Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Under the Banyan Tree - The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain

The National Museum Cinematheque continues its popular "Under The Banyan Tree" series of outdoor screenings:

Fri 25 April - The Wizard of Oz

Sat 26 April - Singin' in the Rain

It's free! Turn up early to get good seats on the lawn :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Akan Datang - Manufactured Landscapes, Kes, Picnic at Hanging Rock

Movie-ed out after SIFF? Hope not :)

The Singapore Film Society is screening the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, based on the stunning work of photographer Edward Burtynsky.

Sat 26 Apr
The Picturehouse
12:30pm Screening
2:00pm Post Screening Discussion

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is a feature length documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky makes large-scale photographs of ‘manufactured landscapes’ – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams. He photographs civilization’s materials and debris, but in a way people describe as “stunning” or “beautiful,” and so raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them. (read more...)

Youtube trailer:


If you've been to the National Museum lately, you'd have also seen the new ads for the World Cinema Series that SFS co-programs with the National Museum Cinematheque.

In May we're screening Ken Loach's Kes:

Tues 6 May
Gallery Theatre

A realistic, unsentimental and poignant portrait of youth and education, KES is one of Loach's most impassionate and best films. The film won two BAFTA awards when it was released and is ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's selection of the favourite British films of the 20th century. David Bradley's naturalistic and
memorable performance as the young Billy Casper has often been regarded as one of the great adolescent portraits in cinema, joining the ranks of Jean-Pierre Leaud in François Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS 1959). (read more...)

And on 10 June, look out for Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Monday, April 14, 2008

SIFF 2008 -- Milky Way Liberation Front, Keronchong for Pak Bakar, After the Rain

Leaving the cinema after the end credits for Milky Way Liberation Front rolled, that was the end of SIFF 2008 for me. I was already tired when we sat down to watch that movie. It was a good way to end the festival. Milky Way Liberation Front was fun, a long string of gags that gently poke fun at indie filmmaking, film festivals and the people who participate in them.


Like his first short Datura, Abdul Nizam's Keronchong for Pak Bakar is distinguished by impressionistic editing with strong narration and the use of vocabulary with religious undertones. There isn't a clear narrative or chronological momentum, but the mix of image and narration can be slightly hypnotic.

I agree with Tan Pin Pin's comments about the film: the work is concerned more with Abdul Nizam's relationship with Abu Bakar bin Ali than with the latter's past. In fact the documentary strongly suggests that the Abdul Nizam in the film is seeking a father figure identified with the golden age of Malay cinema. This search is expressed early in the movie as a search to know more about movie legend P Ramlee, through which Abdul Nizam discovers serendipitously that the man who lensed many of his movies lived just above him. At one point, Abdul Nizam expresses in regretful tones how he discovered too late that his hardworking father had loved film stars and movies. Throughout, Abdul Nizam is extremely respectful - even protective - towards Abu Bakar.

The material used in the documentary come from two major sources. The first is clearly the recorded footage from Abdul Nizam's conversations with Abu Bakar. The second is more mysterious -- footage of a train journey up Malaysia to Penang, ostensibly taken while location scouting for a feature film on P Ramlee's life (according to Abdul Nizam the project eventually fell through).

Empty spaces feature prominently here, partly illustrating Pak Bakar's current solitude. When I asked Abdul Nizam why he weaved in the silent, lonely sequences from his train journey, he indicated that it was partly to convince Abu Bakar to come out of his solitude more often, perhaps to work on film again.

That documentary left the audience with far more questions about Abu Bakar Ali than answers. Why did Abu Bakar stop working on films? Why does he mostly talk about technical matters -- for most of the documentary he is fiddling with an old Bolex handheld camera -- and nothing about himself?


I'm still surprised that SIFF screened Royston Tan's latest short "film" After the Rain before Keronchong for Pak Bakar. Rose-tinted nostalgia and banal cliches (the father coughs to prefigure his eventual death) pliantly placed in the service of the government's ideological imperatives. This is an unabashed propaganda piece.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IFFS Film Exchange Program

Got a short film you'd like to show?

Call For Entries - International Federation of Film Societies (IFFS) - Film Exchange Program

The Singapore Film Society in association with the International Federation of Film Societies (IFFS) is proud to promote the IFFS Film Exchange.

This film exchange is a non—profit initiative to drive the appreciation and understanding of cultural and creative works across the world - works which would otherwise remain unknown, unseen and unappreciated.

The 3 groups of countries that are participating in this exchange program are:

1. Latin America
2. Europe
3. Asia

Rationale for the Film Exchange Program

International Federation of Film Societies (IFFS) brings together the film societies of the world for the common aim of facilitating and promoting the exhibition and appreciation of cinematic works.

The IFFS believe that many worthwhile films (both long and short) do not screened outside of its country. Only films which have won prizes at major film festivals tend to get international distribution, sales or exhibition. A film as a form of creative work, and an international language medium, deserves to be seen. Specifically, the
IFFS Film Exchange Program aims to:

1. Broaden the scope for cultural exchange (through the film medium) among the countries of the world, through the extensive contacts and network of the IFFS.

2. Increase the opportunities for the global audience to see samples of good quality cinematic works which are not available through normal channels, commercial or otherwise.

3. Enable filmmakers globally to engage with each other, with the hope that such contacts will lead to beneficial exchange and provide inspiration for further creativity.

1. Film Entries

• Films must be submitted before 25 May, 2008 for consideration.
• Films must be submitted on a DVD.
• Films whose original language is not English should be
subtitled in English.
• Filmmakers are to provide suitable information and credits
for each work (e.g. title, director, running time, year of
production; plus a synopsis; filmmaker contact emails/telephone no.).
• Film submissions can be made through the Singapore Film
Society at filmexchange at sfs dot org dot sg

2. Selection of films

• The organiser reserves the right to select films for inclusion in the exchange as it sees fit.
• Films included in the exchange will be announced on the 31 May 2008.

3. Permissions, Rights and Benefits

This is a non-profit initiative to generate an appreciation and understanding of cultural and creative works across the world - works which would otherwise remain unknown, unseen and unappreciated.

• Filmmakers undertake to grant unlimited screenings to the film clubs within the IFFS.

• No fee will be paid to the rights holders, but filmmakers will be acknowledged in the programs.

• Notification will be given to the film-makers prior to the
screening(s) of their films.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The SFS since 1958 -- A History

Jan Uhde and Yvonne Ng Uhde, authors of Latent Images: Film in Singapore, included a comprehensive history of the Singapore Film Society in their book (later CD-ROM).

They've generously consented to let us reproduce that section on our homepage.

However, records from the 1960s and 1970s suggest the Film Society might have been active even before 1958. A January 1961 Sunday Times article noted that the Singapore Film Society had been "in existence for six years." Similarly, in February 1971, film critic Koh wrote that the society "had been in existence for some 16 years." In the 19 March 1985 edition of The Singapore Monitor, Wong Sing Yeong claimed that "the Singapore Film Society was formed in 1956 to complement the commercial cinema by screening less popular art films."

Click here to read the complete extract.


Latent Images is a key academic work on the history and development of Singapore cinema. I recommend the CD-ROM version, released 3 years after the book with some updates. It also contains video clips - interviews and footage of the former Shaw studios at Jalan Ampas.

If you're interested, you can get it online from the Asian Film Archive.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SIFF Quick Cuts - 8th April 2008

Yep, got a lot to catch up on. I'll be working backwards from my most recent viewings. Hopefully I can get to the Perspectives Film Festival (31 Mar - 4 Apr 2008) before too long.

(Darn it Stefan, don't you sleep? :D )

Singapore / 2007 / 30 mins
dir. Sam Loh

Another example of a short film based on an idea rather than a story, the idea here being two strangers connecting with each other via personal items left behind in a hotel room.

(compare with: Il Mare (시월애, Siworae) (2000) and its American remake The Lake House (2006))

The material is clumsily handled though, and ends up a string of romance cliches. For instance the actors fade in and out of scenes to suggest presence, and recognise each other right away when they meet for the first time.

The sensual possibilities of the items – a shawl, cigarettes, lipstick – through which the protagonists build their imagined connection, is never fully, intimately explored. Vivid is coy to the point of emptiness. A bit odd coming from Sam Loh, who's perhaps best known for Outsiders. This was his debut feature film, about two detectives after a necrophiliac serial killer, and was withdrawn from SIFF 2005 after MDA insisted on cuts.

Diminishing Memories II
Singapore / 2007 / 60 min
dir. Eng Yee Peng

The follow up to Diminishing Memories (2005) by Eng Yee Ping, and really a study of her quixotic obsession with her own imagined idea of Lim Chu Kang.

I don't know whether this was deliberate - Eng is not only the director but also appears as herself in the documentary, talking and interviewing people - but there are moments when she realises that she might simply be pursuing a falsehood. For instance, she asks a developer of a agri-tourist attraction if he was planning to dig a well, then later wonders why she asked that question when there was no well on the land to begin with. Eng also includes an interview with her mother who, close to tears, exhorts her to stop being so obsessed with the past. However, at the end of the documentary Eng does not seem to have reached any reconciliation between her ideas of Lim Chu Kang and the present.

Eng's techniques need more sophistication too. Diminishing Memories II looks and feels much better suited for television than cinema (perhaps due to her previous work experience in a Current Affairs Unit at Mediacorp). Eng also often falls back on verbal and visual cliches, most notably in a scene at the end where she stands, looking offscreen into the distance, evening sky behind her, camera angled up at her from a low position while her voiceover decribes her feelings. For me, Eng's singular obsession is the main attraction in this slightly naive, melodramatic work.

DigiCon 6+3 ; ASFI presentation - 20 April 2008

The SFS together with MDA, Mediaction and *scape, present a free screening of winning animation shorts from last year's Digicon 6.

*scape Lab
113 Somerset Road
Singapore 238165

2pm – 3.30 pm: DigiCon 6+3 screening

3.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Animated Short Film Initiative presentation

Screenings include Grand Prize winner, Toshiaki Hanzaki's Birthday, and Outstanding Performance winners: Ryu Kato's Around, Southern Star Singapore's Old Lightning and Taketo Shinkai's Yama to Hito.

Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc (TBS) has organised DigiCon6 since 2000, to discover and support new animation talent throughout Asia.

And after the screenings, stay for the presentation and Q&A on the SFS-MDA Animated Short Film Initiative, a scheme to fund animated short films of up to 30 minutes. Selected short films funded by other international funding bodies will also be screened.

Free admission for screenings and presentations. But seating space is limited.

If you've any questions please don't hesitate to email animation at sfs dot org dot sg.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Megumi" gets anime treatment

At last year's Japanese Film Festival, we screened the documentary Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story. , about a 13 year-old girl kidnapped by North Koreans in 1977.

Now there's a 25 min anime version of the story (though not, it seems, based on the documentary)

No need to wait for a film festival this time -- it's available for free downloading off the Japanese government's Headquarters for the Abduction Issue website.

(From Anime News Network)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Todd Solondz at The Picturehouse - 21 March 2008

Managed to get tickets to Tisch Asia's exclusive screening of Happiness and Q&A with director Todd Solondz.

Solondz was here for a week to mentor the Tisch students. Naturally his work was shown (at the Tisch Open House we saw a little stand outside their screening theatre advertising Welcome to the Dollhouse), and Tisch kept Happiness for the final screening at The Picturehouse.

Solondz really looks geeky. Balding, with graying hair and a paunch. That evening he wore a short-sleeved light blue shirt paired with khakis. Most memorable were the pale yellow Chucks Taylors on his feet, the oversized thick plastic glasses on his face, and the plastic bag all the way from NYC's The Strand bookshop in his hand -- Woody Allen as if he'd come of age in the 90's.

Todd Solondz at The Picturehouse - 21 Mar 2008

Solondz was good-humoured and self-effacing. The harshest thing he said was an oblique remark concerning a student's decision to shoot an experimental film here - why spend so much time and money to come here in the first place?

Filmmakers needed to be observant -- "everything is material." His life wasn't any more interesting than anyone else's. No traumatic past either. Singapore was extremely interesting to him as an outsider, and he saw lots that that Singaporeans tended to tune out or ignore.

Solondz commented that he was fortunate to have gotten this movie made. An actor's union (sorry couldn't catch the acronym) had cautioned against the script, probably because of the paedophilia and child rape references.

Luckily, Solondz was popular after the unexpected success of Welcome to the Dollhouse. He managed to get the backing of a senior studio exec, and knew that this was pretty much the only chance he would have to get Happiness made.

Solondz's direction was minimal. He concentrated on setting the "atmosphere" and let the actors do their work. Solondz also noted that he didn't have a problem with the child actors. Natually their parents were involved from the start, but the kids seemed to understand, in their own way, what was going on in the script.

For example, in the scene where the rapist confesses his actions to his son, Solondz didn't ask the child actor to cry, but somehow that emerged through the takes, as both actors played off each other (consciously or otherwise). Solondz had great footage, but unfortunately discovered in the lab that it was unusable. He had to reshoot the scene 2 weeks after.

Solondz also expressed a preference for writing and editing to directing. To him editing was like writing but with footage.

About the movie

Solondz's good at scripting awkward situations based on everyday encounters, highlighting the little lies people tell each other everyday to get by. Clever, sharp dialogue but characterisation spotty e.g. Trish, Helen characters are caricatures.

He also expounds a cynical view of love, sex and inter-personal communication. Sincere bonds are few and don't last long.

What's I particularly like about it are the strong performances from overlooked actors, especially Dylan Baker. Some of the actors have gone on to do well in TV (e.g. Lara Flynn Boyle, Camryn Manheim). Seymour Philip Hoffman's the only one who eventually made the A-list after Capote, years after. And the trivia nut in me wants to point out Ben Gazzara who starred in Saint Jack.


Incidentally, is Hoffman the only actor to appear on two movie poster drawn by comic book artists? Hoffman is prominent in the poster for Happiness, illustrated by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), and he appears on the poster for The Savages (earlier post)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Something Different

Watching A Flower In Hell reminded me of another movie I saw: Gate of Flesh. Maybe, they are not quite the same. After all Gate of Flesh is supposed to be an 'adult release' and is more lurid with scenes of torture, but both take places after a war. The mise en scene are dilapidated makeshift houses against what seems to be a bombed out landscape (ok, that's a little exaggerated, but you get the idea). The male protagonists are betrayed. Innocent minds are corrupted.
But there's a grittier feel to A Flower in Hell: there's no music, which is something quite refreshing really, compared to today's heavily orchestrated films (the films of the Coen Brothers being notable exceptions). Also for a melodrama, it's surprisingly restrained in hyperbolic dialogue - being forced to watch those awful Singaporean English dramas, I became agonizingly aware how incapable local scriptwriters are of using gestures or expressions, preferring to vocalize everything.
I guess I was in the mood for it, a movie from another era, which made it quite fascinating, watching the dances they did and wondering how folks once thought they were so cool. A glimpse into a world that's vanished.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Winners

Here's the list of winners.
It's, for lack of a better word, all too predictable, so much so that I can't even be bothered to have an opinion about it.
What is far more interesting is the future. As the business goes online and the audience begins to interact with films rather than being passive observers, will the whole idea of the auteur finally implode? If today's indies compete with industry heavies, tomorrow's director wannabes deal with a fickle consumer crowd and if TV is any indication, democracy will cater to the lower denominator.
Hmm, maybe that is too bleak, but look at it this way: when sound came, silent films soon became extinct. In the same way, when a new business model, a new distribution network emerge, some types of films will simply be harder to make. Unlike, novels, music or art (except large installation pieces and such) which require very little resources and hence are mostly a result of individual effort, films are massive collaborative business deals. The idea of the auteur is a myth. The idea that you can make any film where your vision takes you is probably not realistic. That is why money men matter so much in movies.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Real Bauby Story

Sometimes they say art transcends truth which reminds me that I must read Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano in which he explores how "literature is an unnervingly protean, amoral force with uncanny powers of self-invention, self-justification and self-mythification."
Here's the back story of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. Basically, it comes down to this: the film does not reflect the truth. It's beautiful but untrue. Does it necessarily detract from the work? I think to say no would be lying.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


It's not exactly, you know, epic! But how can one hate Juno, it's like hating Friends: makes everyone think you're mean. Although, the impression I get from the film is Wes Anderson making a light-hearted sitcom. Juno's father reminds me of Wilson from Home Improvement, Tim Allen's neighbour who we never see, who gives such penetrating, cheesy advice. It's just inevitable that I have to compare it to a sitcom because of the non-stop one-liners. There's no situation you can't handle by making a wisecrack.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rvw: Persepolis

Persepolis (PG, 95 minutes)
One of the surprise nominees for this year's Best Animated Film is the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels, Persepolis. This French animation, done mostly in black and white, is the coming-of-age story of a young girl in Iran who is sent to Europe to escape the rising wave of Islamic fundamentalism that swallows the country. However, she returns home to Iran after being unable to fit in, but she still remains a stranger in Tehran. It's a deftly told story, with many charming and powerful moments, such as Satrapi's devotion to rock music that lands her into trouble with the authorities. The version screened here is dubbed in English, and the American-accented English is occasionally jarring. Nonetheless, it's still a powerful film that's an extraordinary piece of work. Rating: A

Monday, February 18, 2008

Just For Oscar

How wonderful that they finally made up. Now, we can get back to schmoozing and partying. Meanwhile, have we grown any wiser? Beyond the hype and the hate, is there any meaning to all the hoopla? I think the answer to that is that it's all about the hoopla. Always has been, always will be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

NUS Arts Festival 2008

The NUS Arts Festival has already started, but screenings go on until 22 Mar. Click here for the program.
There are several Israeli, Spanish, Finnish and Dutch films showing. There's also the rest of the festival.

No Country For Old Men

I really like this gripping gritty film in the bleached scrubby open country of West Texas based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy. Seldom do you see a film that does not succumb to the need to assuage our sense of uneasiness with a pre-determined moral universe. Here, the implacable and inexplicable evil is Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem, who descends upon his victims like the scourge, meting out death impassively and randomly. It is one of those rare films which disrupts our sense of an ordered universe and forces unto us an elemental anxiety. Ah those wonderful Coen brothers.
The other Oscar contender which is also being shown on GV screens is the apocalyptic There Will Be Blood. I only managed to catch the trailer, but compared to the austere brooding desolateness of No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, reminds me of those old Hollywood trailers promising adventure, romance, war... basically a colossal over-the-top drama that has something for everyone. Well, maybe it's just advertising, so I'll have to see.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CJ7 wins CNY three-way battle

Stephen Chow's CJ7 took away the gold over CNY, raking in US$2 million during the long weekend. Jack Neo isn't too sad, however, as there was plenty of money to go around as Ah Long Pte Ltd took in about S$1.47 million, despite mostly scathing reviews. Even Jay Chou didn't fare too shabbily, as his Kung Fu Dunk took in just a little less than Ah Long did with S$1.4 million. Seems like Singaporeans definitely liked to spend their Lunar New Year in the theaters.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


What should you make of a film called Diary of the Dead, which follows Night of The Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead? If the director was George Romero who reinvented the zombie, you pay attention. It would certainly be a relief from the tired cannibalizations of old horror titles into what George Romero calls 'torture porn films' or the army of wronged restless Asian females determined to crawl out of dark crevices with bad hair.
"They are lacking metaphor," George Romero says. Ooh metaphor, wasn't that popular in 1994 in a film called Il Postino? I still remember my English Literature teacher talking about it. It's like suddenly people realize what she's been doing her whole life.
Well, looks like the most critically acclaimed film to open this week is Juno. The trailer is somewhat tweeny, at least to me: it's gritty because the girl's pregnant and got problems, except she's all Hannah Montana about it. Harsher critics call it a stealth anti-abortion film. Hmm, it opens on Valentine's Day...

Where're our film critics?

NUS Assoc Prof Dr Kenneth Paul Tan has a new book on Singapore cinema (well, and TV too) out in mid-Mar 2008:

By Kenneth Paul Tan

Series: Social Sciences in Asia, 16
ISBN-13: 978 90 04 16643 1
ISSN: 1567-2794

Through close readings of contemporary made-in-Singapore films (by Jack Neo, Eric Khoo, and Royston Tan) and television programs (Singapore Idol, sitcoms, and dramas), this book explores the possibilities and limitations of resistance within an advanced
capitalist-industrial society whose authoritarian government skillfully negotiates the risks and opportunities of balancing its on-going nation-building project and its "global city" aspirations. This book adopts a framework inspired by Antonio Gramsci that identifies ideological struggles in art and popular culture, but maintains the importance of Herbert Marcuse's one-dimensional society analysis as theoretical limits to recognize the power of authoritarian capitalism to subsume works of art and popular culture even as they attempt consciously — even at times successfully — to negate and oppose dominant hegemonic formations.

I'm all for more academic writing about film, but it's clear that the films here are props for what's really a social science work.

So where's the writing that analyses the films in and of themselves, or with respect to other films? Is the odd article on Criticine enough?

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

Despite being critically acclaimed (as many films are nowadays) and bagging several awards, notably two Golden Globes, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly has failed to attract local audiences who are too distracted by a cute Chinese alien and a slam-dunking pop star. It does not help that the film is being shown in the remote regions of Vivo Europa, psychologically remote of course.
It is an emotionally resonant film, based on the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby who after suffering a stroke, was completely paralyzed less one eye. It is visually gorgeous too, albeit a conventional sort of beauty. I guess, that's my only problem with it: it's uplifting but predictable, almost like a feel-good Hollywood movie. Wait a minute, it's nominated for four Oscars...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Movies opening January 31st

Big opener this week is Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, which is rated M18. The non-mainstream fare includes Away from Her and the film adaptation of The Kite Runner, which has run into plenty of controversy. It all sets the stage for the Lunar new year showdown between CJ7, Kung Fu Dunk and Ah Long Pte Ltd, which all open next Wednesday. Our money is on Stephen Chow to be the big winner, though Kung Fu Dunk is probably likely to get a nice chunk of box-office as well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fab Feb Films!

SFS is showing 4 movies in February. In addition to our Core Screenings at GV Marina on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday:

SFS Talkies @ The Picturehouse returns this Saturday, 2 Feb, with Errol Morris's acclaimed 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. (read more here) (earlier post)

(btw, Werner Herzog had promised Morris he would eat his shoe if Morris completed his first feature Gates of Heaven (1980). Morris did, and Herzog ate his shoe. Now that is integrity.)

On Tues 12 Feb, catch Juraj Herz's disturbing The Cremator (Spalovac mrtvol), the latest film in the World Cinema Series -- our collaboration with the National Museum Cinematheque.

(I'm especially looking forward to this one. Herz studied, worked and did military service with Jan Švankmajer.)

And if you're still hankering for more, the National Museum's presenting more good stuff in conjunction with its Greek Masterpieces exhibition:

Wed 27 Feb - Jean Cocteau's Orpheus (Orphée) (1950)

Thurs 28 Feb - Miklós Jancsó's Electra, My Love (Szerelmem, Elektra) (1974)

Fri 29 Feb - Theodoros Angelopoulos's Voyage to Cythera (Taxidi sta Kythira) (1984)

Sat 1 Mar - Don Chaffey's Jason and the Argonauts (1963) - Outdoor screening! Free!

Cathay raises ticket prices to $10.50

So besides rising taxi fares and property prices, now it's the turn of cinema ticket prices to head upwards. Cathay Cineplexes announced that they'll be raising the prices of their tickets by 50 cents to $10.50, with an additional $0.50 for blockbusters. Will other cinema operators follow suit? We think it's likely, given how the local taxi operators did the same.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated"; Censorship Uncensored - 1 Feb 2008

Looks like Cathay has finally decided to put This Film Is Not Yet Rated on general release. They've had the print since 2006, when this documentary was first shown - once - as part of The Picturehouse's 1st Anniversary celebrations.

In what looks like a tie-in event, Cathay is organising "a panel of industry players" who will talk about their censorship experiences here. They're coy about the details though -- no word yet on who's actually going to speak.
Censorship Uncensored

FRIDAY 1st FEBRUARY at 7.30pm The Picturehouse Lounge

Find out more about CENSORSHIP IN SINGAPORE for yourself! Curious about the whole film rating process? What are the steps a film must go through for a rating? What does an NC16 rating mean for a film? Join us at The Picturehouse Lounge for a open dialogue session with a panel of industry players who will breakdown the local ratings system and sharing some of their own experiences with the censorship process. Speakers include the Chairman of the Consultative Panel at MDA, a representative from a Major Film Distribution company and local independent film maker.

RSVP your place at to avoid disappointment. Subject line:RATED Explores.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Holy hexadecimal! - "Dystopia"

Singaporean directors tackleleth the 10 Commandments, and their fruits shalt be gathered into a feature film - Dystopia

Culturepush has an interview with Nicholas Chu, one of the prime movers behind Dystopia:

Dystopia is about a distant future, a very grim future that we are heading towards and in which people have forgotten about the very first moral imperatives known to men. This reflects on the current situation and the world that we are living in. And if we do not stop and reflect on our actions, we may just be moving to the world that is seen in dystopia.

The project came about when two other directors at apostrophe films and I started talking about the state of films made in Singapore. Most of the movies are either horror flicks or movies about heartlanders. We were kind of jaded that the audiences were interested in these two genres of movies and decided to expose them to something visually and content different.

After a year or so, we eventually decided to do something about it and roped in ten different directors for our Dystopia project; Jeevan Nathan, Mike Chew, Christina Choo, Boi Kwong, Randy Ang, Ric Aw, Bernard Tan, Lawrence Ong, Terence Teo, and myself.

Read the rest of the interview.

Two names ring a bell. Without resorting to the almightly Google -

- Ric Aw scooped first prize in the Professional Category in 2005's Panasonic-MDA Digital Film Fiesta with Buy Me Love.

- Randy Ang (together with Nicholas Chee) started Originasian Pictures, which made Becoming Royston and set up Sinema Old School.

The End for D&O Video

Film buffs on our little island are really spoilt for choice these days. Cathay and GV bring in non-Hollywood fare regularly now, the National Museum has monthly screenings, and what you can't find there, at SIFF or at SFS screenings, you can get via the Internet (legally or otherwise).

But once upon a time, all these weren't available. Film buffs had to rent VHS tapes (gee, remember those?) . And D&O Video at Tanglin Shopping Centre was the place for foreign films and hard-to-find cinema gems.

Sadly, D&O's closing its doors this weekend. According to Paul Rae on the ArtsComm mailing list:

As you may know, D+O is/was no ordinary video store. It's closing from Monday, so if you fancy getting your hands on some decent films and TV series v cheap - not to mention a small piece of Singapore video history (as you may know, the cut vids come with their own descriptions of the cuts, as specified and phrased by this proud Republic's fearless moral guardians), head for Tanglin Shopping Centre - 2nd or 3rd floor...I can't remember, today or tomorrow.

And for enquiries about bulk buys, contact Mr Odell (Jnr) on 92960766

Friday, January 25, 2008

Review: 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma, USA, Director: James Mangold, Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda
Westerns have undergone a small revival of late, particularly after Clint Eastwood's splendid Unforgiven. 3:10 to Yuma doesn't take the revisionist track, and tells a tautly plotted character study about rancher Dan Evans (played by Christian Bale) and a bandit Ben Wade (played by Russell Crowe). Trying to earn enough to keep his farm going, Evans has to put Wade on a train to Yuma where he will be tried for his crimes. However, Wade's posse is determined to get their boss free. Crowe and Bale put in sterling performances, and though the ending where there's a wild showdown as Evans tries his best to put Wade on the train is rather confusing, this remake still shows there's life in the Western. Rating: B+

The Thin Blue Line

The Singapore Film Society will be screening Errol Morris' acclaimed documentary The Thin Blue Line on February 2nd, and there's a wealth of info about the film and the murder case discussed on Morris' website. One of the funniest items is Harvey Weinstein's letter to Errol, telling him how badly his interview went. Harvey even goes so far as to say he would hire an actor to play Errol Morris, and telling Morris to describe the film as "In Cold Blood with humor" and "scarier than Nightmare on Elm Street". One wonders if Morris took that advice seriously.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lucky 7 website up

The Singaporean anthology film Lucky 7 gets a website over at Wordpress. It's premiering at the Rotterdam Film Fest, and has been rated R21 without cuts and will be premiering at SIFF. Check their blog for more updates!

Singapore box office for 2007

According to ST, the top ten films of 2007 were:
1. Spider-Man 3
2. Transformers
3. Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix
4. Pirates of the Caribbean 3
5. Ratatouille
6. Mr Bean's Holiday
7. Fantastic Four 2
8. Rush Hour 3
9. Shrek 3
10. 881

Considering the number of sequels in the list (7 including Mr Bean's Holiday), it shows why followups are popular amongst the Singaporean audience. Kudos to 881 for making the top 10. One suspects that sequels will continue to dominate the list, with the new Harry Potter and Indiana Jones sequels on their way.

The Other Drama Off-Stage

The end of the writers' strike is nowhere in sight and the nominations for the Oscars are out. It is a safe year with no surprise nominations.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Singapore Int'l Film Fest 2008 website up

Just some basic info for now, but we're hoping this year's selection will be good. Head on over to

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Movies opening January 17

Top opener this week is the much-hyped monster flick Cloverfield, and hardly anything else. Film aficionados might want to catch The Savages, 3:10 to Yuma or Andrew Lau's debut Hollywood feature The Flock. Shockingly, the #1 film last weekend was the remake of Miike's One Missed Call, which just shows you Singaporean's insatiable appetite for horror, even if it's bad horror. More information here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mo Awards!

In an industry that trades on glamour, the desire to shower ever more self-congratulatory stardust is irresistible. Soon even an obscure town in Estonia will have their own film awards in a desperate to boost artistic credentials or rather tourist dollars. Here's the list for the SECOND Asian Film Awards. The Hong Kong Film Festival will run from 17 March to 6 April if you can't wait for SIFF.

Meanwhile, can someone tell me why we need to watch this film about a woman with a vagina with teeth?

Review: Cloverfield

Cloverfield (PG, 83 minutes, Director: Matt Reeves)
Perhaps it was a slow year, but the hype machine has been working on overdrive for this monster movie, produced by JJ Abrams. A farewell party is disrupted by the arrival of an unwanted guest; a skyscraper-sized beastie with more than a bad case of fleas. Shot from the point of view of a hand-held cam, the movie is thankfully less jerky than that other classic of the shaking camera era, The Blair Witch Project. The cameraman accompanies his friend Rob on a search to save the trapped former squeeze Beth, and the group having close encounters with the chaos that the monster has turned New York City into. It has some effective moments, but calls upon too many monster movie cliches to move the story along. The main reason to keep watching appears to be finding out what the monster really is, and the film does give the audience that money shot moment when it reveals the monster in its entirety. Cloverfield doesn't live up to the hype, and fails utterly in comparison to the Korean monster flick The Host.
Rating: B-

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Search of the Red Carpet

With glamour squeezed out by gritty reality, the BAFTAs (on 10 Feb) has found itself in the limelight. The nominations are not surprising and probably indicates the way for the Oscars (The Golden Globes and BAFTA are really like Iowa and New Hampshire, no?) On the other hand, the reason why they are held earlier is most likely that if they were held after the Oscars, they would be irrelevant.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kurosawa remakes? Why bother?

Hot on the heels of the Sanjuro remake is the reworking of The Hidden Fortress (website), the movie that influenced Star Wars. Why is there a crowd of Kurosawa remakes now? I just finished Samurai 7, the anime 'reimagining' of Kurosawa's classic tale, and found it lacked the spirit and dynamism of the original. Maybe it was due to the skyscraper-sized Manga bandits that the Samurais were fighting or the unbelievable skills of the Samurai, which just added to the silliness of the proceedings. Throw in a plot that stretches the proceedings to the requisite 26 episodes and you have a bloated affair.

Nonetheless, at least The Hidden Fortress has a very nicely done poster. Manga fans should recognise the work of Takehiko Inoue, who did the art work for the Slam Dunk and Vagabond series. Now if the movie were fully done in the style of his art work, I'd definitely be queuing up to see it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Golden Globe Winners

Steven Spielberg won the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Best Picture - Drama : Atonement
Best Actress - Drama : Julie Christie (Away From Her)
Best Actor - Drama : Daniel-Day Lewis (There'll Be Blood)

Best Musical or Comedy
: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Best Actress - Musical/Comedy : Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose)
Best Actor - Musical/Comedy: Ryan Gosling (Lars and The Real Girl)

Best Supporting Actress : Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There)
Best Supporting Actor : Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)

Best Animated Feature Film : Ratatouille
Best Foreign Language Film : The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

Best Director : Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly)
Best Screenplay : No Country for Old Men (written by the Coen Brothers)
Best Original Score : Atonement
Best Original Song : Guaranteed (by Eddie Vedder for Into The Wild)

For more details check the Golden Globes website

According to omg! (I know, OMG!), Atonement was on the minds of those present for the Golden Globes in more than one way. Time is running out for the Oscars. However, some might be glad for more half-hour ceremonies.

Love and Pride Festival: 25-27 Jan 2008

It's not the first GLBT film festival here (that honour goes to Short Circuit, founded by homegrown gay activist and sharp essayist Alex Au in 2006), but Golden Village's Love and Pride Film Festival is the first gay-and-lesbian-themed feature film festival in Singapore.

Yes yes, it's an attempt to make money off old film reels GV already probably owns, but this is Singapore, remember? GV's shown some gumption in programming this festival (even if the PR seems to be pretty low-key). At least, it's a chance to catch Lee Ang's Brokeback Mountain and Sundance darling Quinceanera again.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Akan Datang: Sundance 2008

What will we watch this year or even next year? Part of the answer will be revealed on 17 Jan when Sundance kicks off in Park City, Utah for 10 days. Although several cinephiles have deplored the increasing commercialization of Sundance (heresy to the defenders of the spirit of Indie), it has become such a permanent feature of the international film circuit, no one with a stake in the film industry can afford to ignore it.

From a cursory browse of the film catalogue, the offering this year is diverse. Of note, Michael Haneke is showing a remake of an earlier masterpiece of his, Funny Games. Although most of us won't be Utah, 10 short films will be streamed daily:

18 Jan - I Love Sarah Jane, Spencer Susser
19 Jan - Pariah, Dee Rees
20 Jan - Yours Truly, Osbert Parker
21 Jan - my olympic summer, Daniel Robin
22 Jan - Sick Sex, Justin Nowell
23 Jan - Because Washington Is Hollywood For Ugly People, Kenneth Tin-King Hung
24 Jan - Force 1 TD, Randy Krallman
25 Jan - Wind, Ten Years Old, Marzeih Vafamehr
26 Jan - Sikumi (On the ice), Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
27 Jan - Spider, Nash Edgerton

Friday, January 11, 2008

Movies opening Jan 10

A list of movies opening this week and continuing has been posted here. Those looking for something a bit off the mainstream might want to check out Johnnie To's romance Linger or the adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. In an interesting trend box-office figures are now listed for movies, which gives you an idea of how well they've been doing. Last week's number 1 the horrid Aliens vs Predators 2 seems unlikely to repeat that performance this week. Will Ridley Scott's American Gangster managed to take the crown from the remake of One Missed Call? We'll see...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Illusive Glimpse

Although it is possible these days for jaded travelers to visit North Korea and revel in its Orwellian delights (Tip: Don't throw a magazine with Dear Leader's image on the cover into the dustbin), there is now the alternative of watching it on film, The Schoolgirl's Diary. It was first discovered in the 2006 Pyongyang Film Festival but of course, distributors had formidable red tape to overcome. James Velaise, its foreign distributor, called it 'propaganda light'.

Review: American Gangster

American Gangster (M18), US, 157 minutes, Director: Ridley Scott, Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin
American Gangster, despite its title, isn't just a story about the criminal Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), who fueled the heroin boom in the 70s. It is also about the honest cop Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, who is finding the source behind the drug boom. In a twisted version of the American dream, Lucas finds a way to get his drugs direct from the source, bringing it into the US and selling it cheaper and at better quality than his competitors. By maintaining a low profile, he manages to keep abreast of Roberts, who has his work cut out for him tracking down the mastermind. It all comes together in this engrossing character study/crime thriller that has Scott playing the two leads against each other. Lucas is portrayed as an entrepreneurial businessman, willing to do anything for his trade, while Roberts is a cop whose honesty is actually a crutch. Scott's adept pacing helps the movie move along for its 2 and a half hours length, though the ending appears to muffle Lucas' malevolent influence and ends on a note of admiration for what he accomplished. Rating: A-

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Review: Aliens vs Predator 2

Aliens vs Predators 2 (NC-16), 2007, US, Director: Greg Strause, Colin Strause, Cast: John Ortiz, Steven Pasquale, Johnny Lewis
I admit while I didn't like most of Aliens vs Predators, I did like the final tussle between the two set in a whaling station at the end of the first movie. Not that it made it a great movie, but at least it gave the movie some atmosphere. So now Warner Brothers has given us a rematch between the two space-faring monsters, but this time there's only one dreadlocked Predator facing off against a bunch of chitin-armored Aliens, as well as the inevitable Predator-Alien hybrid. Caught in the middle, like the first movie, are some humans. It's all filmed in low light and much of the violence happens off-camera, and gorehounds would probably find the proceedings rather tame. It's all quite confusing and the greatest tragedy is how the original franchises have been so diluted. Mixing them together has just resulted in diluting, and this is yet another uninspired sequel made to pull in fans of the originals, who would be wise to avoid this muddled, confused mess.
Rating: C-

Filem-Filem-Filem (Jan 16-27)

If you have nostalgia for old theaters, rather than the faceless multiplexes of today, you might want to check out Malaysian artist Ming Wong's exhibition Filem-Filem-Filem from January 16th to 27th. More information here. Personally, I wish the Majestic in Singapore had not been transformed into a faceless mall, stripped of all its character. One still wonders about the fate of Capitol theater, with its art-deco design, still waiting for a purpose in the new millennium.

Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend (PG), 2007, US, Director: Francis Lawrence, Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
Will Smith might be the Last Man on Earth, battling against vampires and loneliness as he tries to find if there's anyone else out there. Based on Richard Matheson's classic short story, the ending is substantially changed, and the ending seems a bit hurried after the first half, which is full of wonderfully conceptualised images showing Smith and his Alsatian friend passing the time playing golf on top of an aircraft carrier and hunting deer in Times Square. The movie delivers just enough suspense to keep the proceedings going, though the vampires often look like poorly done animated extras from the video game Resident Evil. However, Smith manages to make the film watchable, showing the acting chops he displayed in Six Degrees of Separation. He's not just Hollywood's best action star, he's also one of its best actors. His guilty-faced Alsatian companion should also be up for a Palm Dog. Rating: B

Review: Breath

Breath (M-18), 2007, Korea, 84 mins, Director: Kim Ki-Duk, Starring: Chang Chen, Zia, Ha Jung-woo
Kim Ki-Duk's latest effort revisits elements from his previous films, as we follow the strange friendship between Jeung Jin (Chang Chen), a prisoner on death row, and Yeon, whose husband has been having an affair. There are moments in the film which appear to have remixed elements from Kim Ki-Duk's earlier movies, particularly 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall . . .and Spring, and there is undeniable cinematic artifice in his works. A detached, dispassionate air surrounds the story of two wounded beings trying to make a connection, and the film's repetitious structure give it a firm and convincing rhythm. Like much of Kim's works there are wonderfully comedic and off-the-wall moments, and he probably is one of the most quirky and daring directors working today. Newcomers to Kim's work will probably be left wondering about the proceeding, while fans of his work will find little new. Still an interesting film that can only arise from Kim's imaginative and original mind, with subtle performances from both Chang Chen and Zia.
Rating: B+

David Lynch on watching movies on your phone

Director David Lynch tells the world what he thinks of watching movies on a phone. (NSFW)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Between A Rock and A Hard Place

The Oscars this year might turn out to be interesting. Certainly, you could dismiss that yearly razzmatazz as frivolous, unrepresentative and populist, but tell that to the statuette with the Midas touch. There's more than stardust in the eyes of the nominees.

The nominations will be out on 22 Jan which gives the Academy about a month to clear the pickets.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Time on Nanking

Time magazine has an article/review about the docu Nanking, screening at Cinema Europa now. Definitely well-worth a watch.

Best of 2007

It's always hard to sum up the best thing I've seen in the past year. Honestly, I don't remember that much. A lot was good, some were great, but nothing really stuck in the head. Still, the best thing I saw last year was actually released in 2003; the 6 hour long The Best of Youth. This is an astounding film chronicling the life of two Carati brothers, as it follows them from their carefree youth in the 60s to the new millennium. There's a 2-disc DVD available and prepare to be moved.

As I'm an animation nut, a lot of the stuff that I enjoyed last year was animation. I was glad to see Paprika get a release at Cathay, and judging from subsequent anime screenings, it might herald that we'll be seeing more anime in theaters. I also really liked The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which doesn't try to do too much with its time-travel core. Other stuff I liked was Alexandra Petrov's mini-epic My Love, with its stunning imagery and animation. The promo is up on youtube. (Note that the music in the background isn't from the film, thankfully)

I also enjoyed Lust, Caution, which totally pulled one into the story. Also making the cut is the stunningly imaginative Pan's Labyrinth and Fincher's serial killer biopic Zodiac. So for commercial releases my top 5:
1. Lust, Caution
2. Paprika
3. Zodiac
4. Pan's Labyrinth
5. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Review: Across the Universe

Across the Universe
2007, US, 131 mins, Director: Julie Taymor
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess
Putting together 37 Beatles tracks to fit into a movie is a tall order, but not for Lion King/Titus director Julie Taymor. Her movies have always been filled with cinematic artifice and overpowering stage direction. Across the Universe is her latest offering, and though the film takes some getting used to and some of the Beatles Songs are imperfect fits, she manages to capture the shift from the Fab Four's early days full of innocence to darker, more sombre pieces, and ties it together with the good-looking cast's own journey through the 60s and 70s. Some of the covers are rather jarring, though always interesting. Nonetheless, though some early moments are clumsy and the movie just has too many characters milling about, the film is an ode to love and the Beatles, and it's all you really need. Rating: B+

Lust, Caution short story

One of the most controversial movies last year was Ang Lee's Lust, Caution. After much hoo-ha when a PG-version was released, the distributors released a R21 version, which I'm sure has done extremely well. I saw both versions and have to say the latter is far superior, as the sex scenes are an integral part of the story, as it shows how Tony Leung's character comes to trust Mrs Mark/Wong Chia Chi. By the way, if you haven't read it, you can find Eileen Chang's original short story in Chinese here. The movie (R21 version) is still playing in cinemas, so do catch it if you haven't.

Happy 2008 and movies to look forward to!

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! This looks like yet another great year for movies. Here are some of the titles we're looking forward to this year.

Atonement - This drama, based on Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan's novel, has been winning awards ever since its release. Starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, the movie is set in 1930s and 40s Britain, the story revolves around a rash, adolescent act that destroys two lives. The Oscar buzz for this is strong and one can expect it to be a strong Oscar contender.

Persepolis - I love the graphic novels that this movie is based on. Marjane Satrapi captures the difficulties that a young girl faces growing up in post-revolutionary Tehran. The film has been winning awards and igniting quite a bit of controversy, being pulled from the much maligned Bangkok International Film Festival after protests by Iran. Expect it sometime this month.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- One of cinema's greatest hero finally returns. The new movie moves Indy away from the WWII setting and puts him in the middle of the Cold War. So we're talking about a much older Indy here.
Will he still be able to crack his whip and foil the bad guys? We'll find out on May 22nd.

Red Cliff - John Woo's martial arts flick has rarely been out of the news, with cast changes constantly a part of the news. Expect it to be yet another big martial arts epic in the style of The Warlords.

That's just a small taster of some of the films to look forward to this year. There are a whole host of other films but we'll talk about them in greater detail as the year goes by. Have a great year at the movies in 2008! Do check out this blog for more previews, news and contests throughout the year.