at one stage, and other niceties, all this reduced the audience to silence – and later to tears. Popcorn was wasted, candies kept for later. Goodie!

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War Horse – the show


War Horse has made it to Melbourne!

war horse
After being premiered in London in 2007 , War Horse went on to win a number of awards including two Laurence Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards. It has been played at London’s National Theatre, the West End’s New London Theatre and New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Centre. And it has just hit Melbourne.

War Horse – the show – is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo. I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie by Steven Spielberg. The story is about Joey, the horse, and Albert, the boy who raises him. A strong bond develops between the two and Albert is heart-broken when his father sells Joey to the British cavalry at the outbreak of World War I. Joey is then shipped to France where he is caught up in enemy fire and goes through a number of terrible adventures between German and British troops. Amazingly, Albert who could not forget Joey and has enlisted, manages to find the horse and bring him home. Okay, the story is a bit lame, but it does captivate the mind. It’s not a light story, the movie itself is very graphic, and so is the show. One thing that kept bothering me is how much time is spent weeping over the horse when hundreds of thousands of soldiers are being killed – often in horrible circumstances – around him. I know that this is the story, but it is at the same time a little disturbing. There are differences between the movie and the show, the story takes shortcuts in the show, but that’s to be expected, and sometimes it’s even outright different. I have not read the book, so I don’t know what the original story is like.

War Horse is quite the spectacle. I was amazed at the life-size puppets, created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. They are totally amazing and look eerily real. It was wonderful to see those horses on stage and you quickly forget they are puppets. The way the ears move, the shiny eyes, the tail, the limbs, it’s all wonderful, really. If anything, that’s just worth going to see. The horses even gallop on stage! It was breathtaking. I found the second part too dark for my liking, but it’s all about the war after all. The episode with the French girl is puzzling – I found it lacked clarity in the show and didn’t add much. The casting was interesting, as the French girl is black in the show, and her mother white, so you have to assume the father was black – a very common thing nowadays (Thank God) but very unusual in 1915, especially in the Somme region. I can’t help wonder what the original girl was like in the book, does anyone know? Of course, the accents are fake (I, for one, can tell!) but they help wonderfully when the French, the British and the Germans are talking to each other. All together, a great show.

Here’s the movie trailer:

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Filed under Australia, Movies, Music, Theatre

Melancholia


I knew from the very first images of Melancholia, the 2011 movie written and directed by Lars Von Trier, that it wasn’t going to be me. The premise is interesting though: two sisters, one deeply depressed, coming to terms with (bad) family issues while a planet called Melancholia threatens to hit and destroy Earth. The end of the world. Two parts in the film, each one focussing on one of the sisters. A weird family. Illness, depression, and then nothing. Even if the story is interesting, it failed to grab me, maybe because not much happens (except, I suppose, the end of the world, which is in fact quite a lot!) or maybe because the atmosphere of the movie is  suffocating. And with two hours and ten minutes, it is long. By the way, it’s got a stellar cast, Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Ramping, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg… wow. But I expected more.

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The Women on the 6th Floor


In the 60’s in Paris, a very conservative couple is faced with a group of Spanish maids who live on the 6th (and last) floor of the building owned by the very same couple. A new maid turns up to work for the couple, and their lives take a new turn… This 2010 comedy/love story by Philippe Le Guay is a classic clash of classes. Of course it is one of the best material that exists for comedy, and this one is no exception. It has however deeper moments. You have to know Paris well to realise that the sixth floor of Hausmann buildings was a series of tiny rooms with no running water (and often no heating) sharing one toilet, and which was where the maids lived. These maids were not allowed to use the lift, which didn’t reach their floor anyway. Nowadays these “maid rooms” are rented by students or those who can’t afford larger apartments. I have fond memories of parties on the 6th floor – I actually owned and lived in one of those rooms myself for a few years. “The Women on the 6th Floor” is a good film: funny, never boring, at times tender and beautiful, and so very French – but with a good plot. I think it is one of those very good, low-key French films. I’m not fond of Fabrice Luchini, the main character, but it worked for me this time. Five stars.

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Spring Fever (Nuits d’ivresse printaniere)



Spring Fever
is a 2009 film by Ye Lou; it is a Hong Kong-French coproduction. It was presented to the Cannes Festival of the same year and won the prize for best scenario. To be honest, I wonder if it won the prize more because it tackles a touchy subject (homosexuality in China) than for the film itself. I found it slow, boring, and a tad too long. And the lack of dialogue makes it painful. The story is simple: two men, one of them married, going with each other and slightly confused. A number of characters revolve around them, but I quickly lost track of who was who. Disappointing.

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Filed under China, Movies

The Equation of Love and Death (李米的猜想)


I have decided that contemporary French and Chinese movies have quite a bit in common. This includes people smoking all the time and yelling at each other every five minutes or so. There’s also a fair amount of drinking going on at times. I’ve just watched The Equation of Love and Death, a 2008 Chinese movie directed by Cao Baoping. In the film, the main character Li Mi, who is searching for her boyfriend who left her suddenly four years earlier, smokes and screams more than she breathes. Okay, this is a little exaggerated. And her life is not easy. She works as a taxi driver, showing every passenger a photo of her ex and asking them if they have seen him. A suicide will trigger a series of events, all interlinked, and leading her to her ex. Three stories are the backbone of the movie: Li Mi’s search for her boyfriend, the fate of two drug traffickers, and Li Mi’s boyfriend’s erratic behaviour. Gradually each story will run into each other, creating a web of connections and complexities. Life in Chinese cities is well pictured. This movie falls into the thriller/suspense category, and it’s quite okay. A bit grim, but Chinese movies are often like that, I think. I wish Li Mi would smoke and scream a little less, but I forgive her. Now, has anyone seen this movie and know where it was filmed? I got excited more than once because I seemed to recognise my beloved Kunming, in particular the pedestrian bridge at the crossing of Dong Feng Dong Lu (区东风东路) and Bai Ta Lu (白塔路). Can anyone confirm that?

I’m adding the trailer to this banter. Unfortunately it’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but you’ll see what I mean about the yelling! :-)

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Au Revoir Taipei! (一頁台北)


Au Revoir Taipei is a 2010 film directed by Arvin Chen. As the title suggests, it takes place in Taipei! :-) Kai (Jack Yao) has been dumped by Faye, his ex-girlfriend who’s moved to Paris. Kai has no money but intends on joining her in Paris to try to fix their relationship. He gets involved with a customer of his parents’ dumpling restaurant, Brother Bao (Frankie Gao) who agrees to lend him the money to fly to Paris if he agrees to take with him a package, the content of which has to remain secret. But Bao’s nephew has something else in mind. In the space of a single night, Kai finds himself chased by a group of thugs who are after the package which has just been delivered to him. Susie, a girl he met in a bookstore (Amber Kuo) while learning to speak French in his spare time, is his reluctant compadre in this wild chase. Will Kai go to Paris? Will he be arrested by the police? Au Revoir Taipei is a love story, simple, discreet, sweet but effective in the end. It verges on boring at times, but a range of weird and quirky characters make it really interesting and even fun. I particularly loved the way the film was shot. Very dark (remember, it happens at night), re-creating the atmosphere that is so typical of Taipei: hidden, calm, almost dull. I love the scenes in the bookstore. Nowhere else in the world are the bookstores like those from Taipei: the layout, the shelves, the book colours, all are unique to Taiwan. And Taipei has so many bookstores! You also get a glimpse of the night markets, with their food stalls and strolling visitors. Night markets are another great feature of Taiwan. The actors speak Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent, of course, which I found difficult to understand at times (It was captioned, thank God). It reminded me that one of the greatest difficulties in learning Mandarin for me was that no one in China speaks the same way. Most people are bilingual, they speak their own dialect as well as Mandarin, but often their Mandarin is so heavily accented that it sounds like a foreign language. Not easy for the non-Chinese! Oh, I forgot to mention that the music of the film is great, really.


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The Reader


I watched THE READER a few nights ago, the 2008 movie by director Stephen Daldry based on the eponymous book by Bernhard Schlink. I read the book many years ago, which was a good thing because I had forgotten the details of the story, and as a result, I think I enjoyed the film more than if I had seen it straight after reading the book. The story opens in post-world war II Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes the lover of Hanna, a woman twice his age. They lead a passionate affair, during which Michael reads Hanna stories and novels. But Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left heartbroken. Some years later, while Michael is a law student attending Nazi war crime trials, he is confronted to Hanna again. This time she is the accused in the courtroom. Hanna’s terrible past is slowly revealed and Michael is faced with the terrible truth of what Hanna did. The movie is okay. It’s all about atmosphere, and The Reader one of those films where actors say something and their partner looks at them for a long time without saying anything or replies hours later. It’s a bit annoying after a while. Other than that, I enjoyed it. Hanna is played by Kate Winslet, who won an award for her role. The movie also stars Ralph Fiennes, as a much older Michael. I like Fiennes.

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